Armenia figures prominently in tales from the medieval and early modern periods about the existence of autonomous settlements of “free Jews.” The kingdom of the legendary Christian eastern emperor, Prester John, who was the overlord or neighbor of a Jewish land, is sometimes placed near Armenia.
The 14th-century Ethiopic historical compendium Kebra Negast states that Ethiopia will assist “Rome” (Byzantium) in liquidating the rebel Jewish state “in Armenia” (Eng. tr. by E.A. Wallis Budge as Queen of Sheba (1922), 225–6).
The 14th-century Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a geographical compilation, states that the Caspian Jews, the future Gog and Magog, are tributaries to the queen of Armony, Tamara of Georgia (1184–1212).
The Armenian diaspora is the closest historical parallel to the Jewish Diaspora, and a comparison of the two reveals much in common. Both suffered loss of statehood and underwent the process of urbanization. They traveled similar migrationary routes, adopted similar trades, received special charters of privilege, and established communal organizations.
They also faced similar problems of assimilation, survival, and accusations made against a dispersed people, and underwent similar psychological stresses. In the Ukraine, both the Jews and the Armenians were accused of having destroyed the livelihood of indigenous merchants and artisans by the communal solidarity they manifested against competition.
The massacres of the Armenians have also been explained as a revolt by the exploited masses. During the depopulation of Ottoman Armenia by the massacres and deportations of World War I, the Germans planned to “send Jewish Poles” to resettle the country.
The Jewish population in Soviet Armenia numbered 10,000 in 1959. In the beginning of the 21st century the Jewish population of the Republic of Armenia (independent since 1991) was 500–1,000.
Baron, Social2, index; A.N. Poliak, Kazaryah (Heb., 1951), index; J. Neusner, in: JAOS, 84 (1964), 230–40.