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HISTORY OF THE ARMENIANS Why we should read... `History of the Armenians' by Giragos Gantzagetzi (352pp, University of Yerevan, 1982, Armenia) Armenian News Network / Groong By Eddie Arnavoudian Giragos Gantzagetzi (c1200-1273) wrote this `History of the Armenians' when he was nearing his 70th year. Remarkably, despite the war and the upheaval of the times he had available to him almost the entire body of classical Armenian, and a great deal of international literature too, preserved, sometimes in cave libraries by the stubborn efforts of a dedicated Church intelligentsia. It was this literature that provided Gantzagetzi with that broad intellectual horizon within which he composed a substantial synopsis of Armenian history from the 4th century imposition of Christianity up to the end of 12th century as an opening to a unique account of the 13th century Tatar invasion of Armenia. The 1045 collapse of the Bagratouni dynasty had brought into being radically new relations in Armenian life, relations that were then to frame the evolution of Armenian society right up to the 19th century decline of the Ottoman Empire. In contrast to previous epochs of dynastic collapse, this time the Bagratouni eclipse was to be accompanied by the almost total eradication of the Armenian secular elite that had been the backbone of independent Armenian statehood. Within Armenia the Church alone survived as a privileged estate. But without the nexus of the secular nobility it did so as a depoliticised institution integrated into the administrative structure of occupying states. In this form the Church was to dominate Armenian life and usher in a process that threatened to reduce a people once defined by statehood to that of a faith. Gantzagetzi's history captures a period of this transformation of Armenian socio-political relations and of the qualitative transformation of the Church as it strove to survive new conditions. He reveals to the reader a selfish church, a Church turning inward, indifferent to its traditional social responsibilities, abandoning its previous political ambitions for state independence and in the service of its privilege prepared to live at peace with imperial oppressors. Yet, for all the grimness of this picture, we also see in this volume how a section of the Church produced a wonderful cultural legacy that contributed to the formation of the modern Armenian nation. I. THE COLLAPSE OF THE PILLARS OF STATE Before the 9th century formation of the Bagratouni state, Armenian society had already experienced four centuries of statelessness following the 5th century Persian and Byzantine crippling of the Arshagouni monarchy. But, throughout and indeed since the Christian conquest itself, the broad patterns of Armenian socio-political life had been fixed by triangular relations of a longstanding native nobility, the immensely wealthy and powerful Church estate and the mass of the common people, all within either an independent state, relatively autonomous state formations or even as vassals to alien thrones. The centuries that followed the 1045 Bagratouni and the uprooting of the Armenian nobility established new terms of historical development. The Armenian Church and Armenian common people would henceforth coexist alone in almost impotent subordination to foreign states that now had their own secular elites firmly implanted in place of the Armenian and bolstered by their own substantial communities. Despite the demise of the Arshagouni kingdom and state, Armenian noble houses - among them the Mamikonians, Bagratounis, Kamsarakans, Ardzrounis and others - had lived on in possession of their landed estates, a degree of political power and a substantial military capacity as well. Even when acting as vassals to Persian or Arab masters they had nurtured ambitions of political independence often prompted by a politically militant and ambitious Church. They did so, of course, not in the Armenian national interest but in order to free their narrow privileged estates of burdensome foreign taxation and obligation. Coming immediately to mind are the 5th century Vartanantz revolt against Persian domination, the 702-3 AD Bagratouni and the 743 AD Mamikonian uprisings against Arab rule and the 9th century Bagratouni triumph itself. But from the 11th, in the wake of the Seljuk, Tatar, Mongol and Turkish conquests the prospects for Armenian statehood were radically circumscribed. The post-1045 elimination of the Armenian secular estates removed what had, even before the Christian era, been the primary pillars of independent or autonomous Armenian politics. The Mamikonians, once the proud military backbone of many an Armenian monarchy, had already been pushed off the stage following the failure of their anti-Arab rebellion. Now it was the turn of the Bagratounis, the Ardzrouni's and the lesser houses to exit. Within historic Armenia no social force now remained capable of resuming struggle for Armenian independence. In the future, secular elites were to grow and develop primarily in the Diaspora. With little footing in Armenia itself and yet still dominating Armenian life this was to have a dire effect on the development and direction of the national liberation movement in later centuries. (There were of course exceptions to this general picture with smaller principalities that endured and played a significant role in Armenian history and the liberation movement. Such formations survived particularly on the eastern edges of Armenia. In Artsakh and Syounik 13th and 14th century they even harboured sections of the Armenian intelligentsia and sponsored what were to become some of the finest academic and cultural institutions of the times. In these same regions sections of the Church based in Etchmiadzin were also active participants in 16th and 17th century projects for liberation from Ottoman and Persian occupation. In the 18th century inheritors of estates under the leadership of David Beg seizing the opportunity of Persian decline even challenged for independence. They were only finally dismantled by Tsarist Imperial design fearful of the threat that they could represent to its control of the Caucuses.) Amidst the 11th century ruins of Armenian state and crown the one institution that was to become the sole overarching and organised Armenian elite within Armenia was the Church. But it was fundamentally altered. Since what was in effect its military triumph in the 4th century (See "The History" by Agatangeghos' Armenian News Network / Groong May 1, 2001 ) an intensely political Armenian clergy, even during periods of statelessness, had been able to rely upon the native nobility for its security and for the enhancement of its wealth and privilege. But post-1045 it had only foreign powers with whom to negotiate its existence. Gantzagetzi's history reveals the Church well into this process as it abandons, at least in its mainstream, all ambition for political independence and positions itself to survive the Tatar conquest. Gantzagetzi recalls with pride the battles of the 5th century political Church and the striving for statehood that these expressed. But none of this spirit is evident in the action of the Churchmen of his own times. In a startling preface Gantzagetzi suggests a consciousness of the new relations that structured Armenian life. He writes that while: `Earlier historians each had a handle to grasp onto - either a famous King or the head of well known noble houses...we...have been denied all of this as the Arshagouni and Bagratouni monarchies have long disappeared and Armenian princedoms appear nowhere and if they exist, then are hidden in foreign lands.' (p25) Despite the tone of regret one cannot fail to note that Gantzagetzi does in fact have his own new handle on history visible in a pronounced and overriding preoccupation with the Church's organisational health, its condition in society and its prospect for the future. Gantzagetzi's `History' unfolds primarily as the story of the Church and its clergy as it undertakes urgent reform to stall disintegration, as it negotiates initially difficult relations with Tatar conquerors, collects tithes and engages in its cultural activity as well. Among the latter are major theological polemics in defence of the Armenian Church and its traditions. Reference to `good times' defines not Armenian state fortunes but the accumulation of wealth that freed Church personnel from all material want and labour. So Gantzagetzi has high praise for the Cilician-Armenian monarchy that `undertook the care of all the material requirements of all inhabitants' of monastic institutions `throughout the land.' (p140) This `History of the Armenians' is admiring of Movses of Khoren, the founder of Armenian historiography and the least theological of Armenian classical historians. But it does not stretch back into pre- Christian antiquity that is Khorenatzi's unique contribution. There is no place in this work either for encomiums to the wise heads of state or to brave men of war who appear in Khorenatzi battling for Armenian independence. Gantzagetzi reflected the reality of his time, of the apolitical men of the Church who had replaced heads of state and men of war at the forefront of Armenian society. II. THE CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE Giragos Gantzagetzi does not, and could not tell the story of the Armenian people in the correct sense that `the people' is defined by Mikael Nalpantian. This `History of the Armenians' is not a history of the lives of the majority of the people, of the disasters that befell them and of their hopes of emancipation. Yet it does supply substantial material with which to reconstruct the context of the lives of the common people who laboured unpaid upon the lands of both Tatar Prince and Armenian Bishop, who built the mansions they occupied and who paid them the taxes and tithes that sustained their power, status, luxury and privilege. In Gantzagetzi's theological conception of history the Tatar invasion is represented as `divine retribution' for the `sins of the people'. But beyond this familiar mantra of classical Armenian history, in which the Armenian people feature as inveterate sinners, Gantzagetzi's narrative marks the Tatar conquest as the end of a brief period of revival in the fortunes of the Armenian secular elite manifest in an autonomous Zakarrean principality that had arisen from an Armenian-Georgian military alliance. Though `subordinate to the Georgian King' (p122) the Armenian Prince Isaac and his brother Ivan, in command of unified Armenian-Georgian forces had: `...waged numerous heroic battles...and seized for themselves large chunks of territory that had been occupied by the Persians and Arabs... Such victories laid foundations holding the promise of independent statehood. The Tatar triumph buried these. It was the realisation of: `...the collapse that was predicted by our Catholicos Saint Nerses and now brought about by the nation of archers. We saw with our own eyes the destruction and the suffering that they brought to the whole land. (p168) Though clashing primarily with the forces of foreign elites that had now established themselves on Armenian lands the main, but not sole, victims of the Tatar invasions were Armenian people of no property, peasants, artisans and town dwellers. Upon them marauding Tatar troops descended `like locusts upon the fields, mountains, valleys...' (p172) They came with such a terrifying force that it was `as if the land had been engulfed by a flood' (p172). `Heartrending catastrophes' and `tragic mourning' could be witnessed and heard by all: `...(O)ne could see how the sword mercilessly cut down men and women, the young and the infant, the old and the infirm, the bishops and the priests, the alter boy and the secretary. Babies at the breast were hurled against rocks and beautiful young women were raped or abducted.... (The Tatars) resorted to killing as if they were going to a wedding or a feast... The entire land was filled with corpses and there was none to bury them. The tears of loved ones had dried up and there was none left to mourn them. (p173)' Death and destruction was visited upon Dumanis, Shamshoulta, Tbilisi, Garin, Yerzenga and Sebastia. With `greed that was never satisfied' (p173) Tatar horsemen went about the `pillage of scores of provinces seizing gold and silver, precious clothing, camels, mules, horses and countless cattle' (p202). The land was `plundered...and reduced to rubble' and its population `enslaved' (p182-183). Attracted by `plentiful treasure', soldiers `mercilessly slaughtered the men, women and children' of Lori, `destroying property and belongings.' In Ani `they seized all they could find, robbed the Churches, wreaked destruction across the city...and... annihilated its glory...' Conquest and plunder were executed with invincible military skill and technology. Mounted on `sprinting horses that never tired' (p174), Tatar soldiers rained `floods of arrows' upon the towns whose defences they were `battering down' with `the aid of numerous machines'. Fearless fighters, they were led by generals of `profound wisdom' who would `allocate forces wisely' making particular point `of dispersing' the many non-Tatar troops in their armies so as to `avoid (possible) treachery (p202)'. Among such troops were Armenians too, some perhaps seeking their fortune, others forced into service to repay debts or just driven to earn their bread and butter having been pushed off their lands. Powerful descriptions give an idea of the scale and the violence of the Tatar invasion as a result of which tens of thousands fled the country, mainly for Cilicia that was as a result: `...flooded with masses of unskilled and skilled men, men who had gathered from all corners of the north east (ie Armenia), fleeing from the land that had been destroyed by the Tatar onslaught.' (p140) As Armenians abandoned their ancestral homelands, foreign settlers, among them Tatars who were accompanied by `entire families', occupied these (p170). While Armenian emigration to Cilicia was to provide the social foundation for the Armenian Cilician monarchy, it was to critically accelerate the transformation of Armenia from a territory overwhelmingly Armenian to a multiethnic unit, a process that had begun during the Arab occupation. For Armenians that remained, the Tatars harboured long term designs for their steady and intensive exploitation. Secure in control the Tatar leadership: `... instructed the remnants, those who had escaped the sword and slavery, to return to their homes, their villages and towns and to begin rebuilding these for the benefit (the Tatars)...Thus the land began to slowly flourish. (p188) These `remnants', `almost naked and hungry' were subjected to a regime of taxation that `impoverished all and filled the land with howls and woes'. `Vicious officials' `year in year out demanded' impossible levels of tax (p261) irrespective of the population's ability to pay. It needs to be noted that such taxation was indiscriminate and levied `from Persians, Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Georgians and Alans' and so brought `all (these) nations' `to death's doors'. Stateless and with no native political elite the lives of the common people and the fruit of their labour were now delivered exclusively to the sustenance of a foreign oppressing state and its foreign secular elites. But with one significant qualification! The Armenian Church was to continue to benefit from the labour of Armenian serfs and from tithes collected from its parishes with the value of these enhanced by having to pass nothing on as tax to Armenia's new masters. III. CHURCHMEN BATTLE TO SURVIVE The survival of the Armenian Church while all around it were losing their heads, metaphorically and literally, is one of the more remarkable phenomena of Armenian history. The Church survived without ever possessing state power let alone an armed force. This did of course prove an advantage as the Church thus represented no direct threat to foreign conquest. But essential to its survival and distinguishing it from the secular nobility, were its deep roots amongst and vast influence over the population fed by thousands of parishes across the land. Added to this, the Church's constant contest against the secular nobility and foreign power had honed a cadre possessing a singular ideological identity and a capacity for ruthless administrative and social organisation. This becomes clear as Gantzagetzi charts the Church's return from the abyss as it fought to reform itself and reassert power over its flock that was fast dissipating. But alone such inner domestic resources would not have sufficed for survival. It required that the Church also be protected and aided by and prove useful to two external forces. Most critical here was the readiness of Armenia's foreign of rulers, among them the Tatars, to accommodate into their system of governance an apolitical Armenian Church that had indeed proved its capacity to deliver a passive population to foreign rule. During Gantzagetzi's era the Church in Armenia also received significant support from the Diaspora centred within the Cilician Armenian state. There State and Church leaderships bound by many threads to its homeland parishes may have even harboured ambitions to extend there the boundaries of the new Armenian monarchy and thus maintained an interest in the Church's survival. But to prove itself of value the Church had to first of all put its dangerously foundering house back in order. Long decades of instability, foreign invasion, war and collapse had taken its toll. By the 13th century its internal law and order, its institutions, its national apparatus and its customs and traditions were being steadily shredded. Even during the promise of Zakkarian autonomy Gantzagetzi registers the Church's decline. He complains that while `each Georgian battalion had its own priest to deliver mass to its soldiers' the Armenians had `no Church on the road' (p125) and notes that the practice had ceased since `the removal of the great princely estates by Persian and Arab oppression'. `Foreign enslavement' had so `corrupted and tainted' (p126) the Armenian Church, that seeking to restore it Prince Isaac had confronted an institution `out of the habit of carrying out' even the most elementary and long established rituals (p129). Worse still the very core of the Church was threatened by the ascendancy of a degenerate, money grubbing and opportunist clergy. Amongst `the greatest (of) vices' `was (that of) bishops anointing' priests not on merit but `in return for payment'. In turn these `ill educated' `unworthy', `prostituted priests', these `keepers of prostitutes' `acting as priests' (p210) had begun demanding illegitimate payment for religious services. They even went so far as to `seize property and homes from their flock'. Many would be out `hunting' or `acting as scribes' for lucrative returns, instead of attending to the needs of their parishioners. So widespread was this institutional disease that Gantzagetzi judged the Church to be `outside the rules and the constitutions of our apostles and our leaders.' (p213) This corruption was alienating and driving away the Church's plebeian base. The common man and woman who worked Church estates and paid it the tithes that sustained it began to defy and desert in droves. As `love has dried up and cruelty reigned' across the land `godliness too had diminished and faithlessness reared its head.' (p24) At best indifference and at worst disdain marked popular attitudes to Church and clergy. `With blasphemous curses' `unforgivable sinners' expressed `contempt for our faith, for our creator, for baptism, angels and priests...' (p220) Instead of silent awe `chatter and laughter' was audible during mass (p218). With the Church losing its grip on the population `many lived lives...beyond God's will, rules and instructions' (p216-17), instructions and rules, penned needles to say by Archbishop and Bishop. With ominous visions of impoverishment if its labouring serfs and tithe payers abandoned it, the Church resolved ruthlessly to recover authority. With the direct assistance of Catholicos Constantine safely headquartered in Cilicia, a conference of clergy produced a reform document in the form of a: `brief and easily comprehensible constitutional charter drawn from the rules of our saintly fathers to cater for the needs of both clerical and secular life.' (p214) With instructions that it be enforced across the whole of Armenia its ambition was to centralise authority, restore internal order and anoint efficient and educated clergy so as to more effectively attend to the business of taking in hand an obstreperous population. Henceforth only educated priests with a minimum age of 30 could become Bishops. Priests were in turn required to be at least 25 and well educated too. Illegitimate payments for services that were driving away an already hungry population were to be ended. Rituals and customs that served to bond congregations to the Church and had fallen into disuse were to be revived (p218-220). Parallel with this was the second front of battle to impose absolute clerical authority in the bishoprics and parishes. An `exercise of extra effort' was required here so as to `bring to rule' not just `prostitutes', not just `the unfaithful and the witches', but `all order of sinners'. A secret service of Church agents was established to catch and punish miscreants. Spies were to be posted at `the gates of towns and castles, at the entrance of villages and farms'. Local priests were assigned responsibility for `keeping permanent watch' so as to be constantly `aware of each and everyone's behaviour.' If unable to `undertake this task personally' they were obliged to recruit `the assistance of another.' (p220) `Twice a year', Bishops were to `tour their bishoprics to appoint virtuous and wise subordinates capable of executing Church orders.' (p219). Lower down the parish priests were to `annually gather their parishioners, in separate groups of males, females and children, and give them appropriate instruction. (p220) To `instill the fear of hell' into everyone and so obtain the required obedience was the purpose of all effort. Those `who refused' to succumb `would be subject to caution and fine' and to `spiritual and to physical punishment' (p219) as well. As an example to others the stubborn were to have their `tongues cut out or pierced and laced with wire'. The victim then was to be ignominiously `paraded for a day' to be abused by the crowds before being forced to `pay a fine' which rather remarkably was to be assessed `according to his abilities' (p220)! All this was of course declared to be for the benefit of souls of the people, for their eternal bliss. But as it thus ministered to the heavenly needs of its flock the Church made sure that the flock repaid the service immediately here on earth in the form of earthly luxuries for priest and bishop. The primary purpose for inspiring the `fear of hell` amongst the plebeian masses was to secure Church income. Deemed to be expression of the will of the founder of the Armenian Church, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, a defining clause in the reform document required that `the priest insist on the payment of tithes from the people' that once in Church hands would in proportionate measure be distributed to each of the Church echelons above (p221). The reforms also required that: `The people willingly or by request give what is due to the priest - fruit from every tree and plant, the appropriate portion from any flock of animals, presents for the conduct of weddings, clothes for burials...as well as food and clothes... to enable the priest to pray and say mass.' (p220-221) Thus the Church succeeded in restoring its authority over an enslaved, superexploited people and with the additional sanction of foreign power it endured subsequent ages in possession of villages, farms, monastic grounds and serfs all administered by a relatively independent organisational apparatus and a distinctive religious ideology. IV. PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE OF TATAR PRINCE AND ARMENIAN BISHOP However successful Church reforms, ultimately its continued existence depended on the will of the foreign powers that now dominated Armenia. In the early period of Tatar conquest the Church and its officials did not escape destruction, plunder repression, imprisonment, murder and enslavement. Gantzagetzi who records the violence was himself also a victim. However once secure in their conquest, the Tatars, followed by future Ottoman rulers of Armenia, understood well how at certain points their interests coincided with toleration of an apolitical Armenian Church. Sure of having subdued all threatening opposition, Tatar power offered the Armenian Church material concessions that significantly helped it to consolidate its positions. Gantzagetzi writes that Sartakh, son of Tatar leader Mangou who had converted to Christianity: `... created numerous opportunities for the Church and for Christians. With his father's agreement he obtained an edict to free the Church and its priests from taxation...and issued a warning that anyone who attempted to tax Christians risked the death penalty...' (p257) One of Mangou Khan's vassals whilst imposing debilitating taxes on the population at large would `take none from Churchmen for he had no permission from the Khan.' (p261) Besides recovering titles to previously lost land and property the Church received yet more in the form of imperial gift (p258) that were in turn secured from envious enemies. When Cilician Armenian King Hetoum visited him, Mangou Khan himself: `... issued a stern declaration warning that no one was to dare to assault him or his land. He also issued another edict giving freedom to Churches in all regions.' (p263) Tatar officials went so far as to facilitate the lives of their Christian subjects organising the `building of new roads from every direction so that Christian pilgrims could come among their forces' with strict instructions for `no one to discomfort' them (p223). Such concessions had little to do with the Christian faith of particular Tatar leaders or with any humane qualities on the part of others. Arrangements with the Armenian Church were components of pragmatic political calculation. They were stratagems of control born of convenience and necessity. The apolitical Armenian Church that exercised effective control over the populace acted de facto to reconcile the mass of the population to Tatar rule. Its Christian doctrine of submission to terrestrial masters combined with organisational force served to successfully divert, stifle or suppress any urge to resistance or rebellion. Needless to say there was no need for any conscious decision on the part of the Church for it to act as an agent of such reconciliation. It sufficed that it preached its theology to a terrorised receptive flock in a political void. Tatar willingness to accommodate the Armenian Church had additional benefits for the conquerors. To the Armenian population Tatar power was alien and impenetrable, linguistically, socially and culturally, a fact captured in Gantzagetzi's account of Tatar life, customs and mores. A native, more familiar and traditional medium that the Church represented would ensure a more stable exercise of foreign domination. Besides the requirement to maintain order in Armenia, Tatar concession to the Church was prompted also by requirements of its battles for regional supremacy against Arab, Persian and other forces. Here arrangements with the still sturdy Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia could serve to safeguard an important flank leaving them free to pursue ambitions elsewhere. Concessions to the Church in Armenia in whose reform the Cilician Armenian Church and state had taken the initiative were pathways for such ends. In its turn, the Cilician Armenian Church and state, eager themselves to breach regional isolation, would be motivated, despite any long term ambitions, to check any immediate political ambitions among the cadre of a reformed Church in Armenia. V. LEGACY FOR THE FUTURE Reading Gantzagetzi's account of the Church's struggle to reform itself internally and establish coexistence with Armenia's Tatar rulers we cannot fail to note an absence of any sense of social responsibility that it may have for the well being of its flock. There is in addition a striking indifference to the nationality of secular authority and not a hint of desire for the restoration of independent Armenian secular power. These were of little concern to the Church whose interests were now being catered for by the Tatar authorities. But as with feudal estates elsewhere, the Armenian Church, despite its selfish and collaborationist history, was not resolutely of a single reactionary ilk in the sense of having nothing in its accomplishment that could be valuable to progressive or democratic movements in the future. With an absolute command of all educational and cultural institutions and in part also as a result of the material prosperity it derived from its coexistence with foreign conquerors it was able to leave behind an enduring cultural legacy that proved to be of tremendous value in the 18th and 19th century Armenian enlightenment and national revival. Gantzagetzi's volume shines with admiration for the remarkable efforts of remarkable men who in the most difficult of times preserved centres of learning and libraries. Believing books to be `living monuments to the future generations of all nations', Gantzagetzi reserved special plaudits for people such as the priest Vanakan who fleeing foreign assault: `... at the peak of a rocky ridge hewed a cave out with his own hands... where he built a small Church...and there collected and deposited many books because this man was very learned....Many came to him to learn from him....and when the numbers grew too large he had to climb down from the cave and rebuild the Church and his classrooms at the foot of the ridge.' (p176) It was through the efforts of such people that Gantzagetzi, his contemporaries and those who followed them, us included, were and are able to read the works of classical Armenian literature. Through their efforts we can leaf through beautifully bound and painted volumes of Movses of Khoren, whom Gantzagetzi praises as the `richest and wisest in knowledge' and whose history written in `language that was skilled' though `short in pages was vast in depth.' (p23) Other authors that survived to edify the future include Barpetzi, Puzant, Agatangheghos, Goryoun,, Yeghishe, all of whom Gantzagetzi cites and to whom his accolade to Stepannos who `attained the heights of philosophical, linguistic, literary and critical thought.' (p62) applies in different ways. Among his contemporaries Gantzagetzi has particular reverence for Mekhitar Kosh, the pre-eminent master of Armenian legal thought. The founder of the monastery of Getig, Gantzagetzi writes of Kosh as a `wise and gentle man, famous for his legal mind' (p127) who bequeathed `books of profound wisdom for the benefit of students. (p161). Others `shining across the land as enlighteners' (p135) were musicians such as Khatchadour Daronetzi `saintly and wise in knowledge but famous particularly for his musical art' (p154). Associated with Kosh were lace makers, some women, whose work `accurately reproduced' Christ's human form `causing great wonder to all who beheld these.' (p157). It was through the efforts such intellectuals, artists, poets, philosophers, architects, sculptors, musicians, scribes, copiers, teachers and librarians - largely members of the Church - that much of Armenian culture was generated and preserved as a single continuous thread through the centuries of statelessness. This thread was to be picked up by Armenians as they emerged from their subordinate state as a `loyal faith' with Ottoman Empire to define themselves as a nation and people. They picked up the written language that had been preserved to use it as a foundation for modern literary Armenian that would help to bind together the severed regions of the land and people with a common national sense of identity. Gantzagetzi's own retelling of the Vartanantz wars was a contribution to the preservation of that tradition of respect for resistance and of hatred for foreign conquest that formed cornerstones of modern Armenian national identity. In the best of international traditions Gantzagetzi's admiration for literature, art and culture has nothing academic about it. The 5th century Armenian translators `were not mere translators', they were `educators and teachers capable of divining future developments', they were `capable of opening up the secrets of complex texts and of rendering simple and comprehensible speech of profound meaning (p36). They `were pillars of the Church, firm protective walls for their sons, light giving chandeliers and burning torches with illumination that spread through every corner of the land.'(p36) The true intellectual and artist is a servant of society and individual, a conscious participant in social movements of their times. `These people are singing swallows, sweet voiced doves and wise men, lovers of virtue and denouncers of vice. These are teachers for children and for youth, good role models, jewels for young women, and vows for the married. They offer comfort to the old and solidarity with the weak, they raise the fallen and correct the sinner, they prompt and give incentive to the lazy and guide the advance of the enthusiastic. Themselves lovers of study they criticise those who hate study.' (p36) This tradition that has served the Armenian people well demands recovery today in our own age of apolitical intellectuals. * * * Giragos Gantzagetzi's book is a treasure and not just because it enables critical reflection on the role of the Church in Armenian history and society and for its record of an aspect of Armenian literary and cultural legacy. In the context of current tension and antagonism in Armenian - Georgian relations, a lengthy treatment of those in the 12th and 13th centuries, centering on the contest over property and land, provide an enlightening historical backdrop. Gantzagetzi's narrative is also marked by a certain universal quality deploying common criteria to describe Armenian and non-Armenian, Muslim and Christian. Though not always free of anti-Islamic vitriol Gantzagetzi recognises, like many other Armenian historians, the reality of virtuous Muslim rulers. On another level he notes that Armenian elite's have the same capacity for violence, plunder and slaughter as non-Armenians. Prince Isaac whom he admires is depicted in his ambition and methods as a savage and brutal man no different from any Arab, Georgian or Tatar fighting prince. There is evident even a certain humanism in an account of Georgian-Armenian relations that show men and women rising above religious and national antagonism in acts of mutual human solidarity (p189). For any study of the 12th and 13th century Armenian history and for any panoramic vision of the evolution and development of Armenian history the volume is alive and vibrant. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles. ******************************************************************* Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator. The Critical Corner Homepage: http://www.groong.org/tcc/ The Literary Groong Homepage: http://www.groong.org/tlg/ Review & Outlook Homepage: http://www.groong.org/ro/ World News Homepage: http://www.groong.org/world/ © Copyright 2009 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.