The Armenian Cultural Heritage in Foreign Lands



The Armenian Cultural Heritage in Foreign Lands

Armenian culture has its peculiar presence not only within the borders of the country, but it also left its trace across the globe. Here are several sites of Armenian origin, included in UNESCO Cultural Heritage List from other countries. 

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo :

Archaeological Site of Ani

According to the UNESCO procedure, countries cannot nominate for the inscription at the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List if the sites are located in other countries. Nevertheless, for each state the registration of its historical/cultural heritage at UNESCO Cultural Heritage List is extremely important from the conservation perspective, even if it’s done by another country. The international recognition transfers the site from the national level to the international one, inviting the attention of much wider publics. This was the case with the Archaeological Site of Ani inscribed by Turkey in 2016. 
The ancient Armenian metropolis Ani is located in Kars province of Turkey and used to have over 100,000 residents by the 11th century. The “City of Forty Gates” flourished in the period of the 10-11 centuries CE, when it became the capital of medieval Armenia under the rule of Bagratide Kingdom. In the initial UNESCO inscription application, the Turkish government mentioned few words about the Armenian origin of the site. “However, we made some serious efforts and managed to update the application and ensure that the Armenian trace is present,” says Artashes Arakelyan, the chief specialist at the Department of International Relations of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports.

Chapel in the Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins in Ani, Turkey


Ani was an important meeting point at the route controlling trade between Byzantium, Persia, Syria and Central Asia. It’s worth noting that Turkish side preferred to use the term “Anatolian silk road” refusing to mention the “Western Armenia” term. The cross-cultural interactions emerged into a new cultural style which was specific to the city of Ani, however, the Armenian trace was a central motive in the city. Ani was known to the world as the “city of a thousand and one churches” and all of them of Armenian origin, except for one. One could witness the evolution and innovations of medieval architecture all at one place just visiting the site, enabling them to look behind the curtain of time and appear in the heart of Medieval Armenia. The city was always at the spotlight of the Turkish government which used it as lever in the problematic relationship with Armenia. Last year, the Turkish government representatives visited the site and made several announcements but they didn’t mention the name Armenian in any of them, despite the fact that the latter was once a renowned capital of Armenia. 

North wall of Ani, Turkey


Armenia left its trace at yet another site, which was inscribed at the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List by Turkey. Standing as a crown on the highest peak of the Taurus mountain chain of Turkey, Nemrut Dag was built by Antiochus I of the Kingdom of Commagene (69-34 B.C.), an Armenian King whose lineage connected him to the Seleucids, Ptolemies, and Macedonians. The mortuary complex – including sculpture, temples, inscriptions, and reliefs at the site, represent a mixture of local religions such as Armenian, Greek, and Persian. Mount Nemrut Archaeological Site was rediscovered in 1881, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1987 and established as a National Park the following year. Master sculptors immortalized the king seated among the gods, including Greco-Roman deities such as Zeus, Apollo, and Heracles. According to some historians, these sculptures of divine entities could be considered as the representatives of Armenian and Persian pantheons. Interestingly, the statues appear to have Greek-style facial features but Armenian clothing and hairstyle. 

On the top of Nemrut dagh, Turkey


Turkey has another Armenian cultural marvel at its tentative list for inscription at UNESCO’s cultural heritage list since 2015: the church of the Holy Cross located on Akhtamar Island, also known as Akdamar, Aghtamar and Ahtamar, built between 915 and 921 A.D. by Armenian king Gagik I Ardzruni. The UNESCO website says “Akhtamar Church represents a unique accomplishment in Christian architecture, displaying for the first time sculpted imagery on the exterior of a church in such an elaborate profusion,” the UNESCO website said. The church was restored in 2005 and after 95 years of break has started serving divine liturgy since 2010 by the initiative of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. UNESCO also highlighted that the inclusion of the site at UNESCO’s World Heritage list would contribute to the Van becoming a tourism center. Interestingly, Turkish government declared about their application for Agdamar on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide but in order to add the site to the tentative list, they had to add “Armenian Church” on board of the Akhtamar Holy Church. 

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lake Van, Turkey


The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran is yet another particle of Armenian heritage in Caucasus region. The site is located in the north-west of the country and consists of three monastic ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith: St Thaddeus and St Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor. The oldest St. Thaddeus Church is considered as one of the few known Christian holy places, where the remains of Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ are known to rest. 

The Saint Stepanos Monastery, Iran


“We should note the level of professionalism by which the Persian side continuously preserves the site,” Mr. Arakelyan noted, “they’ve even requested experts from Armenia when preparing the applications for nominations.”

Another important religious relic of Armenian origin was inscribed under the general application by Palestine in 2012, namely the Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route. The latter is located not far from Jerusalem on the site identified by Christian tradition as the birthplace of Jesus. The site also includes Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian convents and churches, as well as bell towers, terraced gardens and a pilgrimage route. In the beginning of the year, Prince Charles visited the Armenian church at the Church of the Nativity, driving the attention of the international audience once again. 

Yet another religious trace of Armenia can be found in Ukraine, inscribed into UNESCO’s list as a part of Lvyv Historical Center. The city was founded in the late Middle Ages, and up to these days saved its multicultural atmosphere with high artistic value of Renaissance and Baroque traditions. Since its establishment, the city has blossomed due to its favorable geographical position for trade and political development. Today, the surviving architectural and artistic heritage reflects a mishmash of Eastern European traditions. The presence of different cultures and ethnic communities is seen in the surviving buildings, including a mosque, a synagogue and a variety of religious buildings from the Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches.

According to Mr. Arakelyan, the 70% of Armenian historical/cultural heritage is outside of its borders, conveying the Armenian spirit across the world. Some of them we know, some of them don’t but it’s a proven fact that at almost all spots of the world one can see the footprints of Armenia.

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