Get to know Armenian culture with contemporary folk beats, political documentaries and surreal novels

Explore the wonders of Armenia from afar with our selection of books, films, and bands that showcase the best of the country's contemporary culture.

6 July 2020

Modern-day Armenia is a patchwork woven by centuries of migration, and contemporary diasporan influences, combining Middle Eastern, Turkic, Persian, Slavic, and Western traditions with a unique touch of pure Hayastan. The result? A booming creative scene that reflects the character of Armenia’s young generations, redefining their national culture and heritage as proud, diverse, and independent.

With the country’s upcoming tourist boom, as borders reopen, Armenia’s cultural complexities are about to hit the spotlight like never before — which is why we’re digging up the best of Armenian culture to take you beyond the tourist trail.

Listen:

Sirusho

Since her debut representing Armenia in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest with her catchy single Qele-Qele, Sirusho’s fusion of traditional Armenian rhythms and energetic pop beats has brought in crowds across Armenia, Greece, and the Middle East, to shake their hips to the country’s own J Lo.

Sirusho often adapts songs from 20th century Armenian composer Komitas to become hum-worthy pop hits. Born and raised in Yerevan, Sirusho from the block often includes folk elements in her songs. Watch the video clip for Zoma Zoma: shot in Yerevan’s historic Kond neighbourhood, you can see Sirusho dance hip-hop and play backgammon while pulling off a flashy red tracksuit.

Collectif Medz Bazaar

With members from Armenia, Turkey, France and the United States, six-piece urban diaspora band Collectif Medz Bazaar is a reminder of art’s great power for cross-cultural dialogue. Following a jam session in a Parisian barge in 2012, a group of Turkish and Armenian musicians got together to form a band and revive the shared cultural heritage of the two neighbouring countries, which have suffered from strained relations since the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

Almost 100 years later, Medz Bazaar blends Turkish and Armenian musical cultures, drawing inspiration from Middle-Eastern percussion, Iranian folk music, Caucasian rabiz, and even elements of Latin American music, operette, hip-hop, swing and bluegrass. A celebration of Armenia’s diverse culture and the power of music to build new bridges, Medz Bazaar is a feel-good pathway to understanding the complex layers of contemporary Armenian culture.

Watch:

The Colour of Pomegranates, Sergei Parajanov (1969)

Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back, and get ready for a dazzling poetic journey into Armenian culture. Known as the cinematic Holy Grail of iconic Soviet Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, The Colour of Pomegranates is a magical portrait of Armenian folk tradition. An immersive fusion between film, poetry and theatre, The Colour of Pomegranates is based on the life story of Sayat-Nova, an 18th-century Armenian ashug, or lyrical poet, who wrote in Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Persian. Featuring a quick dash tour of Armenia’s major historical sites and a tapestry of folklore references, The Colour of Pomegranates is not an easy watch, but, if you’re in the right headspace, it will take you on a bewildering journey across centuries of Armenian history in just 77 minutes.

I Am Not Alone, Garin Hovanissian (2020)

Fresh from the festival circuit, I Am Not Alone is a gripping chronicle of the Velvet Revolution, the peaceful civil movement that toppled Armenia’s government in the spring of 2018. From the moment when opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan put on a backpack and started marching across Armenia to protest the country’s authoritarian establishment, to the day when tens of thousands of people celebrated the resignation of former President Serzh Sargsyan, this enthralling documentary combines front-line reportage and interviews to reconstruct recent historical events. Read more in our Q&A with the director.

Read:

Vassily Grossman — An Armenian Sketchbook

After Vassily Grossman’s book Life and Fate was confiscated by the Soviet authorities, the acclaimed Soviet writer — who was in desperate need for money and wanted an excuse to travel — took on the task of revising the Russian translation of a long Armenian novel. Even if the purpose of your own backpacking adventure to Armenia may be less Kafkaesque, Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook will still take you on a vivid journey by capturing the Ukrainian writer’s impressions of Armenia, from its timeless landscapes and ancient churches to odd moods and customs. A hybrid between a travel diary and an autobiography, this engaging read creates a colourful outsiders’ portrait of Armenia that still shows why visiting this Caucasian gem is an unforgettable, heartwarming experience.

Hovhannes Tekgyozyan — The Fleeting City

Keen on leaving behind “traditional” topics of corruption and economics, Hovhannes Tekgyozyan’s commentary on social interaction and cultural differences mines the cavernous stronghold of Armenian taboo to find a cache of lively, honest humour. In the book, protagonists Gagik and Grigor strike up an intimate, unlikely friendship with a Turkish traveller, setting a whirlwind narrative of sexuality and the supernatural. In the style of magical realism, Tekgyozyan fantastic portrayal of Armenian society subtly knocks down the ‘forbidden fruits’ of homosexuality, premarital relations, and gender fluidity, that characterise much of the lives of new generations of Armenians.

Read more

Get to know Armenian culture with contemporary folk beats, political documentaries and surreal novels

Armenia’s Velvet Revolution ignited imaginations. This documentary celebrates its triumph

Get to know Armenian culture with contemporary folk beats, political documentaries and surreal novels

‘It’s messed up.’ How one news outlet is trying to reshape the media in post-revolution Armenia

Get to know Armenian culture with contemporary folk beats, political documentaries and surreal novels

Get to know Georgian culture with Gen-Z tunes, arthouse films and dark comedy