Armenia at the crossroads of Europe and Asia

The small, landlocked country of Armenia would like to be European, but it is located firmly at the juncture of the most westerly part of Asia and the eastern part of Europe.  With Turkey to its west, Georgia to its right, Azerbaijan to its east and Iran to its south, Armenia also has a slight problem placating its neighbours, particularly Turkey and Azerbaijan with whom it has some long simmering issues, and with whom it does not have any diplomatic relations.

Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but the country has a very long history of human civilisation, and was the first country to adopt Christianity back in 301AD.

Archaeologists have also discovered the earliest show, skirt and wine vessels in Armenia, which date back at least 4,000 years.

Given that the country is close to present day Iran, Iraq and Turkey, which were the cradle of modern civilisation, it should not be surprising that many empires have both ruled from and been overthrown in the area we now call Armenia.

Once the centre of the Hittite Empire the land has, at various times, been dominated by Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Turks and Soviets, most of whom left indelible marks which are now part of Armenia’s traditions.

Throughout the capital, Yerevan, there are more than 40 museums and galleries presenting fine arts. The country as a whole is often referred to as an outdoor museum. It has over 4,000 historical monuments, which cover various periods of the country’s development from prehistoric to Hellenistic era, from early to medieval Christian era as the stone carved crosses and cathedrals may recall the European Renaissance.

Literary and artistic history is studied and exhibited in Matenadaran, the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which preserves a unique collection of over 15,000 complete manuscripts, fragments and miniatures dating back millennia. The majority of these manuscripts are the research works of ancient scholars on astrology, alchemy, geography, history, medicine, poetry and musical arts.     

The capital Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities being founded in 782BC.   The volcano Mt Ararat forms a very attractive backdrop to Yerevan, although Mt Ararat now falls within Turkish territory.  Even though Mt Ararat, where it is reputed that Noah’s Ark came to rest, is now in Turkey near the borders of both Armenia and Iran, it is an important Armenian symbol, even being featured on Armenia’s banknotes.

Yerevan is an easy city to negotiate, thanks to its extensive bus, trolley bus and metro systems.  The best way to reach Armenia is by air, and there is a good network of routes with many European and Asian countries.  Arriving by train is more problematical because due to the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia, there is only one international train that passes by once every two days, with neighbouring Georgia being its destination.

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