Noah’s Ark was probably nothing like you imagine it to have been.  Put aside visions of large yachts in Amble harbour; the dimensions given by the Bible suggest that the Ark displaced 22,000 tons of water.

And it needed to.  According to St Hippolytus, it contained birds (14 of every species); ‘clean‘ animals (again, 14 of each type); ‘unclean‘ animals (2 of each); Adam‘s bones; plentiful supplies of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and long palisades of anti-fornication spikes to separate the males and females of all the creatures on board.

Most importantly for Armenia, though, it also contained Noah and his family... 


You don’t have to be one of the world’s gigantic nation-states to pack a historical punch.  Armenia is less than half the size of Scotland but, if countries were measured by the sheer eccentricity and individuality of their histories, Armenia would take centre stage.  And even though its glory days of empire and influence may be over, it continues to nibble annoyingly at the ankles of its more powerful neighbours to this day.

Its origins lie deep within the myth of biblical folklore and tradition, and to find them, it is necessary to go back a very long way...


If, on a clear day, you look west from Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan, you will see a permanently snow-capped peak - Mount Ararat.  This is, of course, the selfsame Mount Ararat upon which Noah’s Ark came to rest when the waters of the Great Flood subsided and it is to this sacred mountain that Armenians look for their origins.

Tradition and folk-memory dictate that Armenians are descended from Noah’s great-great-grandson (no less), a man called Hayk who, in his youth, helped to build the Tower of Babel.  Which, as collective ancestries go, is fairly impressive.

Hayk is such an important figure to Armenians that they use his name as the name of the country itself - Hayk (or sometimes, Hayastan - ‘Hayk’s land’).

And, as if to defy 21st-century scepticism, his great-great-grandfather’s vessel appears - balanced precariously atop Mount Ararat - on the country’s coat of arms.


With a Biblical pedigree of this order, it’s hardly surprising that Armenia was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion.  This happened in 301, almost 40 years before the Roman Empire followed suit.

Already by this time, there had been an Armenian Christian community in Jerusalem for over 200 years.  In mediaeval times, the city was divided between four groups - Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian - and the Armenian group still retains a strong presence there to this day.  Over 2,500 people practise their muscular version of Christianity in their own cathedral and monastery.

So no, you don’t have to be a giant of the modern geo-political scene to make your presence felt.


Armenians do not, of course, spend all their time reading their Bibles and lighting votive candles.  They know how to enjoy themselves as much as anyone else.

When you’re there, all you have to do is say barev dzez (‘please’) to a friendly-looking local and you may be rewarded with a warming posset of soorch (the thick, luscious coffee that Armenians prefer) or even konyak (cognac, the national tipple).

Genats!  (‘Cheers!’)

After a few of these, try saying tse’tesutyun (‘thankyou’) as best you can.  If you manage it, you may be offered some khoravats as a reward - it’s skewered and barbecued pork or lamb and is ranked as Armenia’s national dish.

As you drink and eat, listen to an expert player of the duduk - a kind of double-reed flute - and the cumulative effect could well be semi-drunken weeping or dancing in the street, depending on what he plays.
A duduk - or 'apricot oboe'
If, after an evening like this, you can count from one to ten, pat yourself on the back and retire for the night.

You may as well practise before you go.

mek yerku yerekh chors hing vec yoth uth inn tas

Almost despite the idiosyncrasies of Armenian, it’s possible to see shadows of some European languages in the words above for five, eight and ten, provided you're sober enough and interested in such things.


Of all the satellite states in the former Soviet empire, Armenia has benefitted most since the break-up; its ‘relative economic performance’ has shot up by almost 70% since 1991.  And everyone who has visited it says that this is reflected in the vibrant street-life of its capital city - Yerevan.

A comfortably unmonumental city of shops, bars, cafes and street markets should be enough to occupy any self-respecting visitor but, hangovers notwithstanding, here are some more pretty awesome things to do if you’re in Armenia but not in Yerevan…

* visit Holy Echmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church…
* go to Dilijan, full of ‘gingerbread‘ houses and starving artists - the ‘Switzerland of Armenia…
* explore the southern province of Vayots Dzor - monasteries (naturally), walking trails, the Selim caravanserai and the wine-growing Arpa valley….
* clamber down to the snake-pit once occupied by St Gregory the Illuminator in Khor Virap monastery….
* visit Goris, home of very potent fruit brandies - and more monasteries.

Whatever else you do, though, avoid Hripsime Khurshudyan, seen here during the 75kg+ Women's Weightlifting event at the recent Olympic Games.


Armenia is the home of the apricot; its botanical name is prunus armeniaca, ‘Armenian plum’.  This is noteworthy in itself but has even greater significance for, of all people, the US Army.

Their tank crews are unaccountably suspicious of apricots and won’t knowingly let any of their tanks anywhere near one - a fact of which I was previously in ignorance and about which I am genuinely puzzled.

In any case, Armenia is probably safe from American land attack for the foreseeable future.


This is not to say that all is sweetness and light between Armenia and its neighbours nearer to home.

Its relationship with Turkey, to its west, is notoriously unstable - and for very good reason.  During the First World War, Turkey became suspicious of Armenia’s loyalties and began systematically killing as many Armenians as they could find.  The genocide spread rapidly from Istanbul to the rest of Anatolia.  Modern historians reckon that more than a million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks.

To its perennial shame, Turkey still denies that this appalling mass-killing ever happened, preferring to blame the deaths on a combination of influenza and famine.  Yeah right…


Armenia itself, though, is no sea-green incorruptible.  After the Soviet break-up in the 1990s, it engaged in grimly-fought warfare with its neighbour Azerbaijan over the territory of Karabakh.  30,000 people died and the issue is still unresolved.

Which is why there is an exclave of Azerbaijan on the ‘wrong’ side of Armenia.


No whistle-stop tour of Armenia would be complete without featuring one of its most singular characteristics - its language and, in particular, its alphabet.

Small though it is, Armenia is one of very few countries in the world to use its own, national alphabet.  It was designed by someone called Mesrob Mashtots in 405 - and is a work of art as well as a means of written communication.

Master its beautiful calligraphic intricacies and you’ll deserve all the konyaks you can imbibe.


My thanks to all the truckshunters who helped me with information about this astonishing little country.  Our next stopover is in a different league altogether - we’re going to Australia.

Get cracking!


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

No comments: