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  • Earthling 4:09 pm on February 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Image of Armenian Plateau from Ahmed Soyuk on Panoramio (CC3 License)









    General characteristics of Armenian geography

    Armenia, according to the geographer R. Blanchard’s definition, is “an enormous mountain range towering over the depressions of Transcaucasia and Mesopotamia,” or rather it is simultaneously a mountain range “because its frame is formed of adjacent folds” and a plateau “because its folds are drowned in eruptive effusions.” Briefly, “a great natural fortress with steep outskirts, but containing behind its battlements tables, basins and plateaus,” with “a striking contrast between the walls of the periphery and the relatively softer forms of the interior relief.” (Average height of the peripheral chains is 3000 to 4000 meters; the inner plateau is 1500 to 1800). Moreover, a new conflict is manifest in the interior itself, again “between high mountains, wild and deserted, and fertile basins, populated by sedentary people, basins that Armenia is dispersed between.” (1)

    One could not better formulate the two characteristics of Armenian geography: the profound individuality of this country in comparison to other lands of Western Asia, and its interior compartmentalization. From these geographical facts the two constants of Armenian history ensue: on one hand, the powerful “personality” of the Armenian nation, a personality which has enabled it to survive through all its invasions, dominations, and catastrophes; on the other hand, the inveterate feudalism which, from antiquity to 1064, was a cause of weakness and discord for Armenia.


    The Defense of the Armenian Fortress: the Mountains Bordering the North.

    In accordance with these general facts, the Armenian territory is divided into a certain number of well-distinguished zones.

    First are the border mountains that separate Armenia in the north from Transcaucasia and primarily the Georgian countries; and in the South, from the Mesopotamian plains. Strabon (XI, 14, 2) already remarked that “the circumference of Armenia is almost entirely composed of lowlands and mountainous land.”
    The northern ridge is highly elevated, between 3000 and 4000 meters. It is composed of three distinctly parallel chains which curve in the arc of a concave circle from the West to the East, from the North of Erzincan to the height of Tiflis, then from the Tiflis region to the Shusha region.

    In the northwest sector of this area, from Batum to the pass of Suram, the Pontic territory, with its abundant rains and soft climate, adorns the mountains, or at least their reverse to the north, with magnificent vegetation. It is the country known in antiquity as Lazica. Cantons, moreover, are cut “in a disorder of crests and gulfs with an impenetrable undergrowth of hollies, laurels, azaleas, and rhododendrons.” Let us note, however, that the Chorokh (ancient Akampsis) and its tributary the Oltichai, through their valleys across the adjacent chains, successfully establish a means of penetration into the interior, as we notably see in the campaigns of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II.

    The forested surfaces of the peripheral chains that separate Armenia from Guria and Imereti (ancient Colchis) come to an end on the southern slopes. The northern side, still covered with pine trees, is contradicted by the south with its naked slopes, and this dryness gains the northern side as it leaves the basin of the Black Sea and meets that of the Caspian. The upper Koura in the ancient district of Kolaver, around Ardahan or Artahan, to the north of Kars, still benefits from Pontic rains. Further to the East, the mountains are bared. Nevertheless, the floors of the valleys, and especially the gorges, preserve even here their jewelry of forests: thus the valley of Akstafa, in the region of Lori, is celebrated for its pine trees, plane trees, and gigantic walnut trees.

    The northern border chain thus runs in the arc of a concave circle, surrounding the country from Erzincan to Ardahan and from Ardahan to Lake Sevan, across the ancient provinces of Tao, Kolaver, Alotz, and Gugark, the ancient Gogarene. Near Sevan, it divides into two masses which encircle the lake and surround the province of Karabakh as well (the region of Ganja and Barda), a “plateau built from layers of lava, the highlands of which display a steppic vegetation between the forested mountains,” while remaining brilliantly drained by the last southern tributaries of the right side of the Koura.

    The Araxes clears a passage between these mountains, to the north those of Syunik (the land between Lake Sevan and Nakhichevan) and Karabakh, and to the south those of Persian Azerbaijan; it puts Armenia in direct communication with Iran. The valley of one of the southern tributaries of the Araxes, the Kizilchai which waters the country of Khoy (Her in Armenian) in Azerbaijan, was the way by which the Iranian invasions have always penetrated Armenia from the side of Julfa and Nakhichevan, the ancient district of Golthen or Goghtn. Farther to the East, at the Araxes’ exit from Armenia, it waters the grassy steppes of the Arran (on its right bank) and Moghan (on its left bank) which have always served as way stations for turco-mongol nomads in their push towards the Armenian fortress. In advancing in this direction, Karabakh, Syunik and Golthn form something of an “Armenian March,” destined to be a front against these thrusts from the steppe. Nevertheless the neighborhood of the Iranian plateau made itself strongly felt with its climate, that of the dry steppes of Persia; with the naked and almost metallic appearance of the mountains; with its character of an oasis of towns surrounded by vineyards, cotton plantations, and rice fields shaded by tall plane trees, contrasting with the emptiness of the surrounding land.


    The Defense of the Armenian Fortress: the Mountains Bordering the South

    The area bordering the south, with its mountainous massif separating Armenia from Mesopotamia, forms Kurdistan today. The chains oriented from the east to the west, which constitute the skeleton, stand 3000 meters above the Assyrian plains in the southeast. These are the ancient geographer’s districts of Moxoene and Karduene, the Mogk and Gorjaik of Armenian nomenclature. The same mountainous system continues to the West, from the region of Bitlis to the south of Harput and Malatya. It is this “Armenian Taurus” that dominates the ancient province of Khoith, Sason, Palu, and the medieval province of Khanzith, Hanzith or Hanzeth (or country of Harput), this last being included in the ancient Sophene. To descend the Armenian massif towards the Mesopotamian plain, the Tigrus, the Euphrates and their tributaries widen across this mountainous ridge of true canyons, “terrible gashes.” Thus the gorges of the eastern tributaries of the Tigrus cross the Khemsdinan chain, in the provinces of Gorjaik, Tmorik, and southern Albag (or Alibaug). Thus the gorges of the Euphrates, with their sharp bends and “bayonetted routes,” enter the ancient Commagene and Sophene, particularly in the province of Hanzith or Hanzeth, already cited, between Harput and Gargar.

    Concerning the appearance of these border mountains of the southerly zone, the geographers compare them to those of our Alpine southerly zone: after the flora of the Alpine meadows come the forests of mountain chains, to which can be added, in well-watered valleys, the wild mulberry, the fig and poplar trees; and finally in the lowest hills, the vine, and even cotton and rice. Nevertheless, in Kurdistan proper, the depth and narrowness of the gorges renders communications practically impossible for a part of the year. The only truly passable valley here is that of the Bitlis River, by which one gains access from Kurdistan to Vannic Armenia, around the provinces of Khoith (southwest of the lake of Van) and Reshtunik (south of the lake).

    This division, this cloistering of the valleys, has dictated the fate of the country, which is fragmented into townships which are still practically autonomous. “They live in little communities entrenched in the heights of the valleys,” writes R. Blanchard. “It’s a total dispersal. All the villages are installed in defensive eagle’s-nest sites. The houses are set up like stairs on a slope, each flat roof serving as a courtyard for the house above it.”


    In the Interior of the Armenian Fortress: the Summits.

    The Armenian plateau extends throughout the interior of the circular double arc of border chains. “Goodbye wooded crests,” writes R. Blanchard, “rough slopes where water flows, labyrinth of gorges from which mist arises. The country opens up, lowers itself, the lines soften and take form. Noble shapes, convexes, extend infinitely. The mountains have disappeared: here are the plateaus. Vegetation withers under the feeble radiance of a steppe sky. The green gives way to yellows and ochres. In descending the hill of Zikar towards Akhaltzikhe*, from Karabakh to the Gok-Chai (or Lake Sevan), from Bitlis to the plain of Moush**, the same contrast appears: it has struck all the explorers of Armenia.”

    * That is to say, in passing from Imereti towards the province of Meskhethi in the greater basin of the Koura, at the Armenio-Georgian fringes.
    ** The plain of Moush, between Khoith, Sasun and Taron.

    Is this to say that there is a central plateau with a uniform surface? Not at all. The plateau, because in the whole there is a plateau , is sowed with mountains even taller than those of the periphery. A section of them constitute a succession of folds which are oriented, like the border chain itself, from east to west. One of these folds begins, from the west side, with the chain, still partly wooded, from Dersim (the medieval provinces of Kemah, Khozan, and Palnatun), the ancient Acilisene. This chain is continued towards the East by the Shaytan-dagh chain (the mountains of the Devil), then the Bingöl chain. It is doubled in the North by “the backbone of Armenia”, which runs from the north of Erzincan to the south of Erzerum and ends at the Aghri-dagh ridge, from the north of the medieval district of Bagrevand up until the district of Chakatk. At Aghri-dagh follows, bending towards the south and southeast, the Tendurek chain, which in the medieval town of Kogovit completes the separation of northern Armenia the country of Ani and Kars from Vannic Armenia. And the Tendurek chain in turn rejoins the dividing line which, from the north to the south and across the vast province of Vaspurakan, separates the Lake Van Basin from the Lake Urmia Basin. Further yet to the south, this ridge goes on to sunder itself to the Zagros Mountains.
    This series of inner chains which cuts through the middle of Armenia from west to east has played the historical role of an interior barrier, largely responsible for Armenian dualism. At the apex of Armenian history, in the 10th century, we will in fact see two opposed Armenias: the Bagratid Armenia in the north around Ani and Kars, and the Ardzrunian Armenia in the South, in the Vannic region, at Vaspurakan; a dualism which will prevent the final union of Armenia at the decisive hour and pave the way for Byzantine annexation.

    After these chains, the mountains become isolated due to volcanism. Some of them are clearly crateriform, such as Sipan, Nimrud and Tendurek. Sipan, with a height of 4176 meters, stands to the north of the Lake Van, between the lake and the city of Manazkert, Melazkert, or Manzikert, in the district of Aliovit. Nimrud is situated to the west of the lake, in the town of Bzuniq, to the west of the town of Khelath or Akhlath. Its crater is 8 kilometers in diameter and it stands 1200 meters above Lake Van, 1600 to 1700 meters above the plain of Moush. As for Tendurek, with a height of 2500 meters, it peaks at the summit of the chain of the same name, to the south of Ararat, between Ararat and the northeast point of Lake Van, in the ancient district of Kogovit, to the southwest of the town of Dariunk, the contemporary Bayazid.

    One can see the extent to which Lake Van is surrounded by volcanism. But northern Armenia is hardly less rich in eruptive phenomena. Between Kars and Yerevan, in the north of the Aragatsotn province, to the south of the Ashotz, to the east of Apahunik province, the massif of Alagoz (Aragadz in Armenian), “A Cantal of 150 kilometers width, 4095 meters height,” stands over a landscape of beautiful prairies with cultivated land climbing up to 2500 beside them. More famous yet is Ararat which, in the province of the same name (Airarat), between Dvin and the Kogovit, raises its main summit at 5205 meters, with its eternal snow beginning at 4180 meters. It is the Masis of the Armenians, the divine mountain of their old paganism, inhabited by genies or children of a dragon (vishapazunk), the mountain which the Bible has the Ark of Noah stop on after the Flood, the Koh-i Nuh, the “mountain of Noah”, the Arghidagh, “the mountain of the Ark” of Muslims.


    The Plateaus

    In spite of these high peaks, the greater part of the Armenian plateau actually consists of the plateaus themselves. Thus we find, at the east of the Dersim chain, between Erzerum to the north and Bingöl-dagh to the south, the “pool table” which is Bingöl province (2), “roof of the waters” from which descend, at the same time, the sources of the Araxes and those of the Euphrates, in the ancient town of Havchich, a dependent of Turuberan province. Another example, more to the northwest, in the ancient district of Mardali, is the “table of Tekman,” with its black plateaus “covered with yellowish fennel and a meager steppic flora giving mediocre pasturage.” To the north of these plateaus, between them and the Kop-dagh chain or the Kandil-dagh massif, stands Erzerum, the Byzantine Theodosiopolis, the Armenian Karin, which is the junction point for the paths connecting the upper Kara Su valley (in other words the upper Euphrates) to the sources of the Araxes. In other words, it is the point of junction between ancient Roman Armenia and Persian Armenia, hence the important role of the ancient city and of the province situated further east, to which it prevents access.


    The Good Armenian Land

    Next to this picturesque Armenia, that of summits and high plateaus , is useful Armenia, which is essentially made up of ancient basins where the Miocene sea, in withdrawing, left strings of lagoons. In the Pliocene period, when the marine regression was completed, this lagoon pattern seasoned the whole of Armenia. In the Quaternary period, the ancient lakes became empty. This is what happened in the plain of the Araxes around Yerevan, an ancient lake which became dry when the flood forced the natural barrier of the mountain to the southwest. “But the vanished lake left a light and fertile land in its former location, a land formed from silt brought by the Araxes, which still covers ancient lava beds to this day.” (3) It was in fact around the same time, in the Quaternary period, that the aforementioned formidable volcanic eruptions finished giving the Armenian land its physiognomy, the lava and silt concurrently filling the ancient basins or dividing them into many sections. It was thus, for example, that the volcano of Nimrud “cut off the depression of Moush from the lake of Van,” while the volcanos of Akmangan, which R. Blanchard compares to our Puys in Auvergne , gave birth to the fishy softwater lake known as the Sevan or Blue Lake (Gök-chai).

    Thus, “the good Armenian land” is made of a mixture of lakeside sediments, marls, clays and limestones , with volcanic soils at the foot of Mount Ararat which (like those of the Vesuvius) are among the most fertile in the world. As Egyptian agriculture is a gift from the Nile, and as Chinese agriculture is a gift from the Loess Plateau, so too is Armenian agriculture a gift from the volcano and the lake. The production of arable land continues today under our very eyes in the vast marsh called sazluk which is found especially to the north of Erzerum, on the upper Kara Su or Western Euphrates. These are the last evidences of the immense prehistoric marshes that deposited, at the bottom of valleys, “this black humus, so rich in organic debris, capable of bringing plentiful harvests every year without fertizilation.”


    Agricultural and Pastoral Wealth of the Northwest Provinces

    Geographers divide the thusly formed cultural zones into two categories, according to latitude: the Northwest Zone, and the South and East Zone.

    In the Northwest are expanses of high plains, very cold, very harsh in climate, with vegetation that has been called, not without exaggeration, “qausi-polar”: the basin of Erzerum (or to the north of Erzerum) and that of Basean are respectively at 1800 and 1600 meters of altitude. It is a matter, then, of high steppes as defined in the Mongolian regions. At Erzerum the winter is seven months, the spring reveals itself to be scorching, and agricultural work cannot commence until April. At Kars the cold can reach 40 degrees. Xenophon had already made observations of this order in his Anabase. During his crossing of western Armenia between the eastern Euphrates (our Murad-chai) and what he calls “The Stage”, that is to say the sources of the Araxes, between the region of Moush and that of Erzerum, he noted that the climate obliged the populations to resort to troglodytism in the winter. (4) The practice still continues today there and all the way up to the northeast, as we can see around Lake Sevan, where the peasants winter their livestock in subterranean shepherds’ barns.

    If we add that the snow can remain for eight months while rain is rare, and that because of this the country is almost completely devoid of trees, but that on the other hand, the spring seasons are torrid because of the latitude, the picture of the analogies between the Armenian and Central Asian climates will be complete, with the botanical consequences that ensue. The geographer R. Blanchard describes these high northwestern Armenian plains as “an area of stipa steppes where grasses dominate, along with thorny Asiatic shrubs, continuing toward the West with the flora of Iran and rising without interruption to the thin Alpine plants of the high plateaus of Bingöl.”

    A country of this nature can, like Mongolia, remain dedicated to the nomadic life. How is it that in spite of its sometimes so inhospitable appearance, the sedentary people (and that is the whole history of the Armenian people) have been fixed and still prospered to this extent? It is because, as we declared above, the arable soil here is admirably fertile. “The decomposition of volcanic elements and their mixing with the soft sediments of the Miocene and Pleocene periods have formed superb soils, true black lands (analogous to the chernozem of Ukraine) that are easy and rewarding to cultivate.” As the torrid heat of the spring melts the thick layers of snow, the abundance of water augments the wealth of the soil. Not only did these “Armenian steppes” reveal themselves to be perfect land for grains, but at the side of the volcanos these grains sometimes rise to 2500 meters. Wheat, rye, and barley are here among them. Certain districts, benefiting from hot and humid springs, have even corn and sometimes rice. As in Scandinavia and Canada, the speed of germination in northern Armenia compensated for the brevity of its beautiful days. There too “one hears the wheat cracking.”

    One shouldn’t be surprised by the intensity of the agricultural life in the ancient provinces of Ekeleatz (the Erzincan basin, the ancient Erez, our Armenian Erzenka), Karin (the Erzerum basin) and Basean (upper course of the Araxes, close to its source, to the east of Erzerum). Xenophon, in the passage above cited, already showed that the harshness of the climate is not an obstacle to rural prosperity: wealth in livestock, barley and wheat, nothing was missing for these hardy troglodytes he described for us. (5) But the travelers who pay homage to such an agricultural wealth insist at the same time on the harsh character of these highlands, these expanses without trees, “these bare plains, closed off by equally bare slopes”, unfolding themselves in landscapes of a poignant severity. This austerity of the landscape and climate, combined with the wealth of a soil predestined for agriculture, has determined in many respects the very character of the Armenian race, a race of peasants whose persistence has maintained, for so many centuries, a European tillage at the frontier of the Asiatic steppe.


    The Superiority of the Southern and Eastern Basins

    The southern and eastern basins are generally less cold. Even if the snows covering the summits in Kurdistan and the Armenian Taurus persist in the spring, there is only benefit from this, since the streams that ensure the watering of the plants thus continue their flow through the dry season. The orchards too lack nothing compared to those of Europe. We are here in the “classic” provinces of Armenian history. The basin to the north of Kharput is the ancient Akilisene and part of ancient Sophene, Hanzeth or Hanzith, the Tsophk of the high middle age. The basin of Jabalashur, to the north of Sivan-Maden, touches ancient Asthianene, the medieval district of Hashteanq or Hashtenq. Further to the north, the basin of Kighi noticeably corresponds to the medieval district of Khorzeanq or Khordzenq, the Khorzianene of the Greeks, between Paghnatun and the province of Turuberan. The important basin of Moush corresponds to the province of Taron whose rulers have played such a large role in Armenio-Byzantine history. Further to the north, the basins of Liz and Goumgoum stretch between the ancient districts of Arshamuniq, Harq, and Kori, in Turuberan.

    To the northeast of Goumgoum is the basin of Khinis, on the opposite eastern side of mount Bingöl, to the south of the ancient districts of Havchich and Alori. On the other hand, to the north, northwest of the Lake Van, extends the rich basin of Manazkert (Manzikert) which shines on ancient Harq and Kori to the west and touches the Tuaradoi-taph to the north, and the Apahuniq to the east. Finally, the northeast regions contain the two largest agricultural zones. First is the basin of Alashkert which corresponds to the famous Bagrevand province until Gabeleanq. Then is the immense basin of the middle Araxes, also called the basin of Yerevan, which includes the entire valley of the river from the confluence of the river in Kars to the area outside Julfa, across the best districts of the ancient province of Airarat.*

    Let’s not forget to mention the agricultural lands on the eastern side of Lake Van, which the districts of Mardastan and Tosp depend upon (this latter town forming a suburb of the city of Van.

    *  From the ancient district of Kotaïq to Vakhchavan et Golthen or Golthn.


    The Middle Araxes Basin

    Particular attention should be paid to the basin of the middle Araxes and its hinterland in the high valleys of Akhurean, Arpa-chai or Ani River, and Kars-chai or Kars River. The Araxes, in descending from 1500 meters to reach the plain of Yerevan, receives the Silav, the Karpi-chai or Abaran-Su which waters the patriarchal city of Echmiadzin (Valarshapat in antiquity), and the Zengi-chai, which is the watercourse of Yerevan and the Lake Sevan region. The snows of Ararat and Alagöz, as well as the summits of the Armenian “Little Caucasus”, contribute to the feeding of this rich water system. Thus are born “thousands of sources and streams that maintain the freshness of the valleys and glens during the great heat of the summer, ensuring the watering of orchards and fields, and only rejoining the Araxes at the time of the great spring rains.”

    In the prehistoric period and doubtless in antiquity as well, this whole region was covered with forests, but the pastoral life, here as elsewhere, deforested the valleys and hills. At least the valleys have lost nothing of their fertility, thanks to the abundance of the waters and an exposure to sunlight which reminds us that in spite of the altitude, we are here at the latitude of southern Italy. “In the valleys,” notes Morgan, “the vegetation is most often ahead of that of the immediate surroundings of Yerevan, because this large plain, being less well-secured from the northern winds, endures very harsh winters. Nevertheless, vine and fruit trees grow in abundance, and in the vineyards of Masis (Ararat) they still harvest excellent wine.”

    The Armenian colonies which have expanded or persisted further to the east, between Julfa and Shusha, on the edge of Qarabagh (“the Black Garden”) and along the lower Araxes, one finds the same prosperity along the sides of the river. In the streams of the Araxes, downstream of Julfa, “wheat grows with surprising vigor, the vine enlaces in its branches the highest trees, reaches the tops of walnut trees with monstrous trunks, and spreads out in giant garlands above thickets which are sometimes ancient. The villages disappear under the greenery, buried in veritable forests of fruit trees, incomparable orchards where peach trees, prune trees, apricot trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, apple trees, and pear trees blossom.”

    Moreover, we find this fertility already attested in Strabon: “If one penetrates into the interior of Armenia,” the Greek geographer tells us, “one finds many mountains and dry plateaus where the vine itself does not come except with difficulty, but one encounters there many valleys… of an incomparable richness. Such is, for example, this Araxene plain which the Araxes crosses in all its length before flowing into the Caspian. We can even mention Gogarene*, for this plain consistently abounds in grains and fruit trees…” (6) The Armenian chronicler Lazare of Pharpi too celebrates this “magnificent province of Ararat, so fertile and fruitful. Its plains are immense and brimming with game. The surrounding mountains, agreeably situated and rich in pasturelands, are populated by ruminants. From the top of its mountains, waters flow and water the fields, which have no need of fertilization by man. The lively perfume of fragrant flowers offers health to hunters and to shepherds who live under the vault of heaven. The fertility of the fields fulfills the wishes of a nation of laborers.” (7)

    *  The medieval district of Armenian Gugark, at the northeast point of Lake Sevan.


    The Vannic Region

    The lands of southern Armenia have against those of the North the advantage of a less elevated altitude with an equal fertility. The plain of Moush, for example, which commands old Taron (the Taronitide of Greek geographers), is destined by nature to be at the same time a garden and a breadbasket for grains. Let us add, in this Armenian Midi, the heat: at Kharput, up to +34° in the Summer. We also see in this country, the ancient Sophene, the medieval Hanzith, the coming forth of the vine and fruit trees of Europe, together with the silkworm farming that establishes itself there today. Particular attention must be accorded in this respect to Lake Van (Dzov-Vana in Armenian), which is the Thospitis of Strabon and Ptolemy. “Created by a volcanic barrier formed in a recent period by the Nemrut” and still lightly salted, Lake Van exercises a beneficial influence: its vast layer of water, six times as vast as Lake Geneva, plays a regulating role by softening the climate and rendering possible highly varied cultured lands. It is thus that one sees a properly Mediterranean vegetation announce itself: at Khelath (Akhlath), for example, on the northern bank, in the medieval district of Bzuniq, fields of olive trees prosper.

    In fact, the Vannic region has played a considerable role in history. In pre-Armenian history, it was the center of the Kingdom of Urartu. In the high middle ages we see around the lake some of the most prosperous provinces of feudal Armenia: in the north, Turuberan, with the historic districts of Aliovit (to the south of Manazkert) and Bzuniq (around Khelath); to the West, the Altzniq, upon which the district of Khoith depended (between the lake and the land of Moush); to the south, the province of Mokq or Moks, the ancient Moxoene, upon which the coastal district of Reshtunik depended; to the East, the very important province of Vaspurakan, the Asprakania of the Byzantine geographers, upon which depended, from north to south, the districts of Arberani, Mardastan, Alatsovit, and Tosp which was the very canton of Van. Under the Ardzruni dynasty, Vaspurakan will be a powerful kingdom counterbalancing the fortune of the Bagratid kings of Kars and Ani. Let us add that the cities of the Vannic region, Van to the East, Manazkert and Khelath to the North, Bitlis to the South, have played a crucial role in Armenian history, not to mention the sanctuaries that are huddled together on the southwest coast of the lake, such as Narek, Ostan, Sourb-Khatch and the islet Althamar.

    Whatever the cultural importance of the Vannic region, the Ararat region (ancient province of “Airat”) remains preponderant. There are the historic districts of Vanand which was the region of Kars, Shirak which was the region of Ani, Ashotz (around the present Leninakan), Aragadzotn (east of Ani), and of Arsharuniq (south of Kars), not to forget Kotaiq (around present Yerevan) and Airarat proper, upon which depends Dvin, the ancient capital, which was the very heart of Armenia, the seat of its medieval grandeur, just as today it is the sanctuary of its independence.


    1. R. Blanchard, L’Asie Occidentale, t. VIII of Géographie universelle of VIDAL DE LA BLACHE et GALLOIS (1929) p. 109 et sq.
    2. The Bingöl-dagh of the Turks is the Sermantz-léarn of the Armenian geographers, the Mount Sermantzu of the Byzantines.
    3.  F. NANSEN, L’Arménie et le Proche Orient (Geuthner, 1928), p. 135. The Greek tradition wants it to be Jason, the chief of the Argonauts, who opened an exit from the Araxes towards the Caspian (STRABON, 1. XI, ch. XIV § 13).
    4. Anabase, 1. IV, ch. V, § 25.
    5. Anabase, 1. IV, ch. V, § 25-27
    6. STRABON, 1. XI, ch. XIV, § 4.
    7. LAZARE OF PHARPI, ch. VI.

  • Earthling 3:45 am on August 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: admirable body, , , Ali Jafarey, Ameretat, Amesha Spentas, Ameshaspenta, Ancient religion, angels, Archangel, Arda Viraf, Armaiti, Arthur Bleeck, Asha, , Bartholomae, beautiful body, Beings of Lights, bright body, , conscience, D.J. Irani, fat cow, Fire in Zoroastrianism, Fire temples, Fire worship, Fire worshippers, firouz Azargoshasb, , Freddy Mercury, garden of paradise, , Gathas of Zarathustra, God, good and evil, guardian angel, Haurvetat, Helmut Humbach, History of the Avesta, Hymns of Zarathustra, illustrious noble race, J.M. Chatterji, Kenneth Guthrie, Kshathra, Kurdistan, M.L. West, maiden of paradise, majestic maiden, Morgan Freeman, Nietzsche, noble maiden, paradise in zoroastrianism, Parsis, Piloo Nanavutty, , rosy arms, self, Stanley Insler, strong maiden, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Thus spoke Zarathustra, true nature of self, upright maiden, Vohu Mana, Yazata, Zarathustra,   

    Amazing Facts about Zoroastrianism 


    Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion that is associated with Iran and Afghanistan, its places of origin. It has some elements in common with Islam and Hinduism, among other religions. Zoroastrianism once had a substantial presence in the Caucasus and Armenia, and its influence can still be found in Dagestan. There remains an unused Zoroastrian fire temple in Georgia. Nowadays the most Zoroastrians are in India and Iran, although there are diaspora to be found around the world, from Kurdistan to Canada and Hong Kong. Zoroastrians today are remarkably diverse. For example, there are differences of opinion about whether or not God is omnipotent, whether or not people should worship fire, whether or not we reincarnate after we die, and whether or not there is a revealed Zoroastrian sacred law (comparable to the Islamic sharia).


    All about fire

    Sacred text: the Avesta

    Beings of light: the Amesha Spentas

    Your beautiful self: Daena

    All about fire

    Fire occupies a very important place in Zoroastrianism. Historically, Zoroastrians have been known for worshiping fire. However, a significant number of modern Zoroastrians do not worship fire. In the Zoroastrian scriptures, fire is referred to as the “son of Ahura Mazda.” Fires are expected to be treated with reverence and protected from abuse or pollution. This is especially the case for the sacred fires contained in fire temples or altars, but it also applies to all fires in general.

    Fire is considered to be an essentially sacred entity and a direct symbol or manifestation of divinity. Fire is particularly associated with the angelic quality or entity (depending on the interpretation) called Asha. Asha has been translated as “truth,” “righteousness,” and “order,” among other things; and Asha is also known as an archangelic entity (ameshaspenta) with a personality. Asha is revered in one of the principal Zoroastrian prayers as “the greatest good,” and similarly, fire is regarded as the most sacred element. Fire is also considered a symbol of spiritual light and the inner spiritual flame (mainyu athra) that illuminates the path of truth and righteousness.

    Fire is associated with creation as well. In the historical saga Shahnameh, Zarathustra is quoted as saying “Look at the heavens and the earth. God did not make them with dust and water. Look upon the fire and witness therein how they were created.” [3]

    Fire Temples

    According to traditional Zoroastrianism, the most appropriate place for a fire is the altar in the fire temple, and when fires are used for worldly purposes, this is intended only to be a temporary concession. Fires used for worldly purposes are supposed to be brought back to the fire altar eventually. [1]

    The fire altar in the fire temple is tended to by ordained priests. It is required to be kept burning at all times, as a symbol of the eternal flame of Asha (Truth/Righteousness). It is fed with pure fuels and protected from contaminants, as a symbol of how Zoroastrians should inwardly remain pure. Some possible historical fuels for the sacred fires are twigs and wood from Camel thorn, Juniper, and Plane trees. [2]

    Although Zoroastrians may sometimes worship in fire temples, it is usual on a day-to-day basis for them to worship at home, or in an open space while facing a source of light. Some evidence, such as accounts from Greek historians Strabo and Herodotus, indicates that the Zoroastrians in their time worshiped on platforms in high places and did not have temples or altars. [2]

    Types of Fire

    In organized Zoroastrianism, there have historically been many types of fire. The three principal types are Atash Bahram (victorious fire), Atash Adaran (fire of fires), and Atash Dadgah (court fire). Each of these types of fire is lit, consecrated, and maintained differently. The Atash Barham needs to be maintained by a Dastur (High Priest), the Atash Adaran requires only a Mobed (Advanced Priest), and the Atash Dadgah does not require any priest. The consecration of the Atash Barham requires 32 priests and can take up to a year; the consecration of the Atash Adaran requires eight priests and may take several weeks; the consecration of the Atash Dadgah requires one or two priests and can be done in a few hours. [3]

    Sacred text: the Avesta

    The Avesta is the main body of Zoroastrian religious texts. Many parts of the Avesta, and sometimes the whole Avesta, are attributed directly to the prophet Zarathustra. The Avesta is divided into two parts, the Old Avesta and the Younger Avesta, which are linguistically and stylistically different, and usually held to come from different periods. The Old Avesta includes the Gathas, which are widely considered the holiest part of the Avesta by Zoroastrians, and sometimes considered the only part truly written by him. The Gathas are contained in the Yasna, which are other prayers in the Old Avestan language. The Younger Avesta is in a different, newer-seeming language, and includes diverse content such as the daily prayers recited by Zoroastrians, the Vendidad, and accounts of the afterlife.

    There are different opinions among Zoroastrians as to whether the Avesta was non-participatively revealed by Ahura Mazda, or authored by Zarathustra himself, or some combination of the two. Conservative Zoroastrians more often hold the first opinion, while more liberal Zoroastrians are more likely to accept only the Gathas and believe that they were authored by Zarathustra rather than revealed to him.

    History of the Avesta

    The date of the authoring and/or revelation of the Avesta is disputed. Estimates for the age of the oldest part, the Gathas, have ranged from 7000 B.C. to 200 B.C. One Zoroastrian scholar, J.M. Chatterji, claimed that the Gathas were originally part of the Vedas.

    The original Avesta was said by Pliny to have had two million verses. Others say that approximately a fourth of the Avesta has survived. According to Zoroastrian tradition, the original Avesta contained 21 volumes. Each volume is said to correspond to a word of the Ahuna Vairya, the most sacred Zoroastrian prayer, which has 21 words. Three of the lost volumes are said to have been commentaries on the Gathas. The content of the lost volumes has been summarized in medieval Pahlavi texts, notably the Dinkard and the Bundahishn.

    Most of the original Avesta is believed to have been lost during the invasions of Alexander the Great, the medieval Arabs, and possibly the later Turks and Mongols. Only the 19th volume, the Vendidad, is considered fully preserved by some Zoroastrians, while others consider it a fabrication.

    In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered Persia. Zoroastrian tradition says that there were two full manuscripts of the Avesta at that time; one was destroyed by Alexander, and he took the other to disseminate among the Greeks. After the Zoroastrians regained Persia, they began compiling the Avesta again from fragments that had been written down or memorized.

    During the Arab conquest of Iran, one story says that the Caliph Umar ordered all the books from the Library of Ctesiphon to be destroyed. However, some scholars think that the Avesta was not destroyed at that time because detailed summaries of the Avesta were written centuries after the Arab conquest.

    Whatever remained of the Avesta following the Arab conquests may have been destroyed during the extremely destructive Mongol conquests, in which the Library of Baghdad was destroyed and Iran as a whole experienced unprecedented devastation.

    Translations of the Gathas

    The Gathas have been translated much more often than the rest of the Avesta. Translations have been very diverse depending on the approach used. Some methodologies include the Western philological approach, the mystical approach of the Ilk-e-Khshnoom school, and the traditional approach based largely on Pahlavi texts. Some translators rely more on similarities between Avestan and Sanskrit, which are sister languages, while other rely more on medieval Pahlavi texts or original reasoning. Many words that are interpreted as simple pastoral terms by Western translators are given a wider meaning by Zoroastrian translators. For example, the same phrase may translated as either “soul of the bull” or “soul of the world”; other such pairs include “milk” and “prosperity”, “butter” and “knowledge”, and so on.

    Notable Western translations include those of Arthur Bleeck, Stanley Insler, Helmut Humbach, M.L. West, Christian Bartholomae, and Kenneth Guthrie. Notable Zoroastrian translations have been made by J.M. Chatterji, Ali Jafarey, Firouz Azargoshasb, Piloo Nanavutty, and D. J. Irani.

    Beings of Light: Amesha Spentas

    In Zoroastrian doctrine, the Amesha Spentas are the seven first creations and the holiest beings after (or sometimes including) Ahura Mazda. The word ‘ameshaspenta’ has been translated as ‘bounteous immortal’, ‘Essence of God’, ‘Divine Spark’, ‘Divine Attribute’, and ‘Archangel’. The name of each Amesha Spenta can be interpreted as designating an attribute of Ahura Mazda, an archangel corresponding to that attribute, and a quality of ordinary beings like humans which is to be cultivated. The Amesha Spentas are named Vohu Mana, Asha, Kshathra, Armaiti, Haurvetat, Ameretat, and Ahura Mazda. The term ‘ameshaçpenta’ is sometimes used to refer to only the six Amesha Spentas other than Ahura Mazda, sometimes to refer to all seven, and sometimes it is used as a broad term for all of the Yazatas (“Archangels”).

    The Amesha Spentas are divided into male and female. This is done according to their linguistic gender. Vohu Mana, Asha, and Kshathra are linguistically neuter and therefore male, while Armaiti, Haurvetat, and Ameretat are linguistically feminine and therefore female. The name Ahura Mazda is both masculine and feminine, since Ahura is masculine and Mazda is feminine.

    Some of the Amesha Spentas are described as Ahura Mazda’s offspring. For example, Vohu Mana is said to be his son and Armaiti is said to be his daughter.

    Vohu Mana

    Vohu Mana may designate a human faculty of intelligence, a higher state of being which is to be reached by means of this faculty, the metaphysical space within which the faculty exists, and a specific archangelical entity with a personality. Vohu means good, and Mana has been translated variously as thought, mind, mindedness, thinking, intention, and disposition. One translator has Vohu Mana as ’’conscience’’, and others have rendered it as ‘’reason’’.


    Asha is usually translated as truth, right, righteousness, or justice. Other translations include law, reality, order, beauty, purity, holiness, freedom, superb brilliance and excellence, and artistic ingenuity. According to the Ashem Vohu (the second most important Zoroastrian prayer) Asha is the greatest good in existence, and a supreme source of happiness for all who possess it. Asha is symbolized by fire, which is the most important and revered physical element for Zoroastrians.


    Kshathra has been translated as dominion, power, control, and sovereignty. Sometimes the word is used to refer to the ‘’Kingdom of Heaven’’, sometimes to speak of benevolent political rulership, and sometimes to speak of a person’s benevolent sovereignty over their own self.


    Armaiti is translated very diversely. These translations include faith, piety, devotion, love, service, peace, serenity, tranquility, divine wisdom, and contemplation.

    Haurvetat and Ameretat

    Haurvetat means perfection, integrity, completeness and wholeness. It’s almost always paired with Ameretat, which means immortality. These two are translated more consistently than the other Amesha Spentas.

    Amesha Spentas and Elements

    The order the Amesha Spentas are presented in above is the order they are said to have been created in. Each of the Amesha Spentas symbolically corresponds to an element or class of living beings. The correspondence normally given is:

    • Vohu Mana corresponds to Animal Life.
    • Asha corresponds to Ether and Fire.
    • Kshasthra corresponds to Minerals and Metal.
    • Armaiti corresponds to Earth,
    • Haurvetat corresponds to Water, and the Ambrosia of Paradise.
    • Ameretat corresponds to Plants, and the Nectar of Paradise.
    • Ahura Mazda corresponds to Man.

    It is worth noting that the order of the production of the elements is different from the order of the creation of the Amesha Spentas. The elements and associated Amesha Spentas are celebrated during the six Gahambar festivals throughout the year, which are timed according to the seasons and represent the development of matter and its final return to the Spirit. The same elements and Amesha Spentas are also celebrated on the six Jashan days every month, which are done in the order of the creation of the Amesha Spentas.

    Your beautiful self: Daena

    The word Daena designates several concepts within Zoroastrianism. It can designate a person’s words, actions, thoughts, and intentions, especially envisioned from a moral perspective. It can also mean religion or conscience in a general sense. Daena also designates the Fravashi, which is the innermost angelical soul and also a sort of guardian angel. According to some schools of thought, the Daena is not uniquely possessed by human beings; everything is said to have a Daena, including the supreme deity Ahura Mazda. Daena is also considered to be a specific archangel (yazata). The Daena is notably described as sometimes appearing in the form of a beautiful young maiden.

    Daena in the Gathas

    The Gathas are widely considered the most significant and sacred Zoroastrian text. The word Daena is used more than thirty times in the Gathas, with various meanings. It generally designates the doctrine and teachings of Zarathustra, but the word is also used to designate religions or ways of living in general, and thus there is mention of the Daena of the evil person. The Daena appears as something abstract or manifested in a person’s choices, which benefits, honors, and helps the righteous, yet leads the evil to destruction. In the Gathas the idea of the Daena as a distinct individual entity with a physical appearance is not elaborated, unlike in later texts.

    Daena as Soul or Guardian Angel

    In later Zoroastrian texts the word Fravashi is often used to designate the Daena in the sense of guardian angel or innermost soul. According to the Zoroastrian doctrines, a person’s original innermost essence is the Daena or Fravashi, a heavenly being of light that chose to descend into the darkness of this world and do battle with evil. The individual soul in this world is a battleground between the Daena and demonic forces; so a righteous person is protected by their Daena and becomes one with it again after death, whereas the evil person is distanced from their original Daena and is lost in darkness.

    Appearance of the Daena after Death

    In various Zoroastrian texts, excluding the Gathas, the Daena is portrayed taking on a physical form when she meets a man after his death. The most commonly mentioned form is that of a beautiful fifteen-year-old virgin. This description is found in Zoroastrian texts such as Hadokht Nask, the Bundahishn, and the Book of Arda Viraf. Hadokht Nask of the Avesta describes the Daena of the righteous man as “beautiful, bright, with rosy [or white] arms, strong, majestic, with an upright and slender form, an admirable body, noble, of illustrious race, fifteen years of age, with a body brighter than the brightest of creatures.”

    In the Bundahishn, other forms of the Daena are mentioned: the form of a fat cow, and the form of a garden. The Bundahishn also mentions the Daena as she appears to the evil man after his death: in the form of a weak and sickly cow, then a hideous and ugly young woman, then a dry and barren garden. Thus, the forms perceived depend on the moral qualities of the person.

    In the narrative of the Bundahishn, the man asks the forms of the Daena who they are, and they all respond, “I am your Deen” (‘Deen’ being a later form of the word ‘Daena’). In the Hadokht Nask, the man asks “What maiden are you, most beautiful of all maidens I have ever seen?”, and the Daena responds, “I am your good thoughts, your good words and your good actions, the very nature [Daena] of your own body.”


    “Translating the Holy Gathas of Zarathustra Spitama”, from Expressing the Inexpressible (Thesis for Marlboro College, 2014), by Zebulon Goertzel

    Content taken from Lunyr articles written by me.

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