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.
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.