Official name: Republic of Armenia
Population: 3 000 000
Area: 29 743 km²
Tourist attractions of Armenia, Armenia – the present times, history of Armenia.
Tourist attractions of Armenia
Let me just remind that Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war and all connections and all border crossings between the two countries are closed. For that reason it is necessary to always transit through Georgia. Armenia was more beautiful than I could even expect. I was delighted by the mountains and magnificent churches built many centuries ago and I definitely recommend Armenia to every adventure traveller. Whilst in Yerevan I felt sometimes like on a catwalk because there were so many beautiful women around, what is also a very good thing about the country. I was travelling around Armenia for about 2,5 weeks, trying good food, enjoying hospitality of the people and sometimes listening to their stories of bad Azerbaijan. Once again, Armenia was a wonderful adventure during which I was usually crossing mountains on the way to ancient churches.
Armenia is a very underappreciated but in my point of view a very attractive country to tourists. The same as Georgia, Armenia is also covered by mountains with many ancient churches. My trip around Armenia was a hitchhiking experience which I praised for many reasons. Even though Armenia is a country of beautiful mountains and a few attractive caves and canyons, it is the Christian monasteries which are usually the prime target of all expeditions. Whilst moving around this beautiful, mountainous, crossed by rivers country I got to such wonderful churches as Haghpat and Sanahin, located close to a mining town of Alaverdi, and then to a great Akhtala monastery with beautiful frescoes inside. Then, I hitchhiked through the mountains and I got to the town of Dilijan, and from there I went to the monasteries of Haghartsin i Goshavank. I have very fond memories from the Sevan lake and the church of the same name built on top of the mountain, from where I admired the beautiful views. The capital, Yerevan is also a nice city; especially the opera, the fountain near the National Museum and the very special building in the form of a pyramid called Cascade.
On the way to the south I also stopped at the Kor Virap monastery to admire the biblical landscape of mount Ararat where Noha’s Ark settled after the flood. I also liked Noravank monastery and the canyon which led to it. The whole of Armenia is full of beautiful landscapes, old fortresses and of course the churches. I also recommend Vayots Dzor which is one of my favourite parts of Armenia, Over there travellers can see the country life, they can eat nuts, pomegranates and grapes straight from trees and then go for another expedition. On the way to the Nagorno Karabakh I also stayed in the town of Goris where I saw houses built inside rocks, similar to those in Cappadocia. About 30km from Goris there is also a fortified monastery of Tatev, which sits on the edge of a cliff and which is one of the top landmarks of Armenia. To a tourist Armenia is a country of beautiful nature and beautiful churches set in picturesque landscapes. Food is good and healthy and people are nice and helpful. Armenia turned out to be one of my favourite countries and that’s why I warmly recommend it.
I spent about 3 weeks in Armenia, sometimes sleeping in a tent and sometimes just under the sky. I travelled mostly by hitchhiking what let me have a very good contact with people.
Armenia – the present times
After years of economic progress in 2009 GDP of Armenia fell by 14%. In the next years GDP got better respectively 2% and later 4.6%, just to fall again of another 3.8%. In the years of the Soviet Union economy was planned centrally and a lot of people used to find jobs in textile industry, machinery and industrialization, which were later exported to Russia and other Soviet republics. After 1991 Armenia started to change into an agricultural country (44.2%), slowly turning away from big factories in a Soviet style (17%). The problem in developing Armenian economy is halted by an unregulated conflict about the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, what made Turkey and Azerbaijan close their borders with Armenia. This means that Armenia has only two open trade borders, with Georgia and Iran. We can then easily talk about an economic and geographic isolation, which hurts also because of low export and an economic crisis in Russia. For example the energy sector apart from small exceptions belongs to Russia and Armenia also depends on its political help. Gas is delivered from Russia and Iran and economic losses have been equalized to a certain degree thanks to foreign help, mainly because of Armenians working abroad and foreign investments. The weak currency (dram) is also a big problem, but also corruption, big debts towards Russia and unemployment at a level of 7%, although unemployment of people at age 15-24 stands at 57%. According to data from 2010 about 35.8% lives below poverty level what creates extreme situation, like for example wives pushed into prostitution by their own husbands.
Education in Armenia is free and compulsory at the primary and secondary level. About 60% of all students graduate from secondary schools and about 15% graduate from universities. Armenia has a well developed network of universities which are popular within many students from other countries including Russia and the USA, and because 98% of students are from Armenia the studies are based on Armenian culture and history.
Because of weak economy and high unemployment a lot of children miss their school activities to work instead. Between 2004 and 2005 schools were regularly misses by 7360 schoolchildren what at the population of 3m is a lot. Regardless of that however literacy level stands at 99.6%.
Even though there are a lot of well educated doctors in Armenia the health system is bad and it is desperate fro general reforms. Health problems start in Armenia at an early age because of poor diet and smoking, which is a cultural norm. Heart diseases including heart attacks are the main reason of deaths in Armenia and it is responsible for 18% of deaths. An average life expectancy in Armenia is only 73 years although women live about 8 years longer. The sad truth is that about 80% deaths could be avoided if Armenians ate better, if they didn’t smoke and exercised.
Sad data show also that only 1.6% of GDP is allocated for health service, what means that only 39% of all costs are funded by the government. The rest has to be paid by people what is a tragedy in a country where 35% of population lives below poverty level. Also the quality in hospitals varies and depends on the location. The same, bad situation is with health of mothers and children because in Armenia on average 18 children die before the age of 5. When it comes to HIV/AIDS about 3500 people live with the virus, and from the first infection in 1998 about 500 people have died from the virus. The most vulnerable area is the capital city of Yerevan (40% of all incidents), and as always the social margin (drug users and faggots) are most vulnerable.
The culture of Armenia is determined by geography because although it differs from its neighbours it has elements similar to Georgia, Iran and the Mediterranean countries. Armenia was also a part of the Soviet Union what despite strong national identity it had its reflection on the country. Armenia has also its classical literature, which origins go back to 401 year and despite very difficult history it was developing throughout the centuries until today. Apart from that Armenians have its national dance and music and few centuries old cave paintings showing folk dances. It can be also said that the culture of Armenia is based on Christianity what can be also seen in the architecture. Throughout the centuries Armenians created a lot of interesting, making great impression churches and basilicas, often built in beautiful surroundings of nature. To these days the biggest attractions of Armenia are churches such as Khor Virap monastery built in the front of the snowy peak of Ararat. Other ancient churches are for example Geghard and the Armenian Acropolis called Garni. Armenia has also its old tradition of making carpets, coming from the XIII century. Usually women occupied themselves with carpet making but sometimes also men. The art of Armenian carpets has been admired by other nations and cultures too and it includes motives of dragons and eagles and it is always rich in colours. Armenia is a country of art and in the capital of Yerevan there are about 1600 works from many centuries ago. Another tradition is crocheting which includes Christian symbolism and it is the women’s specialty. Very good food is also a part of Armenian culture and it includes rich spices, vegetables and fish. Armenian cuisine is similar to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Armenia is also a country of one of the best alcohols in the world. The country produces wine, brandy and cognac which achieved many prizes around the world. Armenia is also a country of fruit like apricots and pomegranates symbolizing fertility. The most popular sport is football but the highest achievements Armenia has in wrestling, chess and weight lifting.
Freedoms of press and speech in Armenia are very limited and described as not free. In my point of view a rigorous criticism of Armenia makes no sense because the country keeps improving. Few years ago journalists were imprisoned for printing articles against the government what allegedly does not happen now. Internet and satellite TV are the main media which are controlled by the government. Few years ago Armenia was 101st on the press freedom index and today it id on the 77th place. Armenia is therefore a country of a very limited freedom of speech.
In the times of Soviet Union Armenia was a republic where Soviets forced a lot of heavy industry, what resulted in destruction of natural environmental. Because of that a few environmental organizations were born what helped people to acknowledge that problem. One factory was closed but because of economic problems it was reopen again, and in the northern Armenia there is also a nuclear plant which is built in an area prone to earthquakes. The same nuclear plant was reopen in 1995 due to shortages of energy caused by sanctions imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, what does not change the fact that in case of an earthquake Armenia would suffer an ecological disaster. Also during very cold winters in the 90s a big part of forest disappeared because trees were used as fuel. Armenian government says that it will close the plant as soon as there is a different way of producing energy but the Armenian government says a lot and mostly they simply lie. Using pesticides is another big problem because they poisoned soils and rivers. Apart from one nuclear plant and one hydro power plant which supplies 30% of Armenian energy, the rest is imported. About 7.6% of Armenian territory is protected and 10 animal species are also under protection. The climate change has also effects on desertification and droughts what means that there are less and less agricultural lands and dying of animal species. In higher mountains ice melting has bad impact on economy and the overall state of natural environment.
History of Armenia
Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world, and together with minor Asia and Persian lowland it is known as the cradle of Indo-European culture. First written data come from the II century B.C. when Armenia was mentioned as Hayasa. Then in the I century B.C. history mentions about the Kingdom of Urart, which were a few Armenian villages located in the territories of current Armenian mountains. During that time Erebuni Fortress was built (782 B.C.) and the Ararat Kingdom (other name) left a lot of cultural heritage. Then another kingdom emerged which was conquered by Iran and in the IV century B.C. Armenia was conquered by Alexander the Great and it was annexed to Greece.
Then in 189 B.C. the Greater Armenia was created which territory included lands from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and from the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates to the Caucasian mountains. The Greater Armenia occupied a territory of 316 000 km² and 15 territories. During those times were created a lot of cities and rich art and also trade developed to a big degree. The Greater Armenia survived 600 years and it was the biggest kingdom in that part of the world, after the Roman Empire and the Parthian Kingdom.
Another very important chapter in Armenian history was the year 301 A.D. when Armenians took Christianity as the first nation in the world. Another important thing was discovery of Armenian alphabet in 405th year A.D. what saved Armenia from assimilation to other and stronger nations.
The new era was a brutal chapter of wars between the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Parthia. Unfortunately Armenia was in the middle of those two what in the IV century ended in its division into West and East.
When it comes to the later history it was the blackest chapter of Armenian times because the Ottoman Empire started growing in strength. In the effect of that Byzantium ceased to exist and its all territories became subjects of war between the Ottomans and Persia.
As an outcome of those wars in 1639 apart from small villages Armenia was annexed by The Ottoman Empire. Then as result of war between Russia and Persia in 1828, eastern Armenia including Yerevan was annexed by Russia and the western part was under control of Turkey. It is difficult to talk about luck but those Armenians who were under control of Russia could at the end talk about luck. Turks committed genocide in the most cruel way possible, what resulted in Armenia losing its Armenian population. Over 1.5m Armenians were killed. One of many deadly ways of Turks was putting Armenians on ships and throwing them out to the sea far away from the shore.
In 1918 in eastern Armenia was created an independent Republic of Armenia, which survived 2.5 years. Despite that the first Republic of Armenia fell very quickly because it was constantly invaded by armies of Ottoman Turkey and Bolshevik Russia. In 1920 Armenia was changed into a first Soviet Republic and it experienced more cruelty from the hands of Stalin and Bolsheviks, although certain improvements were made in industrialization and social life. Then in the years 1941-1945 Armenian soldiers fought against fascism on a side of the Soviet Union. Armenian army had a lot of rewards for honour and bravery on the battlefield and from 600.000 soldiers 200.000 did not come back home. Armenians also entered Berlin with the Soviet army in 1945. What is very interesting the Soviet Union had 60 Armenian generals and many Armenian soldiers received the highest decorations. Despite the lack of independence, despite the war and many other problems Armenia was lifting itself. After war economy and industries started to develop and many important industries were found in Armenia by the Soviet Union. The most popular ones were: machines, energy, metallurgy, military electronics and food industry and science. Unfortunately in 1921 a new big problem appeared which exists until today. According to the wishes of Stalin the Nagorno Karabakh which was historically a part of Armenia became a part of Azerbaijan. As a result Nagorno Karabakh divided Armenia and Azerbaijan to such a degree that the two countries are in a constant conflict and that’s why all diplomatic relations and even the borders remain closed. The problem is so serious that between the countries there are not even phone cables and the government of Azerbaijan does not let in anyone who has a Karabakh stamp in their passport. Of course the Armenian stamp in Azerbaijan is also highly unpopular in Azerbaijan and the conflict remains unsolved.
In 1991 Armenia became independent and its independence was straight away recognized by Russia, USA and many more countries. In 1992 Armenia also became a part of the UN.
Tourist visa: visa requirements to Armenia are very relaxed. Polish people and other citizens of EU do not need a visa. The maximum time allowed to stay in the country for tourists from Europe is 180 days.
Safety: I travelled 2.5 weeks around Armenia and I always felt safe, regardless of the time of night and day. Armenian people are very helpful, hospitable, and sociable, and they have good attitude towards tourists.
Moving around the country: there is a good network of minibuses in Armenia, which reaches the furthest corners of the country for rather small money. Additional means of transport are also taxis and hitchhiking, which many times turned out to be the best way of getting to know Armenia. I crossed most of Armenia by hitchhiking and this way of transport turned out to be the most convienient. Few times I had to walk many kilometres to the main road but it was always worth it.
Prices: (in 2013 when £1= 650AMD). Armenia is slightly more expensive that the neighbouring Georgia but still quite cheap. For a room I paid on average 1000-1500 dram and for transport I very rarely paid because I was hitchhiking. For a 35km taxi ride from the border to Alaverdi I paid 2000 drams and for city buses around 200 drams. Adventure travellers, who sleep in tents, do cheap shopping and move around only by hitchhiking would spend less. Most of my money I spent in Yerevan where prices are similar to those in Warsaw.
Climate: Armenia has a lot of types of climates which exist in one small area. Generally Armenia is described as a sunny country with a temperate climate, although everything depends on where we are. During summers air temperature is on average 25°C, but in the Ararat Valley they reach even 40°C. Winters are cold. The average temperature is about -5°C, although in the Ararat Valley it drops to -30°C, and around Arpi Lake it drops to even -46°C. The strongest precipitations are from April to June and in October.