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Did you know the Armenian Church has two kinds of members?
Communicant Member: all men, women, and children baptized in the Armenian Church – this means they have full access to the sacramental life of the church. After Baptism and Chrismation they thrive in the life of the church through participation in all the other sacraments; namely, Penance, Communion, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick. The sacraments guide us in our life-long journey toward Christ.
Voting Member : special kind of communicant member. Through the nominal annual donation, a voting member gains additional rights and privileges. Specifically, voting members are able to:
a. Participate fully and vote in the Parish Assemblies;
b. Hold elected office within parish administration or special committees;
c. Enjoy special discounts and courtesies for sacramental celebrations and facility rentals (weddings, baptism, funerals, etc.);
d. Draft and Vote on proposals that influence our parish and the Diocese.
If you would like to get involved contact the church for more details.
Here’s how you can help:
Become an Alter Server or Choir Member.
Volunteers are needed to serve as deacons and to help our priest during the Holy Liturgy. Become a Sunday School or Armenian School teacher. Volunteer to work on a parish newsletter, or take photos and videos of key events at the church.
We also need help with cleaning, cooking, serving food at picnics, dances, coffee hours and lunches, maintenance of the building, lawn care and much more! Bring your friends to celebrate Holy Liturgy together and help grow our community.
You can also become a steward to the church.
Fill out the stewardship form and email it to email@example.com or hand it to any parish council member:
Our parish welcomes any new ideas and contribution to our community in any form.
Mission of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church
The Mission of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church is to preach the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to proclaim its message of Salvation. This mission is realized through worship, education, witness, service, and a common life in Jesus Christ as expressed in the distinctive faith – experience of the Armenian people. All members of the Armenian Church (both clergy and lay) are called to participate fully in its mission.
The First Christian Nation In The World
Everyone Prays at Holy Etchmiadzin(History)
Christmas in the Armenian Church
I. Reign of Abgar; Armenia becomes completely tributary to the Romans; war with Herod’s troops; his brother’s son, Joseph, is killed.
Abgar, son of Archam, ascends the throne in the twentieth year of Archavir, king of the Persians. This Abgar was called Avak-air (great man), on account of his great gentleness and wisdom, and also on account of his size. Not being able to pronounce well, the Greeks and the Syrians called him Abgar. In the second year of his reign, all the districts of Armenia become tributary to the Romans. A command is given by the Emperor Augustus, as we are told in the Gospel of St. Luke, to number all the people in every part. Roman commissioners, sent for that purpose into Armenia, carried there the statue of the Emperor Augustus, and set it up in all the temples. At this very time, our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world.
At the same period there was trouble between Abgar and Herod: for Herod wished that his statue should be erected near to that of Cæsar in the temples of Armenia. Abgar withstood this claim. Moreover, Herod was but seeking a pretext to attack Abgar: he sent an army of Thracians and Germans to make an incursion into the country of the Persians, with orders to pass through the territories of Abgar. But Abgar, far from submitting to this, resisted, saying that the emperor’s command was to march the troops into Persia through the desert. Herod, indignant, and unable to act by himself, overwhelmed with troubles, as a punishment for his wicked conduct towards Christ, as Josephus relates, sent his nephew to whom he had given his daughter, who had been married in the first instance to Phéror, his brother. Herod’s lieutenant, at the head of a considerable army, hastened to reach Mesopotamia, met Abgar at the camp in the province of Pouknan, fell in the combat, and his troops were put to flight. Soon afterwards, Herod died: Archelaus, his son, was appointed by Augustus ethnarch of Judæa.
A little while afterwards, Augustus dies, and Tiberius becomes emperor of the Romans in his stead. Germanicus, having become Cæsar, dragging in his train the princes of the kingdom of Archavir and of Abgar, celebrates a triumph in respect of the war waged with them, in which these princes had killed Herod’s nephew. Abgar, indignant, forms plans of revolt and prepares himself for combat. He builds a town on the ground occupied by the Armenian army of observation, where previously the Euphrates had been defended against the attempts of Cassius: this new town is called Edessa. Abgar removed to it his court, which was at Medzpine, all his gods, Naboc, Bel, Patnicagh, and Tarata, the books of the schools attached to the temples, and even the royal archives.
After this, Archavir being dead, Ardachès, his son, reigns over the Persians. Though it is not in the order of the history with respect to time, nor even the order according to which we have begun these annals, yet, as we are treating of descendants of the king Archavir, even of the blood of Ardachès his son, we will, to do honour to these princes, place them, by anticipating the time, near to Ardachès, in order that the reader may know that they are of the same race, of the race of the brave Archag; then we will indicate the time of the arrival of their fathers in Armenia, the Garenians and the Sourenians, from whom St. Gregory and the Gamsarians are descended, when, following the order of events, we come to the reign of the king under whom they appeared.
III. Abgar comes into the East, maintains Ardachès upon the throne of Persia; reconciles his brothers from whom our illuminator and his relations are descended.
Abgar, having gone to the East, finds on the throne of Persia Ardachès, son of Archavir, and the brothers of Ardachès contending against him: for this prince thought to reign over them in his posterity, and they would not consent to it. Ardachès therefore hems them in on all sides, hangs the sword of death over their heads; distractions and dissension were between their troops and their other relations and allies: for King Archavir had three sons and one daughter; the first of these sons was King Ardachès himself, the second Garene, the third Sourene; their sister, named Gochm, was wife of the general of all the Ariks, a general chosen by their father Archavir.
Abgar prevails on the sons of Archavir to make peace; he arranges between them the conditions and stipulations: Ardachès is to reign with his posterity as he proposed, and his brothers are to be called Bahlav, from the name of their town and their vast and fertile country, so that their satrapies shall be the first, higher in rank than all the satrapies of Persia, as being truly a race of kings. Treaties and oaths stipulated that in case of the extinction of male children of Ardachès, his brothers should come to the throne; after the reigning race of Ardachès, his brothers are divided into three races named thus: the race of Garene Bahlav, the race of Sourene Bahlav, and the race of their sister, the race of Asbahabied Bahlav, a race thus called from the name of the domain of her husband.
St. Gregory is said to have sprung from the race Sourene Bahlav, and the Gamsarians from the race Garene Bahlav. We will relate in the sequel the circumstances of the coming of these personages, only mentioning their names here in connection with Ardachès, in order that you may know that these great races are indeed the blood of Vagharchag, that is to say, the posterity of the great Archag, brother of Vagharchag.
Everything being thus arranged, Abgar takes with him the letter of the treaties, and returns to his dominions; not in perfect health, but a prey to severe suffering.
When Abgar had returned from the East, he learned that the Romans suspected him of having gone there to raise troops. He therefore made the Roman commissioners acquainted with the reasons of his journey to Persia, as well as the treaty concluded between Ardachès and his brothers; but no credence was given to his statement: for he was accused by his enemiesPilate, Herod the tetrarch, Lysanias and Philip. Abgar having returned to his city Edessa leagued himself with Aretas, king of Petra, and gave him some auxiliary troops under the command of Khosran Ardzrouni, to make war upon Herod. Herod had in the first instance married the daughter of Aretas, then had repudiated her, and thereupon taken Herodias, even in her husband’s lifetime, a circumstance in connection with which he had had John the Baptist put to death. Consequently there was war between Herod and Aretas on account of the wrong done the daughter of Aretas. Being sharply attacked, Herod’s troops were defeated, thanks to the help of the brave Armenians; as if, by divine providence, vengeance was taken for the death of John the Baptist.
V. Abgar sends princes to Marinus; these deputies see our Saviour Christ; beginning of the conversion of Abgar.
At this period Marinus, son of Storoge, was raised by the emperor to the government of Phœnicia, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Abgar sent to him two of his principal officers, Mar-Ihap prince of Aghtznik, and Chamchacram chief of the house of the Abahouni, as well as Anan his confidant. The envoys proceed to the town of Petkoupine to make known to Marinus the reasons of Abgar’s journey to the East, showing him the treaty concluded between Ardachès and his brothers, and at the same time to call upon Marinus for his support. The deputies found the Roman governor at Eleutheropolis; he received them with friendship and distinction, and gave this answer to Abgar: Fear nothing from the emperor on that account, provided you take good care to pay the tribute regularly.
On their return, the Armenian deputies went to Jerusalem to see our Saviour the Christ, being attracted by the report of His miracles. Having themselves become eye-witnesses of these wonders, they related them to Abgar. This prince, seized with admiration, believed truly that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, and said: These wonders are not those of a man, but of a God. No, there is no one among men who can raise the dead: God alone has this power. Abgar felt in his whole body certain acute pains which he had got in Persia, more than seven years before; from men he had received no remedy for his sufferings; Abgar sent a letter of entreaty to Jesus: he prayed Him to come and cure him of his pains. Here is this letter:—
I have heard of You, and of the cures wrought by Your hands, without remedies, without herbs: for, as it is said, You make the blind to see, the lame to walk, the lepers to be healed; You drive out unclean spirits, You cure unhappy beings afflicted with prolonged and inveterate diseases; You even raise the dead. As I have heard of all these wonders wrought by You, I have concluded from them either that You are God, come down from heaven to do such great things, or that You are the Son of God, working as You do these miracles. Therefore have I written to You, praying You to condescend to come to me and cure me of the complaints with which I am afflicted. I have heard also that the Jews murmur against You and wish to deliver You up to torments: I have a city small but pleasant, it would be sufficient for us both.
The messengers, the bearers of this letter, met Jesus at Jerusalem, a fact confirmed by these words of the Gospel: Some from among the heathen came to find Jesus, but those who heard them, not daring to tell Jesus what they had heard, told it to Philip and Andrew, who repeated it all to their Master.
VII. Answer to Abgar’s letter, which the apostle Thomas wrote to this prince by command of the Saviour.
Blessed is he who believes in me without having seen me! For it is written of me: ‘Those who see me will not believe in me, and those who do not see me will believe and live.’ As to what you have written asking me to come to you, I must accomplish here all that for which I have been sent; and, when I shall have accomplished it all, I shall ascend to Him who sent me; and when I shall go away I will send one of my disciples, who will cure your diseases, and give life to you and to all those who are with you. Anan, Abgar’s courier, brought him this letter, as well as the portrait of the Saviour, a picture which is still to be found at this day in the city of Edessa.
After the ascension of our Saviour, the Apostle Thomas, one of the twelve, sent one of the seventy-six disciples, Thaddæus, to the city of Edessa to heal Abgar and to preach the Gospel, according to the word of the Lord. Thaddæus came to the house of Tobias, a Jewish prince, who is said to have been of the race of the Pacradouni. Tobias, having left Archam, did not abjure Judaism with the rest of his relatives, but followed its laws up to the moment when he believed in Christ. Soon the name of Thaddæus spreads through the whole town. Abgar, on learning of his arrival, said: This is indeed he concerning whom Jesus wrote to me; and immediately Abgar sent for the apostle. When Thaddæus entered, a marvellous appearance presented itself to the eyes of Abgar in the countenance of the apostle; the king having risen from his throne, fell on his face to the earth, and prostrated himself before Thaddæus. This spectacle greatly surprised all the princes who were present, for they were ignorant of the fact of the vision. Are you really, said Abgar to Thaddæus, are you the disciple of the ever-blessed Jesus? Are you he whom He promised to send to me, and can you heal my maladies? Yes, answered Thaddæus; if you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the desires of your heart shall be granted. I have believed in Jesus, said Abgar, I have believed in His Father; therefore I wished to go at the head of my troops to destroy the Jews who have crucified Jesus, had I not been prevented by reason of the power of the Romans.
Thenceforth Thaddæus began to preach the Gospel to the king and his town; laying his hands upon Abgar, he cured him; he cured also a man with gout, Abdu, a prince of the town, much honoured in all the king’s house. He also healed all the sick and infirm people in the town, and all believed in Jesus Christ. Abgar was baptized, and all the town with him, and the temples of the false gods were closed, and all the statues of idols that were placed on the altars and columns were hidden by being covered with reeds. Abgar did not compel any one to embrace the faith yet from day to day the number of the believers was multiplied.
The Apostle Thaddæus baptizes a manufacturer of silk head-dresses, called Attæus, consecrates him, appoints him to minister at Edessa, and leaves him with the king instead of himself. Thaddæus, after having received letters patent from Abgar, who wished that all should listen to the Gospel of Christ, went to find Sanadroug, son of Abgar’s sister, whom this prince had appointed over the country and over the army. Abgar was pleased to write to the Emperor Tiberius a letter in these words:—
I know that nothing is unknown to your Majesty, but, as your friend, I would make you better acquainted with the facts by writing. The Jews who dwell in the cantons of Palestine have crucified Jesus: Jesus without sin, Jesus after so many acts of kindness, so many wonders and miracles wrought for their good, even to the raising of the dead. Be assured that these are not the effects of the power of a simple mortal, but of God. During the time that they were crucifying Him, the sun was darkened, the earth was moved, shaken; Jesus Himself, three days afterwards, rose from the dead and appeared to many. Now, everywhere, His name alone, invoked by His disciples, produces the greatest miracles: what has happened to myself is the most evident proof of it. Your august Majesty knows henceforth what ought to be done in future with respect to the Jewish nation, which has committed this crime; your Majesty knowswhether a command should not be published through the whole universe to worship Christ as the true God. Safety and health.
Your kind letter has been read to me, and I wish that thanks should be given to you from me. Though we had already heard several persons relate these facts, Pilate has officially informed us of the miracles of Jesus. He has certified to us that after His resurrection from the dead He was acknowledged by many to be God. Therefore I myself also wished to do what you propose; but, as it is the custom of the Romans not to admit a god merely by the command of the sovereign, but only when the admission has been discussed and examined in full senate, I proposed the affair to the senate, and they rejected it with contempt, doubtless because it had not been considered by them first. But we have commanded all those whom Jesus suits, to receive him among the gods. We have threatened with death any one who shall speak evil of the Christians. As to the Jewish nation which has dared to crucify Jesus, who, as I hear, far from deserving the cross and death, was worthy of honour, worthy of the adoration of men— when I am free from the war with rebellious Spain, I will examine into the matter, and will treat the Jews as they deserve.
I have received the letter written from your august Majesty, and I have applauded the commands which have emanated from your wisdom. If you will not be angry with me, I will say that the conduct of the senate is extremely ridiculous and absurd: for, according to the senators, it is after the examination and by the suffrages of men that divinity may be ascribed. Thus, then, if God does not suit man, He cannot be God, since God is to be judged and justified by man. It will no doubt seem just to my lord and master to send another governor to Jerusalem in the place of Pilate, who ought to be ignominiously driven from the powerful post in which you placed him; for he has done the will of the Jews: he has crucified Christ unjustly, without your order. That you may enjoy health is my desire.
Abgar, king of the Armenians, to my son Nerseh, greeting:—
I have received your letter and acknowledgments. I have released Beroze from his chains, and have pardoned his offenses: if this pleases you, give him the government of Nineveh. But as to what you write to me about sending you the physician who works miracles and preaches another God superior to fire and water, that you may see and hear him, I say to you: he was not a physician according to the art of men; he was a disciple of the Son of God, Creator of fire and water: he has been appointed and sent to the countries of Armenia. But one of his principal companions, named Simon, is sent into the countries of Persia. Seek for him, and you will hear him, you as well as your father Ardachès. He will heal all your diseases and will show you the way of life.
Abgar wrote also to Ardachès, king of the Persians, the following letter:—
Abgar, king of the Armenians, to Ardachès my brother, king of the Persians, greeting:—
I know that you have heard of Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom the Jews have crucified, Jesus who was raised from the dead, and has sent His disciples through all the world to instruct men. One of His chief disciples, named Simon, is in your Majesty’s territories. Seek for him, and you will find him, and he will cure you of all your maladies, and will show you the way of life, and you will believe in his words, you, and your brothers, and all those who willingly obey you. It is very pleasant to me to think that my relations in the flesh will be also my relations, my friends, in the spirit.
Abgar had not yet received answers to these letters when he died, having reigned thirty-eight years.
After the death of Abgar, the kingdom of Armenia was divided between two: Ananoun, Abgar’s son, reigned at Edessa, and his sister’s son, Sanadroug, in Armenia. What took place in their time has been previously told by others: the apostle’s arrival in Armenia, the conversion of Sanadroug and his apostasy for fear of the Armenian satraps, and the martyrdom of the apostle and his companions in the canton of Chavarchan, now called Ardaz, and the stone opening to receive the body of the apostle, and the removal of this body by his disciples, his burial in the plain, and the martyrdom of the king’s daughter, Santoukhd, near the road, and the apparition of the remains of the two saints, and their removal to the rocks— all circumstances related by others, as we have said, a long time before us: we have not thought it important to repeat them here. In the same way also what is related of the martyrdom atEdessa of Attæus, a disciple of the apostle, a martyrdom ordered by Abgar’s son, has been told by others before us.
The prince who reigned after the death of his father, did not inherit his father’s virtues: he opened the temples of the idols, and embraced the religion of the heathen. He sent word to Attæus: Make me a head-dress of cloth interwoven with gold, like those you formerly used to make for my father. He received this answer from Attæus: My hands shall not make a head-dress for an unworthy prince, who does not worship Christ the living God.
Immediately the king ordered one of his armed men to cut off Attæus’ feet. The soldier went, and, seeing the holy man seated in the chair of the teacher, cut off his legs with his sword, and immediately the saint gave up the ghost. We mention this cursorily, as a fact related by others a long while ago. There came then into Armenia the Apostle Bartholomew, who sufferedmartyrdom among us in the town of Arepan. As to Simon, who was sent unto Persia, I cannot relate with certainty what he did, nor where he suffered martyrdom. It is said that one Simon, an apostle, was martyred at Veriospore. Is this true, or why did the saint come to this place? I do not know; I have only mentioned this circumstance that you may know I spare no pains to tell you all that is necessary.
Sanadroug, being on the throne, raises troops with the help of the brave Pacradouni and Ardzrouni, who had exalted him, and goes to wage war upon the children of Abgar, to make him self master of the whole kingdom. Whilst Sanadroug was occupied with these affairs, as if by an effect of divine providence vengeance was taken for the death of Attæus; for a marble column which the son of Abgar was having erected at Edessa, on the summit of his palace, while he was underneath to direct the work, escaped from the hands of the workmen, fell upon him and crushed his feet.
Immediately there came a message from the inhabitants of the town, asking Sanadroug for a treaty by which he should engage not to disturb them in the exercise of the Christian religion, in consideration of which, they would give up the town and the king’s treasures. Sanadroug promised, but in the end violated his oath. Sanadroug put all the children of the house of Abgarto the edge of the sword, with the exception of the daughters, whom he withdrew from the town to place them in the canton of Hachdiank. As to the first of Abgar’s wives, named Helena, he sent her to his town at Kharan, and left to her the sovereignty of the whole of Mesopotamia, in remembrance of the benefits he had received from Abgar by Helena’s means.
Helena, pious like her husband Abgar, did not wish to live in the midst of idolaters; she went away to Jerusalem in the time of Claudius, during the famine which Agabus had predicted; with all her treasures she bought in Egypt an immense quantity of grain, which she distributed among the poor, a fact to which Josephus testifies. Helena’s tomb, a truly remarkable one, is still to be seen before the gate of Jerusalem.
Of all Sanadroug’s doings and actions, we judge none worthy of remembrance except the building of the town of Medzpine; for, this town having been shaken by an earthquake, Sanadroug pulled it down, rebuilt it more magnificently, and surrounded it with double walls and ramparts. Sanadroug caused to be erected in the middle of the town his statue holding in his hand a single piece of money, which signifies: All my treasures have been used in building the town, and no more than this single piece of money is left to me.
But why was this prince called Sanadroug? We will tell you: Because Abgar’s sister, Otæa, while travelling in Armenia in the winter, was assailed by a whirlwind of snow in the Gortouk mountains; the tempest separated them all, so that none of them knew where his companion had been driven. The prince’s nurse, Sanod, sister of Piourad Pacradouni, wife of Khosran Ardzrouni, having taken the royal infant, for Sanadroug was still in the cradle, laid him upon her bosom, and remained with him under the snow three days and three nights. Legend has taken possession of this circumstance: it relates that an animal, a new species, wonderful, of great whiteness, sent by the gods, guarded the child. But so far as we have been informed, this is the fact: a white dog, which was among the men sent in search, found the child and his nurse; the prince was therefore called Sanadroug, a name taken from his nurse’s name (and from the Armenian name, dourk, a gift), as if to signify the gift of Sanod.
Sanadroug, having ascended the throne in the twelfth year of Ardachès, king of the Persians, and having lived thirty years, died as he was hunting, from an arrow which pierced his bowels, as if in punishment of the torments which he had made his holy daughter suffer. Gheroupna, son of the scribe Apchatar, collected all these facts, happening in the time of Abgar and Sanadroug, and placed them in the archives of Edessa.
43-68 – Introduction of Christianity into Armenia, by Apostles St. Thaddaeus and St. Bartholomew
110 – Persecution of the Christians in Armenia, by King Sanadroog
240 – Persecution of the Christians in Armenia, by King Kosrov II
250 – Letter from Bishop of Alexandria to the Bishop of Armenia Meroojan
287 – Persecution of the Christians in Armenia, by King Tiridates III (Trdat III)
301 – Martyrdom of the Forty Virgins. – Conversion of king Tiridates III and proclamation of Christianity as state religion. – Ordination of St. Gregory the Illuminator as a Bishopand and Catolicos of Armenia
302 – Founding of St. Echmiadzin
315 – Conversion of the Georgians and Caspian Albanians
325 – First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea – Bishop Aristages participated in the meeting from Armenia
354 – The council of Ashdishad
355 – Armenian Monastic Movement
381 – Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople
387 – Division of Armenia between Byzantine and Persia
406 – Invention of the Armenian Alphabet
431 – Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus
435 – Translation of the Holy Bible
451 – Battle of Vartanantz. – Council of Chalcedon
482 – Edict of Emporer Zeno
508 – Rejection of the Council of Chalcedon by the Armenian Church
554 – Rejection of the council of Chalcedon and the Three Chapters
582 – Adoption of new calendar by the Armenian Church
590 – Establishment of an anti-See in Western Armenia, by the Byzantine Empire
607 – Seperation of the Georgian Church from the Armenian Church. – The Council of Bardav
628 – Communion between Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and Catholicos Yezr
640 – Occupation of Armenia by the Arabs
703 – Massacre of the nakharars in Nakhichevan
885 – Establishment of the Bagradite Kindom
915 – Holy Cross cathedral built on island Ahgthamar
1045 – Fall of the Bagradite Kingdom
1064 – Ani, capital of Armenia, sacked and burned by Seljuqs
1113 – Archbishop David declares himself head of the Armenian Church. – General Council on “Black Mountains” condemns and excommunicates him and his See.
1165 – Ecumenical dialogue between the Orthodox and the Armenian Church
1200 – The Establishment of the Brotherhood of St. James
1292 – The fall of the Armenian Holy See, at Hromgla
1307 – The Council of Sis
1316 – The Council of Adana
1375 – Fall of the Cilician Kingdom
1400 – St. Gregory of Datev completes his systematized theology of the Armenian Church
1441 – The Catholicossal See is reestablished in St. Echmiadzin
1461 – Sultan Mouhamed II establishes the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople
1512 – Hagop The Sinner publishes the first Armenian book
1666 – The Armenian Bible is published in Amsterdam
1717 – Mkhitar of Sebastia establishes the Mkhitarist Brotherhood in Venice
1794-96 – The First Armenian newsletter is published in Madras, India
1805 – The Bible translated into Armenian by the Mkkhitarists
1863 – The Armenian Costitution is proclaimed in Ottaman Empire
1894-96 – The Hamidian Massacres claim 300,000 Armenians
1903 – Tsarist Russia tries to capture the Armenian churches in Armenia
1909 – The Massacres of Adana claim 30,000 Armenians
1915 – The Ottomans systematically massacre 1.5 million Armenians
1918 – The Armenian Republic is is established in Armenian
1921 – The Soviet Armenian Republic is established
1988 – Arstakh movement in Armenia. – A huge earthquake devastates northeastern Armenia
1991 – Armenia re-establishes her independence.
1994 – Catholicos Vazgen I passes away in Yerevan.
1995 – Election and Consecration of H.H. Karekin I, Catholicos of all Armenians
1995 – Election and Consecration of H.H. Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia
1999 – H.H. Karekin I, Catholicos of all Armenians passes away in Yerevan (June 29)
1999 – H.H. Karekin II Nersissian was elected the 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians (October 27)
2001 – Celebration of 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia.
Brief History of Armenia
Ancient Land At Grips With Adversity
The present-day Republic of Armenia occupies but a fraction of the ancient Armenia, which extended from the lesser Caucasus Mountains south across the Armenian plateau to the Taurus Mountains. Frequent earthquakes still remind us that the land lies near the great geological fault between the Asian and African subcontinent plates. The Armenian plateau is a highland which rises directly above its surrounding regions. Geography undoubtedly played a key role in the history and culture of Armenia. Forming an important coin of vantage and a highway of great value for trade and commerce between Asia and Europe, Armenia it seems was destined to be at grips with adversity. The land with its untold riches and its strategic position of primary import, stirred the ambitions of many “superpowers” of the region. For a succession of centuries, the Armenians were in constant warfare with invaders and conquerors – Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Parthians, Arabs and Turks – who rolled over their homeland, although certainly not without meeting the most stubborn resistance. Throughout these turbulent centuries, the Armenians successfully asserted their historical identity and upheld their national heritage against great odds. Although on occasions overpowered by superior forces and reduced to the status of vassals, they nevertheless enjoyed a semblance of national autonomy. Yet, the very vicissitudes that troubled its existence contributed to the creation of a varied and original culture, held together by the constants of social, intellectual and religious institutions.
Origins Of The Armenian Nation
Armenian tradition has preserved several legends concerning the origin of the Armenian nation. The most important of these tells of Hayk, the eponymous hero of the Armenians who called them- selves Hay and their country Hayk’ or Hayastan. The historian of the 5th century, Movses Khorenatsi, also relates at some length the valiant deeds of Aram whose fame extended far beyond the limits of his country. Consequently, the neighboring nations called the people Armens or Armenians. Archeology has extended the prehistory of Armenia to the Acheulian age (500,000 years ago), when hunting and gathering peoples crossed the lands in pursuit of migrating herds. The first period of prosperity was enjoyed by inhabitants of the Armenian upland in the third millennium B.C. These people were among the first to forge bronze, invent the wheel, and cultivate grapes. The first written records to mention the inhabitants of Armenia come from hieroglyphs of the Hittite Kingdom, inscribed from 1388 to 1347 B.C., in Asia Minor. The earliest inscription to be found directly upon Armenian lands, carved in 1114 B.C. by the Assyrians, describes a coalition of kings of the central Armenian region referring to them as “the people of Nairi.”
Urartu, The First Armenian Kingdom
By the 9th century B.C., a confederation of local tribes flourished as the unified state of Urartu. It grew to become one of the strongest kingdoms in the Near East and constituted a formidable rival to Assyria for supremacy in the region. The Urartians produced and exported wares of ceramic, stone and metal, building fortresses, temples, palaces and other large public works. One of their irrigation canals is still used today in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital – a city which stands upon the ancient Urartian fortress of Erebuni.
In the 6th century Urartu fell to the Medes, but not long after, the Persian conquest of the Medes, led by Cyrus the Great, displaced them. Persia ruled over Armenia from the 6th century until the 4th century B.C. Its culture and Zoroastrian religion greatly influenced the spiritual life of the Armenian people who absorbed features of Zoroastrianism into their polytheistic and animistic indigenous beliefs. As part of the Persian Empire, Armenia was divided into provinces called satrapies, each with a local governing satrap (viceroy) supervised by a Persian. The Armenians paid heavy tribute to the Persians, who continually requisitioned silver, rugs, horses and military supplies. The governing satraps of Armenia’s royal Orontid family governed the country for some 200 years, while Asia became acquainted with invading Greeks from the west.
With the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 331 B.C., the Greeks appointed a new satrap, an Orontid named Mithranes, to govern Armenia. The Greek Empire, which stretched across Asia and Europe, was one in which cities rapidly grew, spreading Hellenistic architecture, religion and philosophies. Armenian culture absorbed Greek influences as well. As centers at the crossroads of trade routes connecting China, India and Central Asia with the Mediterranean, Armenian cities thrived on economic exchange. The Greeks also infused Armenia’s version of Zoroastrianism with facets of their religious beliefs. After Alexander’s sudden death in 323 B.C., the partitioning of his empire and warring among his generals led to the emergence of three Greek kingdoms. Despite pressure from the Seleucid monarchy, one of the Greek kingdoms, the Orontids, continued to retain control over the largest of three kingdoms into which Armenia itself had been divided: Greater Armenia, Lesser Armenia and Sophene.
The Renaissance Of Armenia, Tigran The Great
Seleucid’s influence over Armenia finally dissolved when, in the second century B.C., a local general named Artaxias (Artashes) declared himself King of Greater Armenia and founded a new dynasty in 189 B.C. Artaxias expanded his territory by defining the borders of his land and unifying the Armenian people.
The “renaissance of Armenia” was accomplished during the reign of Tigran the Great (95-99 B.C.), who proclaimed himself “King of Kings.” Under Tigran II, Armenia grew to a great degree of military strength and political influence. According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, the Roman general Lucullos said of this king, “In Armenia, Tigran is seated surrounded with that power which has wrested Asia from the Parthians, which carries Greek colonies into Media, subdues Syria and Palestine and cuts off the Seleucids.” And Cicero, the Roman orator and politician, adds, “He made the Republic of Rome tremble before the powers of his arms.” Armenia’s borders extended from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
The Arsacid Dynasty
Tigran’s victories were however, destined to hasten his downfall, which occurred in 66 B.C. His son, King Artavazd II, governed Greater Armenia for 20 years until Anthony and Cleopatra had him brought to Egypt in chains. Artavazd refused to name Cleopatra as his queen and was executed. By 64 A.D. the new Arsacid dynasty, a branch of the Parthian Arsacids, came to power, and the country as a whole soon became a buffer zone over which the Romans and Parthians fought for domination. In order that we may realize the real implications of the history of Armenia and grasp the soul of this people, we must turn our gaze upon the beginning of the 4th century, which was momentous in its consequences for the growth of the nation.
The First Christian State In The World
One of the most crucial events in Armenian history was the conversion to Christianity. By adopting the new religion, Armenia established a distinct Christian character of its own and, at times, became identified with the Western world. King Tiridates III (Trdat), having been converted by Gregory the Illuminator, proclaimed Christianity as the religion of the state in 301 A.D. Thus, Armenia became the first nation to embrace Christianity officially. This was 12 years before the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan which declared tolerance of Christians in the Roman Empire. Gregory the Illuminator, later canonized, was elected Catholicos of the new Armenian national Church, the first in a long line of such clergy to be elected supreme head of the Armenian Church. The creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 A.D. solidified the unifying factor of the Armenian language for the divided nation. Mesrop Mashtots, a scholar and clergyman, shaped the thirty six (three characters were added later) letters that distinguished Armenia, linguistically and liturgically, from the powers surrounding it. The alphabet representing the many distinct consonants of Armenian has remained unchanged for 1600 years.
Battle For Faith
The conversion to Christianity was inevitably to bring in its wake complications of a political nature and to arouse grave anxieties in neighboring Persia. The Sassanian Persians took advantage of Armenia’s inner weakness and launched a campaign to stamp out Christianity there and replace it with Mazdaism. Under this common threat, the princes, nobility and the people of Armenia rallied, and in 451 under the leadership of the Commander-in-Chief (sparapet) Vardan Mamikonian the Armenians heroically faced the Persians at Avarayr in defense of their faith and national heritage. Heavily outnumbered, they were defeated; Vardan Mamikonian and many valiant men fell fighting. But guerrilla warfare continued in the mountainous regions. Vahan Mamikonian, a nephew of Vardan, continued the struggle. This time the Persians, realizing the futility of their policy, were obliged to come to terms with the Armenians. Freedom of religious worship was restored with the Treaty of Nvarsag.
The Bagratid Dynasty
In the 7th century, the mighty Arabs stormed into Armenia and conquered the country. Beginning from the 9th century, Armenia enjoyed a brilliant period of independence when the powerful Bagratid Dynasty asserted political authority. Resumption of international trade brought prosperity and the revival of artistic and literary pursuits. The capital of Ani grew to a population of about 100,000, more than any urban center in Europe. Religious life flourished and Ani became known as the “city of one thousand and one churches.” In the middle of the 11th century, most of Armenia had been annexed by Byzantium.
The Cilician Kingdom Of Armenia
The destruction of the Bagratid Kingdom was completed by raids of new invaders, Seljuk Turks from Central Asia. With little resistance from weakened Byzantium, the Seljuk Turks spread into Asia Minor as well as the Armenian highlands. This invasion compelled a large number of Armenians to move south, toward the Taurus Mountains close to the Mediterranean Sea, where in 1080 they founded, under the leadership of Ruben (Rubenid dynasty), the Kingdom of Cilicia or Lesser Armenia. Close contacts with the Crusaders and with Europe led to absorbing Western European ideas, including its feudal class structure. Cilician Armenia became a country of barons, knights and serfs. The court at Sis adopted European clothes. Latin and French were used alongside Armenian. The Cilician period is regarded as the Golden Age of Armenian Illumination, noted for the lavishness of its decoration and the frequent influence of contemporary western manuscript painting. Their location on the Mediterranean coast soon involved Cilician Armenians in international trade between the interior of Western Asia and Europe. For nearly 300 years, the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia prospered, but in 1375 it fell to the Mamelukes of Egypt. The last monarch, King Levon VI, died at Calais, France in 1393, and his remains were laid to rest at St. Denis (near Paris) among the kings of France.
Persian Rule In Eastern Armenia
While in the 13th century Armenians prospered in the Cilician Kingdom, those living in Greater Armenia witnessed the invasion of the Mongols. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Armenia was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Iran. With the annexation of the Armenian plateau, the Armenians lost all vestiges of an independent political life. The Persian leader Shah Abbas I inaugurated a policy of moving populations of entire Armenian regions to his country to create a no-man’s land in the path of the Ottoman advance, and to bring a skilled merchant and artisan class to his new capital, Isfahan. The Armenian community of New Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, was held by Shah Abbas I in great esteem and became one of the economic bases of the Safavid state. Persians ruled Eastern Armenia until 1828, when it was annexed by Russia. However, it was the Ottoman Turks who governed most of the Armenian land and population (Western Armenia).
Ottoman Empire And The Genocide
During the 19th century, the Armenians living under Ottoman rule suffered from discrimination, heavy taxation and state–allowed armed attacks. As Christians, Armenians lacked legal recourse for injustices. They were taxed beyond their means, forbidden to bear arms in a country where murdering a non-Muslim often went unpunished, and were without the right to testify in court on their own behalf. During the late l9th century, the increasingly reactionary politics of the declining Ottoman Empire and the awakening of the Armenians culminated in a series of massacres throughout the Armenian provinces in 1894-96. Any illusion the Armenians had cherished to the effect that the acquisition of power in 1908 by the Young Turks might bring better days was soon dispelled. For in the spring of 1909, yet another orgy of bloodshed took place in Adana, where 30,000 Armenians lost their lives after a desperate resistance. World War I offered a good opportunity for Ottoman Empire’s Young Turk’s Government to “solve the issue.” In 1915, a secret military directive ordered the arrest and prompt execution of Armenian community leaders. Armenian males serving in the Ottoman army were separated from the rest and slaughtered. The Istanbul government decided to deport the entire Armenian population. Armenians in towns and villages were marched into deserts of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia. During the forced deportation and “relocation” many were flogged to death, bayoneted, buried alive in pits, drowned in rivers, beheaded, raped or abducted into harems. Many simply expired from heat exhaustion and starvation. 1.5 million people perished in this first genocide of the 20th century. Another wave of massacres occurred in Baku (1918). Shushi (1920) and elsewhere.
The First Republic And The Soviet Rule
The defeat of the Ottoman Turks in World War I and the disintegration of the Russian Empire gave the Armenians a chance to declare their independence. On May 28, 1918, the independent Republic of Armenia was established, after the Armenians forced the Turkish troops to withdraw in the battles of Sardarapat, Gharakilisse and Bashabaran. Overwhelming difficulties confronted the infant republic, but amid these conditions the Armenians devoted all their energies to the pressing task of reconstructing their country. But due to pressure exerted simultaneously by the Turks and Communists, the republic collapsed in 1920. Finally, the Soviet Red Army moved into the territory (Eastern Armenia) and on November 29, 1920, declared it a Soviet republic. Armenia was made part of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic in 1922, and in 1936, it became one of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics. In second part of 20th century Armenia flourished economically and culturally, IT and industry sectors were developing. The tumultuous changes occurring throughout the Soviet Union beginning in the 1980’s inevitably had repercussions in Armenia.
In 1988, a movement of support began in Armenia for the constitutional struggle of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh, to exercise their right to self-determination. (This predominantly Armenian populated autonomous region had been placed under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan by a illegal decision of Russian Communist Party influenced by Stalin in 1921.) That same year, in 1988, Armenia was rocked by severe earthquakes that killed thousands, and supplies from both the Soviet Union and the West were blocked by the Azerbaijani Government fighting the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. Both of these issues have dominated Armenia’s political arena since the first democratic election held in Armenia during the Soviet era. In 1990, the Armenian National Movement won a majority of seats in the parliament and formed a government. On September 21, 1991, the Armenian people overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a national referendum, and an independent Armenia came into being.
After the independence Armenia economy was paralyzed, a newly independent state had to resist to aggression of Azerbaijan and blockade of Turkey, give shelter to 400000 Armenians deported from Azerbaijan and also help Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) to defend themselves against Azerbaijan’s policy of ethnic cleansing, large scale military hostilities. With the help of Armenia and Diaspora, Armenians of Karabakh succeeded to win the war, form a buffer zone around Nagorno Karabakh and force Azerbaijan to sign a cease-fire. The peaceful resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh issue remains a top for Armenia’s diplomacy