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Home :: History of Armenia
History of Armenia

City of Sisand the ruins of the citadel capital of Cilicia

The first is the invention of the original alphabet, which has remained unchanged V c. It is rightly considered to be one of the seven oldest and ten most beautiful alphabets of the world. The question of the existence of the Armenian script prior to the invention of the alphabet has not yet been fully investigated by scholars. The creator of the alphabet was the poet, thinker, the first translator and teacher, as well as the founder of the Armenian-language school Mesrop Mashtots (361-440). He created 36 letters, which correspond to the speech sounds pronounced by Armenians. These 36 letters sanctified not only the name of Mesrop Mashtots, but also Sahak Partev and King Vramshapouh. His decree was the most powerful among the innumerable decrees adopted Armenian kings: he ordered that all Armenians read and wrote in their mother tongue. The brilliant translation of the Holy Bible testifies to the advanced culture of the Armenian language and the Armenian people. It was the very door to the world that opened new horizons of self-understanding and self-revelation in Christian history. It was decisive for Armenia as a country designated to take forward the seeds of progress to the West, East, North and South in the centuries that followed.

The second advantage was the autonomy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which, in times of the crisis of the statehood, took upon itself the greatest share of the problems of the State. The great British romantic poet G. Byron wrote, 'To understand Armenians' attitude to the church, one has to be Armenian.'

The third advantage was the concept of a single nation in the whole territory of the Armenian Highland and, as an expression of this worldview, the recording of the nation's history.

In 387, Mets Hayk (Greater Armenia or Armenia Major, the largest part of historic Armenia that emerged as a result of the split-up of the earlier unified state, was carved into 15 administrative units - States or Lands) was divided between Roman Empire (Byzantium) and Persia. The difference in the governing structures of these two states had different effect on the life and destiny of the Armenian nation as well as its world outlook. This left traces on the nation's political and economic orientation. Byzantine Armenia was more organized, less suppressed and more obedient to a Christian ruler. The situation was much more complicated in the Persian part, where in addition to all other problems, there were also huge taxes. In IV-VI c., a series of powerful rebellions shook the rule of Persian oppressors. They culminated in the battle of Avarayr led by Prince Vardan Mamikonyan in 451. The war against the Persians was for the independence of the country, faith and national identity of its people. Although the Persians outnumbered the Armenians, the latter managed to keep them off the border. Shortly afterwards, the flame of rebellion was once again kindled in both parts of Annenia. One of them by amazing coincidence was, as 120 years ago (571), headed by Vardan Mamikonyan the Junior (Red Vardan).

What was the configuration of the Armenian power in Constantinople, the capital of powerful Byzantium? Many Armenians were promoted to state or military ranks. As Paparizopoulos says, 'they were the important elements of brilliant military aristocracy helping to preserve the State.' The famous military commander Narses (Nerses, born in around 480) served in Emperor Justinian's court (527-565). By origin, Nerses was from Persian Armenia and had a chance to demonstrate his military leadership skills in battles against Franks, West Goths, and Allemandes. The first Emperor of Armenian origin was Maurice (Morik, since 582). Armenians invented numerous legends around his name. He was one of the most powerful military commanders and emperors of Byzantium. He established vice-kingdoms in Ravenna and Carthage. He was a great lover of muses, poet and great historian. In 602, he was dethroned by general Phocas (602-610). Before Maurice's eyes Phocas killed his sons, daughters and wife and then Maurice himself. Following this, the Armenian viceroy of Carthage dispatched his son Flavius Heraclius (610-641) to Constantinople to eliminate Phocas. Emperor Heraclius undertook a series of profound reforms and saved Byzantium from political and economic crisis. He is always remembered in the history of the country as one of its most outstanding political leaders. A whole book will not suffice to describe die services rendered by Armenian emperors (14 emperors and 3 empresses) of the strongest empire of the time.

With the accession of Basil 1 the Macedonian (867-886) to the throne, the Macedonian (Armenian) dynasty of the Byzantine Empire was founded. Under his reign, the Code of Justinian was updated and renamed into Basilica. With Basil II (976-1025) Byzantium reached the peak of its power and affluence. Russia accepted Christianity. Vladimir, the Great Prince of Kiev, married Basil II's sister Anna, whereupon many Armenian doctors, architects, builders and goldsmiths came to Russia. Yaroslav the Wise was the son of Princess Anna and Vladimir, and the French Queen Anna Yaroslavna was their granddaughter. In Persia too, there were remarkable politicians, military and tradesmen of Armenian origin.

However, due to the lack of a common mechanism for the Armenian nation's actions, they were unable to harmonize the interests of their country with those of their homeland. Over centuries, the absence of national ideology did become acute. And so is it at present. This may probably account for the gradual fall of the Armenian statehood, which was trying to resolve its problems by means of the inner cpacity only, with no regard whatsoever to the external 'Armenian factor.'
The second millennium was a real nightmare for the land of Annenia. Hardly had the Armenians finished their struggle against one enemy, when they had to confront another. The birth of Islam in V1I-VIII c. and Arab invasions disrupted the more or less regulated relations between the two parts of Armenia and their neighbors. Arab invasions were followed by those of Mongol Tatars and Seljuk Turks. In XIV c., Cilician Armenia, an advanced country of the time, collapsed.

The Armenian State of Cilicia was founded in XI c. and reached the peak of its might during Levon II the Metsagorts (performer of great deeds, 1198-1219). The country had close business ties not only with Armenia proper but also Italy, France, Persia, India, China, Egypt, England, Russia and Spain. In the palaces and cities (Sis, Ayas, Tarson, Adana, Zeytoun, Hatchn, Marash, Urfa) people dressed elegantly, in the 'European' style. Besides Armenian, they also spoke and wrote Latin, Italian and French. Marco Polo testifies that 'here women and men are equal in their rights. I have met them in their homes and cafes, drinking wine, enjoying themselves and making judgments about beauty.' The country produced a rarely fine parchment. More than 800 years ago, the tasteful artisans of Armenia and Cilicia invented the fountain pen and thin, transparent circular leather, which they used over tablecloths or in their stead. Levon VI Lousinian (1374-1375), the last king of Cilicia that died in Paris and is buried in the burial chamber of French kings in Saint Denis Cathedral, is said to have uttered before his death, 'the day will come when Europe will shed salty tears for its failure to support Cilician Armenia.'

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