Customs and traditions often define the culture of Armenia, where people live, create, and celebrate their distinctive arts, crafts, cuisine, environment, music, and much more in local and regional festivals. For instance, the Areni region celebrates its famous wine culture, the Lori region highlights its edible plants, and the Aragatsotn region showcases its dances.
Recognizing that many regions of this small country produce spectacular and diverse festivals, a group of festival organizers, with the support of the My Armenia Program, founded the FestivAr Association of Armenian Festivals in 2017. FestivAr brings together like-minded festival organizers and event enthusiasts whose efforts make it possible to enhance and preserve Armenia’s cultural heritage. They are committed to making Armenia a more visible and more attractive destination by positioning it anew on the radar of global tourists.
“At the beginning, we were only ten festival organizers,” recalls FestivAr’s executive director and founding member Nune Manukyan, “and today we have twenty-six members who come together for one mutual purpose. FestivAr strives to coordinate, promote, and support the sustainable development of festivals in Armenia.”
As a result, the number of Armenian festivals in both the capital and the regions has increased significantly. “Each year FestivAr’s members hold thirty festivals, twenty of which are based in communities throughout the country,” Manukyan explains. Moreover, as these festivals become more attractive and engaging, the number of visitors likewise increases, in part because FestivAr’s festivals offer something for nearly everyone—both locals and international visitors—from early spring to late autumn.
FestivAr’s festivals are also important elements in promoting Armenia’s distinctive cultural heritage. Ruzanna Tsaturyan, a researcher with the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of Armenia, finds that “festivals constitute a dialogue. They allow stops in our fast and hectic routines to celebrate human creativity and the diversity of cultures. As they honor traditions, these festivals may also change communities, reveal new cultural identities, emphasize those places that are of particular significance, and enable us to think deeply about our cultural heritage.”
Tsaturyan observes how festivals condense in one place a variety of cultural manifestations and interconnected cultural phenomena, such as crafts, music, dance, cuisine, and more. “I consider it essential that festivals contribute to the mobilization of cultural heritage and promote social cohesion in the process,” she maintains.
For example, food fans may taste a variety of tolma at the Tolma Festival in various locations, sample traditional dishes made from plants at the Edible Plants of Armenia Festival in Dsegh, try the biggest gata at the Gata Festival in Khachik, and drink coffee and tea from some of the best Armenian producers at the Tea and Coffee Festival in Yerevan. Lovers of wine will not want to miss the Areni Wine Festival, the site of the world’s oldest winery, or the Yerevan Wine Days, a festival held on Saryan Street.
People interested in arts and crafts may discover regionally specific arts and crafts, such as blacksmithing, carpet weaving, embroidery, pottery, stone carving, textile art, woodworking, and more during such festivals as My Handmade Armenia, DiliTon, Arts and Crafts Festival in Dilijan, and the 1000 Years of Village Life Festival.
Nature and adventure enthusiasts may find an exhilarating combination of sport, educational activities, and fun during Ecotourism, Yell, Rafting, or Haybuis festivals. And the powers of music and dance are abundant at the Sevan International Music Festival, Gutan Festival, and Yerevan Music Night.
The growth and increase of FestivAr’s member festivals significantly contribute to the possibilities for tourism and economic development of the host communities. “By organizing festivals in the regions, festival organizers decentralize from the urban areas,” Manukyan explains. “This increases awareness of the regions and creates new opportunities for the communities We understood that together we could achieve this goal faster and more effectively.”
However, many challenges lie ahead for the future of FestivAr and its members. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in 2020 forced many festivals to switch to online formats or even cancel their events. Manukyan points to longer-term impacts: “the online environment of the festivals became more significant, the planning of the festivals became more careful, and the safety of festival visitors became the most important consideration for festival organizers.”
A second major challenge is funding. Manukyan notes that “festivals do not always receive funds or donations from the state, individuals, or corporations. In order to sustain their development, festival organizers must integrate a business component to make them financially viable and to ensure the continuity of the festivals.”
Creating an environment of knowledge and sharing experiences is a third major challenge for FestivAr. Its member-festivals continually seek to innovate and improve their programs by applying the knowledge gained through collaborative learning and networking with other festival organizers.
Manukyan’s hope for the future is that all Armenian festivals will be under FestivAr’s umbrella. By joining together, the festivals will become more sustainable, have more power to develop, and continue to innovate and share knowledge with each other.