The Fatal Consequences Of The Displacement Of The Armenian Commander – At The Dawn Of Islam

The 7th century was marked by the emergence and flourishing of a new religion, Islam, which was soon destined to become a world religion. Along with Christianity and Judaism, Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions. Its spread would not be so lightning fast if not for the Arab conquests.

In 632, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad and the establishment of the Arab Caliphate, the Arab rulers, uniting almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, launched military campaigns in the northwest and northeast against Sassanid Iran and Byzantium.

The once powerful nations that had armies and economy weakened by constant wars and raids suffered crushing defeats from the Arab Caliphate.

The Christian Byzantine Empire suffered one of such fateful defeats at the Battle of Yarmouk which opened the gates to Syria and Palestine for the Arabs. After this battle, the centers of Christianity forever turned into a place for mosques and azans.

August 636, Yarmouk River Valley, Syria

The 40,000-strong army of the Arabs under the command of Khalid ibn Walid, one of the associates of Muhammad, after the conquest of Damascus advanced north. The Byzantine emperor Heraclius I gathered a huge army to conquer southern Syria. His army was led by the Armenian commander Vahan (Վահան) and Byzantine treasurer Theodore Triforius. After suffering several defeats, the Arabs retreated from Homs and set up a camp near the Yarmouk River, which is near the current border of Syria and Jordan.

The balance of power was three to one in favor of the Byzantines. Different sources indicate different numbers, but presumably, the Byzantines put up a 120,000-strong army against the 40,000-strong army of Arabs.

The Armenian commander Vahan was famous for his courage and wisdom. Having become the head of the garrison in Homs, he oppressed the Arabs towards the southern borders of Syria, to Damascus. But Emperor Heraclius I did not want to trust the command of a huge army to a commander who gained more and more respect among the soldiers and the ruling elite.

The Emperor, fearing a conspiracy against him, placed Theodore at the head of the army, while Vahan was entrusted only with a few units. This became the reason for a number of disagreements in the command, which subsequently led to the fateful defeat.

After 6 days of battles, the internal strife in the command, climatic factors, and strategic mistakes that had morally weakened the Byzantine army caused a crushing defeat. And soon, Jerusalem was besieged and captured by the Arabs. The Christian shield was shattered by the Muslim sword.

The battle of Yarmouk opened the gates to Syria and Palestine for the Arabs and showed the Byzantines and Sassanids that the small Arab tribes who did not have centuries of military experience would not stop before anything under their Islamic flag.

Having captured entire Syria and having finished off the Sasanian Iran, the Arabs subjugated almost the entire Middle East, including Armenia. The borders of the Arab Caliphate at its peak reached India in the east, the Caucasus Range in the north, and the Kingdom of the Franks on the Iberian Peninsula in the west, including all of North Africa.

Common sense does not allow us to look for the reasons for the Middle Eastern Islamic dominion in the lost battles or the wrong choice of the commander. But it is worth remembering the battle of Poitiers where the Franks stopped the advance of the Arabs further in mainland Europe.

But what if the battle of Yarmouk had a different outcome?

Tigran Adjoyan, Antitopor

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