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The Critical Corner - 07/27/2009

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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.


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