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Worth a read... Not necessarily masterpieces or artistically outstanding. Yet none will disappoint the lover of literature. Reading them one will always find something of value... Armenian News Network / Groong By Eddie Arnavoudian November 12, 2007 I. TIGRAN THE GREAT - THE ONE AND ONLY ARMENIAN IMPERIAL TYRANT In 2005 on the occasion of the 2100th anniversary of Tigran the Great's (born c140BC - died c55BC) ascension to the Artashessian throne in 95BC, various conferences were organised to discuss the historical significance of what was the only Armenian imperial experience. Emperor Tigran's domain at one point stretched from northern Armenia and beyond to include swathes of Asia Minor, the Middle East and territories along the Mediterranean Sea. Hrant K Armen's own Armenian rendition of his `Tigran the Great' (248pp, 1957, Cairo, Egypt), that was first published in English in 1940, despite its sometimes lumbering language frequently dissonant with anglicisms, offers an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Setting the historical context, Armen argues that Artashes I, the founder of the Artashessian dynasty, was the first Armenian leader to attempt the establishment of a genuinely independent Armenian state. He seceded from the Selvekian throne in 195BC, declared himself King of Armenia and worked to weld the numerous and factious Armenian noble estates into a single political unit. In addition he decreed that Armenian be the official national language to replace the more widespread and popular Persian. To extend the state's territorial base Artashes attempted to annex neighbouring regions that though they did not contain an Armenian majority included a significant Armenian population. Hrant K Armen's presentation of these efforts as an expression of a grand patriotic project is debatable, especially as he passes without a definition of his concept of patriotism. It is possible for example to argue that Artashes was engaged in a dynastic enterprise, with little regard for the interests and welfare of the majority of the Armenian people that would define an acceptable concept of patriotism. His linguistic and expansionist projects could have been prompted by requirements of state security given that his initial power base in the Arax-Ararat region was too small for a self-sustaining state, especially one threatened by neighbouring great powers. So followed the project to root a more viable state by bind together lands with substantial Armenian communities and linguistically homogenising them. It is Hrant K Armen's argument that Tigran the Great takes up the project that Artashes failed to bring to fruition. Tigran was a man of immense ambition and immense ability. Though already 45 when he ascended the throne in 95BC he still dreamt of imperial glory and worked tirelessly to attain it. The third Artashessian Monarch, he moved decisively to reinforce his position immediately invading and annexing Dosb, that large segment of historical western Armenia that Artashes I had failed to incorporate. Going about the business of centralising power Tigran bound Armenian lords to himself by appointing them to important posts within his monarchical domains. He simultaneously strengthened his state apparatus - his army, cavalry and infantry - giving priority for the first time in Armenian history to the cavalry. Ambition then turned the King's gaze further afield, to his south and south west. He eyed lands beyond Armenian borders tempted by their taxable wealth as well as their enterprising Greek traders, merchants and artisans. From the latter this new imperial power received support hoping he would restore commercial security and re-establish profitable but now broken trading routes. Before commencing on what became an imperial war of conquest and control of other lands and other nations Tigran first secured his flank through agreements with King Mithradates of Pontus to his west, another regional power harbouring imperial ambitions. By means of deft political manoeuvring Tigran also neutralised the Persian crown by forcing it to acknowledge him as King of Kings. In all this preparation he remained single-mindedly determined to avoid any contest or conflict with Rome. Then Tigran unleashed his military force on Syria and beyond. He conquered relatively easily, seizing opportunity in the face of indifferent Rome and enervated Persia. Having consolidated his domestic and imperial position Tigran's main endeavour seems to have been to Hellenise Armenia, amongst other things also importing and amalgamating a host of Greek gods into the Armenian pantheon. The paucity of reliable historical material does not allow definitive judgements about the purpose behind these Hellenising policies. Hellenisation was nevertheless clearly a useful element in a political orientation to the west that could balance and counter a possible Persian threat from the east. It also served as a means of binding to the Emperor a large and wealthy Greek population within his imperial domain. But in this Hellenising mission Tigran was opposed and particularly so by the native Armenian pagan church incensed at his embrace of foreign gods. Though he presided over an empire for some decades Tigran failed to totally subdue opposition, externally or at home and had to constantly overcome internal opposition and to wage wars against rebellion at the edges. Never fully confident of the loyalty of the Armenian nobility he resorted to one of the greatest forced population movements in history invading Cappadocia in 78BC and transferring tens of thousands of people to Armenia. These communities he hoped, by owing first and sole allegiance to him would not fall prey to conspiracies and temptations from other feudal estates. But this did not prevent internal strife. Within Armenia proper, his second wife who was the daughter of Pontus's King Mithradates nurtured ambitions for her second son to succeed Tigran to the throne in place of Tigran's elder son from his first wife. She thus conspired with recalcitrant Armenian nobles, albeit unsuccessfully. Accumulated discontent within the empire became fodder for Roman generals who all aspired to conquer Asia Minor regarding it as one of the richest and most rewarding regions for imperial expansion. So they whipped up discontent and sent in armies that rapidly reached Tigran's capital in 69BC and there vanquished his forces. Tigran however recovered and in alliance with his one time foe Mithradates commenced a counter offensive with an energy and enthusiasm that defied his 70 plus years and impressed Plutarch so much that he felt compelled to comment on it. The latter part of Armen's book - the account of Tigran's defeat at Roman hands, of the conspiracies against him by his son Tigran Junior and his audacious recovery that secured him an honourable accord with Rome are written with flair and a sense of adventure. Unlike Mithradates, Tigran was too powerful for the Romans to crush and destroy. Indeed he was even considered a potential ally against the Persians. So he survived albeit stripped of his empire. But dramatic narrative cannot disguise defeat at Roman hands nor the failure of the project that Armen attributes to the one-time emperor - the unification and consolidation of an Armenian state. After Tigran's death, whatever may have been his aims, his western orientation was reversed and internecine feudal conflict once more reduced the Armenian state to an easy target for its neighbours. Tigran was unquestionably a remarkable character. But his story can occasion no patriotic pride. He was a man of his times and a successful one at that, an absolute Monarch with the power of life and death over his subjects and a slave-owner and a colonialist to boot. In a region carved out into competing dynastic entities, he was temporarily the more successful one among others who aspired for dynastic power and prosperity. Even if we were to disregard the fact that he was a slave-owning feudal monarch engaged in constant wars of conquest and oppression of other nations, we cannot escape the fact that he failed to consolidate and bequeath to the future a firm and enduring Armenian state. Tigran's Armenian Empire was born of the combination of propitious regional circumstance and Tigran's will, determination and audacity in taking advantage of these. The alteration in the regional balance of power and the resurfacing of Roman and Persian ambitions and those of the centrifugal Armenian nobility rapidly put an end to the empire. The state Tigran presided over and left behind never acquired that inner, self-sustaining force and dynamism that could in a distant and more democratic future safeguard the needs of the Armenian people. II. A TRUE HISTORY OF YEREVAN Yervant Shahaziz's short history of `Old Yerevan' (271pp, Moughni Publishers, Yerevan, 2003) is fantastically informative and enormously valuable, especially for being written by an Armenian. It has indeed become a classic. For those unaware, Shahaziz unearths a surprising and remarkably honest picture of this modern Armenian capital city. Until the Soviet era, Yerevan was a minor outpost with none of the historical glamour that attaches to cities such as Van, Ardashat, Ani, Vagharshapat and other Armenian capitals. By the time of the Russian occupation in the 1820s, when statistics first began to be collected, the town's population was no more than 12,000. Yerevan's comparatively lesser development prior to the 19th century seems not at all surprising. It is situated on some of the most inhospitable territory in the region with a water supply that was not just inadequate, dependent on artificial canals but also dangerously contaminated with disease from surrounding marshes. The wonder is that Yerevan actually came into being so early in the region's history. For though not in the least glorious it has a pedigree that stretches back perhaps to Urartian times when it was a fort or military encampment of sorts. In this instance, given that it even then required advanced canal construction, it is testimony to the engineering skills of the time. Whatever its venerable age attempts to attribute great historical significance to Yerevan requires tampering with available evidence. Yerevan is not mentioned in classical Armenian historians until the 7th century and then only once, and thereafter from the 13th century onwards it appears as a `rural town/village. Up to its emergence as the modern Armenian capital city, the most significant, and one must think wilfully ignored, aspect of Yerevan's history is the Persian and Turkish contribution. The town played an important role as a local and provincial centre of Turkish and Persian control of the Ararat region `the Yerevan Khans being the most renowned. Indeed if the town developed at all it was as a result of these Khan's efforts - building water reservoirs, gardens and solid structures. Shahaziz underlines these contributions. A vital aspect of Yerevan's history, until modern times is in its demographic diversity. Non-Armenians, Turks, Persians and others, constituted at least 50% of the city's population, if not more right through its medieval history and perhaps right up to the Russian conquest and beyond. Though tensions and clashes occurred between its Armenian Christian and non-Armenian Muslim communities who lived largely separate lives there was some sort of osmosis with Muslims attending Armenian Churches, socialising in Church gardens, and taking their disputes to Armenian dignitaries for arbitration. Yervant Shahaziz's `Old Yerevan' of course contains much, much more, and is miles away from the myths, misconceptions or fabrications of Yerevan as an essentially homogenous Armenian town. Unquestioned acceptance of these myths, misconceptions or fabrications serve to conceal a darker aspect of Yerevan's early 20th century history - the effective cleansing of the city that gave it its present Armenian ethnic homogeneity. The publishers are to be congratulated for reprinting this book that first appeared in the 1930s. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.