Culture

Introduction to the Culture of Armenia

The Armenians, being considered one of the ancient nations in the world, throughout the centuries have developed cultural traditions that are reflected in the areas of architecture, stone-carving, music, literature, painting, miniature art, etc. In spite of the hard suppressions and assimilation risks under the domination of Romans, Persians, Arabs, Ottomans and Russians, the Armenians have always maintained their cultural identity. Armenia is referred to as an open air museum: several thousands of historical and religious monuments are spread throughout the country dating from prehistorical to modern times. Within Yerevan you can count more than forty fine arts museums and galleries.

 Architecture has been an integral part of the Armenian people’s culture for millennia.

Armenia’s outstanding skills and rich artistic traditions are vividly manifested in majestic architectural structures. Such widely known edifices as the fortress of Erebuni-Yerevan (8th century BC), the Garni Temple (1st c. AD), the Echmiadzin Cathedral (4th c.), St. Hripsime’s and Zvartnots churches (7th c.), palaces and cathedrals in Ani, the monastery compounds of Noravank, Haghpat, Sanahin and Gandzasar (10-13th cc.) are acknowledged jewels in the history of world architecture.

Apart from secular construction represented by palaces and fortresses for the kings and catholicoi, bridges and caravansaries to accommodate the extensive trade that passed through the country, Armenian architecture is essentially that of church buildings, thus a Christian architecture with several features that make an Armenian church instantly recognizable.

Khachkars (“Խաչքար” in Armenian, literally meaning “cross-stone”) are a uniquely Armenian form of art, which evolved into incredibly ornate form reaching its peak in the 12-13th centuries. Khachkars were most commonly used as tombstones, but were sometimes used as memorials erected on different occasions to mark a military victory, construction of churches, bridges, etc. The placement of Khachkars was accompanied by a special ceremony, during which they were blessed and anointed.  The Khachkars are open-air, approachable, observable from close up, and touchable steles. In the composition of Khachkar the cross appears as its main component, and the remaining elements assume ideological value through their position and connection to the cross. The cross appeared as a custodian and transmitter, a mediator of remembrance to God, leading and showing the way toward the Second Advent.

Painting  Art: from the various types of painting with its perception as an image on a flat surface (on walls – frescos, on wood – icons, in manuscripts – miniature, on canvas – painting, on floors – mosaic), the history of Armenian painting is known mostly from the study of miniatures.

Wall painting was practiced in Armenia, although less than in neighboring countries, however very little has survived of frescos. The few survived mosaics are influenced by foreign traditions, whereas icon painting was never practiced in Armenia. Canvas painting is relatively more, dating from most part to the 18th century and later. It is difficult to understand the painting art of Armenia of 18th -20th centuries out of the context of cultural relations with Russia, Western Europe and the East.  Famous painters like H. Hovnatanian, Aivazovsky, M. Saryan, G.Bashinjaghyan, V. Surentyants and others have a great input in the formation of the Armenian painting art.

Miniature  Art: the jewels of Armenian figurative art, without doubt, are the miniatures with centuries old history and traditions. Although thousands of Armenian manuscripts and miniatures  were stolen, burnt or destroyed by different dominators, a very large number of manuscripts are still preserved, nearly 30 000, dating from the 9th to 19th centuries and produced in every region inhabited by Armenians. At least ten thousand of these manuscripts are illuminated containing one or more miniatures.

In the medieval Christian world, of which Armenia was a part, manuscript production was carried out by monks or priests in churches or monasteries. Each monastery had a scriptorium where manuscripts were copied, illustrated and bound with a division of labour and skills, though a scribe could possibly illustrate and bind his own manuscript.

The main subject for the miniatures was the life of Christ, so the Four Gospels were the most illustrated texts.  It was usual to include a portrait of each of the Evangelists at the beginning of the manuscript. In the body of the text marginal decorations were often introduced: birds, fish, crosses, floral and geometric motifs, small narrative scenes.

 

Music is an integral part of the daily life of Armenians. The first expressions of musical rituals on the Armenian Highlands are reflected in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Hittite tribes that once lived in neighboring Asia Minor.
The formation of the professional music art is connected to the formation of liturgical music in the Armenian Church. From the 17th century the ashugh singing art became popular, while theinstrumental music developed mostly from the 19th century. The past two centuries gave birth to famous composers and musicians among which Komitas, A. Spendiaryan,  A. Khachaturyan, A. Tigranyan, M. Ekmalyan and others. Contemporaty music comes in form of jazz and pop. Frequent concerts are held in the Philharmonic, Chamber Music Hall, Opera and Ballet House and many other smaller music halls in Yerevan.

Literature has always played an important role in Armenia’s cultural and national identity. Before the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the 5th century, various forms of literature passed to generations by oral tradition or written in foreign languages. The 5th century became ‘the Golden Age’ of Armenian literature with the translation of the Holy Bible and the famous religious, historical and scientific masterpieces of that period as well as the formation of local Armenian literature.  The best place to view the literary and artistic values of Armenian culture is Matenadaran, the depository of more than 17 000 manuscripts, extraordinary miniatures and ancient fragments among which the earliest copies of  the works of  famous historians Movses Khorenatsi,  Aghatangheghos, Yeznik Koghbatsi, Eghishe, Koryun as well as manuscripts on theology, astronomy, astrology, geography, history, medicine, poetry and music.

Armenia is very famous also for its cultural events that are being held yearly. The year 2013 was memorable by the declaration of Yerevan as the “World Book Capital”, by the great  concert of Andrea Bocelli. Yearly many festivals and cultural events are being held in Armenia, As the filmn festival of “Golden Apricot”, Photo contest and exhibition “Hayfest”,etc.


Armenia is also proud by its sons and daughters who have changed the flow of the human history. World famous Ivan Aivazovsky (Hovhannes Aivazyan)- legendary painter known with his seascapes and is considered one of the greatest marine artists in history; Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian) - singer, songwriter, actor, public activist and diplomat. Besides being one of France’s most popular and enduring singers, he is also one of the best-known French singers in the world. Aznavour is known for his unique tenor voice ; Arshile Gorky – a phenomenon painter,who has been called both the last of the great Surrealists and the first of the Abstract Expressionists ; Aram Khachaturyan, which has an irreplaceable role in the world music, and many others.

 

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