Jewish History of Armenia
ARMENIA, in Transcaucasia. Historically its boundaries embraced a much wider
area in different periods. The Armenian diaspora is scattered in many
countries of the world and still identifies its past history and future
aspirations with the wider connotations of the term Armenia. Jewish
historical, exegetical, and descriptive sources reveal knowledge of the
variations in geographical area and history of this remarkable people. The
fate and modes of existence of the Armenians have been compared in some
essential features to those of the Jews.
Much of the original Armenia is now the area of Kurdistan in Turkey.
from the seventh to ninth centuries the Arab conquerors called by the name
Armenia a province which included entire Transcaucasia, with the cities
Bardhaa, now Barda in the present Soviet Azerbaijan, where the governors
mostly resided, and Tiflis (now Tbilisi, capital of Georgia). The province
also sometimes called Armenia in eastern sources. The Khazars were sometimes
credited with Armenian origin: this is stated by the seventh-century
bishop and historian Sebeos, and the Arab geographer Dimashqi (d. 1327). In
the 13th to 14th centuries the Crimea and the area to the east were known as
Gazaria (Khazaria) to western authors, and as Maritime Armenia to Armenian
authors. The term Armenia often included much of Anatolia, or otherwise
referred to cities on the Syrian-Mesopotamian route (now Turkey, near the
Syrian frontier) such as Haran (Harran), Edessa (Urfa), and Nisibis
Identification of Armenia in Literature
In the past Armenia has been connected with the biblical Ashkenaz. The
Armenians are termed "the Ashkenazi nation" in their literature. According
this tradition, the genealogy in Genesis 10:3 extended to the populations
west of the Volga. In Jewish usage Ashkenaz is sometimes equated with
Armenia; in addition, it sometimes covers neighboring Adiabene (Targ. Jer.
51:27), and also Khazaria (David b. Abraham Alfasi, Ali ibn Suleiman; cf. S.
Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot (1860), 208; S. L. Skoss (ed.), Hebrew-Arabic
Dictionary of the Bible of David ben Abraham al-Fasi (1936), 159), the
and the area to the east (Isaac Abarbanel, Commentary to Gen. 10:3), the
Saquliba (Saadiah Gaon, Commentary, ibid.), i.e., the territory of the Slavs
and neighboring forest tribes, considered by the Arabs dependent of
as well as Eastern and Central Europe, and northern Asia (cf. Abraham
Farissol, Iggeret Orhot Olam (Venice, 1587), ch. 3). In other expositions
found in rabbinical works, Armenia is linked with Uz. The anti-Jewish
attitudes prevailing in eastern-Byzantine (Armenian) provinces made the
Targum identify it with the "daughter of Edom that dwellest in the land of
Uz" (Lam. 4:21) or with "Constantina in the land of Armenia" (now
between Urfa and Na\ibin (Nisibis). Hence Job's "land of Uz" is referred to
as Armenia in some commentaries, for instance in those of Nahmanides and
Joseph b. David ibn Yahya. The "Uz-Armenia" of Abraham Farissol is however
the Anatolian region near Constantinople. Armenia is also sometimes called
Amalek in some sources, and Jews often referred to Armenians as Amalekites.
This is the Byzantine term for the Armenians. It was adopted by the Jews
the Josippon chronicle (tenth century, ch. 64). According to Josippon,
was conquered by Benjaminite noblemen under Saul (ibid., 26), and
Benjaminites are already assumed to be the founders of Armenian Jewry in the
time of the Judges (Judg. 19–21). Benjaminite origins are claimed by
sectarian Kurds. The idea that Khazaria was originally Amalek helped to
support the assumption that the Khazar Jews were descended from Simeon (I
Chron. 4:42–43; Eldad ha-Dani, ed. by A. Epstein (1891), 52; cf. Hisdai ibn
Armenia is sometimes identified in literature with the biblical Minni (Pal.
Targ., 51:27), based on onomatopoeic exegesis of Armenia = Har ("Mountain")
Minni; similarly, Harmon (ha-Harmonah, Amos 4:3) is understood in the Targum
to denote the region where the Ten Tribes lived "beyond the mountains of
Armenia." Rashi identified Harmon with "the Mountains of Darkness," the term
used by medieval Jews for the Caspian mountains, believed in the West to
surround the kingdom of the Khazars (who were often taken for the Ten Lost
Tribes) and to include the Caucasus. The reference in Lamentations Rabbah
1:14, no. 42, does not refer to the passage of the Tribes through Armenia as
is usually claimed, but more probably to the Jerusalem exiles' easy
(harmonyah, "harmonious") route.
Armenia has further been identified with the biblical Togarmah (Gen. 10:3).
In Armenian tradition this genealogy has competed with the theory of
Ashkenazi origins, and extended to the Scythians east of the Volga. The
identification of Armenia as Aram (Gen. 10:22; 25:20; 28:5) is adopted by
Saadiah Gaon and also occurs in Islamic literature.
In the biblical age Armenia was conceived as the mountainous expanse in the
north dominating the route from Erez Israel to Mesopotamia (via Haran or its
neighborhood) and extending to (and beyond) the boundaries of the known
world. The forested heights near the sources of the Euphrates and the Tigris
stimulated Jewish commentators to develop geographical concepts concerning
this area in regard to Paradise (Gen. 2:8 ff.), the divine "mount of
in the north (Isa. 14:13), the connection of the two (Ezek. 28:13–16), and
the rebirth of mankind after the Flood (Gen. 8:4ff.). The name Ararat (Gen.
8:4; II Kings 19:37; Jer. 51:27) recalls the indigenous Armenian kingdom of
Urartu, based on Lake Van.
Connections and Similarities Between Jewish and Armenian History in
The Armenians had been formed as a people by 521 B.C.E. Both Armenia and
Judea shared common overlords in the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the
Seleucids, until their liberation during the Seleucid decline. The ancient
kingdom of Armenia attained its apogee under Tigranes II. He invaded Syria,
reached Acre, menaced the Hasmonean state, then retreated because of the
Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.E.). The medieval Armenian historian, Moses
of Chorene, claims that Tigranes settled many Jewish captives in Armenian
cities, a statement reflecting the idea that the growth of cities and trade
under Tigranes was likely to attract Jews. In fact many Jews settled in the
area. Vassal kings appointed there by the Romans included the Herodians
Tigranes IV (c. 6 C.E.) and Tigranes V (60–61) in Greater Armenia, and
Aristobulus (55–60) in the western borderland, or Lesser Armenia. Under the
more autonomous Parthian dynasty (85–428/33), the Armenian cities retained
their Hellenistic culture, as the excavations at Garni (the royal summer
residence) have shown. The Jewish Hellenistic immigration continued, and by
360–370, when the Persian conqueror Shapur II reduced them by massive
deportation to Iran, the cities were largely populated by Jews. The
exaggerated figures recorded by the chronicler Faustus Byzantinus give
Jewish families deported from five cities, against 81,000 Armenian families;
the Jews formed the majority of the exiles from the three cities of
Eruandashat, Van, and Nakhichevan.
Halakhic studies never flourished in Greater Armenia, in contradistinction
the center at Nisibis; the scholar R. Jacob the Armenian (TJ, Git. 6:7, 48a)
is exceptional. However, Armenia is mentioned in the aggadic Targums. The
mention of two "mountains of Ararat" upon which Noah's ark stood (Targ.
Gen. 8:4) indicates that the location of Armenia found in Jewish Hellenistic
sources (roughly adopted by the Muslims) was now identified with a place
further north, in conformity with the Christian Armenian tradition, which
won more general acceptance.
Medieval Armenia consisted of a group of Christian feudal principalities,
under foreign overlordship for most of the time. The cities were smaller,
with a more ethnically homogeneous population than formerly, and generally
excluded Jews. The Armenians joined the Monophysite current of Christianity,
which here (as in Ethiopia) opposed the claims of the Byzantine church to
hegemony by claiming closer connections with the ancient Israel. Moses of
Chorene attributed a Hebrew origin to the Amatuni tribe and to the Bagratuni
(Bagratid) feudal dynasty of Armenia. The Bagratids, who claimed King David
as their ancestor, restored the Armenian kingdom, which lasted from 885 to
1045, when it fell to the Muslim invaders. The royal branch, whose
descendants remained in Georgia until 1801, also spread the fashion of
claiming Israelite genealogies and traditions in this Orthodox Christian
territory. The downfall of the Armenian kingdom was followed by general
decline. Many Armenians settled in Cilicia (a Byzantine province in Asia
Minor) and founded the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia, an ally of the Latin
Kingdom of Jerusalem, lasting until 1375, when it fell to the Mamluks.
Armenian Jewry ultimately disappeared as a distinct entity, although a part
was absorbed into Kurdish Jewry.
Armenia in Legend as the "Jewish Country"
Armenia figures prominently in tales from the medieval and early modern
periods about the existence of autonomous settlements of "free Jews." The
kingdom of the legendary Christian eastern emperor, Prester John, who was
overlord or neighbor of a Jewish land, is sometimes placed near Armenia. The
14th-century Ethiopic historical compendium, Kebra Negast, states that
Ethiopia will assist "Rome" (Byzantium) in liquidating the rebel Jewish
"in Armenia" (Eng. tr. by E. A. Wallis Budge as Queen of Sheba (1922),
225–6). The 14th-century Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a geographical
compilation, states that the Caspian Jews, the future Gog and Magog, are
tributaries to the queen of Armony, Tamara of Georgia (1184–1212).
The Armenian diaspora is the closest historical parallel to the Jewish
Diaspora, and a comparison of the two reveals much in common. Both suffered
loss of statehood and underwent the process of urbanization. They traveled
similar migrationary routes, adopted similar trades, received special
charters of privilege, and established communal organizations. They also
faced similar problems of assimilation, survival, and accusations made
against a dispersed people, and underwent similar psychological stresses. In
the Ukraine, both the Jews and the Armenians were accused of having
the livelihood of indigenous merchants and artisans by the communal
solidarity they manifested against competition. The massacres of the
Armenians have also been explained as a revolt by the exploited masses.
During the depopulation of Ottoman Armenia by the massacres and deportations
of World War I, the Germans planned to "send Jewish Poles" to resettle the
country. The Jewish population in Soviet Armenia numbered 10,000 in 1959.
[Abraham N. Poliak]
Mosaics with Armenian inscriptions point to an Armenian population in
Jerusalem as early as the fifth century C.E., and scribal notes on
manuscripts indicate a school of Armenian scribes of the same period. In
Armenian history 21 bishops of Jerusalem are mentioned in the Arab period.
1311 a certain Patriarch Sarkis preserved the independence of the
patriarchate when Erez Israel came under Mamluk rule. In the early 17th
century the patriarchate was short of funds but Patriarch Krikor Baronder
(1613–1645) succeeded in raising large sums from Armenians in various parts
the world over, and constructed an Armenian quarter in Jerusalem. There was
long dispute over the rights to use the monastery of St. James, and in 1813
the sultan Mahmud II granted it to the Armenians over the objection of the
Greek Orthodox. In 1833 a printing press was founded which has published
liturgical and ritual books as well as a monthly periodical Sion (since
1866). In 1843 a theological seminary was founded. In the 20th century the
community has been centered around the patriarchate and the Monastery of St.
James, and the Church of the Archangels, all in the Armenian quarter of the
old city of Jerusalem, and the Church of St. Savior on Mt. Zion. These
institutions have over the centuries inherited a large collection of
manuscripts donated by bishops and pilgrims, firmans granted by sultans and
caliphs, and specially commissioned religious articles for the services of
the cathedral. The library of manuscripts in Jerusalem is exceeded in size
only by the collection in Soviet Armenia. Though always available to
in the past, these treasures were exhibited to the general public for the
first time in 1969.
[Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]
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