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The People of Armenia, Art and Literature

Armenian Apostolic Church, Literary themes, socialist realism, vernacular language, lyric poems

Art that was distinctively Armenian in form first emerged in the early 4th century, coinciding with the introduction of Christianity in the country. Religious icons were a favored subject during that time. Armenia subsequently had three major artistic periods, which coincided with periods of independence or semi-independence. These periods occurred from the 5th century to the 7th century, during the 9th and 10th centuries, and from the 12th century to the 14th century.

Armenian folk arts, which have remained essentially unchanged for centuries, include rug weaving and metalwork. The carving of decorative stone monuments called khatchkars is an ancient Armenian art form that continues to be practiced today.

An Armenian literary tradition first emerged in the 5th century. Literary themes were at first historical or religious, as represented by two great works of the period, the History of Armenia, by Movses Khorenatsi, and Eznik Koghbatsi’s Refutation of the Sects. The first great Armenian poet was the 10th-century bishop Grigor Narekatsi, whose mystical poems and hymns strongly influenced the Armenian Apostolic Church.

A secular, or nonreligious, literary (and musical) tradition began to develop in the 16th century with the appearance of poet-minstrels called ashugh, whose lyric poems were written and performed in the vernacular language. Many ashugh love songs remain popular to this day.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries several Armenian writers gained attention for their modern novels, short stories, and plays. The most renowned novelist of this period was Hakob Melik-Hakobian, who is best known by his pen name, Raffi. His novels include Jalaleddin (1878), Khent (1880), Davit-Bek (1881-1887), and Samuel (1888). In the 1920s the Communist regime of the Soviet Union instituted a policy of cultural uniformity, known as socialist realism, which largely stifled Armenian literary development. Armenia’s first great composer of classical music, internationally famous Aram Ilich Khachaturian, wrote his masterpieces during the Soviet period. Some of his works reflect the influence of Armenian folk music.

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