Inside the Matenadaran, the Stone Fortress Protecting the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

Popular Mechanics
Sept 29 2023

Since the Middle Ages, scriptoria throughout the world have preserved manuscripts for future generations. Armenia’s Matenadaran continues that tradition.

Ancient manuscripts connect us to our distant past. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to understand our histories, traditions, and knowledge gleaned from many lifetimes of experience. But there’s a big problem: paper and parchment aren’t known for longevity. The reason we can read about the plays of ancient Greeks, understand the wisdom of Eastern philosophies, or even glimpse the yellowing founding documents of entire nations is thanks to legions of archivists throughout history who’ve meticulously restored, protected, and preserved these old (and prone to crumbling) manuscripts for future generations.

Throughout the Middle Ages, scriptoria around the world served as repositories of human knowledge, and in Yerevan, Armenia, the museum and research institute known as the Matenadaran continues that tradition.

Visit the Matenadaran today and you’re greeted by a grand, fortress-like building constructed from gray basalt stone. At the building’s entrance is a large statue of Mesrop Mashtots, a medieval Armenian linguist who’s credited with developing the Armenian alphabet. This imposing structure denotes the importance of the delicate treasures found inside—23,000 manuscripts, with some dating back 1,500 years. Although the Matenadaran is home to the largest collection of Armenian manuscripts in the world, it also houses ancient texts from other civilizations throughout history.

“Matenadaran means the ‘repository of manuscripts,’” Vahe Torosyan, a scientist secretary at the Matenadaran, tells Popular Mechanics. “However, the Matenadaran is not only a storehouse of manuscripts but a research institute and a museum where manuscripts are stored, cared for, restored, studied scientifically, and displayed.”

Albert Mityaev

Restoring these manuscripts requires an intense level of artistry and dedication. Before restorers can even begin repairing battered manuscripts, they first need to clean the surfaces of pages and miniatures (the small illustrations that often accompany medieval texts). This means removing any dust, candle wax, insects, dirt, stains and more that might’ve adhered to the brittle pages over the centuries. Paper and pigments are also examined under a microscope to make sure that paint layers are solid before cleaning can begin.

Restorers then use a special, handmade Japanese paper created from the bark of mulberry trees to repair the pages, whether a small tear or a gaping rip. Using this specialized paper—in various thicknesses and shades—restorers can create a seamless transition between the original document and the restored parts.

“Japanese paper is a unique material and has a special structure,” Gayane Eliazyan, head of the department of restoration, tells Popular Mechanics. “The edges of the paper have long fibers that are easy to connect with the original paper, and the passage from the original manuscript material to the Japanese paper occurs very smoothly.”

Although preserving ancient texts is a centuries-old profession, 21st century technology provides the ultimate protection for these fragile objects. When a document contains undertext, which is writing that’s been replaced by existing text, the Matenadaran uses multi-spectral imaging to capture the manuscript in 28 distinct frames—each frame representing a range of the visual spectrum as well as UV and infrared light. These various light spectra can capture the hidden words hidden beneath the work.

With these digital recreations along with digital scans of other manuscripts, physical texts never leave the safety of the Matenadaran itself.

Preserving this book block is only one part of the restoration process; the restorers also bring that same level of exacting attention to mending a manuscript’s binding, leather cover, and endband (the woven decorative parts found at the upper and lower edges of the book’s spine).

Eliazyan says that the restoration department of the Matenadaran also has a biological laboratory, and like many laboratories around the world, it faces funding challenges. The department needs new equipment to keep up with new restoration techniques.

As Armenian universities still do not have educational programs for certifying restorers, the Matenadaran serves as a teaching center and school for this specialization. Eliazyan hopes that continued support from grantors or the Armenian government will help train the next generations of specialists eager to be keepers of the heritage of human knowledge—past and present.

Darren lives in Portland, has a cat, and writes/edits about sci-fi and how our world works. You can find his previous stuff at Gizmodo and Paste if you look hard enough. 


Both sides claim ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Nagorno-Karabakh

RTE , Ireland
Sept 29 2023

Some 88,780 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Armenian government figures, quoted by the RIA news agency.

The exodus of ethnic Armenians from the breakaway region began after the fall of its separatist government last week following a military operation by Azerbaijan.

The enclave is to become a full part of Azerbaijan by the end of the year.

The Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Ireland said that his country offered the ethnic Armenian people an option to remain, but "we cannot force them to stay".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Elin Suleymanov claimed they are leaving because of "uncertainty which follows 30 years of occupation of Azerbaijan by Armenia".

He asked: "Why is the formally diverse region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan now 100% Armenian?

"That is because everybody else has been ethnically cleansed.

"One million people in Karabakh and surrounding regions were ethnically cleansed in the 1990s.

"Now we don't want to do what they've done to us and that's why everybody, including the president and everybody in Azerbaijan, is offering them to stay.

"We understand that there is uncertainty. We understand that there is a fear of safety …. Those are understandable concerns given they are part of a conflict for a long time".

Mr Suleymanov said the same standard should apply to Nagorno-Karabakh as it does in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

He said that Azerbaijan has restored its integrity and constitutional law in accordance with international law.

Yesterday, Armenia's Ambassador to Ireland told the same programme that the "forced depopulation" of the indigenous Armenian people from Nagorno-Karabakh was "a tragic loss for the Armenian people and for civilisation".

Varuzhan Nersesyan said that Azerbaijan made a "fake promise" of reintegration but it is "nothing but a policy of ethnic cleansing" and "nobody wants to stay … under Azerbaijani rule".

Armenians were subjected to a nine-month blockade, he said, and the "mass exodus" from the region began once the corridor reopened.

"Most likely, we're going to see the departure of most – the predominant part – of the population.

"There might be some who will decide to stay, but basically this population has the right to stay on its own indigenous land."

It is unfortunate that the international community did not create "robust conditions" to prevent this from happening, Mr Nersesyan said.

Death toll from fuel depot blast in Karabakh rises to 170 – media

The death toll from an explosion and fire at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh has risen to 170, Armen press news agency has reported, citing local officials in the region.

The blast occurred as thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the area.

The authorities have not given any explanation of the cause of the blast.

Rescue work at the site continues.

UN preparing for 120K refugees in Armenia after Nagorno-Karabakh takeover

Global News, Canada
Sept 29 2023

Over 88,000 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh and the total could reach 120,000, said a U.N. refugee agency official on Friday, a figure matching estimates of the entire population of the breakaway region recaptured by Azerbaijan last week.

Kavita Belani, UNHCR representative in Armenia, told a U.N. press briefing by video link that huge crowds of tired and frightened people were gathering at registration centres.

“This is a situation where they’ve lived under nine months of blockade,” she said. “And when they come in, they’re full of anxiety, they’re scared, they’re frightened and they want answers.”

“We are ready to cope with up to 120,000 people. It’s very hard to predict how many will come at this juncture,” she added in response to a question about refugee numbers. Initial planning figures were for between 70-90,000 refugees but that needs updating, she added.

Nearly a third of the refugees are children, another U.N. official told the briefing.

“The major concern for us is that many of them have been separated from their family,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF regional director.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies representative Hicham Diab said there was a massive need for mental health support for refugees.

“The situation often involves families arriving with children so weak that they have fainted in their parents’ arms,” he said.

Carlos Morazzani, operations manager of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it had transferred around 200 bodies out of Karabakh on Thursday – victims of a fuel depot explosion and recent fighting.

Going forward, it will be focusing on helping those left behind with basic food and hygiene items.

“We had been planning for the evacuation to be a longer process,” he said. “The evacuations this week have gone very fast, very high numbers of people, but as a result of that many people become stranded.”

(Reporting by Emma FargeEditing by Miranda Murray and Peter Graff)

23 wounded persons transported from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia


YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 24, ARMENPRESS. 23 seriously and critically wounded persons are being transported from Nagorno-Karabakh to hospitals in Armenia, the Ministry of Healthcare of Armenia said on Sunday.

The victims are being evacuated by 23 ambulances under the supervision of medics.

The ambulances, escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, have already crossed the Hakari Bridge, the ministry said.

US, Armenia hold military drills as Russia’s influence weakens in Caucasus

Sept 12 2023
Washington has a finger on the scale as Armenia accuses Russia of failing to protect it against Azerbaijan.

WASHINGTON — The United States and Armenia kicked off combined military exercises this week designed to train Armenian troops to participate in international peacekeeping missions, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said.

The exercise, dubbed "Eagle Partner," includes 85 US and 175 Armenian personnel and is being held over 10 days at training facilities outside the capital Yerevan.

Why it matters: Tensions between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan are soaring. Both sides have accused each other of building up troops near the disputed territory of Karabakh.

The US military training mission puts Washington’s finger on the scale as it seeks to blunt Russia’s inroads in the Caucasus and amid a wider effort for rapprochement with Turkey.

Armenia has relied on a contingent of Russian peacekeeping troops since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, but Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused them of failing both to protect his side against Azerbaijan’s forces and to alleviate Baku’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Earlier in September, Pashinyan went so far as to say his government had made a “strategic mistake” to rely on Russia for defense ties, citing Moscow’s own need for munitions amid its war in Ukraine.

Russian reaction: Moscow summoned Armenia’s ambassador Vagharshak Harutyunyan in protest on Friday. 

On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin sought to downplay the rift by emphasizing Russia’s longstanding ties with Armenia. “We have no problems with Prime Minister Pashinyan, as we communicate regularly,” he said.

Russia has remained Armenia's largest trading partner since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Wider context: Last week, Armenia held elections in the disputed territory in a move condemned by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The United States and the European Union said they did not recognize the legitimacy of the elections.

Coinciding with the military exercises, on Sunday the Biden administration reiterated its call on Azerbaijan to open two corridors to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been under a crippling blockade since December.

“The use of force to resolve disputes is unacceptable,” the State Department said in a press release.

“The United States further reaffirms the only way forward is peace, dialogue, and the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it read.

Armenian authorities in Karabakh announced on Saturday that one of the roads, the Lachin corridor, would be opened to allow supplies to flow from Baku, a decision confirmed by Azerbaijan.

Baku’s armed forces chief of staff visited Ankara to meet with Turkey’s new defense chief Yasar Guler on Monday.

Know more: Read Amberin Zaman’s reporting from southeastern Armenia as fears began mounting in January amid the blockade.

Senior Armenian diplomat outlines minimum steps Azerbaijan should take to build confidence


YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 12, ARMENPRESS. The international community and mediators should demand from Azerbaijan to take adequate steps in response to Armenia’s steps of confidence building, Ambassador-at-Large Edmon Marukyan has said.

“The lack of confidence between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a fundamental problem and it must be solved in order to reach any meaningful results in the peace process. I can confidently state that during the last two years, the Prime Minister of Armenia has taken all possible and seemingly impossible steps to build confidence in peace talks in order to achieve long-lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Marukyan said in a post on X.

“In response to all those steps, Azerbaijan continued to keep prisoners of war and other civilians in its prisons, abducted new hostages from the territory of Armenia and the Lachin Corridor, did not withdraw its troops from the sovereign territories of Armenia, attacking it periodically, killing and wounding more people… keeps the communications blocked, torpedoes delimitation process of state borders, besieges and starves 120,000 people of Nagorno-Karabakh, rejects talks between Baku and Stepanakert under international mechanisms. All this has undermined and continues to damage the peace process, as well as the efforts of all mediators invested in it. Now, in addition to all of that, Azerbaijan has concentrated its troops along the contact line of Nagorno-Karabakh and the sovereign territory of Armenia, and focused all its state propaganda to war talks, threatening the fragile regional peace. In order to return the peace process to its comprehensible stage, the international community and mediators should demand from Azerbaijan to take adequate steps in response to Armenia’s steps of confidence building. As a result of this, Azerbaijan shall stop the blockade of Nagorno Karabakh, start talks with the representatives of Nagorno Karabakh within the framework of the international mechanism that will guarantee the rights and security of its people, shall withdraw its armed forces from the sovereign territory of Armenia, release all prisoners of war and other detained persons from Azerbaijani prisons, shall begin the process of delimitation and demarcation based on the map of 1975, and unblock all transport communications based on the sovereignty of the parties and national legislation. These are the minimum steps that can build confidence for bringing long-lasting peace in the region,” he added.

Iran’s IRGC publishes warning to Azerbaijan of troop placement on border

i24, Israel
Sept 9 2023

As the conflict with Armenia escalates at the border, a separatist government in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh were holding elections

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps published a warning to Azerbaijan on Saturday, threatening Baku with the placement of troops on their shared border, amid elections held by a separatist government in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh.

The video indicated Iranian forces were concentrated on the shared border with Azerbaijan and Armenia. The IRGC then proclaimed readiness to support Yerevan.

Russian sources also claimed that the Iranians were ready to transfer military units to Armenia for support operation. A day earlier, the Kremlin summoned Yerevan’s envoy to Moscow over “unfriendly steps” amid joint military drills between the U.S. and Armenians.

The Russian foreign ministry also complained about a trip to Kyiv by the Armenian Prime Minister's wife and Yerevan's move to join the International Criminal Court, as well as the detention of a blogger for Russia’s sputnik media outlet.

The statement concluded that the Armenian envoy was given a "tough presentation,” but stressed that Russia and Armenia "remain allies and all agreements on developing the strengthening of the partnership will be fulfilled.”

In 2020, Azerbaijan fought Armenia in a continuing conflict around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with the latest ceasefire being brokered by Moscow and included the presence of Russian peacekeepers.

Also on Saturday, a separatist government in Nagorno-Karabakh set out to elect a new leader after its previous president, Arayik Haratyunyan, resigned amid widespread food and fuel shortages.

Haratyunyan suggested in his resignation letter that his presidency was an obstacle to negotiations with Azerbaijan and that "difficulties in the country have significantly reduced the trust in the authorities."

Azerbaijan called the latest election in Nagorno-Karabakh "yet another extremely provocative step" and "a clear violation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” as quoted by AFP.

Asbarez: Armenia to Host Military Drills with U.S.; Russia Voices Concern

U.S. and Armenian troops interact during military drills in Europe

Armenia announced on Wednesday that it will host joint military exercises with the United States next week and the Kremlin was quick to voice concerns.

Armenia will host what is known as the Eagle Partner 2023 joint Armenia-U.S. military exercises from September 11 to 20, the defense ministry announced on Wednesday, saying that the drills will take place in the “‘Zar’ Training Center of the Peacekeeping Brigade and the N Training Center of the Ministry of Defense.”

“The purpose of the exercise is to increase the level of interoperability of the unit participating in international peacekeeping missions within the framework of peacekeeping operations, to exchange best practices in control and tactical communication, as well as to increase the readiness of the Armenian unit for the planned NATO/PfP [Partnership for Peace] ‘Operational Capabilities Concept’ evaluation,” Armenia’s defense ministry added.

Armenia has been part of the NATO-led peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

“Within the framework of preparation for peacekeeping missions, units preparing for international peacekeeping operations frequently participate in similar joint exercises and trainings in partner countries,” the defense ministry added.

A Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday that the 85 American soldiers and 175 Armenians would take part, Reuters reported. The source said the Americans – including members of the Kansas National Guard which has a 20-year-old training partnership with Armenia – would be armed with rifles and would not be using heavy weaponry.

This announcement about the exercises has raised concerns in the Kremlin, whose spokesperson on Tuesday hit back at Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for claiming that Armenia’s decades-long alliance with Russia could be deemed a “strategic mistake” and saying that Russia had failed to protect Armenia against attacks from Azerbaijan.

“Of course, such news causes concern, especially in the current situation. Therefore, we will deeply analyse this news and monitor the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Reuters.

Peskov commented on Tuesday about Pashinyan’s assertions, made during an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, that because of the Ukraine war Russia was unable to fulfill its security obligations to Armenia and the South Caucasus.

“Russia is an absolutely integral part of this region,” Peskov told reporters Tuesday. “Russia plays a consistent, very important role in stabilizing the situation in this region … and we will continue to play this role.”

It was also telling that the state-sponsored RT news site framed the news as “Russia’s Treaty Partner to Hold Joint Drills with U.S.”

Moscow ‘dissatisfied’ with Armenian prime minister’s statements about Russia — diplomat

TASS, Russia
Sept 4 2023
The source added that Russia views its relations with Armenia in the security and economic spheres "not as one country’s dependence on another, but as an equal, mutually beneficial and time-tested partnership"

MOSCOW, September 4. /TASS/. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's statements about Russia in an interview with Italian media are unacceptable in tone and Moscow is extremely dissatisfied with them, a diplomatic source has told TASS.

"Moscow is extremely dissatisfied with the latest public statements by the Armenian leadership, including the Armenian prime minister's statements in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the Armenian Foreign Ministry's commentary released on August 31. Both are regarded as unacceptable both in tone and content. Their aim is to shift responsibility for one’s own miscalculations and mistakes onto Russia," the source said.

For instance, earlier Pashinyan mentioned the possibility of Russia's estrangement from the region. "In fact, they (Western countries – TASS) are trying to artificially push Russia out of the South Caucasus and are using Yerevan as a means to achieve this goal. Russia, as Armenia's closest neighbor and friend, has no intention of leaving the region. However, it should be a two-way street: Armenia should not become the West’s instrument to push Russia out," the source said.

He added that Russia views its relations with Armenia in the security and economic spheres "not as one country’s dependence on another, but as an equal, mutually beneficial and time-tested partnership."

That said, he noted that the fall 2020 armed standoff in many ways was the result of thoughtless and provocative steps by the Armenian leadership. "This significantly devalued the agreements reached by the sides along the line of the OSCE Minsk Group. Had it not been Russia's intervention and President Vladimir Putin personally, the outcome of military actions would have been even more lamentable," the diplomat pointed out.

He also branded the remarks about Russia’s purported indifference to Azerbaijan’s "aggression against the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia" as baseless. The diplomat reiterated that relevant consultations had taken place along the tracks of the foreign and defense ministries of the two countries and high-ranking representatives from the CSTO had visited the region.

AW: Chidem Inch: Olympics and Artsakh

It is Thursday morning, August 31. Our bags are packed, and we are ready to fly to Washington, D.C. for the AYF Olympics, the annual gathering of AYF members, alumni and families to enjoy back-to-back athletic events and dances and meet friends old and new. The 90-year-old tradition with humble beginnings, held over Labor Day weekend, has grown and flourished into a celebration of being Armenian.

These long weekends have a magic and allure that keep us coming back. There will be the inevitable sadness on Labor Day, when we return home exhausted to resume our everyday lives.   

Yet while I am excited to go to Washington this year along with my whole family, I find myself departing under a cloud of sadness. We all feel constant angst regarding what is happening to our people in Artsakh. It is Day 263 of the blockade – let’s call it what it is, a siege of 120,000 Armenians. No food or medical supplies are passing through the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor. Armenia cannot send aid and has no military options to break the blockade. There is a pall over everyone as we wonder when Azerbaijan and Turkey might use their militaries to…I can’t even type the words.

I am going to D.C. to live it up while all this is happening halfway across the world. I feel conflicted, but life must go on. Folks I know went to Armenia this summer, for weddings or vacations. I saw their photos and videos of a thriving Yerevan just a few hours’ drive from the blockade. I cannot criticize – I am going to the Olympics for the same reason. Our churches held picnics this summer with music and dancing. We have to keep our communities vibrant and financially solvent.  

Our collective sadness is amplified by the fact that we Armenians have little power to end the blockade. Diplomacy without some military or economic leverage is not helpful. As we near the one-year mark of the blockade, countries around the world are urging the opening of the corridor and a peaceful solution. What is a peaceful solution – what Azerbaijan and Turkey want? What about the Armenians in the homeland? 

We have the humanitarian and moral high ground for sure, but this is another example of us using a paper ladle to get our fair share.  

It is easy to criticize Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. I hear it all the time – people are always telling me, “I do not support Pashinyan,” or worse, “He is a traitor.”  I wonder what I or any of the rest of us would or could do in his position?  I have yet to hear anyone propose a plan that might work in our favor. It is gut-wrenching to realize our national impotence.

The “SOS Artsakh!” protest is taking place on Friday, September 1 in front of the White House. I imagine it will be well attended, as it should be.  Will it have any impact?  Will U.S. President Joe Biden notice?  Will he change course and stop aid to Turkey and Azerbaijan? Sadly, probably not. A month or so ago, Turkey agreed to let Sweden into NATO, within a day of the approval of the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. In the behind-the-scenes discussions that obviously let this exchange happen, would the U.S. have insisted the blockade be lifted? I assume not.

In a discussion with Pauline Getzoyan, editor of the Weekly, she said we have to protest. Our people in Artsakh see and appreciate it and feel fortified by the support. So, protest we will. We will do whatever we can to urge the U.S. to take a stronger stand to guarantee the territorial integrity of Armenia and the security of the Armenians in Artsakh. 

Life must go on, but it feels like one foot on a dock and one foot on the boat, and the boat is drifting…

Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.