An interview with renowned historian Philip Ekozyants.
Philip Vartanovich, your unbiased scholarly works have made it possible to challenge Armenian pseudo-historians, who write the history of the origin of Armenians and “Greater Armenia”. You believe that the Armenians were not a people in the modern sense of the word until the mid-seventeenth century. How did you come to this conclusion?
First of all, one should understand that in the seventeenth century the concept of a people (or nation) had a different semantic scope than the one that formed by modern times. We can say that no nation in the modern sense of the word existed at that time. To ascertain this, I used a simple method. I studied articles containing the word “people” (or “nation”) in all known explanatory dictionaries of the seventeenth century and made the following conclusions.
First, the boundaries of this concept were extremely blurred, referring both to people’s place of birth and citizenship and to their social status and occupations. Curiously, at that time language was not mentioned at all as a “national” marker. But religion was of key importance in many of the articles.
Second, even throughout the seventeenth century the meaning of the word underwent changes, losing its “geographical” properties in favor of “religious” ones.
Armenian historiography stubbornly insists on the existence of the so-called “Greater Armenia” in our region. Do you think it existed, and if so, what territory did it cover?
Armenia, Greater Armenia, Lesser Armenia, Upper and Lower Armenia—these words appear on the maps and in the cosmographies of the 16th-17th centuries. Their borders are described in some cases in great detail. Different territories were called Armenia at different times. The documents of the past contain the ideas of our ancestors about the lands known to them, they should certainly be studied. There are many things we still do not understand, such as the origin of the word “Armenia” and its initial meaning. If we leave mythology aside, we will find out that we know nothing about it, and it is necessary to know. Some historians hastily declare this or that name of the territory they find in ancient documents or books to be the name of the state. This is often because of overzealous “patriotism” and a desire to ingratiate themselves with their own people. However, in order to declare this or that geographical name to be the name of a state, one must find relevant evidence: royal decrees with the name of the state; mutually recognized borders; a set of laws adopted by relevant government institutions; the existence of these institutions themselves; as well as, for example, confirmation in legal and economic documents of the existence of the army and the existence of a system to ensure its functioning; and many other things. Therefore, transition from a purely cartographic name to the name of a state is a journey that few states claiming their own “antiquity” are able to make.
What do you mean by the “Armenian question” when you say that it has an “artificial origin”?
This is a very broad, complex issue. As for the “Armenian question” now, my opinion differs from that of both Armenian and Azerbaijani scientists. And I know that no one has really dug deep in this direction.
Armenians claim that this question has existed since some hordes from the Altai allegedly came there. I don’t want to even discuss this nonsense. Azerbaijanis say that the “Armenian question” was invented by the Armenian Apostolic Church. This is not true at all. The “Armenian question” emerged when Europeans needed to pave a land route to China. The Jesuit missionaries, who were the European vanguard not only in religion, but also in trade, were losing many people when they traveled to China by sea. That is why they were looking for a land route. They were not allowed to go through Russia at the end of the 17th century. Going through Persia was not easy either, but they steadfastly built this route. Some noble European houses planned to regain, with the help of missionaries, their possessions that they had acquired as a result of the Crusades. This is when the infamous Israel Ori appeared, whom Armenian history mistakenly calls a national Armenian hero. Israel Ori, however, did not work for the benefit of the Armenians. He worked for the Pope and the European royal houses. It was he who put the “Armenian question” into the orbit of big politics. He resorted to an old trick of the Jesuit missionaries, which they used back in the late 16th century against the Greeks in Constantinople: he wrote letters on behalf of the Armenian people to the Pope, where the Armenian people allegedly asked the Pope and European rulers to take Armenians under their protection in the Ottoman Empire and create in its territory a Kingdom of Armenia with one of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire as the king.
Israel Ori’s attempt failed to yield the results he and his patrons had hoped for, but the “Armenian question” took its place in world politics. It was not “promoted” in earnest until the twentieth century.
In Armenia, they believe that the Bible allegedly mentions an “Armenian Ararat”. Why then is there not a single word in the Holy Book about the existence of Armenians?
It is not historians who talk about this, but charlatans. I know many historians who get the Middle Ages timeframe mixed up. There is no point in talking about it. You are now trying to touch on propaganda points. I have long been reluctant to engage in this “blogger” nonsense, and I have repeatedly shown and proven that such claims have no valid foundation.
Yes, the Bible mentions the Ararat, but it does not mention Armenia. But the Bible is not a historical document. Its historical value comes down to when, where and by whom specific copies of it were created, and only in this respect it is a historical document. But the content of the Bible is a myth. This is what we need to keep in mind when we turn to it.
All right. Here is a curious question. Why is there such closeness between Armenians and the French, and why is Armenia called little France?
The thing with the French is very simple. It was the French who created the Crusader states. And the Crusaders were mostly French-speaking knights. There were their descendants left in Western Asia. Some families retained their Western faith as late as in the 16th century. Over time, many of them converted to the Ancient Eastern Rite Church because of the lack of priests capable of conducting liturgy according to the Roman rite, but the memory of their French ancestors was preserved. And it was certainly of benefit to the French themselves to encourage and maintain it in order to have pockets of influence in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. That’s it in a nutshell.
In your famous article “Pierre d’Avity on Armenians” you write that in the 17th century the name “Azerbaijan” was already quite old, and that it already had its statehood at that time, contrary to etymological disputes…
Yes, I wrote about this in detail in that article and I would like to remind you that in the famous Diary of Jean Chardin (Journal du voyage du Chevalier Chardin en Perse et aux Indes Orientales) the author offers the reader several interpretations of the name “Azerbaijan” known by that time. Interestingly, the local population called Azerbaijan the same way it was called in Europe, a rare case for Asia and especially for the Caucasus region: for example, the endonyms for Armenia and Georgia did not and still do not match the internationally recognized names of these countries.
A number of Armenian sources claim that the formation of the Armenian ethnos occurred between the 13th and 6th centuries BC. What do you think about this?
I think this comes from excessive and not at all scientific zeal. This is a nice tale to lull our people’s healthy curiosity about their true past.
So it happened much later? When exactly?
The Armenian nation was not fully formed until the end of the 19th century.
Why do Armenians call themselves Hay? For example, Armenian historians claim that this word comes from the name of the kingdom of Hayasa, which is allegedly described in detail in the ancient Hittite cuneiform inscriptions dated between 1500 and 1290 B.C.
This is only an assumption, which no one has been or will be able to verify for want of documentary evidence. This is all empty talk, once again, intended to distract people from the truth.
In that case, how valid are your Armenian colleagues’ claims that the Armenian language is genetically related to the Greek and Indo-Iranian languages and that the Proto-Indo-European language emerged in the Armenian Highlands?
This is too complex and extensive an issue to raise in this format. If we are to discuss it, we need to bring the discussion to its logical conclusion. I can only say that modern linguists make judgments about the state of the Armenian language at any given historical period without having a sufficient number of manuscripts from the relevant time, if any at all. Sometimes modern scholars allow themselves to draw conclusions based on the findings of their predecessors who swore that they did have such manuscripts in their possession. The process of language formation is one of the most obscure aspects of human history. Sadly, there are people who try to convince us that they have it all figured out and feed us their hasty conclusions.
Do you agree with the conclusions of Azerbaijani historians that Caucasian Armenia is the homeland of Armenians created artificially in the lands of Azerbaijan? Or that Anatolia and the South Caucasus were not the historical homeland of Armenians, that they did not have an independent state?
No, I don’t. No one moved us anywhere on purpose. The answer here lies not in the migration of peoples, but in the names, or rather in the emergence of new names. People of different religions lived in Azerbaijan. Some of them were Christians. Some of these Christians at a certain point began to be called Armenians. They had not moved there from anywhere. The resettlement in the early 19th century as part of the mutual exchange of Christian and Muslim population between the Russian Empire and the Shah state is an isolated case, it could fundamentally change the ethnic map, but only in some regions.
I maintain my own opinion, which I have repeatedly voiced and explained: Armenians and Azerbaijanis have the same ethnic roots and are certainly bound by centuries-old kinship. Two or three centuries ago we were different only in language and religion, today these differences are, of course, greater. The time we have spent in spiritual, cultural and ideological isolation is taking its toll.
Are there any valid grounds for the claims of Armenian historians that Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity?
First, there is no evidence not only that Armenia was the first to do so, but also that it was even a state at that particular time in the fourth century.
Second, there is no evidence that anyone in these lands at all adopted the kind of Christianity we know today. The Armenian historians’ version that you mentioned has a purely propagandistic phrasing, but it is very far from scientific.
You have a very interesting view of the events of 1915, which Armenians call a “genocide”. You believe that the process of “genocide” began not 100 years ago, but with the very word and notion of “genocide”, and it continues today. What do you mean by that?
I mean that from the moment we were told in the 1940s that we were victims of a “genocide”, we stopped living a normal human life, because from that moment on we devoted it to the cause of acknowledgment of that “genocide”; it was as if we were glued to that word, and it been dragging us with it. History is full of blood, grief, and tears. But while other peoples have long left their sad past behind, we, on the contrary, are sinking deeper and deeper into it.
Besides, the facts our historians swing around, trying to prove to the world that there was a genocide, are very often not facts at all. Yes, people did die. Armenians were killed by Turks, Turks were killed by Armenians, Turks and Armenians were killed by Kurds and so on. But if we put our minds to it and find the causes of this calamity, we will find Armenians who took part in the destruction of the Ottoman state and during World War I worked for the enemies of the Ottoman Empire, for the European states. Again, this is a murky issue, one from which more than one generation of politicians has been trying to profit.
President Erdoğan has made an excellent suggestion: let’s open the archives and figure it out together. His position is clear: he is not afraid of the truth. Truth is feared by those who excel in the manufacturing of lies. Turks are not denying that a tragedy happened to their Armenian brothers in the early 20th century. They mourn every year in April. They remember it. What else should they do? Do many Germans come to the monuments commemorating the Slavs who were killed on June 22…?
According to your scientific conclusions, in the late 19th century Turks were made the enemies of Armenians, in the late 20th century it was Azerbaijanis, and now the virus of hatred towards Russians is being injected in the people. Are you talking about Armenian nationalists, those who sow this hatred between nations?
No. The words “Armenian nationalists” don’t mean anything. No one really understands who these Armenian nationalists are, where their headquarters are, how they make decisions, how they execute them, and so on. “Armenian nationalism” is a propaganda label; it has no substance. All my work is aimed at finding the source of the manipulation of our people’s minds. And in order to understand where it is today, we need to understand where it was before, where it was from the beginning.
You have said many times that Karabakh is Azerbaijani land, and because of this you are criticized by your compatriots. Armenian nationalism is a dangerous thing. Aren’t you afraid?
I am afraid. But it’s not those who are manipulating us that I’m afraid of. These are intelligent people, which means they know that any harm done to me or the people around me will only make my influence on the Armenian people grow. I am afraid of ignorant and impulsive people. Those are, of course, dangerous. God willing, all will be well.
Do you travel to Armenia often? When was the last time you were there?
A long time ago. After all, I’m not from Armenia. I worked there in 1985-87, then returned to Kharkiv. And when there was an earthquake in Armenia in 1988, I went to Leninakan to help clear the debris. I haven’t been to Armenia since then.
Do you have many Armenian friends?
Quite a few. Although I don’t have many friends in general.
What conclusions should Armenia draw in the current post-conflict period?
One mistake is obvious to me: our attitude toward history. It is too superficial and frivolous. But the most important thing is to restore peace. I think they will decide for themselves how to do this. In this matter it is important to take a sober view of things, and everything will work out.
Do our nations have a chance to coexist peacefully in the same region?
I’m sure they do.
Thank you for your unbiased opinion.
Translated from Caliber.Az