Dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who lost their lives during systematic massacres in World War I, the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex is one of the most important landmarks in Yerevan, Armenia. For travelers, the striking basalt sculptures of the monument are a solemn reminder of a dark time in Armenian history.
If you find yourself in Yerevan, Tsitsernakaberd is an essential place to visit. Here’s what you need to know about the memorial’s history, along with some practical information for planning your trip.
The Memorial Started With Protests
The Soviet Union prohibited its subjects from expressing national ideologies, so in the 1960s, Armenians couldn’t refer to themselves as “Armenian,” and they certainly couldn’t discuss the Armenian Genocide.
On April 24, 1965, college students protested in Yerevan, calling on their countrymen to take pride in their Armenian heritage and demand recognition of the Ottoman Empire’s crimes. They carried photos of genocide victims, gathering in front of a massive statue of Vladimir Lenin; gradually, the demonstrations grew, along with calls for an official monument to the victims.
Eventually, The Soviet Government Relented
While the Soviet Union clamped down on the Soviet Armenian leadership, the government made one significant concession: The Armenians would be allowed to construct their monument.
In 1965, the memorial was officially commissioned, and after a nationwide contest, architects Arthur Tarkhanyan and Sashur Kalashyan were chosen. The site opened to the public in 1967, and it has continued to grow over the years with new additions and renovations.
The Memorial Complex Includes Three Structures
The memorial is simple but profound. Approaching the complex, visitors pass by the Memorial Wall, engraved with the names of Armenian cities and the number of people in those cities who lost their lives during the genocide.
Past the wall sits the Sanctuary of Eternity, which consists of a dozen stelae symbolizing the victims. An eternal flame is located at the center. Visitors must walk down a flight of stairs to see the flame, and the steep walkway compels them to bow their heads in reverence. Next to the sanctuary is the Memorial Column, a massive obelisk that symbolizes the rebirth of the Armenian people.
Visitors Leave Tributes At The Eternal Flame
Many visitors bring flowers, photographs, and other tributes to lay at the eternal flame. While visitors are not required to provide a tribute, the act is seen as respectful. International travelers should consider bringing flowers to lay on the floor of the sanctuary.
Tsitsernakaberd is an incredibly solemn site, and visitors should be mindful of their actions there. Eating, drinking, and smoking are prohibited. Be sure to dress respectfully, and try to avoid talking in the sanctuary unless absolutely necessary.
The Memorial Complex Features A Museum
The museum contains historical documents and exhibits about the genocide and was recently renovated to include touchscreens, projectors, and other technologies. Information is presented in Armenian, Russian, and English
Walking past the exhibits, travelers will begin to understand how the genocide affected — and continues to affect — Armenian culture. Admission is free of charge, but the museum accepts donations.
Guided Tours Are Available In English
The Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex offers tours in Russian, English, French, and German for a small fee of 5,000 Armenian drams (roughly $10). Guided tours in Armenian are available for 2,500 drams, but tours are not available for children under 13 years old.
To book a tour, visitors need to contact the museum via the number listed on the website. The museum has free parking, which is readily available throughout most of the year (except on April 24, as we’ll discuss in a moment).
Each Year, Thousands Of Armenians Gather To Demonstrate
To commemorate the brave actions of the original protesters, Armenians visit Tsitsernakaberd on April 24. They participate in a ceremonial walk to the memorial, with some carrying signs calling on world leaders to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Travelers hoping to fully understand the importance of this landmark should try to schedule their trip around this date, although Tsitsernakaberd is always a compelling place to spend some time. Even if you have limited interest in the country’s history, the sight of the eternal flame is certainly moving, and the garden is an excellent place to consider the tragedies that befell the Armenian people.