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Holidays in old Yerevan

In the years of Persian rule Yerevan was an Asian town with corresponding customs, traditions and holidays. People were busy at their jobs trying to earn their living. Ordinary people such as craftsmen, small merchants were locked in their own homes and routine. But the life of the Yerevan Elite was quite different. They had their estates, lands not only in Yerevan but also outside it. In summer, with the beginning of heat they moved to shady countryside and stayed there till late autumn, till the end of harvest season. Life and relationship in the town were patriarchal, there were few demands: people were satisfied with what they created, with what nature gave them. There was no public areas, no places for meetings. People met only on Saturdays and Sundays, on holidays and the main meeting places were churches and churchyards. Parks were constructed only during the period of Russian rule.

In Old Yerevan, the best marked holiday was “Novruzbayram”-the New Year which was enforced upon Armenians. The holiday started with a ritual. On that day, from early morning, the nobles of the town, Ishkhans and Meliks, gathered and went to the Sardar’s palace to congratulate him on the holiday, then put their “peshkesh” (gifts in the form of precious jewelry, carpets) under Sardar’s feet. Actually, this donations, particularly from Armenian nobles, were not voluntary, but an obligatory duty which was collected and made beforehand so as to make the Sardar be more propitious, more benevolent towards them, “ look at others with sweet eyes”. And the others were poor, working Armenians.

In old times “Novruzbayram” was called “Novrus Sultane” which means the Royal New Year. On March 21, 47 minutes after sunrise, on the first day of the 12th month of the Lunar year, the cannons of the fortress fired 3 times announcing the beginning of the new year. And the town became lively at one, the celebration stated. Christians gathered in churchyards, Moslems gathered in the courtyards of mosques, where they drank “shirin chai” (tea) and talked. The feasts and joys lasts for 3 days. But in the palace of the Sardar and at homes of the nobles the celebration lasted for 8 days.

In the memoirs of Harutyun Alamdaryan it is mentioned that even the Armenian Catholicose and top clergy traditionally came to Yerevan from Etchmiadzin to express their personal congratulations to the Sardar. And of course, these visits couldn’t be without “peshkesh”. Besides the obligatory “state” holiday”, the Armenian population had national holidays, mainly religious ones: Christmas, Khachverats (dropping the cross into water ceremony), Tyarnyndaraj, Easter, Vardavar in summer…
Water blessing was marked in Yerevan with great solemnity. At Tyarnyndaraj people made bonfires in the yards to jump over them. Yerevanians also marked commemorations days. The Kozern, the eminent cemetery of Old Yerevan, became crowded on those days.

Another old holiday has been discovered recently, it was called “Mulberry feast”. The Association of Indigenous Residents of Yerevan has been marking that day for several years: first in the area of the Blue Mosque, then in Old Nork, in Mulberry Gardens of Kanaker. The old black mulberry tree (about 200 years old) in Opera garden, it is called “Captain mulberry”. Townspeople should preserve this tree and hand it down to subsequent generations. The Mulberry feast is a national holiday as well.

Author, Edward Avagyan