Armenia is a small country in the Caucasus  Mountains with a large footprint.  Its diaspora has carried its unique culture around the world.  What American does not know the Kardashian sisters?  It was the smallest of the Soviet Socialist Republics.  It was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.  It has its own language and alphabet, the unique characters referred informally as “spaghetti letters.”

Armenia’s history is a succession of being conquered and ruled by larger neighbors from Asian hordes, to Persia, to Turkey to Russia.  In spite of its constant condition of foreign rule it has maintained its rich heritage and culture.

When I lived there I learned much about this remote but familiar land and culture. Its symbol is Mount Ararat, yes where Noah’s ark landed and traditionally still rests.  You can see the mountain clearly from its capital Yerevan but the mountain is totally within Turkey.  Since the two countries still have no regular border crossings it is unatainable for most Armenians.  I visited the mountain from the Turkish side when I lived in that country.

Being made of mostly volcanic rock the main building stone is telf which is a rose colored porous volcanic rock.  The telf gives Armenian buildings their distinct color and look.

Every Armenian in its widespread diaspora who has amassed a fortune has built a foundation in Yerevan in something of an informal competition.  The result is a cultural life richer waybeyond what one would expect in such a small, poor country.

Perhaps the most memorable sight I saw was the last mosque left in Yerevan.  I had a personal tour led by a docent employed by the Iranian Government that cares for the mosque.  I told her that the building looked like the mosques I had seen in Isfanhan, Iran.   She told me that I was correct since it was built by Armenians who had been sent to Isfahan during Persian rule and after many years allowed to return to Armenia.  In Isfahan they had learned how to build that style mosque and carried this skill back to Armenia.

Of course its most famous composer was Aram Katchaturian who is known throughout the world for his “Sabre Dance,” but for me, more for his famous ballet, “Spartacus.”  It is my favorite ballet, I love the powerful leaps of the male dancers, a real show of masculine prowess standing in stark contrast to the more feminine softness and lighter touch of traditional favorites such as “Sleeping Beauty.”   However, its its pas de deux between Spartacus and his wife is probably the most romantic work ever written and stands in stark contrast to its predominant masculine feel.  I was happy to be in the place that gave birth to such genius.

Like Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and some other former Soviet Republics Armenia has its ethnic enclaves left over from the policy of inserting different ethnic groups, primarily Russians, into the various republics.  For Armenia this is the Armenian populated land claimed by Azerbaijan lying between the two countries and an Azerbaijan enclave surrounded by Armenia.  And as we have seen these ethnic enclaves have and are causing problems today.

Do visit Armenia.  Not an easy trip.  I got there by bus from Turkey via Georgia but left by plane from Georgia.  Do go in spring til fall since the winter is brutal.