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By NAS Dr. Gary Zamanigian

Avak Sbarabed Hunan Arshakian honored Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge with an official visitation Wednesday, April 12, 2023.  Prior to the lodge meeting, a formal banquet, hosted by the Knights, began with skilled Master of Ceremonies, NAS Vahram Fantazian, calling upon NAS Dr. Gary Zamanigian to offer a toast on this special occasion; a delicious Shish Kebab dinner followed.

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History of Vartan Zoravar

Vartan ZoravarBefore the Sassanid conquest of Armenia, Armenia had been the first nation to accept Christianity as their religion (301 AD). The Armenians accepted the Persian mandate in all respects, provided that they were allowed to practice Christianity. But some of the Sassanid kings, including Yazdegerd II, refused this idea, because the Armenian Christian Church had too close of relation with the Western Christian Church rather than the Eastern Nestorian Church led by the more Aramaic speaking priests rather than the Latin speakers of the Western Church.

As a result, Yazdegerd II, in an attempt to bind Armenia closer to Persia, began encouraging the Armenian Church to be less obedient to the Latin and Greek Church and favour the Eastern Nestorian Church.

Yazdegerd II summoned leading Armenian nobles to Ctesiphon and forced them to close ties with the Western Church. At the time the Sassanid Empires arch rival was the Byzantine Empire of the west and the Armenians had accepted the Byzantine rule before the Sassanid uprising because the Byzantine Empire was a Christian Empire. The Sassanid Empire did not want anyone in its territory to be in close ties to the Byzantine for it could create issues and uprisings. When the Armenian Nobles were summoned to Ctesiphon they were pressured by the Eastern Church and the Sassanid Vazzirs to close all ties with the Western Church. The Armenian Nobles felt pressured and did not want to cooperate with a non-Christian Empire but felt obligated to do so.

When the news about the nobles being obligated to cooperate with the Sassanid Empire against the Byzantine reached Armenia, a mass revolt broke out. On their return home, the nobles, led by Vartan Mamikonian, joined the rebels. Upon hearing the news of rebellion, Yazdegerd gathered a massive army and began attacking Armenian rebels. In response, the Armenians asked the Byzantine Empire for support, as Vartan had good relations with Theodosius II, who had given him the rank of general. He sent a delegation to Constantinople for help, but help never arrived in time.

The 66,000-strong Armenian army took the Holy Communion before the battle. The army was mostly composed of popular masses but led by Armenian noblemen who were experienced soldiers, having fought in many wars, sometimes alongside the Persian army. They were all motivated by the desire to preserve their religion and new way of life. The Persian army, said to be three times larger, featured war elephants and the famous Savārān cavalry or New Immortals. During the battle, Vartan, after an initial success, was slain along with eight of his generals. Prior to the battle some Armenian noblemen whose Christian sympathies were shallow, led by Vasag Suni, defected to the Persians and fought on their side.

Following the victory, Yazdegerd jailed some Armenian priests and nobles and appointed a new governor for Armenia.

The Armenian Church was also unable to send a delegation to the Council of Chalcedon, as it was heavily involved in the war. Later the Armenian Church rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon and adherred to monophysitism.

In the decades following the battle, the continued Armenian resistance led by Vartan’s successor and nephew, Vahan Mamikonian, eventually forced the Sassanid Persians to accept the Nvarsak Treaty (484), which guaranteed religious freedom to the Christian Armenians. As a result, Shah Peroz I ceased the persecution of Armenians, finally granted general amnesty, and allowed the construction of new churches. Consequently, the battle of Avarayr has been viewed by the Armenians as a moral victory. May 26 is considered to be a holy day by Armenians, and is one of the most important national and religious days in Armenia.

About Vartan Mamigonian and Shooshanig (in Armenian and English)