May 22, 2023
A visit to the numerous museums and cultural sites of Armenia is a revelation of the age and depth of this beautiful culture and very rapidly allows the visitor to understand the attachment that Armenians have to their culture. In the face of the ongoing attacks on the Armenian People and Culture, “Sewing Hope for Armenia” wishes to stress the importance of keeping alive and celebrating the beauty of what makes this centuries-old Armenian culture so unique, distractive, and special.
Let us take you on a tour of some (there are so many) of Armenia’s celebrated treasures together . . .
One of the most distinctive and valuable components of Armenian is the Armenian alphabet, which is over 1600 years old. Just outside of Yerevan, is Alphabet Park, a unique tribute built for Mesrop Mashtots, founder of this alphabet, are 39 giant, carved Armenian letters, strategically placed near the final resting place of the man who created the alphabet. When Mashtots began working on an Armenian alphabet, it was under great pressure so that it could be used to create a bible for the newly Christian kingdom. Elegantly planned, Mashtots laid out the structure of the alphabet around the religion. He made the first letter A, which was the first letter in the word Astvats, or God, and the last letter K’, which began the word K’ristos, Christ. He then put the finishing touches on the last 34 letters and his system has been used ever since, aside from the addition of 3 more letters.
The largest collection of scriptures in this Armenian alphabet can be in found in Yerevan center, at the Matenadaran which contains a total of some 23,000 manuscripts and scrolls—including fragments. The Museum also includes over 500,000 documents such as imperial and decrees of catholic, various documents related to Armenian studies, and archival periodicals. The manuscripts cover a wide array of subjects: religious and theological works (Gospels, Bibles, lectionaries, psalters, hymnals, homilies, and liturgical books), texts on history, mathematics, geography, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, alchemy, astrology, music, grammar, rhetoric, philology, pedagogy, collections of poetry, literary texts, and translations from Greek and Syriac.
But Armenia is much more than the Armenian Language. On Yerevan’s central Republic Square stands The History Museum of Armenia- a cultural organization of national significance, which over a century has been acquiring, collecting, discovering, accounting, preserving, studying, interpreting, and exhibiting tangible and intangible cultural values related to Armenia and the Armenian people, contributing to the development of science, education, and tourism. The museum collection reflects a complete picture of the culture and history of Armenia, from prehistoric times (one million eight hundred thousand years ago) to the present day, displaying about four hundred thousand archaeological, ethnographic, numismatic and other collections, the museum tries to bridge the past and the future.
Of particular interest to the Team at “Sewing Hope for Armenia” are the Armenian traditional costumes with their stable characteristic features which throughout the centuries, have always been a specific indication of the origins, development and historical fate of the Armenian people. They reflect their cultural identity and certain peculiarities of national temperament. Notwithstanding wars, migrations and foreign dominations in the course of millennia, the Armenian people have managed to preserve the symbolic notions and ideas of centuries-old clothing forms, ornaments and colours in their traditional costumes. These same forms, ornaments and colours are celebrated in Sewing Hope for Armenia’s fashion and home accessories lines.As a non-Armenian visiting these magical places for the first time, one naturally develops a fascination and admiration for this ancient and evolved culture. From language to art and fashion, through architecture and religion, every aspect of modern Armenian people’s lives is still very much defined by the thousands of years that have made this magical land and people what it is today.
It is this love and pride of their culture that has caused the Armenian people so much suffering over the years. Preferring death and persecution over abandoning all that makes them who they are, the Armenian have suffered greatly over time, culminating with the Armenian Genocide from 1890 to 1917, when over 1.5 million men, women and children would be humiliated, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and murdered by the Ottoman Empire, their culture (scriptures, churches, and music) destroyed with the same intensity and determination as their people. Their only crime – refusing to stop being Armenian. A heart wrenching but necessary next stop for any visitor of Armenia is the Tsitsernakaberd – the Armenian Genocide Memorial. Beautifully designed, this museum bears witness to the world’s first systematic eradication of an entire people and their culture. The criminal and horrific determination with which the Ottoman regime attempted to erase all of what a visitor to Armenia would have witnessed in the previous museums churns the stomach.
Although the present Turkish government still denies the very existence of there ever having taken place a Genocide against the Armenian People, Mustafa Arif Ottoman Minister of Interior testified in December 1918: “Surely a few Armenians aided and abetted our enemy, and a few Armenian Deputies committed crimes against the Turkish nation… it is incumbent upon a government to pursue the guilty ones. Unfortunately, our wartime leaders, imbued with a spirit of brigandage, carried out the law of deportation in a manner that could surpass the proclivities of the most bloodthirsty bandits. They decided to exterminate the Armenians, and they did exterminate them.”
Ultimately recognized as crimes against humanity, the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide would be condemned to death by their own Courts. Talat Pasha, Ottoman Minister of the Interior explained his policy in 1916 “It was at first communicated to you that the Government, by order of the Jemiet had decided to destroy completely all the Armenians living in Turkey…An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex nor to conscientious scruples.” Unfortunately, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire allowed the culprits, including Talat Pasha, to escape. Justice would later be carried out by a group of young brave individuals in what would go down as “Operation Nemesis”.
Although over 100 years has passed since the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Nation, it’s People and its Culture very much remains under attack. As one reads these lines, the 120,000 inhabitants of Artsakh, or Nagorno Karabakh, face their 155th day of blockade by Azeri “Environmental Protesters”. Men, women, and children are denied their most basic necessities as, the Azerbaijani government threatens them to become Azerbaijani or to disappear, just as the Ottomans had told the same Armenian people over 100 years ago. Just as the imperial ambitions of the Turkic leaders remain the same for all these years, just the same does the Nation of Armenia, proud of their culture, stands in the way of these ambitions.
In the face of this ongoing Genocide of the Armenian People and Culture, (c.f. the destruction of 100’s of year-old Churches and Monasteries in Artsakh by the Azeri regime), preserving and celebrating Armenian culture and heritage is of utmost importance. A people, a nation survives through their culture. It is this guiding thought that motivates the Team at “Sewing Hope for Armenia”, all widows of war and refugees, all victims of this ongoing Genocide, to create a little piece of Armenia that can be worn, that can decorate your home. Always remember, a defeated nation, should it be divided, is a nation that dies, but a defeated nation, if it knows how to united itself, is a country which is reborn.