Euphratesic – Western Armenia

Those regions of Historical Armenia, which adjoin the Euphrates in its middle course, below the Ashkhar of Greater Armenia and the Gavar of Melidu-Malatia of Lesser Armenia, have been called Euphratesic, i.e., lands near the Euphrates, since ancient times. In 3-2 thousand BC.

Here, one of the early Armenian states, Mitanni (miatun – single-domed, in Old Armenian meant a remote temple, dwelling, and later, in the Christian era, – desert), was formed.

Later, the Armenian kingdoms of Edessa and Commagene were formed on the lands of Euphratesic. On the right bank of the great river, several tens of kilometers downstream from Samosata, where one of its main right tributaries, Parzmana, flows into the Euphrates, there has been a fortified settlement (berdavan) since time immemorial, which has always been invaluable for Armenian history, science, and culture.

We are talking about a fortress, known in Armenian studies as Orom-kar, and known to the world as Romkla.

This name became established in history after the division of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia, when the fortress remaining on the right (Byzantine) bank began to be called Rum-kala by the Persians and Arabs, meaning the fortress of Rum, the Romans – as the Greek population of Byzantium (the former Eastern Roman Empire) was called. Similarly, the city of Arzn near Karin, to distinguish it from Arzna in Lower Sasun, was called Arzn-Rum by the Arabs and Persians – this is the present Arzrum-Erzurum.

However, the original Armenian name of this most important berdavan has been preserved in the Hittite cuneiform. The Hittites tell us about the city of Kalaruma, which stood on the banks of the Euphrates.

And here a clear parallel arises, allowing us to trace the chain of distortions of the oldest Armenian toponym. The fact is that Oromkar or Romkla stands on a natural rock elevation at the point where the Euphrates forms an almost continuous loop in its course to the south – in Armenian “galarum”.

Thus, we have an Armenian toponym Galarum with almost a 5,000-year history! The permutation of syllables, which is common in almost all languages of the world during transcription and other distortions, led to the Semitic languages, and in particular, in Arabic, to the change of the name Galarum to Rumgala.

And Kala or Kalat is also one of the oldest Hittite and Chaldo-Assyrian roots, analogous to the Armenian Kahak with the meaning of a fortified outpost settlement, berdavan. It is this root that formed the Armenian “kahak” – city, and the Arabic “kalat” – fortress, later transcribed into Turkish as kala, kale – fortress.

Taking into account the new historical reality – Byzantine presence, Rumgala acquired a new meaning – Rum Kala, Roman fortress. Armenians, as often happens, forgetting their own thousand-year experience, translated this name and got Oromkar with the same meaning.

In the same way, forgetting the name Karahunj with an 8,000-year history, we translated the newest Turkish Koshundash into Zorats Karer, and with a perseverance worthy of better application, we impose this artificial name on ourselves and numerous tourists. But about Karahunj – next time…

In any case, Galarum-Oromkar-Romkla occupies a special niche in our history. As already mentioned, the berdavan is located in the loop-galarum of the Euphrates, slightly below the confluence of its right tributary Parzmana, on a flat rocky elevation with steep ledges descending to the Euphrates itself, in the Euphratesic region of ancient Armenia.

Being well protected from all sides, the berdavan was like an island in the middle of a great river. At the very mouth of Parzmana stands one of its bridges, from which a single narrow road led to Galarum-Romkla along the very edge of a steep rocky shore, about ten kilometers long.

Seven stone gates stood along the entire length of this road, the last being the gates of the fortress itself. Galarum-Romkla became particularly well-known in the 12th century when the berdavan became part of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From 1151 to 1292, this was the residence (Atoranist – Throne House) of the Armenian Catholicosate, where 10 Catholicos of All Armenians sat.

Among them were the great Catholicos Grigor Pakhlavuni and Nerses Shnorhali, who were also buried here. In 1293, the berdavan was taken and destroyed by Egyptian Mamluks under the leadership of the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-Ashraf – after a 33-day siege and heroic defense.

About 35,000 residents died, and the Catholicos Stepanos IV Romklaezi was captured. The fall of Galarum-Romkla was truly a catastrophic blow to the Armenian statehood of Cilicia.

The berdavan had its own spring. In addition, a secret underground passage with 360 steps led from the fortress down to the bank of the Euphrates, to have water in case of a siege.

In the fortress of Galarum-Romkla, there were three Armenian churches – Surb Sargis, Surb Gevorg (according to other sources – Surb Grigor Lusavorich and Surb Astvatsatsin), as well as Surb Nerses Shnorhali with the tomb of the great Catholicos. Another Armenian church, Surb Astvatsatsin, was converted into a mosque.

The berdavan had extensive gardens and other lands located to the northwest of the fortress – near the settlement of Ehegnut (now Kamishli). Especially well-known were the local olives (dziteni), figs (tzeni), pistachios (pistakeni), as well as watermelons and melons. At the confluence of the Euphrates and Parzmana, there was also the most famous and bustling in ancient times Euphrates crossing (getants).

The Church of Surb Nerses Shnorhali was often called the Monastery of Romkla. The local Yazidis still call it Ter-Nerses.

Here in 1178-1179, all-Armenian church councils were held, which, in particular, rejected the Pope’s proposals for union with the Byzantine Church, and also confirmed the right of the Armenian Throne House of Romkla to the title of the All-Armenian Catholicosate.

Galarum-Romkla was, among other things, a major center of Armenian literacy, in the 13th century numerous manuscripts were created or rewritten here. And in the 60s of the 13th century, Galarum-Romkla also became the largest center of the famous Cilician School of Armenian Miniatures, the masters of which worked under the guidance of the Catholicos Gregory IV Tgha, Constantine I Bardzrberdtsi.

The oldest of the illustrated manuscripts here – the Gospel of 1166, is now kept in Matenadaran (manuscript 7347). The names of the masters-miniaturists who worked here – Grigor Mlicheci, Kirakos, Ovannes, and others – have also reached us.

According to unconfirmed data, it was in Galarum-Romkla that the most famous and richly decorated manuscripts of the Cilician Armenian School were illustrated – kept in Washington in the Freer Gallery of Art’s 12th-century Gospel (manuscript 50.3) and in Baltimore in the Walters Art Gallery’s Gospel of 1193 (manuscript 538), as well as the Gospel “Eight Miniaturists” created in 1280-1320 (Matenadaran, manuscript 7651).

Many manuscripts, illustrated by Kirakos and Ovannes, are kept in Venice, Antilias, Matenadaran.

The surroundings of Galarum-Romkla have long been one of the densely populated and vibrant Armenian districts of Eupratatica. 9 kilometers downstream, on the right bank of the Euphrates, was the large village of Nerses (Ekhnes).

In the 1890s, there were 60 houses here with more than 400 Armenian residents, known for their courage and bravery. The youth of the village were famous as wrestlers and shooters, and among the occupations of the villagers, in addition to farming and gardening, gunsmithing was important.

The Nersisian primary school operated in the village, and there was the Church of Surb Astvatsatsin. Nearby, at the chapel of Surb Sargis, there were preserved tombstones from the 7th-8th centuries with Armenian and Assyrian inscriptions.

In 1909, during the pogroms of Adana, the village was also attacked, but remained impregnable after heroic self-defense. To the northeast of Galarum-Romkla, on the left bank plateau of Eupratatica, there are many villages that still retain their Armenian names – Salatekh, Arakh, Aragil, Dvnik, Chimin, Melkum, Brunts, Baladzor, and others.

Directly north of the berdavan, on the left bank of the Euphrates, is the town of Halet or Halfet – the ancient Halpu. Here there were Armenian churches of Surb Theodoros and Surb Gevorg, and a center of Armenian literacy was active.

In the village of Hoh, Muslim Armenians still live, who have nevertheless preserved Armenian words in their language and our traditions in their customs. Nearby is the village of Nagash (Nahash) – its name preserves the name of one of the oldest regions of Mitanni – Nuhashshi. Echoes of this name – and in the name of the Nagash family from Nakhichevan.

Below Nerses, at 10-11 km, on the left bank of the Euphrates – the village of Til-Azzi, which has preserved the name of the ancient Armenian kingdom of Hayasa-Azzi. And to the north of Galarum-Romkla, on the right bank of the Euphrates, the area of Aravan (Araban, Raban) with a fortress of the same name – this is the heritage of the ancient toponym Arevbanos or Aribua in the Hittite transcription, which reflects the primary concept of Armenian existence – the concept of the country Arev and Aria, that is, the Sun and the Creator, the country of Ar-Menia.

Later, in the cuneiform texts of Assyria and Urartu, the country Arevbanos-Aribua is called Arauna or Aravene – this is an analogue of the Armenian Aravan. The latter over time turned first into Arapan-Araban, and then – into Raban.

The spiritual and cultural center of the region was the monastery of Surb Prkich, located on the right bank of the Euphrates, near the confluence of the river Aravan. The village around the monastery is still called Syupurguch – Surb Prkich. Between it and Galarum-Romkla was the monastery of Surb Sargis – near the village of Zaralyur (Sarylara).

by Grigor Beglaryan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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