Main Page       Contact  

Daily Bulletin Subscription

To receive our Daily Bulletin please fill out the form below.

Books out of Print


Kamuran GÜRÜN*
The Armenian File

 le="text-align: juÿÔ Introduction208émfont-weight: bold;">Introduction

It is impossible to imagine the existence of a nation or a people that does not have a history. Any society, whether bound by a common race, language or religion, which has lived together (even for a limited period) in the same region, obviously has a history. Even those societies which have never organized to form governments and consequently have always been ruled by other governments, are mentioned in the histories of their rulers, for history ultimately is the gathering and recording of events. Any group which shares the above-described characteristics of a society must have participated in the events which make up the region’s history.

It is usual for the histories of states and societies to be written by their own members. However, for such a history to be written it is necessary for the state or society to have a script. Therefore, for the period when a given state did not have a script, it is only possible to study its history through the writings of neighbouring countries.

States and societies who have experienced this have, after developing their own script, written their own history in their own language based on references to themselves contained in foreign sources. However, while doing this, if they try to invent ‘history’ for their own objectives, or adopt that of other nations, their results are bound neither to receive general acceptance nor to spread beyond a very narrow audience.

Thus, for history to be written, the first step is a script; then, if what is written is to be ‘history’, it needs in addition to be scholarly and objective. Otherwise, what is produced in the name of ‘history’ is nothing more than mythology, fables and tales.

It is difficult to claim that historians who have written the history of their own peoples have always been completely objective. This is particularly true of the histories produced in the Middle Ages. So if one desires to confirm objectively an event which took place in olden times, it is absolutely necessary to examine the same event from the perspective of each of the histories of the various countries involved in it.

It goes without saying that the historical truisms mentioned above apply likewise to the Armenians.

The Armenians are a group of people of the same stock, sharing a common religion, and speaking a common language, who lived in a given geographical region at a given time as a group. As such they were obviously involved in the events which occurred there as participants, or in some cases as the cause of the events themselves. Consequently, there is no question but that they have a history.

The first impetus felt by the Armenians to develop and utilize their own alphabet and script occurred as a result of their conversion to Christianity. The founders of the Armenian Church felt the need to translate the scriptures and other holy books into the Armenian language. Hitherto their prayers and hymns had been read in the Greek and Syriac languages.

The conversion of the Armenians to Christianity took place in the year A D 301. The year AD 406, is accepted as that in which Mesrop first introduced the Armenian alphabet of thirty-six letters.[1] In other words, even after accepting Christianity, the Armenians lived another century without an alphabet. Had the Armenians not accepted Christianity, and had the Church not felt the need to establish and spread their beliefs, it seems logical to assume that the development of an Armenian alphabet might have been delayed even further. Consequently, we may surmise that up to that time the various leaders of the Armenian people had not felt any need to record their activities in writing. Had such a need been felt, they would not have left the development of an alphabet to the Church but would have taken it into their own hands.

Tiridates III, who accepted Christianity in A D 301 and began the process of spreading it among his people, was a feudal prince. Mesrop-Mashtots, who subsequently developed the alphabet in response to the command of Sahak ? (the tenth Catholicos of the Armenian Church), was a religious man.

The fact that the first works written in the new Armenian alphabet were translations of religious works from Greek and Syriac suggests that, at this time, the Armenians had not yet developed a keen interest in their own history.[2]

The individual credited with being the first Armenian historian is Agathange, who served as a clerk to the ruler Tiridates ???. He is credited with recording the history of Tiridates ????’s reign, as well as the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity.[3] Owing to the fact that, at the time when he wrote, the Armenian alphabet was still not developed, it was of course impossible for his work to have been written in Armenian. At one time it was considered that Agathange wrote his work in Greek, but this thesis is now reportedly no longer accepted.[4] To complicate matters further, Pastermadjian reports that Agathange lived in the fourth century,[5] whereas Marshall Lang writes that in all likelihood he lived in the middle of the fifth century.[6] However, in the work which is generally considered the first ‘classic’ of Armenian historiographical writing, the History of Armenia by Moses of Khorene, Agathange is not mentioned at all.

As for Moses of Khorene himself, there are conflicting opinions as to the period in which he lived as well as the work he wrote. He is believed to have lived in the fifth century. In the course of mentioning Armenian historians who had lived prior to his own time, he refers to one Mar-Apas-Katina.

However, the Orientalist, Auguste Carriere, in his book on Moses of Khorene,[7] argues that Moses actually lived not in the fifth but in the eighth century; further, that there never was an individual named Mar-Apas-Katina, but that in fact this name refers to Moses of Khorene, i.e. they were one and the same person.

Jacques de Morgan, who in his own right is accepted as a classical Armenian historian of the same rank as Moses of Khorene, while reporting that it is impossible to provide full details of all earlier Armenian writers and historians and their works, appends to his work, for those who are interested, a detailed bibliography of other works that they may consult. Interestingly enough, he does not mention the work of Auguste Carriere.[8]

Even more interesting is the ‘history’ of the writing of Jacques de Morgan’s work itself. An analysis of this process is of interest for the light it sheds on how this work, which is accepted as a ‘classic’ study of Armenian history, actually came to be written.

Jacques de Morgan’s book was first published in 1919. In the 1981 offset reprint, both a new introduction, written by Constant Vautravers, and a long note written by Edmond Khayadjian, detailing the correspondence which transpired between the author (de Morgan) and Arshak Chobanian both prior to and during the course of its writing, have been added.

In the introduction by Vautravers (p. vi), the following sentence is of particular interest: ‘In the eyes of the author, and those who inspired his work, the History of the Armenian People would serve three purposes: a) to enlighten and arouse the sympathy of leaders of French and world public opinion; b) to establish in their minds the desires of the Armenians to shape their own destiny and form their own state, and to acknowledge these desires as right; and, c) thus to provoke the heads of States to satisfy these demands in the course of peace negotiations.’

We have also found it useful to discuss the following points which appear in the notes added by Khayadjian. He writes that it was the famous Byzantinist and member of the French Academy, Gustave Schlumberger, who inspired Morgan to write a work on Armenian history. Schlumberger himself had been approached for this purpose by Arshak Chobanian. One wonders why Schlumberger, who was by profession a historian, chose not to write the work himself, but rather chose an archaeologist, Morgan (who was not on good terms with French officialdom), for this task. One cannot answer this question on the basis of the Khayadjian notes.

Arshak Chobanian was a writer who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1872, in Istanbul, which at this period was a real cultural centre for the Ottoman Armenians, and he completed his education in the ‘Armenian Central School’ (p. xxiii). After working for a time in Istanbul as a journalist, he settled in Paris in 1895, and quickly became a leader of the Armenian groups who were working against the Ottoman Empire. With the outbreak of the First World War, he felt the need of a comprehensive history of the Armenian people, and for this purpose he approached Morgan. At the same time he asked Schlumberger for his support. This is clear from a letter which Schlumberger wrote to Morgan on 14 March, 1916:

The primary purpose of my letter is to request that you agree to accept M. Chobanian’s planned visit with you. Yesterday, for this purpose he came to visit me. It is absolutely imperative that a comprehensive history of the Armenian Christians be published by either Plon or some other publishing house. The French public is in need of a book dealing with Armenian history (the Bagradits, the Rupenians, Turkish administration etc.). This history should be written by a master hand in a readable fashion. M. Chobanian and I are in agreement that only you are capable of writing such a work in the best and quickest manner. You will be provided with all possible assistance. He [Chobanian] will write you again. Please, I beg that you provide him with a positive answer. Your favourable answer will be far more useful to us than were you to fight in the trenches for eighteen months. For the time being, leave everything else aside and begin working on this all important matter. [p.xxix]

We must now examine a few passages from Morgan’s reply.

.... In my opinion the Armenian History to which I am going to affix my signature, should be fully documented and complete in the sense that it contains references for every important point; However, I understand that this is not what M. Chobanian has in mind, and that you are in agreement with him. What is wanted is a general work such as Fr. Lenormant’s ‘La Grande Grece,’ that is, one which contains no Bibliography and is addressed to the general public. This changes my point of view somewhat.

Furthermore, I do not have a single document or reference here.... You state that M. Chobanian will supply me with everything that is needed.... Should I for any reason be forced to stop in the midst of my work, it will be necessary to continue and finish the work which has been started. M. Chobanian, aided by your useful suggestions, is quite capable of doing this job. In this manner the work will be completed on schedule.... It is a serious accomplishment to write a work of history under these cirumstances. [p. xxxii]

As we continue our examination of this correspondence, we come to two letters of Morgan’s dated 19 April and 26 May, 1916;

It is impossible for me to provide you with information regarding the works I need to write the History of Armenia. To do so would mean that I was familiar with everything which has been published to date. In my Paris library I have only a selection of ancient works such as Moses of Khorene, Zenob, etc. However, for the book I am writing what is really important are sources for the Middle Ages.... While I can’t recall the name of a work dealing with ‘Grande Armenie’ up to the destruction of Ani, I am sure that you possess a great deal more knowledge on this period. [p. xxxv]

I have purchased Lynch’s two volumes and begun reading them.
The following works, which you sent out of your kindness have also arrived:
1) Sissouan or the Armenian-Cilicia. Venice, 1899;
2) M. Alishan, Leon le Magnifique. Venice, 1888;
3) Etienne Daron, Histoire Universelle (Trans. by Dulaurier). Paris, 1883;
4) Pseudo Sebeos (Trans. Macler) from the Rev. Asiatique;
5) Malakia Ormanian, L’Englise Armenienne. Paris, 1910;
6) F. Macler, Histoire D’Heraclius. Paris, 1916.
I have written your name in pencil on the jackets of all of the above books; thus should anything happen to me they will all be returned to you. [p. xxxvi]

It is therefore quite clear that Morgan based his work upon these books. Furthermore, as the following passage from a letter of 18 May 1916 indicates, he also asked Chobanian to check over what he wrote: ‘I carefully read the additions which you added to my text... I will adhere to your suggestion that I provide additional details on the role that various Armenian Dynasties have played, from the earliest of times, in developing the culture of the East....‘ [p. xxxvi]

In another of his letters, dated 7 March, 1917, Morgan says: ‘Our book is going to be a valuable and beautiful work. However, I am relying upon you to go over it carefully. For it’s quite possible that many things may have skipped my notice.’

In another letter, dated 18 June, 1917, we read: ‘I am once again going to examine those subjects which you feel I treated so cursorily. Your comments are at hand, as are the relevant documents. It will be easy.’

The work which was written in this manner was completed and given to the printer in October of 1917.

In Morgan’s letter of 25 August 1918 we find the following sentence: ‘Your book will make the desired impression because it is based on sound and valid ideas, not subject to fantasies or imagination.’

Finally, on page Liii, we find the following letter: ‘The printing is completed and I am writing you a letter which I enclose with the manuscript. Let us “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” so that in the future those who examine this manuscript will understand how this book was prepared, made ready for publication and proofread, and yes, even whose effort it was which found the money to publish it. These are subjects which should always be preserved.’

By publishing the above correspondence, Edmond Khayadjian perhaps felt that he was paying tribute to Chobanian’s services to the Armenian cause. However, it cannot be said that in doing so he brought the same value to either Morgan’s reputation as a scholar or to the book which he wrote.

This is the manner in which the Histoire du Peuple Armenien, a work which was soon to become one of the classics of Armenian history, was published in 1919. In his ‘Introduction’ to the work, Morgan wrote:

Coming to the question of archaeological materials, with few exceptions there simply are none. This stems from the fact that the excavations which I began to undertake in Russian Armenia in 1887—1888, were subsequently banned by the Russians, and can only be now undertaken by a Russian Commission. As for excavations in Turkish Armenia, as a result of the countless difficulties imposed by the Ottoman government, aside from a few minor excavations in the Van region, not a single study has been carried out. As a result, due to the fact that the remains of earliest periods have not been subject to archaeological examination, we are forced to rely solely on the accounts of Greek and Latin writers.

Another classical work upon which Armenian history is based is the Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa (Urfa). There are several different theories, both as regards the date when it was written and its contents. It is generally accepted that Matthew began to write his Chronicle in 1113 and continued to write up until the year 1137. The work is divided into three sections The first covers the years 952—1051, the second 1051—1101, and the third 1101—1137. A priest named Gregory wrote a continuation of the work which carries it forward to the year 1163. This work has been translated into Turkish.

The thirty manuscripts of this work which have survived are all believed to be copies of seventeenth-century manuscripts, and their contents are not identified. While Matthew states that he benefited in writing his work from the historians who had lived before him, neither the name of a single one of his sources or their authors are mentioned in his work.

Of the same type is a work called the ‘History of Ardzrouni’ by one Thomas Ardzrouni, who is not a well-known figure. This work is said to have been written in the tenth century.

In addition to these works, there are others which we may call ‘short chronicles’ which deal with a speciffic period. In this genre we may mention Arakel’s ‘Books of Histories’ which mentions events from the reign of Nadir Shah.[9]

Of the works mentioned above, the core of ‘ciassical’ Armenian histories, it is questionable whether any of them possess any scientific qualities.

The first real lavish publications of Armenian history make their appearance following the end of the First World War. The basic sources used in these works are the writings of Moses of Khorene, Matthew and Morgan. In addition they cite one another as references. It is clear that all these works had an aim other than the writing of history.

In the course of writing this present study, we have concentrated in particular upon official archival documents. There were, however, certain subjects dealing with Armenian history which, while not sufficiently important to be mentioned in archival documents, were researched in the broadest possible manner. Needless to say, we were enlightened as well by the above-mentioned Armenian historians.

As a matter of principle we have not listed any sources as references which we have not examined personally. The only exceptions to this principle were some works in Armenian, which we do not understand, and which do not appear to have been translated into any other language. In these instances we took some quotations from the works of Esat Uras (whose Armenian we know to be impeccable), on Armenian writers such as Hadasian and Leo.

We were faced with the choice of one of two methods in the writing of this study. One way would have been to utilize the first-hand accounts of Turks who actually lived through the calamities of the period in question, that is, to use the technique which has so often been used against Turkey. In the Ottoman Archives alone there are enough such recorded eyewitness accounts to fill several works. Our second choice was to rely upon the extant documents and thereby to examine the events in an objective manner.

Because it was not our intent to slander the Armenian nation, nor to blame all Armenians for the actions of a small group, we chose the second method. In so doing, we have also avoided observations and opinions against the Armenians as a people which were contained in many of our sources.

All the official archival documents which appear in the notes to our study will appear volume by volume as their translation is completed. At the time of writing, the first three volumes in this series have appeared.

The other sources which we utilized in the preparation of this study, almost all of which are extremely rare, may be found in the national libraries of the United States of America, Britain, France and Turkey.

This book, which we wrote without prejudice, if read in the same manner will enable the reader to gain an insight into the truth of the matter under investigation. This is the sole purpose of its writing.
* -
- The Armenian File
   «  Back

ERAREN - Institute for Armenian Research

This site is best viewed at 1024 x 768 pixel resolution.