Conferences Distance Learning News Work Repository Links Partners Site map

Encyclopedia >> Armenological Encyclopedia >> The origin and formation of the Armenian nation

  The origin and formation of the Armenian nation

The problem of the origin and formation of the Armenian nation was one of the main problems in Armenology, which is still disputable in some cases. Where does our nation come from, which is its homeland, when was it formed as an independent ethnic unity and when was it mentioned in ancient written memorials? Problematic nature of these questions comes not only from the diversity of information of sources, but also from the political and other interests of those who study them, though the existing facts and today’s level of research allow us to answer the main questions on origin and formation of the Armenian nation. Now we’ll touch upon the legends on the origin of the Armenians written in ancient times and middle ages, then the most wide-spread theories of various times in historiography, today’s state of the study of the question and preserved ancient information about  Armenia and the Armenians will be introduced.

In ancient times and Middle Ages some legends were written on the origin of the Armenians, from the viewpoint of Armenology (which has a source value) Armenian, Greek, old Hebrew, Georgian and Arabic ones are of great interest.

a.The Armenian legend.

It was formed in ancient times and reached us by records of Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Chorene). Separate episodes of the legend are mentioned in medieval writings of Armenian writers. In the legend two chronological periods can be separated. The first- ancient period was formed and existed in pre-Christian times. According to the ancient legend, the Armenians were originated from the epic forefather Hayk Nahapet (Hayk the Forefather), who was one of the sons of gods. This is how the origination of the Armenian forefather is depicted in book of Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Chorene): <<The first of the gods were dreadful and outstanding and they were the reasons of world’s blessings, they were reasons of the beginning of world and population. From these gods the giants were originated... One of them was Yapetostean Hayk …>>.

In Christian period the Armenian legend was changed due to the understandings of Bible, according to which after the Flood the whole mankind was originated from Noah’s three sons (Japheth, Ham and Shem). According to the new, Christianized version of the legend Hayk Nahapet (Hayk the Forefather) is considered to be the son of Torgom nahapet (the Forefather) who was one of the descendants of Japheth, in the medieval written sources the name given to Armenia <<Torgoma tun>> (House of Torgom) and to the Armenians <<Torgomyan azg>> (the people of Torgom) comes from there.

According to the legend Hayk with his kins fighted against Mesopotamian tyrant Bel and won him, from that day the Armenians began to count ancient Armenian calendar (Bun Hayots tvakan) (according to prominent armenologist Ghevond Alishan’s calculation it was started in 2492 BC on the 11th of August).

According to the Armenian legend our nation was named <<hay>> and our land was named <<Hayastan>> after Hayk Nahapet (the Forefather), and names <<Armenia>> and <<armen>> came from Hayk’s descendant Aram nahapet (the Forefather). According to the same legend many territories in our Highland were named after Hayk and his descendants (Hаykashen was named after Hayk, the mountain Aragats and Aragatsotn province were named after Aramanyak, Armavir was named after Aramayis, Yeraskh (Araks) was named after Erast, Shirak was named after Shara, Masis was named after Amasia, sea of Gegham and Gegharkunik were named after Gegham, Sisakan (Syunik) was named after Sisak, Ayrarat was named after Ara Geghetsik (the Beautiful), ect).

b.The Greek legend.

The Greek legend about the Armenian origin is connected with a well known legend in Ancient Greece <<Argonauts>>. According to this legend the forefather of the Armenians and the eponymous father of Armenia was Armenos Tesalatsi (Armenos of Thessaly), who took part in the navigation for Golden Fleece with Jason and other Argonauts, and then he was settled in Armenia, which was named <<Armenia>> after him. The legend reports that he was from Armenion (a city in Thessaly region in Greece).

The legend particularly wrote Greek historian Strabo (1st century BC), according to whom the sources of his information were the stories of generals of Alexander of Macedonia. Judging from the facts, the legend of the Armenian origin was formed and connected with the legend of Argonauts in the period of Alexander’s invasions. In earlier sources on the legend of Argonauts there is no information on the Armenian origin. Probably it had a political intention, like stories on the Greek origin of the Persians and the Medes. In history there are a lot of cases when some conqueror formed false justification to give legal view to his projects. That is why the information from this legend cannot be considered reliable.

Information on the western (Phrygian) origin of the Armenians was preserved in the works of Greek authors Herodotus (5th century BC), Evdoxus (4th century BC), etc. The arguments brought in the information are on the likeness of the clothes of the Armenian and Phrygian soldiers and the existence of many Phrygian words in Armenian. Of course, this can’t explain the fact that the Armenians are of Phrygian origin: Phrygians and the Armenians are affined nations (they are of Indo-European origin), the existence of the same words or words with the same root, especially the fact of wearing of the same clothes by soldiers should be considered normal.

c.The Georgian legend.

The Georgian legend was formed under the influence of the Armenian legend and it was written in the 9-11th centuries by Georgian authors (Ananun (Anonymous) historian, Leonti Mroveli and others). According to Georgian legend from eight sons of Targamos (Torgom) some nations were originated: from elder son Hayos the Armenians were originated, from Kartlos the Georgians were originated, from other sons some Caucasian peoples took their origin. Judging from the endings of proper names, this legend had a Greek source too, which hasn’t reached to us. This clearly bears the influence of the period of political state of its formation, when countries of South Caucasus were under the influence of the Armenian Bagratuni kings. From this should be explained the fact of Hayos’ being the eldest. 

d.The Arabic legend.

The Arabic legend also connects the origination of the Armenians with the belief that peoples were originated from Noah’s sons after the flood. It was written more particularly in the works of 12-13 centuries Arabic writers Yakuti and Dimashki. According to the legend Avmar was born from Noah’s son Yafis (Japheth), then his grandson Lantan (Torgom) was born, whose son was Armini (forefather of the Armenians) and  both Albanians and Georgians were originated from his brothers’ sons. This legend considers the Armenians, the Greeks, Slavic peoples, the Franks and Iranian tribes to be relative. The fact that it preserved the memory coming from the period of affinity Indo-European peoples is interesting.

e.The Old Hebrew Legend.

It was written in <<Antiquities of the Jews>> by Flavius Josephus (1 BC - 1st AD centuries). According to it <<Uros founded Armenia>>. In Armenology there is no unified viewpoint on the source of this information. There is a viewpoint, that he was Ara the Beautiful, son of Aram nahapet (the forefather). According to other viewpoint Uros can be king <<Rusa son of Erimena>>, who was mentioned in cuneiform inscriptions of kingdom of Van. In Assyrian cuneiform sources the name <<Rusa>> is mentioned also as <<Ursa>> and the name <<Erimena>> can be interpreted both as personal name and name of a tribe. There are other legends too on the origin of the Armenians, which repeat the mentioned legends and have no source importance.

f.The question of the Armenian origin in historiography.

From the 5th century up to the 19th century in the question of the origin of the Armenians the Armenian legend was accepted, which was written in the <<History of Armenia>> by Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Chorene). This had been a book on the genealogy for our nation over the centuries. In the second half of the 19th century some innovations were appeared in science, which cast doubt on the trueness of the materials written by Patmahayr (father of Armenian history) and it cast doubt on the trueness of traditional legend on the genealogy of the Armenians.

In the 19th century comparative linguistics was formed, according to which the Armenians are of Indo-European origin, in prehistoric times with other nations they formed one national affinity (<<Indo-European peoples>>) and occupied the same territory, which was in science called <<Indo-European homeland>>. In the frames of this theory the question of the origin of those peoples was connected with the location of Indo-European homeland. In different times in science there were various hypotheses on the location of the homeland (south-east Europe, south Russian steppes, northern part of Western Asia, etc).

In the 19th century the viewpoint that Indo-European homeland was located in south-eastern Europe was spread in comparative linguistics. On the other hand the reports of Greek authors on the fact that the Armenians were of Balkan origin brought the theory that the Armenians were incomers. A viewpoint was formed, according to which the Armenians, who migrated from Balkan Peninsula in 8-6th centuries BC came to Urartu, conquered it and after its fall in the 6th century BC they formed their state (the Orontid dynasty). This viewpoint, which isn’t based on the wholeness of the facts, that’s why it can’t be considered to be true, is still the subject of political manipulations (especially by Turkish falsifiers of the history).

The next was the theory of Japhetic or Asian origin of the Armenians, according to which Armenian isn’t an Indo-European language, it is a crossbreed language, and therefore the Armenians didn’t take part in Indo-European migration and originated from native Asian tribes. This theory couldn’t resist the criticism and nowadays it is denied, as there are no crossbreed languages:  a third language isn’t formed from the mixture of two languages. 

At the beginning of 1980’s the viewpoint, which was appeared at the beginning of the century, was again developed that in 5-4th centuries BC Indo-European homeland was in the northern part of Western Asia, in North Mesopotamia and in north-west of Iranian plateau. This viewpoint was gradually strengthened by new facts and nowadays it is accepted by most specialists. In this theory a new explication was given to the question of the origin of the Armenians. So it becomes obvious that the Armenians aren’t incomers, as the Indo-European homeland was the territory where the Armenian nation was originated and made its history.

Nowadays we can say that in 5-4 millennia BC the Armenians were part of the Indo-European nation and in the end of the 4th millennium and at the beginning of the 3rd millennium they were separated from Indo-European affinity. From that period began the formation of the Armenian nation, which had two stages. The first, which can be described as the period of national unions and early state formations, took place in 3-2nd millennia. In the second stage, due to the formation of united state, in the 6-5th centuries BC the period of the formation of the Armenian nation was completed.

As a conclusion we can insist that Armenian language and those who speak Armenian were separated from Indo-European affinity and became independent in 4-3 millennia BC. From those periods our nation has been mentioned in the Armenian Highland, where the Armenian nation survived and made its history.

                                                                                                                                   Movsisyan A.