Medieval Jewish Tombstone in Yeghegis, Armenia

Medieval Jewish Tombstone in Yeghegis, Armenia


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Yeghegis

Armenia is a country that always welcomes its visitors with open arms, and that is the reason why the number of tourists opting for exactly this destination annually increases. It’s like an old flame, which might be replaced for thousand times but which is never forgotten because the caresses and the tenderness it surrounds you with are irreplaceable.

Just like every old flame, Armenia knows well how to satisfy its visitors and quench their travel desires. It possesses the right skills and is brilliantly aware of the attitude each visitor expects and needs to get. Armenia is a small country, this is an open secret, but size has never been a guarantee or a promise of the best. Many people even describe this country as tiny but this tiny country is so full of things to see that even the tenth visit will not be enough to explore it to the full. It’s like a chocolate that melts in the mouth as soon as you bite a piece of it but the taste of which is so sweet that you keep on biting and biting. People who have at least once set foot in this tiny country and have held a piece of this jewel in their hands can confirm the abovementioned. The places of interest are usually grouped into five categories – sacred sites, natural sites, fortresses and castles, archaeological sites and monuments. There are several sites that could be included in more than one category. One of them is Yeghegis, which could equally fit in the category of sacred sites, archaeological sites and monuments. Why, and what is it?


Soviet and Modern times

In 1828, the Russo-Persian War came to an end and Eastern Armenia (currently the Republic of Armenia) was annexed to the Russian Empire with the Treaty of Turkmenchai. Polish and Iranian Jews began arriving, as well as Sabbatarians (Subbotniki, Russian peasants who were banished to the outskirts of Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine II. They were Judaizing Christians and mostly converted to mainstream Judaism or assimilated). Since 1840 they started creating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi communities respectively in Yerevan. [6] Up to 1924, the Sephardic synagogue, Shiek Mordechai, was a leading institution among the Jewish community. [3]

The Russian Jewish communities moved to Armenia in a bigger scale during the Soviet period, looking for an atmosphere of tolerance in the area that was absent in the Russian SSR or Ukrainian SSR.

Following the World War II, the Jewish population rose to approximately 5,000. In 1959, the Jewish population peaked in Soviet Armenia at approximately 10,000 people. Another wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the country between 1965 and 1972, mainly intelligentsia, military, and engineers. These Jews arrived from Russia and Ukraine, attracted to the more liberal society. [3] However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union many of them left due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Between 1992 and 1994, more than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel because of Armenia’s political isolation and economic depression. [3] Today the country's Jewish population has shrunk to around 750. [5] In 1995, the Chabad House was established in Yerevan.


Did you know about the Jewish Cemetery and Lucy Hotel?

Yeah, I am still in Armenia and still discovering amazing places and stories. And if you don’t mind I’ll share one with you.

It happened to me, to meet this Magma Challenge Group in Armenia. As you may know, this is a Jewish company that every year visits a different country. And they travel in a pretty active and unique way. So, they made me interested in learning more about their nation and whether, there are some stories about Armenian Jews or Jewish Diaspora in Armenia. And here what I’ve found out: A medieval Jewish cemetery near the village of Yeghegis in the Vayots Dzor region, 2 hours south of the capital city of Yerevan. At the site, 64 gravestones, twenty of which bear inscriptions in either Hebrew or Aramaic, or are decorated with animal or floral motifs. It’s pretty cool moreover it brought me to a Bishop of that region who had discovered and investigated the find. As the story states, it was in 1996, when Bishop Abraham was looking for a clean water source to serve the children camp that was being built in Hermon.

He had been told that there was a natural spring down the road and just across the river from Yeghegis village. That day, the river was running low. Bishop Abraham looked down and noticed in the river what appeared to be gravestones. “How strange they should be there,” he thought and decided to investigate. The bishop explored the area and found several more stones half buried and covered with lichen, which bore unusual inscriptions and they were clearly quite old. He decided to ask for advice on the matter from some dentists who were working at the Siranush camp, one of whom happened to be Jewish. Upon inspection, the bishop’s guests informed him that the inscriptions on the tomb stone were indeed Hebrew. The bishop’s first reaction was disbelief. Although there were historical records of Jews in Armenia dating back to ancient times, A Persian word in the inscription indicates that the Jews probably came to Armenia from Persia and this community may be related to Persian-speaking (Judeo-Tat) communities of Mountain Jews in North Caucasus and Azerbaijan. Armenia is one of only few countries where no Jewish settlement of any significant importance is known, although all neighboring countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Persia) had big Jewish communities. According to some legends, the king Tigran in the 1st century CE brought from Judea to Armenia several thousand Jews. There are also legends about a Jewish origin of Armenian royal dynasty of Bagratids (ruled from 7th century CE), but there are no material evidences for this kind of legends.

By considering two archeological findings: a little known inscription published in a Russian Journal 90 years ago and very recent discoveries of Israeli archeologists, we come to a conclusion that a Jewish community existed in Armenia for several hundred years and this country should be included into a list of medieval Jewish Diaspora countries, there was no physical proof of such a community and certainly none during medieval times. Bishop Abraham took pictures of the site and sent them to Prof. Michael Stone of Hebrew University of Jerusalem who confirmed that this was indeed an unusual find.

I believe this place has a great value in a world history and needs to be promoted well to raise awareness among the people who are interested to trace the history of their origins. So, the ones who really want to touch the history my recommendation is come to this area as well.

BTW there is a nice hotel resort in a village Hermon, until recently Ghavushugh, that is few km E on the main road.


Your trusted source

&ldquoWhen I was doing my PhD I started to learn Armenian. I [also] learned to have great affection for the Armenian people and its creativity. I liked it&hellip I learned to value the music and art through my wife&rdquo, &ndash says in the video interview to ScholArm Dr. Michael Stone professor of Armenian studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has devoted many years of his life to studying Armenian history and culture he has authored over 40 books and 400 articles, most of which are on Armenian topics.

He has done many studies of stories related to the Bible in Armenian, about which he says,
&ldquoThere is an enormous literature of Armenian biblical stories that are not in the Bible but are told retelling the Bible stories. I have recently published a book in Yerevan of texts of this sort, published by Matenadaran [Armenian manuscript museum]&rdquo.

Apart from being a scholar and historian Dr. Stone is also a poet and has translated a good deal of medieval Armenian poetry into English, including such work as Adamgirk of Armenian philosopher Arakel Syunetsi.
Dr. Stone also has a great interest in Armenian epigraphy and has himself made discoveries of old Armenian inscriptions.

&ldquoI had the great fortune in the late 1970s and early 1980s to work in the Sinai desert. We did find extremely old Armenian inscriptions, not just on Mount Sinai but also in various stopping places in the desert. They were dated archeologically probably between 430 and 440, which means they were written in all likelihood when St. Mesrop Mashtots was still alive&rdquo, &ndash he says.

On the pages of one of his books he shows the oldest Armenian writing (inscription) which is an Armenian name written in Armenian alphabet.

&ldquo[Those who wrote these names] were in Nazareth, in the Church of Annunciation then they went to Mount Sinai and wrote their names in both places. The Latins built a new basilica and they found stones underneath, below a mosaic floor that was damaged in an earthquake. We know that there was an earthquake in the middle of the fifth century, in the year 447 so anything under that floor is older than 447. This was quite an extraordinary discovery&rdquo, &ndash he says, adding that the director of the archaeological institute of the Armenian academy told him they didn&rsquot have anything of this age.

He has also discovered a special dialect of Armenian that was spoken by the people in Jerusalem who were called gaghatsiner &ndash old Armenian families.

Dr. Stone also speaks about the discovery of a Jewish cemetery in Armenia. Near the village of Yeghegis together with the primate of Vayots Dzor Bishop Abraham Mikirdichian they discovered a cemetery which had inscriptions in Hebrew and Aramaic dating back to the 13th century.

&ldquoSo there was a Jewish community in Yeghegis for at least 100 years who were buried and who were rich enough to leave gravestones, like the family Orbelian cemetery. This is important, for [we discovered that] there was a Jewish settlement in Armenia in the 13th century. Those people came from Iran. We know from Stepanos Orbelian that there were also Jews in Kapan. So there is a lot of evidence&rdquo, &ndash he says. They are currently preparing a book on the history of Jews in Armenia together with philologist Aram Topchyan.
Speaking about the Armenian Genocide Dr. Stone says, &ldquoI as a human being am profoundly committed to recognition and restitution of the Armenian Genocide&hellip [The recognition of the Armenian Genocide] is important for any human being first of all. Second, I think we underwent the same thing. It was Genocide and we should recognize it &ndash it is just a moral imperative&hellip When you think of the riches that the people had produced&hellip I was in Istanbul (Constantinople we say) some years ago, and I saw the chemaran [academy] in which the great Armenian linguist Acharyan studied. It was a great culture &ndash music, food, language and dialects&rdquo.

There are Armenian classes currently held in Hebrew University of Jerusalem the program has about 30 students. Dr. Stone used to teach Armenian and also Medieval Armenian, and though he has retired he still continues to teach Grabar (Classical Armenian) for advanced students. His former student currently teaches Armenian as well. In the university they commemorate the date of the Armenian Genocide as an official university function.

They also often invite visiting professors of Armenian studies from abroad, among them Theo Van Lint (professor of Armenian literature at Oxford) and others.

Dr. Stone has been to Armenia for many times and visits annually to continue his work.


Armenia

According to the estimates of the local Jewish community, Armenia is home to about around 500 Jews, mostly of Ashkenazi origin with some Mizrahi and Georgian Jews. An ethnically diverse country, Armenia has had a deep historical connection to Judaism. Today, the small Armenian Jewish community is able practice Judaism freely, though there have been several manifestations of anti-Semitism. The Jewish community in Armenia is represented by the Jewish Community of Armenia – the Armenian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

The Jewish Community of Armenia

Telephone: +374 10 534 854
Fax: +374 10 534 924
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.jewish.am

Chairwoman: Rimma Varzhepetyan

Historical records attest to a Jewish presence in Armenia dating back before the spread of Christianity in the region. Some historians claim that King Tigranes the Great brought 10,000 Jewish captives with him to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia, following a retreat from Judea due to a Roman attack on Armenia.

A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the first century BCE, thus establishing a permanent Jewish community there. During this period, numerous regional powers attempted to divide and conquer the country, and as a result, the Jewish population (and the general Armenian population as well) suffered the consequences of invasions, occupations, and reconquests. By the 3rd century CE, there was a huge increase in Jewish immigration from the Hellenistic region. As a result, some Armenian towns became largely Jewish.

The conquest of Armenia by the Sassanids under King Shapur II in the following century, saw deportations of Jews. Thousands of Jewish families were deported to areas throughout the region, including Isfahan (modern Iran), Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan.

The return of substantial Jewish communities in Armenia coincided with the Russian annexation of eastern Armenia following the Russo-Persian War in 1828, when Russian Jews began arriving in Armenia. They established communities throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

In the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Armenian Jewry saw its population increase. This continued throughout most of the Soviet era, with many Russian and Ukrainian Jews settling in Armenia as a result of its more accepting society (by comparison to Soviet Russia and Ukraine).

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s saw widespread violence engulf the region, and as a result, many Armenian Jews left the region. Today’s Armenian Jewish population is almost entirely comprised of Ashkenazi Jews who came to Armenia during the Soviet period. The Armenian Jewish community is able to practice their religion freely, and despite some manifestations of antisemitism, live in relative stability. Levon Aronian, the chess grandmaster, openly espouses his Jewish background and received the Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots in 2012.

Under Soviet rule, Armenia participated on the side of the Allies during World War II. The country was spared the devastation and destruction that wrought most of the western Soviet Union during the war, and many displaced Jews found refuge in Soviet Armenia during the Holocaust.

The Jewish Community of Armenia estimated that are roughly 500 Jews in Armenia. Nearly all Jews in Armenia live in Yerevan, the capital. There is also a small group of Armenian Jews who live in Vanadzor.

Despite the small size of Armenian Jewry, the Armenian Jewish community remains organized and active. The Jewish Community of Armenia (JCA) acts as the main representative communal organization in the country, working to ensure that the religious needs of the community are met, and that Armenian Jewry is represented on a national and international level.

The JCA provides a myriad of services for the Jewish community in Armenia that go beyond religious needs and representational matters. It is also engaged in several charitable and cultural activities.

In 2013, a team of Jewish Armenian athletes took part in the Maccabiah Games for the first time.

Jewish religious life in Armenia is almost entirely concentrated in Yerevan, where the country’s only synagogue operates. Rabbi Gersh Meir Burshtein acts as the Chief Rabbi of Armenia.

Despite the small size of the Jewish community, there are opportunities for Jewish education in the Armenia. This is largely done through the auspices of the JCA, which offers a Sunday School and a children’s vocal ensemble called “Keshet.”

There is an Israeli Cultural Center. The community also has an Ulpan, which offers free Hebrew lessons for all members of the community.

There are various Armenian Jewish youth organizations conducted by the Jewish Community of Armenia. Opportunities through various agencies in Israel, including programs with the Jewish Agency for Israel or Maccabi, are also available to young Jews in Armenia.

The Jewish community in Armenia has published a newspaper, “Magen David,” since 2002.

Despite the small size, and historically scattered nature, of the Jewish community in Armenia, there are a number Jewish sites of interest. This includes a recently restored (with financing from the Government of the Republic of Armenia) Jewish medieval cemetery in the village of Yeghegis.

A memorial dedicated to the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide sits in the center of Yerevan, with a ceremony held there every year to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.

Israel and Armenia have maintained diplomatic ties since the latter’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but relations have been complicated by the Israeli government not recognizing the Armenian massacres of 1915 as genocide.

Israeli Consulate in Armenia
47 Komitas Ave. 0051
Yerevan
Armenia


The Six-Pointed Star in Armenian Culture

The Wheel of Eternity is possibly the most iconic Armenian symbol. Armenians have depicted it in several ways, including inside a pointed star. Unfortunately, the six-pointed symbol isn’t known so well in relation to Armenians.

Today, people mostly associate the six-pointed star (hexagram) with the Jewish Star of David, the modern symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism. It even has been imaged on the official flag of Israel since 1948.

So, according to Wikipedia: “Its use as a symbol of the Jewish community dates to the 17th century”. Not much has been written regarding the Armenian usage of the symbol, although it has been quite extensively used in science, art, architecture, and even religious rituals.

Armenians historically are skilled mathematicians, architects, and craftsmen. Geometry, in particular, has always been very special to Armenians.

Ancient Armenian astronomers possessed developed knowledge of astronomy and were even able to predict astral events. Moreover, oldest known observatories are located in Armenia.

Dated all the way back at 4200 BC, Karahunj, as well as the ca. 2800 BC Metsamor observatory allowed ancient Armenians to refine geometry to such point that they could measure distance, longitude, and latitude, envision a spherical world, as well as predict solar and lunar eclipses 1,000 years earlier than Egyptians.

Armenian architecture often features solidity and mathematical precision with its traditional, well-elaborated straight lines connecting the columns.

The wide use of geometry in architecture allowed Armenian structures to withstand time and the harsh surroundings of the region dominated by wars, natural disasters, and poverty.

The geometrical awareness of ancient Armenian architects is perfectly demonstrated by millennia-old discovered fortress cities and temples using complex systems of squares, rectangles, circles, and polygons with intersecting patterns.

Because proper use of geometry was considered magical thanks to its possibilities, Armenians highly valued geometrical shapes, one of which is the aforementioned six-pointed star.

Early Armenians believed that the symbol held magical powers and thus incorporated it in architecture, astronomy, and sacred art.

This is clearly demonstrated by their churches with six-pointed shape, as well as their use of hexagrams to support the dome. Lastly, the symbol could be simply used as sacred decoration.

The first and most significant Armenian Cathedral of Etchmiadzin (303 AD) is one of the structures decorated with many types of ornamented hexagrams.

Another example is the tomb of an Armenian prince of Hasan-Jalalyan dynasty of Khachen (1214 AD) in the Gandzasar Church, Artsakh.

The most famous example of usage of the symbol could be the 12th-century Armenian Church, the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem, where hexagram-shaped arches support the dome. Similar dome arches can be found throughout Armenia, like the domes of the Khorakert Monastery or the 13th-century Khoranashat Monastery.

Floor plan of a Medieval Armenian Church of the Shepherd

The acquaintance of Armenians with the six-pointed symbol is clearly evidenced by the oldest known depiction of the symbol unearthed in the Ashtarak burial mound called “Nerkin Naver”.

A series of radiocarbon analyses conducted in laboratories in Germany and the US confirmed this. The six-pointed star was engraved on the handle of a dagger discovered in a burial mound safeguarding over 500 graves.

The hexagram isn’t the only symbol widely used in Armenian architectonics, although it may have been the most significant one.

Geometry has always been favored by Armenians who loved to build and create, making it an inseparable part of the Armenian culture.

To wrap up the topic, let us present you with some examples of hexagram usage in Armenia.

The Armenian Wheel Of Eternity PeopleOfAr

Marble tombstone of the Armenian Grand Prince Hasan Jalal Vahtangian (1214-1261) The handle of a dagger excavated in Ashtarak (Nerkin Naver) burial (3rd millenium BC., Armenia) Harichavank Monastery decoration, 7th c AD, Armenia. Relief of a medieval Armenian coat-of-arms found amongst Ani’s ruins marked with the name Sargis (clockwise) The Armenian Church of the Citadel Palace of Ani (622 AD) 13th c tombstone near village Bartsruni 13th c. tombstone near village Bartsruni 13th. century cross-stone at Haghartsin Monastery Arches and dome of St James Armenian Cathedral Armenia, Goshavank monastery, XII-XIII c. AD. Bas-relief of the Lion—a symbol of the Vahtangian princes of Artsakh, Armenia’s 10th historical province. Cross stone from Noravank Monastery (13th c.) Decoration on Medieval Armenian cross-stone Decoration on the outside of 13th c. Noravank Monastery (Armenia). Hexagrams on Etchmiadzin Cathedral (303 AD.) Inside the Geghard Monastery (groundbreaking 4th c. chapel build in 1215 AD). Decorative hexagram symbol on the dome arch. . Lori – Armenia Lower cover leather binding, 1577 AD, (binder Grigor Khach’ets, Venice, San Lazzaro, Library of the Mekhitarists Marble tombstone of the Armenian Grand Prince Hasan Jalal Vahtangian 1214-1261 Medieval Armenian timbstone with hexagram and hand Medieval Armenian timbstone with hexagram and hand

Neghuts Monastery (10th-11th c. AD.) – Armenia

Reliefs on the ruined 12th century Teghenyats Monastery Armenia Reliefs on the ruined 12th century Teghenyats Monastery, Armenia The altar of Mšakavank monastery 5th c AD The dome of Khorakert Monastery (12th c. AD), Armenia The dome of Khoranashat Monastery, 13th c. AD, Armenia The portico of Sarkis’s palace 13th c. Vorotnavank (10th c.) Wall Detail on Gandzasar Monastery (1240) Wooden chapiter, 9th century from Astvatsamayr church of Araqeloc monastery, Sevan. Displayed at History museum of Armenia


Russell Explores an Armeno-Hebrew Mystery at NAASR

BELMONT, Mass.—On Thurs., Nov. 3, Prof. James R. Russell, the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, delivered an informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining lecture entitled “An Armeno-Hebrew Mystery: Or, a 1,000-Year-Old Armenian Text in a Cairo Synagogue and the Stories It Tells” at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Center in Belmont.

Prof. James R. Russell, Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, with Christian Millian, graduate student in Armenian Studies at Harvard, following Russell's Nov. 3 talk at NAASR.

Russell opened by explaining that he gave a shortened version of the talk in Yerevan in July at the “Iran and the Caucasus” conference (the article will be forthcoming in the journal of the same name).

The lecture centered on “a short text on a small piece of paper found in the Cairo Geniza” that is “likely to be nearly a millennium old and consists of a list of 20 Judeo-Arabic words and phrases with their equivalents in Armenian written in Hebrew script.” (Geniza is the storeroom in a synagogue where materials written in the Hebrew script—and thus, not to be destroyed—were deposited.)

An Armenia that is central, not peripheral

Preparatory to his exploration of the document, Russell invited the audience to imagine a world in which Armenia and the Armenian language occupied a very different place than it does today. He invoked the example of an important source known as the Rasulid Hexaglot (meaning “six languages”), a dictionary compiled in the 14 th century for a king of Aden, an important trading hub. The six languages of the hexaglot—Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Greek, Mongol, and Armenian—were “the major political and cultural tongues of the Eastern Mediterranean world of the Mongol era,” writes Peter Golden, the editor of The King’s Dictionary: The Rasulid Hexaglot.

“The Armenians of the centuries embraced by these two glossaries were a nation of political and economic importance,” Russell emphasized. They “inhabited a homeland that encompassed large parts of modern Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran on the north and east, parts of northern Iraq and Syria on the south, and much of the Anatolian peninsula,” in addition to being a major presence in Constantinople, Jerusalem, Egypt, and elsewhere. In short, “Armenia was neither small nor peripheral to the Near and Middle East but central to it in demography, politics, and economy—its language, of corresponding importance. To see Armenia as small is to peer through the wrong end of the telescope. But historical myopia can warp one’s perceptions, and such distortions can affect more than scholarship.”

He noted that because there was no indigenous Jewish community to speak of in Armenia over the centuries, and hence no Judeo-Armenian dialect, as well as a general sparseness of documents on historical Armenian-Jewish interactions, the Geniza document “is of great intrinsic linguistic interest” and “may hint at a much richer reality” than can otherwise be documented. Studies have been carried out on many of the thousands of Geniza documents, and “have transformed our understanding of Jewish life and letters in the Middle Ages.”

Valuable linguistic data

The document itself, though containing only 20 words and phrases, provides unique information about the Armenian language at the time. “It is by now generally accepted that the division of a preponderance of the dialects of the language into reasonably delineable Western and Eastern categories, as we now know them, can be dated to about the 17 th century,” Russell explained. But this list suggests “the language typified by the documentation of the Cilician Kingdom, displaying the characteristically fluid phonology of that stage of the language.” The list contains “classical” forms such as siyav (black) rather than the modern sev, while other forms suggest a closeness to Modern Western Armenian that might not otherwise have been suspected. Russell compared the language found in the list to “a fly in amber.”

Most intriguing, perhaps, was who spoke the Armenian of the word list and why was the list created? It is, of course, impossible to offer definitive answers, but nonetheless Russell offered possibilities that were both imaginative and rooted in scholarly investigation. There was a sizable Armenian population in Egypt at the time, mostly “from the heartland of the country around Van, [and] many others still would have come from Syria, and Armenian converts to Islam were prominent in the Fatimid hierarchy.” Indeed, after the battle of Manazkert in 1071, some 30,000 Armenians left their homelands and settled in Egypt, and Armenian merchants and craftsmen were ubiquitous in Fatimid Egypt.

Russell speculated, therefore, that given the nature of the list (which includes, for example, the words for wine, meat, rose, various fruits, woman, virgin, female singer, how are you, and more), that we may suppose “from the contents of the word list that it was intended for social purposes, rather than, say, a legal case, a purely business transaction, or a religious disputation.” Furthermore, “the Armenian whom the Jewish owner of the word list was seeking to impress with a few words of the former’s own tongue was a fellow tradesman, possibly a merchant of means and importance, whose friendship was worth the effort, one whom he might encounter at a social gathering.”

A vanished cosmopolitan world

Russell then conjured a scene: “The Jew and Armenian perhaps meet, then, in a well-appointed majlis at a drinking party where there are beautiful girls… There are musicians, and singers. At this point, the party gets interesting,” he joked, noting that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious authorities have ample writings denouncing such gatherings. “Wine is poured, fruit is eaten, a minstrel sings. Then one realizes that one has only been gazing at a sheet of paper,” he mused, recognizing the limits of his speculations.

Russell concluded with the observation that the Cairo of the Geniza fragment is as far removed from us in time as the heyday of imperial Rome was from them. “But this equivalence of chronology is deceptive. Much of their world endured, little changed and we have only recently been severed from it, root and branch,” he argued. After all, “the drinkers of Tiflis in the mid-18 th century could still hear the living voice of a great Armenian gusan, the polyglot bard Sayat Nova,” he stated, and “his world, with its cosmopolitan conviviality, its wine and wit, its roses and delicate maidens, its absorption in music and love, its gatherings in the majlis, is not too far from that of 11 th -century Cairo.”

However, “that life ended, in 1915, when the embattled Armenian villagers [of Musa Dagh] withstood the onslaught of the world’s first genocidal state.” And as for the Jews of Cairo, they are almost all gone, and “the Ibn Ezra synagogue has become itself a Geniza, a storehouse inhabited by ghosts.”

For more information about the lecture, call (617) 489-1610 or e-mail [email protected]

3 Comments

Thank you for a very informative article.
It is true that there is (comparatively) little evidence of Jewish-Armenian interaction in history and the Geniza document is an important one in this respect.
It is worth noting that Aram Topchyan (Matenadaran – Armenia) has published a very important and comprehensive article in Le Muséon Volume: 120 Issue: 3-4 Date: 2007 “Jews In Ancient Armenia”. Mr. Topchyan participated in the research on the Medieval Jewish cemetary recently discovered behind our house in Yeghegnadzor. There is now respectable information on the interaction between Jews and Armenians and an informative website has been developed by Syunik NGO following an international Symposium at Gitelik University in Yeghegnadzor http://yeghegis.syunikngo.am/

There were few books at the Jerusalem arcives relating to Jewish history, which became victim of poker table transactions. One specifically was the history of Jews. Only the Armenian version had survived. Why not ask the Israeli authorities who are quite aware of Armenian madenakroutiun legacy in safe keeping the history. The history of Metz and Pokr Haik has not been studied yet.

Yes, history is writen by the conquerers. But sooner or later when archeological excavations will be possible in Western Armenian, than the history will correct the existing false version of the territory. Keep digging.

Thanks for the link. The setting for that cemetery looks very peaceful and beautiful. There must be other small surprises waiting to be found in Armenia. More ancient wine production caves for example :)


Medieval Jewish Tombstone in Yeghegis, Armenia - History

The first part of the video clip is dedicated to an archaeological survey of the medieval Jewish cemetery in Yeghegis, Armenia. When it comes to medieval Jewish history, Armenia is an enigma. Several medieval Jewish communities are documented in the nearby regions of Iran and Asia Minor, and probably existed in neighboring Georgia as well. But what about Armenia itself? Surprisingly, very little evidence for the existence of Jews in medieval Armenia has survived, despite this region being, in a manner of speaking, surrounded by Jewish communities, and traversed by central trade routes.

It is this mystery that makes the medieval Jewish cemetery at Yeghegis, Armenia, such an important site. It is the only place in Armenia where archaeological finds shedding light on medieval Jews who lived in the country were found. The JewsEast team took part in an expedition aimed at wide-scale exploration and documentation of the cemetery and its surroundings.

The second part of the video clip is dedicated to an archaeological survey of Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) monasteries in the Semien Mountains, Ethiopia. The JewsEast research team is attempting to shed light on the little-known phenomenon of Ethiopian Jewish monasticism. Monasticism is something commonly associated with Christianity or Buddhism rather than Judaism, but the Ethiopian Jews had a monastic movement. Their monks were their most important religious leaders. They trained and consecrated the priests, and shaped the Ethiopian Jewish religious tradition.

How was Ethiopian Jewish monasticism practiced? In what ways was it different from, and in what ways similar to other monastic movements? What was an Ethiopian Jewish monastery shaped like, and how did the monks live within it? To answer these questions, the JewsEast team embarked on an expedition aimed at finding and studying the remains of the Ethiopian Jewish monasteries in the Semien Mountains, the highest mountains in Ethiopia.


Did you know about the Jewish Cemetery and Lucy Hotel?

Yeah, I am still in Armenia and still discovering amazing places and stories. And if you don’t mind I’ll share one with you.

It happened to me, to meet this Magma Challenge Group in Armenia. As you may know, this is a Jewish company that every year visits a different country. And they travel in a pretty active and unique way. So, they made me interested in learning more about their nation and whether, there are some stories about Armenian Jews or Jewish Diaspora in Armenia. And here what I’ve found out: A medieval Jewish cemetery near the village of Yeghegis in the Vayots Dzor region, 2 hours south of the capital city of Yerevan. At the site, 64 gravestones, twenty of which bear inscriptions in either Hebrew or Aramaic, or are decorated with animal or floral motifs. It’s pretty cool moreover it brought me to a Bishop of that region who had discovered and investigated the find. As the story states, it was in 1996, when Bishop Abraham was looking for a clean water source to serve the children camp that was being built in Hermon.

He had been told that there was a natural spring down the road and just across the river from Yeghegis village. That day, the river was running low. Bishop Abraham looked down and noticed in the river what appeared to be gravestones. “How strange they should be there,” he thought and decided to investigate. The bishop explored the area and found several more stones half buried and covered with lichen, which bore unusual inscriptions and they were clearly quite old. He decided to ask for advice on the matter from some dentists who were working at the Siranush camp, one of whom happened to be Jewish. Upon inspection, the bishop’s guests informed him that the inscriptions on the tomb stone were indeed Hebrew. The bishop’s first reaction was disbelief. Although there were historical records of Jews in Armenia dating back to ancient times, A Persian word in the inscription indicates that the Jews probably came to Armenia from Persia and this community may be related to Persian-speaking (Judeo-Tat) communities of Mountain Jews in North Caucasus and Azerbaijan. Armenia is one of only few countries where no Jewish settlement of any significant importance is known, although all neighboring countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Persia) had big Jewish communities. According to some legends, the king Tigran in the 1st century CE brought from Judea to Armenia several thousand Jews. There are also legends about a Jewish origin of Armenian royal dynasty of Bagratids (ruled from 7th century CE), but there are no material evidences for this kind of legends.

By considering two archeological findings: a little known inscription published in a Russian Journal 90 years ago and very recent discoveries of Israeli archeologists, we come to a conclusion that a Jewish community existed in Armenia for several hundred years and this country should be included into a list of medieval Jewish Diaspora countries, there was no physical proof of such a community and certainly none during medieval times. Bishop Abraham took pictures of the site and sent them to Prof. Michael Stone of Hebrew University of Jerusalem who confirmed that this was indeed an unusual find.

I believe this place has a great value in a world history and needs to be promoted well to raise awareness among the people who are interested to trace the history of their origins. So, the ones who really want to touch the history my recommendation is come to this area as well.

BTW there is a nice hotel resort in a village Hermon, until recently Ghavushugh, that is few km E on the main road.


Watch the video: Armenia, day 7 -- Yeghegis Jewish cemetery