Aratta – Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BCE

Senior Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Associate Professor at the Department of History at Yerevan State University, Ph.D. in History Artak Movsisyan, in the epilogue to his recently published work “Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BCE (according to written sources)” (Yerevan, 2005), writes:

“In the ‘History of Armenia,’ written in the 1930s, historian Nikolay Adonts, analyzing data from several inscriptions known at that time, stated: ‘The name and fate of Armenia during the Sumerian-Akkadian era remain completely dark for us.'”

Fortunately, in subsequent decades, works were created that shed significant light on the ancient history of our people. Among them are Artak Movsisyan’s own works:

“The Ancient State in Armenia: Aratta” (1992), “The Empire of Pious Kings: A Centennial Empire before Tigranes the Great” (1997), “Sacred Highlands: Armenia in the Ancient Spiritual Perceptions of the Near East” (2000; 2004), “Writing Systems of Domestic Armenia” (2003), “Armenian Hieroglyphics” (2003), etc. “Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BCE (according to written sources)” currently concludes this cycle.

  • Can your latest work be considered a peculiar summary of previous research? What is their fundamental feature?
  • The theory of the Armenian migration to the Armenian Highlands, which gained popularity in the second half of the 19th century and was erroneous in itself, inflicted serious damage on Armenian studies. In particular, many important pieces of information relating to the 3rd-2nd millennia BCE were artificially alienated from our history or interpreted incorrectly. Little has changed even in the 1970s-1980s when moderate criticism of this theory was permitted.

Stereotypical thinking still holds its ground today. In 2004, the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, under the aegis of the government, began working on a 4-volume history of Armenia, and I was asked to write the section “Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BCE (according to written sources).”

Starting work, I unexpectedly discovered for myself that the number of primary source inscriptions exceeds 100, although no more than a dozen are used in scientific circulation…

  • What are these sources?
  • First of all, I will note that primary sources related to the ancient history of Armenia have been found both on the territory of the Armenian Highlands itself and in almost all countries of the Near East with literacy, which testifies to the important role that our country played in the region in ancient times.

The sources themselves can be divided into several main groups: 1) inscriptions contemporary to the events mentioned in them; 2) copies of the most ancient originals; 3) historical compositions created based on texts from preceding epochs; 4) works of historical-artistic nature (especially epic); 5) texts of an economic, administrative, or other nature.

  • In the first chapter of your work, significant attention is paid to chronology. How do you manage to clarify the dates of events from “time immemorial”?
  • Work on the clarification of the chronology of the Ancient East has been conducted for over 100 years. Astronomy plays a very important role here. The centers of ancient literacy always indicated in which year certain celestial phenomena occurred – such as a solar or lunar eclipse, the appearance of comets, which today are quite easily clarified with the help of astronomy.

So, at the end of the first Cuthaean Empire of the Armenian Highlands, it is mentioned that during the coronation of the last king named Tirikan, a lunar eclipse occurred, and 40 days after that his rule fell. A few decades ago, Soviet orientalists turned to the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR to clarify this date, and it turned out that these events occurred in 2109 BCE.

  • Primary sources undoubtedly help you solve a number of historical-geographical and topographical questions, which are connected with the name of our homeland. What are these names, and what is their geography?
  • There are many of them. The known first name, which appears to us as the most ancient state formation, is known in the interfluve sources as Aratta, which was located on the Armenian Highlands and is identified with the Biblical Ararat/Ayrarat.

For historical-geographical clarification, we have precise arguments at our disposal. For example, from Aratta, they sailed down the Euphrates to the Sumerian city-state of Uruk… Aratta in this territory was known as a mountainous country, and from the Armenian Highlands to the Persian Gulf, the Euphrates flows only through the plain, so Aratta must have been located on the Armenian Highlands.

Or, for instance, the road from Sumer to Aratta passes through the Northern Mesopotamia through the regions of Zamua, Hurum, and others, and leads to the southern areas of the Armenian Highlands. There is plenty of information about the country of Armani (a pro-forma name of Armenia) — it is mentioned from the 24th-23rd centuries BCE. There are many details related to the country of Subur/Subartu, which is identified with Armani.

It continued to be mentioned up to the period of the Kingdom of Van. Armani and Arme (or Armi) were so often identified with Subur that even in textbooks, they were written as its compound name Arme-Shubria.

This is common even today: we call our country Ayrarat, Georgians call it Somkheti, the English call it Armenia, etc. In the III millennium BCE, Armenia was called Aratta — the primary form of Ararat, Subur — in a later period — Subartu, Armani, and Kuti (from the ancient name Corduca), and since the residents of Mesopotamia, interacting with Ayrarat, first encountered the region of Corduca, they named the whole country after it.

Aratta was identified with Subur, sometimes written with the ideogram of Subura. And if the name of one country is written with the ideogram of another country, it means that both these names refer to the same country. The identification, on one hand, of Aratta/Subur and on the other hand, Armani/Subur, shows that Aratta, Armani, and Subur are different names for the same country.

Starting from the 26th century BCE, the name Haya (Haya) is also mentioned, and it appears as the name of a tribe, a country, and a mythological deity. Haya was considered the god of wisdom, and according to Mesopotamian mythology, he created the human race from clay in the divine image.

Movses Khorenatsi, referring to Mar Abas Katina, writes that the race of titans first came from the gods, one of whom was Aik Naapet (patriarch Hayk). But which god’s son Aik was, Armenian tradition does not reveal. According to Mesopotamian sources, it becomes clear that Aik, or Aik Naapet, should have been the son of the god Haya (Aya).

The ending “ik,” in addition to being diminutive and endearing, also indicates affiliation. Ayik meant the son of the god-Armenian, the son of the Armenian tribe. In Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual inscriptions, Haya (Aya), Subur, and Armani are equivalent, i.e., ancient names given to Armenia and Armenians — ay, armen, Aratta, Subur — are found from the 26th century BCE onwards. Subsequently, the name Haya continues to be mentioned at the turn of the III-II millennia BCE in Assyrian texts, and later in Hittite sources, Armenia will be renamed Hayasa, then Hayastan.

“Hay” is often the self-designation of Armenia, and later in Persian sources, it is mentioned as Armina; other peoples will call it Armenia, Arminiya, Ermani, Ermanistan, etc. “The Land of Ararat” is a name now mainly used in literary works, but previously it was a historical term.

That is, from the III millennium BCE, we have clear equivalent names for Armenians and Armenia, which once again proves: Armenians as an independent ethnic unit existed already in the III millennium BCE, and Armenia by various peoples and centers of different civilizations was mentioned by those names that have continued to be used to call us for many centuries and are still used today.

  • It is assumed that ancient inscriptions should provide only fragmentary information regarding the political history and geography of the III millennium BCE. How is the historical geography of the Armenian Highlands and neighboring countries outlined in them?
  • It is difficult to give a general answer. It is necessary to specify which era is being discussed. Naturally, political units did not remain constant over millennia. In the 28th-27th centuries of the III millennium, there was a Sumerian state in the south of Mesopotamia, in Central Mesopotamia, there was the country of Uri, which later disappeared, and instead, Akkad appeared; in the north, Aratta — Subur.

The regions to the west of Mesopotamia were known as Amurru or Martu, meaning the “Western” country, and the Mediterranean Sea was called the “Sea of the country Amurru” or the “Great Sea of the West.” To the east of Mesopotamia was the country of Zamua, to the south of Lake Urmia, Elam was also mentioned — now the southwestern regions of Iran. In the 24th-23rd centuries BCE, this geography completely changes.

In Central Mesopotamia, the first mighty Semitic conquest appears — the Akkadian state, which conquers the territory of Sumer and forms the Sumerian-Akkadian kingdom.

An interesting document from this period has reached us, which is conventionally called the geographical text of Sargon’s rule, where a large number of states are presented. Only in the basin of the Euphrates River are mentioned the city-state of Mari, the mountains of Lebanon, an area called Yarimutu, the Silver Mountains (Mountains of Tavros).

Geography changes during the times of Naram-Sin. If the primary sources from the 28th-27th centuries B.C. have a historical-epic character, i.e., historical geography is not detailed in them, then in the texts of the 24th-23rd centuries, the geography of invasions and campaigns is described in detail. Five maps are presented in the monograph.

  • You also touched on the subject of the origin of Armenian statehood.
  • Unfortunately, the primary sources are foreign; they do not allow us to understand the Armenian Highlands from the inside – its governmental structure, economy, etc. Nevertheless, the preserved material allows us to conclude that, for example, in the epoch of Aratta, the country was ruled by a supreme priest – king, the country had its supreme advisory assembly of elders, a chief economic official – manager, tax collectors, overseers are mentioned, which means that the state conducted economic policy.

The states are very similar to ancient Near Eastern city-states. On the Armenian Highlands, regions or principalities, which are called countries in ancient texts, were united in alliances. Today they can be called federations. For example, in the Kuti era, 17 countries were united, which together overthrew the tyrant Naram-Sin and ruled for almost a hundred years over a territory that stretched to the Persian Gulf.

The federation of Nairi states in the II millennium B.C. had the same structure. They were connected both ethnically and spiritually-culturally. And, naturally, they had common interests to fight against foreigners.

Moreover, the Nairi states are mentioned in the II millennium B.C., and at the beginning of the I millennium B.C., in the IX century, when the Kingdom of Van united the federations and formed a single state, its first king, Sarduri I, as evidenced by inscriptions, proclaimed himself the king of the country of Nairi.

  • History falsifiers have become our “inseparable companions.” How do they relate to your research?
  • No one has published any refutations of my works and research yet. Only words of approval were heard on radio and television. My books have also been published in other languages, and not a single line has been printed against them. Only rumors have reached me, to which I do not pay attention.

I have publicly announced: if someone can prove that there was no Aratta in the Armenian Highlands, I invite them to a public discussion. If they can prove this or find even one falsification in my works, I am ready to publicly burn my works. *

by Asmik Gulakyan.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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