Armenia has a lot to offer to the world – both locations and sites, which hold the spirit of the rich heritage, practices and traditions remaining actual and transcending time. From the glorious Kochari dance to the magnificent Upper Azat Valley, Regional Post writes about the symbols of Armenia represented in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List and Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan

UNESCO World Heritage Sites 

Geghard Monastery and the Upper Azat Valley
Year: 2000
Geghard Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Armenia with two-storey stone temples and an adjacent church. The complex of medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty at the entrance to the Azat Valley. Halfway down the western side of the fence is a small rock chapel, the oldest monument in the monastery, with some scripts on the wall, including several from the 12th century. Geghard Monastery landed its well-deserved place on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The latter describes the site as an exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a medieval Armenian monastic foundation. Also, in December of 2018, UNESCO granted the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley “an object of enhanced protection” status as a value of exceptional importance to humanity. The decision was made in Paris during the 13th Protocol Committee meeting at the headquarters of UNESCO under the Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954. As a result, Geghard became the first cultural value on the territory of Armenia to be granted a status of “objects of enhanced protection”. 

Carved in a monolithic rock, originally the monastery was called Airivank (a monastery in the rock). From the 13th century on, it was also called Geghard in honor of the Spear of Destiny (also known as Holy Lance) which pierced Jesus. The Spear has been kept in the monastery for nearly 500 years and is now preserved in the Echmiadzin Cathedral Museum. According to legend, Gregory the Illuminator (Grigor Lusavorich) founded the Geghard Monastery in the place of a pagan temple at the beginning of the 4th century, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia. 
Many myths revolve around the history of the monastery but the most interesting one is about the precious treasure preserved in the northern wall of the Geghard Cave Monastery. In fact, using the natural light which penetrated through the opening in the roof, the architects of the monastery had managed to give it a somewhat round shape similar to that of a diamond. When conqueror Tamerlane tried to take the treasure away, the moment he went closer to it, his shadow covered the light, and the treasure "disappeared." But just as he decided to leave and took a step back, he saw the treasure again. 
After the earthquake in Garni in 1679, the diamond disappeared forever.


Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin 
Year: 1996 and 2000, respectively
The monastic complex of Haghpat and Sanahin has quite an interesting structure, combining asymmetrical but volumetric forms, beautifully fitting into Lori’s picturesque nature. The two monasteries are the most vivid example of Armenian religious architecture between the 10th and 13th centuries. They functioned as spiritual, cultural and educational centers, covering such areas as philosophy, medicine, rhetoric, music, etc. 
Originally, in 1995, the State Party submitted a nomination to the World Heritage List for both Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries. However, at that time, there were some difficulties related to the ownership of the Sanahin and there were still restoration works going on at the site. Thus, in 1996, the Committee decided that only Haghpat should be inscribed at the time. Haghpat Monastery comprises several churches and auxiliary buildings, with the main St. Nshan Church built between AD 976 and 991 (architect Trdat). Distinguished by its integrated interior and vast dominating dome, the church is a complete and brilliant example of new stylistic trend of Armenian architecture of the 10th and 11th centuries. The Monastery Complex is also very rich in khachkars (cross-stone), one of which – the Amenaprkich (Redeemer) (AD 1273) – being probably one of the most famous and iconic khachkars of Armenia. 

However, considering the great cultural importance of both monasteries, the fact that two of them are located in a very close distance and that they were founded as part of the same movement of national regeneration, the Committee realized that it was logical to consider them as a single complex for inscription on the World Heritage List, and eventually, in 2000, they decided to approve the extension of the inscribed property, and Sanahin also received its well-deserved place on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. 
Sanahin Monastery Complex was founded by Queen Khosrovanush (wife of King Ashot III the Merciful) in 966 and includes several churches and other buildings representing the richness of Armenia’s medieval architecture. The main churches of the complex are St. Astvatsatsin and St. Amenaprkich which are considered the finest examples of classical Armenian medieval architecture. More than 50 khachkars are preserved in Sanahin illustrating the evolution of Armenian khachkar throughout the decades.


Cathedral and Churches of Echmiadzin and Archeological Site of Zvartnots
Year: 2000
Vagharshapat is located in Armavir Marz (province) of Armenia. It is one of the most important cities for the followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church as its spiritual and administrative center – Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, is located there. The settlement has existed since ancient times, which is proved by the archeological sites of Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age preserved in and near the city. The town had several names referring to the period of each ruler, however after the adoption of Christianty (AD 301) the city was called Echmiadzin along with its original name Vagharshapat. 

In 2000, Cathedral and Churches of Echmiadzin and Archeological Site of Zvartnots were inscribed on the World Heritage List. The decision was based on several criterias. Namely, the exceptional architecture of the Churches at the site and Zvartnots, and the huge influence they had on the archaeological trends and manners over a wide region. Additionally, the nominee had vividly illustrated not only the spiritual achievements but also the innovative artistic gainings of the Armenian Church since its inception. The inscribed property consists of three separate areas: the Mother Cathedral of Echmiadzin and St. Gayane Church (7th century), St. Hripsime Church (7th century) and St. Shoghakat Church (17th century). The third area is the archaeological site of Zvartnots. The latter is believed to have been the indigenous marvel of Armenian architecture. According to the proposed reconstruction the height of the church was about 45 meters, which is extremely unusual for the 7th-century architectural approaches. St. Gayane and St. Hripsime were nuns martyred in the period when Armenia was about to adopt Christianity as its state religion. After the conversion, they were sanctified, and the churches were built on the location of their martyrdom. Shoghakat Church on its turn was built later in dedication to martyred nuns. 
The Churches of Echmiadzin and Zvartnots have witnessed the inception of Christianity in Armenia and are extraordinary examples of the unique Armenian architecture, practically illustrating its evolution and blossom. Thus, their inscription in UNESCO’s World Heritage was no surprise.

UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List

Performance of the Armenian epic of “Daredevils of Sassoun” or “David of Sassoun”
Year: 2012
In 2012, the performance of the Armenian epic “Daredevils of Sassoun” (Sasna Tsrer in Armenian) was inscribed into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The piece tells the story of David of Sassoun, who defends his homeland in an unequal fight against external enemies. The performance of the epic is presented with a lyrical voice with rhythmic pronunciation, in a peculiar – typical to Armenians – poetic style, usually accompanied by the sound of duduk. The presenters usually wear national costumes during the performance and there’s no age or gender limitation. The performances may last up to two hours. One may come across the epic at different celebrations in the villages: during weddings, birthdays, christenings and major national cultural events. Mostly in rural communities, the epic is passed from generation to generation through verbal recitation. It was first captured in writing in the XIX century. Eventually, after decades since its inception, there are 160 variants of its telling. The epic is a part of an educational program at all local schools and is considered one of the most important works of Armenian traditional folklore, constituting an encyclopedia and repository of the entire range of knowledge about the heritage of Armenian people, their regional peculiarities, mythology, philosophy, religion and other practices. The epic has inspired many works of art by Armenian artists and sculptors and was presented gazillion times in theatrical performances. 


Armenian cross-stones art: Symbolism and craftsmanship of Khachkars
Year: 2010
Khachkar (cross-stone) is an extraordinary and unique piece representing Armenian traditional art. Carved from stone and believed to convey holy power, khachkars served as objects of religious worship and rituals, standing at the edge of the secular and the divine. Their height is usually 1.5 meters, including ornamental symbols of the sun or the wheel of eternity accompanied by the portrayal of saints, animals or other relevant elements. Khachkar craftsmanship is passed on through generations or through the master’s teaching his apprentice. Khachkar implies both regional distinctiveness and individual improvisation, and as a result, there are no repeated designs and patterns. Over 50,000 completely different khachkars can be found in the territory of Armenia, and there are also thousands of those hand-carved beauties in the historic territories of the country – in present day Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran. 

In 2010, Armenia submitted an application to UNESCO titled “Armenian Cross-Stones Art: Symbolism and Craftsmanship of Khachkars”. Azerbaijani representatives complained to the committee over Armenia’s bid, demanding a change in the application, arguing that the Khachkar was not only Armenian. However, the claim was declined and the same year Armenian khachkar was involved in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.


Duduk and its Music 
Year: 2008
Many Armenians often equate the sound of duduk with their identity. Duduk accompanies almost all traditional Armenian events of any mood, starting from festive celebrations of weddings and ending with funerals. Popular Armenian traditional songs and dances of various regions include the soft and melodic sound of duduk. It’s a woodwind instrument usually made of apricot wood. It can replenish any mood, used in lyrical, sorrowful or dramatic compositions as well as folk dances and songs. From the first sight the instrument is simple, however it can play a wide spectrum of tunes. In the past decade, duduk found its fame outside of Armenia’s borders. In recent years, duduk music was widely popularized not only in Armenia but in other countries as well. For instance, world famous film composer Hans Zimmer used duduk when creating the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning “Gladiator”. The roots of Armenian duduk music go back to the times of the Armenian king Tigran the Great (95-55 BC). The world knows duduk and its music through the world renowned duduk player and musician Jivan Gasparyan. Duduk and its music were inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008, but already in 2005, the latter was proclaimed as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. From 2006 to 2009, UNESCO implemented a state-developed Safeguarding Action Plan with the support of the Japan Funds-in-Trust, in order to preserve the marvel of Armenian culture in the “difficult modern social, cultural and political context in Armenia.” 


Kochari, traditional group dance 
Year: 2017
Kochari is an Armenian dance, originating more than 2 thousand years ago, which has hardly changed during several decades. At first, it was a part of a ritual dedicated to the worship of a ram as a symbol of strength, fight and victory. Kochari has also been used as a military ritual dance that serves to raise the morale of the army. There are many varieties of Kochari dance practiced in different parts of the country. One can witness everyone joining on the dancefloor for the unifying Kochari dance at any wedding, celebration or festival to bring in the spirit of their ancestors. In 2017, UNESCO Committee included the Armenian folk dance Kochari in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2018, Azerbaijan presented an application for the inscription of “Yali (Kochari, Tenzere), traditional group dances of Nakhchivan”, which could be viewed as an indirect aggression towards Armenia, and which, later on, caused some controversy around the question among the international audience. However, we must remember that Armenia had already received the inscription of Kochari as its national dance. Additionally, there have been several cases when UNESCO registered the same or almost the same intangible cultural heritage from a few countries. Finally, the case has to do with a “Yali” dance which has many variations and Azerbaijan may consider kochari as one of its types.


Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions
Year: 2019
The roots of Armenian letters date back to 405 AD when Armenian alphabet was created. Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions resembles the ancient art of Armenian letters, scripts and their unique decoration. The creation of the Armenian letters became a tipping point for Armenian history, resulting in the rise of Armenian culture and science. It’s an integral part of the cultural identity of Armenia. The letters carry the religious approaches of the Armenian people, starting with A, which stands for God (Astvats in Armenian) and ending with Q for Jesus Christ (Qristos in Armenian). It’s used in all areas – carpet weaving, embroidering, sculpture, linguistics, calligraphy, jewelry making, and more. The Armenian alphabet managed to remain unchanged for more than sixteen centuries. After the 12th century, three more letters (ԵՎ, Օ and Ֆ) were added.
2019 was also a flourishing year for the UNESCO-Armenia cooperation. The Armenian bid titled “Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions” got inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is said at the UNESCO website “Armenian letter art and its cultural expressions constitutes the centuries-old art of Armenian writing. Beyond its primary function to record and communicate information, Armenian letter art has penetrated almost all layers of society, particularly folk art.”


Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia
Year: 2014
Lavash is a traditional thin bread widely used in Armenia that constitutes an integral part of the traditional cuisine. In ancient times, lavash was prepared in different settlements of Armenian highlands in order to have fresh bread for a long period of time (Lavash can be stored up to six months). The receipt is quite simple (water, flour and salt) but the preparation is like a ritual, typically undertaken by a small group of women, and requires great effort and experience. 

Lavash is one of the symbols of prosperity in the Armenian culture. It even serves its role during the traditional wedding ceremony. In 2014, an application was submitted to the Committee by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, RA Ministry of Culture and UNESCO National committee of Armenia titled “Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia.” Interestingly, two year later, in 2016, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Iran presented a collective nomination titled “Flatbread making and sharing culture: Lavash, Katyrma, Jupka, Yufka,” which was eventually accepted by the Committee.

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