In Byzantium, an Armenian and a Brave Warrior Were Synonymous

The range of scientific interests of Dr. Armen Ayvazyan, the director of the “Ararat” Center for Strategic Studies, is broad. These include issues of state sovereignty and national self-determination, the political and military history of Armenia and neighboring countries, current geopolitical realities of the region, and strategic questions of international relations therein. His reflections, published today, are quite timely.

Armen, you have been restoring the Code of Honor of Armenian warriors, which was in operation back in the 4th-5th centuries. This is a completely new topic that nobody really knew about before you.—

The military history of Armenia is an understudied subject in our historiography. For centuries, it has been largely neglected, leading to the stereotype that Armenians are a peaceful people who don’t like war and prefer to build churches and trade.

This stereotype has been further reinforced by centuries-long clerical historiography—such an image was perhaps natural for a people deprived of statehood for nearly seven centuries, lacking institutionalized military structures.

However, this stereotype is easily debunked by Armenia’s own military history, which we, unfortunately, are not familiar with, and thus misunderstand ourselves. I am convinced of the necessity to create a department, if not an institute, where research on the history of Armenian armed forces from ancient times to the present day would be conducted.

It is essential that we, heirs to the rich and unique traditions of national military-patriotic education, develop the Code of Honor for the modern Armenian warrior, preserving the fundamental principles set forth in ancient times by Pavstos Buzand:

Loyalty and selfless service to an independent and powerful Armenian “world,” country and kingdom; maintaining the knightly honor and reputation (noble name) intact, even if it costs one’s life; loyalty and selfless service to Armenia’s most crucial institution—the King of Armenia, the people of Armenia, and all its residents without exception, regardless of social background and status; devout regard for the Christian faith and the national church, and their selfless defense; loyalty to family and kin; fidelity to fellow combatants, and comrades-in-arms.

The ideological and moral values of Armenian warriors, passed down from generation to generation, have left an indelible mark on the national character, psychology, and worldview of the Armenian people.

Many ancient authors have noted the exceptional combat capabilities of Armenians. Procopius of Caesarea, a 6th-century historian, writes that until 474 AD, Roman emperors, “in selecting their bodyguards, considering the virtues of people, preferred Armenians.”

Another historian, speaking about the Armenian military leader named Manuel who served in the Byzantine army in the first half of the 9th century, states: “Manuel was a very brave man, well-known to all enemies, because he was Armenian by birth.” Thus, it becomes clear that in Byzantium the terms “Armenian” and “brave warrior” were synonymous.

Some of your articles are devoted to the genocide, the real consequences of which, you claim, are far more severe than the mere loss of two million lives and the sharp decrease in the geographic distribution of Armenians on their historic homeland.

— I have a book called “The Armenian Uprising of the 1720s and the Threat of Genocidal Suppression,” in which I assert, based on archival documents, that as early as the beginning of the 18th century, the Turks had intentions to completely exterminate Armenians in both Eastern and Western Armenia.

This proves that genocidal thinking has always accompanied the state ideology of the Turkish state and was backed by well-developed mechanisms to implement such a policy. One such mechanism was the adoption of a religious decree by the highest Islamic clergy—fatwa.

One of the protocols of the fatwa survives: “What to do with Christians and Shiites on captured territories?” they ask the Mufti. The answer: “… destroy all men, and use women and children for your own needs.” During those years, several hundred thousand Armenians were exterminated.

The consequences of the most horrific genocide—the events of 1915 in Armenia—are felt by the Armenian people and every individual Armenian even today. Surprisingly, we have mostly given emotional responses to questions about what the genocide means for the future of Armenians and how it reflects on today’s reality, without evaluating the genocide and its consequences in terms of political and strategic criteria.

Meanwhile, six factors of it will continue to affect us for a long time. Loss of living space—the regions and areas of Armenia were not just territory, but a five-thousand-year-old living space and homeland. The worst consequence is that Armenians were torn away and removed from their living space.

What remains is today’s small Armenia—the only lonely stronghold. There are no more opportunities to retreat. Cultural loss—not only individual churches, various unique architectural monuments, and structures, but also fortresses, cities, villages built on this land over five thousand years, tens of thousands of manuscripts summarizing the genius and knowledge of the Armenian people have vanished.

Invaluable information and secrets have disappeared, depriving us of the spiritual heritage of our ancestors, cutting us off from their thoughts and spirit. Material losses—confiscation of all property and real estate of Western Armenians instead of constructive work aimed at strengthening and enriching collective national life—forced each individual to engage in hard labor to provide for the basic physical existence of their families.

Psychological trauma — the loss of living space has deprived Armenians of daily interaction with both natural and man-made national symbols, thereby destroying the very possibility of the natural spiritual development of the Armenian nation.

Simultaneously, the genocide has instilled in many Armenians a complex of inferiority — a disbelief in the future of the nation, a denial of national interests and values, and a subservience to foreign influences.

The annihilation of a people, its national elite, organized communities, and structures — massive human populations and the national structures uniting and organizing them have been destroyed.

This was one of the factors that prevented the Armenian diaspora from self-organizing into a unified system. Human losses — it is necessary to clearly understand the horrifying results of the genocide and tragedies that have plagued our nation for centuries.

Human losses during these disasters affected not just the population size but also the overall quality of the nation, instilling in the masses a psychology of “survival” with a marked preference for personal and family interests.

Soviet Armenia was an ideologically colonized and alien quasi-state entity, a part of a powerful empire. It could not, and did not intend to, overcome the consequences of the genocide, including the most important one — the restitution of indigenous Armenian territories. These territorial, spiritual, cultural, material, and human losses have undoubtedly affected the overall intellectual and moral potential of the nation.

Nevertheless, our nation still possesses unparalleled potential and a will to live, which urgently needs to be leveraged and pitted against forces and moods advocating defeatism and voluntary renunciation of state independence.

— Your persistent efforts to expose the deliberate falsification of key aspects of Armenia’s history have made you enemy number one for foreign Armenologists. Is that so?

— “Illumination of the History of Armenia in American Historiography” is my most talked-about work. It was published at the end of 1998. This is the first systematic historical-political critique of Western Armenology by Armenian authors in the last hundred years, or more precisely, since the existence of new historiography.

The underlying concept, developed by European scholars, includes deliberately false claims about the foreign origin of the Armenian ethnos in the Armenian Highlands. Armenian culture is portrayed only as a chain of borrowings from Iranian, Byzantine, Assyrian, Arab, and other cultures.

Historical Armenia is declared a decentralized, weak country, a pawn in the hands of great powers — Iran and the Roman Empire. Such a concept intentionally facilitated the creation of a myth about the inadequacy of the Armenian state and the Armenian nation.

To speak in such a manner about Armenia’s five-thousand-year history, which has great and splendid periods of development, is completely unacceptable. Armenia was a powerful state in its region.

The size of the Armenian regular army during the times of the Hayasa, Urartu, and Yervanduni kingdoms (which are the 2nd and 1st millennia BC) reached tens of thousands, and during the rule of the Artashesid, Arshakuni, and Bagratuni dynasties, it ranged from 100 to 120 thousand warriors.

— What is the main reason for the West’s falsification of Armenian history?

The reason was the so-called Great Game between the United Kingdom and Russia for geopolitical spheres of influence, in which Armenians were perceived as allies of Russia. In this context, Turkey was seen as a force capable of counteracting Russia’s expansionist ambitions.

This trend was reflected in academic works on Armenology. With the onset of the Cold War, anti-Russian, indirectly anti-Armenian, and pro-Turkish tendencies in Western academic circles grew exponentially.

This anti-historical renaissance was triggered by the fact that, after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union raised the question of returning certain territories of Western Armenia. The West needed to prove that there was never an Armenia in those territories.

And what is the mechanism for falsification?

Foundational works by ancient Armenian historians like Khorenatsi, Yeghishe, and Buzand were groundlessly declared to lack a factual basis. In the works of “Armenologists” from Harvard University, the father of Armenian history, Movses Khorenatsi, is called nothing less than a “brazen and lying falsifier” who lived, according to them, in the 8th century, not the 5th century.

According to their claims, Khorenatsi’s goal was to present Armenia as a great power and bring it to the forefront of history in a corresponding light. If we follow the path laid down by Western Armenologists, we will never understand who we truly are. We will not understand many aspects of the formation of Armenian statehood, the traditions of the Armenian army and armed forces, the Armenian mentality, and everything that is a strategic potential even for today.

I’m not saying that one should approach Khorenatsi uncritically—this is a 5th-century historian, and every fact he reports is subject to research in all parameters, requires comparative analysis, but his work is a most valuable document that many nations simply do not have.

When it comes to issues of national security, the United States operates using the same methodology as the USSR— all forms of intellectual production related to state structures and national interests are under strict control by security agencies.

It’s dangerous that all the fabrications by Western Armenologists are recorded in reference materials, encyclopedias, and textbooks, which are used by diplomatic and government services.

One of the fundamental tools for national preservation is language. As far as I know, you’ve devoted one of your monographs to this topic.

— Language is the purest carrier of national thought. This was understood in eras preceding ours as well. In 1595, Richard Carew praised the English language. The greatness and power of the Russian language were written about by Lomonosov in 1755.

The same attitude towards their language existed in Armenia, but here it took shape many centuries earlier. As early as the 5th century, Yeghishe claimed in one of his lesser-known works that the Armenian language had absorbed the best qualities of all the civilized languages of the world—Indian, Latin, Greek, Alan, Assyrian, and Egyptian languages.

I write about this in my monograph “Native Language and the Emergence of Nationalism. Comparative Analysis of Armenian and European Primary Sources.” A language, operating in a particular area and uniting the people living in it, becomes one of the factors in nation-building.

In the early 19th century, German researcher Moritz Arndt wrote that “Germany is a country of German language dominance.” However, many centuries earlier, in the 5th century, literally the same was written about Armenia by Pavstos Buzand.

European authors are either poorly acquainted with history or deliberately present European nations as the first in the world. The English claim exclusive primacy, arguing that they formed as a nation in the 16th century.

When we compare the parameters by which this is determined, we find that the same parameters were observed in Armenia as early as the 5th century when independent Armenian written literature emerged. The term “homeland” also appeared in Armenian sources during this period. In neighboring Byzantium, this term only began to be used from the 10th century onwards.

The conversation was led by Nora Kananova.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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