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The source of knowledge of Armenian history

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Posted 25 January 2001 - 12:02 AM

I have discovered that the source of the knowledge of history of Armenia for the absolute majority of Armenians I have come across with is the impressive number of Armenian historic novels.

While, I have been a product of those novels, too, I have come to an understanding that building the image of historic Armenia, and accepting the events described by those magnificent novelists as facts is somewhat naive.

At the expense of the risk of opening a can of worms, I'd like to ask your perception about the sources of knowledge of Armenian history by Armenians.

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Posted 26 January 2001 - 12:56 AM

As an (...er, dare I admit it) non-Armenian, I do regard Armenian history books that have been written by Armenians with almost as much suspicion as books about Turkish history written by Turks (or their bought and paid for academics in US universities).

The problem is probably that most of the books about Armenia (whether fiction or non-fiction) are written for a non specialist Armenian audience that are not really interested in hearing anything new or controversial, but just want a safe and simplified history. Maybe it is like having an old familiar story retold, and retold again. I cite as an example of such "soft and cuddly" history, the 1700th anniversary date of Armenian conversion to Christianity, which I posted something about a few weeks ago. Well, that's what I think anyway - please try and be polite when you all rush in to attack.


PS: I am interested in locating, in English translation if possible, any Armenian novels connected with the city of Ani.

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Posted 25 January 2001 - 01:24 PM

I think the historic accuracy was not the agenda of those novelists. The nation was in a terrible shape in the 19th century. It was on the edge of annihilation and total assimilation, it had lost its national identity, and the only device of its identity has been the Church, which was also fading away.

The appearance of historic novels is attributable to this period and on. It has been an organized effort by the intelligentsia, for which I think we have to be grateful, to lift the spirit of the nation up, and give them an image of an identity to be proud of. These novelists didn't write anything incredibly inaccurate. In most of the cases, they based their novels on documentary manuscripts of medieval Armenian historians. That there may be a bend in the testimony of those historians, I would not argue. Probably so. But the task of the novelists was to create an emotional climate of liberation movements in Armenia. On that capacity, they have done a magnificent job.

Since then, I believe, Armenians have started to take pride in their past - there was nothing about the present to be proud of. They have justified the need for the persistence of the national identity in the argument "we have been a glorious and mighty nation once, thus we deserve to be the same from this point on."

While I give these historians a due credit, and I have grown up reading them, and have shaped my national identity on the same novels, spending many sleepless nights, and not being able to stop, once I start a novel, with the age, and with the wisdom my teachers have tried to inject in me, and being a scientist by education, I have come to accept things only after a critical analysis, and have come to an understanding that you don't absolutize nothing.

Listen, give a due consideration, put it in a proper compartment, and move on. It will come back on a subliminal level when needed (a little bit of Sigmund Freud , here ).

As to Ani, I personally have no recollection of any novels about it, but would be absolutely surprised that nobody has taken on that task. I have been aware of some documentary books in the past, but it would be too much challenge at the present to recover the title and the author.

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Posted 25 January 2001 - 04:19 PM

I should have made clear that when I referred to "history books" I meant books that purport to be factual, not historical novels.

I would guess that every small or emerging country in Europe during the 19th century had a resurgence in romantic historical fiction - with the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott being one of the earliest examples of the genre. I don't think that modern examples of the genre are held in very high literary esteem (in Europe anyway!) - is this not the case with modern Armenian historical novels. Do they still have an underlying political purpose? I'd certainly like to read some of their 19th century counterparts, if any were available in English.


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