Yerevan Celebrates 2800 Years

YEREVAN—On the 21st of October, Armenia’s capital celebrated the 2800th anniversary of its founding. A popular legend propagated by early Christian scholars attributes the founding of the city to the biblical figure Noah who, after coming down from the ark (inexplicably fluent in Armenian) exclaimed: “Yerevats” – (“it appeared”). The more probable origin, backed by a cuneiform inscription excavated near the city, states that Yerevan was founded as the Erebuni fortress by King Argishti I of Urartu in 782 BC. The same pink-tinted tuff stones which were used in the ancient palace construction remain a staple of the city’s vernacular architecture to this day.

The word “Erebuni” which probably meant “conquered” in Urartian was a reference to the Urartian people’s taming of the Ararat valley. As Urartian was gradually incorporated into Armenian, the pronunciation of the city’s name experienced a phenomenon known to linguists as ‘betacism,’ where the sound [b] morphed into a [v] while the [u] sound underwent a form of open syllable lengthening. Thus Erebuni became Yerevan.

Over the next 2800 years, the strategic and commercial center for the Urartian Kingdom went through a long period of gradual decline which was only reversed by the late 18th century. The city was reorganized by the Russian Empire into an administrative hub for the South Caucasus by 1828 and granted the status of City on October 1, 1879. By 1920, the influx of refugees fleeing the Armenian Genocide had caused Yerevan to dwarf Gyumri as Armenia’s largest city and was chosen as The First Republic’s capital due to its distance from the advancing Ottoman army. As the capital of the newly-established Soviet Armenia, Yerevan rapidly transformed from a sleepy provincial burg into a thriving metropolis, attracting industries, technological innovation and producing cultural enlightenment. This trend continued almost uninterrupted following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union as the city took on its current role as a capital for the global Armenian community.  

The celebrations, which took place throughout the city’s parks and public spaces included activities for children, plays depicting the ancient capital’s history, a fashion show modeling traditional Armenian clothing known as daraz, a cycling race and even a heavy-metal concert. Jørgen and Birthe, a Danish couple visiting Yerevan for the first time told the Armenian Weekly, “We didn’t plan our visit for the anniversary. It was just a happy coincidence.” They shared their amazement at the extent of the festivities and the variety of different activities available to the public. The day was capped off with a massive fireworks display.

This year’s Yerevan Half-Marathon was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary. The race, which has been steadily attracting an increasing number of runners from across the globe introduced a full-length marathon course (42 km) to supplement the 21 km and 10 km distances available in previous iterations. The Georgian runner, Levan Ckhocheli took the gold, completing the 42 km course in 2 hours and 58 seconds.

The municipality also seized the opportunity to showcase its cosmopolitan character with exhibits on Yerevan’s historic minority groups appropriately situated at English Park. Passersby got acquainted with the cultures, cuisines and traditions of the ancient city’s Russian, Polish, Jewish, Persian, Assyrian, Georgian and even German communities.

This year has undoubtedly been an eventful one for Yerevan. The city witnessed some of the most critical events of this spring’s Velvet Revolution, hosted major international forums like the Francophonie Summit and the Eurasian Business Forum. Dubbed the “Silicon Mountain,” the city was ranked among the top emerging global tech hubs and featured on numerous reputable tourism publications as a must-see destination for 2018. Videos by the influential travel blogger Naz-Daily have also helped introduce the Armenian capital to a generation of millennials across the World.

As Yerevan’s 2800th Jubilee comes right on the heels of its first genuinely democratic municipal election in 28 centuries, the newly-sworn-in Mayor Hayk Marutyan and his team prepare to tackle the next 28 centuries.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. A former correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, his focus is socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia.

2 Comments

  1. It really seemed like the whole entire population of Yerevan had come out to celebrate on the 21st of October. They were all cheerful, and full of hope.

    As exciting as the celebrations were, I was nevertheless a bit disappointed in the music that was being played during those celebrations. Heavy metal music, certainly did not suit the occasion; how can you possibly dance to the sound of heavy metal music? Appropriate music for this particular occasion would have been party songs like: “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang; “Party Train” by The Gap Band; “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps.

    “The day was capped off with a massive fireworks display.”

    Yes, the thunderous fireworks began at 9:48 in the evening, and ended after two minutes. What a noise that was!

    Happy birthday again to Armenia’s capital city!

  2. Actually, the author’s attempt to provide a brief description of Yerevan’s history (in the article above) was very deficient. Here are some of the important details that were not included:

    Yerevan happens to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.

    “One theory regarding the origin of Yerevan’s name is that the city was named after the Armenian king, Yervand IV, the last leader of the Orontid Dynasty, and founder of the city of Yervandashat.”

    The territory of Yerevan was settled since the 4th millennium B.C. Archaeological evidence shows that the Urartian military fortress of Erebuni was founded in 782 B.C. by the orders of King Argishti 1 at the site of current-day Yerevan, to serve as a fort guarding against attacks from the north Caucasus.

    During the height of the Arab invasions, Yerevan was taken in 658 A.D.

    “It’s been called Yerevan since at least the 7th century A.D.”

    Due to its strategic importance, Yerevan was continuously fought over and passed back and forth between Persia and the Ottomans for centuries. At the height of the Turkish-Persian wars, the city changed hands 14 times between 1513-1737.

    Following the second Russian-Persian war, Yerevan was formally ceded by Persia to the Russian Empire in 1828. The city began to grow economically and politically. Old buildings were torn down and new buildings of European style were built.

    Following the 1917 Revolution, which brought the Russian Empire to an end, Yerevan became the capital of the independent First Republic of Armenia on May 28th, 1918.

    As a result of the Soviet regime being established in Armenia, Yerevan became the capital of Soviet Armenia in December of 1920.

    “The Soviet era transformed the city (Yerevan), which was originally intended for a few thousand residents into a modern metropolis with over a million people, developed according to the prominent Armenian architect, Alexander Tamanian’s design. Tamanian successfully incorporated national traditions with contemporary urban construction. Tamanian’s new radical-circular layout for the city was imposed over the existing old city, which led to the destruction of a large number of buildings of historic importance. The city was transformed into a large industrial, cultural and scientific center.”

    During the Armenian Genocide’s 50th anniversary commemoration in 1965, Yerevan was the center of a mass anti-Soviet protest to demand recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Soviet authorities; this was the first demonstration of its kind in the Soviet Union.

    Following the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Yerevan became the capital of the independent Republic of Armenia on September 21st, 1991.

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