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  HISTORY AND CULTURE

Armenia > HISTORY AND CULTURE

The history of Armenia, or the Armenian people, begins with the Jewish Scriptures-the Torah. The first springs of the Tigris and Euphrates, two biblical rivers, (Gen. 2:14) emerge from the Armenian mountains.[1] Geographically, Armenia took central stage during the time of the great flood. Noah, his wife and their three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth (or Yapheth) survived the flood with their wives and emerged alive from the ark when it came safely to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4) (in the vicinity of the land of the Armenians).[2] Another biblical reference to the land of Armenia or Ararat is found in the book of Kings. During the reign of the Assyrian king Senecherim, his two sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed their father and escaped into Ararat (2 Kg. 19:37; Jer. 37:38) where they became the fathers of the Artsruni and the Gnuni (people groups later identified as Armenians). Armenia thrived as a strong nation from 700-600 BCE.[3] During the reigns of Persian kings, and as the Greeks and Romans dominated Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Asia Minor, Armenia ruled over the land between the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean Seas.[4] Pagan at that time, Armenians officially accepted Christianity during the reign of the Armenian King Trdat (Tiridate) in AD 301.[5] Gregory the Illuminator caused the spread of the Gospel throughout Armenia. In the beginning of the fifth century AD, Mesrop Mashtots and the Catholicos (the supreme patriarch of the Armenian church) Sahag Partev translated the Bible into Armenian and thereby also created the first Armenian alphabet. The Armenian church participated in the first three ecumenical councils of Christendom. At the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, however, Armenians could not send their representative because of the Avarair War against Persia. [6] The Chalcedonian controversy and the break up of Christendom had a dramatic impact on the church, which will be discussed later. From the middle of the seventh to the end of twelfth century, Arabs conquered the Armenian land and devastated cities and villages.[7] The last tiny Armenian kingdom of Cilicia in Asia Minor fellat the hands of the Mongol's in the invasion of the thirteenth century. From the fourteenth century the spread of Islam caused a great decline of Christian faith in Armenia. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Armenia was already divided between Turkey to the west, Persia to the south, and Russia to the north. During the nineteenth century, the Bible was translated into the vernacular and foreign missionaries from Europe and North America established churches and schools in both Western and Eastern Armenia. The foreign mission effort resulted in a renewal movement in both parts of the country. A religious awakening in Eastern Armenia in the 1820s and in Western Armenia in the 1830s brought new light and hope for the nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Evangelical Movement (or Protestantism) was growing rapidly, particularly in the western part of the country, as a result of foreign mission influence. The Russian Tzar and the Russian Orthodox Church were less tolerant toward evangelicals than was Ottoman Turkey. Thus, the church in Eastern Armenia, from the mid-nineteenth century on, remained suppressed and controlled by Russia. Western Armenia was left virtually without Armenians as a result of the Massacre of 1915, and Eastern Armenia, after three years of independence, was grafted into the "Bolshevik family." This "family" relationship lasted seventy years. In 1991, however, Armenia regained its independence as a free democratic country. New opportunities and new horizons have now been granted to the people in the land of Ararat. The challenge lies in the fact that Christian workers, clergy and laity alike, are few. The nation has experienced tremendous ideological confusion. The communist philosophy proved inadequate in bringing transformation to the Armenian people. It followed the Armenian genocide experience and further obscured the ability of Armenians to perceive either justice or the love of God. The current ideological vacuum, which has been created by the seventy-year communist failure, as well as the nation's alienation from its Christian roots and beliefs, is a major concern for Armenian Christianity today. A massive sectarian movement throughout the country should sound an alarm for us as Christians, challenging us to engage in educating and training the current generation for revitalization and renewal of the national church. Although persecuted and suffered, the church of Armenia, perhaps unknown and unheard by most Christians in the world, has a faithful remnant which needs protection and strengthening.



[1] V. H. Hambartsoumian, A. P. Simonian, and M. V. Arzumanian, eds., Encyclopedia of Soviet Armenia, Vols. 3 and 11 (Yerevan, Armenia: Academy of Science, 1977 and 1985), 644-645, 703.
[2] See Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 1/3. 33 (90-95). He writes, "After this the ark rested on the top of a certain mountain in Armenia; which, when Noah understood, he opened it; and seeing a small piece of land about it . . . the Armenians call this place Apobaterion: The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day. Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean; when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: - 'It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischief.' Heronymus the Egyptian, also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them, where he speaks thus:-'There is a great mountain, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved.'" See also footnotes on pages 34-35 where the word Apobaterion  is denoted. "This Apobaterion, or Place of Descendent, is the proper rendering of the Armenian name of this very city. It is called in Ptolemy Naxuana, and by Moses Chorenensis, the Armenian historian, Idsheuan; but at the place itself, Nachidsheuan, which signifies The first place of descent: and is a lasting monument to the preservation of Noah in the ark, upon the top of that mountain, at whose foot it was built, as the first city or town after the Flood."
[3] See Jeremiah 51:27 where the prophet speaks against Babylon and says: "Raise a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations; prepare the nations for war against her, summon against her the kingdoms, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her, bring up horses like bristling locusts."
[4] Moses Khorenats'i, History of the Armenians, trans. and comm. Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 113-128, 145-158, the historian tells about Armenian kings Tigran the Great, Arshak, the middle Tigran, and others during the constant wars and conflicts with the Roman Empire.
[5] See Agatangeghos, Պատմություն Հայոց (History of the Armenians), trans. and comm. Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976).
[6] See Elishe, History of Vartan and the Armenian War, trans. and comm. Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).
[7] Ghevond, Պատմություն (History), trans. and comm. Aram Ter-Ghevondian (Yerevan, Armenia: Sovetakan Grogh, 1982), 29-31.