National symbols are important part of the culture of a country. They speak of its people’s identity and what they stand for in their life. Furthermore they uncover their history, traditions and the unity as a nation. Even though some cultures are symbolized with common items findable elsewhere, such as eagles, lions, pomegranates, swords etc, Armenia belongs to the cultures that, along with the above mentioned, have created their own symbolizing items: kachkar is an example of that. The word literary means cross-stone and is a cross curved into a stone. This is a typical medieval Christian Armenian form of art that developed in the 12-13th centuries.
How they look like
Kachkars are similar to each other at the first sight, but their design varies. On most khachkars Christ is not depicted on the cross. Those that have elaborate design are called lacework khachkars, while those that have a freestanding cross are called ‘tevavor’, meaning ‘with wings’. Khachkars are usually memorials covered with rosettes and other attributes. Most of them bear a curved cross and a solar disc, the later symbolizing the sun, while the remainder of the stone is usually decorated with patterns of leaves, grapes, pomegranates, or abstract knot work. The earliest khachkars were dedicated to the salvation of the soul of a living or a deceased person, while others were monuments for a military victory, the construction of a church, even a form of protection from natural disasters.
The firs khachkars were created in the 9th century, after Armenians liberated from Arab rule. The oldest khachkar with a known date was carved in 879, which was erected in Garni and is dedicated to queen Katranide, the wife of king Ashot I Bagratuni. This type of art got to its pick during the 12-13th centuries, while at the end of the 14th century it declined because of the Mongol invasion. It revived in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the artistic heights of the earlier form were never achieved again.
Where to see them
Kachkars are still being preserved today and can be found in many parts of Armenia. The kachkar in Geghard, carved in 1213, another is in Goshavank, carved in 1291 are believed to be the finest examples of this art form. Other good examples can be found in the History Museum and near the Ejmiadzin cathedral.
Many gift shops in Yerevan offer small examples of kachkars made of either stone or wood. A variety of this kind of souvinirs can also be found in Vernissage market.