Vardan Mamikonyan (ca. 380 – 26 May, 451) was an outstanding medieval Armenian sparapet (commander-in-chief), prince, and a hero of the religious-national struggle of Armenians of the 5th century. He raised the Armenian people to the defense of their Christian faith from persecution by the Zoroastrian Iranian Sassanids in the Battle of Avarayr on May 26, 451.
The battle took place near the village of Avarayr near the Armenian city of Nakhijevan on the banks of the Tghmut (Tkhmut) River. It was a battle for the right to profess the Christian faith adopted by the Armenians in 301 AD. Sassanian Iran attempted to bring the Armenians back to the pagan fire worship that still dominated Iran.
Women, elderly, and even children capable of holding a weapon came to the battlefield. The Armenian army under the command of Vardan Mamikonyan numbered 66.000, whereas the Persian army under the command of Mushkin Niusalavurd had more than 200,000 soldiers.
The Armenian army lost the battle due to the numerical superiority of the enemy. But even after this battle, the Armenian warriors did not surrender and fought a guerrilla war, eventually earning their right to profess Christianity.
The Battle of Avarayr was the first battle in the defense of the Christian faith in history. As the Armenian historian Yeghishe writes, Armenians fought “for their faith and their fatherland.” As a result of this battle, the Persians recognized the right of the Armenians to follow their faith. In spite of their loss, the Armenians achieved a spiritual victory in the battle.
As a result of the movement under the leadership of Vardan Mamikonyan, Armenia largely regained its internal self-government. With some interruptions, the struggle continued, but its negative outcome wouldn’t threaten the ultimate triumph of Christianity in Armenia.
In this sense, the Battle of Avarayr is treated as if it wasn’t lost. And Vardan Sparapet who fell in this battle is perceived in Armenia as a victorious national hero.