Bishop Krikor Augustine Kusa
Bishop of Alexandria for Catholic Armenians in Egypt
You may have had the chance to deal with Armenians through work, school, university, or maybe as a neighbour or friend. You may have heard him or her speaking a language unfamiliar to you, and you may have asked yourself; “Why? Who is Hagop, Vartan, Sarkis, Nanor,… or others who have equally unfamiliar [Armenian] names and converse in a little known [Armenian] language?”
Who are the Armenians? And how did they manage to retain their culture, customs and traditions? How did they come to be living among the Arab people; in fact, among peoples the world over?
The Armenia of today is totally different from one that existed way back in history; many parts of historic Armenia have been carved out and incorporated in neighbouring countries on the west, east and south. Whereas Armenia’s borders during the height of its glory under the reign of Tigranes the Great in 95 – 55BC extended to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, its area today totals 32,000sq.km.
Armenia is a land of mountains, rivers, and lakes, and has been called Nairi by the Assyrians meaning the “Land of the lakes and rivers”. Most of the rivers and mountains have a special rank in the heart of the Armenians, inspiring paintings, songs and poems. Mount Ararat, for instance, has become an Armenian motto, symbolising eternity, glory, and strength.
Lake Sevan is the largest in Armenia and the Caucasus. It is one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in the world. Situated in the central part of the Republic of Armenia, in the Gegharkunik Province, it lies at an altitude of 1,900m above sea level. Along with Lake Van and Lake Urmia, Sevan was considered one of the three great lakes of the historical Armenian Kingdom, collectively referred to as the ‘Seas of Armenia’; it is the only one within the boundaries of today’s Republic of Armenia.
Armenia geography also features woodland, steppe, dry steppe, desert, basalt columns and waterfalls, mineral springs and volcanoes.
The Ararat plain is one of the largest of the Armenian Plateau. It stretches west of the Sevan basin, at the foothills of the Geghama mountains, divided into two by the Aras River. The northern part lies in Armenia, and the southern in Turkey. Tradition has it that the Ararat plain was named after King Ara the Handsome, the great-grandson of Amasya.
Because of Armenia’s position in the deep interior of the northern part of the subtropical zone, enclosed by lofty ranges, its climate is dry and continental. Regional climatic variation is nevertheless considerable. The climate changes with elevation, ranging from the dry subtropical and dry continental in the plain and in foothills up to a height of some 1,000 to 1,200m, to the cold type above the 2,200m mark.
On the mountain slopes, yearly rainfall approaches 800 millimetres, while the sheltered inland hollows and plains receive very little rainfall a year.
Fruit is a very important part of life in Armenia. Any halfway decent host will put out a plate of cut fruit for a guest. The pomegranate and apricot are considered superior breeds of the fruit worldwide. The first, and most important fruit of Spring is the apricot whose flowering in April marks the beginning of warm weather.
The Iron Age kingdom of Urartu (Assyrian for Ararat) was replaced by the Orontid dynasty. Following Persian and Macedonian rule, the Artaxiad dynasty from 190 BC gave rise to the Kingdom of Armenia which rose to the peak of its influence under Tigranes the Great before falling under Roman rule.
In 301, Arsacid Armenia was the first sovereign nation to accept Christianity as a State religion. The Armenians later fell under Byzantine, Persian, and Islamic hegemony, but reinstated their independence with the Bagratuni Dynasty kingdom of Armenia. After the fall of the kingdom in 1045, and the subsequent Seljuk conquest of Armenia in 1064, the Armenians established a kingdom in Cilicia, where they prolonged their sovereignty to 1375. That year Armenia fell to the Mamluks of Egypt, only to be devastated by Tamerlane in 1400.
The 15th century saw the land become a battleground between rival regional forces till it was finally divided into East and West Armenia between the Ottomans and Persians during the 16th and 17th centuries. The eastern part passed into Russian hands in the 19th century and was sovietised in the 20th century.
In the early 20th century Armenians living under the Ottomans suffered the genocide at the hands of the Ottoman government, in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed and many more dispersed throughout the world. Armenia, in 1922 corresponding to much of Eastern Armenia, became a Soviet State. In 1991 Armenia gained independence and the Republic of Armenia was established.
22 April 2015