715) Armenian Historiography


Prof. Dr. Aygün ATTAR*

Review of Armenian Studies, ASAM, Vol. 2, Num. 6, 2004, s.29-42.

The fundamentals of Armenian historiography were set in the first centuries A.D., and has rich historical resources. Matenadaran Library is one of the richest libraries in the world not only for Armenian history, but also concerning Caucasian, Anatolian and Middle and Near East history. Besides numerous manuscripts, the library has a unique richness and historical worth with authentic and official documents, letters, and religious and cultural texts. At present, though most of these sources thereto under protection have been published in Russian and Armenian languages for the benefit of the academic society, there is still secrecy regarding some serious documents. Since these documents have problematic potential for Armenians, they are kept in secrecy today, inasmuch the way as they were in the Soviet era.

The church has always had an esteemed position in Armenian social life. Though lacking an effectual religious status within Christianity, Gregorianism gradually became a national sect starting from circa 5th and 6th centuries A.D., having proven to be compatible with Armenian national and historical life. Because the Armenian Gregorian church has always had supremacy over all political powers, the influence of the church is readily observable in almost all areas of Armenian life. Other than religion, the Armenian Church has the authority over all areas of life and it has been the primary power in building the cultural and historical values of Armenians. In this respect, it can be argued that Armenians’ consciousness of their history was built under the monopoly of the Armenian Church. Since a modern understanding of history has been based on these sources during the Soviet era as it is today, Armenian history has exclusively been developed under the strict influence of religious and nationalistic dogmas emanating from the Gregorian church. Thus, it is not surprising that most of the Armenian sources were written by clergymen.

The oldest Armenian sources were written in the early periods of Christian history and the tradition was continued systematically until the Soviet era, when the church was influential on the Armenian community. Since the Armenian Kingdom, which had an important status in the region during 2nd century B.C, capitulated first to the Parthian Empire, then to the Choson Dynasty that maintained the Zoroastrian faith, later on being divided – as a consequence of a treaty between the Byzantian Empire and Iran – into West and East Armenia thereby losing all political and administrative power, the Gregorian Church became the sole spiritual and material power to protect the Armenian community’s social values. As Manuk Abeqyan has said, to spiritually elevate the Armenian community devoid of its political, administrative and legal sovereignty, “There was need for forming the great and perfect history of Armenia.” Through the keen efforts of the church, consciousness of and belief in their history became a religious motive in the life of the Armenian community. For this purpose, writers of the “Armenian History adopted the principle of promoting the history of an independent Armenian Tsardom; they tried to instigate a spirit of revolt among the people, by presenting the thesis of Great Armenia, which had allegedly once existed on Armenian lands.” M. Abeqyan says that “there was need to sustain such theses, so that a people devoid of political power and social resistance could thrive.” It is a fact that Armenian sources were renewed periodically, as suitable for such needs. Having realised this, N. Adonts says that “the written works were revised by the current perspectives and rewritten according to the existing situation and the needs of the era. As a result of this, there comes out an inevitable doubt as to the compatibility of many historical sources with the time they were supposedly written. Apparently these sources are old; but, it is also apparent that they were modified at later periods.”

The fact that the center for education and culture was under control of the church and history teaching and history writing were managed by the church leaders was causing periodical re-processing and re-writing of Armenian sources. This in turn lead to loss of authenticity, letting different arguments and interpretations flourish concerning individual documents. On the issue of the censorship enforced by the Armenian Church, there is the following information taken from the book “Alban History”, which was written between 8th and 10th centuries A.D. : “Armenians accepted Christianity in the 43rd year of Roman calendar. Albania, on the other hand, accepted Christianity 270 years earlier than Armenians.” The name of the book “Alban History” first appears during the Armenian catholicos Anania’s visit to Hacen (943-967). He went to Hacen as a guest of Alban catholicos Gagik (948-962) in the year 958. According to Gagik, he was appointed to Albania Catholicosdom with the name of Holy Gregory, “as was the custom, referred to in the book Alban history.” When Gagik wanted to consult this historical work, he was told that Albania accepted Christianity before Armenia did. Anania Mokatsi objected and said: “this book cannot be authentic because, Albania has a Bishop but Armenia has a Cathalicos” Then, the book “Alban History” was given to the Armenian Catholicos and “he ordered the information to be found in history about Albania’s acceptance of Christianity, which we yearn to see.” Following this, with the order of Gagik, the information on Albania’s acceptance of Christianity before Armenians was deleted from the book.

These kinds of alterations are quite frequent in Armenian Historiography. Again, one of the famous ancient Armenian history writers Stepannos Orbelian reports an interesting event on these history alterations; according to him, as suggested by Anania, there had been scrupulous additions to “Alban History”.

All these help not only reveal the level of reliability of Armenian sources but also enlighten us about the basic point of view of Armenian history writing. For this reason, research on Armenian history using local sources has been involving serious problems. Nonetheless, whereas it won’t be appropriate to conduct research on Armenian history without consulting Armenian sources, studies collected on Caucasian, Iranian, and even general Turkish History without consulting these sources would just as well be unsuitable. Even though Armenian sources are the only ones to fill-in the information which Chinese sources fail to supply about Turks’ mobility towards the west, these works haven’t yet been made available to researchers on Turkish history.

As N. Y. Marr states, Armenian historiography in the classical era was shaped under the influence of three big factors and eventually come to claim its present local status. The first of these factors was the Missionary Literature which the Syrian culture was entirely subjected to; the second factor was the philosophical Scholastic literature created under the influence of the Greek thought; the third factor was the national – or local – literature. It is not possible to mark these periods as independent of each other. According to N. Adonts, the basis for Armenian Historiography emerged in two stages. The first period, beginning in the 5th century, concluded in the 7th century by Horenly, represents the foundation of Armenian Historiography and literature. The second period was completed by the end of the 11th century. The 8th century is a transition period between these two periods. In his study of Horenly’s famous work “Armenian History”, N.Y. Marr states that the said author reflects the properties of those three schools However, in its general sense Armenian Historiography can be subdivided into two periods: Mamikonians and Bagratunys. While all Armenian historians had tried to focus their works on the Mamikonian dynasty till the time of Horenly, who is thought to have lived in the 8th century, this preference then shifted in favour of the Bagratunys. Armenian Historian, G. Halatyants, the first person to have drawn attention to this issue, contends that two local dynasties have been active in Armenian History in general. As it is known, after Parths – who were of Scythian origin – seized Iran and the Caucases, they formed subdivisions of the Archakian family, their subordinate, by ending all other local dynasties. Apart from the Archakian dynasty in Iran, centered in Nesa, Alban - Archakian and Armenian - Archakian local dynasties were founded. These dynasties and their subdivisions were of Scythian origin; however, in the course of time they tried to establish their own independent statuses by merging with local tribes. By the first century, besides the Armenian Archakian dynasty (66-428), yet two more local dynasties had been founded. These both being of Armenian origin, the first was the Mamikonians, whose mission was sparapetdom; that is, commanders-in-chief of the Armenian army and the province administrators (merzhubans) were the descendants of this family. The second family was the Bagratunies, whose mission was to organise the coronation ceremony of a new monarch ascending the throne. For this reason, they were given the title aspet, or “coronator”. In the year 428, when the Armenian Tsardom was ended by default, both of these dynasties were dismissed from the central administration. As a reaction, the Mamikonians supported all civil rebellions therefrom against Iran in order to restore the sovereignty they had been deprived of. As this attitude of the Mamikonians had a nationalistic character on behalf of the Armenian people and church, they were accepted as the representatives of the Armenian national identity for a long time. Following Arabian conquests, the Khalifate had preferred to exploit the Bagratunies in particular. However, between the years 747-750, when a general rebellion broke out in Armenia, the Khalifate was able to draw Ashot Bagratuni to their side, through significantly attractive promises. Thus, the knezdom and sparapetry missions of the Mamikonian family ended in Armenia, the local and central administrations being seized by Bagratunies. When Saak Bagratuni became knez and Smbat Bagratuni sparapet, they put all of the Mamikonians in the country to the sword and seized their properties. As a result, the Bagratuni era started in Armenia. Owing to these facts, from a historical perspective, dividing Armenian history writing into two periods, Mamikonian and Bagratuni namely, should be more feasible. Of course, as emphasised by Marr and Adants, the general characteristics of Armenian historiography shouldn’t be ignored regarding the point of style and effect.

The sources of Armenian history consist of a series of works entitled “Armenian History” that date back as late as 5th century. Such historiography studies that have become traditional are supported and notified to the public by Church. The first Armenian source we obtained is “Life of Mosto/Mosto’nun Hayatı” that was thought to be written by Koryun in about 440’s. This work carries properties of eulogy revealing the author’s emotions towards his spiritual father and his teacher. However, the book gives information about the educational and religious activities of the church.

Another source of secondary importance is “about Vordon and Armenian Wars” that is written by Vegise in the second half of the 5th century. This work in the appearance of a history book, tells about the position of Armenian, Georgian. Albon societies in the years of 450-451 and the public rebellions against Sasani empire. The work is a serious source from the point of view of general Turkish historiography. Besides Yegise gives information for the first time about Haylanturk, the first nomandic tribe bears the name “Turk”. Apart from this, the work contains precious information about the beliefs of Hurr and Zarathustra which are unique once this work is investigated that the Turkish emigration towards west, the Caucasia and Anatolia took place ever before the birth of Christ, would be clarified.

Another work written in the second half of the fifth century is “Armenian History” by Faustas. This work consists of six book (probably more than that), only 3-5 book including the years 332-387, could be protected so far. Faustas Busand was the title of first author who attempted to write the complete Armenian History. The work is the most serious source in its own field in the point of its period and theme. The theme of the work is not only Armenia but also it is a primary source to learn Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkish emigration. Iran and the history of Anatolia. This work refuses the unfounded claims and opinions of Armenian historians and also it facilitates the learning of Armenian’s real situation from the historical and geographical point of view. Busand had already caused some deviations by shaping his work according to the Armenian church. As a result of the technique applied by the various works what cited this work; deviated the theme of Busand’s work from its own reality.

Lazar Parpetsi continued the tradition of writing “Armenian History” which began with Busand. “Armenian History” written at the end of the 5th century and at the beginning of the 6th century, is the history of the societies beyond Caucasia and also it comprises the period, the division of Armenia by Iran and Byzantine in 387.
Moisey Horenly is accepted actually as the father of “ Armenian History”. Horenly’s “Armenian History” consists of three parts. Horenly, as he mentions in the preface of his work, wrote his book on Knyaz Saak Bagratuni’s request who was keen on learning the history of Armenian Community, Armenian State, Armenian local sovereignities, Bagratuni reign. After that Horenly writes a general history of Armenia beginning from the oldest era until the year 428. It goes without saying that in this work Horenly analyses the ethnical membership and historical position of the Armenian people together with Babylonian Kingdom, Assyrian Imperial, Med Imperial, Persian societies and dynasties, Scythian Part State, Rome and Byzantium and the Sassanids and gives a rich example of history writing.. Of course, as stated above, Horenly’s work couldn’t keep away from the psychological structure which the Armenian church tried to humiliate. Thus the writer continues this attitude from the beginning until the end. As the famous writer N.A. Karaylov of the former Empire of Russia also states, the famous History of Horenly “proves the existence of the Armenian Tsars which was independent but under developed “. Horenly lived in the 8th Century. It is the period when the Bagratunian dynasty developed in Armenia. That’s why, Horenly largely establishes his work on the political existence of this dynasty. Horenly’s work is also a good reference book for studies on the history of the Turkish tribes. The writer mentions a lot the Turkish attacks on Azerbaijan, Armenia, Persia, and Anatolia. There is also a lot of unique information on Bulgarians, Basi/Barsil, the Khazars and the Huns.

The writer of “The History of Armenia” which was discussed a lot and supposed to be written in the 7th Century is not known. Some state that it was written by the author of “Irakl’s History” Sebeos, on the other hand, some state that it was Husrev.
Another book written in the 7th Century is “The Geography”, “Alharasuys” in Armenian, of Ananiya Şiraklı. As it’s name represents this book was on general geography of the world and it was based on the Roman author K. Ptolemaus’ book, “The Geography”, However, those parts of the book on Armenia and the neighbouring countries were written under the light of the researches of the author himself. In this book Asia is divided into 44 countries. The 26th country is Armenia which is divided into 15 states.. For about 150 years, the Armenian historians have been talking about the dream of “The Great Armenia” This dream is based on this work of Şiraklı, to a large extend. However, when it is studied seriously this book of Şiraklı contradicts the claims of the Armenian historians. Regionally in this book two geographic maps are taken as a basis for Armenia: the geography of the Archakian period and the regional position in the 7th Century. But the latter only consisted of a presentation of the changes. There are some points in this work which contradict with some other reference books. This results from Şiraklı’s loyalty to the traditional Armenian historians’ attitude.

In the period of Arabian Imperial the most important. and remarkable Armenian source book is Levond’s “The Caliphs’ History”. This book enlightens the history of the period between the years 662-788, a period of about 127 years. This is an important work which reveals religious and social position of the Arabians and that of the Armenians in front of their religious applications.

“The Book of Letters- Girk tltos” is the most remarkable of the mentioned resources. The book consists of the letters of the administrators of state and church. The book includes not only the correspondence of Armenian government and church but also the letters and official documents of the neighbouring countries. It is a very important source for understanding the place of the church in social life of the Armenians.
As for a rumour ,the work “Ağvan / The History of Albania” which was written first in Albanian in the 8th Century and translated into Armenian with additions in the 10th Century is also presented among the Armenian resources. Although it is different from the Armenian sources in periods of style and fiction as it is in Armenian it should be accepted among these books. The author of the book, Movsey Kalankatuklu who is an Alban and even supposed to be a Turk because of his name, is the only known historian of the Albanian State that existed on the land of today’s Azerbaijan in the 8th Century. This book, which includes a vast amount of knowledge, is supposed to be the most important resource not only for the Albanian and Azerbaijanian history but also for Armenian Persian and Turkish history. This work is very important as it gives an opportunity to evaluate the mistakes of the Armenian historians and resources. This work generally consists of three books, the first two of which were written by Kalankatuklu and the third by the Armenian author Moves Dashuranatsi in the 10th Century. “The History of Albania” includes the history of nearly a thousand years’ history of the region.

The most important author who continued writing the traditional “Armenia History” works was Catholicos 5th Yohann Drashankertly (catholicosdom period: 897-925). His work is very important for studies on the history of Armenian Bagratunis dynasty after the Abbasids and the Turkish dynasty in Azerbaijan, Sac Oğulları period. It also includes important knowledge on the history of Anatolia. “The History of the Artsruni Dynasty” of Foma Arstruni, another Armenian author ,is among the reference books for studies on regional Armenian dynasties.

When studying the history of Armenia it is necessary to reveal the political role of the Bagratunian dynasty in the history of this country. the most serious resource on this issue is Stephannos Taronski’s (Asogik)”General History” which includes the 119 years of the history of the Bagratunian dynasty between the years 885-1004. Among the other remarkable Armenian source books are Vardan’s “General History”, Stepannos Orbelian’s “Sünik History”and Mhitar Ayrivantsi’s “Chronographic History”.

In the 12th Century, the Armenian history writing was represented by mainly two famous names. In this period Armenia had no local element and the whole country was under the control of the Turkish. The authors writing in Armenian were living mainly in Gence. Among them Mhitar Goş and Kirakos of Gence are significant.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, there is a serious matter of recession of Armenian Historiography . Mongolian invasion is seen as the factor of this recession. Although, in this period , there are several Annuals written within the church community, they are completely far from being historical.

Armenian’s main centre was shifted to Cilicia area because of the growing Turkish population in the 14th and 15th centuries. We come across many Armenian sources written in the 15th century. Matenedaran M. Maştots Library is filled with lots of documents, official correspondence samples, epistles, decrees, church scriptures, numismatic, and epigraphic materials. We already know the names of many of the Armenian authors of the 15th to 18th centuries: Foma Metsopski, Samvela Anetsi, Ogannesa Arcişetsi, Arakela Davrijetsi, Zakariy Kana Kertsi (Sarkavaga), Zarariy Aguletsi, Eremiy Çelebi, Grigor Daranagtsi, Simeona Lehatsi, Azariy Sasnetsi, Simeona Erevantsi, Haçatura Cugaetsi, Abraama Erevantsi, Abraama Kretatsi, Akupa Şemahetsi, and Albanian Catholicos Yesey Hasan Celalyan.

In the 26th century, Chronicle writing and Notebook composing were popular. Among these authors Yoannesika Tsaretsi should be marked. Tsaretsi’s Annual reflects the perspectives of the period’s political, economical and social history. The author, besides the information about Ottomans, tried to lay bare Mustafa Lala Pasha’s 1578-1579 campaign to Caucasian Area.

Armenian Chronicles almost complete each other historically. Tsaretsi’s Annual is like the continuation of Ovanes Arcişetsi’s Annual. Besides Annual Tsaretsi wrote also a book called “Ağvan Ülkesinin Tarihi”. Vartapet Grigor Kamehetsi or Daranagtsi(1576-1643) who is thought to live in 17th century, continued Tsaretsi’s tradition. Daranagsti’s Annual consists of two parts. First part includes Armenian’s period from 1018 to 1539; second part, political situation in 1595-1634. It is possible to obtain information concerning Safevi policy and Abhaza Pasha’s campaigns in 1623-1624. Simeone Lehatsi’s work also provides information on Abhaza Pasha. The common characteristics of Anatolian, Armenian and Azerbaijani history is shaped by the Celali Revolt. We come across with two works in Armenian sources concerning Celali Revolt: The works of Azar Soonetsi and Yeremi Çelebi Kermuçyan.
One of the most significant sources of the 17th century is Agutenti Zakari’s “Catalogues”. This rare work which has the characteristics of a diary is worthy for requiring information about region’s social position.

Russia’s unification with Caucasia’s political life in 18th century is evaluated as an incredible opportunity for Armenia. This period is regarded as a new beginning both in political life of Armenia and Armenian historiography. Tsar Petro I’s aim was to create a buffer-zone between Caucasia and Turkey under the Ottoman rule. The state which could achieve this mission was Armenia. However, 1000 years of Turkish presence and sovereignty made Armenian area Turkish, particularly Erevan.

Establishing so-called Armenia did not require a great preparation for the foundation of a new country. For this reason, an intensive propaganda within the Armenian churches in order to unite the national psychology of Armenians was initiated. In 1721, Tsar Petro I’s Khazar campaign excited the Armenians. Prayers were made for the Tsar in the Armenian Churches and the Armenian national feelings were caressed. There are great numbers of sources reflecting the period’s events, Russia’s activities and Armenian propaganda activities. These sources are preserved as documents and scripts in Russian Central Archieve of State, Old Documentaries Section, Asrahan State Archieve, Russian Political Archieve and Matenedoran Library.

In the 18th century composing notebooks tradition continued. Egi Muşegyan’s Karnetsi catalogue reflecting the events of the beginning of the century also explains Russia’s regional perspective and the position of Iran and Turkey. Arakel Davrijets’s Köroğlu Collection should be evaluated as a product of cultural interaction and Petros di-Sorgi’s Gilanentsi’s Catalogue as the product of political events of the region. Petros di-Sorgis Gilanentsi’s another essay on Nadir Shah period is also attracting attention.

Tsar Petro I’s extremely religious and national theories caused, especially after the second half of the 18th century, a new perspective to emerge in Armenian historiography. It is observed that all the historical, literary and religious works were written focusing on a single goal: to establish, if possible, Great Armenia. As the contents of these works will be dealt with in a separate essay it can be said that Armenian historiography was completed in the first half of the 18th century.
It is obvious that traditional Armenian historiography was shaped within the church community from the 5th to 18th century. As mentioned above, the aim of writing these works was to prepare Armenians, psychologically, for realizing “Great Armenia” in order to re-establish the Armenian Tsardom which had fallen in 428.

The Armenian problems which had occurred in Caucasia and Turkey since the second half of the 19th century were the reflections of the social violence caused by the psychology. Armenian problems which lasted for about 150 years as the major problem in Turkey and Caucasia has to be examined in a broad perspective within historical, regional, and religious values.

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