Revival of Armenian Ancient Historiography During The Soviet Union (1930-1980)
July 07 , 2020 , 18:36
Revival of Armenian Ancient  Historiography  During The Soviet Union  (1930-1980)

 General Review

          Since the Independence of the Republic of Armenia in 1991, we constantly lament on the Soviet 70 years blaming the harsh system for being alarming and unproductive, ascribing our present failures to those seven decades. It is unfortunate that by surmising so comfortably and unfairly, we seem to forget the large amount of serious exploration and studies of almost all of our ancient literature, our historiography, from Movses Khorenatsi to Arakel of Tabriz, a period over ten centuries.  Our leading scholars from 1930 to 1980 studied anew, rediscovered, and published one by one the texts of our Golden Age and later Middle Age historians, forming a monumental library, without which the generations following the System and those welcoming the Independence would have been mainly in the dark and uneducated.

          I was a student in the early 1950’s at the Armenian Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon and remember receiving those publications of our historians, and upon the instruction of our teacher Simon Simonian we were able to find access to our ancient history, philosophy, architecture and related fields through individual studies by those researchers. Mr. Simonian persistently demanded that we see and read some of those historians first hand, carrying current publications to the class in his heavy briefcase. They included lengthy Introductions, the original texts, and tedious commentaries, so that we may directly be informed of our past. Over 30 of those first hand studies I preserve in my library for reference. They are irreplaceable.

          Honorable names, such as, Catholicos Karekin Hovsepiants,    Bishop Karapet TerMkrtchyan, Hakob Manadyan, Stepan Malkhassyan, Hrachya Acharyan, Yervant TerMinassian, Kevork Abgaryan, Aram TerGhevondyan, Vasken Hakobyan, Victor Hambartsumyan, and many others have contributed immensely to the revival of our ancient historiography, theology, science, and canon law. They courageously undertook to explore Armenian manuscripts and ancient rare books deposited in Yerevan’s St. Mesrob Mashtots Library of Armenian Manuscripts beginning in 1934 when historian Hakob Manandyan pioneered his “Feudalism in Ancient Armenia.” They rediscovered and revived all our literary treasures, and in the long run the Armenian philology and history came into life triumphantly.


The Last 25 Years

          The reality is that the last 25 years very little was offered in terms of philology, leaving further studies in oblivion, as if the scholars of our previous generations completed everything we needed, and nothing was left for us to continue. We are most thankful to those who explored our history, literature, and manuscripts during those five decades of the most difficult time in our recent history. They “ignored the system” and its side effects and carried our history and arts genuinely and courageously, the communist ideology notwithstanding. Today, we do not see the continuation of the first revival. Fortunately they are still current as far as the texts and their respective political issues are concerned as part of our ancient turbulent history.


Publications (1930-1980)

          On top of the list were two giant publications, Hrachya Acharyan’s “Armenian Etymological Dictionary,” 4 volumes (1971-1979), and the huge 14 volume “Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia” (1974-1986), an   irreplaceable source indeed for Armenian and world history, art, science, and geography. The first, unique in its kind, explores all Armenian words and their origins in a most minute and complete manner, as related languages are also discussed in their original scripts, Persian, Arabic, Greek, Syriac. Next, colorful albums of “Armenian Manuscripts” and  “Khachkars,” “Armenian Churches,” and “Treasures of Etchmiadzin,” comprised the leading publications of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin under His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians.


Armenian History Re-written

More specifically the following books filled significant lacuna in various fields of Armenian studies. In 1930 H. Manandyan published his “Scales and Dimensions in Ancient Armenian Sources,” and in 1936 he published “The Main Highways of Armenia According to the ancient map of Bevdingueriana.” His monumental works however are his four volumes, known as the “Critical Survey of the History of the Armenian People,” a source that as of today cannot be compared with any similar work, scholarly written supported by Greek and Latin original sources.

Between 1946 and 1949 most valuable volumes were published: “History of the Armenians,”three volumes, by Leo (S. Babakhanian). Four volumes of “History of Armenia,” from prehistoric times to the present, published from 1971.  H. Acharyan’s “Dictionary of Armenian Proper Names,” four volumes in 1944, his “History of the Armenian Language,” two volumes in 1951, and the “Comprehensive Grammar of the Armenian Language” in 1955. Academician Stepan Malkhassian published an important 7th century historian Sebeos’ “History of Bishop Sebeos,” known also as “History of Heraclius,” and later, his “Dictionary of Explanation of Armenian Language,” four volumes in 1943, as a complimentary to Acharyan’s “Etymological Dictionary.”


Classical Texts

          Thanks to our historians who published our classical historio-graphy one by one, amazingly leaving no one out of reach, beginning with Koriun’s “The Life of Mashtots,” Eznik Goghbatsi’s  “Refutation of Sects,” Movses Khorenatsi’s famous “History of Armenia,” just to name a few, with ample Introductions and complete annotations. Eznik’s outstanding treatise was first published as “Book of Defense,” based on  the “lost text during the fire of Smyrna.” Fortunately, the case was different, and the manuscript was discovered 200 years later in 1902 by the leading scholar H. Acharyan, who published a revised edition of the book with its original title of “Yeghdz Aghantots” (Refutation of Sects) in 1904. The manuscript was written in 1280 by scribe Luser at the University of Gladzor in Siunik. 

          Following the Golden Age historiographies, later historians with valuable editions were published during Soviet Armenia, such as, Kirakos of GandzakAristakes of Lastivert, Vartan Areveltsi, and many more unknown to the scholarship, a series of 65 books in total that I possess in my library.

          Another scholar M. Mkryan rendered a translation of the “Book of Lamentation” of St. Gregory of Narek into modern Armenian in 1970. Academician S. Malkhassian translated Movses Khorenatsi’s ”History of Armenia” into the vernacular in 1968. Later, Aram Ter Ghevondyan translated the 8th century “History of Priest Ghevond” on the Arab invasions into Armenia in 640’s into the vernacular. The first English translation of the same History of Ghevond was accomplished by myself in 1982, a year before Ter Ghevondyan’s translation.



          The above survey tried to prove that Soviet Armenia lived with its past history and literature honorably and faithfully. Those historians, geographers, scientists, and scholars revived our literary and academic legacy on a much higher standard than many think because of the Soviet System. Beside their publications and through their research, architecture and sculpture, hand in hand with the texts and the art of illustration of the manuscripts constituted a “Collective Academy” from which the future generations will learn for decades to come.