Getting to know… Kanaker

Poetic, fascinatingly mysterious and filled with secrets from the past... In fact, it is hard to describe Kanaker or sum it up in a few words, but these are the first things that pop to mind.

Located on a hill, in the north-eastern part of the capital Yerevan, Kanaker was a village of the Kotayk province before becoming a part of the capital at a later stage. Kanaker is one of the rare neighborhoods of the city where you can still get a strong grasp of the old Armenian urban identity. Here, modest one or two storey houses are aligned side by side, interrupted by an occasional sight of a green mulberry tree.

What’s interesting about this old part of the city is the element of surprise. Most of the time, as you turn the corner of these narrow streets, chances are that you would be impressed by some few centuries old edifices that you would not expect to see within that urban context. In fact, Kanaker has such a valuable historical and cultural legacy that you will come across while exploring the neighborhood. You will see gems, hidden here and there, a heritage from the past.

Birthplace of talents

Born here, in the first decade of the 19th century, is one of the main figures of Armenian literature, Kachatur Abovyan whose illuminating views on modernisation and education were extremely avant-garde to his time. His stand against the violence towards students and his support of women rights are some of the ideas that had a major role in positively shaping and advancing society. He also had a leading impact in diffusing the current, modern Armenian language through his works.

The ancestral home of Abovyan which functions since 1938, is a must see. The house has been recently renovated, and it is fascinating to step inside and take a look at Abovyan’s cradle (his very own) and also discover all the daily household items that were used during his time. A true moment of time traveling.

Towering just above the house is an imposing, edifice with orangey tuff facades. Constructed in 1978, the place serves as an exhibition space for Abovyan’s writings, publications and a special collection of manuscripts and artwork dedicated to the writer. The sight of this imposing modern Soviet architectural style shadowing the 19th century modest house of the writer presents such an interesting blend of two very different architectural styles and eras which somehow complement each other in a harmonious way.

Another native of Kanaker is the world famous duduk player Djivan Gasparyan. You might have not heard his name, but you have definitely come across his compositions in Hollywood films such as the Gladiator and Blue Diamond.

Religious legacies from the past...

On your walk, it would be impossible not to notice two churches, situated a walking distance from one another. Both churches date from the later part of the 17th century and present an outstanding architecture.

The first one is the Saint Jacob church whose facade and door presents intricate and meticulously carved motifs which were highly elaborate, especially for the style of that era. Adding to this refined architecture is the presence of many cross-stones from 1503, 1571 and 1621, fixed on the western side of the church.

Situated a bit higher, on top of a hill, is the Church of the Holy Mother of God, with black and orange facades which also hold ancient cross-stones. Once there, just look around and take a deep breath while observing the panoramic view of the capital.

These churches have colorful interiors where the columns and walls are decorated with hand painted images of saints, all of these are carefully preserved and renovated to stay exactly the way they were created centuries ago. It is also fascinating to spot out some Persian architectural influences in some of the small details of these churches, such as the shape of the arcs.

While walking you will explore tombstones and many khachkars (cross-stones), some of them date back to the 13th century. Also don’t forget to stop by the Petevan gravestone of 1265.

A message of hope

Kanaker has gone through many difficult times, the massive earthquake of 1679 had pretty much destroyed it completely, wiping out almost the entire village. Also, Kanaker has been the scene of many political struggles and battles through history. It has mainly played a key political role in preserving cultural identity under the Persian power from the 16th to the 19th century. No matter the hardships, the habitants have always moved forward and carried on rebuilding. It is uplifting to see how the village had kept standing back on its feet… a true inspiration!

---By Grace Jerejian

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