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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 1


I am ever indebted to the Armenian General Benevolent Union for undertaking the publication of this book through a grant from its Golden Jubilee Cultural Program Fund.

I deeply appreciate the generous attitude of Mr. H. Thorossian of Paris, author of "A History of Armenian Literature" in French, who authorized me to use his work as a source for the Chapter on Armenian literature of this work.

I am grateful to Mr. Alvin F. Harlow for his professional services for twenty-five years and for his deep interest in his collaboration.

I owe gratitude to the Oriental Institute of Chicago Universityº for its kind permission to reproduce some of the illustrations from Hans Henning's volume on "Exploration in Hittite Asia Minor."

I also express gratitude to Mr. K. Guiragossian, Executive Director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, for his scholar­ly advice and tireless efforts for making possible the publication of my manuscript.

I owe similar pleasant obligation to Mr. Mihrtad Tiryakian, an erudite scholar on history and philology. He rendered me valuable service in editing the manuscript, preparing the index, reading the proofs and placing the illustrations in their proper settings.

I appreciate the kindness of the Bingham Photo-Engraving Company, the Harding Photo-Engraving Company and the Rembrandt Photo-Engraving Company, all of New York, for preparing the engravings in my book free of charge.

I also wish to express my thanks to Mr. M. Sarkisian and much regretted late Ardavazt Koumjian for their efforts in selecting, sorting and preparing the illustrations used in this book.

The Author


A pioneer American statesman, Patrick Henry, once said: "I know of no means of judging the future but by the past." A nation interested in the past can do much to insure its own preservation. A modern philosopher, Santayana, says, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it;" and as development and change are inevitable in the world as a whole, the lessons drawn from history are a necessity to the perpetuation of national existence.

Armenia, a scion of the Aryan stock, has for four millenniums and more, through two or three revivals and through some of the most devastating misfortunes that ever beset a people, been an advanced post of civilization. It is one of the most ancient of nations. Its leaders — good, bad and indifferent — often made great and shattering mistakes and deplorable bargains with other rulers and oppressors, but the bravery and devotion of its people never faltered. At times it attained a force and splendor rivalling that of the great Eastern empires, at other times it was battered and pushed around by whatever ruthless power had fought its way up to the top of the oriental ferment. In its Urartean age (the name given it by the Assyrians), it fought Assyria and Babylon to a standstill and feared nobody. Then followed a decline, and it became by turns a Persian satrapy, a temporary though unconquered fief of Alexander the Great, a dependency of the Seleucidae, and then once more reached a new peak as an empire under Tigran the Great (95‑55 B.C.). And so the story goes.

Written history regarding the beginnings of Armenia is fragmentary and often unreliable. The earliest chronicles were in Greek and Syriac, and were written by Agathangelos, Zenob of Glak and Phaustus Puzant. A part of the history by Mar Apas Katina (one of the sources of Khorenatsi), written originally in Chaldean — not Khaldi — was translated into Greek by order of Alexander the Great. The invention of the Armenian alphabet and the translation of the Bible into Armenian in 432, heralding its Golden Age of literature, produced a legion of historians, who too often, however, accepted legend for history.

Coming down to modern times, a step toward methodical history was taken by theº Mekhitarist Fathers of Venice. The three volumes of Armenian history by Fr. Michayel Tchamtchian, whose recital begins with 1784 B.C., are a welcome contribution. To him we owe the identification of a 2107‑year line of rulers called "Haigazants," from Haig, legendary founder of the nation, to Vahé, who fell in battle against Alexander the Great. To these he added succeeding dynasties — Arsakhuni, Bagratuni and Roupinian.

A fine Armenian history up to the 11th century is that of Kevork Aslan (1928). As a masterly work on the pre-Christian era, we have the "Critical History of the Cuneiform Period of Armenia," by Astig Katchatrian (1933). Covering 2400 years — 3000 to 600 B.C. — it is rich in geographic and ethnographic data. The History of Armenia from the tenth to the sixth century B.C., by Nicolas Adontz, covers the period of Urartu and Nairi. René Grousset, who wrote its preface, declared that Adontz had established a sound continuity between pre-Armenian Armenia and "Haigian" Armenia. He praised the land as the citadel of a "grand race," the "cradle of an original civilization." Other foreign Armenologists and Orientalists are Layard, Kretschmer, Rawlinson, Maspero, Lehmann-Haupt, Lynch, Sayce, Macler, Gelzer, Marquart,º Gutschmid, and Jacques de Morgan. Victor Langlois translated the early chroniclers from Armenian into French. Dulaurier translated the Armenian and other historians of the Crusaders.

Even today, regrettably enough, one dare not tell in detail the whole piti­ful story of Armenia's wrongs. Fate has been parsimonious towards the Armenians. The great Christian powers have expressed sympathy for them, but went no further. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which promised them a homeland, in fact, decreed an Armenian state, was ignored by Europe; and three years later, meeting at Lausanne, the great powers admitted, "We can do nothing."

James Viscount Bryce, historian and diplomat, British Ambassador to the United States, said of Armenia in 1916:

"Those who have learnt what the Armenian race has shown itself capable of doing in the field of art and literature, and who have learnt from history how true it has been to the Christian faith, and how tenacious of its national life, will hope that the time has now at last come when it will be delivered from the load of brutal tyranny that has so long cramped its energies, and allowed to take its place among the free and progressive peoples of the world. It is the only one of the native races of western Asia that is capable of restoring productive industry and assured prosperity to those now-desolated regions that were the earliest homes of civilization."​1

Lord Bryce's hopes were not to be fulfilled; worse was still in store for Armenia. But it was not crushed. Braced by the never-failing sympathy of its children all over the world, it is maintaining its entity in a part of the homeland. Without attempting to grope for the unpredictable, may I close this preface by a comment from an eminent anthropologist and Orientalist, Professor von Luschan:

"Homogeneous in language, in religion and physical type, the Armenians may serve as an exemplar. The homogeneity of this people, which is not found in equal or similar degree in any other civilized nation, is interesting as proving that the striking geographical, linguistic and religious isolation of Armenia during its development and florescence has consolidated the type to such an extent that even today, many centuries after the fall of the kingdom it continues almost entirely uniform."

Vahan M. Kurkjian

New York, 1957

The Author's Notes:

1 From Lord Bryce's Introduction to Armenian Legends and Poems, illustrated and compiled by Zabelle C. Boyajian of London, 1916.

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Page updated: 19 Jan 05