They say there’s but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. But it works both ways. Sometimes it’s amusing to read in the international press about searches for an alternative Noah’s Ark – people are looking for it everywhere imagination allows.
Imagine how an Armenian, who since childhood has seen Ararat from the window and knows that the Ark ended up on our holy mountain according to the Bible, a text believed not only by Armenians, but also by billions of people around the world, reacts to “sensational” news that the Ark has been “found” thousands of kilometers away from the Armenian Highlands. And indeed, it is found far and wide – wherever and by whomever.
For instance, even in Kazakhstan – on Mount Kazygurt in Shymkent, where the local population calls themselves the direct descendants of Noah. The works of the 15th century Kazakh poet-philosopher Asan Kaigy state: “Kazygurt is a mountain, spared and blessed by God, because you possess many good qualities, because the Ark of Prophet Nuh adhered to you.”
To see the Ark on the mountain there, one must pray for a long time, and recite suras from the Quran while climbing. Then, perhaps, the mountain spirits will reveal the mysterious place. And if they do not, tourists are offered to drink kumys (fermented mare’s milk) and are taken to a huge handmade ship-monument in the steppe, lined inside with walnut wood. Its construction, they say, required 24.5 million tenge (180 thousand dollars).
So, if you want to have an Ark – build it with your own hands. Wits joke that the original must have cost the Prophet much less than the Kazakh replica, but to have one’s own Ark-ship in the Kazakh steppes, it seems, is much desired. In these times of either global warming, cooling, or the shifting of magnetic poles, which alter the climate zones, having a large boat at hand to save oneself, like in the English joke about the Thames flooding an office, might prove to be quite useful.
However, the story of a global flood is widespread among many peoples, living tens of thousands of kilometers apart. Legends of the flood exist in China and even in both Americas. The Ark is searched for and claimed to have been found, with some evidence, in places close to Transcaucasia, such as on Mount Judi-Dag in the southeast of modern Turkey (Corduene of Greater Armenia), as well as in Chechnya and Iran.
In addition, there are quite a few mountains named Ararat, with no less than six in Russia alone. There are two in Siberia – one in Khakassia (height 1546 m), and the second in the south of Krasnoyarsk Krai. There lies Karatuza’s Ararat, near which, as in Kazakhstan, a new ark is being built. There’s even an Ark in Gelendzhik, on the local Mount Ararat, which, as they say, was named by Armenians – it wouldn’t be complete without it.
The Black Sea deluge hypothesis has been developed by American geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman from Columbia University for a quarter of a century, and Bulgarian geologist Petko Dimitrov proposed this idea back in 1979. Ryan and Pitman wrote that the flood submerged an area of 155,000 km², forming the Sea of Azov. The Black Sea was freshwater in ancient times, but then saltwater flooded in, raising the level by about 140 meters approximately 7.5 thousand years ago. A dispute soon arose over how quickly all this happened and, since there were arguments about a longer period of changes, whether this event can be called a flood.
The task of collecting material evidence for this version was undertaken by a team of oceanographers led by Robert Ballard. By 2000, researchers had found archaeological and geological confirmations of the flood theory – ancient coastlines, shells of freshwater snails, flooded river valleys, tools for woodworking, and human structures at a depth of about 94 meters, 12 miles off the modern Turkish coast. Seeing remnants of a wooden structure on the seabed during underwater filming, Ballard claimed that this was Noah’s house, flooded about 7500 years ago.
Skeptics argue that all of this is because the actual Ark on Ararat has not yet been found. But we should not be surprised that so many different peoples are interested in the topic of the Biblical flood. After all, events of global scale concern everyone. That’s why there is so much searching even where it has nothing to do with the biblical story.
And Ark replicas are being built by anyone who is not lazy, from China to Switzerland. The closest one to Armenia is across the border, in Igdir (Armenian: Tsovakert), just 37.5 km from Yerevan. It is located next to the monument and the “museum of the Turkish genocide” (yes, there’s such a thing) and Ilham Aliyev Avenue.
The argument that the Bible only mentions one Noah with his family doesn’t work, because different countries have their own “floods” and their own righteous survivors. The Biblical Noah is not alone in a long list of saviors of the drowning: the Sumerian Ziusudra (Greek Xisuthros), the Babylonian Atrahasis, the Akkadian and Assyrian Utnapishtim, the Greek Deucalion, the Indian Manu – they were all warned by their deities Ea-Enki, Prometheus, Brahma, and finally, Yahweh or Jehovah.
The scenario is mostly the same. A man builds a huge barge, gathers animals, livestock, plant seeds, and survives. He always lands on the single mountain in his world, sticking out from under the water. Unlike Manu and Deucalion, all regional righteous men are saved in the Armenian Highlands. When God’s wrath along with the water subsides, the ship’s captain becomes the progenitor of a “new humanity,” who already knows that the former was destroyed for bad behavior and sins. Everything is simple, clear, and evident.
We still don’t know what the tradition of the flood was in Ancient Armenia, and how the Armenians themselves called Noah before the adoption of Christianity. Some of our historians believe that such a flood, as in the Bible, could only happen to the inhabitants of the lowlands, because for mountain peoples the water of rivers and lakes during severe floods, even when overflowing, can only move along river gorges and currents. At most, it can flood settlements on the banks, but no further, and especially those located higher. That is, in the mountains such a flood cannot flood the whole country, let alone with its neighbors.
“Armenians, who were not familiar with the danger of a flood and did not have their own tradition of the flood, apparently, did not find it so important an event associated with the salvation of the Ark,” believes Hamlet Petrosyan (“Globalization and traditional symbols of Armenian identity”).
This reminds me of an Armenian joke: a ship arrives at Ararat, people, animals, birds disembark, in short, there is noise and clamor. Local Armenians are sitting on the shore and watching the process. One asks, “What’s going on?” The other answers, “The circus has come.” As they say, there’s a grain of truth in every joke. And maybe the Armenians not only accepted refugees from Mesopotamia, but also provided them with some humanitarian aid.
But in this case, it would be more correct to take a step back, from the funny to the great. And why did we decide that the Armenians didn’t have their own tradition of the flood? Do we really know all the traditions that were here in ancient times? We are still far from that, because we don’t even have our written history until the period of Urartu. Therefore, from what other peoples of the region have – the Sumerians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians – we have to extract bits of information about our ancient history, and then prove that it relates specifically to Armenia, and not to some other ancient kingdom.
So the debate continues about Aratta, and Hayasa, and how much Mitanni and other ancient states and peoples in the region relate to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians. But even if we admit that in those distant times the events and disasters of other countries might have little interest for their neighbors, the cases when people were saved by coming to us should have been preserved in the memory of the people. And even more so about cataclysms that swept away entire civilizations.
Regardless of whether one believes in the story of the flood and Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat or not, this tradition and all modern data point to Armenia as the place from where the surviving “family members” of Noah set out in different directions to populate the entire known world.
And if we want to reconstruct the tradition of the flood in Ancient Armenia ourselves, rather than leave it to future generations, we must first clearly understand what was happening then. This is particularly relevant now, when the world has entered an era of global change. And in order to understand what awaits humanity in the 21st century, we need to know what happened a long time ago.
“Memory of the past is a watchtower from which the future is clearly visible,” wrote the Armenian historian of the 5th century, Eghishe.
There is also a reverse link: the more we understand what is happening now, the better we see what happened a long time ago. And the question of who modern Armenia will grant refugee status to in the near future due to the consequences of global changes, which witticists will likely call “the visa in the name of Noah,” became relevant after the UN Security Council meeting on climate in 2007. And although it is not widely discussed yet, soon it may eclipse all others – and, among other things, remind us of the eternal cycles of history and the truth of Eghishe’s aphorism.
by Armen Petrosyan
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan