An Ocean in a Drop

By Sofya Kalantaryan

Land Area: 29,800 square km
Population: 3,213,011
Armenian Diaspora: 6 million
Capital city: Yerevan
Location: Between the
Black and Caspian Seas.
Bordering countries: Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Iran and Turkey.

"If 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.

Today 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.

Armenia 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:

Upper 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 salt.
Deeper layer: The soil with shed sweat turned into moist.
Deeper layer: The soil with recently shed blood turned into red.
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.

It is 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.

"I 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.

Capital 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).

And 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, 1910

Genocide Memorial

"A 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.

The 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

St. Echmiadzin Cathedral, Holly Center for All Armenians (built in the 4th century).
This is the site where the soil was collected.

Christianity 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.

...Armenian is the language to speak to God. George Gordon (Lord) Byron - English poet.

Armenian 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.

Matenadaran 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.

Apricot 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.

The 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 longevity.

Armenians 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.

Fill your 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 –



by Jheri St. James

The "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.

Armenia 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.

Over 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.




Another 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.

The Armenian Bolshevik Batallion led by Commander Hagop Malkonian

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.”

Anita 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 great. Gary”

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.

*   *   *

Lacemaking 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.

Sofya 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.”

The 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.


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