This article is from The Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and the Soviet Union, Vol. 3, ed. Paul D. Steeves (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1991, pp. 43-58. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition © 2001 Dennis R. Papazian.
ARMENIANS. One of the most ancient peoples of the USSR. Armenia is one of the fifteen constituent republics of the USSR. The present-day Armenian SSR (renamed the republic of Armenia, 1990), located in Transcaucasia, represents only the eastern fringe of the Armenian homeland which lies on the traditional mountainous Armenian plateau in eastern Anatolia presided over by Mount Ararat of biblical fame. Historic Armenia has been described as the land of the three lakes: Van, which is now in Turkey, Sevan in present-day Armenia, and Urmia in Iran.
Armenians have one of the oldest indigenous cultures of any of the peoples of the USSR. The kingdom of Armenia is acknowledged as the first state to establish Christianity as its official religion.
While classical historians cited the tradition that the Armenians migrated into their homeland from Thrace and Phrygia, contemporary scholarship suggests that the Armenians are descendants of various ancient indigenous people who combined in the tenth through seventh centuries B.C. to produce the Uraratean people (Ararateans). These views are not necessarily contradictory since present-day Armenians undoubtedly are an amalgam of several peoples, indigenous (Hayasa-Azzi, Nairi, Hurrians, etc.) and immigrant, who merged as one linguistic family around 600 B.C.
The Armenian language, like Greek and Iranian, is a part of the Indo-European family of languages that is spoken from north India through Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia, and Greece into Europe and European Russia. The Armenian alphabet was devised early in the fifth century by Saint Mesrob (or Mashtotz, c. 361-440), who also produced a script for the Christian Georgians and Caucasian Albanians. The alphabet is unique although based in part on Greek uncials and the Armazi variety of Aramaic script.
Armenia was located near the cradles of ancient civilizations, Mesopotamia bordering immediately to the south, Egypt in the southwest, and the Indus river valley to the east. It was affected by each but most significantly by Mesopotamian civilization. The name "Urartu" in the form "Urashtu" occurs frequently in Babylonian inscriptions. The earliest known mention of the "Armenian" people as the "Armenoi" occurs in the writings of the Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 B.C.), and of "Armenia" (Armina) in the Behistun inscription of Darius I (c. 520 B.C.).
Present-day scholarship shows that Armenia experienced its Lower Paleolithic period from 500,000 B.C. or earlier. A change from nomadic to sedentary life occurred in the Neolithic period in Armenia around 6000 B.C. about the same time as in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the headwaters of which rise in Armenia. Chalcolithic (copper age) culture from 4000 B.C. relates Armenia to the Caucasus, Iran, and Mesopotamia. The Bronze Age in Armenia began around 3200 B.C. and extended to and coexisted with the era of iron smelting and working which was inaugurated around 1000 B.C. Erevan (Erebuni, Arin-Berd), the capital of the Armenian SSR, was founded in 782 B.C. when it is first mentioned in historic sources.
The rise of Achaemenid Persia (c. 500 B.C.) brought Armenia into the Iranian socio-political-economic orbit, and it became a satrapy (number 13) of the empire under the first semiautonomous Armenian dynasty, the Orontids (in Avestan, aurand, mighty hero, in Pahlevi, arvan, in Armenian, ervand), who were related to the Persian royal house.
The Persian trade and defense system encouraged significant expansion of Armenian travel and
commerce. The classical account of Armenia under the Achaemenids is that of Xenophon, who
crossed the territory with his Ten Thousand (c. 400 B.C.). It is during this period that the
Armenian nobility adopted Mazdaism as their religion and saw it merge with indigenous native
beliefs of which only scant information remains.
Pre-Christian Religions. The earliest Armenian pantheon most likely was related to the prehistoric Indo-European pantheon. It probably included eponymous and other legendary heroes as well. It seems that the Armenians also had nature gods and worshiped the elements.
During the fifth century B.C. the Armenians adopted the Iranian forms of the Indo-European divinities and domesticated them. Ahura-Mazda, who assumed the status of the father of the gods, was worshiped as Aramazd. Mithra, god of light and justice, was known as Mihr. Anahita, goddess of fertility and mother of all wisdom, became Anahit, the favorite goddess of the Armenians. Verethrangna, the god of war, was worshiped as Vahagn. Astghik was the goddess of love. Tir, the scribe of Aramazd, was the god of science and the recorder of human deeds of good and evil. Barshamin and Nane, probably of Syrian origin, also took their places in the Armenian pantheon.
With the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) and the successor Seleucid empire Armenia entered the Hellenistic orbit and identified its gods, as did the Romans and others, with the Greek pantheon. Aramazd became Zeus, Mihr became Hephaestus, Anahit, Artemis, Vahagn, Hercules, Asghik, Aphrodite, Tir became Apollo, and Nane became Athena. Only Barshamin retained his original form. This characteristic syncretism also appears in Persia, where Ahura-Mazda became Zeus, Mithra, Apollo, and Anahita, Athena.
Pagan Greek priests brought cult statues of the gods to Armenia and placed them in Hellenistic temples. Consequently an Irano-Greek form of paganism existed in Armenia until the establishment of Christianity in the early fourth century. Some aspects of the old religion survived in folklore and customs for centuries thereafter.
The weakening of the Seleucids allowed the founding of the Armenian Artaxiad dynasty (189 B.C.). Sometime later the Artaxiad Tigranes the Great (95-55 B.C.), along with his ally Mithradates IV (Eupator) of Pontus, established a short-lived Armenian-Hellenistic empire which stretched from the Caucasus to the Gulf of Alexandretta on the Mediterranean and from Mesopotamia to the Pontic Alps.
By this time the great Armenian feudal nobility (nakharars) were well established. The empire of Tigranes was destroyed by the Romans, who were gradually expanding into the Middle East. Roman incursions were led in turn by Lucullus, Pompey, Crassus, Mark Antony, who captured Tigranes by ruse, and Caius Caesar, who was sent by his grandfather the emperor Augustus. Western Armenia thus fell under Roman hegemony while the eastern territories were dominated by the Parthians.
Trdat I (Tiridates), the brother of the last significant Parthian Icing, Vologases I (51-77 A.D.), was appointed by him king of Armenia in 52 A.D. Trdat was recognized by Rome (A.D. 66) and became the founder of the Arsacid (Parthian) dynasty which ruled Armenia until 428 A.D.
With the rise of the second Persian empire, the Sassanid (226-651), eastern Armenia was drawn more deeply into the Iranian orbit while western Armenia remained chiefly under Roman and Byzantine influence. The two great empires, Rome and Persia, vied for centuries to establish hegemony over Armenia, making Armenia the scene of almost constant warfare.
This struggle was carried on in earnest when the founder of the Persian Sassanid dynasty,
Ardashir I (r. 224-241), overthrew the Parthian kingdom in Iran (226), invaded Armenia,
overwhelmed the Armenian Arsacids, and attacked Byzantium. After over a century of warfare
peace was signed between Byzantium and Iran in 384, dividing Armenia into two vassal states,
one controlled by Byzantium and the other by Iran. In Persian (eastern) Armenia the Armenian
king retained nominal supremacy until 428, but after the natural extinction of the Arsacid dynasty
the Iranians appointed a margrave (marzpan) to rule as governor.
Christianity in Armenia. Christianity arose in Palestine and spread from there along trade routes by land and sea through cities which had Jewish colonies to attract and shelter the Apostles. Christianity took root early in Egypt and North Africa as far south as Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Greater Syria where the followers of Jesus first were called "Christians" in Antioch, Anatolia, especially in Cilicia, Phyrgia, Cappadocia, and Galatia where Saint Paul taught, parts of Iran and as far east as India as well as in Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, and Rome.
Armenian tradition maintains that Christianity was introduced into Armenian lands by saints Bartholomew, an apostle, and Thaddeus, according to tradition one of the seventy disciples dispatched by Jesus (Lk 10.1 ). It also is known that small Jewish colonies dating probably to the period of the Babylonian captivity (sixth century B.C.) existed in Armenia and probably served as axes for the spreading of the Christian gospel. Tradition also links Armenia with the legendary Christian king Abgar (d. 50 A.D.) of Edessa. These traditions are the foundation of the Armenian church's claim to apostolic origin.
Armenian merchants and travelers frequented Antioch, one of the earliest sites of Christian teaching and practice, and had relations with the even closer Christian centers of Edessa and Nisibis in northern Mesopotamia, where Christianity flourished in apostolic times. In his Answer to the Jews Tertullian (155-222) includes Armenians among the very first Christians from the days of Pentecost. Furthermore, Eusebius (c.265-c.339) in his Ecclesiastical History quotes a letter (c. 254) from Dionysus of Alexandria (d. c.264) to "Meruzhan (Mitrozanes), Bishop of Armenia." There is evidence that there were persecutions of Christians in Armenia under kings Artashes (c. 110) and Khosrov (c. 230).
Christianity must have had many adherents and a formal structure in Armenia by the time of the official conversion of the king by Saint Gregory (Grigor) the Illuminator (c.240-332), which tradition affirms happened in about 301. The Armenians were the first people to adopt Christianity as the official state religion. While some investigators date the conversion of Armenia as late as 314, this conclusion still would make Armenia the first Christian state.
The Armenian chronicler Agathangelos gives the following story of the conversion of the Armenians by Saint Gregory. King Trdat 111(250-330) began anew persecutions of the Christians in his country in 287. Gregory Partev (the Parthian) was the son of an Arsacid (Parthian) Armenian prince, Anak, who had killed the father of Trdat. In retaliation Anak and his family had been annihilated. Gregory was the only child who escaped. He was taken to Leontius, archbishop of Caesarea, for protection and was brought up a Christian.
Gregory returned to Armenia to evangelize. He was discovered by the king and thrown into a pit, where he survived for fifteen years. King Trdat continued his persecution of Christians until he was stricken with lycanthropy. On the urging of his sister, tradition has it, Trdat ordered Gregory released and brought before him. Trdat duly was healed and converted by Gregory. The mass conversion of Armenia followed. The Armenian church honors the king as Saint Tiridates.
Gregory, still a layman, went to Leontius, his childhood protector and patron, for ordination and episcopal consecration. He returned to Armenia and was chosen head (catholicos) of the Armenian church. The term "catholicos" was used at that time by the Persian church. He and the king went around the country with great zeal. With extensive help from Greek and Syrian priests they destroyed pagan temples, including their treasuries, libraries, and archives, dispersed their soldiers and priests, and built churches in their places. Because of this destruction there is scant evidence of pre-Christian history and religion in Armenia.
Indigenous Armenian church architecture is one of Armenia's great contributions to world art. A cathedral was built in the then capital, Vagharshapat, at a site called Echmiadzin (meaning "the Only-Begotten [Son] descended"), which is a few miles outside present-day Erevan, the capital of the Armenian SSR. Echmiadzin became the holy see of the catholicos and supreme patriarch of all Armenians. Echmiadzin never ceased to be revered, even when the mother see was moved temporarily to other locations owing to political changes.
As in other newly converted countries, paganism was not eradicated by the initial Christian
effort, nor was the established church to be free of dissenting sects. Primitive religious rituals
were passed on in the villages by oral tradition, and heresies, particularly the Paulican and the
Tondrakian, appeared in time. Yet the predominant culture in Armenia became Christian and
characterizes the nation until the present.
Doctrine. In its teaching about the sacraments and church order, the church of the Armenians does not differ from the Eastern Orthodox church. Of the seven ecumenical councils it accepts the first three, Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431), rejects the fourth, Chalcedon (451), which Armenians could not attend, and has not pronounced on the remaining three. The Armenians accept the principle of the infallibility of the church in ecumenical council. In doctrine the Armenian church continues to follow the orientation of the church of Alexandria, principally as found in the teachings of the Cappadocian fathers, Basil of Caesarea (329-379), Gregory of Nyssa (330-c.395), and Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330-c.390).
The Armenian church frequently is considered by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches to be monophysite in its Christology, along with the Coptic, Abyssinian, Syriac, and Indian churches, which as a group are often called the "lesser Orthodox churches." This is not correct even though the Armenians came to reject the acts of the council of Chalcedon, a council which took place when the Armenians were at war with Persia. The Armenian church, with its sister churches, resented the growing political and ecclesiastical power of Byzantium and Rome in the fading prestige of Alexandria, Antioch, and Caesarea as leading Christian centers. Consequently it held to the earlier Christological definition of Saint Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) at the council of Ephesus, "the one nature united in the Incarnate Word of God." To speak of two natures after the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Armenians insist, is to revert to the Nestorian heresy and endanger the doctrine of redemption.
This doctrinal position taken by the Armenian church has served to separate it from the Chalcedonian (two natures in one person) churches and preserve its individuality. But it caused great conflict with the Byzantine church which frequently resorted to persecution and even mass deportations in order to bring the Armenians into the Orthodox fold. During the period of the Cilician kingdom of the Armenians at the time of the crusades, it brought the Armenians into contention with the Roman Catholic church. In modern times it tended to separate the Armenians from the Russian Orthodox church and the tsarist government. The Armenian church professes the creed associated with the council of Nicaea, where the Armenians were represented by Saint Aristakes, son of Saint Gregory.
The Armenian divine liturgy (mass) is consonant with the Orthodox and Roman Eucharist services. Armenian practice retains an earlier structural form of the liturgy, that of Saint Basil of Caeserea, which differs from current Orthodox practice only in external appearances. For example, the Armenians still use a curtain to veil the sanctuary while the Greeks have an iconostasis. More controversially, the Armenians use unleavened bread and wine unmixed with water in the Eucharist, and they add the words "who was crucified for us" in the Trisagion. The Armenians agree with the Orthodox and differ from Rome in rejecting the filioque (and the Son) in the Nicean creed and the supremacy and infallibility of the pope. The Armenians continued to practice communion in both kinds and the kiss of peace, which only lately have been reinstated in the Roman rite.
Armenian priests, as typical in the Eastern churches, are divided into the monastic and parish
clergy, with all the hierarchs coming from the former group. In modem times celibate priests
often serve in parishes. The Armenians celebrate Christmas on 6 January and observe Easter with
the western church. The church offices (services) are in the classical Armenian written language,
Golden Age of Armenian Literature. After the conversion of the Armenians church services were held in Greek or Syriac, depending on the district. The Holy Scriptures were read in church in one or the other of these languages, with an immediate translation into Armenian made by a special order of clerics called "translators." This lack of a native writing system was seen by the ecclesiastical and political leaders as inimical to both the nurturing of Christianity and national cohesion. Consequently Catholicos Sahak (Isaac, r. c.390-438) and King Vramshapuh (r. 401-409) appointed the learned monk Mesrob to devise an alphabet, which was finished in approximately 400 to 404.
The invention of the Armenian alphabet, consisting of 36 letters, brought the golden age of Armenian literature. Students were sent to the centers of classical and Christian learning in Edessa, Caesarea, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens to prepare themselves to translate the Bible, the liturgy, the important writing of Greek and Syrian church fathers, and Greek and Latin classical literature into Armenian. The Bible, translated from the Septuagint, was finished in a few years. It and most of the church fathers were translated within thirty years, but the whole process, including the translation of secular books, lasted some two hundred years. The Armenian translation of the Bible was the fifth to be made. The first known translation of the Old and New Testaments was the Syriac (Beshito) in the second century. The second was the Latin Vulgate (392). Then came the Coptic and Abyssinian translations in the early fifth century. The Georgian translation, also by Saint Mesrob and his assistant, was sixth, after the Armenian, in the late fifth century.
The "holy translators" are revered highly in the Armenian church. Many of the works which they translated into Armenian have been lost in their Greek and Syriac originals but have been preserved in the Armenian.
Original works also were composed during the golden age, including works of history,
philosophy, hagiography, homilies, hymns, and apologetics. Later, works on the sciences were
written. While much has been lost due to the ravages of war and time, many are preserved today
in the great library of the Matenadaran of Erevan, in which, for example, there are almost three
hundred manuscripts of Aristotle, and in the Armenian monasteries at Jerusalem, Venice, and
Vienna. Thus the Armenian church provided the Armenian people with a strong national culture
just at the time the Armenian state was losing its political independence. It was the church,
indeed, that preserved Armenian national consciousness during the many centuries in which there
was no Armenian state.
War for Religious Freedom (451). The newly aggressive Iran under the Sassanids sought to
bring the Armenians closer to its orbit by imposing the religion of Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism) on
the Armenians in its sector. A national resistance movement led by the flower of the Armenian
nobility under the hero Saint Vardan Mamigonian (d. 451), the hereditary commander in chief of
the Armenian armed forces, met physical disaster on the plain of Avarayr in 451. The war was
immortalized by the national historian Eghishe (Elisha). The battle of the Vardanantz still is
commemorated by the Armenians as the preeminent national contest for religious independence
and freedom of conscience. Some thirty years later the nephew of Vardan, Vahan Mamigonian,
and the Armenian nobles wrested the treaty of Nvarsak (484) from the Persians, in which the
Armenians were granted freedom of conscience.
Arab, Seljuk, Mongol Invasions. The rise of the Arabs once more shows how the Armenians were affected dramatically by a major political change in the area. Along with most of the Near East, Armenia soon fell (c. 650) to the Arab forces coming from the south, motivated by the new religion of Muhammad (570?-632). Armenia alternately suffered or prospered depending on who held the caliphate (political and religious successor of Muhammad), which after 762 was in Baghdad, and the condition of public order. The Armenian catholicosate was transferred from Dvin, where it had been moved from Echmiadzin to be near the king, to the more secure city of Ani, capital of the Bagratid Armenian princes. Finally in 886, after much effort, Ashot Bagratuni secured his appointment as king of Armenia by the caliph and the emperor in Constantinople. The royal house of the Bagratids (885-1045) was divided into two branches, the Georgian Bagratunis, who passed into the Russian nobility as the Bagrations, and the Armenian branch, which ruled during the tenth and eleventh centuries the glorious medieval Armenian kingdom of Ani (885-1045)
This period witnessed a renaissance in trade, art, architecture, translations, church and secular literature, and scientific studies. Histories such as those of Moses of Khoren, John of Draskhanakert, Thomas Arzruni, and Stepanos of Taron were written. Special distinction belongs to Moses of Kalankatui's History of Albania, an important source for the history of Caspio-Albania. The revered Saint Gregory of Narek (951-1003) wrote ecclesiastical poetry and hymns which still are used in church offices. After the collapse of Ani most of western Armenia fell to Byzantium.
The defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuks at the battle of Manzikert (Manazgerd) in Armenia
(1071) brought all Armenia under Seljuk rule. The devastating Mongol invasion began in 1220
and ended with the occupation of Armenia in 1236. Unlike the Russians, the Armenian elites
eventually prospered under the Mongols, serving as agents and engaging in international trade
via the newly secured routes through Central Asia to India and China. Furthermore, cordial
relations developed between the Mongols and the Armenian nobility. As the Mongols declined in
power, Armenia was devastated by raiding bands of nomadic tribes. The final destruction came
with the invasion of the hordes of Timur (Tamerlane, 1336-1405) around 1400. Beginning in the
tenth century many Armenian noblemen with their armies and their people fled southwest to
Cilicia to take refuge in the mountain fastnesses there.
Cilician Armenian Kingdom. In time these immigrants grew so numerous and so powerful that they established a principality which eventually became a kingdom. The medieval Armenian kingdom of Cilicia (1080-1375) under the Rubenids (a junior branch of the Bagratids) was located among the Taurus and Amanus mountains and along the Mediterranean coast to Alexandretta. It enjoyed a high culture and great prosperity at a time when the Armenian homeland was falling slowly to ruin. In 1293 the catholicos, who had taken refuge in the castle of Romkla on the Euphrates, moved to Sis, the capital of Cilicia. The Cilician Armenians fraternized with the European crusaders, and members of their nobility and royal house intermarried with the "Latin" nobility. This last Armenian kingdom fell in 1375, and the last Armenian king, Leo V (Levon VI), died in exile (1393) in France and is buried in the abbey church of Saint Denis next to the tombs of the French kings to whom he was related.
The Cilician period produced great wealth, substantial learning, and a high culture. Specifically, it produced the most glorious period of Armenian ecclesiastical manuscript illumination, particularly under the school of Toros Roslin. It was also a period of almost continuous negotiations for reunion between the Armenians and both the Greek and Latin churches. The records of these negotiations reveal a great deal about Armenian church doctrine and practice. Special attention must be called to the correspondence of Bishop Nerses surnamed "the Grace-filled" (Shnorhali ), later catholicos (1166-1173), particularly his Apologia directed to Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180) of Byzantium, who at the same time was flirting with the Latins in the hope of military support, and his Endhanrakan (encyclical), both of which are documents which stand as authoritative sources on Armenian ecclesiastical doctrine and practice.
Latin influence was strong in Cilicia during the thirteenth century, due particularly to the great military expeditions of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) in 1228 and of King Louis IX (1214-1270) in 1248 and the desire of the Armenian princes to acquire political and military support. It was during this period that Italian colonies were established in Cilicia and Armenian colonies were founded in Italy. Venetian power, in particular, grew considerably.
While the head of the Armenian church lived in Cilicia (1294-1441) ecclesiastical policies were tied closely to the well-being of the Armenian kingdom, which meant seeking a political and religious accommodation with Rome and Byzantium. But with the failing power of the Armenian kings the "eastern divines" (anti-Greek and Roman theologians from Armenia) fought for a return of the catholicosate from its "Babylonian Captivity" in Sis back to its home in Echmiadzin. They realized a victory in 1441. Yet without political independence and a strong central state power in the homeland the church gained little advantage save to avoid union.
One bright light in this otherwise dark picture was Catholicos Mikael of Sebastia (1542-1570), who inaugurated Armenian printing by establishing presses in Venice, Echmiadzin, Isphahan, and Amsterdam, and who raised educational standards. The first printing of the Bible in Armenian was done in Amsterdam in 1666.
Another pioneer of the reform movement was Catholicos Movses of Tatev (1629-1632) who also
obtained protection from the shah of Persia against local Muslim chieftains. His successors
carried on his work. A new vitality showed itself in the church during the eighteenth century.
Catholicos Simon of Erevan (1763-1780) was one of the most capable personalities of the period.
He established a college in Echmiadzin, expanded the use of printing in his educational activities,
and established the first regular contacts with the Russian government.
The Ottoman Turks. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who earlier had accepted Islam. Muslims make little distinction between the functions of "church" and state as is done in the West. It was the prophet Mohammad himself who first instituted the treaty (dhimma) defining the relationship between the "people of the Book" defeated in a holy war (jihad), who were the tolerated people (dhimmi), and the power of Islam. Such a treaty usually specified that the conquered people of the Book (i.e., Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians) would have protection for their lives, religion, and property in return for submission and the payment of a tax (jizya). This protection was denied to pagans.
Accordingly, Sultan Muhammad II the "Conqueror" (1451-1481) established the non-Muslim religious communities in the Ottoman empire as domestic self-governing entities under the hegemony of the sultan and his court officials. The Greeks were organized into a community (millet or flock) and their patriarch was granted social and civil governing privileges over his millet in those areas which were connected with the Muslim concept of societal responsibilities, such as contracts within the community, family life, marriage, public instruction, charities, worship, clergy, and ecclesiastical administration.
The Armenians had been among the more favored subject peoples in the empire, and now Muhammad II sought to use them as a counterbalance to the Greeks in the capital. He expanded the Armenian colony in Constantinople by bringing Armenians en masse from Brusa and nearby Asia Minor, and then he appointed (1461) their bishop, Hovakim, Armenian patriarch with privileges over his millet similar to those accorded the Greek patriarch.
All the Orthodox dyophysites, including the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Syrians (Syriacs), Melkites, and Arabs, became associated through their respective religious heads with the jurisdiction of the Greek (ecumenical) patriarch, while the Orthodox monophysites, including Armenians, Syrians, Chaldaeans, Copts, Georgians, and Abyssinians, became subject through their respective heads to the jurisdiction of the Armenian patriarch. The Armenian patriarch of Constantinople became per force the most influential ecclesiastic in the Armenian church, and he presided over the Armenian catholicoi of Sis, Aghtamar, and Jerusalem, while acknowledging formally the spiritual primacy of the catholicos in Echmiadzin.
The Armenian church in the homeland, denied political security and economic support, had
fallen into a lamentable state. While Armenian communities prospered in metropolitan trade
centers in the Ottoman empire, Iran, India, Russia, Poland, and later in Egypt, the vast Armenian
peasantry in the Caucasus and especially eastern Anatolia suffered great privation and personal
insecurity. While individual clerics and church leaders did heroic work keeping alive the
Armenian Christian consciousness and a spark of learning in Armenia and eastern Turkey, there
is no splendid story to tell. Constantinople became the preeminent center of Armenian social,
economic, religious, cultural and religious life in the empire, while the provinces suffered under
grinding poverty and increasingly horrifying misrule.
Armenian Catholics and Protestants. Francis I (1494-1547) of France was the first western ruler to acquire a treaty of concessions, called capitulations, with the Ottoman empire (1535). This treaty of extraterritoriality attached to individuals, like diplomatic immunity, gave the Latins, or Franks as they were called, unique political and civil protection within the empire. Certain Armenians, some with high motives, accepted union with Rome in order to enjoy French protection. Thus the Armenian Eastern Rite (Uniate) church came into existence. Fewer than one percent of Armenians belong to this church today.
The most famous of the Uniate clerics, Mekhitar Petrosian of Sebastia (16761749), founded the Mekhitarist religious order in 1717, which even now has important monastic centers of leaming in Venice (San Lazar Island) and Vienna. The political status of the Armenian Catholics was regularized in 1831 by the sultan, who established a Catholic millet in the Ottoman empire.
Beginning in the 1830s American Protestant missionaries were sent to the Ottoman empire by the
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Since they were prohibited by law
from converting Muslims they began to work among the indigenous "degenerate Christians of the
East." Totally rejected by the proud Greeks, who by then had an independent state of their own,
they began to work among the Armenians, who welcomed western learning. Some Armenians
converted. In 1847 the sultan, this time encouraged by the American Protestants, established a
Protestant millet. By 1891 the Americans had founded nine colleges in the Ottoman empire, six
of which served primarily Armenians. While both of these new millets were nominally for all
Ottoman subjects in these confessions, they consisted primarily of Armenians.
Genocide. At its zenith the Ottoman empire was well governed, and religious and national minorities were treated as well as any place in the world. With its decline the empire became a corrupt and backward state. Christians were treated as infidels (gavours) and denied basic civil, religion, and human rights and at times they suffered dire persecutions.
In the nineteenth century, when much of Europe was being inspired by the ideas of the French revolution, liberty, equality, and fraternity, reforming sultans in the Ottoman empire sought to bring about progressive change under the banner of the Tanzimat. The Armenian church was able to take advantage of the reform atmosphere under AbdulMejid (r. 1839-1861) and Abdul-Aziz (r. 1861-1876) to establish the Armenian national constitution (1863), a liberal document by which the church and the community were governed.
The coming to power of Abdul-Hamid II (r. 1876-1909) marked the end of the Tanzimat, especially after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Abdul-Hamid, who had witnessed the empire disintegrate in the Balkans and the Caucasus under Russian pressure, decided to punish his Christian subjects through periodic massacre, whose plight served as an excuse for European intervention.
It was the Young Turks (1908-1917), finally, inspired by national and pan-Turkic ideologies,
who decided to rid themselves, under the cover of World War I, of the Armenians. The Armenian
genocide of 1915-1916 virtually wiped out the Armenian population of Turkey, claiming some
1.5 million victims. Perhaps 75,000 Armenians endure in Turkey today, most of them in Istanbul.
With the demise of the Armenian population of Turkey, the Armenian patriarchate, like the
Greek patriarchate, became a melancholy anachronism.
Armenian Churches in Russia. Russian expansion into Transcaucasia and eastern Anatolia (the Armenian homeland) brought large numbers of Armenians into the Russian empire. In 1836 Emperor Nicholas I (r. 1825-1855) promulgated the statutes (polozhenie) which governed the administration of the Armenian church and, by extension, Armenian community affairs. It gave the Armenians some autonomy and established a synod to share power with the catholicos. The circumstances of the Russian Armenians were far superior to those of their coreligionists in Turkey.
The russification policies of Alexander III (r. 1881-1894) and Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917) caused smoldering resentment in the Armenian church, particularly as governmental policies affected Armenian parochial schools. During the reign of Nicholas II Armenian schools were closed, Armenians were removed from the civil service, and church properties were placed under governmental management. It is also suspected that the Russian governor general was behind the pogroms in the Baku oil fields in 1905 which left hundreds of Armenians dead. Yet by 1913 government policies towards the Armenians changed in a positive direction, and a new era seemed to be dawning for the Armenians and the Armenian church in Russia.
Mention must be made in this context of the Armenian national and church hero Mkrtich
Khrimian (1820-1907), endearingly called "Hayrik" (little father), who was Armenian patriarch
of Constantinople (1869-1873) and catholicos in Echmiadzin (1892-1907). He was deposed as
patriarch by the sultan for his enthusiastic support of the Armenian cause in Turkey, and he led
the resistance against the tsar over the issue of church properties in 1903. His life was dedicated
totally to the protection of the Armenians both in Turkey and in Russia.
Russian Revolution. The February 1917 revolution, which was welcomed warmly by the Transcaucasians, caused the collapse of the Russian front in Turkey. The native Russian Armenians and the Armenian refugees from Turkey were put at risk of total annihilation by the advancing Turkish army. The Bolshevik revolution in October made matters worse. In May 1918 the Transcaucasian republic disintegrated, and on 29 May the Armenians announced their independence. Military matters went from bad to worse, especially since the Bolsheviks sought and developed a rapprochement with Turkey. On 29 November 1920 the Armenians accepted the status of a soviet socialist republic to secure Russian protection, and in 1922 they were incorporated into the newly formed Transcaucasian SFSR. The Soviet constitution of 1936 dissolved the Transcaucasian republic and made the Armenian SSR one of the union republics of the USSR.
The Armenian church suffered grievously under Stalin's antireligion policies in the 1930s as did religion in general in the Soviet Union. The situation during and after World War II was only marginally better. In 1955 Vazgen I was elected to the patriarchal throne, and the situation in the Armenian church improved steadily.
Today there is an active seminary at Echmiadzin, the home of the catholicos (veharan) has been
refurbished, ecclesiastical museums built, churches restored, and Armenians of the diaspora from
all over the world make frequent pilgrimages to the mother see. The Armenian SSR in general
and Echmiadzin in particular are frequented by Soviet and foreign visitors. The catholicos is
allowed periodically to make trips to Europe and America to attend international conferences and
to visit his flocks. Vazgen even was elected a deputy to the Congress of People's Deputies of the
USSR in March 1989.
Catholicosate of Cilicia. At the time the catholicosate of the Armenians was returned to Echmiadzin in 1441 the tradition of electing a "catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia" continued, as did the tradition of electing a catholicos of Aghtamar (until 1915) with regional jurisdictions. The see for Cilicia was moved from Sis to Antilas, Lebanon, after the Armenian genocide in Turkey. While the catholicos in Echmiadzin is recognized as "catholicos of all Armenians," as a practical matter his jurisdiction over some dioceses in the Middle East is nominal.
Until 1956 there was no fundamental disagreement between the two catholicosates and at present
the disagreement is not doctrinal but administrative. During 1953 to 1956 a dispute over the
process by which the new catholicos of Cilicia would be elected was aggravated by the Cold War
and the resultant temporary polarization of political division among Armenians the world. In
1956 the catholicos of Cilicia acquired the dioceses of Iran, Greece, and a splinter group in
America. This bifurcation now affects many Armenian dioceses throughout the world. Attempts
to rectify this disharmony are being made.
The Diaspora. Since the middle ages Armenians in large measure have been a diaspora people. Today there are perhaps six million Armenians in the world. Some four and a half million live in the USSR, of whom perhaps three million live in the Armenian SSR. The United States has an Armenian population of 500 thousand, Canada has forty-five thousand, and France some 250 thousand, while Iran has 200 thousand, Lebanon the same, Syria seventy thousand, and Argentina sixty-five thousand. The rest are scattered in colonies in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Australia, and Asia.
Each of these communities has an active church life and retains important ties to the mother see in Echmiadzin. While some dioceses have primary allegiance to the catholicos of Cilicia, constituting about a third of the Armenians in the diaspora, all accept at least the titular primacy of the catholicos of Echmiadzin.
Armenian seminaries exist in Antilias, Jerusalem, New York, and Echmiadzin. Parochial schools
are maintained all over the world outside the USSR. Armenian involvement in the church in the
diaspora is very great, and church administration and governance embrace a high percentage of
lay people. Lay delegates participate actively in the elections of clerical leaders from the parish
level up to the level of the catholicos. There is every indication that the ancient Armenian church
will continue to contribute to the richness of the Christian ecumene into the indefinite future.
Bibliography: There is no satisfactory up-to-date work in any language on the Armenian church. One of the most useful, although it contains some anachronisms, was written by the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, Malachia Ormanian, The Church of Armenia. Her History, Doctrine, Rule, Discipline, Liturgy, Literature, and Existing Condition (London, 1912). A useful book, although written with a slight Protestant bias, is Leon Arpee, A History of Armenian Christianity (N.Y., 1946). A more radical Protestant position is presented by G.H. Chopourian, The Armenian Evangelical Reformation. Causes and Effects (N.Y., 1972). A more benign exposition of the Armenian Protestant movement is Vahan H. Tootikian, The Armenian Evangelical Church (Detroit, 1982).
One of the earliest works in English, although not fully dependable, is Paul Rycaut, The Present State of the Greek and Armenian Churches (London, 1679), which is available in a 1970 facsimile reprint. A more dependable early work, something of a classic, is E.F.K. Fortescue, The Armenian Church (London, n.d. [c. 1872]). A rather good book, written from the Roman Catholic point of view, is Aziz S. Atiya, History of Eastern Christianity (London, 1967).
A valuable, although dated, work in Armenian dealing with the Armenian catechism is Archbishop Khoren Narbey, A Catechism of Christian Instruction (Istanbul, 1882). It appeared in an English edition in Calcutta in 1898 and in an edition which was corrected and revised by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan was published in New York in approximately 1955.
There is no satisfactory general history of Armenia, although several are useful. M.G. Nersisyan, ed., Istoriia armianskogo naroda (Erevan, 1980), is written from a Marxist point of view. A general work, based on secondary sources, is Vahan M. Kurkjian, A History of Armenia (N.Y., 1964), which contains a useful bibliography. Another general work, by an outstanding scholar, is Sirarpie Der Nersessian, The Armenians (N.Y., 1970). Useful in general, especially for the early period, is David Marshall Lang, Armenia. Cradle of Civilization (London, 1970).
Armenian archeology is covered by Lang in Armenia, but the specialist should consult a series of scholarly articles written by various Soviet Armenian experts and translated from the Russian by Arlene Krimgold and edited by Henry Field, Contributions to the Archeology of Armenia (Cambridge, Mass., 1968). Boris B. Piotrovsky, Urartu, tr. by James Hogarth (London, 1969), is a classic of good scholarship on the Urartian period. A full, but not always accurate, history of early Armenia up to the fifth century is the classical history by Moses of Khoren, History of the Armenians, tr. by Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), which gives some insight into pre-Christian pagan Armenian religion. More dependable in detail, perhaps, than Moses of Khoren is the not readily identifiable author Agathangelos, who wrote Patmowtiwn hayots. A facsimile reproduction of the 1909 Tiflis edition of this work is available with an introduction by Robert W. Thomson (Delmar, N.Y., 1980). An excellent English translation of this work is Agathangelos, History of the Armenians, tr. and ed. by R.W. Thomson (Albany, N.Y., 1976), which describes the pre-Christian pagan cults in Armenia and gives the story of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity by Gregory the Enlightener. Two carefully produced books which help to place Armenia in the context of the ancient world are Malcolm A.R. Cooledge, The Parthians (N.Y., 1967), and David Marshall Lang, The Georgians (ICY., 1966).
A magisterial work on Armenian history in the early Christian era is Nicholas Adontz, Armenia in the Period of Justinian, tr. and ed. by Nina G. Garsoian, (Lisbon, 1970). Elishe, History of Vardan and the Armenian War, tr. and ed. by Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), gives the classical account of the Armenian war for religious independence against the Persians. It is an excellent source for understanding Christianity in Armenia in the fifth century. The battle of Vardanantz for religious freedom in Armenia was taking place at the same time as the council of Chalcedon (451). For the Armenian attitude towards the acts of the council see Bishop Karekin Sarkissian, The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (N.Y., 1965). A little book useful for its references is Karekin Sarkissian, A Brief Introduction to Armenian Christian Literature (London, 1960).
An important source on the Arab period is Hovhannes Draskhanakertetsi, Patmutiwn hayots (Delmar, N.Y. 1980), which is a facsimile reproduction of the 1912 Tiflis edition, with an introduction by Krikor Maksoudian. Also for the Arab period, but from the point of view of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan, see Thomas Artsruni, History of the House of the Artsrunik, tr. and ed. by Robert W. Thomson (Detroit, 1985). An interesting book on the influence of the Arabs on Armenian Christology is Hagop A. Chakmakjian, Armenian Christology and Evangelization of Islam. A Survey of the Relevance of the Christology of the Armenian Apostolic Church to Armenian Relations with its Muslim Environment (Leiden, 1965).
A brief but dependable book on the Armenians and Byzantium is Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Armenia and the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 1947). An excellent study of the Paulician heresy in Armenia can be found in Nina G. Garsoian, The Paulician Heresy (The Hague, 1967).
The Mongol period is treated in a most valuable work by Grigor of Akanc, History of the Nation of the Archers (Cambridge, Mass., 1954), which contains the Armenian text edited with an English translation and notes by Robert P. Blake and Richard N. Frye. Information about the life and work of Mesrob Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, comes chiefly from the classical historian Koriun, The Life of Mashtots (N.Y., 1964). Gregory of Narek, Matean oghbergutean (Delmar, N.Y., 1981), comes from the Bagratid period. This edition is in Armenian, a facsimile reproduction of the 1948 Buenos Aires edition with an introduction by James R. Russell.
An important comparative study of early Armenian Christianity is Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Washington, 1963). Many insights can be gained for Armenian as well as middle eastern history from Avedis K. Sanjian, Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts, 1301-1480 (Cambridge, Mass., 1969). For the Cilician period, a useful book is T.S.R. Boase, ed., The Cilician Kingdom of Armenia (N.Y., 1978).
Armenian relations with other nations, cultures, and societies can be studied best by tracing the paths of Armenian merchants and travelers. Two excellent books on that subject are H.A. Manandian, The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade, Nina G. Garsoian, tr. (Lisbon, 1965), and K.S. Papazian, Merchants from Ararat. A Brief Survey of Armenian Trade Through the Ages (N.Y., 1979). A somewhat controversial but insightful study of the dhimmi and the dhimma is Bat Ye'or, The Dhimmi. Jews and Christians under Islam (London, 1985). An excellent study of the Armenians and the Armenian church in the Ottoman empire, a definitive source on Armenian rights and privileges over the Holy Places in Jerusalem, is Avedis K. Sanjian, The Armenian Communities in Syria Under Ottoman Dominion (Cambridge, Mass., 1965).
A magisterial study of the Eucharist, including the Armenian, showing the fundamental similarity of the traditional forms is Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (Philadelphia, 1945). A valuable bilingual edition of the liturgy of the Armenian church, which is a definitive source on current practice and which has a great deal of useful information on all aspects of liturgical dress and utensils, is [Tiran Archbishop Nersoyan], The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (N.Y., 1950). English editions of the other offices of the church are also available.
A dependable overview of Armenian history, especially the genocide, which touches on a few of the political aspects of modern Armenian church history, is Christopher J. Walker, Armenia. The Survival of a Nation (N.Y., 1980).
The American missionary activity in historic Armenia is covered by Frank Andrews Stone, Academies for Anatolia (Lanham, Mass, 1984), Joseph L. Grabill, Protestant Diplomacy and the Near East (Minneapolis, 1971), and James B. Gidney, A Mandate for Armenia (Kent, Ohio, 1967). The first year of the Armenian genocide is well substantiated in the collection of documents by Viscount Bryce, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916 (London, 1916), which was edited by Arnold Toynbee, but the most scholarly, brief treatment may be found in Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The Naim-Andonian Documents on the World War I Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. The Anatomy of a Genocide," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 18, no. 3 (August 1986). Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918 (Berkeley, 1969), deals extensively with the short-lived Armenian republic.
The sovietization of Armenia is covered in Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia (Oxford, 1951), and in the somewhat dated book by Mary Kilbourne Matossian, The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia (Leiden, 1962). There is no scholarly work which deals objectively with the Armenian church during the Soviet period.
Dennis R. Papazian
[Typos corrected August 21, 2001]
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