Click here to Login
imgs1 imgs2


LATEST NEWS

10/12/2021

By Asbed David Medzorian, Ararat Lodge #1

The Knights and Daughters of Vartan again beheld the beautiful countryside of Armenia as more than a dozen Knights, Daughters, and friends made the pilgrimage this September for Veratarts Hayrenik V, the Return of the Fatherland.

read more >

ODE TO OUR PATRON SAINT SBARABED VARTAN MAMIGONIAN

“Death, not comprehended, is death. When comprehended, immortality.”

      Yeghishé the historian – 5th Century 

On the eve of the 1570th anniversary of the historic Battle of Avarayr (Avarayri Jagadamard in Armenian), fought on 26 May 451 A.D. on the Avarayr plain along the Deghmood Creek in historic Armenia’s Vaspuragan region,

Armenian people in the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh yet again are facing multiple challenges threatening their existence as sovereign and democratic states. Defense of Armenians’ Fatherland, its culture and Christian faith against past and present-day adversaries once more has become an issue of extreme importance awaiting resolution. Military conflicts of the 1991-1994 War and the 44-day Artsakh War in 2020 waged against Artsakh and Armenia along their borders and inland territories are proof that new adversaries have joined the old ones. Adversaries aim to destroy Armenian people and their homeland. Postwar Armenia is awash with internal demagoguery trying to destabilize a popularly elected democratic government, while both countries are trying to reform their armed forces, resolve multi-generational societal problems, and maintain a constant vigil fighting further spread of a global-scale viral infection of Asian origin.

So why has Armenians’ Fatherland been the continual subject to ceaseless calamities threatening the existence of its peace-loving people in their sovereign state? Is it because we chose to adopt Christianity as our state religion long before any other country? How can we explain the constancy of external forces driving us to defend our national conscience and our religion? I wonder if it is us, the Armenian people, despised by a few who consider themselves God’s only chosen people? If we all are God’s children and believe in His omni-presence and eternal love, where then this discrimination come from? If it is not our religion, ethnicity, or anthropologic makeup, to what extent then could the geographic location of our historic lands be the cause to such a ruinous existence?

For millennia, and especially during the period of Late Antiquity, the historic Armenian highlands on the eastern reaches of Anatolian peninsula stood at the junction of regions bordering Persian Sassanid Empire and the Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire. Neither Persians nor Byzantines feared peaceful Armenians as much as they feared outside forces dominating Armenia and initiating attacks against them. Byzantines and Persians regarded Armenians a threat to their expansionist policies in the region and considered Armenian lands strategically prized territory to be conquered and its people subjugated.                               

Armenia was a sporadic contender in region’s multinational military disputes and diplomatic belligerence which characterized the period of Late Antiquity. Armenia was partitioned into two semi-autonomous kingdoms between Byzantium and Sassanid Empires soon after they signed the Treaty of Acilisene in 387 A.D. This treaty was enacted as a mutual agreement known as a ‘Nonaggression Pact,’ which enabled the signatories to divide Armenia between them. With 80% of the country falling under Sassanid sphere of influence, Armenia became to be known as Marzpanate Armenia, a suzerainty of the Sassanid Empire which maintained its existence until 428 A.D. This was a critical period in Armenia’s history when Christianity was under constant threat by Sassanid Empire’s sun-worshipping Zoroastrians who prayed to their ‘sun god’ Ahura Mazda and proselytized in front of its winged image displayed above open fires in their temples.

What was the status of Armenians’ readiness to fight the military might of an empire which practiced Zoroastrianism throughout its land and constantly threatened Armenia’s existence as a minority Christian nation? Questions like this were on my mind during my visit to Armenia during Christmas of 2018 when I had the chance to meet a renowned scholar of Armenia’s military power in antiquity, Armen Ayvazyan, PhD. Dr. Ayvazyan is the Director of ARARAT Center for Strategic Research and Senior Researcher in the Madenataran, officially known as the Mesrop Mashdots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, in Yerevan. While discussing some of the questions I had in mind, Dr. Ayvazyan referred me to sources of expert information and recommended a feasible approach to analyze the military readiness of Armenia during 4th and 5th Centuries.

 Dr. Ayvazyan and I discussed how I could study the arts of military science and tactical analysis of ancient Armenia. He suggested that Istart my studies by appraising Armenian military strategies applied in various confrontations with Byzantian and Persian armies, followed by assessing results of Armenian-Persian wars during 449-451 A.D., which eventually lead to the Battle of Avarayr. Upon returning home from Armenia, I had Chapter VII of his book titled “Armenian-Persian War of 449-451 A.D. Campaigns and Strategies”, originally written in Russian, translated into English. As a tenured member of the Knights of Vartan fraternal order, I feel indebted to share part of the knowledge I thus gained with my order Brothers and Sisters of the Daughters of Vartan organization.

Historians of early Christianity know of this mid-5th century era as a critical period in defense of the Christian faith in Armenia. The Battle of Avarayr was fought on May 26 451 A.D., over a vast stretch of land known as Shavarshan plain, the modern day Maku in Iran. This is near the village of Avarayr, between Ardaz and the districts of Her and Zaravand. The rivulet erroneously referred to as the Deghmood River, a tributary of the mighty Arax River, separated the two opposing forces – Armenian army under the command of Sbarabed Vartan Mamigonian against the Sassanid Persian Army’s Commander Mushkan Nusalavurd. The Armenian army comprised of 66,000 cavalry and infantry, recruited from the standing forces of the nakharars and civilian volunteers. They were led by a large number of clergy under the leadership of Ghevont Yeretz, the fighting priest, who baptized soldiers at the encampment the night before the battle, shared the Holy Eucharist with them, and encouraged all not to be afraid of death. The Persian army numbered 300,000 men, 40,000 of whom were Armenians – the regiments of traitorous Vassag and his followers. In addition to the regular Persian elements, the enemy force included armed contingents from various Caucasian, Caspian, and Central Asian territories. Like the usage of war elephants in battles of Hellenic era, the Sassanid army put into action a herd of armored elephants as mobile attack posts, each carrying an iron tower crammed with Sassanid archers who showered Armenian ground forces with arrows. On one such elephant, protected within an iron tower, sat the Persian Commander Mushkan Nusalavurd, viewing the entire battlefield and directing movements of his ground forces with color-coded flags and various sound patterns of a brass horn. Sbarabed Vartan, on his steed, moved around the battlefield leading the charges of his fighting forces’ light and heavy cavalry.                                 

Both sides suffered heavy losses during the day-long battle. Sbarabed Vartan was mortally wounded by a spear-wielding moribund Persian soldier while assessing his army’s losses on the battlefield. Vartan and over one thousand of his comrades, officers, foot soldiers, members of light and heavy cavalry, civilians like priests, farmers, and women of royal families, fought bravely and sacrificed their lives in defense of their religion. Yeghishé, the ancient historian, in veneration of all those who knowingly chose the path of martyrdom on the battlefield of Avarayr, said “Death, notcomprehended, is death; When comprehended, immortality.”

The unfortunate circumstances which caused the Armenian army to lose this battle remains as a tragic historical fact. The defeat was primarily due to massive imbalance between the makeup of fighting forces, not for reluctance of Armenian soldiers to fight in defense of their national conscience and faith. Although the Persians were victorious, this battle proved to be a major strategic victory for the Armenians as it paved the way to the Treaty of Navarsag in 484 A.D. which guaranteed protection of their Christian faith and sovereignty.

Notwithstanding the imbalance between the warring forces, lack of cohesiveness amongst Armenian nakharars in the provinces proved to be detrimental to the much-needed positive outcome of this battle for the Armenian army. Nakharars were obligated to contribute detachments of ground forces and cavalry to fight under the command of central warring authority. Some nakharars, weary of engaging in scuffles against marauders along their borders, had to weigh the benefits of their participation in the battles fought by the national army. Calculating the risk in facing Armenians’ common enemy of the time, Persians of the Sassanid Empire, was no exception. The Nakharar of the Syunik Province, Prince Vassag, supported by his followers, proved to be one of the most traitorous group of people whose fatalistic actions hastened the military defeat of the Armenian army.

The Battle of Avarayr fought along the Deghmood creek in eastern Anatolia [Cartographic coordinates 39o 18’ 10” N/ 44o 36’ 40” E., south of Sis Mountain and within sight of present-day Turkish-Iranian border along the Arax River. [See area circled with ② on map] merits a study under the light of a ‘what if’ scenario. Armenians may have had a chance to victory had the results of Armenian-Persian Wars of 449-451 A.D., specifically the outcome of the Battle of Khalkhal (Khaghkhagh in Armenian,) by the Gur River [Cartographic coordinates 410 10’05” N/40o 21’ 50” E. See circle ① on map.] fought during the January-March 450 A.D. timeframe against the Persian army, was better appreciated for its essential value and further strategic planning was done in anticipation of a Spring offensive by the Persians in May of 451 A.D. or sooner.

The Persians, under the command of “Sepoukht the Invincible,”, were soundly defeated at the Battle of Khalkhal by the Armenian forces under the command of Sbarabed Vartan Mamigonian. His armada of ships mostly burned, the seriously wounded Sepoukht and remnants of his defeated army evaded total annihilation by escaping via Gur River which emptied into the Caspian Sea.               

What if the result of this campaign had been fully appreciated by Armenia’s nakharars and the military commanders had taken this massive Persian army defeat as an opportunity to strengthen their own ground forces and started planning counter strategies for offensives yet to come regularly over their southern border?

During a short period preceding the Battle of Avarayr, the Armenians waged six military campaigns against the Sassanid Empire mostly under the command of Sbarabed Vartan Mamigonian. These campaigns, fully depicted in Dr. Ayvazyan’s book referenced above, are listed here in summary:

  1. The First Campaign [November-December, 449] was conducted at a rapidpace and Persian occupation garrisons stationed at 16 key fortresses throughout the country were eliminated.
  2. At the beginning of the Second Campaign [Spring-Summer, 450]

nakharars and Armenian clerical hierarchy completed nationwide mobilization that had started earlier in 449. They formed a united Armenian army of about 90,000 troops.

                    Strategic Map of the Armenian-Persian War of 449-451 A.D

                                 

Strategic Map of the Armenian-Persian War of 449-451 A.D
  1. The Third Campaign [September-December 450] – Vassag of Syunik treacherously broke the Armenian army’s basic war plan by defecting to the enemy’s side.
  2. The Fourth Campaign [November 450-March 451] – Persianscounter-attacked in Albania and prepared for intrusion into Armenia.
  3. The Fifth Campaign [Spring 451] – Persian intrusion into Armenia continued and the Battle of Avarayr took place.
  4. The Sixth Campaign [May 27-November/December 451] – Armenian  army withdrew from borderline posts, ceased their defense activities and counterattacks.

Because the great Sbarabed of the Armenians had fallen in the battle, there

was no longer any chief around whom the remainder of the troops could rally. They became dispersed and took refuge in strongholds of the country and occupied many regions and fortresses difficult to capture. Full account of the battle is provided to us by Yeghishé, the historian and the court chronicler of the Mamigonian family. He identifies the heroes who made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield as follows:

“Of the house of Mamigonian, the BRAVE VARTAN, with 133 persons; of the house of Khorkhoruni, the VALIANT KHOREN, with 19 persons; of the house of Baluni, the COURAGEOUS ARDAG, with 57 persons; of the house of Kuntuni, the AMAZING DAJAD, with 19 persons; of the house of Timaksian, the WISE HUMAYAG, with 22 persons; of the house of Kachperuni, the MAGHNIFICENT NERSEH, with 7 persons; of the house of Knuni, the YOUTHFUL VAHAN, with 3 persons; of the house of Undzayentzis, the JUST ARSEN, with 7 persons; of the house of Servantzdian, the PROGRESSIVE KAREKIN, with 2 of his closest kin and 18 other persons. These 287 heroes and the 9 famous nakharars perished there. Besides these warriors, 740 others of the royal house, the house of Ardzruni and other nakharars inscribed their names in Book of Life on the day of that great battle. They numbered 1,036 altogether.”

After the Battle of Avarayr, Sbarabed Vartan’s nephew, Vahan Mamigonian, rallied the nationalist forces to wage a guerilla-style resistance for the next 30 years, until the Persians, in decline and under pressure from invading Turks, recognized Armenian’s right to maintain its sovereignty and freely practice Christianity. Sbarabed Vartan Mamigonianis recognized today as an Armenian hero. On this 1570th anniversary of the Battle of Avarayr in 2021 A.D., we revere the memory of Sbarabed Vartan and 1,036 of his comrades-at-arms who knowingly chose death for freedom of conscience and religion.                                                        

Blessed be the memory of Vartanants.

NS Nishan Dulgerian

14 April 2021         

Irvine, CA