ARMENIA - Part I
An Ocean in a Drop
By Sofya Kalantaryan
Area: 29,800 square km
Armenian Diaspora: 6 million
Capital city: Yerevan
Location: Between the
Black and Caspian Seas.
Bordering countries: Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Iran and Turkey.
the scriptures are rightly understood it was in Armenia that
Paradise was placed...
...But whatever may have been their destiny and it has been
bitter, whatever it may be in future, their country must ever
be one of the most interesting on the Globe”.
Gordon (Lord) Byron - English poet.
Armenia is a small country with ancient history, thousands
of historical monuments, rich culture, traditional hospitality,
delicious and healthy food, beautiful nature and safe environment.
was one of the major powers, the third largest state in the
Near East, after the Roman Empire and Parthian over 2000 years
ago. Assyria, Rome, Byzantium, Persia, the Arabs and Seljuks,
the Mongols and Turks fought against Armenia and among one
another on her land. And how could it be otherwise when the
country lay between the kingdoms of the East and West at the
crossroads of the world trade routs.
One does not have to be a famous archeologist and excavate
our ancient towns to understand the history of this small
piece of land once stretching from the Caspian Sea to the
Mediterranean Sea. All one has to do is to dig the earth in
any part of Armenia and learn it by the soil layers:
layer: The soil of blazing-hot copper-colored stones
and rocks - almost melted stones turned into glass and scorched
earth, which has turned into cement.
Deeper layer: The soil with shed tears turned into
Deeper layer: The soil with shed sweat turned into
Deeper layer: The soil with recently shed blood turned
Deeper layer: The soil with shed blood in the distant
past turned into black.
Deeper layer: The soil with the hope, faith and love
turned into blue and rocky basalt.
no wonder at all that the soil and the stones are so sacred
and dearly loved and cherished by us as they contain all the
layers of our past, present and future. I don't know what
peoples in other countries take with them when setting out
on a travel to their homeland. An Armenian traveler always
takes a handful of Armenian soil for himself, relatives or
friends. It is kept in the most sacred place of the house.
This handful of soil is sprinkled by the Armenians in Diaspora
over the coffin of the relative to bury them symbolically
in their native soil.
think, that Yerevan which is built from volcanic tuff and
is harmonic like a rose, is one of the most beautiful cities
in the world". Pablo Neruda - Chilean Noble Prize Winner
in Literature 1971.
City Yerevan. The Bible says: "And on the seventeenth
day of the seventh month the Ark came to rest on the mountains
of Ararat." (Genesis, 8:4).
on this very day, the human race was granted a second birth
in Armenia on Mount Ararat. It is said Noah joyfully exclaimed
after catching sight of this first piece of dry land: "Yerevats"
("It's in sight"). Thus, the name Yerevan. Yerevan
is located in the Ararat Plain and a breathtaking view of
the Holy Mount Ararat brings its kind presence to every corner
of the city. The birthday of Yerevan is celebrated according
to a most authentic cuneiform document 782 BC. It is 2788
years old. There are thousands of sights in Armenia and each
of them is more impressive and memorable than the other. However,
anyone who visits our country forever remembers the most majestic
and noblest scene in the world, the fabulous view of Holy
Ararat. Ararat is a blessed mountain and the symbol of the
Homeland for Armenians all over the world. Although the mountain
is not in Armenia today, the best view of the Holy Mountain
is in fact from Armenia. Mount Ararat is the silent witness
of the Armenian history and an eternal monument for over 1.5
million Armenian victims massacred by Ottoman Turkey in 1915.
It is beyond doubt that after the Armenian massacres,
a huge wave of indignation and protests will spread
everywhere; and Turkey's moral prestige will be dealt
a heavy blow.... But one shouldn't forget that it won't
last long, and everything is bound to be forgotten soon..."
Dr. Nazim, At the Congress of Young Turks at Salonika,
million Armenians were killed in these lands. What happened
to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that
was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo.
But we have to be able to talk about the past"
declared Orhan Pamuk, a famous Turkish novelist, the
Nobel Prize winner in literature 2006.
nation, whose Christian Faith is so old, the nation who did
not turn away from Christ even after strongest storms and
cruelest persecutions, the nation whose history is almost
a ceaseless suffering, certainly deserves not only our compassion
but also our love”. Max Sax - Prince of Saxony
Echmiadzin Cathedral, Holly Center for All Armenians
(built in the 4th century).
This is the site where the soil was collected.
in Armenia refers to the time when Christ's Apostles St. Thaddeus
and Bartholomew preached in Armenia around 100 AD. Later,
St. Gregory had a vision in which Christ descended from Heaven
and struck the earth with a golden hammer and the Christian
Cathedral rose from the ashes. He built the reproduction of
the church and named "Echmiadzin" which
means "the Descent of the Only-Begotten" in Armenian.
St. Gregory is called Gregory the Illuminator and is venerated
as the patron saint of the Armenian Church because of his
role in bringing the light of Christ to the Armenian people.
In 301 King Trdat declared Christianity a state religion and
Armenia thereby became the first Christian state and has remained
since that time. It is said that in the result of Noah's blessings
and Christian faith Armenia has survived many foreign invasions
through centuries and millenniums.
is the language to speak to God. George Gordon (Lord) Byron
- English poet.
is a separate branch of Indo-European family. Mesrop Mashtots
is the Inventor of the Armenian Alphabet. He created the Alphabet
in 401. For 1600 these letters have defended the national
identity of our people, like a regiment of 36 courageous soldiers...
Tormented for centuries our people would hardly have survived
until now unless they had owned a most powerful weapon - a
written language passing down their hopes, faith and dreams
to future generations.
is the home of one of the world's largest manuscript collections.
It has over 17000 units including Armenian and foreign ancient
manuscripts, complete parchments, copies of first printed
books. The oldest is the Gospel written in the 7th century.
The largest weighs 27 kilos and the tiny church calendar of
1434 weighs 19 grams.
Truly is a Blessed Fruit.
Armenia's holy land has granted to humanity one of the best
and healthy fruits in the world, the apricot. Armenia is the
motherland of the Apricot and is the oldest and genuine center
for growing apricot. The Armenian sources are not the only
ones to provide information about apricot. It was imported
into Europe by Lucullus, the Roman general after the 1st century
B.C. In cuneiform inscriptions by Sargon the 2nd of Assyria,
we find that he took with him apricot from Armenia. Because
of its origin the fruit was known as "prunus Armeniaca"
which means "Armenian plum". In the 2nd and 3rd
millenniums B.C. apricot was known to many old nations in
the world as "armanu". It is said that apricot is
one of the exceptional fruits in the world, as it contains
gold. It brings people to the condition of “golden cut”
to the divine harmony. There are numerous ancient texts according
to which, those who eat enough apricot grown on Armenian land
live a long, healthy and happy life.
Divine Music of Duduk
The Duduk is among the oldest Armenian instruments. The instrument
has a 1900-year history and it is of true Armenian origin.
It is a wind instrument made of an apricot timber (in Armenian
"tsiranapogh", apricot pipe). It is also the most
beloved, because it can fully express the emotions of the
Armenian people. The magic sound of the Duduk is in such harmony
with nature, history, and the spirit of Armenia, that it is
hard to picture our country without the Duduk. Armenia is
a country of numerous talented musicians who play the Duduk
and present it to the world. Today the Duduk has been used
in almost 60 famous Hollywood and independent films, such
as "Titanic" and "Gladiator".
"Never be late for dinner, smoke Hawaiian
cigars and drink Armenian cognac..." answered aged Sir
Winston Churchill when he was asked about the secret of his
have kept the record of their brandy since the times of Noah,
when the biblical patriarch planted the first vineyard at
the foothills of Mount Ararat. In 1900 at the Paris exhibition
the French tasters tried the unknown drink and declared it
the best awarding - the Grand Prix. As a token of their respect
for the quality they allowed Shustov the manufacturer to write
"cognac" on his bottles instead of "brandy".
It was in 1945 when a special 50 degree cognac "Dvin"
was produced in Armenia for the Yalta Conference. Sir Winston
Churchill asked Stalin for a batch of cognac. With a thoughtful
look, Stalin answered": The Soviet Union has full supply
of Armenian cognac, so it may as well be sold". Since
then the legal delivery to the British Minister continued
until the beginning of the cold war. Afterwards, the Russians
refused to supply Churchill with that dainty. Only God knows
how Churchill continued receiving his favorite drink.
friendly glasses with Armenian cognac and raise them for the
peoples all over the world to be as separate as the notes
of the piano and as linked as the notes of the song –
PEACE ON EARTH
- Part II
Jheri St. James
"Mother Armenia" (Mayr Hayastan) statue
symbolizes peace through strength and the prominent female
figures in Armenian history, such as Sossé Mayrig and
others who never hesitated to take up arms with their husbands
against Turkish troops and Kurdish irregulars. It also represents
the status and value attributed to older female members of
an Armenian family, in sharp contrast to the treatment of
women in other parts of the world. From her position on a
hill overlooking Yerevan, she is the guardian of the Armenian
capital. Each May 9, thousands pass by (the 3,000 sq. meter)
Mother Armenia to commemorate Armenia's war dead. Inside the
50-meter pedestal is the Ministry of Defense museum, where
relics tell about heroism of Armenians in World War II and
the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the 1980-90s. There are personal
belongings, weapons, portraits and documents of heroes, as
well as an historical map, on which forces worked for the
liberation of Shushi.
prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt
Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy,
over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various
empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian and
Ottoman. During World War I, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy
of forced resettlement and other harsh practices that resulted
in an estimated one million Armenian deaths. The eastern area
of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this
portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered
by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied
by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan. The economies
of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial
progress toward peaceful resolution.
the years, landlocked Armenia has developed a modern, unique
and successful culture based on the geography, literature,
dance, art and music of the people. The culture is similar
and distinct from many of the bordering countries (Russia,
Georgia and Iran); Mediterranean countries (Greece and Italy);
Eastern neighbors; and influences from Europe to the West.
Literature began in Armenia around 400 A.D. Mikael Nalbandian’s
“Song of the Italian Girl” may have been the inspiration
for the Armenian national anthem, Mer Hayrenik. The
Armenian dance (Hye Bar) heritage has been one of
the oldest, richest and most varied in the Near East. In the
higher regions of Armenia there are rock paintings from the
fifth to the third millennia B.C. of scenes of country dancing.
The National Art Gallery in Yerevan has more than 16,000 works
that date back to the Middle Ages of Armenia’s
rich tales and stories, including many European masters. There
are many private galleries in operation as well. One of the
most important parts of Armenian culture is the music, traditional
and evolving. The world-class Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra
performs at the Yerevan Opera House, and there are many smaller
classical and jazz venues in the summertime.
important cultural feature of this special country, Armenia,
is lace. Lacis (also known as filet lace, embroidery
on knotted net, filet brode and poinct
conte) is a needle lace created by darning on a ground
of knotted net. Armenian needle lace seems to be an obvious
descendant of net-making. Where lacis adds decorative
stitches to a net ground, Armenian needle lace involves
making the net itself decorative. There is some archaeological
evidence suggesting the use of lace in prehistoric Armenia
and the prevalence of pre-christian symbology in traditional
designs would certainly suggest a pre-Christian root for
this art form. In contrast to Europe where lace was the
preserve of the nobility, in Armenia, it decorated everything
from traditional headscarves to lingerie. Thus lace-making
was part of many women’s lives.
Armenian Bolshevik Batallion led by Commander Hagop
Two and a half years later, Forrest Turpen
of Pasadena, California, contacted us that he was leaving
for Armenia in October with Sofya Kalantaryan, who wrote:
“Hello Gary, thank you very much for your exciting undertaking
which really pressed the button of my heart. We have planned
to collect the soil in Echmiadzin (holy center), Tsitsemakaberg
(genocide memorial) and Oshakan (the birth and resting place
of the inventor of the Armenian alphabet). We are waiting
for the delegation from Pasadena to do it together. With all
my best wishes. Sofya”
As he always does, Gary Simpson, artist in
charge of the project, shipped the second box to Armenia (sigh)
to the tune of another, maybe, $85.00 (twice now). In reply,
Sofya wrote: “I have been told to pay 30% percent .
. . it is about $100 to take the package from the customs
office. Me and Forrest Turpen and the delegation of the Pasadena
sister cities collected the soil and Forrest has taken to
bring it to America in this way. He is leaving for America
on the 5th of October. I shall prepare the required material
for the profile and send to you in the near future. God bless
you. The project is GREAT!!”
Gary wrote back: “I understand that
Forrest wishes to bring the soil sample back to the US. The
soil has to be sent to the USDA directly through DHL. I supplied
you with the pre-addressed and pre-paid box for this purpose.
This allows us to be in compliance with Federal regulations.
Thank you again for participating-- Gary.” Sometimes
people do not realize that the documentation is a critical
part of a conceptual art work like this. Otherwise, at the
final stage of the project, we could be accused of using soil
from, say, Indiana, instead of Armenia. These are the small
knots that keep the overall lacework from coming unraveled.
By October 11, the message from DHL was as
follows: “As of this morning, your shipment is currently
being held by customs. Gary Simpson, is this jar of soil being
sent for diagnostic specimen? There is a special provision
required for this type of shipment per the service directory.
Please advise if you should need further assistance.”
J. Holquin of DHL responded: “This jar is for a soil
sample. Gary has been working with DHL for quite some time
and he has always had the proper documentation for these shipments.
The issue here is that he wants to be billed for the duties
and evidently Armenia does not allow for DDP. Can we bill
his 96 account number and get the package delivered????”
On October 31, nearly three weeks
later, this from Sofya: “Hello Forrest. As I wrote to
you before I intended to go for the soil package on Tuesday.
And thanks God everything was managed successfully on that
day. It was unbelievable!!! My route was Vanadzor-Yerevan-Zvartnonts-Etchmiadzin-Zvartnonts-Yerevan-Vanadzor.
The cargo terminal is out of Yerevan somewhere near the Zvartnonts
airport in a deserted place standing all alone where there
is no public transportation. So I had to take a taxi to get
to Yerevan then cargo terminal in Zvartnonts and to St. Etchmiadzin
to collect the soil and come back to Yerevan to send it through
the DHL. As I didn’t have a digital camera the photographer
in the cathedral took the photos though Gary Simpson loves
digital photos. That was the only chance. I paid different
taxes at the custom’s office 16334 drams = $43. The
penalty for not taking the package in time 6000 drams = $15.70
was not paid; they happened to be incredibly understanding
and generous to my arguments of not having money left. I paid
for the taxi service 28000 drams = $73. total expenses $43
+ $73 = $116. I am sending you the bills for the paid taxes
at the custom’s office and for the taxi service. I am
preparing the material for the commonground 191 site and waiting
for the photos to arrive from Etchmiadzin and soon I shall
send you for your revision. I haven’t written Gary about
all this as I feel uncomfortable for all these inconveniences.
“By the way, when I was
given an envelope at Argishti hotel in Vanadzor and was told
to open at home to my great surprise I found $100 in it. I
was so embarrassed that I immediately wrote to Seda to find
out who it was for or what it was for. She answered it was
for me. In my next letter I thanked all the members of Pasadena
committee members and asked her to pass not only my but also
Vanadzor committee members’ gratitude. I shared that
$100 among all the members of Vanadzor committee thinking
that we have always been working as a whole, as a team, and
now we must have that money equally. So if I had that oney
I would have covered all the expenses connected with the soil.
Alas, it’s too late. What to do?”
Gary’s reply, “Wow,
what a story. I am humbled by Sofia’s dedication to
the message of the art project. In this world climate of skepticism
and mistrust, it is wonderful that Sofia can take the difficult
efforts to help link the elements (soil) to this vision. How
can I quickly reimburse her for the money that she spent?
Should I send the amount to her directly? I can also send
it to you so that it can be forwarded to her. You have been
The emphasis of the Vanadzor
committee in Armenia was to assist schools there, especially
the preschool and elementary school children, along with their
teachers. Forrest Turpen is a member of Christian Educators
Association, International, and also one of the members of
the Pasadena Sister Cities subcommittee for Vanadzor, Armenia.
is mostly done by women, stitching the threads onto a field
of net, even as the males are enacting war games for centuries.
The female spirit is alive and well in this soil collection—Mother
Earth herself, Mother Armenia, Sofya Kalantaryan, Anita J.
Holquin, Lucy Gekchyan, and this writer. It only took two
and a half years! But that’s how it is in intricate
and complicated art proceses. As the net background and all
the skeins of thread come together, there are moments when
it seems tangled and incomprehensible. But ultimately, a thing
of beauty emerges through perseverance and dedication. So
it is with the Common Ground 191 project. We work through
the knots and organize the soils of the world into an inspirational
and heartfelt work of art. Sincere thanks to Forrest Turpen
(who thought the soil and rocks of Armenia were symbolic of
the children of the land, representing the hope for the future
that they represent) and all those who helped in this important
soil collection. The word for peace in Armenia is khaghaghutiun.
has the first and last word: “Thank you ever so
much for your generosity and it flies upon the wings of Understanding
and your art flows upon the tides of eternity. You are an
ambassador bathed in Light.”
Armenian collectors: Sofia is the lady in front with her grandson,
picking up the Armenian soil. Seda Marootian, Chairperson
of the Vanadzor Committee holds the handmade shovel. Forest
Turpen is the gentleman at the far right. An historical moment.