By: Florane Lavend'homme
In this article, we will present 12 interesting facts about Armenia. In case you do not know where Armenia is, it is a small country located in the South Caucasus between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. It does not have any access to maritime shores but it is geographically situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Its capital is Yerevan. There are around 3 million people living in Armenia. The official language is Armenian but many people can still speak Russian, because of the Soviet history of the country. You have probably heard of Armenia through the Kardashian family who is of Armenian descent or, if you are familiar with French musical variety, French singer Charles Aznavour, also has Armenian origins. But thanks to this article, we hope that you will learn so much more about Armenia - this small but very interesting country that we never hear of!
1. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
Armenia was the first nation of the world to have adopted Christianity as a state religion in AD 301. Despite its location in the Middle East, Armenia is predominantly Christian and not Muslim, as some could probably assume. Nowadays, most Armenians follow the Armenian branch of Christianity, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is a form of Oriental Orthodoxy.
2. The very first church in the world was built in Armenia.
The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is often considered as the oldest cathedral in the world, according to several scholars. It is located in the city of Vagharshapat in Armenia and is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is believed that the church was originally built between AD 301 and 303. Churches in Armenia all have a very similar and unique architecture, certainly because of its specific religion that is only practiced in Armenia. You will probably never see these kinds of churches anywhere else in the world.
3. Mount Ararat is a national symbol of Armenia, but it is located in Turkey!
Mount Ararat is a 5,137 metres (16,864 ft) high snow-capped summit. It is the highest peak of Turkey and is one of the national symbols of Armenia. It has long been considered a sacred mountain and is believed to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark. It is only 32 km (20mi) away from the Armenian border and is widely visible from the capital, Yerevan. It was originally part of Persia, but the current border was determined in the 1920s, following the Turkish-Armenian war, when the mountain territory became a part of Turkey.
4. The longest double-track cable-car in the world is located in Armenia.
The Wings of Tatev is the name given to this aerial tramway, opened in 2010, which holds the world record for the longest non-stop double-track cable-car. The cable is 5,752 metres long (or 18,871 ft) and connects the village of Halidzor to the small isolated village of Tatev, where stands the incredible 9th-century Tatev monastery.
5. Lake Sevan is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world.
Lake Sevan, situated in the highlands of Armenia, is the largest lake in Armenia and in the Caucasus region. It is also one of the largest freshwater high-altitudes lakes in the world. It is located at an altitude of 1,900 metres above sea level (or 6,234 ft). The lake covers an area of 1,242 km2 (or 480 sq mi).
6. Armenia is a major wine producer and one of the oldest of the world.
Armenia is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Armenian winemakers have been famous since very ancient days. Traces of wine production dates back to 401-400 BC. Nowadays, wineries are found across all provinces of the country. Armenian wines are often quite sweet and even fruity, when combined with fresh fruit juice, such as pomegranate - a common ingredient and the national fruit!
7. They have a very interesting way of baking their bread!
Their special bread, which can actually be found in many regions of the Caucasus is called Lavash. It is a flat slightly chewy bread made from regular bread ingredients: flour, salt and water. The Armenian lavash is baked underground in a big earth oven called the tonir. Very often, bakers have to dive in the oven to stick the bread dough on the inside walls of the oven.
8 Apricot and pomegranate are national symbols.
Armenia is quite famous for its apricots. It is believed that they are some of the best of the world. The apricot is a national fruit and is often used as an ingredient in diverse recipes, dried or fresh. Pomegranate is also a very common fruit. It grows everywhere and it is used in many dishes. It is a symbol of the country and you will probably find many touristic souvenirs featuring a pomegranate! On key rings, fridge magnets, simple jewelry, etc. - the pomegranate is everywhere!
9. Chess is a mandatory subject at school.
Armenia has a long tradition of playing chess. It was already played in the Middle Ages. Chess became highly popular in Armenia in the 1960s, under the Soviet era. Today, Armenia is ranked as one of the strongest chess nations in the world, thanks to several Armenian world chess champions. With a population of only 3 million people, Armenia is one of the countries with the most chess grandmasters per capita. Since the year 2011-2012, the Armenian government made chess lessons compulsory in every public schools, thus making Armenia the first country in the world to establish such a law.
10. Armenia was one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union.
You probably already knew this one before reading this article: Armenia was one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union. In 1922, Armenia was incorporated in the Soviet Union, along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, the three of them forming the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The three countries were known as the Transcaucasian republics of the Soviet Union, mostly because of the geographical border between them and the rest of the continent, namely the Caucasus mountains. In 1991, Armenia declared its independence and after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was officially recognized - that same year. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Armenia joined the Commonwealth of Independent States which brings together 9 of the 15 former Soviet republics.
11. Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide refers to the massive and brutal killings of Armenian citizens during and after the First World War, under the Ottoman Empire ruling. It is estimated that around 1.5 million Armenians were killed and many more were deported. Today, the events are widely considered as genocide and many nations have officially recognized it as such. However, the Turkish government has still not recognized it - justifying it as a necessary war measure used against their enemy at the time.
12. Armenia is involved in an ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a portion of territory that is geographically located within Azerbaijan, but mostly populated with Armenian people. The conflict started almost a century ago and has had various phases of peace and war. Peace talks have been held a few years ago, but new aggressions have reappeared. The status of the region has yet to be determined. Because of Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan, Armenia has closed its borders along with its diplomatic relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Armenia is a country that we never hear of in the news - except for those horrible events that have taken place there. However, Armenia offers so much more than that. It truly has a very rich and unique culture. Its religious traditions are very specific and its culinary specialities are incredible and diverse! Its people are kind and generous and the capital city of Yerevan seemed to me, a very modern and growing city - where it feels good to live. It is a nice spot for students as the town is dynamic and young. Yerevan is also a platform open to modern art and music - where a convivial atmosphere prevails. I believe this country has a lot to offer and is worth discovering!
Florane, the author of the article, visited Armenia last year. If you want to see some typical Armenian landscapes, check out her travel video.
You already know a lot about Russia, even if you never looked for it. The biggest country in the world has regularly made news headlines and keeps doing so. But what do you actually know besides these headlines regarding Putin’s government and its involvement in international conflicts? These facts might actually surprise you!
1. Russia is only 4km (2.8 ml) away from the United States!
If you look at a world map under another angle, you will see that Alaska and Russia are actually very close. But how is is possible that only 4 km separates them? You have to take a closer look at the Diomede Islands. Big Diomede belongs to Russia and the other island, called Little Diomede is American. The two islands are located in the Bering Strait, that separates the mainlands of Alaska and Siberia. Only 3.8 km (to be accurate), or 2.4 miles separate the islands. The islands are also separated by an international date line, meaning that Big Diomede, also called Tomorrow Island is almost one day ahead (21 hours) of Little Diomede, called Yesterday Isle.
2. Russia’s territory is bigger than the entire surface of Pluto.
Do you remember Pluto? This small planet that was declared not-a-planet anymore in 2006. Pluto was once the ninth planet of the solar system, but today it is called a “dwarf-planet”. Anyways, the entire surface of Pluto is of 16,650,000 km2, while the entire area of Russia is 17,125,191 km2! So Russia is not only the bigger country of our planet, it is also bigger than another planet! And in case you did not know, Siberia covers up to 77% of the entire Russian territory.
3. Russia’s population is smaller than Bangladesh’s.
Russia might be the biggest country of the world by area but it is only ranked as 9th in terms of population. China has been holding the record for quite some time now, with its 1.3 billion people, closely followed by India, which also hit the 1 billion mark not so long ago. Bangladesh holds the 8th position as the most populous country in the world and Russia comes right after with its population of 143,375,006 people (Worldometers, 2017). Other countries that count more people than Russia are (in order): China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh. It is also interesting to note that Bangladesh is 116 times smaller than Russia by area.
4. In Russia there are more women than men.
It was estimated in 2015 that for 100 women, there are only 86 men in Russia. According to the United Nations data, the global ratio is 101,8 men per 100 women. Or overall, there are around 10 millions more women than men in Russia, and in some regions the proportion is even more uneven, with 5 women for 1 man in the Caucasus, for example. This difference was allegedly attributed to the big human losses Russia had to endure during World War II. These losses represented a large majority of young men, creating a gap in the general balance between men and women. Life expectancy in Russia for men and women is also highly uneven. Women are expected to live to age 75, while men are expected to live to age 64 on average. Another hypothetical reason could also be alcoholism, that is still a major problem in Russia and that generally affects men more than women.
5. Russia lost around 27 million people during World War II.
It is obviously difficult to estimate precisely the amount of Soviet casualties of World War II, but it is generally accepted that around 27 million Soviet people died - almost half of the entire death toll caused by WWII. In almost every city of Russia, you can find memorials to soldiers who died on the front, listing thousands of names. This fact is often neglected when talking about the role of the Soviet Union in WWII.
6. Lake Baikal, Russia’s biggest lake is the deepest lake of the world.
Located in southern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and often considered the oldest (25 million years). It is also the largest freshwater lake of the world by volume and represents around 22% of the world’s fresh water. Speaking of nature and geography, it is interesting to note that Europe’s highest mountain is also located in Russia. Mount Elbrus is Russia’s and Europe’s highest mountain, culminating at 5,642 (18,410 ft).
7. The deepest subway station of the world is in Saint-Petersburg.
The Saint-Petersburg metro system is the deepest of the world, by average depth of the stations, even though some metro lines in other countries might go even deeper. The deepest metro station in Saint-Petersburg goes 102 meters (335 ft) below the ground. It takes around 7 minutes to go to the station by escalator! The actual deepest subway station in the world is located at the Arsenalna station in Kiev, Ukraine (105.5 mt, or 346 ft). Saint-Petersburg’s metro system is the 19th busiest in the world and Moscow’s is the Sixth! Moscow metro system is also pretty deep, but above all it is considered one of the most beautiful subway system in the world. Guided tours are actually organized in Moscow to visit the prettiest stations of the Russian capital. Adding to this metro fact, Russia also has got the longest railway line of the world. You might have heard of Trans-Siberian railway, which is 9288 meters long (5700 ml) and spans from Moscow to Vladivostok, from the West of the country to the easternmost city of Russia. The journey takes approximately one week.
8. Russia has a wide diversity of cultures.
You probably picture Russians as Slavic guys, wearing adidas training outfits, squatting in circle, in a gloomy street in front of their old cars. Well, Russia is more than that. Russia spans from Northern Europe, to the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Asia. Ethnic groups are evidently very diverse from a region to another. Russian has been declared the official language of the Russian Federation by the constitution but each republic can declare another official language for its own region. It is estimated that there are over 185 ethnic groups considered as having their own nationality living in Russia. Even if all inhabitants of Russia are Russian, Chechens or Tatars for example have a different local identity and nationality. A few indigenous tribes still live in the North and Far East of Russia.
9. Russia has been home to many world-renown artists.
Russia always had and still does have a very rich culture. Russian artists performed in all artistic fields and acquired worldwide renown. In literature, we can mention Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Gorky, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, Bulgakov and many more. In painting, you find Kandinsky, Chagall, Makovsky, Malevich, Popov, Repin, etc. In music and operas, Russians also marked history. You know The Nutcracker ballet, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. You have undoubtedly heard of other Russian composers, such as Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov or Stravinsky. Russia has really been through different golden eras, artistically speaking.
10. Two ideological tendencies in Russia.
After analyzing different Russian rulers through history, you can distinguish two main ideologies. Occidentalism gathered people also called “Westernizers” who believed that “Russia's development depended upon the adoption of Western European technology and liberal government” (Linguee), while Slavophilia was “... an intellectual movement originating from 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history” (Linguee). So, simply speaking, you could say that Westernizers were more likely to strengthen their links with the Western world, because they believed that the best way to develop their society was to consider the West as an example. On the other hand, Slavophilia supporters believed that Russia was meant to go its own way and to develop itself in a unique manner that was typical of them. Throughout history, you can see that some rulers adhere to one or the other tendency. Hence Mihail Gorbachov for example can be considered a “Westernizer” while, Stalin, Lenin or even Putin, today, can be considered Slavophiliacs. Under the Tsarist regime, Russia was more oriented towards Occidental values, while the ideas of the Soviet Union were more Russia-centric, in a way. However, these two movements firstly appeared within intellectual and artists circles.
11. Russia is the country that possesses the most nuclear weapons.
Even though the exact number of nuclear weapons that a country actually possesses is a national secret, it is estimated that Russia possesses 7,000 total nuclear warheads, among which 1,950 are fully operational. This is more than the United States, which has around 6,800 warheads. In 1988, Russia had a peak stockpile of 45,000 warheads. With regard to their chemical weapon arsenal, Russia destroyed 57% of it.
12. Russia is the biggest producer of oil in the world.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States have long been the three bigger producers of oil in the world, but each has had ups and downs. As of 2016, the order remains. Saudi Arabia closely follows Russia with 10,460,710 barrels a day, against 10,551,497 for Russia.
13. A few more anecdotes, just for the fun.
Russia is so large and fascinating that I don’t know where to stop! So, I’m adding here a few more interesting facts, without further explanations.
So Russia is not just its eccentric president, crazy guys posting utterly strange pictures on social media, bears, kalashnikovs and people skinny-dipping in frozen lakes (which is true and a popular tradition, but still). It offers so much more.
Still curious about Russia? Florane, the author of the article, did her Erasmus in the Russian Caucasus. Check out her travel videos!