Sumerian References to Aratta from V-IV Millennia BC

Sumerian sources suggest the existence of the Aratta state on the territory of Armenia in the V-IV millennia BC. However, the generally accepted date for the creation of Armenia in Armenian historiography is 2492 BC.

According to the “Chronological Table” by Mikael Chamchyan, in that year the Armenian leader Hayk defeated the troops of the Babylonian tyrant Bel in a battle southeast of Lake Van, established the Armenian state, and with his reign began the royal dynasty of Haykazuni.

In the 19th century, a thunderbolt struck the clear sky of ancient Armenian historiography, and not from where one would have expected.

It all started when an unknown German teacher, G. Grotefend (1802), who was not a linguistic specialist, managed to decipher the Old Persian cuneiform. Subsequently, H. Rawlinson, E. Hincks, J. Oppert, and others in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries deciphered other cuneiform systems. This was a real revolution.

Everything got mixed up in the history of the Ancient East. In both literal and figurative senses, previously unknown states, the lives and activities of forgotten peoples and kings, began to emerge from beneath the earth; the front of archaeological excavations expanded.

It was then, in the 19th century, that cuneiform inscriptions were discovered on the territory of Armenia, which at first glance did not differ from Assyrian cuneiform. Reading them was not particularly challenging since the Assyrian cuneiform had already been deciphered.

The Armenian cuneiform was read in the same way as the Assyrians would have been. As a result, a new script emerged with unclear word pronunciations, which, as everyone admitted, sounded somewhat distorted. But this fact didn’t particularly bother anyone.

Perhaps it should have been determined how the natives of Armenia modified the cuneiform script, how certain symbols of the cuneiform codex were pronounced, and what specific changes the Assyrian cuneiform underwent when borrowed. For some reason, no one thought to ask such questions.

Perhaps the ease and rapidity with which the problem was “solved” obscured this concerning fact. By addressing it, many subsequent errors could have been avoided. Due to this oversight, science was left with a concept that dealt with imagined people and a never-existent state.

The “new” language, emerging from the misinterpretation of cuneiform, was named “Urartian,” and the state itself – “Urartu” – a term found only in Assyrian cuneiform referring to a territory in the Armenian Highlands.

Naturally, for the ill-fated “Urartu” to exist, it required territory and a timeframe. This necessitated dismissing the ancient Armenian history of Movses Khorenatsi.

To somehow reconcile these ideas, a theory emerged suggesting that the Armenian people evolved from a conglomerate of Urartian tribes, and Armenia arose as a result of Urartu’s collapse in the 6th century BC.

The historical value of the first part of the “History of Armenia” was rejected as a fabrication, and the information contained therein began to be considered legendary, redirecting its significance more towards literature.

It’s worth noting that historians only started scrutinizing the very name “Urartu” when the artificially erected structure began showing its first, but highly noticeable cracks.

True lightning bolts – harbingers of a storm – flashed over the ill-fated “Urartu” after the great Czech linguist and historian Bedřich Hrozný deciphered the Hittite cuneiform and read the vast royal archives of the Hittite capital, Hattusa.

In these documents, there was a clear and unambiguous account of a state in the Armenian Highlands – Hayasa. At first, this discovery was not given much importance, but then, under the pressure of new facts, it became necessary to find a way out of an apparent absurdity – in the same territory, both Hayasa and “Urartu” had to be located in such a way that they not only “coexisted” without “interfering” with each other, but also so that Hayasa could be considered the successor of “Urartu” and even the cause of its downfall.

A real competition began (by E. Forrer, A. Khachatryan, N. Adonts, Gr. Kapantsyan, and others) in the art of better pinpointing the newly discovered state of Hayasa: sometimes, in line with the Hittite cuneiform, Hayasa had to be placed in High Armenia, sometimes suddenly near the region of Van, which is at the very heart of “Urartu”, and sometimes its borders had to be moved east.

Every localization of Hayasa met some criteria, but none of them could be considered definitive. The avalanche of newly deciphered Hittite documents relentlessly grew, Hayasa appeared here and there, and the chimeric structure of “Urartu” crumbled before our eyes. It seemed there was only one step left to acknowledge that “Urartu”, as well as the “Urartian language” and “Urartians”, existed only in the imaginations of the scholars who conceived it.

But before moving on to the terminal crisis of the “Urartu” concept, it’s important to consider the reasons for this concept’s emergence, its success, and decline. First and foremost, we need to delve into the historical content of the terms Hayasa – Nairi – Urartu – Armenia, an analysis of which has never truly been conducted.

The ethnic term “hay” is present in the name of the country “Hayk-Hayastan,” which is what Armenians call their country (in the Hittite term, the suffix “sa” is identical to the Armenian suffix “k” and the Persian “stan”).

The name “Hayasa” is the closest to the Armenian name for Armenia, and considering that it appears in Hittite cuneiforms from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, it implies that at least from that time, we can confidently speak of the existence of an Armenian state as a specific ethnocultural phenomenon.

The Hittite kingdom was to the west of Hayasa, so naturally, the references are mainly to the western regions of the Armenian Highlands – the “lands”, toponymic names, etc.

Such a predominance of the western regions led, and indeed has led, some researchers to mistakenly believe that Hayasa was located in the west of the Armenian Highlands, in High or Lesser Armenia, rather than within the entire Armenian Highlands. This was a compromise, as it did not touch the territory occupied by the state of “Urartu”.

But soon historical science faced facts pointing out that Hayasa also covered the central and eastern parts of the Armenian Highlands. For instance, the fortified Hayasan city of Aripsa, according to Hittite sources, was “in the sea, inside the sea”, which E. Forrer identifies as Lake Van; adjacent to Aripsa was the fortress of Dukkama, equated with the city of Duggama in northeastern Assyria. Thus, there’s little doubt that the city of Aripsa was actually on the Akhtamar Island of Lake Van.

In 1959, it was suggested that the city of Aripsa might be located on the fortified island of Lake Sevan since names close to “Aripsa” (Aravis, etc.) are found in Syunik, in the Sotk region, that is, southeast of Lake Sevan.

E. Forrer’s view currently seems more accurate. It should be emphasized that his opinion leads to the conclusion that Hayasa was also located within the central and eastern parts of the Armenian Highlands, that is, within the territory occupied by “Urartu”.

The name “Urartu” is Assyrian, associated with the Assyrian cuneiform, the Assyrian world, and it is not found in the so-called “Urartian” cuneiform. Moreover, it’s not the only term used by the Assyrians to designate the part of the Armenian Highlands they occupied. In the 13th century BC, when the Hittite state fell, Hittite data on Hayasa disappeared, and accordingly, the mentioned form of the country’s name vanished.

From the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the term “Nairi” appears in Assyrian sources as a general name for a vast territory north of Assyria, around the lakes Van and Kaputan (Urmia).

Several researchers emphasize the similarity of the name “Nairi” to Semitic words that signify the concept of “river”, suggesting that “Nairi” meant “land of rivers” to the Assyrians. Indeed, on this territory originate the rivers Tigris, Euphrates, Araks, and Kura.

At this time, the Assyrians apparently did not have a clear understanding of the boundaries of the Nairi country: it’s the north “in general”, a territory at the center of which is the sea of Nairi. Thus, Nairi is an Assyrian, not an ethnic, geographic, or local designation.

As the Assyrians became more familiar with this country, they replaced the term “Nairi” with its synonym – “Urartu”, which arises from the local geographic name Ararat (or Airarat), more accurately reflecting the country’s location than the old indefinite Nairi – “land of rivers”.

There were good reasons for this, as the ancient Armenian state (for instance, in the Bible) was simply called the Kingdom of Ararat. The term “Ararat” undoubtedly carries traces of Armenian toponymy and lexicon: it is associated with the name of the god Ara (Aramazd) of the Armenian pagan pantheon and means in the form of Ararad – “abode of Ara”. The Assyrian form of the name Ararat is Urartu, and the Babylonian one is Urashtu.

It should be noted that in Assyrian cuneiform, the beginning of the word “u” could be read as “a”, so the same term could be written in two variants.

For instance, Assyrian cuneiform records two variants of the following identical terms: “state” was denoted both as Urashtu and as Arashtu; “country” – both as Urme and as Arme; “city” – both as Urmeyate and as Armaid, etc.

Consequently, Urartu is, in essence, Arartu, that is, Ararat. And of course, it is absurd to think that the names of Mount Ararat and the central region of Armenia, Airarat, originated from the term Urartu used by the Assyrians for two or three centuries.

On the contrary, the Assyrian name Urartu or Arartu, like the Babylonian Urashtu or Arashtu, originated from the Armenian name Ararat, as a designation of the territory derived from the local geographic name.

Thus, the term “Urartu” (Arartu) of Assyrian cuneiform is not of Assyrian origin; it’s a local geographic but not ethnic name, emerging following the identical term “Nairi”.

As a result of even closer acquaintance with the country previously denoted as Nairi – Urartu (Arartu), the Assyrians began to call this country as it was named by the people of this country (“Hayk”), in other words, as the Hittites designated it (“Hayasa”), that is, based on the local ethnic designation, namely – “Uayaish”.

From the Assyrians, the initial “u” could be pronounced as “a” (or “ha”), making it clear that we have the Assyrian form of the Armenian term “Hayk”, similar to the Hittite form “Hayasa”.

Moreover, by the 7th century BC, the Assyrians directly referred to the so-called “nairo-urartian” kings as the kings of “haya” (or “aya”), that is, Armenian kings. It seems hard to be more precise: Urartu is Uayais (Hayais), which is Hayasa.

For a researcher not bound by established concepts, it is quite clear that the unfortunate “Urartu” is just a quirk, a result of an error that led to further errors. But tradition has a great inertia, it dismisses the obvious, and clings to illusions just to hold on; habitual, stereotypical thinking is the secret guardian of tradition.

The term “Armenia” (Armina) is associated not with the Assyrians, but with the Median-Persian world: from Media-Persia it passed to Greece and then to Europe. According to B. B. Piotrovsky, G. A. Melikishvili and others, this term comes from the name of the country Arme, which was located in the southwest part of “Urartu”.

To be precise, the term Armina is associated with the name of the region Aramale (Armarili), located to the east of Lake Van, which simply means “place of Aram”, that is, derived from the name of King Aram – the first, by the way, of the “Urartian” (read: Armenian) kings mentioned by the Assyrians. Through this region of the Armenian Highlands closest to Media-Persia, Aramale, the Persians called the vast territory to the west “Armina”.

The ethnic homogeneity of the “country of Aramale” with the other “countries” of the highlands fully explains the extension of this term by the Medians to the territory that the Assyrians called Nairi-Urartu (Arartu). It should be added that the Medians-Persians have long called Lake Kaputan the “Armenian lake”, that is, Arme or Urme (Urmia).

The fact that the ancient Persian term “Armina” (Armenia) is identical to the Assyrian “Urartu” is proven by the Naqsh-e Rustam and Behistun inscriptions of Darius: in the Babylonian text, the country is called “Urashu”, in Persian – “Armina”. The Assyrians called it “Urartu” (“Arartu”), the Persians – “Armina”, the Hittites – “Hayasa”.

However, to eliminate “Urartu”, another obstacle had to be overcome, namely the “Urartian” language with its completely unlikely lexicon, phonetics, and grammatical structure.

Linguists were at a loss as to which language group to assign this language to, but nonetheless, successfully read all the new inscriptions. Is it conceivable that Armenians in Armenia once spoke and wrote in a non-Armenian language? It was easier to reject all historical premises identifying Urartu with Armenia and agree with the concept of Urartu as a non-Armenian state.

Therefore, an attempt had to be made to restore the true, undistorted value of cuneiform signs, that is, to find out how the Armenians changed the Assyrian cuneiform code, adapting it to the sound of Armenian speech.

A key was needed to read the “Urartian” cuneiform in Armenian, such that the content of the text would be preserved (the correctness of the text can always be verified by bilingual inscriptions), but its lexical composition would become Armenian.

Naturally, there could be no arbitrariness here: if the “Urartian” lexicon and phonetics were artificially “adapted” to Armenian, it would lead to a random change in the content of the texts. Conversely, if the content of even one text was artificially altered or “adapted” to bilingual texts, it would make reading words impossible altogether.

The foundation for the correct deciphering and reading of the cuneiform was based on a reliable criterion, and this criterion became the principle of phonetic correspondence. Based on it, experts were able to find the true pronunciation of about a hundred cuneiform signs in the autumn of 1959, and then, attributing the found meanings to these signs, decipher about 550 words, names, and geographical terms with well-known Armenian roots.

Thus, the cuneiform was read anew, keeping its previous semantic meanings: instead of “Biaina,” it read “Van”; instead of “Teishebaini” – “Tesavan”; instead of “Arcibini” – “Arcvin”; instead of “arshe” (“youth”) – “ars” (“man”); instead of “bura” (“slave”) – “var” (“low”); instead of “kiri” (“cup”) – “ker” (“cup”); instead of “laubi” (“official”) – “lav” (“nobleman”); instead of “pulusi” (“stone inscription”) – “palas” (“speaking stone”); instead of “kiura” (“land”) – “kora” (“land”), and so on.

The true pronunciation of cuneiform texts was restored based on the found phonetic correspondences; the root composition of the “Urartian” language turned out to be identical to Armenian, which meant that there was no separate “Urartian” language.

Later, in a series of publications, G.B. Dzhaokyan showed that the cuneiform texts contain many words of Indo-European origin.

The concept of “Urartu” was significantly challenged by the linguist-hittologist Valeriy Hachatryan, who, based on extensive factual material from Hittite sources in 1966-1968, showed that in the middle of the II millennium BC,

Hayasa occupied the entire territory defined by the Assyrians as the country of Nairi-Urartu. V. Hachatryan constructed a map of the Hayasa state, which contains almost all the main elements present on the famous map of Armenia by Ananias of Shirak (7th century), ultimately proving the fallacy of the Nairi-Urartu state concept.

Finally, the archaeological site of Metsamor discovered in 1963, with its developed mining and metallurgical production and a hieroglyphic writing system, left no doubt regarding the localization of Hayasa within the Ayrarat region of Armenia.

Evidence that Metsamor is specifically Hayasan (i.e., ancient Armenian), and not a monument of any other culture, is, among other proofs, the hieroglyphic inscriptions found here – the first in Armenia.

Darius’s inscriptions indicate that Urartu is indeed Armenia, and all four terms – Hayasa, Nairi, Urartu, Armenia – are completely synonymous. In Hittite texts, the term Hayasa refers to a state on the Armenian Plateau. When Hittite texts disappear, this term also vanishes. The terms Nairi, Urartu, and Uaiis (Hayais) in Assyrian inscriptions denote states in the same territory that the Hittites referred to as Hayasa.

With the disappearance of the Assyrian state and its texts, these terms also disappear. The Persian term Armina appears, perfectly equivalent to all the aforementioned. The Greeks transformed “Armina” into “Armenia,” and this term spread throughout Europe.

“From the history of the ancient culture of Armenia,” S.A. Ayvazyan.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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