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Assyrians and Armenians:
The History of Interrelations and Interactions for Centuries

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2004 at 08:28 AM CT

 Assyrians in Armenia

I would like to tell you a story of the Assyrians and what they contributed to Armenia and the rest of the world.

— Lina Yakubova
Film-Maker and Producer


The Assyrian-Armenian interrelations and interactions history, numbers many centuries, both in pre-Christian and post-Christian eras. For times, Armenians and Assyrians were the closest neighbours, and this neighbourhood is reflected in the relations: they share many common points in culture, ritualism, life and manners.

Armenian sources are the most important and the most valuable certifications on the history of Assyrians (Syrians). The Assyrian (Syrian) culture importance for Armenian people during Armenian writing and the Christianity formation in Armenia has marked in his work “The history of Armenia ” “the Father of Armenian history” M. Khorenatsi, where he speaks about interrelations between Assyrians and Armenians in the pre-Christian and post-Christian epoches. Since the Armenian alphabet origination, the first Armenian translation of the Bible is made from Syrian and after M. Khorenatsi the Armenian historians in their works always mentioned Assyrians (Syrians).

In new and recent times the Armenian historians and scholars set to work on the history of these relations. Aware of the importance of studying the Syrian sources for history of Armenia they have created the fundamental works: in the 19th century “The history of the Bible transition into Armenian” by M. Ter-Movsesyan, “The Armenian epos in The History of Armenia by M. Khorenatsi” by G. Khalatyants, “Armenian-Assyrian ecclesiastic relations” by E. Ter-Minasyants etc. and in the 20th century, especially in its second half are published the noteworthy works of historians and scholars – specialists from Armenia , such as: “The history of Adiabena state and Armenia ”, “The Syrian sources on the history of Armenia ”, “From the history of Armenian-Syrian relations by G. Melkonyan and the fundamental work “The Old Armenian Translated literature” by Levon. Ter – Petrosyan and some others. Owing to Armenian translations we have a lot of Syrian literary monuments with originals lost: “The psalms collection” by Ephraim Syrin, “Sixteen Nikomedian elegies”, “The exegesis of the messages from the apostle Paul”, the greatest part of “The exegesis of the Diatessaronos Tatianos” and many others.

The interactions in the ritualism and life brightly manifested itself in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. Living side-by-side in the eastern part of The Ottoman Empire and in the north-western part of Iran these two Christian peoples borrowed a lot of things both in ritualism and in mode of life, in the folklore which create the difficulty either one or the other ethnic element of the cultural life to determine. Without the noteworthy work, “Aysors of Van vilayet” by E. Lalayants, with its unique photos available, our notion about life of Assyrians in the second half of the 19th century would have been insufficient.

For ages living among the Assyrians and beside us, Armenians have preserved for us many important pieces of information and details of our history. In this case very interesting is the ethnonym–asori- (an Assyrian, Syrian) in the Armenian language. For long time we were called Aysors by Russians. This is the same asori borrowed by Russian from Armenian. Where the Armenian sources speak about Assyrians or Syrians, then not only in the minds of Armenian investigators but in the minds of Armenian people by this is meant a single people.

From the earliest times, being in close contacts with their nearest southern neighbours inhabitants of Mesopotamia and Assyrian, the Armenians fall under the Assyrian culture influence. As states the Member of the Academy M. Abegyan in his work “The history of Old Armenian Literature” “the religion of Old Armenians was affected by Syrians as well. Among their divinities in the Armenian pantheon are Brshamin, Nane, Astgik, and Anahit. From the same Syrian was borrowed the word ‘kurm – the priest” (1948, p. 14). In the myths of Armenian people concerning the initial history and religion of Armenians also mention the immediate neighbours - the Assyrians. The similar myths were given in his history book by M. Khorenatsi. In the myths about Hayk “is kept the recollection of the influence of Assyrian civilization, culture, religion on the Armenians exercised” (See M. Abegyan, “The history of Old Armenian literature”, pp. 21-22). In the myth about Aram the war between the Urartian king Aram and the Assyrian king Salmanasar II is mentioned. Up to now one of the favourite myths of Armenian people is “Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram”, the love story of the Assyrian queen and the Armenian king is such popular and well-known in Armenia, that these two make the whole. There are two mountains in the Ayrarat valley – Arailer and Shamiram. In the 20th century created the tragedy by N. Zaryan “Ara the Beautiful and Shamiram”, is one of the favourite works of an Armenian reader and the monologue of Shamiram is one of the masterpieces of Armenian drama. The Christianity appears in Armenia from the Orient through the Syrians and Greeks about which the Armenian historians are writing. The close relations with their neighbourhood – Syrians evoke the initial acquaintance of Armenians with the Bible and other Christian literature which at that time the Syrians had and stimulated the Armenians to have the writing and the Christian literature in the mother tongue. About this influence writes not only the Armenian historian, M. Khorenatsi, but the others as well.

In 387 A.D., when the Eastern Armenia had fallen under the domination of Persia, at the territory Greek was superseded by Syrian and the business correspondence at the time was made in Syrian and Persian too. The ecclesiastic language in proper sense after the Christianity adoption was Syrian and Greek. Almost the whole century in the Armenian churches the liturgy was made in Syrian and Greek. The Christianity and the preaching have connected Armenians with Syrian and Byzantine cultures. As for the penetration of Christianity in Armenia, it “penetrated into Armenia through Syrians and Greeks; the ministers of cult themselves were the Greeks and Syrians which entering within Armenia as the preachers have preserved their mother tongue” (ibid., p. 51).

After the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the 5th century on the part of St. Mashtots, the Bible was the first, the most ancient and the most valuable literary monument of the Armenian people, was translated into Armenian. The Armenian Manuscripts study has shown that the first translation of Armenian Bible was made from the Syrian, Peshitta, which in the 4th century was used in the church by Armenians. After the translation of the Bible, the Armenians translated the best works of the Syrian and Greek fathers of the church. The period of translation activity in the Old Armenian literature, not only the works of Syrian and Greek fathers of the church, but the works of their historians were translated. The translation activity, owing to which the Old Armenian literature of the 5th century was created, later was called by the scholars as “the golden age of Armenian literature”. The translations from Syrian were made earlier than from Greek, and the influence of Syrian was reflected in the Armenian language where about 400 Syrian words have appeared.

In the 5th century, after the catholicos Sahak, two catholicoses of Armenia were of the Syrian origin. Sometimes the Syrians were involved into the translation activity. Having learned Armenian they made the word-for-word translations about which speak the memoranda of the manuscripts: “This word is translated from Syrian into Armenian with the hand of Syrian monk Michael and the editorial work fulfilled and adapted to the mother tongue the Bishop Nerses (from the translation of Sergius martyrdom).

Thanks to Armenian translations, we have many valuable resources arousing great interest for Syrian literary monuments, which originals were lost: The Ecclesiastic History of Eusebios from Kesaria, translated from Syrian into Armenian, has preserved many extracts which is absent in the original. The Armenian translation is a literal one. Many Armenian historians confirm the ecclesiastic affinity, the fraternal relations between Armenian and Syrian churches. From the period of Arabian domination, began the close relations between the Syrian Jacobite (monophysite) and Armenian churches, which continues to this day.

The Armenian history, the Armenian historians and archeologists who researched Assyrian (Syrian) literature and culture, contain the numerous interesting data on the Assyrians (Syrians) history. Summarizing the whole aforementioned, we may say that in the works of the Armenian historians and researchers, there is an ample amount of data on the history and the culture of the Assyrians, and they may and should be used by the Assyrians during their history compilation.

Lina Yakubova
Assyrian Documentary: “Assyrians in Armenia”

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