Soviet Yerevan

soviet yerevan

The architectural influence of the Soviet years cannot be missed in Yerevan. Two examples in particular viscerally embody the grandiose massive-scale drama associated with Soviet architectural projects: the Armenian Genocide Monument and the 50th Anniversary of the Soviet Armenia monument. The latter can be reached from central Yerevan via the Cascade stairway.

The Armenian Genocide Monument at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex is moving and stark. The monument consists of a tall spire next to 12 enormous slabs of rock positioned in a tilted form around an eternal flame. With ghostly music playing on a loop in the background, the site is a powerful, emotionally-laden place of remembrance. The broad plaza around the monument is so big that it could easily accommodate hundreds of visitors simultaneously and not feel full. The monument dates to 1967.

The monument’s starkness has nothing on the neighboring museum, however, which documents the harrowing genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman soldiers across Anatolia from 1915 through the early 1920s. The museum approaches its tragic subject matter in an extremely methodical manner, listing the regions where Armenians were killed and in what numbers, and providing various forms of documentation of Armenian cultural life during the era in question. Entry to the museum is free.soviet yerevan

The Cascade leaves a less troubling impression. If the Genocide monument is irrevocably painful, the Cascade is joyful, utilized more or less as a park. An enormous terraced staircase, the Cascade connects central Yerevan with the Monument to the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia. Construction on the Cascade began in the 1970s, and the stairway’s development has stopped and started a few times. Currently, the Cafesjian Center for the Arts is housed within it.

The Monument to the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia towers above the Cascade. It is visible at the top of the image above. The monument has three features of note: a stone column, a low-lying rectangular building, closed to visitors, and a massive landing with great views over Yerevan. Cursory research has revealed that this monument was never completed. Today it towers over the city, commemorating Armenia’s tenure as a republic of the Soviet Union prior to independence.

These monuments are interesting and significant places for grasping Armenia’s recent past and current presence. They are essential stops for any visitor to Yerevan.

Check out other stories in Gadling’s Far Europe and Beyond series.

Remains of forgotten genocide victims returned by Berlin museum

genocide, Herero genocide, NamibiaIt’s the genocide most people have forgotten, a ruthless extermination of men, women, and children while an uncaring world focused on other things.

From 1904 to 1908, German colonial rulers in what is now Namibia systematically exterminated the Herero and Nama people. They had rebelled against the colonizers and the German army quickly defeated them. Not satisfied with a only a military victory, the Germans pushed both tribes into the desert, where they starved and died of thirst. Nobody knows how many perished but it may have been as many as 100,000.

A grim relic of this genocide are twenty Herero and Nama skulls kept in the Berlin Medical Historical Museum. One skull is from a three-year-old boy. Originally they had been preserved with the skin and hair intact and used for “studies” to prove the superiority of the white race.

This week the skulls were returned to tribal leaders after an apology and a ceremony. This is the latest in a series of repatriations of human remains to native peoples from museums. Many nations, the United States included, have passed laws requiring human remains to be returned. Identification and legal technicalities slow down the process, however. Berlin collections still include about 7,000 skulls. Then there’s the question of shrunken heads, which were often sold by tribal peoples to collectors, and of very ancient remains that cannot be traced to an existing tribe.

We forget genocides at our peril. Hitler felt he could get away with the Holocaust because nobody cared about the genocide of the Herero and Nama, or the genocide of the Armenians during World War One. Even many of the Holocaust’s victims are forgotten. While everyone knows six million Jews died, many are unaware of the millions of Slavs, Gypsies, political activists, homosexuals, Born-Again Christians, and disabled who were also killed.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Archaeologists discover world’s oldest wine press in Armenia

wine, armenia, ArmeniaArchaeologists in Armenia have discovered what they believe to be the world’s oldest wine press. The press is inside a cave, where they found the remains of grape seeds, pressed grapes, and vines of Vitis vinifera vinifera , the same type of grape still used in winemaking today. The site is dated at 4,000 BC, about 900 years older than the previous record holder–wine from the tomb of King Scorpion I, a ruler of Upper Egypt before that country became unified.

This isn’t the first time Armenia has broken an archaeological record. Last summer archaeologists found the world’s oldest leather shoe in the same region. These discoveries are hardly surprising. Armenia is an ancient land with a rich history. It had a complex prehistoric culture that culminated in the Kingdom of Urartu in the 9th century BC. Urartu was one of the greatest ancient civilizations of the Near East.

Armenia suffered from its position between several empires, and while it was often independent it also changed hands between the Romans, Persians, Byzantines, and other powers all the way down to the Soviet Union. Now it’s an independent nation again. It also has the distinction of being the world’s oldest Christian nation, having converted in the early 4th century AD.

During all this time they never stopped making wine. They were one of the main wine producers in the Soviet Union and have since started exporting their wine worldwide. Armenian wine even spread to Africa. During the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War One, some Armenians fled to Ethiopia, where they cultivated vineyards. Many Armenian reds are very sweet and rich, and Ethiopian wine has a similar quality.

All of these past cultures and the Armenians’ own rich heritage has created an interesting destination for adventure travelers. Sadly I’ve never been there, but it’s been on my shortlist for years. Poring over maps and books, it’s easy to see that I’d need to spend a lot of time. The mountains offer remote trekking, there are medieval buildings to explore such as the Saghmosavank monastery pictured below, and there are even wine-tasting tours. People who have been there tell me it’s still pretty cheap, making it an attractive budget travel destination.

Maybe 2011 will be the year for me to finally get there?

[Wine photo courtesy Arthur Chapman. Saghmosavank photo courtesy Olivier Jaulent]

Armenia, armenia