Few countries, like Armenia, can claim a history of three millennia. This nation, whose ancient history is attested by the annals of Assyria, Persia and Greece, has survived the benefits of a history that has spared it little and has relegated so many other peoples caught up in the wheel of time to books. This feeling of being miraculous in history coexists among Armenians with a deep joie de vivre and a desire to share it. The news shows us that "The Wounds of Armenia" (a classic of Armenian literature of the great 19th century writer, Khatchadur Abovian) are still alive; but if the public is informed of the genocide of 1915, the earthquake that struck Soviet Armenia in December 1988 or the war with Azerbaijan and the economic difficulties that marked independence in 1991 after 70 years of Soviet rule, they are less aware that Armenia has a rich history and traditions that the country, alive and well, intends to preserve while developing in a difficult context. A country that has emerged from the depths of time, where myth blends in with history, everywhere present, despite the relentless efforts of successive waves of invaders to make a clean slate of it, and history also blends in with current events, still marked by the collapse of the Soviet world in which the country was one of the actors. Refugee at the bottom of a remote valley behind the walls of a fortified monastery, on an isolated plateau whose steep slopes protect the fragile colonnade of a Hellenistic temple, or more simply scattered across the fields in the form of these "cross stones" (khatchkars), the most striking lapidary testimonies of Armenian identity, history challenges us at every step. On the heights of the capital Yerevan, from modernism under the seal of Soviet urban planning that a new generation of architects adapted to the guns of the day, the remains of the citadel of Erebouni remind us that the city was contemporary with ancient Assyria at the time of the kingdom of Ourartou, in the 7th century BC. On another tree-lined hill, the 1915 genocide memorial stands out against the backdrop of the snow-covered cap of Mount Ararat where Noah's Ark ran aground. Symbol of the durability and rebirth of the Armenian people, this mythical mountain, now located in Turkish territory, dominates the Yerevan plain, like a lighthouse guiding the traveller's steps through the maze of mountains and parades in Armenia.
The diversity of the landscapes :
Armenia is a very small point on the world map but nature expresses itself with a surprising diversity. On a territory no larger than Belgium's, it brings together a whole range of landscapes, declaring the mountain in all its modes, with the variations that this induces on the climate as well as on the vegetation. An open-air mineral museum that fascinates geologists with the variety of its rocks, which attest to intense telluric activity, Armenia overlays ever-changing worlds. It alternates semi-desert sunburned highlands with deep valleys lined with thick forests, volcanic massifs with softly rounded shapes covered with fat pastures and forested mountain ranges with jagged peaks crowned by eternal snow. While the scorching sun of the continental summer burns the Yerevan plain, it only takes two hours to reach the heights of Mount Arakadz (4,090 m), the highest point in Armenia, with its tundra vegetation and snow. In winter, the polar atmosphere is guaranteed, a layer of snow, more or less thick depending on the region, covering the country. The aquatic element, deified in pagan Armenia, is not to be outdone: the mountains are cut by deep gorges where rivers flow in the impetuous course. Above all, Armenia has its pearl, Lake Sevan, an immense reserve of fresh water in its high mountain setting, itself extending to almost 2,000 m above sea level, which gives its seaside touch to this mountain world. In other words, this wide variety of landscapes opens up a whole field of activities, from the practice of sport to meditative contemplation, designating Armenia as a land of choice for ecotourism. Hiking and horseback riding, trekking, rock climbing, mountaineering, canyoning, sailing, paragliding, skiing, snowmobiling - and other activities in which local tourism professionals are beginning to take an interest - provide an alternative approach to Armenian nature.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette