Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China

August 24th, 2014

The article below entitled “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” was published on August 12, 2014 by China’s CCTV network.

Three important notes the CCTV article fails to mention:

  1. The article fails to note that the Iranian-speaking Persians, Medes, Saggarthians, Parthians, etc. themselves came onto the Iranian plateau from the Central Asian steppes, areas adjacent to the Pamir and northwest China regions. Those regions themselves were inhabited with Iranian speaking and fellow Indo-European Tocharian (or possibly proto-Celtic) peoples. These peoples were to be largely displaced by the later arrival of proto-Turkic and Hunnic peoples.
  2. It has been speculated for decades that proto-Zoroastrianism may have originated in the Central Asian regions and then bought to the Iranian plateau by Iranian speakers over 2500 years ago. Thus the title of the report “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” is somewhat sensationalist (if not misleading) as ancient Persia was itself part of a larger Iranic-civilization connected to Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe (through the Iranic-speaking Scythians and later Sarmatians).
  3. The article fails mention that several well-preserved mummies bearing Caucasoid features have been uncovered in northwest China (see pictures below) dated to the timelines of 2500 years past and older. The mummies bear clothing, headgear consistent with the dress of the ancient Medes, Persians, Parthians and Scythians-Saka (of Central Asia and ancient Russia-Ukraine).

Kindly note:

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Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the ancient Persian Empire. Its founder, Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, is thought to have been born in what is now Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan. A 2004 survey by the Zoroastrian Associations of North America put the estimated number of believers worldwide at between 124,000 and 190,000.

UBC-Migrations-1Basic diagram outlining arrival of Iranian speaking peoples (Medes, Persians, Saggarthians) onto the Iranian plateau before the formation of the first Medo-Persian or Achaemenid Empire in 550-330 BCE. The red elliptical markings provide approximate areas where Iranian speaking peoples were located thousands of years ago. The diagram does not show the arrival of several other Iranian peoples such as the Parthians and other Saka peoples from Central Asia or the subsequent arrival of the Alans into northwest Iran in 75 CE (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

Now, archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. This unravelling is leading to startling controversial speculation about the religion’s origin.

On China’s sparsely populated Pamir Plateau, ancient people lived and battled, and created a marvelous civilization. These massive tombs, now being excavated, are the world’s earliest traces of the religion of Zoroastrianism found so far.

Zoroastrianism took form even before the rise of Persian Empire, which later adopted it as the state religion. The sun and fire are central to the religion, and the signs are found everywhere in the tombs.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”.

Today, most of the ancient glories lie in ruins. But the dig now offers a glimpse of what life here looked like over 25 centuries ago.

UBC-2-MigrationsMummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

This is the biggest excavation of the tombs of Zoroastrianism here in Xinjiang’s history. Some archaeologists say the excavation is likely to prove that this religion is originated from the Pamir Plateau, right here beneath of our feet.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-1Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: All the evidence leads to one conclusion: Zoroastrianism originated in the east on China’s Pamir Plateau. To this day, archaeologists are still arguing over where the religion originated, but here, we have found the earliest and the largest scale of Zoroastrian ruins, with all the typical symbols of this religion. Of course, there’s the possibility that there are other undiscovered ruins elsewhere in the world. But at this moment, it’s a logical conclusion that the origin of the religion is here, not in Persia.” said Wu Xinhua, Xinjiang Director, Archaeological Inst., Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Logical, perhaps. Startling and controversial, certainly. And as the excavation continues, the Pamir Plateau is bound to yield more amazing discoveries.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Treasures at Russian Burial Site

August 14th, 2014

The report below originally appeared on the Archaeology News Network (see link or in pdf “Archaeologists Discover Ancient Treasures at Russian Burial Site“) on August 6, 2013. Kindly note that:

  • The author of the Archaeology News Network cites the Scythians as “Persian-speaking” when in fact they spoke Northern Iranian languages (or more broadly, Iranian languages).
  • The second and third pictures (and accompanying captions) inserted into the article are by Kaveh Farrokh.

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Archaeologists have found the intact burial chamber of a noble woman from a powerful tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes 2,500 years ago in southern Russia, an official said Tuesday.

Russia-burial-SiteThe woman’s skeleton covered with jewelry and decorations (Picture Source: State Teachers Training University of Bashkortostan)

The Sarmatians were a group of Persian-speaking tribes that controlled what is now parts of southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from around 500 BC until 400 AD. They were often mentioned by ancient Greek historians and left luxurious tombs with exquisite golden and bronze artifacts that were often looted by gravediggers.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Saka Tigra-khauda (Old Persian: pointed-hat Saka/Scythians) as depicted in the ancient Achaemenid city-palace of Persepolis. It was northern Iranian peoples such as the Sakas (Scythians) and their successors, the Sarmatians and Alans, who were to be the cultural link between Iran and ancient Europe  (Picture used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

But the burial site found near the the village of Filippovka in the Orenburg region has not been robbed – and contained a giant bronze kettle, jewelry, a silver mirror and what appears to be containers for cosmetics, said history professor Gulnara Obydennova who heads the Institute of History and Legal Education in the city of Ufa. Professor Obydennova told RIA Novosti:

The find is really sensational also because the burial vault was intact – the objects and jewelry in it were found the way they had been placed by the ancient nomads…”

The vault – located 4 meters (13 feet) underground – was found in the “Tsar Tumulus,” a group of two dozen mounds where hundreds of golden and silver figurines of deer, griffins and camels, vessels and weapons have been found since the 1980s.

Ossetian Girl-1883[Click to Enlarge] Photograph of an Ossetian girl in 1883. The Iranian-speaking Ossetians are the modern-day descendants of the great Sarmatian tribes who once held their mighty sway over Eastern Europe.

The woman’s skeleton was still covered with jewelry and decorations, and her left hand held a silver mirror with an ornamented golden handle, Obydennova said.

The descendants of the Sarmatians include Ossetians, an ethnic group living in the Caucasus region, who speak a language related to Persian.

Sassanians in the Persian Gulf according to Archaeological Data

August 6th, 2014

The article below was first given by Dr. H. Tofighian and the late Dr. Farhang Khademi Nadooshan of Tarbiat Modares University in 2011. This was published on-line by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in the CAIS website in April 2008.

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Archaeological investigations in the northern coast of the Persian Gulf and in few sites in Khuzistan have yielded evidence for the use of amphorae in Iran, in the Parthian and Sasanian period, in burials as well as trade. No evidence for production centers of amphorae in Iran has yet been found. Nonetheless, given the paucity of excavations and surveys on the coastal regions of Iran and the lack of chemical analysis of the available evidence, the possibility that at least some of the consumed amphorae where made locally must not be ruled out. The amphorae found in these southern regions are mainly of “Torpedo” type. The present paper summarizes the most significant finds of amphorae in the ancient ports of Persian Gulf including discoveries in the course of underwater investigations of Rig Port in 2001.

Summary of finds from ancient ports of Persian Gulf and off coast sites

As early as the 2nd millennium BCE, amphora jars were used in the Eastern Mediterranean; it was produced and used in most commercial centers of Mediterranean world in the two millennia afterwards. The remarkable varied typology of these vessels provides a good basis for the dating of other materials which are found along with amphorae. In general, the so‐called Greek amphorae have relatively wide bases enabling them to stand alone while the Roman type has pointed bottom and need a support. Roman amphora was highly popular in the period from 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and its geographical distribution in the Near East reached as far as ancient Indus. The amphorae to be discussed below are mainly a category of this type, named Torpedo Jars (after their shape) or Persian Gulf amphorae (after their geographical distribution).

The chronological and spatial distribution of finds around Persian Gulf proves their use in the maritime trade through this critical economic route, at least from the beginning of Parthians dominion (3rd century BCE) up to the first two centuries of Islamic era (9th century CE). The Torpedo jars are similar to the Mediterranean type in their elongated body and pointed bottom, but differentiated in the lack of neck and handle and for their relatively wide openings. Their economic use mainly concerns transportation of valuable liquids such as olive oil and wine, thus a good number of complete vessels or sherds are found to have had bitumen coating inside. However, other goods such as cereal and fish were too transported in this type of container. In Iran, the remains of amphorae are found both on the coast and under sea, the latter case often understood to be associated with shipwrecks.

Finds by the Sea

Several sites in the Bushehr Peninsula, such as “Radar” (one km south of Tel Pey Tel) and Jalali coasts have revealed remains of Torpedo Jars all coated with bitumen.

 Fig1

 [Click to Enlarge] Figure 1: find from the Jalili Coast (Picture Source: CAIS).

Also, some sites in southern coast of the Persian Gulf in UAE have also yielded amphorae of the same type dated to the Sasanian period (Kennet 2007). A summary of evidence from the Rig Port, retrieved by the author follows: The modern day port of Rig is a small town located 25 km southeast of Genaveh. In 2001, reports of pottery and metal objects found by local fishermen lead to the discovery and investigation of an under‐water site near the old port town of Rig. The site is about six hectares, not far from the coast, and the finds are collected from the depth of 3‐10 meters (see Figure 2).

 Fig2

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 2 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Beside the sherds and complete pieces of Torpedo jars used as liquid containers, finds include glazed blue ceramics, a helmet, a knee cap and a shield, as well as pieces of plain coarse ware and semi coarse ware in the form of storage jars, bowls and pots. (Amir Chaichi, 2005) (Figures 3 and 4). Concentration and distribution of many amphorae on the site and a large amorphous stone anchor among the deposited objects suggests a shipwreck as the reason for deposition of material. A similarity in typology of jars from Rig and those collected on the coasts of Bushehr is observed.

 Fig3

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 3 (Picture Source: CAIS).

 Fig4

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 4 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Off Coast Finds

A complete amphora of the so‐called Greek type is kept in the National Museum of Iran; the assumed find spot is Susa. Many Parthian and Sasanian sites around Haft Tape, identified by Robert Wenke between 1970‐77, yielded amphorae sherds. The sherds were provisionally dated to the middle and late Parthian period. Amphorae sherds were found by Moghaddam, in his survey of “Mianab” plain in Shushtar (Moghadam. A., 2005). Also from Shushtar are shreds found in Golalak, excavated by Rahbar (1966). Remains of a bitumen coated burial amphorae were found on the ground in the survey of (Kuhmand region) Botol, a site in the Bushehr province in 1995. Several amphorae sherds along with other Parthian ceramics and Seleucid coins were found in the survey of Kuzaran region by Motarjem (1997). Also Amphorae sherds along with architectural remains and other pieces of ceramics were retrieved from a stepped trench in the Parthian site of Bistone.

 Fig5

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 5 (Picture Source: CAIS).

Burial

Several Torpedo jars containing bones were found in a cemetery in the Shoghab region, near Bushehr, on a rocky hill; jars are of the same type but different in size (Fig. 5). Some jars were broken and restored after accommodating the bones (unpublished report, Rahbar and Mir Fattah 1966). These Jars were similar to the finds from royal cemeteries of Susa and the Canaanite type, all bitumen coated, with long pointed bottoms.

In the Bushehr region, several other burial amphorae containing bones have been found by local people while digging for different purposes. Several Parthian amphorae have been found in Susa and other archaeological sites in Khuzistan in burials. Parthian burials were mostly placed in the defensive walls of both Acropole and Ville Royale. A shaft dug in the mud brick wall led to an underground tunnel and several chambers. Some amphorae, all of Torpedo type and bitumen coated, were found in these graves, all broken in the upper part. A few Parthian coins found in the graves were the basis of their dating. One torpedo jar with assumed burial function is kept in the national museum of Iran (Figure 6). This jar is of the kind retrieved from Shogab and Susa cemeteries; its exact place of find is not known.

 Fig6

[Click to Enlarge] Figure 6 (Picture Source: CAIS).

The Persian Gulf (Torpedo) jars found up to now are comprised of Parthian and Sasanian amphorae. The retrieved Parthian amphorae do not show significant variety in their form and size and were solely used in the burials. The Sasanian amphorae, however, are much more varied in form and size and were used both in burials and for trade. The distribution of amphorae on the sites far from the sea in the non‐burial context primarily comes from Khuzistan and the coastal provinces of Persian Gulf. This is an indicator that they were used both on land and in the sea trade between the Mediterranean world and the Near East. A comparative study of typology of amphorae over in the wider regional context, in particular between Iran, Mesopotamia and the southern regions of Persian Gulf could tell much about the cultural and economic interactions of these communities. Nonetheless, our knowledge of the use and distribution of these jars is limited at the moment.

Bibliography

Kennet. D. 2007, “The Decline of eastern Arabia in the Sasanian period,” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 18:86, 122. Mirfatah. A., 1965, Excavation report of cemetery of Shaghabe of Boshehr, submitted to the Institute of Archaeology (unpublished).

Moghadam. A., 2005 Archaeological Survey of Mianab‐e Shoshtar, report submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Motarjem. A. 1998., The first archaeological report of Bistone, submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Motarjem . A., 1998, Survey and excavation report of Kozaran, submitted to the Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (unpublished).

Rahbar. M., 1966. Archaeological Report of Shaghab Cemetery, Report Submitted to Center of Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.

Persian Book Review Journal Evaluates Farrokh 2005 On-Line Book

July 30th, 2014

The Persian Book Review Journal has evaluated Farrokh’s 2005 On-Line Book entitled: “Pan-Turanism takes aim at Azarbaijan“. The Review of the 2005 On-line book is available for download from Academia.edu.

    VamberyArminius (Hermann) Vambery (1832-1913) seen above in eastern dress (left) and European attire (right) (Picture Sources: Public Domain). Vambery was a Hungarian professor, philologist and traveler working as an advisory to the Ottoman Sultan in 1857-1863. Vambery is one of the leading founders of pan-Turkism which is essentially a European invention. In a sense, it may be stated that the anti-Persian philosophy of pan-Turkism has never originated among the Turks – this was first created among European thinkers and through Russian support of anti-Persianism in the southern Caucasus in the 19th century.

Kindly note that the 2005 on-line book is being extensively updated and revised and will appear as a monograph with a different title under the guidance of Professor Garnik S. Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Dept., Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston) and Professor Victoria Arakelova (Associate Professor, Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University; Associate Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden). Below are excerpts of the review of the 2005 On-line text.

Saberi, 2005-2006, pp. 89-90:

“...heavy investment has taken place among Western governments towards the study of domains pertaining to Iran with a large number of Think Tanks engaged in the research of the sociology, psychology, economics, politics, culture and history of Iran and utilizing these against Iran with respect to politics, diplomacy, and propaganda…a book named “Pan-Turanism Takes Aim at Azarbaijan” has been written by Kaveh Farrokh of the University of British Columbia in Canada and it is fortunate that this has been placed on-line on the internet. As far as can be ascertained, this book has not been translated into Persian, and it is incumbent upon translators to engage in this task. The writer of this book has engaged in the attention to a series of issues which are not paid attention to at the present time, but which could due to international circumstances transform into a major political crisis for Iran and profoundly impact upon the life of Iranians. This book considers a number of Western objectives towards Iran, especially with respect to the promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in Iran.”

Ralph Peters’ version of the Bernard Lewis Plan (Professor Bernard Lewis denies being the originator of this plan). The above is a “revised” map of Iran and the Middle East as proposed by Ralph Peters (source: Peters, R. 2006. Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would Look. Armed Forces Journal, June Issue). Note that the Republic of Azarbaijan has absorbed Iran’s Azarbaijan province, a Greater Kurdistan has absorbed Iran’s Kurdish and Luri regions, Iran’s Khuzistan province has become joined to a southern Iraqi Arab state, Iran’s southeast is joined to a Greater Baluchistan. Interestingly, Peters has “compensated” Iran by “granting” it the city of Herat, which was in fact a part of historical Iran until its official detachment from the country by the British Empire in the late 1850s.

Saberi, 2005-2006, pp. 90:

Pan-Turkism, or in its broader sense, pan-Turanism, is a racist ideology akin to pan-Arabism, pan-Iranism, Fascism, Nazism which conveys the message that the culture and history of the Turks is superior to all other peoples in the world, with the aim of creating a Turkish state stretching from Europe to Asia… “

 Super-TuranA map of the proposed pan-Turkic or pan-Turanian state (Picture Source: The apricity). Much of this philosophy can be traced to European thinkers such as Leon Cahun (see below).

David-Leon-CahunDavid Leon Cahun (1841-1900) proposed that the Turks were a superior race or more specifically “supermen” (Picture Source: Public Domain). The notion of racial superiority is an alien concept among the Turks who have always been (and remain) warm, open, friendly and hospitable to all who visit or settle in Turkey. Racism has never existed among Turks or Turkic-speakers – the importation of this concept can be traced to European thinkers such as Cahun who placed a heavy emphasis on drafting pan-Turkism as an anti-Slavic, anti-Islamic  and anti-Persianate philosophy.

Saberi (2005-2006, pp. 91) provides the following overview:

In summary this book provides a detailed description of pan-Turkism and how this is being sponsored by Western economic interests…the writer notes how this ideology claims that the founders of human culture, civilization and language are Turks and that the civilizations of Iran, Greece, Rome and Sumeria were founded by Turks. Tajiks, Kurds and native (North American Indians) are claimed as Turks.”

Pic20-indianTurk Painting of the mythical Grey Wolf (Ashena) and what is presented as a Turkish Indian warrior (Picture Source: Network54). One of the assertions of Pan-Turkism is that the entire spectrum of the native Indian population of North America are essentially Turks as these crossed Asia into the North American continent along the Bering Strait. Turkic peoples however had not formed as an ethnic group tens of thousands of years ago and linguistic analyses fail to provide any correlations between any indigenous Indian languages in North America (which are highly diverse in their own right) and any Turkic languages.

it is important to note that in contrast to the current establishment in Baku (modern-day Republic of Azarbaijan known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918), many modern-day Turkish historians seriously question the premises of pan-Turkism and acknowledge its ideological nature. Turkish professor  Ayse Gül Altinay has summarized seven premises of pan-Turkism in her 2004 book: The Myth of the Military-Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey, Published by Palgrave-Macmillan, pages 22-23:

  • The original homeland of the Turks is in Central Asia or Turkistan and not on Mongolia.
  • The Turks are a white race of the Brachycephalic type and are not derived from the Asiatic or ‘Yellow” races.
  • The Neolithic civilization of mankind was invented by the Turks in Central Asia.
  • Climactic factors (mainly drought) forced the Turks to migrate out of Central Asia. This resulted in the Turks introducing Neolithic civilization to Asia, the Americas and Europe.
  • Early civilizations of the Near and Middle East such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia (especially the Hittites) were founded by the Turks.
  • Turkish is the oldest sophisticated language of mankind and is the basis of ancient Hittite and Sumerian languages.
  • Turks are the founders of several states, kingdoms and empires in history.

As noted Saberi, 2005-2006, pp. 91 with respect to the 2005 Farrokh text:

In part II of the book, the writer engages in the description of pan-Turkist claims to [Iranian] Azerbaijan…being a part of Greater Turkestan. These claims are being mainly promoted by Western petroleum interests…The writer also engages in the examination of the false thesis that Azerbaijan was a large kingdom split between Iran and Russia during the Qajar era resulting in a “South Azerbaijan” and a “North Azerbaijan” which must be “re-united” like Vietnam…

A post-Soviet era propaganda map produced in Baku. The above map (click on the above map to see the associated video) promotes the false notion that a “Greater Azerbaijan” was divided in two by Russia and Iran in 1828. Historically false claims such as these were first promoted by the pan-Turkists of the early 20th century which were then propagated by the former Soviet Union and the Communists, notably Joseph Stalin and Mirjaafar Baguirov. Unfortunately the legacy of historical amnesia has continued to persist at the official level in the South Caucasian state.

Saberi (2005-2006, pp. 91) notes that pan-Turkists claim that:

“...poets such as Shabestari, Ganjavi and Molavi were Turks who were forced to write in Persian…

False Statue in RomeBaku Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov at Nizami Ganjavi monument at Rome’s Villa Borghese park in early February 2013. The Aliev Foundation  funded the installation of this statue as part of the initiative of falsifying Iranian historical icons (see Petition to correct the historical identity of the statue in Rome). Ganjavi composed his poetry in Persian and wrote extensively on the Iranian cultural realm.

Saberi, 2005-2006, pp. 92:

Among the other falsifications examined by the writer is the notion that Turks have resided in the Caucasus for over five thousand years and have spoken Turkish for that time…

Saberi then notes of the writer’s use of primary sources to disprove such claims and demonstrate that Turkic languages are historically-speaking, relative newcomers to the region, beginning from the post-Islamic era in the 11th century CE.

Polo_game_from_poem_Guy_u_ChawganA Persian miniature made in 1546, during the reign of the Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501-1722). This artwork is of the Persian poem Guy-o Chawgân (“Ball and Polo-mallet”) depicting Iranian nobles engaged in the game of polo, which has been played in Iran for thousands of years (Picture Source: Public Domain). The Baku establishment initially attempted to convince UNESCO that Polo was part of the “Azerbaijani heritage”, however in a positive development, their authorities acknowledged the diverse historical legacy of the game lin 2013. The term “Azerbaijan” never existed in the South Caucasus until May 1918. The only historically attested Azerbaijan is in Iran’s northwest which has been a cultural and historical part of the Iranian realm for thousands of years.

Professor S. Peter Cowe: Church of Etchmiadzin (Ejmiatsin)

July 23rd, 2014

The article below by Professor S. Peter Cowe on the Church of Echmiadzin (Ejmiatsin) was first published December 15, 1998 in the Encyclopedia Iranica and last updated on December 9, 2011.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

Etchmiadzin (Ejmiatsin) is currently designation of three separate but interrelated entities: the cathedral and monastic complex which forms the residence of the supreme patriarch and catholicos of all the Armenians, the city in which this complex is located, and the district of which the latter is the administrative center. Notably, excavations conducted by the Yerevan Institute of art in 1955-56 and 1959 demonstrate that the Etchmiadzin cathedral had been constructed over an Iranian (Zoroastrian or Mithraic) fire temple.

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EJMIATSIN (or Echmiadzin; Arm. Eǰmiacin; Tk. Ūč Kelīsā), currently designation of three separate but interrelated entities: the cathedral and monastic complex which forms the residence of the supreme patriarch and catholicos of all the Armenians, the city in which this complex is located, and the district of which the latter is the administrative center. The name means “The Only-begotten descended” and is associated with a vision vouchsafed to the first primate of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator, soon afer the Christianization of the court in 314 C.E., generally dated to the 460’s. In it Christ appeared to the prelate and indicated with blows of a gold hammer the site where the cathedral church (katʿołikē) should be constructed (Agathangelos, p. 276, tr., p. 277). Since the Middle Ages the term has been used to designate the church and was further applied to the city and the surrounding district in 1945.

Echmiadzin-ChurchThe Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the Church in Armenia and is in fact considered to be the world’s oldest cathedral (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Located in the central sector of the plain of Ararat in what was the Aragacotn district of the Ayrarat region and favored with a mild climate, the area has yielded up a variety of antiquities from the stone, bronze, and iron ages indicating early habitation. From the first through the early fifth centuries it was royal domain of the Arsacid dynasty branch of the Parthian royal house of Persia. It is probable that the city itself was established by King Vałarš I (117-40 C.E.), as its original name Vałaršapat implies. A somewhat embellished description of its foundation is recorded by a later Armenian historian now generally dated to the eighth-ninth centuries (Moses of Khorene, pp. 199-200, tr. Thomson, pp. 210-211). In 163 it was proclaimed capital of Armenia by the Romans under the designation Kainēpolis (New city), by which it is also known in certain early Armenian writings (Koriwn, pp. 98, 118, 140, tr., pp. 280, 288, 297). Latin inscriptions testify to the Romans strengthening its defense works and garrisoning a vexillatio (a cavalry force of 600 horsemen) of the XV Legion Apollinaris there.

The city appears to have been the residence of the Arsacid dynasty during the fourth century, but seems never fully to have recovered from its sack and the deportation of its population under Šāpūr II (after 363), apart from a period under King Vramašpuh (ca. 392-414). After Dvin became a capital in the second half of the fifth century, Ejmiatsin’s status remained primarily religious. In addition to its association with Gregory the Illuminator it gained prestige from being the locus of the martyrdom of Sts. Hṙipʿsimē and Gayanē and a group of virgins who, according to the sources, had accompanied them from Rome at the turn of the fourth century (Agathangelos, pp. 296, 298, tr., p. 297, 299). Soon annual feast days were appointed and martyria constructed in their honor, which became a source of pilgrimage. The existence of three prominent churches in the city prompted its Turkish title of Ūč Kelīsā. In 1694 the melik Ałamal Šoṙotʿecʿi endowed a fourth, the Šołakatʿ. Excavations in 1955-56 and 1959 by the Institute of art in Erevan revealed that the cathedral had been constructed over an Iranian fire temple.

A Persian Zoroastrian or Mithraic Fire Altar discovered Underneath the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia in the late 1950s. The presenters at the scene note a number of Iranian types themes at the Fire Altar. This discovery at Etchmiadzin provides further substantiation for Professor Whittow’s observation that: “The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia … many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world [224-651 CE] to its south and east than with the world to the west” (Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press, pp.203-204).

Its fourth century basilica structure was damaged during Yazdegerd II’s campaign of 449-51 and was rebuilt in the cross-in-square design which it still retains by the sparapet Vahan Mamikonean in 483 (Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 157, tr., p. 217). As the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia was subjected to increased Mamluk pressure at the end of thirteenth century and contemplated various accommodations to Latin faith and order to gain support from the pope and Western powers, a movement of civil and religious leaders in Greater Armenia began to press for the seat of the catholicate (currently in the Cilician capital of Sis) to be transferred to Ejmiatsin. This is embodied in the evocative lament of 1304 by Stepʿannos Ōrbēlean, in which the cathedral is personified as a widowed mother mourning the loss of her children. Finally, through efforts of Yovhannēs Hermonecʿi and Tovama Mecopʿecʿi a council was convened at Ejmiatsin in 1441 which created a new supreme catholicate, the jurisdiction of Sis thereafter being of purely local significance. Catholicos Grigor X Jalalbekeancʿ (1443-65) then purchased the city and surrounding district which remained under ecclesiastical control until the establishment of Soviet orders in 1920.

The district remained under Persian rule from 1502 to 1827 as a component of the Khanate of Erevan (q.v.). In order to retain a powerful Armenian presence in Persia in the aftermath of his widespread deportations, Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629, q.v.) determined to dismantle the cathedral stone by stone and have it reconstructed in New Julfa in the suburb of Isfahan. However, upon reflection he contented himself with its primary elements, the four corner stones, the altar, stone of Christ’s descent, baptismal font, right hand of St. Gregory utilized in consecrating bishops, etc. From the 1630’s until the end of the century a succession of pontiffs supervised the edifice’s repair and extension and the provision of auxiliary buildings, such as a belltower, bakehouse, refectory and enlarged retaining wall as well as irrigation canals and artificial lakes. Expenses for these operations were provided by the Armenian ḵoǰas of New Julfa, who enjoyed great influence in the election of the catholicoi at this period, and čelebīs of Constantinople. The century also witnessed the foundation of a school of higher theological studies at Ejmiatsin where secular subjects were also taught, in part in order to combat Catholic missionaries. The latter seem to have had a special devotion toward St. Hṙipʿsimē, whose relics one of them attempted to purloin from their shrine (Ghougassian, p. 168).

Echmiadzin-Farrokh-1[Click to Enlarge] Portrait of Shah Abbas at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Picture Source: Kaveh Farrokh, November, 5, 2013).

Two other councils convoked at Ejmiatsin were directed against Persian rule over the eastern provinces of the Armenian homeland. Since the catholicos was recognized as ethnarch in both civil and religious affairs he has the obligation to take the initiative in such measures. Consequently, Catholicos Stepʿannos Salmastecʿi summoned both clerics and lay representatives to the first in 1547 which planned overtures to Venice and the the Pope to institute the new crusade. Subsequently, the catholicos approached Emperor Charles V and Sigismund II of Poland. However, his death in 1552 brought the episode to a close. The second, which was destined to end in similar fashion, was organized by Catholicos Yakob Jułayecʿi in 1677. Hearing about its purpose, the khan of Erevan attempted to obstruct it, but the catholicos managed to escape to Georgia where he enlisted the support of Giorgi XI, King of Kartli, before continuing to Cosnstantinople. There he entered into correspondence with Jan Sobieski of Poland, but died before much progress was made. One delegation, Israel Ori, son of one of the meliks (secular lords) of Siwnikʿ, attempted single-handedly to pursue negotiations but with no success.

The skillful diplomacy of Catholicos Abraham Kretacʿi (1734-37) kept Ejmiatsin out of the Turko-Persian war and was rewarded by a vistit of Nader Shah to the city in June 1735, during which he granted the catholicate various privileges (Marvī, p. 411). The pontiff’s history of his times was published in 1870 at the monastery press established by Simēon Erevancʿi in 1771. The eighteenth century saw a steady improvement in the complex’s situation maintained by his successors’ political conservatism. Between 1715 and 1799 various members of the renowned Yovnatʿanean family were commissioned to paint different parts of the cathedral in the Persian style. The monastery built a hospice in the 1730s, opened a paper factory in 1776 to supply the press, and invested in a cotton production plant.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral 5th century planThe 5th century floor plan of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral which bears parallels with the Sassanian-era architecture of Iran – for more on Armenian-Iranian-Roman architectural links see “Professors Curatolia and Scaria: Dome Architecture and Europe(Picture Source: Public Domain).

During the first Russo-Persian War (1804-13) Ejmiatsin was threatened by ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s forces, until relieved by General Tsitsianov who transported some of the monastery’s treasures to Tiflis for safe keeping. The city was again taken by Russian troops in September 1806, but was ceded to Persia by the Treaty of Golestān. In the prelude to the second Russo-Persian War (1826-28) both ʿAbbās Mīrzā and Ḥosaynqolī Khan Īravānī tried unsuccessfully to win the support of Nersēs Aštarakecʿi, the pro-Russian candidate for the pontifical office. He responded that he would consider Persian rule only if the church’s large debt repayments were reduced to small installments and Ejmiatsin were solely responsible to ʿAbbās Mīrzā, thus creating a small autonomous Armenian enclave under royal protection. Subsequently, the cleric raised Armenian militias which participated in the Russian advance on Ejmiatsin and fostered plans to encourage Armenians from the north of Persia and the Ottoman empire to immigrate to the Erevan region, many of whom settled around the city.

Surrender of Iranian Garisson to Paskevich-1828Surrender of the 3000-man Iranian Garrison in Yerevan to Russian forces on October, 1, 1828. The ensuing Treaty of Turkmenchai (February 21, 1827) resulted in Iran renouncing all of its Caucasian territories to the Czarist Russian empire. For a full history of the Russo-Iranian wars leading to the Treaty of Turkmenchai, readers are referred to Farrokh’s third text Iran at War: 1500-1988 in pages 187-198 (accompanying footnotes in pages 433-435) (Picture forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Kooshan Mehran). Note the domed mosque on the left side of the street; this appears to be the famous Blue Mosque of Yerevan, which exists intact today in the city’s Mesrop Mashtots avenue.

During the nineteenth century more amenities were added to the monastic complex, especially under the catholicate of Gēorg IV Kostaninupolsecʿi (1866-82). In addition to inaugurating Ararat, the first periodical in Armenia, and opening a museum and reading room, the latter founded the only institution of higher learning in the Erevan province, which achieved renown under his name as the Gēorgean Jemaran (academy). It counted a number of celebrated cultural figures among its teaching staff and student body, e.g., Komitas, Y. Yovhannisean and M. Abełean. After the revolution of 1905 it developed social democrat and later Bolshevist cells until its closure in 1917.

During Soviet rule the Ejmiatsin district underwent a marked degree of industrialization and became one of the most densely populated areas of the Armenian Republic. The main plans for the modern city were laid in 1939-46 under architect S. Manukyan. After reaching a nadir with the murder of Catholicos Xorēn Muradbekyan on April 4, 1938 in Ejmiatsin the church experienced a partial easing of its position after the Second World War under the long reign of Vazgēn I Palčyan (1955-94). Since 1988 both city and district have given shelter to numerous refugees from the ethnic conflict in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates since 1918).

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