Transcaucasia and Ararat,, 1877 by James Bryce, 4th ed. 1896, p.188:|
Erivan [now Yerevan], the capital of Russian Armenia, which next morning stood basking in a sun that made it dangerous to go out except under an umbrella, is a thoroughly Eastern town, with just a little Russian varnish in one or two of its streets. It is Eastern of the Persian type, which is very different from the Arab Orientalism of Cairo or Tangier, or the half French, half Osmanli Orientalism of Stamboul.
Lying in a hollow at the foot of the plateau which extends northward towards the Goktcha lake, yet a little above the level of the Aras plain to the south, it covers with its 30,000 people an area nearly as large as that of Brussels or Sheffield. The streets are wide, the houses, except a few modern Russian ones, of one story only, built of clay or plastered brick, round an open courtyard, with no windows toward the street. Many of them, especially in the outskirts, open off narrow lanes between high mud walls, and are surrounded by groves and vineyards.
There are no shops, for all the buying and selling goes on in the bazaar, a complex of long straight brick arcades, in which the dealers and the handicraftsmen sit upon divans behind their wares, sipping tea, or smoking out of their kalians or long flexible water pipes, and scarcely condescend to answer you when you ask the price of an article.
Each trade has an arcade or two to itself; the bakers are in one, the fruit-sellers in a second, the shoemakers in a third; in a fourth, carpets; in a fifth, leather goods, and so forth. Persians, Tartars, and Armenians are all represented, the last being decidedly more anxious to do business than the other two.
The bazaar begins to be crowded about 5 A. M., and thins off in the forenoon, reviving a little in the quarters where food is sold toward the time of the evening meal.
In front of it lies the great Meidan, a sort of square or open space, where the road to Persia meets the road to Tiflis and Europe. Standing here at 6 A. M., when the bazaar is at its height, one sees the life of an Eastern town in its picturesque simplicity. The busy parti-coloured crowd is vibrating in and out of the mouths of these arcades; men in sheepskin hats, shuffling along in their loose, low-heeled slippers, and women, covered from head to foot with a blue checked robe, are flocking hither to buy food from every part of the city, and clustering like bees round the stalls which bakers and fruit-sellers have set up here and there through the Meridan, and where heaps of huge green and golden melons, plums, apples, and, above all, grapes of the richest hue and flavor, lie piled up.
Hard by stand the rude country carts or pack-horses that have brought the fruit, with the Armenian peasant in his loose gray cotton frock; while strings of camels from Persia or the Caspian coast file in, lead by sturdy Tatars, daggers stuck in their belts, and old matchlock slung behind, and a huge sheepskin cap overshadowing the whole body. Sometimes a swarthy, fierce-eyed Kurd from the mountains appears; sometimes a slim and stealthy son of Iran, with his tall black hat and yellow robe. It is a perfectly Eastern scene, just such as any city beyond the frontiers would present, save that in Persia one might see men crucified along the wall, and both there and in Turkey might hear the shrieks of wretches writhing under the bastinado.
One forgets Russia till a mounted Cossack is seen galloping past with despatches for Alexandropol, where the Grand Duke, attended by the governor of Erivan, is now holding a great review. It is just such a scene as Ararat, whose snowy cone rises behind in incomparable majesty, may have looked down upon any day for these three thousand years.
As noon approaches, the babbling rills of life that flow hither and thither in the bazaar are stilled; the heat has sent every one home to slumber, or at least to rest and shade; the fruit-sellers have moved their stalls, the peasants have returned to the country; Ararat, too, has hid his silvery head in a mantle of clouds. Only the impatient Western traveller braves the arrows of the sun, and tries to worry his Armenian driver into a start across the scorching plain.
The population of Erivan is greatly mixed, and, of course, no one knows the proportions of the various elements. Till 1827, when Paskievitch captured it, and won for himself the title of Erivanski, it belonged to Persia, and a good many Persians still remain in it, fully a quarter of the whole number of inhabitants. Nearly as many more may be Tartars, less than a half Armenians; the balance consists of Russian officials and troops, with a few Greeks and other nondescript foreigners, including, of course, several Germans.
Go where you will in the world, as a friend said to me who has traversed nearly every part of it, you will always find a German; they are more ubiquitous than the English themselves.
Although it is the capital of a government which includes nearly all Russian Armenia, it is a stagnant sort of place, with little trade and hardly any manufactures. Life flows on in the old channels, little affected either by Russian conquests or by the reviving hopes of the Armenian nation.
Like most towns in a country which has been so often the theatre of destructive wars, it has few antiquities, though it claims to have been founded by Noah, and appeals to its name, which in Armenian is said to mean "the Apparent," as evidence that it was the first dry land the patriarch saw. Another tradition goes farther back, holding that it was Noah's dwelling before the Flood took place.
Be that as it may, it has now no sights to show except the mosques and the ancient palace of the Shah, or rather of his lieutenant, the Sardar of Erivan. This palace is included within the citadel, a Persian fortress, strong by its situation on the top of a basaltic cliff, which rises over the river Zenga; strong also, according to Asiatic ideas, in its high brick walls running along the top of the cliff, although I do not suppose they could resist modern artillery for a day.
Part of the fortress is now occupied by barracks, part is in ruins, but two or three chambers have been carefully kept up, and even to some extent restored in genuine Persian style, and give one a lively idea of the architectural style and taste of the only Eastern nation among which art can still be said to live, if indeed it lives even there. The roof, as well as the floors inside, are covered with bright blue, green, or yellow tiles, the older ones of which--you may pick them anywhere out of the ruins--are wonderfully vivid in colour.
The walls and ceiling of the principal chamber, which is supposed to have been the audience chamber of the Sardar, are decorated with a profusion of small mirrors, or rather pieces of looking-glass, stuck together in a kind of mosaic, arranged alternately with paintings in excessively bright colours, representing the Shah chasing the lion and the stag, together with various emblematic devices, and patterns of roses and other flowers and shrubs, repeated all around. A sort of stalactite ornament in coloured plaster is in a style similar to that of the ceilings in the Alhambra; indeed, it is supposed that some of the work there bears traces of a Persian hand. The drawing is stiff and conventional; and though the tints are well harmonised, they are almost too bright; the effect is rather gaudy than gorgeous.
One is glad to refresh the sated eye by looking through the one window which opens to the south upon the stream foaming down its rocky bed below, the women washing clothes along its banks, Tartar carriers driving their teams over the bridge, and beyond it the well-watered banks of the Aras, an oasis of delicious green in this parched and dusty land, with the two cloud-girt peaks of Ararat rising five-and-thirty miles beyond.
The principal mosque lies behind the bazaar in a maze of lanes separated by gardens and courtyards. It forms one side of a square enclosure planted with orange and other trees, with a tank in the middle, over which four tall elm-trees bend, the whole not unlike in arrangement to, although smaller than, the famous garden of that masterpiece of Mohammedan art, the mosque at Cordova. Here, however, the mosque itself, so far from being a vast and complicated structure, is more like what would be called in Italy a loggia, open on one side to the garden, with a deep and lofty horseshoe-shaped recess (the mosque proper), much like a large round apse, or the half of a dome, in the middle of this gallery, part of the interior of which is covered with handsome tiles and adorned with texts from the Koran. The floor is bare and open; there is, however, a small wooden pulpit, whence the officiating mollahs read or preach.
A little way from the dome that surmounts the mosque, an elegant minaret rises, round and decorated with coloured tiles, like those of Turkey and Morocco, whereas at Cordova and Seville the minaret is a sqare brick tower. The rest of the gallery which supports the enclosure is approprated to the mollahs attached to the mosque, or made to furnish resting-places for pilgrims, or school-rooms where boys are taught to read the Koran.
The mosque belongs to the Muslims of the Shiah persuasion, that which prevails in Persia; and here they come to worship all day long, bowing and prostrating themselves towards the center of the apse, which is of course in the direction of Mecca. Its ample proportions, the rich yet soft colors of its walls, the silence, the shade, the rustling of the boughs and murmuring of the water in the adjoining garden make it one of the most beautiful and impressive houses of prayer that I have ever seen.
In the same part of the town, not far from the bazaar, are placed most of the caravan-serais, as well as the baths. An Eastern bath has been so often described that he would be a bold traveller who should attempt to describe it again, though here in Persia it is not quite the same thing as in Constantinople or London.
The caravan-serai (bower or resting-place of the caravan) is very unlike an inn according to our notions. It is a round or elliptical enclosure between high walls with a strong gate or gates to it. Round the inner wall runs a sort of gallery, roofed, but open to the air, where the traveller encamps with his cart or camels, providing himself from the market with bread and wine, foddering his beasts himself, and getting nothing from the innkeeper except space, a sort of shelter, and protection against nocturnal thieves.
Till lately there was a European inn of some pretensions in the city, but its landlord, according to the story told us, had some months before been thrown into prison on a charge of murdering one of his guests, a Greek banker, whose imprudent display of money had roused his cupidity, and the hotel was therefore closed...
Setting aside the view of Ararat, and one or two picturesque bits like the bazaar and the mosque garden I have described, Erivan is not beautiful. Its streets, not only the three new Russian ones, but those that date from Persian times, are dull or ugly with their long blank walls of brick or baked clay, unbroken by a window, or a gable, or a shop. They are as colourless as Bolton or Wolverhampton, and not one-tenth so animated, for a vehicle is rarely seen, and a foot passenger not so often; the women steal along silent and shrouded...
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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. It was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920.
Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper.
The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey imposed an economic blockade on Armenia and closed the common border because of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
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The Turk and the Land of Haig Azhderian 1898
Armenia and Her People Filian 1896
The Land of Ararat 1893
A Ride Through Asia Minor and Armenia Barkley 1891
Armenians, Koords and Turks Creagh 1880
Armenia and the Armenians Issaverdens 1877
Armenia: A Year at Erzeroom Curzon 1854
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