Early Armenian History: Origins and Myths
While Armenians will claim that they are the original inhabitants of Eastern Anatolia, or what is known as the Armenian Plateau, whether descended from Noah's youngest son Japheth or otherwise, this assertion is only partially accurate. Emerging out of the darkness of pre-history in this mountainous, rugged region that today comprises western Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran came a people known as Nairi or, as they would later be called, the Uruartu.
While the pre-Armenian civilization is past, its identity is found through examples of words like Nairi itself, which lives on in Armenian culture still through women who carry the namesake. Additionally, Mount Ararat, most remembered from the Biblical story of Noah, derives itself from the former Urartu, and still carries with it the reverence and sense of connection to the mountain.
Tucked amongst the dense mountains of this region lived numerous, seasonally isolated peoples: The Mitanni people who lived to the southwest of Lake Van, the Manah who resided around Lake Urmia, and the Diakhi, who were centered in the location of present day Erzerum. Together these comprised the Nairi confederation. There were potentially many other peoples comprising the Nairi confederation, but at this point I have not the knowledge to speak about them.
These peoples, as the unification process evolved, held their own perceptions and titles for self identification. Individual power amongst the semi-isolated communities kept the individual power of local lords, or naxarars. But as their centralized power grew, and their influence widened, other peoples were able to observe them, and come up with their own discriptive terms:
"By the 11th c BC, the Nairi tribe had fallen, and Assyrian tablets from this period make the first mention of "Urartu" as a strong power. Also at this time Assyria went into 200 years of decline, allowing Urartu to develop and expand its influence. Hurrian influences continued, but the Urartu tribe began to absorb Assyrian culture, including the use of cuneiform to replace pictogram writing. By the 9th c. BC the Urartu kingdom had established its regional power far beyond its capital at Tushpa (present day Van), invading Mesopotamia, and unifying the tribes in the Armenian plateau into one centralized state. The Urartians consistently cut Assyria from the trade routes to the Mediterranean, and enjoyed a monopoly on commerce between Asia and the West. The Urartians called their country Biainili (the name "Urartu" comes from the Assyrian language)" (Ney).
Around 900 b.c.e. the Urartu coalesced in a coalition under a central monarch, and it is Aramu who is entered first on the King List, reigning from 860-840 b.c.e..
These peoples are those mentioned in the Biblical book of Jeremiah concerning the destruction of Babylon, referenced as the Kingdom of Ararat in chapter 51:
Verse 25- "Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz.."
and the Babylonian Annals.
For further reading regarding the Uruartu/Nairi I have an article dedicated to them, though still not as complete as I would like it, linked in the sources section at the conclusion of this piece.
Hayk and Movses
The Emergence of Proto-Armenians: Hayk and Bel and Ara and Shamiram
"Armina" was the term used by Ancient Persians and Greeks to describe the people who would supplant the Nairi/Urartu. Unlike the Urartu, who spoke a language related to the modern Caucasus, the "Hay" spoke an Indo-European language; these people emigrated eastward, across the Bosphorus, through Hittite territories, and came to settle amongst the Nairi. Intermarrying with them, these two peoples would interweave more than their DNA, "The Armenians intermarried over the ages with the various peoples of Urartu, as the ancient origins of the Artsrunid house, for example, would seem to indicate, as do the Urartean names borne by Armenians that Darius mentions in his victory inscription at Behistun" (Russell).
Aside from carrying on names via children and places, the ongoing reverence to Mount Ararat carried forward through into Armenian identity, even keeping its enshrined status through identification with Noah and the Great Flood mentioned in the Old Testement Book of Genesis. Today the peaks of Ararat, Biblical Urarat, within the national boundaries of Turkey, and off limits to Armenians, represent the loss of a nation, and the demonstrate the reality of forgotten promises from the West towards Armenian people.
Armenian people, however, do not only derive from these two sources. According to James Russell,
"The country (Armenia/Urartu) suffered from the incursions of the Cimmerians (Gomer in the Bible; Armenian Gamirk) and of the Scythians, a North Iranian nomadic nation of the steppes. Their memory is preserved in the Armenian place name Shakashen ("Abode of the Sakas," i.e. Scythians), in words like Armenian hskay, "giant," literally "a good saka," and in names like that of the epic hero Paroyr Skayordi "son of the Saka," who is listed by Movses Khorenatsi as one of the progenitors of the Armenians. Armenian tradition, thereby commemorates events that occurred a thousand years before the Armenians preserved a script to record them. The Bible calls the Scythians by the name Ashkenaz, from a misspelling of Ashguza; and Greek Skythos comes from the latter. In Armenian tradition, the Armenians are called sons of Askanaz; so these North Iranian nomadic people, too, contributed to the rich fabric of the formation of the Armenian nation, albeit with the intrustion of biblical legends about the same events. As Urartu faced to power of Assyria to the south and the incursions of nomads from the north, a third power was on the rise" (27).
This third is represented through the entrance of Cyrus the Great into Armenia...which will be saved for a future piece, but all of this points to the close relationship and even kinship between Persians and Armenians.
In terms of Armenian origin myths there is the legend of Hayk/Haik, and then this man's relationship to another mythical character named Bel.
Hayk, the hero/patriarch of the Armenian (or Hay) people is characterized as a mighty archer, as the pictures included in this article illustrate.
His opponent, Bel, is the representation of Urartu's ancient nemesis, Assyria: Bel stands for Baal, a word meaning "lord" which is used towards foreigners who try to impose their will on Hayestan (Armenia),
Hayk, according to the legend, had been part of a larger southern migration of people descending from Noah. Hayk ends up staying in Babylon, but, with the rise of the detested Bel to power, he decides to take his son and larger family to Ararat, where he founds Haykashen.
While a mortal man, he is still characterized in heroic form. He is a powerful, giant of a man, who led his people with honor and integrity. Those who opposed him faced a mighty warrior with masterful skills with the bow and unending courage and strength. Bel calls upon Hayk, and attempts to persuade him to come back, and the message is refused. In response, Bel sets out to destroy Hayk with a great military force. Hayk, however, is given warning by his grandson, Kadmos, whom he had set in a place of observation. After evading the Assyrian attack, Hayk, knowing the position of the enemy forces, attack Bel, who is stuck amid a mountain pass. With an arrow from his great bow, Hayk kills Bel, and sends his foe's forces into panicked flight.
This story represents the cultural fossilization of conflict between Armenians and Assyrians, but has been connected to something much deeper, "It has become in the Armenian consciousness...the paradigm of the just resistance of a small people to the tyranny of a great empire. Hayk is a hero on human scale. Armenian tradition calls the Milky Way the "Trail of the Straw-Thief," for the Armenian god Vahagn, probably a stand-in for Hayk, on a cold night once stole kindling for his people from the woodshed of the mighty Bel" (Russell).
There are also the mythological beings of Ara and Shamiram...
This legend is also found within the writings of Movses Khorenatsi, who can be read about more through links in the sources section of this article, and through future publications of my own.
Similar to the Hayk and Bel story, Shamiram (or Semiramis) is an Assyrian queen who falls deeply for an Armenian king named Ara (meaning "the beautiful"). She tries to gain his affection, but he rejects her. Upset at being rebuffed, she chases after Ara with an army. Battle ensues, and Ara is killed. Befallen by tragedy, Shamiram takes Ara's lifeless body back to her palace, and her supernatural dogs (aralezk-or 'Ara lickers') in the hopes that he could be revived. The dogs, however, don't arrive and Ara's body decomposes. Yet, Shamiram would find men who looked like Ara, and parade around with them in public to put out the idea that she had revived him.
In Movses version of the story, Ara is portrayed as faithful, honorable family man who was absolutely loyal to his people. Shamiram, however, is perceived as a nymphomaniac who has no respect for the lives or ways of others...willing to destroy others and her own for her own selfish pursuits.
The character of Ara is not only found through this myth, or through the writings of Movses. Ara can also be found in Plato's "Republic" as Er. This man is the son of Armenios, who is killed in battle. He then travels down to Hades, and then returns to his body.
As can be clearly seen, both of these myths involve the theme of an outside, foreign entity who seeks to gain possession of Armenia, and this people's unwillingness to bend to such influences.
This stands as an introduction to the Armenian people, tying in with the article I have already published regarding the Urartu.
Upon this platform more will be shared....
The next look with be at the relationship between the Armenians and the Achaemenid Persians...
- Armenians from Noah?
- History of Armenia (Movses Khorenatsi) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- History of Armenia - Armenia-Online .:.::.
Armenian Business Portal
- Anatolia: Hatti, Phrygia, Urartu, Hurri, Mitanni - The ancient Black people of Turkey
Ancient world history: Interwoven history of all the world's original civilizations in chronological context and in book format: Anatolia
- The Urartu: Ancient People of the Armenian Plateau
Asia Minor, Anatolia, the Armenian Plateau Standing atop a long, rugged, windswept hill, resting gently over the borax-laden Lake Van, sets the crumbling ramparts of the Urartian capital city of Tushpa....