Mosques in Armenia: exploring hidden gems of Islamic architecture

Mosques in Armenia

Mosques in Armenia, let’s learn more about these hidden gems of Islamic architecture together. Now, this topic is very touchy for us, Armenians. Some 200 years ago there were a dozen mosques here, but today we have only one operating mosque. And if you keep reading, you will learn what happened to the others. I’ll talk about the history of mosques in the country, as well as the cultural significance of these sacred places in modern Armenia. I’m also going to share tips for visiting these places, so follow me.

Ruins of 10 different mosques with traceable history can be found in different parts of Armenia today. Strict Soviet anti-religious policies and the neglect of the local authorities have led to the demolition of many others. Today, there is only one operating mosque in Armenia, the Blue Mosque. It is a beautiful Shia mosque in the center of Yerevan.

Mosques in Armenia with traceable history:

  • Blue Mosque⁣
  • Tepebashi (also known as Thapha Bashi, or Abbasqoli Khan Mosque)
  • Small mosque of Kond
  • Abbas Mirza Mosque
  • Achanan Mosque
  • Agarak Mosque
  • Aghitu Mosque
  • Andokavan Mosque
  • Arjut Mosque
  • Mosque in Lori Berd
  • Zorakert Mosque

A dozen historic locations of mosques have been mentioned by historians and anthropologists who worked in Armenia. However, today, in a tiny country that hosts thousands of churches, regular Armenians don’t know much about the Islamic fibers of our history and culture. Most of those mosques are lost forever. But why? I’ll talk more about this difficult topic in this post. And I also want to hear your thoughts on this, so if you want to connect ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.

Visiting historic mosques in Armenia

The Blue Mosque in Yerevan

As I previously stated, the Blue Mosque is Armenia’s sole presently running mosque, and it is located in downtown Yerevan, about a 15-20 minute walk from the Republic Square. I strongly advise visiting the Blue Mosque. It is a classic Persian-style mosque embellished with stunning blue tiles that was built in the 18th century when Persia took over Armenia. Not many people travel to Iran, so where else are you going to have a chance to see the unique style of Persian Islamic architecture?

The Blue Mosque’s garden provides a quiet and pleasant setting for visitors of all religions. However, bear in mind the clothing restrictions and that the mosque is closed during prayer hours. If you wish to visit this mosque, I talked about it in full in my post about unique places in Yerevan, so don’t hesitate to browse it.

Other mosques in Armenia

You can find the Tepebashi Mosque and the remnants of the Small Mosque of Kond in the Yerevan old town area of Kond, not far from the Blue Mosque. Tepebashi is an intriguing place to see. It is a 17th-century mosque with a collapsed dome that is basically in disarray and currently several people reside there for a provisional housing, it is worth seeing since it tells Kond’s narrative better than any other sight. By the way, check my post about Kond, where I also talk about this mosque in more detail.

There is, unfortunately, only one wall of the Abbas Mirza Mosque left, and it can be found just outside of the city center. From all the other mosques on this list, there are only ruins left in their original locations. Three of them (Achanan, Aghitu, and Andokavan mosques) are in the Southernmost province of Syunik, and the remaining mosques are scattered across the North-Western provinces of Armenia. In order to visit them, I’d recommend taking a local tour guide who knows the area and can drive there.

Visiting the Blue Mosque: practical tips

Here are some tips for those of you who maybe have never visited a mosque before, or just want to be sure you’re not missing anything important:

  1. Dress appropriately: The Blue Mosque, like many other places of worship, has a dress code and you should respect this when visiting. Avoid wearing shorts or short skirts. And women are requested to cover their arms and hair before entering the mosque.
  2. Check the hours of operation: The Blue Mosque works for visitors from 10 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 6 PM, however, it closes during the prayer times which varies depending on the position of the Sun. Before arranging your visit, double-check the operating hours.
  3. Remember that the Blue Mosque is an active site of worship, and visitors should be respectful of the area and the people who use it. Avoid sounding or acting in a distracting manner.
  4. Consider going to an exhibition: The Blue Mosque occasionally holds exhibitions of traditional Iranian art and crafts. Visiting during an exhibition might be an excellent chance to learn more about Iranian culture and the mosque’s history.
  5. Charge your phone: seriously, charge your phone beforehand – you will probably take a ton of pictures here, its exterior and the garden are truly very picturesque.

History of mosques in Armenia

The history of Armenian mosques is complicated. Armenians went through centuries of invasions, conflicts, and geopolitical changes. Since the introduction of Islam in the region in the 7th century, Islamic architecture in the Armenian lands has evolved. A variety of styles inspired this architecture, including Seljuk and Timurid influences. We were an integral part of the Shia Muslim world at some point, despite being Christian. In fact, it’s almost unbelievable that Armenians remained Christian (read that post to learn how) despite this history.

So we had a lot more examples of Islamic architecture on our lands. Many of these old and historically significant sites, however, got destroyed during the Russo-Persian wars of the nineteenth century and the severe Soviet secular policies of the 20th century. That is the reason why Armenia doesn’t have many remaining mosques. Most of them did not exist by the time Armenia regained its independence from the USSR and could finally control its own policies.

Mosques in Armenia under USSR

Here are my thoughts on this. In the early years of the USSR, the Turkish leadership was flirtatious with the ideas of Communism. Therefore the Soviets were keen to befriend Turkey and turn it into a communist state at their borders. Ataturk’s secular policies aligned with the Soviet worldview at the time. So, the central Soviet government had very little interest in supporting Armenians in their demands for justice over the genocide of 1915 that Ottoman Turkey committed on Armenians. So, Soviets did not support any expression of Turkophobia or Islamophobia. And they would sweep under the carpet any rhetoric about this.

However, when Turkey clarified its intentions to become not only a secular country but also a free-market capitalist economy, the game changed. Especially after 1952, when Turkey joined NATO, the Soviet government started seeing it as a threat to the security of the Southwestern borders of the USSR.

The government unleashed heavy propaganda. In order to prevent any potential sympathies or connections between the Armenian population and their Turkish neighbors, the Soviet government used the media and the education system to actively shape the image of a “Turk” as the enemy of Armenians. The people’s genuine grief over the 1915 genocide suddenly became politicized, which is something that we never managed to overcome since then.

This involved not just painting Turks as our opponents, but also portraying Islam as an archaic and oppressive religion. The Soviets did this to guarantee that the Armenians won’t identify with their Muslim neighbors, even those residing within the Soviet Union. The authorities also deliberately prevented its citizens from practicing Islam, which resulted in the persecution of countless Islamic religious leaders and the shutdown of many mosques. That’s how we lost the majority of mosques on our land. Or did we…?

What really happened?

Yes, the Soviets played their role, but there is more to that. The truth is that since the early 1990s, after independence, the Armenian ruling elites have put little to no effort into preserving or restoring the artifacts of the Islamic influence on our culture. And people didn’t really put any pressure on them.

Yes, those were difficult years, and regular people probably had more critical problems, like putting food on their tables. But the truth is, we did somehow maintain our churches, right? We even built new ones – stunning, beautiful Armenian Apostolic churches.

As an Armenian, I feel personally responsible for losing a significant part of our history – the history of Islam in Armenia. I think that due to our nation’s turbulent past with Muslim neighbors and the historic pain of the genocide, many Armenians (especially Christians among us) are hesitant to demand that the state maintains these mosques.

After all, the Blue Mosque is, in fact, in such good shape only because the Iranian government maintains good neighborly relationships with the Armenian one. And they fully financed the renovation of the mosque and its operations. The Soviets converted the building into a museum. And I think it wouldn’t be an operating mosque now if not for the agreement between the governments of Armenia and Iran.

This regressive views of ours, towards Islam, is a result of the Armenian people’s great suffering and trauma. We cannot ignore the genocide that we faced for being Christian. And especially it’s hard to forget the fact that Turkey – the perpetrator – never acknowledged it. However, it is vital to recognize that these mosques are significant not only for Muslims or our neighboring states, but also for the history and culture of our own country. So, I believe that we as Armenians, our government, and society as a whole must make the required efforts to conserve these historical places for future generations.

Final thoughts on mosques in Armenia

In conclusion, touring the mosques in Armenia, or rather the Blue Mosque and the remains of several other old mosques might be a really unique way of learning about Armenia’s past. Despite the fact that the country only has one operating mosque, the Blue Mosque in Yerevan is a must-see! Not just for those fascinated by Islamic architecture, but also for those interested in the cultures of our region, of course. So, visit it! Just remember to dress appropriately, my friend, and verify the mosque’s opening hours ahead of time. And if you want to share your opinions, experiences, or photos with me write me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.

Featured image credits: Photo by Gardmanahay on Wikimedia (CC)

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