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A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

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  • A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

    A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

    The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World - Vol. I and II by Seta B. Dadoyan (Published by Transaction Publishers).

    Reviewed by Jirair Tutunjian, 26 March 2013

    Although the year is only three months old, it's possible that Seta B.
    Dadoyan's `The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World' will be the
    year's most important book on Armenian history. In the two-volume
    exploration (a third and final volume is due before the end of the
    year) Dadoyan turns Medieval Armenian history inside out by
    challenging countless received ideas and verities Armenians and
    Armenian historians have nursed for more than a millennium.

    A specialist in the Islamic and Armenian interaction in the Middle
    Ages and author of `The Fatimid Armenians', in addition to five other
    books, Dadoyan makes no bones about her intentions: `To clear the
    Armenian psyche of sedimentation and fixities...To draw the outlines of
    a new philosophy of Armenian history based on hitherto undetected or
    obscured patterns of interactions.' She says Armenian studies are and
    have always been embedded in cultural-political tradition...the
    `scholarship and the discipline of Armenian studies in general face
    serious problems such as cultural traffic lights and institutional

    Dadoyan also alleges that there has always been a deeply rooted and
    strong culture of authority among Armenians. `There is a tendency
    [among Armenians] to fix authority in all matters, even those of
    opinion...the institutional infrastructure of the Armenian environment
    still does not allow the development of a culture of experimentation
    and critical thinking,' she says blaming the politics of Armenian
    intellectual culture which wants to safeguard the classical framework
    and certain foundational concepts. She quotes Armenian historian, Leo,
    who said that Armenian Medieval authors, who were members of the
    clergy, `took great care in avoiding the proofs and concealing the

    Glaring example of how the Armenian clergy helped falsify Medieval
    Armenian history is the case of Armenian dissidents who opposed the
    mainstream Church. According to the standard version of Armenian
    history, Armenians converted - en masse and totally - to Christianity in
    301 and pagan or opposing creeds vanished from Armenia. Yet right from
    the time of St. Gregory Illuminator to the 15th century (some say up
    to the 19th century) there was a significant proportion of Armenians
    who remained semi-pagan and often opposed Church dogma and practices.

    The Paulicians and Tondrakians weren't the only dissidents. There were
    Barborits, Gnostics, Messalians, Manicheans, Nestorians, Phantasists,
    the Arevordiks (`Sun Worshippers') and others who opposed Church's
    teachings. According to the accepted version of history, these
    dissident movements were insignificant blips in Church and lay
    history. The fact is they threatened the establishment, formed armies
    to defend themselves, joined forces with the Islamic armies to fight
    their persecutors - the Armenian and Byzantine lay and Church leaders.
    The Paulician might have been the ancestors of the Cathars of southern
    France. In addition to Cyprus and Sicily, many Paulicians were exiled
    to Thrace. From there some moved to Bulgaria where they helped
    establish the Bogomil heretics. The latter spread to Europe and
    eventually settled west of Marseille.

    Dadoyan criticizes the monolithic view of Armenian history and the
    `simplistic constructs centred on the idea of a heroic, yet victimized
    nation.' She demonstrates how, after 970, the Armenian condition
    changed with the gradual loss of semi-autonomy, and many Armenians
    migrated southwest to Syria and Cilicia. The decline of the nobility
    (after the failure of the Armenian rebellion in 774) had begun with
    the migration of the Mamigonian, Amadouni, Rshdouni and other nakharar
    clans to Byzantium. Their departure created a power vacuum. A new type
    of leadership and power centres were created in the fragmented society
    and space where adventurers, military leaders, brigands, heterodox
    sects mushroomed to fill the void. The culture of settler Armenians
    changed as they interacted with the Byzantines, Franks, Arabs,
    Seljuks, and Memluks.

    Urbanization created new classes, including merchants and urban
    militias made up of young men. These societal changes often resulted
    in friction between the migrants and Armenians who had remained in
    Armenia proper. The latter maintained that western Armenians had
    strayed from the traditional path and mores.

    It will come as a surprise to many Armenians that one of the most
    famous Byzantine epics (`Digenis Akritis') featured a hero of mixed
    descent--Muslim and Christian--whose grandfather was Armenian
    Paulician leader Chrysoverigs. The famous romance has been erased from
    Armenian cultural memory perhaps because our historians looked with
    disapproval upon national and religious intermingling.

    While most Armenians know that some Byzantine emperors and generals
    were Armenian and that the Byzantine army was often made up of
    Armenians, very few Armenians know the important role Armenians played
    in Islamic history. Dadoyan rectifies the omission through original
    research in primary and secondary Arabic texts and sources. Armenian
    clergymen/historians - often misguided with a false sense of national
    and religious priorities - put the lid on these developments. Luckily
    for Armenians, Medieval Arab authors wrote, at great length about the
    Armenian contribution to Islamic civilization.

    In volume II the author details the Fatimid Caliphate history from
    1074 to 1163 when eight Armenian viziers governed Egypt. Badr
    al-Jamali, an Armenian slave who became Fatimid vizier (1074-1094),
    was the first. His son, vizier Al-Afdal, wrested Jerusalem from the
    Turks only to lose it to the Crusaders in 1099. Al-Afdal's son, Abu
    Ali Ahmad Kutayfat Ibn al-Afdal was another progressive vizier.
    Abul-Fath Yanis al-Rum al-Armani, Bahram al-Armani, father and son
    Ruzziks - Talai and Majd al Islam Abu Shuja' Ruzzik rose to power often
    through the backing of their Armenian armies. These soldiers had left
    Armenia mainly because of the Seljuk invasions. The Armenian viziers
    strengthened the Egyptian military, ended corruption, and improved the
    economy. Despite the challenges from the Turks, the Crusaders and the
    Byzantines, these Armenian viziers were responsible for a century of
    Fatimid prosperity. They also acted as godfathers to the
    100,000-strong Armenian community in Egypt. The viziers helped
    Armenian immigrants and built 30 churches and monasteries.

    The viziers were not the only prominent Armenians in the Islamic
    world. Hazaramard, Bargash, Karakush (Guiragos), Baha ed-Din Abdallah
    al-Nasiri (helped Saladin become vizier), Sharaf ed-Din al-Armani,
    Azis al-Dawlah, Nawiki (Awaki-Avaki) Aqziz, Husam ed-Din Lulu
    al-Hajib, and Sultana Badr al-Duja were other Armenian-Islamic
    commanders, politicians and rulers. There was also the convert to
    Islam Armenian-Georgian dynasty of Danishmandids in Cappadocia, the
    Bene Boghusaks in Severek, and the Zakkarids clan in the east.
    Armenian leaders adopted Islamic names (Senekerim, Abu Gharib) and the
    nobility intermarried with Muslims and Mongols. Armenian poetry (some
    of Krikor Naregatsi's opus), architecture and design were influenced
    by Islamic culture, says Dadoyan.

    Dadoyan's ambitious work will challenge many readers' `sacred' ideas
    of Medieval Armenian history. Criticizing the standard and monolithic
    version of Armenian historiography, the author shows that Medieval
    Armenian civilization was syncretic and dynamic. It was
    philosophically realistic, theologically ecumenical, and politically
    pragmatic, says Dadoyan. Armenians - from secular rulers to Church
    leaders to ordinary people - practiced realpolitik as never before. They
    would form alliances with the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Arabs,
    the Seljuk Turks, Mongols and then break up with them when necessary.
    Similar realpolitik was practiced by all parties involved in Middle
    Eastern conflicts.

    In this cauldron of the late Middle Ages Armenians miraculously
    witnessed their Silver Age. Armenian authors wrote and translated
    books on philosophy, theology, medicine, and astronomy. Poetry and
    illuminated manuscripts, innovative martial and civilian architecture
    boomed. According to the author, in the 11th to 14th century the
    Armenian civilization was in many ways `the single-most significant
    Near Eastern equivalent of the European Late Gothic and
    Proto-Renaissance cultures.'

    While Dadoyan's agenda is serious and seminal, the two volumes brim
    with dazzling and colorful characters... Kogh Vasil; Red-Haired Dog
    Lazar; Ashod Msager; Ashod Yergat; iconoclast Emperor Constantine V
    Kopronymos (`dung-named') by his enemies; Karbeas/Garbis/Garabed,
    Paulician leader who joined forces with the Muslims to fight
    Byzantium; Smpad II `Diezeragal'(although he ruled over a patch of
    land); the larger-than-life Catholicos Yovhan Ojnetsi; Krikor and
    Tavit Mamigonian who were exiled to Yemen; the red-haired
    Armenian-Muslim Karmruk (governor of Tripoli); bloody Babik, a convert
    to Islam who claimed to be the reincarnation of a saint; brigand Gorg,
    Philaretus, the Edessa chieftain who - like many Armenian Cilician
    leaders - had converted to the Greek Orthodox Church to hold office in
    Byzantium; the legendary Manichean woman called Kallinike and her many
    sons; Simplica the monk who attacked the Church's `corrupt' dogma and
    practices...all make their appearance in this Medieval pageant.

    We can hardly wait for the third and final volume of Dadoyan's masterpiece.
    Plenipotentiary meow!

  • #2
    Re: A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

    Religion tries to cover up the truth? Like no way man
    Hayastan or Bust.


    • #3
      Re: A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

      As a graduate of AUB, I'm assuming Dadoyan reads Arabic and focuses on Arab Muslim history? There's probably much more to explore within both the Ottoman and Safavid empires.


      • #4
        Re: A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

        It will come as a surprise to many Armenians that one of the most
        famous Byzantine epics (`Digenis Akritis') featured a hero of mixed
        descent--Muslim and Christian--whose grandfather was Armenian
        Paulician leader Chrysoverigs. The famous romance has been erased from
        Armenian cultural memory perhaps because our historians looked with
        disapproval upon national and religious intermingling.
        Paulician leader who joined forces with the Muslims to fight

        Yep, it seems that if you're not Armenian Apostolic Christian, you are not Armenian - ask the present Catholicos and I bet he'll agree.
        Last edited by bell-the-cat; 04-09-2013, 07:31 AM.
        Plenipotentiary meow!


        • #5
          Re: A Revolutionary Take on Medieval Armenian History

          Hey Bell, the is really cool stuff. It most certainly suggests that our culture's growth is related to how willing we are to learn intimately from other powers. This is still common behavior among Armenians today, of course, there's a risk of assimilation, but on the whole it creates new opportunities for us as a nation. The main sensitive point for Armenians today is the fact that we were genocided relatively recently, and so the fear of assimilation is perhaps greater than ever before.
          I was taught how to think.