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Is there a curse on the Armenian People – Part 1
Have you ever wondered why the Armenian people have suffered so much throughout history especially since they declared Christianity their state religion. I have pondered this question for most of my life and searched for an answer.
I am not a prophet or a soothsayer, but I try to study questions seriously and not always in the box, or within a conventional framework of learning where the accepted assumptions often preclude finding the right answer. It is similar to the person who lost his keys and was searching for them under a street lamp. A passerby stopped and asked him if he lost something. He said, “Yes.” The passerby asked if he lost the keys under the street lamp. The searcher replied, “No.” The passerby asked where did the searcher lose his keys. He replied “Over there,” and pointed to a dark area near a park. The passerby asked, “Why are you looking for your keys here under the street lamp?” The searcher said, “Because there is light here and no light there.”
Of course, he will never find his keys because he is looking in the wrong place. His search is comparable to staying “within the box of conventional assumptions” to find an answer. The question of human suffering and particularly of the Armenians is of universal importance. It is not subject to national or ethnic conventions or assumptions. This means that there are universal laws that operate on individuals and sometimes collectively on ethnic groups or nations whether the people understand them or not. These laws are race and gender blind. They cannot be understood without appeal to higher order spiritual truths which are exemplified by great spiritual preceptors like Jesus Christ.
One must look to universal principles of truth to find the enigmatic answer. Once we clearly understand the cause of the suffering, then we can do something to correct it by God’s grace and come out of this terrible predicament of continual destruction of the culture and people of Armenia as well as all other peoples and races.
A question to ask: “Is there an ancient curse on the Armenian people that has plagued them throughout our Christian history and is still pertinent today?”
We can understand something from the result or judge the act by the result. After 17 centuries or more of becoming a Christian Nation we have suffered terribly not because of Christianity. I want to emphasize that Christianity in the words of Jesus Christ teaches tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness. Hope, faith and charity are the words by which a Christian lives. The Bible teaches,
27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
Christianity in its pure form is not the religion of violence and brute force. Its force is the purity of the love and dedication to spreading the message of Jesus Christ and the hope He gives to all people for salvation. Christianity, by virtue of its teaching, is not at fault.
If there is a curse on the Armenians, it may be traced to the beginning of Christianity in Armenia and later, the establishment of Christianity as a state religion. The story of how Christianity was established as the state religion in Armenia has many admirable and some troubling aspects to it. Very few situations are black and white. There are often grey areas that complicate or confound our understanding. As a well wisher of Armenians (and especially since I was born into an Armenian family), I want to discuss this question although it may seem to be anathema by most Armenians to question the establishment of Christianity in Armenia. Why would such a discussion seem inappropriate? The answer is that the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia has been heralded as the defining event that has solidified the Armenian identity, caused the development of the unique Armenian alphabet and superb translation of the Bible and many ancient texts, and inspired tremendous artistic, poetic, and architectural marvels that have demonstrated the greatness of the Armenian genius. To question the establishment of Christianity in Armenia as the state religion might appear like an attempt to undermine the most glorious period of Armenian history.
This, however, would be a false argument. I am not questioning Christianity or the Armenian genius that was inspired by Christianity. I am going to examine some of the events and their consequences that took place during the period of conversion of most of Armenia to Christianity. It may be that some of the events that took place during the conversion of Armenians to Christianity provoked a curse on the Armenian people.
I want to summarize the early history of Christianity in Armenia before the establishment of it as a state religion. During the reign of Tigran the Great, 95-66 B.C., the Armenian Empire extended from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea. There were Jewish settlements in the major cities of ancient Armenia. The earliest preachers of Christianity began their missions in the Jewish communities. This is understandable since the apostles of Jesus were Jews who became disciples of Jesus Christ.
Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth century Church historian and priest, records an exchange of letters between an Armenian king named Abgar and Jesus. King Abgar wrote a letter to Jesus asking him to come to Edessa (in Lesser Armenia) to have the protection of his kingdom and also to cure him of leprosy. It is said that Jesus appreciated Abgar’s invitation but declined to go. He did promise to send one of his disciples. After the ascension of Jesus, the Apostle Thomas sent Thaddeus, one of the Seventy, early followers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 10:1-24, to King Abgar.
The Apostle St. Thaddeus, arriving in Edessa, resided at the house of a Jewish nobleman Tubia. About the year 44 A.D., Thaddeus cured King Abgar of leprosy. After preaching throughout lesser Armenia, he ordained Bishop Addeh to serve in his absence as his temporary replacement of the Church and left for Greater Armenia to preach the Word of God. According to the Holy Tradition, Bishop Addeh was a royal robe maker by trade, and the maker of mitres to the Edessan court. After St. Thaddeus departed, King Abgar’s son, who ascended the throne after his father’s death, re-established paganism. He demanded that Bishop Addeh make him a mitre. Bishop Addeh refused, and soon after was martyred. He is remembered as St. Addeh.
St. Thaddeus continued his preaching in Greater Armenia, and converted many followers, including Princess Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk of Shavarshan, in the province of Artaz. When the king learned of his daughter’s conversion, he used every means possible to convince her to return to paganism. Exhausting all efforts, the king finally offered his daughter a choice between Christianity and death or paganism and her crown. Remaining steadfast in her faith, she chose death, and became the first woman saint of the Armenian Church. In addition to her martyrdom, St. Sandukht is also remembered for her efforts in converting others.
By the order of King Sanatruk, St. Thaddeus, along with his converts, was martyred soon after the princess in 66 A.D., for preaching Christianity. Before he was killed, St. Thaddeus secretly buried the remains of St. Sandukht. A monk named Giragos discovered the remains of St. Thaddeus and St. Sandukht near a field of Shavarshan, sometime in the 4th or early 5th century.
St. Bartholomew arrived in Armenia after preaching in Persia, during the 29th year of King Sanatruk’s reign. He converted the king’s sister Voguhy and many nobles. He also was martyred by King Sanatruk’s orders in 68 A.D., in the city of Arebanos, which was situated between Lakes Van and Urmia.
From this history, we can understand that Christianity was spread in Armenia at great peril to the early preachers and converts. St. Bartholomew was one of the original twelve apostles and St Thaddeus was one of the seventy disciples sent by Jesus to spread the new religion. These early preachers and converts were an example of the teaching of Jesus as quoted by St Matthew 38-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Love for Enemies
43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies[c] and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus set a new standard that was not based only on the requirements of righteousness (i.e. giving each his due). He established the startling law of grace and love. The Old Testament, on the other hand, stressed justice based on equal retribution with some measure of grace. “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe’ (Exodus 21:23-25). There are certain other quotes that seem to attenuate such a rigid standard of retribution for wrongdoing: ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:18). This statement, however, seems to be directed toward being merciful to one’s own people. What about other people than one’s own?
There are general statements which encourage more clement behavior: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21). “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’” (Proverbs 24:29)
Jesus enhanced the principle of mercy with grace and loving kindness. He discouraged categorically the principle of retaliation. This is the defining behavior of a real Christian. Jesus acknowledged that treating others as they deserve is the law of justice. But, he stressed more emphatically the imperative for a Christian to act on the basis of loving kindness and mercy.
A government applies the law of justice. A Christian applies the law of grace which returns evil with good. This frees the Christian from the downward cycle of retributive justice that may entrench malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment in the hearts of people permanently. Such Christian love and grace heals the embittered soul and prepares one to return to the kingdom of God and leave this embattled world of retributive justice that engenders revenge.
Another question to ask follows: Is Jesus’s law of grace to be applied only in one’s personal life or can it also be applied by a government or civil authorities? This is the crucial question that has confounded the teaching of Jesus in practical application. I will examine this question and the above question in the context of Armenian history.
Before we examine the events during the conversion of Armenia’s State government to Christianity, it will be useful to understand what the religion or religions of the Armenians were before the advent of Christianity. They are usually referred to as pagan. The Catholic Dictionary describes paganism:
Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of Polytheism.
It is derived from the Latin pagus, whence pagani (i.e. those who live in the country), a name given to the country folk who remained heathen after the cities had become Christian. One of the pagan religions of Armenia was called Mithraism, which was the cult of the ancient Indo-Iranian Sun-god Mithra. There was also Zorastrianism (the cult of Aramaszt and Anahit), Hellenic and Roman Gods, and the Vedic God Krishna.
The early Armenian religions cannot be understood until we correct our view of history. Due to the overbearing influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition many historical facts have been altered in order to maintain an artificial Judeo-Christian time line that corresponds to the Old Testament calculation of time. According to the Old Testament, recorded civilization began about 4000 years ago. The implication is that the creation also began about 4000 or 5000 years ago. With the descent of Noah’s Arc on Mount Ararat sometime after the creation the reestablishment of civilization began from the Armenian Highlands. This theory has lead to the concept that the Aryan race began somewhere in the cradle of civilization in or near the Armenian Highlands and spread into different directions including the Aryan Invasion of India. This is all speculation that begs to justify the Judeo-Christian time line of history which is seriously flawed.
From my studies based on Linguistic evidence, astrological and older scriptural sources than the Old Testament (i.e. the Vedas), it is more plausible to understand that ancient civilizations existed long before the Old Testament was written. The Vedic time line of recorded history goes back much farther than the Judeo-Christian. An example of this is the following which explains the time line that calculates when the Bhagavad-gita (the quintessential Vedic scripture) was first spoken (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, in the purport of Ch. 4, text 1):
In the Mahabharata (Santi-parva 348.51-52) we can trace out the history of the Gita as follows:
treta-yugadau ca tato
vivasvan manave dadau
manus ca loka-bhrty-artham
iksvakuna ca kathito
vyapya lokan avasthitah
“‘In the beginning of the millennium known as Treta-yuga this science of the relationship with the Supreme was delivered by Vivasvan to Manu. Manu, being the father of mankind, gave it to his son Maharaja Iksvaku, the king of this earth planet and forefather of the Raghu dynasty, in which Lord Ramacandra appeared.’ Therefore, Bhagavad-gita existed in human society from the time of Maharaja Iksvaku.
At the present moment we have just passed through five thousand years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvapara-yuga (about 800,000 years), and before that there was Treta-yuga (about 1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago, Manu spoke the Bhagavad-gita to his disciple and son Maharaja Iksvaku, the king of this planet earth. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu the Gita was spoken by the Lord to His disciple the sun-god Vivasvan, a rough estimate is that the Gita was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society it has been extant for two million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about five thousand years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gita, according to the Gita itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Sri Krsna. It was spoken to the sun-god Vivasvan because he is also a ksatriya and is the father of all ksatriyas who are descendants of the sun-god, or the surya-vamsa ksatriyas.”
The Bhagavad-gita is part of the Mahabharata, which is the great history of the world from the creation to the end of the Battle of Kurukshetra. The battle, which took place in India about 125 miles northeast of Dehli, ended approximately 5000 years ago.
According to the Mahabharata, the recorded history of our earth planet begins with the Bhagavad-gita being spoken to Maharaja Iksvaku about two million years ago. However, the time line for the creation of the entire material creation is much older according to the following (Bhagavad-gita, Ch. 8, text 17):
ahar yad brahmano viduh
te â€˜ho-ratra-vido janah
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahma’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.
The duration of the material universe is limited. It is manifested in cycles of kalpas. A kalpa is a day of Brahma, and one day of Brahma consists of a thousand cycles of four yugas, or ages: Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali. The cycle of Satya is characterized by virtue, wisdom and religion, there being practically no ignorance and vice, and the yuga lasts 1,728,000 years. In the Treta-yuga vice is introduced, and this yuga lasts 1,296,000 years. In the Dvapara-yuga there is an even greater decline in virtue and religion, vice increasing, and this yuga lasts 864,000 years. And finally in Kali-yuga (the yuga we have now been experiencing over the past 5,000 years) there is an abundance of strife, ignorance, irreligion and vice, true virtue being practically nonexistent, and this yuga lasts 432,000 years. In Kali-yuga vice increases to such a point that at the termination of the yuga the Supreme Lord Himself appears as the Kalki avatara, vanquishes the demons, saves His devotees, and commences another Satya-yuga. Then the process is set rolling again. These four yugas, rotating a thousand times, comprise one day of Brahma, and the same number comprise one night. Brahma lives one hundred of such ‘years’ and then dies. These ‘hundred years’ by earth calculations total to 311 trillion and 40 billion earth years. By these calculations the life of Brahma seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity it is as brief as a lightning flash. In the Causal Ocean there are innumerable Brahmas rising and disappearing like bubbles in the Atlantic. Brahma and his creation are all part of the material universe, and therefore they are in constant flux.”
The Vedic history goes back more than 311 trillion years. The original Aryan civilization began in Bharat or ancient India. The word Aryan is a Sanskrit word. It refers to persons who know the value of human life which they consider an opportunity to achieve self realization. Such persons organize society so that the people can progress in spiritual realization to understand their eternal relation with God and orient all their activities toward the unalloyed service of God without any tinge of material greed, lust, anger, envy, illusion, or madness. In the original Vedic Aryan culture the goal of self realization was to surrender to the will of Bhagavan Krishna (or Vishnu). In the Rig Veda, this is emphasized by the verse “Om tad Vishnu paramam padam,” the goal of all spiritual activity is (to serve) the Lotus Feet of Lord Vishnu.
The non Aryans are persons who are captivated by the material conception of life. They do not understand that the aim of life is the realization of the Absolute Truth, Lord Vishnu or God. They have no understanding of liberation from material illusion and remain captivated by the external features of the material world. They perfect through science and technology ways to eat, sleep, mate and defend. They remain attached to the material body, land of birth, family, ethnicity, race and generally are disinterested in spiritual elevation. They consider god as a cultural phenomena that may be useful for less educated persons as a emotional crutch or belief for solace. Their ultimate goal in life is to prolong as long as possible their sense enjoyment for themselves and for others. They see death as the end of all existence. Therefore, they try to live this life dedicated to enjoying the senses in every way possible. In order to accomplish such material goals, they try their best to accumulate wealth and with it prestige and power. This inflates their egotism to such a point that they can justify anything to reach their material goals.
What we can understand from the above discussion is that the Judeo-Christian history has seriously restricted our view of world history and forced us to accept that our ancestors all proceeded from the Old Testament or, in other words, Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Noah, etc. However, linguistically we are not related to the ancient Hebrews. The Armenian language is part of the Indo-European family. The Armenian philologist Hratchia Adjarian compiled an etymological dictionary of Armenian. His compilation contains 11,000 entries of Armenian root words. Of these, the Indo-European roots number about 9%, loans words constitute 36% and more than half the vocabulary is undetermined or uncertain. Thus, Armenian is considered in the Indo-European family of languages and not Semitic.
The ancient cults of Armenia came originally from India. The cult of Mithra is an Indo-Irano cult with its orgins in the Vedic past. In the Vedic history, Mitra and Varuna are two members of the Vedic devas or demigods. Mithra later became prominent as a sun god in Iran and Armenia. Shrines for Mithra existed in Armenia into the 4th century AD . The historian Dio Cassius records a dialogue between Tiridates I and King Nero. The Roman Emperor conferred on the Armenian King the throne of Armenia. During the ceremony, Tiridates I knelt before Nero and declared, “Lord, I am your slave. And I have come to you as my god, to pay homage to you as I do to Mitra.” This happened around 52 AD.
Later Tiridates III converted to Christianity and declared Christianity the state religion of Armenia at the beginning of the 4th century. Up until the conversion to Christianity, there were temples of Mithra, Anahit, fire temples in the Zorastrian tradition, Hindu temples dedicated to Krishna, and some Roman or Greek temples. They were all originally influenced by Indo-European spiritual influences coming from ancient India’s Indus Valley Aryan civilization either directly or through Iranian influence. The three major deities of ancient Armenia were Aramasd (the legendary Ara who became Aramasd – a sort of combination of Ara and Ahura Maszda, the Zoroastrian supreme god), Anahit (the goddess of purity who originated in Laxmi the wife of Narayana or Visnu the Supreme Godhead of the Indian Aryans. She came to Armenia through the Iranian goddess Anahida) and Mithra (the Vedic demigod Mitra who came through Iranian influence and was considered the sun god).
A short history of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral is also of interest in this discussion. Twenty kilometers west of Yerevan is situated the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, the headquarters of the Armenian Orthodox Church and the most visited pilgrimage site in the country. Long before the arrival of Christianity, the site was already considered a holy place. Called Vagharshapat at the end of the 3rd century BC, a Zoroastrian fire temple had been functioning there for untold centuries. Upon this fire temple, a Roman Temple of Venus was later constructed and at this exact site, in 303 AD, St. Gregory the Illuminator saw the Holy Ghost descend in a vision. The name Etchmiadzin means “Only Begotten Descended” and refers to the place where St. Gregory (Grigor Lusavorich) saw his vision. The first church was constructed in 309 AD upon the site of the Zoroastrian and Venus temples, and some remains of the Venus temple may be seen in the church crypt today.
Etchmiadzin was the capital of Armenia from 180-340 AD. The church was rebuilt in the 6th and 7th centuries, with more recent additions in 1654 and 1868. Relics in the church collection include one of the lances that pierced the side of Christ and wood from Noah’s Arc (this wood, which has been carbon dated as more than 4000 years old, was supposedly given by an angel to an Armenian monk who had tried to climb Mt. Ararat three times in the 13th century).
Our pre-Christian culture, religion and language was much more connected to origins in the Vedic past than the Hebrew past. The following discussion will give evidence to this fact from ancient Vedic texts.
In the Bhagavata Purana Canto 9 (SB 9. ch19 texts 22,23,24), known also as the Srimad Bhagavatam, there is an account of the origin of modern Aryan races of India and the reason why they gradually migrated from India to different parts of the world and, over time, the purity of their Aryan culture deteriorated. As they lost contact with their Aryan roots they partially retained their original culture but with many watered down or faulty practices or lost it entirely.
The Bhagavatam states that King Yayati had five sons: Yadu, Turvasu (also known as Yavana), Drahyu, Anu and Puru. Each of these sons became the forefather of a race. The sons of Yadu became known as the Yadavas, Turvasu’s sons were called the Yavanas., the sons of Drahyu are the Bhojas, Anu’s sons were the Mllechas and Puru’s sons were known as the Pauravas. Yadavas became strong in central India where they evolved the Aryan culture of the Indus Valley which had it core homeland extended from the Saraswati River (modern Pakistan) to Bihar and then expanded all over the world.. The Pauravas (Kurus and Panchalas were branches of this race) became strong in northern India. The sons of Anu were also called Anavas, thought to be the Iranian tribes, who were all grouped as Mllechas or races that fell away from the Aryan culture. The Yavanas became the Turk race and, along with the Anavas, established themselves in the far western regions (west of the Indus Valley). They (the Yavanas) became opposed to the Aryan culture.
The Indus Valley Culture was watered by the Saraswati River in the West and the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in the North and East with the many tributaries that connected to these two rivers. The Saraswati River disappeared in modern times. The Yadavas ruled the Vedic culture of the Indus Valley along with the Pauravas. The Vedic groups which integrally followed the Vedic teachings maintained the principles of Dharma (the Aryan culture) and spread them widely around the world by saintly kings. After the battle of Kurukshetra (5000 years ago), King Yudhistira became the king of the entire world. He sent his brothers, the Pandavas in the four directions to collect tribute or defeat any reluctant kings who refused to pay tribute. His brothers conquered all nations of the world at that time and established a world government. The Vedic culture spread throughout the world and also to ancient Armenia.
In the Bhagavata Purana (2.4.18), there is a very interesting verse with an extensive purport by His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that sheds light on the later history of Aryan civilization. This verse establishes that there were many races on the perimeter of the Vedic civilizations that were fallen from the pure path of Vedic Dharma (this is after the demise of Maharaja Yudhistira about 5000 years ago). However, with proper instruction by a genuine spiritual leader they could also reintegrate into the path of eternal Dharma. The different races are named and in the explanation approximate geographical positions are given. The Bhagavata Purana was written 5000 years ago.
abhira-sumbha yavanah khasadayah
ye â€˜nye ca papa yad-apasrayasrayah
sudhyanti tasmai prabhavishnave namah
Kirata – a province of old Bharata; huna – part of Germany and Russia; andhra – a province of southern India; pulinda – the Greeks; pulkasah – another province; abhira – part of old Sind; sumbhah – another province; yavanah – the Turks; khasa-adayah – the Mongolian province; ye – even those; anye – others; ca – also; papah – addicted to sinful acts; yat – whose; apasraya-asrayah – having taken shelter of the devotees of the Lord; sudhyanti – at once purified; tasmai – unto Him; prabhavishnave – unto the powerful Vishnu; namah – my respectful obeisances.
“Kirata, Huna, Andhra, Pulinda, Pulkasa, Abhira, Sumbha, Yavana, members of the Khasa races and even others addicted to sinful acts can be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord, due to His being the supreme power. I beg to offer my respectful obeisances unto Him.
Kirata: A province of old Bharata-varsha mentioned in the Bhishma-parva of Mahabharata. Generally the Kiratas are known as the aboriginal tribes of India, and in modern days the Santal Parganas in Bihar and Chota Nagpur might comprise the old province named Kirata.
Huna: The area of East Germany and part of Russia is known as the province of the Hunas. Accordingly, sometimes a kind of hill tribe is known as the Hunas.
Andhra: A province in southern India mentioned in the Bhishma-parva of Mahabharata. It is still extant under the same name.
Pulinda: It is mentioned in the Mahabharata (Adi-parva 174.38), viz., inhabitants of the province of the name Pulinda. This country was conquered by Bhimasena and Sahadeva. The Greeks are known as Pulindas, and it is mentioned in the Vana-parva of Mahabharata that the non-Vedic race of this part of the world would rule over India (this predicts Alexander the Great). This Pulinda province was also one of the provinces of Bharata, and the inhabitants were classified amongst the kshatriya kings. But later on, due to their giving up the brahminical culture, they were mentioned as mlecchas (just as those who are not followers of the Islamic culture are called kafirs and those who are not followers of the Christian culture are called heathens).
Abhira: This name also appears in the Mahabharata, both in the Sabha-parva and Bhishma-parva. It is mentioned that this province was situated on the River Sarasvati in Sind. The modern Sind province formerly extended on the other side of the Arabian Sea, and all the inhabitants of that province were known as the Abhiras. They were under the domination of Maharaja Yudhishthira, and according to the statements of Markandeya the mlecchas of this part of the world would also rule over Bharata. Later on this proved to be true, as in the case of the Pulindas. On behalf of the Pulindas, Alexander the Great conquered India, and on behalf of the Abhiras, Muhammad Ghori conquered India. These Abhiras were also formerly kshatriyas within the brahminical culture, but they gave up the connection. The kshatriyas who were afraid of Parasurama and had hidden themselves in the Caucasian hilly regions later on became known as the Abhiras, and the place they inhabited was known as Abhiradesa.
Sumbhas or Kankas: The inhabitants of the Kanka province of old Bharata, mentioned in the Mahabharata.
Yavanas: Yavana (Turvasu) was the name of one of the sons of Maharaja Yayati who was later given the part of the world known as Turkey to rule. Therefore the Turks are Yavanas due to being descendants of Maharaja Yavana. The Yavanas were therefore kshatriyas(warriors), and later on, by giving up the brahminical culture, they became mleccha-yavanas. Descriptions of the Yavanas are in the Mahabharata (Adi-parva 85.34). Another prince, also called Turvasu and known as Yavana, and his country was conquered by Sahadeva, one of the Pandavas. The western Yavana joined with Duryodhana in the Battle of Kurukshetra under the pressure of Karna. It is also foretold that these Yavanas would conquer India, and it proved to be true.
Khasa: The inhabitants of the Khasadesa are mentioned in the Mahabharata (Drona-parva). Those who have a stunted growth of hair on the upper lip are generally called Khasas. As such, the Khasa are the Mongolians, the Chinese and others who are so designated.â€
The abovementioned are different nations or races of the world that had fallen away from the Vedic Aryan culture. From the most ancient times the Yadavas-Kuravas, Iranians, Greeks, Turks, the others were either followers of the Vedic path (Aryans) or fallen from the path of following the Vedas (Mllechas), or opposed to the Vedic path (Yavanas). It is interesting to note that the followers of the Vedas are sometimes referred to as suras (godly) and those not following or opposed are called asuras. Later, this word asura became the root word of the Assyrian people who referred to themselves as asuras.
As stated above, all these nations or different people and races were united by Maharaja Yudhistira 5000 years ago. However, after the disappearance of Maharaja Yudhistira (very shortly after the disappearance of Lord Krishna), the age of Kali (the iron age of quarrel and hypocrisy) began and there was a steady deterioration of the pure Vedic culture and the emergence of many different groups of people and nations. They all retained certain aspects of the Vedic culture, but the original philosophical understanding of the purpose of life became confounded with materialistic concepts that undermined its purity and obscured the goal of human endeavor.”
This background is very useful in order to understand the origins of the Armenian people and their early religious beliefs. It is understood that prior to the emergence of an Armenian identity, there were more ancient people and cultures such as the Hittites, the Mitanni, Kassite and Urartu people who either inhabited Armenian Highlands or were very close. They might be considered the ancestors of the Armenians. The Aryan Kassites of the Middle East worshipped Vedic Gods like Surya and the Maruts, as well as one named Himalaya.( see http://www.armeniadiaspora.com/gallery/dance/images/IMG_1809.jpg) The Hitities have a treatise on chariot racing written in almost pure Sanskrit. The Indo-Europeans of the ancient Middle East spoke Indo-Aryan and thus show their origins from the Vedic culture.
If we construct a modern time line for the Armenian Highlands beginning more than 5000 years ago, it would look like this:
We begin with Medzamor, site of an ancient city and foundry of highly advanced metalurgy dating back almost 5000 years (3000 BC). The following is a description of Medzamor from an exerpt of “Ancient Man Thesis Doctoral Baugh’s Dr.Carl From ANCIENT HUMAN CULTURES APPEAR IN SOPHISTICATED FORM.”
“Site Medzamor in Soviet Armenia is of intriguing interest. An international scientific report published in 1969 expressed the belief that these finds point to an unknown period of technological development. ‘Medzamor was founded by the wise men of earlier civilizations. They possessed knowledge they had acquired during a remote age unknown to us that deserves to be called scientific and industrial.’ The preceding year Koriun Megurtchian of the Soviet Union unearthed the oldest large-scale metallurgical factory currently known. At this site over 4,500 years ago an unknown prehistoric people worked with over 200 furnaces, producing an assortment of vases, knives, spearheads, rings, bracelets, etc. The Medzamor craftsmen wore mouth-filters and gloves while they labored and expertly fashioned their wares of copper, lead, zinc, iron, gold, tin, manganese, and fourteen kinds of bronze. The smelters also produced an assortment of metallic paints, ceramics and glass. Scientific organizations from the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, France and Germany verified that several pairs of tweezers made of exceptionally high grade steel were taken from layers predating the first millennium B.C.”
Medzamor is proof that an advanced civilization lived in the Armenian Highlands 5000 or more years ago. This helps us understand the Armenian Highlands in the context of Vedic history. The Vedic Aryan culture spread from India throughout the whole world and with it advanced knowledge of mathematics, astrology, spirituality, metallurgy, etc.
The noted archaeologist E. Khanzadian has written in an article on Medzamor, quoted from the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia:
“‘A very ancient fortress-settlement in the Ararat valley, near the sources of the Medzamor river.’ Its real name is unknown, hence at present it is called [provisionally] Medzamor after the name of the river. This most ancient settlement is situated on one of the volcanic cones of the middle anthropogenetic period and the surrounding plain, comprising an area of 30 hectares. It is surrounded with water on almost every side: on the northwest it is bounded by the Medzamor river and on the east it is protected by artificial moats. Archaeological excavations have proven that Medzamor has been continuously inhabited from the middle of the fourth millennium B.C. to the late Middle Ages. The layers of various cultures that have been dug so far relate to the early, middle, and late phase of the Bronze Age, the early and the developed phase of the Iron Age (pre-Urartian, Urartian and antique), and the Middle Ages. Medzamor is one of the centers of early Bronze Age culture (third millennium B.C.) of the Ararat valley. The fort on the big hill was protected by a turreted Cyclopean wall, and outside the wall, on vast elevations, were built the residences and the utility buildings. Artifacts discovered on the site prove that at Medzamor agriculture, animal husbandry and the crafts were at a developed stage. The lesser hills had astronomical as well as ritualistic significance, and, as studies have substantiated, in 2800-2600 B.C. the site was used to observe the rising of Sirius (whose appearance was probably related to the beginning of the new year and was worshiped). Studies made on Medzamor’s ziggurat-observatory that served for ritual ceremonies held in the open air, and on the monumental tower at Mokhrablur suggest the possibility of the formation of rural communities and the establishment of cities around these temples, in other words, the existence of an urban revolution in the Armenian Highland in the third millennium B.C., which had the consequence of shaking the foundations of the primeval social order.”
According to archeological records, we have proof of the Hittite people (1750-1180 BC) on the western borders of the Armenian Highlands, the Mittani people on the southern borders who were contemporaries of the Hittites, the Hayasa-Azzi (1500-1200 BC) in the area of Lake Van and north toward Trebizon, the Nairi people(1200-900 BC) stretching from LakeVan to Lake Urmia, the Urartu people in the Armenian Highlands (1000-600 BC), invasions of Medes and Scythians who were Aryan tribes from the east that swept through and subjugated Armenia until the 6th century BC, when we hear of the first Armenian kings. It should be noted that the city of Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BC, with the founding of the Urartian fortress of Erebuni established by King Arguisti in 782 BC at the western extremity of the Ararat plain. The pre-Christian Armenian people are a composite of these ancient people who were all Indo-European stock. There is also influence from the Semitic people from the early Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Parthian, etc., and including the Indo-European Greeks and Persians who were off and on the rulers of Armenia after the 6 BC to the 14th Century AD.
If we consider the Old Testament history, however, we are confronted with a restricted time line. The creation began sometime about 5000 years ago after which there was a flood and the Arc of Noah landed on Mount Ararat (Gen. 8:4) about 4000 years ago. Noah had three sons (Ham, Shem, Japheth). Its seems that the Armenians either were descended from one of the five sons of Shem named Aram or one of the seven sons of Japheth named Gomer whose son was Torgam. Moses Khorenatsi claims that the Armenians descended from Torgom (or Togarmah) who was supposed to live in the Armenian Highlands.
However, the findings in Medzamor dwarfs the Biblical history and establishes proof that there were ancient settlements in Armenia dating back over 4000 B.C. and highly evolved by 3000 B.C. Let us look again at Medzamor for more information of the cultural and technological degree of advancement it documents by its archeological remains. You can find the following on Ancient-Wisdom.Co.Uk. There is a discussion of the amazing finds of ancient astronomy at Medzamor:
“The astronomical observatory (at Medzamor) predates all other known observatories in the ancient world. That is, observatories that geometrically divided the heavens into constellations and assigned them fixed positions and symbolic design. Until the discovery of Metsamor it had been widely accepted that the Babylonians were the first astronomers. The observatory at Metsamor predates the Babylonian kingdom by 2000 years, and contains the first recorded example of dividing the year into 12 sections. Using an early form of geometry, the inhabitants of Metsamor were able to create both a calendar and envision the curve of the earth. Elma Parsamian, a researcher at the Medzamor site is quoted:
‘The Metsamorians were a trade culture,’ Parsamian explains. ‘For trade, you have to have astronomy, to know how to navigate.’ The numerous inscriptions found at Metsamor puzzled excavators, as indecipherable as they were elaborate. Hundreds of small circular bowls were carved on the rock surfaces, connected by thin troughs or indented lines. But one stood out. It is an odd shaped design that was a mystery to the excavators of the site, until Professor Parsamian discovered it was a key component to the large observatory complex. By taking a modern compass and placing it on the carving, Parsamian found that it pointed due North, South and East. It was one of the first compasses used in Ancient times.
Another carving on the platforms shows four stars inside a trapezium. The imaginary end point of a line dissecting the trapezium matches the location of the star which gave rise to Egyptian, Babylonian and ancient Armenian religious worship.
Sketch the locations of the Jupiter moons over several nights and youâ€™re repeating an experiment Galileo did in 1610. Chart a star over several years and you repeat an experiment the Metsamorians did almost 5000 years ago. By using the trapezium carving and a 5000 year stellar calendar, Parsamian discovered that the primary star which matched the coordinates of its end point was the star Sirius, the brightest star in our galaxy.”
To understand the pre-Christian spirituality and culture of Armenia, we can begin with a statement of Dr. H. Martkian, who writes: ‘The history of each nation has begun with a mythological worldview.’ An Armenian history should never lose sight of this point; herein lies the Gordian knot of our history.
Dr. G. Conteneau has said: “In remote antiquity no difference was made between a country and its gods.” With this in mind, we may expect to find that the name of the Armenian people known in ancient times as the ‘Armani or Armeni people’ was derived from the name of the principle deity worshipped by the people. The principle deity of the Armenians was indeed Ar or Ara. Armaniâ is a compound name. The first part is Arâ which is the name of the national sun-god of the Armens. The second part is Ma (or Me which is a variant). It means beget, offspring, son. Ma is a Sanskrit root word meaning mother. The Latin, mater, Sanskrit, mata, colloquial, ma, English, mother, Armenian mayrig, all these words come from the Sanskrit root ma, The Ma represents the patron mother goddess of Armenia. Anahit (also refered to as Nuard or Nane). Anahit is associated with the Sumerian goddess Inanna who, through the epic poem Gilgamesh, was identified with the star Sirius.”
We can see a development from Ar. Arma, Arme, Ara, Arame, Aram which forms the basis of the name Armani or Armeni. For a much more detailed explanation of these root words that form the basis of the Armenian nomenclature see www.ArattaKingdom.com, a website developed from the research of Gevork Nazaryan and Martiros Kavoukjian.
The goddess Anahita’s connection with the star Sirius is noteworthy because of the discoveries made by Elma Parsamian and Paris Herouni at another pre-Christian ancient site called Karahundj, the Armenian Stonehenge at Sissian in Armenia. The Sissian find is an accurate astronomical instrument or telescope made of 204 very large stones arranged in a very precise way with some of the stones having carved and polished telescopic holes pointing to sunrises and sunsets at specific times of the year. It was particularly important for ancient priests to determine the beginning of the new year or the beginning of a calender. The observatory in the Metdzamor complex and that of Sissian could precisely determine the first appearance of Sirius (in June) after its disappearance in late Winter (February). Like the ancient Egyptians who connected the re-appearance of Sirius (sometime in June) with the flooding of the Nile (a natural occurrence that would fertilize their fields for new crops), the inhabitants of Metsamor and Sissian probably related the first appearance of Sirius with the commencement of the year and the renewal of fertility and the rebirth of nature.
Parsamian has remarked about this: “The ancients had to know when the new year began, the exact moment. At Medzamor, they could observe Sirius (the brightest star) appearing in the rays of the dawning sun in the late spring. That was the cosmic event they looked for. The one they staked their reputations as priests by predicting. This was complicated stuff.” Paris Herouni has commented about the people who made the Sissian telescope: “They understood geometry and the laws of physics long before anyone in Europe began to look into the matter.” (Please refer to the article by Rick Ney, Karahundj – Armenia’s Stonehenge at www.tacentral.com and click on astronomy on the left of the homepage)
The culture and people of Sisian and Medzamor were able to precisely keep time and predict the changing seasons according to the movement of celestial planets and stars. They were able to use this detailed knowledge for their spiritual practices and rituals presented in the Vedas, as well as for all practical business and historical records. Precise times are required for beginning and ending ritual performances, fasting, begetting children (in Vedic times, precise astrological calculations were used for conceiving children), building, calculating auspicious times to begin and end activities, planting and harvesting, predicting weather conditions, knowing the exact date and time to begin a spiritual festival, reading the past and future, making agreements and contracts, keeping historical records, understanding the most opportune time to die, etc. We take for granted today how we keep in touch with time. An advanced culture needs to accurately keep time in order to conduct its business and spiritual activities. Knowledge of astrology and astronomy was preserved in the Vedas. The ancient Vedic culture spread this knowledge to other parts of the world like Armenia.
The Rig-Veda (the oldest of the Vedic texts written over 5000 years ago) contains astronomical references that are based on knowledge of the phenomenon of precession (the very slow change of the earth’s axis of rotation). The Vedic culture expressed through the Rig-Veda employed sidereal time (the measurement of time relative to the position of the stars). Thus, the points of vernal (spring) equinox or winter solstice would be mentioned as having occurred or occurring in particular lunar constellations, called nakshatras. This sophisticated Vedic knowledge existed in Armenia even before Sumer-Babylon or ancient Egypt. The remains of the telescope of Sisian and the excavation at Medzamor with its astrological finds are irrefutable proof of Armenia’s Vedic origins thousands of years before the beginning of, and later on contemporaneous with Biblical history.
As more excavation and research work is done in Medzamor, Sissian and other sites, the Vedic orgins of Armenia and western civilization will become more documented for the skeptics. At present, there is undeniable linguistic (Hratchia Adjarian), archeological (Sissian, Medzamor, Hittite and Mitanni), religious (cult of Mitra, Anahit, Ara or Aramazd before Christianity in Armenia), astronomic and astrological (Medzamor and Sissian) proofs of the existence of Vedic influence in pre-Christian Armenia.
As an added support to the above, Nikoghayos Adonts -(Ter-Avetikyan), a prominent Armenian Historian who died in 1942, claimed, after extensive study of pre-Christian history especially of Hittite and Urartian archeological remains, that Armenians were Indo-Europeans by their language and origin and they came from the Urartian civilization. But they have more remote antecedents to another civilization that dates back to the period prior to the 17th Century B.C.) See his book, “The Conceptions of Ancient Authors on the Origins of Armenians.”
Adonts states that Herodotus (500 B.C.) and Eudox (400 B.C.) both mentioned that the Armenian were of Phrygian orgin. The Phrygians were an Indo-European people who entered Asia Minor as soldiers from ancient Greece who were part of the Trojan army that seized Troy. This is about the 1200 B.C.
This may be true. In any case, the Armenians are associated with Indo-European origins. Adonts concludes his study with the conviction that the Armenians were also related to another civilization that dates back to the period prior to the Seventeenth century B.C.. He implies that much earlier than the Urartian and Hittite civilization there was an Armenian ancestry in a remote time before Biblical history. He would have been very impressed by the discovery of Medzamor and Sissian.
My purpose up to now has been to demonstrate that the Armenians have a much earlier history than Biblical time line and that they have been bereft of their illustrious background due to many invasions and impositions on them by more powerful nations and tribes. This is further complicated by the militaristic way they were converted to Christianity after the fourth century, which led to a systematic destruction of pre-Armenian religious sites and libraries of ancient texts.
I want to discuss the conversion of Armenians to Christianity. It will perhaps reveal the origin of the misfortune that has plagued the Armenians since the fourth century A.D. Again I want to emphasize that the misfortune of the Armenians is not due to Christianity’s teachings. It is perhaps due to non-Christian policies and strategies that characterized the implementation of the forced conversion to Christianity.
The conversion of Armenia to Christianity is a fascinating history that I want to examine from a different point of view that has not been given
much importance by other historians. The most prominent past historians who have chronicled the history of Armenia and its Christian conversion are:
Zenob, or Zenobias, who was a Syrian and one of the first disciples of St.Gregory the Illuminator, Agathangueghos (5th century), Movses Khorenatsi (5th century), Yeghisheh (5th century), Yeznik Koghbatsi (5th century), David Anhaght (6th century), Bishop Sebeos, Tovma Artsrouni (10th century), Aristakes Lastivertsi (11th century), Stepanos Orbelian (13th century), Khachatour Joughayetsi (18th century).
Before the official conversion of Armenia as a state government that declared Christianity as its official religion (AD 301), there was active preaching and conversion going on for three hundred years. Armenian travelers and merchants went often to Antioch which was a major center of Christianity and Edessa and Nisibis. These cities had active Christian communities since the time of the first apostles of Christ.
Tertullian (AD 155-222) in his answer to the Jews (Chapter VII), includes the Armenians among the very first Christians from the day of Pentecost. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History quotes a letter from Dionysus of Alexendria to Meruzhan, Bishop of Armenia (c. AD 254). There were persecutions of Christians in Armenia under King Artashes (c. 110) and King Khosrov (c. 230). There were Christian followers and a small, organized movement in Armenia before the events of the official conversion of Trtad III by St. Gregory the Illuminator (c. 301 to 314). National chroniclers testify to the existence in the third century of two Christian Churches in Armenia, one at Artaz and another in the province of Sewniq.
Let us examine more specifically the events leading up the declaration of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia. This will clarify certain important facts that may help us understand the possibility of a curse on the Armenian people. This may shed light on why they have suffered so much after this eventful period at the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th. However, it should be noted that the Armenians suffered before their conversion to Christianity because of continual warfare on Armenian lands between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire and frequent invasions from the Northeast by fierce tribes coming from the Caucasian mountain areas.
The last Parthian king, Artavan, was deposed in 224 AD by the Persian named Artashir, who established the Sassanid dynasty. The Parthians were Persians who were favorable to Greek culture. They were considered Hellenized Persians by the more traditional Persians. The Parthians were Persians from the Northeastern area of Khurasan. Their dynastic founder was Arsaces, thus they were known as the Arsacids. Their empire, which at its height included most of Greater Iran, Mesopotamia, and Armenia, was known as the Parthian Empire. The Arsacid Empire or Parthian Empire was not ruled as a single coherent state. It was made up of numerous tributary kingdoms (meaning they paid taxes and other mandatory commissions). However, these kingdoms were in many ways independent. Because of this more liberal system, a branch of the Arsacid (or Parthian) ruling class eventually developed in Armenia. The Arsacid Empire (also known as Askhanian) or the Parthian Empire began in 247 BC and lasted until 224 AD. The Roman Empire was continually at war, with intermittent negotiated peace, with the Parthian Empire during the entire period. The battleground area was often Mesopotamia or Armenia.
The Parthian Empire also was beleaguered by wars with the Seleucid Empire which was gradually in decline. The Seleucids Empire (312 BC to 63 AD) was a vast area that extended during its height from central Anatolia to the far reaches of Pakistan and Turkmenistan. It was one part of the conquered dominion of Alexander the Great. It was ruled by an elite Greek-speaking Macedonian warrior class whose initial leader was Seleucus, a commander after Alexander’s demise, who initially became the leader of Babylon, but ruthlessly spread his dominion to Persia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan to the east and central Anatolia to the west. and most of Armenia. The Parthian Empire battled also with the Persian Sassanids, who were at one time minor vassals from Southwestern Persia.
A branch of the Arsacid or Parthian ruling class developed in Armenia. They were named the Arshakuni Dynasty. They ruled Armenia from 54 AD to 428 AD. Although formerly a branch of the Persian Parthian Arsacids, they became a distinctly Armenian dynasty. At first, the new Armenian branch of the Parthian ruling class of Armenia had its king appointed by the Persian Parthian ruler. Then, the appointed king was anointed by the Roman ruler. Trdat I, the first Arshakuni king was appointed by the Parthian king and crowned in Rome by Nero in 66 AD. This arrangement gave rise to pro-Roman and pro-Parthian allegiances among the Armenian ruling classes. An independent line of Kings was established by Vologases II of Armenia (Valarses/Vagharshak) in 180 AD.
Khosrov II, the Great (216-238 AD), an Armenian King in the Arshakuni Dynasty, on the death of the Parthian King Artavan, marched into Persia, to dispossess the usurper Artashir of the crown. Several years elapsed in this war, until at length Artashir, being defeated, was obliged to quit Persia in 226 AD, and flee into India. Khosrov II then returned to Atropatia and built a city in that country, which he called Davrej. It was built to perpetuate the remembrance of the vengeance he had taken on Artashir. . Artashir the Sassanian, understood that while Khosrov II continued to live, he could not reign over Persia. He decided to destroy his enemy by treachery. For this purpose, he offered a great sum of money to any of his chiefs who would undertake to assassinate the Armenian monarch. A chief named Anak, of the tribe of the Surenian Pahlavies (Parthians), tempted by the rich reward, accepted the task. Pretending to be hostile to the interests of Artashir, he, with his family, came and settled in Armenia. He first arrived in the province of Artaz, and resided for a short time in the very place where the remains of St. Thaddeus the apostle were laid to rest.
Ogohey, the wife of Anak, conceived her child (c. 257 AD), named Suren, who later became St.Gregory the Illuminator. Anak with his family proceeded to the city of Valarshapat, where King Khosrov II had taken up his residence. Anak was received by the king with honour and respect, little suspecting the treachery of his honored guest. After some time, the assassin, having waited for an opportune time, mortally wounded Khosrov II, and fled. He was immediately pursued by the Armenian soldiers, who were able to kill him. It is said Anak was thrown in the river Arax. The troops then seized the family of Anak and massacred every member of it except one son, Suren. He was saved by his nurse Sophia, assisted by her brother Euthalius, both of whom were Christians and natives of Caesarea. They fled with the child, who later was baptized in Caesarea, which was in Roman territory. He was christened with the name Gregory (Krikor).
In Caesarea, which is the modern city of Kayseri in Turkey, Gregory was brought up as a Christian. Leontius, Archbishop of Caesarea, became his childhood protector and patron. It is believed that St. Firmilian, the learned bishop of Caesarea, paid special attention the boy’s education. When Gregory was of age, he married a Christian girl named Mariam, daughter of David. Mariam’s brother was St. Athenogenes, prelate of Bedochton, who was later martyred and is well known from the works of early Christian writers. Gregory and Mariam had two sons named Vertannes and Aristakes, who became a Christian monk. After the birth of the second son, Gregory and Mariam decided to part their ways. Mariam withdrew to a convent to raise her sons and later practice serious monastic vows.
Gregory learned of his father’s vile deed of assasinating King Khosrov II. He decided to makes amends for his father’s sin by becoming the secretary of Khosrov’s surviving son, Trtad, who was destined to become the king of Armenia.
When Khosrov II was assasinated, the king of Persia, Artashir, took advantage of the chaotic situation to attack Armenia with a powerful army (c. 260 AD). He was able to overpower the Armenian forces. He executed most of Khosrov II’s family except the youngest son named Trtad (or Tiridates) who was saved by Artavazd the Mandakunian, who took the young boy to Caesarea. Trtad’s sister named Khosrovadukht also survived. After some time, the boy was taken to Rome for his protection and education. The emperor of Rome received the young prince and endowed him with princely facilities. The prince Trtad was placed under the guidance of the celebrated Roman chief named Lucinius. Thus, Trtad received a formal Roman education and became a child of Roman culture. This is very significant for understanding the non-Christian way Armenia was, for the most part, converted to Christianity.
To understand the nature of the Roman culture, we need to examine its origin. If we look at the beginnings of Rome, we encounter the fascinating history of Romulus (c. 771 – c. 717 BC) and Remus (c. 771 – c. 753 BC), the legendary founders of Rome. They may or may not be factual historical persons. However, their story forms the basis of the Roman historical identity, society, culture, and national behavioral psyche, or the origin of epic prototypes that influence thought, behavior and personality for a group of people or nation. According to the tradition recorded by Plutarch and Livy, Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan war who escaped from Troy after it was destroyed, went with a group of followers to Italy. He settled on the West coast of Italy, married a local woman and built a new city named Alba Longa. Numitor and Amulius were brothers who descended from Aeneas. Numitor was the king of Alba Longa and his brother Amulius controlled the treasury.
Amulius detroned his brother and killed his sons, but feared that his brother’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, would have children who would one day claim the throne. He forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestesse sworn to abstinence. One day Mars, the mythological god of war, seduced Rhea Silvia and two sons were born named Romulus and Remus. Learning of the birth of the twins, Amulius ordered Rhea Silvia buried alive. He ordered a servant to kill the twins. The twins were very beautiful and innocent. The servant decided to place the twins in a basket and floated it downstream on the Tiber river. The river deity Tiberinus guided the basket until it was caught in the branches and roots of a fig tree. The river deity brought the infant twins up to the Palatine hill where they were nursed by a wolf and a woodpecker, which brought them small morsels of food under another fig tree. Both the wolf and the woodpecker are favorites of the deity Mars. The shepherd Faustalus found the twins and becomes their guardian.
When Romulus and Remus attained adulthood, they restored the throne to Numitor, their maternal grandfather, after killing their uncle Amulius. They decide not to live in Alba Longa with Numitor and moved back to the Palatine Hill where Rome was founded. Due to sibling rivalry, Romulus murdered Remus and went on to become the founder of Rome, which was named after him.
At first, all the inhabitants under Romulus were men. They were shepherds, runaway slaves, and brigands. Romulus devised a plan to find women to marry the men. He invited neighboring communities called the Sabines to take part in games in honor of the god Consus. During the games, Romulus arranged for the Roman men to carry off the Sabine women and forcibly marry them. After negotiation with the Sabines, peace was made and the Sabines and Romans formed a unified kingdom. Later, Romulus became the undisputed ruler of the new kingdom.
Romulus, the epic founder of Rome, was the archetype or heroic personality that infused his patterns of behavior into the future generations of the Roman people and culture. Romulus was suckled on the milk of a wolf, a predatory animal, murdered his brother, killed his maternal uncle, and kidnapped the maidens of the Sabines. His example presaged the future mood of the Roman Empire which was often marked by violence, treachery, wolf-like predatory behavior that characterized its expansionist agenda, and a society that exploited slaves and marked by sexual promiscuity.
Trtad III was raised in the Roman territory of Asia Minor and later in Rome. He learned and embraced the language, literature, customs, religion and culture of Rome and its archetype hero Romulus. He was tall, with an athletic body, handsome, with apparent Herculean strength. It is reported that he once stopped a rival’s chariot in a race contest just by seizing the spokes of the wheels with his bare hands. Once, rebellious Roman soldiers attacked the palace of his friend Caius Flavius Licinus. They were determined to kill the Roman. Trtad single- handedly fought them and they were forced to retreat. It was Lucinius that brought Trtad to the attention of Diocletian who became emperor of Rome in 285 AD. Several years later, Diocletian empowered Trtad to return to Armenia with Roman soldiers and regain his rightful throne as king of Armenia.
A certain number of Armenian nobility accepted Trtad and welcomed him back as king of Armenia. At that time, Gregory, who became St. Gregory the Illuminator, became a secretary of king Trtad III. In 296 AD, the Sassanid King Narseh of Persia attacked Armenia forcing Trtad III to take refuge in Roman territory. With the help of Diocletian and his Roman army commanded by his son-in-law Galerius, Trtad III was able to rout the Persians. He again took possession of Armenian lands and his autonomous throne with the protective backing of the Romans (c. 297 AD). The Romans concluded a peace treaty with Narseh by which the Persians ceded more land to Trtad III, To avoid incursions by the northern Caucasian tribes of the Alans, Trtad III married Princess Ashkhen, daughter of Ashkatar, King of the Alans. A period of peace and prosperity followed for Armenia until the reign of Constantine, the Emperor of the Roman empire (c. 324 AD).
Agathangelos (a name in Greek which means the good news) was alleged to be the secretary of Tiridates III. A hagiographical biography (worshipful or idealizing life history) of Saint Gregory the Illuminator is credited to him. He writes: “During the first year of his reign, Trtad and his courtiers visited a provincial town to make a sacrifice to the goddess Anahid in her temple. He ordered Gregory to venerate her statue, and when Gregory refused Trtad asked him, “You have served me well these many years. Why in this one matter do you refuse to do my will?”
Gregory answered, “You speak truly. I have served you as God commands us to serve our earthly lords. But He alone is the creator of angels and men, of heaven and earth. We can worship only Him.”
Trtad frowned and said, “By saying this you render all your service to me completely worthless. I shall punish rather than reward you as I had planned. It will be prison and bondage for you unless you honor the goddess Anahid.”
Gregory replied, “My service to you is not worthless; God values it as He promises always to value our efforts for Him. It is He I seek to please. And if you punish me, I rejoice, for my lord Christ suffered affliction and death, and I will gladly follow Him into death so that I can be with Him in everlasting life. You speak of Anahit, perhaps demons once bedazzle men into building temples for them and worshipping them. But I will not worship lifeless objects of stone. We must worship the One who lives and gives life.”
Trtad then asked Gregory to tell him more about this living One. Gregory proceeded to explain that Christ is the Lord of creation and the true light for those in the darkness of idolatry. He exhorted the king to use his intelligence and put away the mulishly stupid devotion to mere images.
Trtad exploded in anger. He shouted, “You have insulted the gods and insulted me by calling me stupid for worshipping them. You had the audacity to speak to me as if you were my equal. You said I was stupid as a mule; now you shall feel the burden of such words.”
Trdat III in the early years of his reign held the views of Diocletian and Galerius towards the Christians, who were looked upon as disturbers of the social order. He was very hostile to the new religion, which had made converts in Armenia. By the time of Trtad III, Armenia had evolved a form of syncretic worship of Hellenized Indo-Iranian gods. The following provides a short history of the evolution of the gods worshipped in Armenia prior to the Christian era.
During the fifth century BC, the Zoroastrian gods were adopted by the Armenians: Ahura-Mazda, the father of the gods was worshipped as Aramazd, Mithra, god of light and justice was known as Mihr, Anahita, goddess of fertility and mother of all wisdom became Anahit who became the favorite goddess of the Armenians. Verethrangna, the god of war, was worshipped as Vahagn. Astghik was the goddess of love. Tir, the scribe of Aramazd, was the god of science and the recorder of man’s deeds of good and evil. Barshamin and Nane, probably of Syrian origin, also formed part of the Armenian pantheon. Later, with the dominance of Alexander the Great (c. 4th century BC), and the successor Seleucid Empire, Armenia became Hellenized and identified its gods with the Greek pantheon. Aramazd became Zeus, Mihr became Hephaestus, Anahit became Artemis, Vahagn became Heracles, Astghik became Aphrodite, Tir became Apollo, Nane became Athena and Barshamin retained his original name. Thus, a form of Irano-Greek religion existed in Armenia, along with the worship of the Indian god Krishna (from the 2nd century BC) and other local spirits until the establishment of Christianity in the 4th century AD.
Following his Roman mentors, Trtad III was suspicious of the small Christian minority in Armenia. Diocletion began persecutions of Christians in the Roman empire because he became convinced that they disrupted the sanctity of the Roman worship of gods. The disdain and utter contempt for the pantheon of Roman gods was expressed by Gregory to Trtad III. This was the prevailing attitude of the Christians toward the pagan gods and it was particularly manifested by the systematic destruction of all pagan shrines and deities that took place in Armenia after the conversion of Trtad III.
I want to discuss what I believe to be the unabashed fanaticism of early Christianity coming from its Old Testament origins and its disdain and intolerance of any worship except that of the dominant form of Christianity. This same intolerance was later expressed toward minor sects of Christians by the dominant sect of Christians. If we carefully read the Jewish history as given in the Old Testament of the Bible, it becomes apparent that the ancient Jews also practiced a form of extreme intolerance toward all religious persuasions except Judaism and toward people of other ethnicity and race. The following is Biblical evidence that the ancient Jews had a sacred authority given to them by their God to terrorize and massacre entire ethnic and racial groups of people such as the Hittites who were the ancestors of the Armenians and destroy their temples and desecrate their gods. They were also permitted by their god to take slaves and maintain them from one generation to another from their neighboring peoples but not of their own Jewish people.
Exodus 23:23-33 (New International Version)
23? My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. 24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
27 I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
31 I will establish your borders from the Red Sea [a] to the Sea of the Philistines, [b] and from the desert to the River. [c] I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”
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Is there a curse on the Armenian People – Part 2
Leviticus 25:39-46 (New International Version)
39 “If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
44 “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”
It is not surprising that Trtad III imbibed Roman culture which was characterized by the cruel behavior of Romulus as explained above, and later, when he became a Christian, his brutality was compounded by the terrorizing fanaticism of the Judeo-Christian intolerance for any religion considered pagan.
We will now analyze the events that took place after Trtad III warned Gregory,
“You have insulted the gods and insulted me by calling me stupid for worshipping them. You had the audacity to speak to me as if you were my equal. You said I was stupid as a mule; now you shall feel the burden of such words.”
Trtad III ordered his soldiers to inflict hideous tortures on Gregory, who miraculously survived the inhuman assaults on his body by continually praying to Jesus Christ. During the tortures Trtad III gave Gregory numerous opportunities to renounce his Christian faith and respect the traditional Armenian gods and especially Anahit. Gregory adamantly refused and the tortures continued. It was brought to Trtad’s attention that Gregory was the son of Anak, the assassin of his father Khosrov. This infuriated Trtad III. He decided to have Gregory thrown into a vile, deep pit called the Khor Virab which was full of foul smelling decaying carcasses of dead prisoners and many poisonous snakes. It was a veritable hell hole and very deep in the ground so escape was not possible. The Khor Virab was the ultimate destination for the most odious criminals in Trtad’s kingdom. It was a place of no return. Gregory remained a prisoner in the pit for 13 years and by some divine intervention he stayed alive. It is said a woman would throw a loaf of bread into the pit everyday for his survival.
During the 13 years of Gregory’s incarceration, Trtad III seemingly prospered. He remained devoted to the Armenian gods and a foe of the Christian faith.
It so happened that the Roman Emperor Diocletian sent out portrait painters into his kingdom to draw the likenesses of the most beautiful women they could find. He wanted to choose a beautiful wife for himself. In a part of Rome, the painters found an extraordinarily beautiful woman who was a nun living a monastic life. She was a member of a group of nuns who continually prayed and lived an ascetic life. When Diocletian saw the portrait of the nun, he was anxious to meet her. He ordered the mother superior of the nuns to bring the young nun to him. The nuns decided to flee Rome to avoid being victimized by the Emperor. They found refuge in Armenia far away from Rome. They settled in Vagharshapat, which later became Etchmiazin, the future holy see of the Armenian Church.
Emperor Diocletian sent a message to his friend King Trtad III informing him about the nuns and especially the one young nun he wanted to marry. Agathangelos describes vividly the events that transpired between Trtad III and the nuns:
“The women decided to flee, and that was how they came to be in Vagharshapat, the residence of the Armenian kings. They lived by selling the glass pearls which one of them made. But in the very same city, King Trtad received an emissary from Diocletian. He brought a royal edict which said, ‘Let my brother Trtad know of the evils that constantly beset us because of this error-ridden sect, the Christians. For they worship a dead man, adore a cross because he was crucified, and consider their own death on his behalf to be glory and honor. They teach dishonor for kings and hold as nothing the power of the sun and moon and stars. Everywhere among our people they discourage the worship of the gods, and our threats and punishments against hem are to no avail. I happened to see among them a lovely young girl, and wanted to have her as my wife. But she and her companions have insulted my majesty by fleeing to the regions of your kingdom. So, my brother, find them for me and take vengeance. Send her back to me unless you wish to keep her for yourself. And may you be well by the worship of the gods.’”
Trtad immediately ordered a search, and the nuns were soon found. For it was ordained by God that their light should not be hidden under a bushel, but shine out over the world. And since word of the emperor’s edict had spread across the land, there were soon crowds of people straining to catch a glimpse of Hripsime’s now famous beauty. The nuns, whose only wish was to have a holy and solitary life, offered up constant prayers and lamentations to God.
Trtad heard from those who saw her that she was indeed a great beauty. He sent a golden litter with attendants and filled with magnificent robes so that Hripsime could adorn herself and come to meet him in the palace. Seeing all this, the abbess Gayane told the younger woman, “Remember, my child, that you have abandoned your father’s throne (Hripsime was of royal lineage) and longed instead for the never-ending life of the Kingdom of Christ. Do not give up your choice now, and risk your holy virtue with these infidels.”
Inspired by the words of the abbess, Hripsime prayed intently, asking God to protect her as He had protected all the Old Testament people who faced danger. Her sisters prayed with her, and soon they heard a voice like thunder, assuring them of God’s love and care. The thunderous sound caused panic among the throngs of people looking at them.¬ They trampled each other in their confusion. But when King Trtad was told what had happened, he was not at all frightened. He was furious that Hripsime would not come to him, and ordered that she be brought to the palace by force. So she was dragged along, with a great crowd following, and as she went she prayed like Daniel and Susanna that she would be saved from her tormentors.
Trtad, seeing her at last, was enthralled by her beauty and tried with all his great strength to seduce her. But Hripsime, delicate as she was, struggled against him so hard that he could not overcome her. Exhausted by his efforts, he ordered the abbess Gayane to intercede with the young nun and tell her to accept him. But Gayane took the opportunity instead to strengthen Hripsime in her resistance to the king. Trtad’s attendants beat and threatened her, but she persisted in encouraging the younger woman to stand firm and trust in God.
Hripsime did so for many hours, and then finally escaped from the palace. She ran through the city to the nuns’ dwelling place to tell them what had happened. Then she went out from the city to a high, sandy point near the main road to Artashat. There she thanked God for keeping her safe. She prayed that soon she might be allowed to leave the temptations of the world behind and enter, by His mercy, the heavenly realm. She thanked Him for the certainty that if torments were to come, He would be there with her. Hripsime ended her prayer with these words: “Let the light of the Lord God be over us.”
That very night, Trtad’s men came and tortured Hripsime to death. Other followers of Christ were also killed, and so were many of those who came to wrap and bury their bodies. But all of them prayed to God and thanked Him for making them worthy of martyrdom. The king’s men dragged their bodies out and threw them as food for the prowling dogs.
Trtad was unashamed of what he had done. Indeed, his heart was more inflamed against the Christians and especially against Gayane, who had counseled the beautiful Hripsime not to yield to him. He commanded that the abbess should be killed, and so she was taken to the place used for the execution of criminals. But like her companions, Gayane was unafraid, and expressed her wish to join her sisters speedily. She died as they had, with a prayer on her lips.
King Trtad was not an introspective man, and after a week of grieving over Hripsime’s death, he had to have some strenuous activity. He arranged to go hunting, and when the hounds and nets and traps and beaters were all ready, he climbed into his chariot to leave the city for the plain where he loved to hunt.
Suddenly, Trtad fell from the chariot, as if struck down by a demon. He began to rave and grunt, like an animal. As their king was crazed, so all the people suddenly seemed to be, and there was chaos and ruin throughout the city and from the highest to the lowest of the king’s household.
According to Aganthangelos, after Trtad III had the saintly nuns from Rome murdered, he metamorphosed into animal-like behavior and physical features (therianthropy or becoming a beast-man). There is a more specific mental illness called lycanthrophy (wolf-like characteristics) in which a patient believes he has transformed into an animal and behaves accordingly. Trtad III cruel inhuman acts, such as torturing and throwing St. Gregory into the Khor Virab or deep pit and abusing and murdering Gayane, Hripsime and all the other nuns and Christians, caused him to be inflicted with a disorienting mental disorder. This history of Trtad III recalls to memory the story of king Nebuchadnezzar who arrogantly boasted to the prophet Daniel about his greatness as if he was mightier than God. He was afflicted with lycanthropy wherein he believed he had become an animal and gradually his body began to show animal-like features and behavior.
“O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.” (Daniel 5.18)
Trtad III became a victim of his Roman upbringing with the legacy of Romulus and Remus who were suckled by a wolf and thus imbibed the qualities of a predatory animal. His extremely cruel behavior culminated in his mental and physical transformation into a animal-like being somewhat resembling a wolf. Many people living in his royal city, Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), were also afflicted in the same way as their king. Trtad III sister, Khosrovitookt, had a vision that Gregory, who was thrown into the Khor Virab, could save them from the affliction. Gregory was lifted out of the pit.
It was a miracle that he survived thirteen years in such a filthy pit. He was cleaned, dressed in new clothes and rushed to the royal town where he was approached by Trtad III who beged forgiveness. Gregory prayed to Jesus Christ to release of the king and the residents of Vagharshapat of their affliction. The saint sought the remains of the martyred nuns and had their bodily remains enshrouded and taken to their former dwelling place where he prayed continually until the next day for the salvation and repentance of the Armenians. For sixty five days, Gregory instructed the king and a large number of residents of the royal city about Christ and the Biblical histories and the lives of the Christian saints. In Gregory’s presence, the king and his people felt relief from their afflictions but not complete cure. On the sixty sixth day, Gregory revealed a vision he had of the murdered nuns who appeared where they were martyred. Aganthangelos’ description follows
Gregory said, “One night I heard a fearful thunderous sound like roaring sea waves. The firmament of heaven opened, and a man descended in the form of light. He called my name; I looked up and saw him and fell to the ground, struck by terror. But he commanded me to look up and see great wonders.
I did look up, and saw the firmament opened with the waters above it divided as is the firmament itself. The waters were like valleys and mountaintops, with infinite expanses that went far out of sight. Light flowed down to the earth, and the light was filled with shining two-winged creatures, human in appearance and with wings like fire. Their leader was a tall and fearful man who carried a golden hammer. He flew down near the ground in the middle of the city, and struck the earth. The rumbling sounded even in the depths of hell, and as far as the eye could see the earth was struck as level as a plain.
I saw him in the middle of the city, near the palace, a circular base of gold as big as a hill, with a column of fire on it. On top of the column was a capital of clouds, and above that a cross of light. There were three other bases at the sites where St. Gayane and St. Hripsime were martyred, and one near the wine press where the nuns lived. These bases were blood-red, and they had columns of clouds and capitals of fire. From the columns, marvelous vaults fitted into one another and above this was a dome-shaped canopy of clouds. Under the canopy were thirty-seven holy martyrs in shining light. I cannot even describe them.
At the summit of all this was a wonderful throne of fire with the Lord’s cross above it. Light spread out in every direction from it. And an abundant spring gushed forth, flowing over and filling the plains as far as one could see. They made a vast bluish sea, the color of heaven. There were numerous fiery altars shining like stars, with a column on each altar and a cross on each column.
There were herds of black goats, which when they passed through the water became sparkling white sheep. They gave birth to more sheep, filling the land. But some of these crossed to the other side of the water and became brown wolves which attacked the flocks. But the flocks grew wings and flew up to join the shining host, and a torrent of fire carried away the wolves.
I stood amazed at this sight. And the man who had earlier called my name and said, ‘Why do you stand gaping? Pay attention to what is being revealed to you. The heavens have been opened! Here is what the vision means. The voice like thunder is the beginning of God’s mercy raining down upon mankind. The gates of heaven are opened, and also the waters above them. There is nothing to keep us mortals from rising up, for those who were martyred here have made a path for others.
The light filling the land is the preaching of the Gospel, and the fearsome man is the providence of God, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke, as the psalm tells us. This fear of God has flattened and destroyed error on the earth.
The golden base is God’s true Church, gathering all His people, and the shining cross above it is Christ Himself. The three blood-red bases are the martyrs’ torments. But the columns of cloud show how quickly they will rise to heaven at the universal resurrection. The capital is fiery because they will love in the fire of divine light. And the crosses show that they are fellow sufferers with their lord Christ.
The vaults joining the columns show the unity of the Church, and the cloud canopy above shows the gathering place of all believers, the celestial city. The throne, above which the whole structure is held together, is almighty God, the head of the Church. The shining light around the throne is the Holy Spirit, who glorifies the Son. The spreading waters are the grace of the Spirit, which will save many through baptism and make earth like heaven (that is why the plains became the color of heaven.) The herds of goats are sinners, washed clean by God’s mercy, and worthy of His Kingdom. The flocks of sheep give birth because many generations will hear the preaching of the Word; but the flocks that became wolves are like those who depart from the truth. They lead sheep astray with their falsehoods. But the sheep that endure will rise to Christ’s Kingdom, and the wolves will be handed over to eternal fire.’”
Gregory continued, ‘And when he had told me the vision’s meaning, he said to be strong because I had a great task. I was to build a temple to God on the place where the gold base had been shown to me, and the martyrs’ chapels in the places where they suffered and died. After he told me all this, there was an earthquake, and I could see him no more.
God showed me this vision of the future so that I could do His will among you. Let us go now and build the chapels, giving the martyrs rest.’
“So all the people took up tools, and gathered materials, and set to work. Gregory himself took the architect’s measuring line and laid out the foundations. They built three chapels, and made a casket for each saint’s body. After Gregory had sealed the caskets, the king and people brought sweet oils and incense and rich robes. But Gregory said, ‘I am glad to see you honor these saints. But do not offer gifts to the holy ones until you have been purified by baptism. One day, we shall use all these beautiful things to adorn God’s altar. But until true worship is established in this land, let them remain in the royal treasury.’
The time had come for the king and all the people to be completely freed from their tormenting demons. Gregory knelt by the saints’ caskets and prayed for Trtad and all the rest. Then he turned to the king, and by Christ’s grace cured his hands and feet enough so that he was able with his own hands to dig graves and bury the caskets in them. His wife Ashkhen and sister Khosrovitookht helped him to arrange the places. With his prodigious strength Trtad carried stones from Mount Massis to make thresholds for the chapels.
When the chapels were ready, the martyrs were laid to rest in them. Gregory placed a cross in front of each, and told the people that the proper place for worship was in front of that saving sign of Jesus Christ. Then he took them to build a high wall around the place where the golden base had been revealed, for that was to be the site of the Lord’s house. There too, a cross was placed so that people could worship God truly.
Gregory could see that the people were willing to heed his words, give up idol worship, and give themselves to study, fasting, and prayer. He gathered them to pray together for healing, and as they all prayed, the king was fully restored to his human appearance, and the people were freed from their various afflictions. The news of this wonder spread through the land, inspiring people everywhere to come to Ayrarat and hear about Jesus Christ, and learn how to live as He calls us to do.
Gregory then asked the king for permission to overthrow and destroy the pagan shrines and temples. Trtad readily issued an edict entrusting Gregory with this task, and himself set out from the city to destroy shrines along the highways. Together the men worked feverishly, and they distributed the temple treasures among the poor. In all the cities he visited, Gregory marked sites for Christian churches, but because he did not hold the rank of priest he did not erect any altars. At each place he set a cross, and he also placed crosses along roads and at squares and intersections.
Trtad and his family members were then thoroughly instructed in the faith by Gregory. When they had all been convinced to worship the only true God, Gregory and Trtad began traveling to other parts of the country to instruct the people and to destroy the altars of the false gods. In many of the provincial towns, demons in the form of armed soldiers fought against the evangelist’s efforts. They were put to flight each time, and then Gregory would tell the people not to be afraid, but to drive out their own personal demons of false worship, and follow Christ. He performed miracles to show the people how loving and powerful God is. And the king gave testimony about his sinful acts, and the miracles and mercy of healing which God had shown him.
So they traveled through the provinces and everywhere they spread the light of the Gospel and destroyed the dark pagan superstitions which had held the people captive.
After they returned to Vagharshapat, Trtad called together all his courtiers and the leaders from every corner of the land. The king wanted to make Gregory their pastor, so that everyone could be baptized and begin in earnest to live the new life in Christ. Gregory protested his unworthiness, but Trtad had a wonderful vision from God urging him to carry out his plan, and the angelic vision also appeared to Gregory, telling him not to thwart it. So Gregory said: ‘Let God’s will be done.’
Trtad then chose some of the leading princes to take Gregory to Caesarea, in Cappadocia, with an edict for the bishop Leontius. The edict gave the whole history of Armenia’s pagan worship, the suffering of the nuns, Gregory’s witness and work among the people, and the king’s own desire to have Gregory be the spiritual leader of Armenia.
The group set off with Gregory in a royal carriage, taking along gifts for each of the churches they would pass. They were welcomed heartily in the land of the Greeks, who rejoiced to hear of God’s miracles and the great conversion which had taken place. When the men reached Caesarea, Gregory was duly ordained, and the bishops laid their hands on him and prayed for him. He, too, was now consecrated as a bishop for God’s church.
With joyous and loving farewells, the nobles and Gregory set out for home, and as they stopped at various towns, Gregory persuaded some good Christian men to return with him and be ordained to serve the people. In all the towns, crowds of people gathered to see the new bishop pass, and to receive his blessing.”
Very similar to Daniel in the Old Testament, Gregory has a vision or a dream and gives an elaborate description and interpretation that presages the future. The establishment of the foundation of Christianity in Armenia will be the place where the Roman nuns were martyred. The purity of the nun’s sacrifice of their lives for Jesus Christ is a sort of re-enactment of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on Golgotha. His blood became the purifying elixir for the salvation of humanity. The places where the nun’s sacrificed their lives and blood and were laid to rest by Gregory with the help of Trtad III and his family become the holiest places for Armenian Christians. It should be noted that the main characters in this history are nuns who were not Armenian although they have been canonized as Armenian saints, Gregory whose parents were Parthians and who was raised in a Greek Christian environment and who married a very pious woman most probably of Greek descent, and Trtad III whose father was of Parthian ancestry and whose upbringing was entirely under Roman influence. This may help us to understand why the Christian conversion of Armenia lead to the systematic destruction of almost all pre-Christian Armenian temples with their deities, libraries and in many cases the murder of pagan priests. It was perpetrated with complete disdain for all pre-Christian Armenian culture and history. As a side note, this same disdain seems to be exercised today. See the following recent communication decrying the Armenian Church’s opposition to declaring Armenian National Identity Day be associated with the 5th Century BC victory of Hayk triumphant over Bel.
“As it is well-known, recently, a draft law was presented to the National Assembly aimed at making amendments to the ‘Concerning Republic of Armenia Holidays’ to declare August the 11th – the day Hayk triumphed over Bel – ‘Armenian National Identity Day,’ while the holiday’s preceding five days would be declared Navasardyan Games Days.
The draft law, in its initial form was debated and accepted at the first reading. It appeared that the bill will soon be put in its final form and ratified by the National Assembly and finally our Holiday Calendar will include a truly Nationalistic holiday, a holiday truly coming from the nation’s essence and ratified by law (All the other holidays ratified by the National Assembly are not as such, they are ecclesiastical or state-political holidays).
But the Armenian apostolic church is not asleep, so that the NA stand steadfast by its decision and reward the Nation with an Identity Day ratified by the assembly itself. According to trustworthy and reliable sources, the church is categorically against declaring National Identity Day- the day Armenia Triumphed. According to them, as it is well-known, the Armenian Identity derives from 301 AD, before then, the Armenian as such, and Armenia as such did not exist, hence, what kind of a National Identity Day can anyone dare talk about? The church is for the abstract formulation of Navasartyan Holiday which should be celebrated not on the day of the Victory, but on the day of a certain religious holiday. Well, if the church is against , how dare the National Assembly. If the state by its own free will (through some other bill) is preparing to become a theocracy, then who is capable of taking steps independently, that would be beneficial to the Nation?
It is not by accident, that the church, immediately after hearing the news about the self-willed initiative by the NA, got excited and took alarm and is doing everything it can to bring the Deputies of the National Assembly back to their senses. Furthermore, the church has mobilized the pitiful Armenian intellectuals which are under its influence . The latter are bringing all kinds of absurd, senseless, ridiculous proofs and evidences – namely, Hayk was a Christian, long before Jesus was born, hence, his victory should be celebrated as a victory for Christianity! Or prior to the year 301AD, the Armenians didn’t exist, hence, Armenian Identity ( Identity Day) should be linked to the spread of Christianity, which was achieved with Grigory’s fire and sword. Or Armenian Identity should be linked to the translation of foreign books (Holy Translators Day) and other ridiculous proofs.
In this regard, let’s clarify once and for all, that our glorious ancestor Hayk, was one of our Arian-Heathen patriarchs and bears no relation to Christianity and the more so, has nothing to do with Jehovah worshipping. Hayk’s victory was the continuation of His forefathers’ victories that periodically restore and re-establish The Law of Armenian Gods in Armenians cradle.
Not to devalue further the muppet-show actors mentioned above, let’s return to Republic of Armenia’s National Assembly.
The Armenian Nationalists Union believes that this is a good opportunity for the National Assembly to manifest itself as being the National Assembly, and to express its willingness as being the upholder and the guardian of the national traditions.
Otherwise, we will be convinced even more that the NA has got nothing to do with the national life of Armenians and is a body which creates and passes laws (Concerning Holidays as well) which do not serve the Armenian interests and reality and continuous to adopt enactments which serve the re-evaluation of a foreign identity upon us, and continuous to follow the Ecumenical Movement’s adopted document, thus, serving the faith and the interests of the chosen people.”
Armenian Nationalists Union Council, 18 March 2009
To understand the extent of this disdain for pre-Christian Armenian heritage, we can examine what Vahan Kurkjian has written in his History of Armenia
“The conversion of the nation was not accomplished without great difficulty; the pagan priests, possessors of vast fortunes, were politically and economically powerful. They had since the earliest times wrung profit from the people by every possible act and circumstance. Gregory, backed by Trdat, found little trouble in converting some districts whose inhabitants yielded peacefully to the change. But in others pagan communities, which were more recalcitrant, the bishop (Gregory), accompanied by the principal nakharars and their soldier-serfs, used force, destroying idols, demolishing the pagan temples and slaying priests who opposed the conversion.. According to the ancient historian, Zenob of Glak, the resistance was violent in the district of Taron and the territory of Palouniq. In the great burgh of Kissaneh, a real battle took place between the army of the pagan priests and that of the Armenian kingdom of Trtad. Gregory gave the order to pull down the idol of Kissaneh (Krishna), which was of copper and twelve arms’ lengths in height. The pagan priests fought fanatically, crying, ‘Let us die before the great Kissaneh be destroyed.’ ‘This spot,’ says Zenob, ‘was the gate of demons, whose number was as large at Kissaneh as in the depths of hell,’ and who cried out, ‘Even if you should drive us away from here, there shall never be rest for those who wish to domicile here.’”
But, while Gregory was aiming at the conversion of the people and the annihilation of paganism, the nakharars were thinking of the riches and land they could expropriate from the pagan temples.
‘The following day, (after the fight at the temple of Kissaneh), says Zenob, ‘a pagan priest was brought to the Prince of Sewniq (one of Gregory’s noble escorts). He was pressed to reveal the place where the treasures were hidden; he refused and died on the gibbet in torture. It has been impossible to discover the treasures since.’
As to the lands belonging to the pagan sanctuaries, each of the new churches received a share of them. ‘After having laid the foundation of the church,’ says Zenob, ‘and deposited therein the relics, St. Gregory erected the wooden sign of the Cross of the Lord at the very gate, on the site of the idol Kissaneh, and left Anthony and Gronites to manage the church. He appointed Epiphanes as the superior of the monastery, giving him forty-three monks and assigning him twelve villages for the support of the establishment.
In all, the villages assigned to the new clergy contained 12,298 houses and could muster an army of 5,470 cavalry and 3,807 infantry. All these villages had long been appropriated to the service of the idols. Armenian chroniclers, themselves zealous champions of the new religion, attribute to Trdat and Gregory many acts of violence during the establishment of Christianity, and maltreatment of the pagan priests and their adherents, deepening the bitterness of feeling between the two factions.’”
Vahan Kurkjian is getting his information from the descriptions of Zenob of Glak, a Syrian priest who was one of the earliest students of St. Gregory the Illuminator. He wrote a history of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity entitled “History of Taron.” He accompanied St Gregory and the nakharars who were Armenian princes with their armed soldiers. Taron was an important province of ancient Armenia that was on the western bank of Lake Van and included the areas of modern Moush and Sasoun. It is a district of hills and plains on the upper Euphrates River. It adjoined the country later settled by the illustrious Mamigonian clan who were supposed to have migrated there from China in the 3rd century AD. Zenob pays particular attention to the Hindu colony that existed in Armenia since the middle of the 2nd century BC until the end of the 4th century AD. Zenob wrote his history in Syriac and it was later translated into Armenian. It was printed in Armenian by the Mekhitarist Fathers in 1832.
According to Zenob, two Hindu princes, named Gissaneh, which was probably the Greek pronunciation for the Vedic Supreme God Krishna, and Demeter, the Greek equivalent for a female deity (Earth-Mother or goddess of grain and fertility) which was most probably reminiscent Rukmini devi, an expansion of Laxmi devi, who is worshipped with Lord Krishna as His eternal consort in Dwarka, fled from the area of Kanauj in northern India not far from Mathura and Vrindaban. They were embroiled in a plot against the king of Kanauj named Dinaksi. They found refuge in Armenia in 149 BC. They were accorded safe haven by King Valarsaces who offered them land in the province of Taron, which is near the western banks of Lake Van. The princes settled in Ashtishat which was a religious center in ancient Armenia famous for its temple of the goddess Anahit and other national gods of Armenia. They erected temples to their god and goddess which they worshipped in India and maintained Hindu priests for their worship. Due to some conflict, the Hindu leaders Gissaneh and Demeter were put to death. The Armenian king gave their sons permission to establish their own villages. One son named Kuars built a village called Kuars, his brother named Meghtes built a village called Meghti and the other brother built a village named Horeans in another province called Paloonies. Later, the brothers built two temples near the Hindu villages close to the mountain Karki (or Kharkh). They installed two deities which were made of brass. One was Krishna and the other Rukmini (an expansion of Laxmi). The priests that cared for the deities were all Hindus. After some time, twenty Hindu villages were built and their population reached 15,000. These villages flourished for 450 years until Christianty became the state religion of Armenia and the Hindus were either forced to convert or were killed.
During the period of Greek, Roman and Persian influence over Armenia before the dominance of Christianity, the Armenians were able to adopt and adapt their various gods so that there was little religious conflict with their neighbors. The Armenian gods were for the most part syncretized versions of Indo-Iranian gods and Greek and Roman gods. The Hindu gods were accepted during the pre-Christian times by the Armenian kings. But with the rise of Christianity and its Judeo-Christian bias, a troubling element of intolerance became the standard as evinced by St.Gregory’s absolute rejection of any other form of worship except Christianity. This led to future wars with the Persians who feared the establishment of Christianity in Armenia. Later, with the rise of Islam, a Judeo-Semitic religion, the same spirit of intolerance was manifested by the Arabs over the Christian Armenians. To further compound the plight of the Armenians, the Armenian Orthodox church developed doctrinal differences with the Greek and Roman churches. This caused more difficulties and suffering and eventually was a factor in the fall of successive Armenian kingdoms to different groups of invading Arabs and Turks. . With the rise of Christianity in Armenia, the Hindu gods shared the same fate as the Armenian pre-Christian gods.
Zenob was a witness to the campaign against the Hindus in Taron. He writes:
“And having taken our departure from there (Thordan), we intended to proceed to Karin and Harkh, but some of the Armenian princes informed St.Gregory of the existence of two temples in the province of Taron which still offered sacrifices to the devils, whereupon he resolved to demolish them. Having arrived in the country of the Paloonies, in the extensive village, called Gissaneh, near the village town of Kuars, we met there some of the heathen priests. Having ascertained from the Hindu prince of Hashtents that the great images of Gissaneh and Demeter were to be leveled to the ground on the following day, they [Hindus] returned to the temples in the dead of the night and removed the treasures and filled them into subterraneous houses.”
The Indian Head priest buried the statues of the Hindu gods, hid the treasures of the temples, and then informed the priests of Ashtishat to gather armed forces and come for help. The following day heathen Armenians joined the Indians and a fierce battle took place. The heathens suffered a defeat. The six Hindu priests who worshipped the deities in the two temples were murdered by the Armenian soldiers and thrown into a deep pit.
After the battle a monument was raised in the Innagnian Mountains near the Hindu villages which bore the following inscription:
“The first battle, which was fought very fiercely. Artzan [Arjun], the head priest, the Chief Commander of the battle, lies interred here, and with him one thousand and thirty eight men. We waged this war on account of the idol Gissaneh and on behalf of Christ.”
On the site of the two Hindu temples, St Gregory constructed a monastery, which was named Sourp Garabed (St. John the Baptist). He deposited the relics of St. John the Baptist (some of his bodily parts) and Athanagineh the Martyr, which he had brought from Caesaria. Because of St. John the Baptist’s reputed healing powers, the monastery in his name became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for all Armenians who sought healing and salvation.
Dr. Mesrob Jacob Seth has written an interesting article entitled “Hindoos in Armenia” published by the Armenian Chruch committee of Calcutta in 1982. He writes about the forced conversion of the Hindus living in Taron at the time of St. Gregory’s campaign about 301 AD.
“Some of these converted Hindoos adhered tenaciously to the idolatrous practices of their forefathers, despite the paternal persuasions and the exhortations of St.Gregory. They went even further and taunted the Armenian princes by telling them that if they lived they would retaliate for the harsh treatment they had received at their hands, but if they died, the gods would wreak their vengeance on the Armenians on their behalf.
At this, the prince of the house of Angegh ordered them to be taken immediately to the city of Phaitakaran where they were incarcerated and their heads shaved as an insult and a sign of degradation. These prisoners numbered four hundred. From the narrative of Zenob, the Syrian, it appears that the Hindu colony had, since their settlement in Armenia in the year 150 B.C. to the day of the memorable battle in the year 301 A.D. a period of 450 years, multiplied and increased considerably and formed a distinct and an important colony of their own in the fertile province of Taron where in the year 286 A.D. a Chinese colony had also settled under Mamigon, the founder of the house of Mamigonian which gave Vardan to Armenia, who fought the Sassanians when they wanted to force the religion of Zoroaster on Christian Armenia in the year 451 A.
On the restoration of peace between the Armenians and the Hindus, the Armenian prince of the house of Siunies proceeded to the Hindu village of Kuars and succeeded in persuading the inhabitants of that place to renounce idolatry and embrace the Christian faith which had now became the State religion. His efforts were crowned with success and they were prepared for baptism, and being conducted to the valley of Ayzasan they were baptized by St. Gregory.
According to Zenob, who as I have said was a disciple of the Apostle of Armenia, and an eye-witness of the events he narrates, the Hindues that were baptized on the first day of Navasard, (the ancient Armenian New Year day) numbered 5,050 and these were composed of men and children only, as the females were, it appears excluded from that number and baptized on another day specially appointed for the occasion.”
Zenob has chronicled that the Hindu priests who were murdered before the destruction of their temples warned the Armenian naxarars, “the gods would wreak their vengeance on the Armenians on their behalf.” Some of the Hindus who were forced to convert, but retained their Hindu practices warned, “Even if you should drive us away from here, there shall never be rest for those who wish to domicile here.” I believe this is the origin of a curse or dark cloud that has plagued the Armenian people since those fateful days of the forced conversion to Christianity.
There is a very interesting short story written by Sempad Der Kerope Shahnazarian called “The Symphony of Our Soil.” I recently spoke to his son Arsen Shahnazarian. He told me that his father was born in Moush which is near the monastery of St Garabed. His grandfather was a monk in that monastery. His father was the priest of the Armenian church in Moush. Sempad Der Kerope Shahnazarian was a student in the monastery of St Garabed in his youth. Therefore, the story he relates is not completely fictional. There are some historical elements of the story that are truthful such as the existence of a pit inside the monastery where it is said that the Hindu priests were thrown after they were murdered. We also know that the Hindu priests of Krishna’s temple hid the deities of Krishna and Rukmini and the valuable treasures of the temple before the Armenians came to pillage and destroy them. It is very possible that these relics are still buried deep under the remains of St. Garabed Monastery.
The following is an excerpt from Shahnazarians short story.
“One Sunday morning, mass was being held in the chapel of Sourp Haroutune. This little chapel had been built seventeen hundred years before on the ruins of the pagan temples Demetre and Kissane.
That chapel was the nucleus around which had grown, through the long centuries, the imposing Saint John Monastery which was surrounded by fortress-like walls. During the mass, Avedis remembered the day when he entered school there. He remembered how one of the monks walked with him to the chapel. The door was locked so he approached one of the slit-like windows on the mossy wall and said; ‘Put your ears here and listen.’
He placed his right ear against the window and listened.
‘Do you hear anything?’
Avedis wasn’t quite sure if he had heard anything special yet.
‘Listen intently and concentrate. Can’t you hear voices now, that seem to come from far away?’
Somewhat hesitatingly, Avedis thought this time he seemed to hear some sort of whisperings; faint, blurred voices.
‘That’s it! Those voices that you hear come from the bottomless pit where Gregory the Illuminator had thrown the Pagan monks and nuns after they were defeated by the Christian Armenians centuries ago.’
Avedis shuddered but kept standing there for awhile with his face against the window listening.
Even now when mass is being celebrated, all of the boy’s curiosity is focused on trying to hear those voices.
Every time the readings and Sharagans stop a deep silence would follow. During that silence he would strain his hearing, tense and in anticipation, to see if he could still hear the same voices, or any voice for that matter, from the underground Hindu monks.
Those were exciting moments for Avedis for he seemed to hear whispers and footsteps crowding the chapel. He even heard them singing with the choir in a different language. Great excitement for Avedis!
When the mass was over, the congregation, composed of a couple dozen monks and students, began moving out in extreme silence.
On his way out Avedis noticed a sign, near the entrance. Which read: Beware! This is the bottomless pit. The abyss. This sharpened his curiosity to the degree that he hid himself in one corner until everybody left, and the key screeched in the keyhole.
He immediately came out of his hiding-place and began to explore the entrance to that historic hole.
He lighted a candle and stepped down cautiously. It looked like a huge cave with the walls and the ceiling hidden in darkness. On his left, he saw a stand where dozens of bricks were arranged like books on a shelf. He approached and scrutinized the writings on them in the pallid candlelight, but couldn’t make out what language it was; he tenderly caressing the earthen books and walked away without being able to penetrate the secrets of that library.
A few steps down on the platform two huge bronze statues of God and Goddesses stood high, firm and silent. Demetre and Kissane.
They had the most mysterious looking eyes which followed him wherever he went. Their hollow and cold depths made him shudder.
While looking at them more closely and calmly, he was filled with a flow of warm sensations. In those eyes he saw the reflection of the magic beauty of Armenia’s mountains and plateaus, ¦the fields and the vineyards, the kings and queens in resplendent procession, the crystalline blue of the sky, the enchanting sunrise of our worshippers¦and he felt an urge to approach them to touch their strong metallic bodies and to kiss their divine hands.
He wanted to get closer because they were actually saying something and he wanted to hear what they were saying. The more he advanced the farther they withdrew. It remained a mystery what they were trying to say to him. They walked silently on the soft dark earth for miles, brushing past the foundations of our mountains and watching the sources of our waterfalls, rivers and springs.
Footsteps were heard in the Moush Plain where the Meghraked and Aradzani rivers rumbled on, dark and furious.
Going through the volcanic passages of Pure-Agn, they entered into a devotional silence. The immense caverns of Mount Ararat where our ancestors had gathered in holiday garments to read their essays on Dialectical Materialism to display their artistic achievements enthusiastically ¦to strongly criticize our naive view of the architecture of Heaven, to disclose the idea of God to be a purely poetical conception unveil their undeniable proof that our universe is soulless and complex “a Mechanical Structure ” and to admit that its eternal beauty consists in the daring flights of imagination and the luminous thunder of symphonies.
On his way back he saw some of our living dead perched here and there on rocks, cliffs, in the craters of extinct volcanoes and the sunny fields far away refusing to go to Heaven but preferring to live on their soil to enjoy its warmth and affection, to hear the voices of their children overhead and to eagerly watch over their dreams, their thoughts, their deeds.
The evening bells of Saint John Monastery shook Avedis out of his day-dream; he crawled out of the pit and into the chapel, opened the door and came out into the bright sunshine.
That night his soul was inundated with new lights and new sensations. Through an opening in the wall the moonbeam rested obliquely on the floor of his cell. Millions of particles danced there like the thoughts in the flashes of his mind. His poor and desolate cell was full of voices now. Whispers, hums and blurred words came to his ears. He tried to sleep but couldn’t. He got up, took the History of Zenop Klag near his cot and scurried through its pages.
He read about the battle between the forces of the Christian and the Pagan Armenians on the Innagnian Mountains. He read it with intense feeling and emotion and stopped at the point where the Pagans were defeated, their temples ransacked and destroyed and the monks were thrown into the bottomless pit.
The description of the battle was so vivid and realistic he could actually hear the whinnying of horses, the groaning of the wounded, the proud shouts of the victorious Christians and the wailing of the defeated Pagans.
He could clearly see the onslaught of the Christian soldiers into the temples; the terror of the monks and nuns, their prayers before the bronze statues, their terrified screams, the bloody swords. He was greatly moved by all of this but in his mental turmoil a question stood high and clear in his mind.
What of it?
The pagans were physically overpowered. Were they defeated?
A superb view of the underground world unveiled itself before his eyes. Fountains of multicolor lights illuminated wide panoramas. Human shadows moving around, conversing, singing, reciting from the fields rapturous music spread out its veils like a golden mist from the vineyards, the wine flowed like rosy poetry in the prairies, the plowshare, with lyric poetry, broke the ground into long furrows which lay parallel like pregnant rays of the sun.
Absorbed in these thoughts, his heart was melting like a burning candle. He felt sparks of meditations sputtering around dark veils of mystery floating in the air, intellectual intoxication pregnant with immortal creations, philosophical struggle in the dark waters of mysteries, colorful bonfire of daring imagination, underground symphonies shaking the mountains into a weird dance.
Who got defeated? The Pagans? Their parchments, and their statues? No they’re not dead. They are inalienable and eternal. They are our sources of inspiration. Some of them have actually returned to their corporal lives.
They are breathing, moving, living and working with us.”
Shahnazarian’s imaginative story, which could very well have been partially autobiographical, affirms the fact that the monastery of St. Garabed near Moush was reputed to be an ancient pre-Christian temple. The Avedis in the story reads the History of Zenob of Glak while residing in the monastery. He literally relives the attack on the Hindu temple by the fanaticized Christian forces. It is possible that the bronze Deities of the Hindu gods are buried underneath the ruins of Saint Garabed monastery waiting to be unearthed.
The ancient city of Troy was discovered to be factual in the 19th century by German-American adventurer Heinrich Schliemann who read the Iliad and imagined that if the story was not fiction but factual then it would be possible to discover the fabled city. He studied ancient maps and determined where the ancient city might be located. His find was one of the greatest archeological finds of history. Similarly, it may be possible to find the remains of a pre-Christian Hindu temple in the area of Moush, Turkey under the crumbled remains of the monastery of St. Garabed (John the Baptist).
The district of Taron is considered the cradle of ancient Armenian identity and history. The area around Lake Van including Moush and Sasoun are the hallowed land where Mesrob Mashdotz was born, Movses Khorenatsi is buried in Arakelots monastery, the island of Aghtamar with its famous monastery in Lake Van, the cave where Narekatzi lived and wrote above Lake Van, etc. But even more importantly, the pre-Christian history of Armenia was also centered near Lake Van and its outlying areas. The epic Sassountzi David took place in the hills of Sasoun and Moush. The history of Ara and Semiramis (c. 1500 BC) took place in the vicinity of Lake Van. Later, Semiramis built a summer palace on the banks of Lake Van. The epic story of Hayk and Bel (c. 2400 BC) ends with the termination of Bel whosed body is thrown into the Hayots Dsor ot the Armenian Cavernous passages through the mountains near Van. Armenians name themselves as Hye and their land as Hayastan after the fabled Hayk. The outside world refers to the Armenians as the Armens named after the epic hero Ara.
To demonstrate the importance of Taron district in Armenian history, I am including a excerpt from an article entitled “A Sketch of Raffi’s Life by Donald Abcarian based on the biography of Raffi, one of the greatest writers of Armenian history, authored by Khachik Samvelian. He writes,
“Having successfully started a school in Salmast, Hagop ( Hagop Mirzayan (1832-1888) whose pen name was Raffi) decided to visit Western Armenia for the first time. Together with a new found friend and colleague, Isahak Der-Abrahamian, he joined the Salmastsi pilgrims on their annual pilgrimage to Saint Garabed monastery in Moush for the Blessing of The Grapes Festival that would take place on the second Sunday of August, 1857. His true motivation was not religious piety but the imperative of acquainting himself with the actual conditions of life in Western Armenia.
It was on this trip that he saw Van for the first time, a deeply moving experience for him since it was the original homeland of his ancestors. The party of pilgrims stopped for a few days in the Aykesdan of Van (the verdant agricultural suburb southeast of the city) before proceeding on to Moush. Hagop took advantage of this time to explore Van and talk to all kinds of people. He wrote feverishly into the night to set his countless thoughts and observations to paper. Very significantly, it was on this trip that he visited Varag monastery and there met Khrimian Hairig for the first time, an experience immortalized in the chapter called “Varag” in his longest novel “Gaidzer.”
The next day the caravan set out again for Moush and St. Garabed’s monastery. But Hagop left the city with a heavy heart. He had come all the way from Salmast to Van to find the conditions of the Armenians there at least as deplorable and hopeless as they were in Salmast and learned of the high numbers of Vanetzis who were deserting their homeland to go to Istanbul for lowly, backbreaking jobs.
The caravan proceeded from Van to Ardamed, where it halted for the night, then through Hayots Tsor (The Canyon of The Armenians), to Mt. Ardos, where it rested once more, then on to Bitlis and Moush. On its approach to Moush, the caravan passed through the ancient village of Hatsmik where Mesrop Mashdots, the originator of the Armenian alphabet, was born. This setting would later be evoked in several chapters of “Gaidzer.” On reaching St. Garabed monastery Raffi attended the Blessing Of The Grapes ceremony with all the other pilgrims on the second Sunday of August.
Before leaving the area of Moush, Raffi first paid his respects at the grave of the great medieval historian Movses Khorenatsi in Arakelots monastery, then joined the caravan to return home. The caravan crossed Hayots Tsor once again, then took the even road north toward Lake Van and the island of Aghtamar with its famous monastery. While Aghtamar was of tremendous historical interest to Hagop, his experience there was far from pleasant, for he ran headlong into the stubborn ignorance and corruptness of monastic life there. The monks took an immediate disliking to this stranger who openly professed his liberal notions on education and cultural advancement. Word got around that he was either a Catholic or a Protestant” or both! One evening, as he was sitting alone on a high rock contemplating the beauty of Lake Van and the surrounding landscape, a group of hostile monks approached with angry shouts and were about to throw him into the lake, but he narrowly escaped their wrath. The rock on which he had been sitting would afterwards become known as “Raffi’s Rock.”
The area of Van and especially Moush and Sasoun was the cradle of ancient pre-Christian Armenian life, culture and national identity. Even today, there are so many folk songs glorifying the Armenian memory of Moush and Sasoun sung and danced to by Armenians who fervently do not want to forget their ancestral homeland.
It is important to turn our attention specifically to aggressive Christianization of Armenia. Although Christianity had converts in Armenia, it was not an important community among the Armenian peasantry and nobles. Once St. Gregory converted Trtad III, a state sponsored coercive conversion began that, in many ways, resembled a colonial conquest of Armenia. The word “colonial” can be pertinently used if we take account of the systematic destruction of all pre-Christian literature and documents in the different temples and monasteries of ancient Armenia. Not only were the pre-Christian temples and shrines destroyed and on top of their foundations Christian Churches were purposely built, but every vestige of written manuscripts of the ancient Armenian civilization was destroyed.
This fanatical determination to completely erase any vestige of Armenian pre-Christian culture and religion may have been due to the fact that St. Gregory was educated in Greek-Roman territory of Caesaria under the influence of Greek Christian priests. His father was of Parthian ancestry (Hellenized Persians) who may or may not have been part of the Armenian branch of the Persian nobility. It was Leontius of Caesarea (a non-Armenian) who made him bishop of the Armenians. Zenob of Glak writes about a letter sent by St. Gregory to his superior Leontius in Caesaria. The Armenian saint asks Leontius to send to Armenia foreign priests and bishops who were either Greek or Assyrian such as Zenob. There were only a few trained Armenian priests at the time of the mass conversion. He promised the priests that came that they could convert the Armenians and also appropriate whatever they found desirable in Armenia which was a rather rich, verdant land especially in the area of Van. St. Gregory’s words were not empty promises. What actually happened was an amazing and aggressive land and wealth grab by the new Armenian Christian Mission of St. Gregory. King Trtad III was able to convince a certain number of loyal naxarars or noble Armenian warrior-class regional and dynastic leaders to use their armed forces to persuade (actually coerce) the Armenian peasantry to abandon their pagan rites and become baptized into the new foreign faith of Christianity.
What we can discern is that the Roman predator nature incarnate in Trtad III combined with the fanaticism of early Christianity which had its roots in the ancient semitic tradition of intolerance for any religion other than its own, melded together. This fierce new religious fervor gave rise to an unprecedented pillage and destruction of Armenia’s pre-Christian cultural heritage. In the “Original Catholic Encyclopedia” there is an article about St. Gregory wherein it says,
“The (pagan) temples were made into churches and the people baptized in thousands. So completely were the remains of the old heathendom effaced that we know practically nothing about the original Armenian religion (as distinct from Mazdeism), except the names of some gods whose temples were destroyed or converted (the chief temple at Ashtishat (in the district of Taron) was dedicated to Vahagn, Anahit and Astlik; Vanatur was worshipped in the North round Mount Ararat, etc.).”
An Armenian writer named Eddie Arnavoudian in an article entitled “The Armenian Conversian to Christianity as Colonial Conquest” writes,
“To permanently subdue its newly conquered population, the Church, like colonial powers in all ages, set out to destroy the intellectual and cultural heritage of pre-Christian Armenia so as to annihilate its historically developed, independent national identity. As a final mark of arrogance, it built its own Churches on `the very ground and with the very same masonry as that of the pagan temples’ it destroyed, copying even their architecture. Further, the Armenian Christian Church became very wealthy almost overnight by expropriating all the villages and farms connected to the wealthy pagan temples on whose sites new churches were built in continuation of cult in the same localities. This quick transformation from the pagan cult to the Christian cult kept the feudal entitlement to exact taxes and other financial privileges in the hands of the new Armenian priesthood.
The Armenian Church also adeptly incorporated many pagan festivals into the church rituals so that the people would feel that the change was not a total rejection of the pre-Christian practices. The Armenian Church adopted the celebration of the blessing of the first harvest of grapes on the same date as the pre-Christian new year called Navasard about the second week of August. Until today, the Armenian Church continues to celebrate pagan festivals that were Christianized and made part of the rituals of the church.
The conversion of Armenia to Christianity was not completed overnight as one may believe. There was opposition by many Armenian people, the priests of the pagan temples, and even naxarars. The suppression of such opponents was brutal. It was conducted under the auspices of St. Gregory and the “foreign priests” that accompanied him. King Trtad III was unrelenting in his resolve to convert the entire Armenian population and destroy all pagan temples. In a few years from 280 AD to 301 AD, the Christian church movement in Armenian went from being a small minority of persecuted believers to a organized movement with a state military capable of forcing large portions of the population to convert to a foreign religion.
In this context, I can ask my question. Is the law of grace that Jesus taught to be applied in one’s personal life or can it be applied by a government with a powerful military? Once Christianity took hold in Armenia, the military power was used to force the common people to convert or else face extermination. This seems to be a contradiction to the words of Jesus and the gentle spirit of Christianity as expressed in the following,
27 “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.â€
Do the means justify the end? In this case, the means appear to be clearly a deviation of the fundamental spirit of Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ. Therefore, an outside influence entered the Armenian Christian practice when there was a transition from a small, persecuted sect to a state sponsored organized religion. This outside influence, at least in the case of Armenia, originated from Trtad’s Roman upbringing and St. Gregory’s Greek, Judeo-Christian education. They were both sons of Persian ancestral royalty, whose families were murdered and were reared from childhood in non-Armenian cultures. I believe this contrary spirit to pure Christian belief and practice has brought a curse on the Armenian people that has had a disastrous effect until today and is still continuing.