An American in Armenia
Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Today marks the anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and I’m reflecting on my trip there almost six years ago.
In October 2012, I participated in a U.S. Embassy speaker tour as a researcher in the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology. My colleagues and I met with museum professionals in Yerevan, Vanadzor, and Gyumri, exchanging experiences about the challenges museums face today. Beyond these exchanges, I learned about a country I previously knew little about.
Armenia is famously regarded as the first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion. A respect for history clearly permeates the culture, perhaps most visibly at the Matenadaran, the massive archive of ancient manuscripts in the city center. However, modern trends are equally apparent in the capital of Yerevan. One night, we took in a show at the local black box theater. Another day we visited the Cafesjian Museum of Arts, one of the most captivating contemporary art museums I’ve ever been to, itself a work of art.
What I’ll remember most from my trip though is the people we met. Everyone we encountered was so profoundly hospitable and excited to share their country and culture with us. We were humbled every day by their generosity. A few months after the trip, one of our friends from the embassy was in Washington, D.C. for training. She remembered it was my birthday and surprised me with a bottle of Armenian cognac, the finest in the world. It was the most Armenian gesture I could imagine.
To celebrate Armenia’s independence day, I’ve been digging through U.S. national collections to see what Armenian treasures lie in store.
There are these beautiful, medieval manuscripts in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, a small taste of what lies in the vaults of the Matenadaran.
In the Cooper-Hewitt collection, this remarkable silk textile from 1809, featuring a gold embroidery of the crucifixion and inscriptions in Armenian.
Also check out these amazing, kinetic sketches in pencil and crayon by Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), part of the Hirshhorn collection.