“Armenia from sea to sea” – Where does this come from and what are these seas to us?

Where does this strange formula “Armenia from sea to sea” come from, and what’s most interesting, why does it still persist in Armenian lexicon?

After all, since the restoration of the huge empire by Tigran the Great, two thousand years of the country’s partition, its disintegration into multiple kingdoms and principalities, and even the temporary loss of statehood have passed.

Why do Armenians still dream of seas, even though they don’t seem to be an imperial nation in spirit? Moreover, living in different countries, they exemplify rabid statists and combat dangerous cosmopolitan tendencies for these countries.

And the main thing is that, leading state apparatuses, they often expand and strengthen that very, foreign, statehood at the expense of Armenia itself. This was the case in Ancient Rome under all the Gaiuses, in Parthia under the Artashesids, in Byzantium under everyone, and even in the USSR.

In the Soviet Union, where poor Anastas Mikoyan outside the Armenian SSR was universally hated for being a pro-Soviet Armenian statesman, and in Armenia itself – for the fact that, wielding huge political weight in the empire and a reputation as a talented peacemaker beyond its borders, he did not lift a finger to resolve the long-standing problem of the Armenians about the loss of Karabakh and Nakhichevan. That is, for the same thing.

So where does this dream come from? What is the criterion in judgments on such delicate topics? What are these seas to us?

As the author of countless doodles from the mid-last century at a meter level on the walls of my father’s house, I will start with cave paintings. The earliest ship, depicted in mountain caves around Lake Sevan, dates back to the VII – V millennium BC and is equipped with oars.

That is, some 7-9 thousand years ago, the hypothetical people of that time were plowing Sevan in their own boats. And this is understandable, as the huge freshwater lake was teeming with large delicious trout, and one had to deal with it somehow.

However, similar cave paintings with boats are also present in Cilicia and in other coastal areas of the Armenian Highlands and are dated to approximately the same period. During archaeological excavations in the vicinity of the lakes Van, Sevan, Tsovka, Parvana, and Northern Tsovka, not only the most ancient fishing gear but also anchors were found.

And here is what Herodotus (484-425 BC) writes: “In the middle of Babylon flows a river, the name of which is the Euphrates. It flows from Armenia, great, deep, and fast… The Tigris also originates in Armenia…

Translate the text from Russian to English: “Armenia from sea to sea” – Where does it come from and what are the seas for us?

Where did this strange phrase come from, and most interestingly, why does it still exist in the Armenian lexicon: “Armenia from sea to sea”?

After all, two thousand years of country division, decay into numerous kingdoms and principalities, and even temporary loss of statehood have passed since Tigranes the Great restored the vast empire.

Why do Armenians still dream of seas, even though it seems that they are not spiritually related to imperial nations? Moreover, living in various countries, they exemplify zealous statesmen and struggle with dangerous cosmopolitan trends for these countries.

Most importantly – running state apparatuses, they often expand and strengthen that very, alien, statehood at the expense of Armenia itself. This was the case in Ancient Rome under all the Caesars, in Parthia under the Artashesids, in Byzantium under all, and even in the USSR.

In the Soviet Union, where poor Anastas Mikoyan was universally hated outside the Armenian SSR for being a pro-Soviet Armenian statesman, and in Armenia itself – for the fact that, having enormous political weight in the empire and a reputation as a talented peacemaker abroad, he did not lift a finger to solve the long-standing Armenian problem of the loss of Karabakh and Nakhichevan. That is, for the same reason.

So where does this dream come from? What is the criterion for judgments on such sensitive topics? What are the seas to us?

As the author of countless scribbles of the mid-last century at the meter level of the walls of my father’s house, I will start with rock paintings. The earliest boat, depicted in the mountain caves around Lake Sevan, dates back to the 7th – 5th millennia BC and is equipped with oars.

So, about 7-9 thousand years ago, our hypothetical ancestors sailed Sevan in their own boats. And this is understandable, as the huge freshwater lake teemed with delicious trout, and something had to be done about it.

However, similar rock images with boats are also present in Cilicia, and in other coastal areas of the Armenian Highlands and date back to approximately the same period. During archaeological excavations in the vicinity of the lakes Van, Sevan, Tsovka, Parvana, and Northern Tsovka, not only the oldest fishing gear was discovered, but also anchors.

Herodotus (484-425 BC) writes: “In the middle of Babylon flows a river, the name of which is Euphrates. It flows from Armenia, it is great, deep, and swift… The Tigris also originates in Armenia…

Their [Armenian] boats are round and completely sheathed in leather. In Armenia, they cut willows, from which they prepared the hulls of ships and then fully sheathed them in leather, just like the deck. These vessels mainly transport wine in red jugs…” Herodotus is considered the father of ancient historiography, and deservedly so.

However, he wrote about what interested him most: births, injuries, robberies, the cunning of conquerors, the abduction of women and the change of dynasties, sacrifices, and feasts. Out of all the scientific and technical achievements of that time, he only had oracles and pythias.

Meanwhile, judging by the correspondence of the inhabitants of Phoenicia with Armenia, deciphered in recent years by scientists from different countries, the Phoenicians asked to send them from Armenia among other things stonecutters and priests, who in the pre-Christian period were primarily scientists, educators, and scribes, and last but noticeable, performers of rituals.

In fact, as well as the servants of the Christian Church – in the future. So the boatmen certainly carried not only wine, but also “opium for the people”.

There is a newer document, dating back to 38 BC. These are the notes of Gaius Julius Caesar’s closest friend, the ancient Roman historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus, who in turn refers to books attributed to Numidian King Gaius Psal II, “which completely coincide with the stories of the native inhabitants of Africa”.

From them, an interesting fact becomes known. So, “after Hercules perished… his army, consisting of various tribes, having lost their main leader, quickly disintegrated, as many sought possessions for themselves, each in different places.

Separated from this army, the Persians, Armenians, and Medes crossed over to Africa on ships and took up the places closest to Our Sea (referring to the Mediterranean Sea). In this, the Persians settled closer to the ocean, and their dwellings were overturned ships instead of huts.

The reason for this was the lack of building materials in these places and the impossibility of establishing trade or barter relations with Spain. The expanse of the sea and the difference in languages were the obstacles.

Little by little, the Persians, through marriages, mixed with the Getuli, and since, constantly searching for new places, they often moved from one place to another, they called themselves “nomads”, that is, nomads.

The Libyans, who lived closer to the African Sea, joined the Medes and Armenians, and soon they had fortified cities, because, separated from Spain only by the Pillars of Hercules, they early entered into a permanent exchange with it”.

Ah, it turns out that given strictly the same initial data, some ethnic groups became wandering nomads, while others managed to find building materials, build fortified cities to withstand their invasions, and began mutually beneficial trade with the traders of the Pyrenees, without knowing the difficulties of translation!

In doing so, they exploited and built vessels strictly for their purpose, for the transportation of goods, not for shabby housing.

Moreover, water journeys did not always have a mercantile character. Let’s recall the world’s largest fresco of 7300 square meters, decorating the hall of the Würzburg residence of the Bishops of Bavaria since 1783.

The fresco depicts Mesrop Mashtots, carrying a stele from Bishop Daniel across the sea with clearly depicted Armenian letters. Just a few years after Mashtots’ journey, in the 30s of the 5th century, his disciple Movses Khorenatsi and his comrades sailed the seas to Palestine, Egypt, Italy, and Greece with the aim of spreading restored literacy among the local Armenian population.

Reporting in the “History of Armenia” about the assignment to the Armenian Edessian Kingdom of other disciples of Mesrop Mashtots, Eznik Koghbatsi and Ovsep, “so they copied with our letters all the books of the first holy fathers that they get, and immediately brought them, so they would then be sent to Byzantium for the same purpose”, Khorenatsi does not specify the types of transport they used.

But you can’t reach there exclusively by land! And even other disciples – John and Ardzan, who “traveling leisurely and wandering lazily, delayed in Caesarea”, had to use sea and river crossings multiple times.

In the 7th century, a scholar from the Armenian Kingdom of Ani, Anania Shirakatsi, in his brilliant work “Cosmography and Calendar Theory” associates tides with the influence of the Moon on the Earth, separately addressing the theme of the sea element and methods of orientation by stars during sea crossings. That is, there was a great experience of a nation, which the author, who received education in the coastal Armenian Trabzon and Constantinople, generalized scientifically.

We will address the Great Byzantium separately, because there is no bigger lie than the “Greco-Roman Empire”, and we will have to give many arguments and links refuting only 180 years of domination of the supposedly only Armenian dynasty at the helm of this great maritime power.

And for now, we affirm that with its weakening and tragic collapse in 1204, the confident domination at sea ended, and the centers of Armenian maritime European trade became Venice and Cilicia.

The first registration books of the Venetian Senate, of course, were destroyed. So researchers have documents starting from 1280, when sea voyages from Venice to Cyprus and Cilician Armenia became regular, the Venetian Republic established a monopoly on maritime trade and began to provide ships for commercial needs through state auctions.

The crew of each galley was armed, with a squad of archers onboard tasked with defending the ship from well-organized pirates and lone sea robbers, patronized by Genoese money lenders and certain princes of the fragmented “Latin” Byzantium.

But what’s interesting – in documentary sources all equipment and gear of the galleys, including the crew required to carry weapons, and special armed guards, depending on the type of hirer were called armentour per Comunem, armentour per divisum, armentour per speciales personas. That is, “armentour” was a synonym for sufficient rigging of the ship, its management, and protection under any forms of hiring.

Interestingly, in Armenia there is a good travel agency with the same name, named simply after the grandfather and grandson, who, of course, have the same name. However, the trick is that “tour” in Armenian means “sword”, and the so-called “armentour” readiness of Venetian ships meant, among other things, reliance on Armenian naval military skills.

So, as we can see, in olden times tourism implied having not discount cards, but a serious ability to defend one’s own cash and life on land and at sea.

If at first voyages to Cilicia and Cyprus were called Oltemage (Overseas), then later in the documents it was clearly stated: “Cyprus – Cilician Armenia”. At the same time, like brothers in blood, the Venetians did not pay customs duties in the Cilician port of Ayas until the fall of Cilicia in 1375.

In short, Venetian seafaring was in reliable Armenian hands for quite a long time. And not only Venetian: Armenian crews headed by Armenian admirals were also formed in Pisa, Genoa, Lucca, Barcelona, and naturally, the same activity was observed in Egypt and the Middle East countries.

Of course, with the fall of the Armenian kingdoms of Edessa, Ani, Byzantium, Cilicia over the course of just a few centuries, as well as later – and Eastern Armenia, the Armenians were pushed out of strategic points on land and seas, such as Venice and Genoa.

In the process, the new owners who captured Armenian wealth and segments of activity also appropriated Armenian symbols – those very Venetian lions, eagles, as well as the emblem of the guild of Armenian masons and plasterers.

And in general, much of what is today firmly associated with moneylenders, masons, and others, historically aimed at the destruction of Armenians, originally belonged to the Armenians themselves, and the confusion with symbols is not accidental.

Moreover: it is designed to foster a positive and trustful attitude towards these structures on the part of our people.

On the other hand, this same confusion often, due to ignorance of the historical depths of the problematics and language, pushes some foreign political scientists and political experts to incorrect conclusions, and they start to call Armenians “spare Jews” or spin similar nonsense.

And who knows – is such a superficial approach a lack of thought – or another step in the falsification of history, where the creators are confused with the parasitic class of moneylenders?

Meanwhile, the change of owners by a well-known method is happening smoothly and unnoticeably today: just in the last few months the center of Yerevan has been sharply distorted, the very heart of our capital, where the old photo studio on the corner of Terian and Sayat-Nova streets ceased to exist;

the grocery store operating since the 1930s at the busy intersection of Tumanyan Street and Mashtots Avenue;

the well-known ADRI at the corner of Mashtots Avenue and Moskovskaya Street; the “Zigzag” store at the no less busy intersection of Sayat-Nova and Abovyan streets in the city center – and banks with foreign capital but Armenian names have taken over everywhere.

Literally the same happened in due time with Genoa, Venice, and Cyprus, which were originally developed, built, and developed by Armenians, and in the late Middle Ages quietly first ended up in debt bondage, and then simply changed real owners.

But let’s return to the watery expanses. In the “Secret Book of the Crusaders” by Marinus Sanutus, 25 ports and harbors of the Cilician Principality and then the Kingdom (1080-1375), located on the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, are mentioned.

Both Christian and Muslim ships would anchor here, at a time when there was a clear demarcation line between seafarers of both faiths all over the world.

The Armenians, as a people at the origins of Christianity, understood perfectly well that there is no fundamental difference between both religions, at the heart of both are God and Love, and therefore they were and remain not just tolerant of other faiths, but respect the beliefs of their Arab brothers.

In his “Book of the Diversity of the World”, Marco Polo tells how he, his father, and his uncle were guests in Ayas, and the Cilician King Levon III saw them off on their journey on his specially equipped galley.

Arab chronicler Ibn al-Wardi, describing the siege of Ayas by the Mamluks in 1321, lists three of the Cilician warships – “Atlas”, “Shama” and “Ayas”, which were provided to the civilians for urgent evacuation.

However, after more than a century of attempts to evade the papal ultimatum for a nationwide conversion to the Catholic faith, and strangely coinciding raids on Cilicia by the Mamluks and greedy crusaders, the cultural capital of Europe at that time fell.

The state disappeared, where kings wrote books and commissioned them for the birth of heirs, warriors and sailors were the standard of courage and education in all surrounding countries, craftsmen wove laces that could only be reproduced in Venice, and the standard of living was so high that for many centuries later, recurring in other geographical points, it was called the “Armenian house”.

And this was the fall of the third Armenian maritime statehood in the past 300 years.

The beginning of the 17th century – the period of the destruction of the last Armenian principality in Alvanke and the forced resettlement of the Armenians of Djugi by Shah Abbas. The desolate area where they were forced to settle was transformed into the city of New Djugi in just a few years, by 1605. Today it is called Isfahan.

The ability of the barely surviving Armenians after another deportation not only to settle down but also to build new schools, printing houses, churches, lay water supply, sewage, arched bridges, and new roads in all directions for successful communications, technology exchange, and trade with the world – is a separate topic in the field of scientific non-fiction of Armenian culture.

Alongside the magical workshops of Djugi, known in the world as unrivaled glassblowers, producers of porcelain and faience, carpets, exquisite silk and woolen fabrics, jewelry, high-quality weapons and book publications, there existed a whole army of no less famous merchants and enlighteners, known in the East as hodja.

And it has no relation to the hajj, which in the original is spelled with an ‘h’, it is related to how Armenians are called “khachik” in Russia nowadays. However, the connotation of this ethnic epithet was, in contrast to the current one, incredibly respectful from the side of the callers, and proud – from the side of the called.

In a letter to Tsar Peter dated February 1696, hodja Grigor Davydov (Davidyants) reports that trade with Sweden, including on the route passing through Russia, was conducted by “great hodjas – Armenians”. This northern route was actually called the Armenian Road.

Another hodja of the same period with a promising name Sarhat (Mountain Crusher) Zakaryan in a report to the authorities informs about his route and other hodjas from Shemakha northwards, to the port of Nizovaya, Astrakhan and through Saratov and Limovka – to Moscow, and further – to Arkhangelsk and Amsterdam.

On May 31, 1667, a treaty was signed between the Armenian Trade Company and the Russian Tsar’s Court on the right of the Armenian merchant class to trade from the border of Iran across the whole country to the Russian border ports of Narva and Arkhangelsk for sailing to the countries of north-western Europe – with the payment of low customs duties.

Similar treaties were signed in 1692 with Courland (now Latvia) on the operation of the port of Libau, and with the Kingdom of Sweden – on the use of several ports for delivery of goods to Germany and Holland.

10 years after the foundation of St. Petersburg, there was already a significant Armenian community there, which testifies to the fact that Armenians took an active part in its construction.

And in Moscow in 1660, the Armenian Church was rebuilt – the very one which, as claimed by meticulous researcher and writer of the Soviet period Marietta Shaginyan, Napoleon Bonaparte searched for in the middle of the Moscow fire, and where he spent about an hour talking to a priest in the company of Murat.

In other words, Armenian merchants felt comfortable in the vast expanses of Russia. They would arrive in Astrakhan on their own ships and switch to smaller boats and karbasses, the safety of which was ensured by shooters appointed by the Tsar’s decree.

Even the Tsar’s personal boat was repeatedly made available to the Djugi Armenian merchants for their water journeys.

At times, the urge to travel and adventure would subside, and then silk-weaving factories would spring up in Moscow and the village of Fryanovo in 1717, built by the Djugi merchant Yegiya Torosovich Sharimanyan, who survived in the memory of Russia as Ignatius Franzovich Shariman.

In 1758, the business was bought out by other Djugi hodjas Kazar and Petros Kazaryans, immortalized in Russia for their educational activities as Lazar and Petr Lazarevs.

The fabrics stored in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg with the abbreviation F. S. C. I. L. L. V. C. F. are a direct relay of the silk production of the Armenian city of Djuga and evidence of the transformation of its merchant class into Russian industrialists.

Meanwhile, in 1740-1741, Armenian merchants Gukas Shirvanyan, established in Russia as Luka Shirvanov, Gaspar Bogdanov, and the Markarov brothers (Markaryants), who continued regular navigation on the Caspian Sea on their own ships, founded the first manufactories in Astrakhan one after another.

Archival documents testify that in 1666, at the invitation of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the famous Djugi artist Astvatsatur Sultanyants, along with forty Djugi merchants, arrived at the Armory Chamber, whose name was quickly and literally translated for his appointment to the high post of head of the Armory Chamber, and he became Bogdan Saltanov.

He was a handsome man, a giant and a talent, whom the court immediately loved. And not only the court. Evil tongues claimed that the ingenious “Tale of Tsar Saltan and his son Gvidon Saltanovich” with its colorful descriptions of the hero’s sea journeys, his transformation of a wild island into a golden capital like St. Petersburg, was not written for nothing, and it told about the birth in 1672 of an “unknown beast” – another handsome man and giant, the great founder of the Russian Empire.

Stumbling upon written evidence of such rumors while working on the novel “Peter I”, the writer Alexey Tolstoy reported this to Stalin himself with the question of whether it was worth mentioning, since historical parallels between the two great creators of Russian imperiality are being laid in a literary work. “It’s inconvenient,” – succinctly answered the leader of the peoples, whose birth certificate read: “Dzhugashvili”, or “son of a Djuginian” in Georgian.

In the 17th-18th centuries, simultaneously in three quite distant points – Amsterdam, Astrakhan, and Burma – Armenians were renowned as the best shipbuilders, and the shipbuilding business was concentrated in their hands.

Amsterdam was even considered an Armenian center on the northern seas. Current Dutch researchers claim that the first Armenians from Constantinople and Izmir appeared there only in 1560, later their ranks were filled by many Djuga hajjis, but even in the best times, the Armenian community numbered no more than a hundred families.

Oh, I don’t trust Dutch scientists with their successful commissioned hemp studies. But I have to refer to them. So, in 1663, the first Armenian church was built there, in 1714 — the second one. The beauty Saskia, immortalized by her husband Rembrandt Armen van Rijn, is buried in the first one, and then the genius of painting himself.

During the period 1660-1718, several printing houses were opened in Amsterdam, which published not only “The History of Armenia” by Movses Khorenatsi, but also in 1699 the Armenian work “Treasury of measures, weights, numbers, and currencies in circulation in the world”, “The first modern atlas of Armenianness of the world” with an included treatise on the geography of the world, and in 1698 – “The World Atlas”.

“Armenian routes” from Amsterdam to Moscow, Arkhangelsk, and then to Astrakhan and New Djuga were regular. And they were called so because the construction of ships, capital, and crew were exclusively Armenian.

And the passengers were primarily Armenian as well. The old harbor of Amsterdam is still called Ai. So the future great emperor went to Holland to learn shipbuilding not from those who are hyped in tales about Peter’s adventures in Holland.

There is another nonsense on the internet about how the future autocrat was substituted in this European country. I would specify: “as if substituted”, because in fact the heir to the throne got into another – Armenian – cultural environment, got acquainted with different customs, a different – and very high – way of life, which was lost after the death of Ivan the Terrible, but it was preserved in this Armenian environment – and how!

These were glorious times when ships of Armenian merchants, including those with pronounced Armenian names “Ara”, “Aik”, “Ararat”, “Ripsime”, “Giro”, “Arshak”, “Djuga”, “Djuga Gusan”, “Arutun-Abgar”, “Ovannes-Sargis”, “Ovsep-Manuk” and others, plowed the waters of the Caspian, Black, Mediterranean, Baltic, North Seas, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Well, if not Armenia from sea to sea?

However, we will talk about Armenian navigation in India, Crimea, and other remarkable maritime civilizations in the next issue.

by Lia Avetisyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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