The most popular Armenian Hero and His was for religion
|It was just in 428 A.D. that the royal dynasty was abolished in Armenia, when King Ardashes III being invited to Ctesiphon (capital of Persia) had been constrained to abdicate. Consequently, King Vram of Persia undertook governing Armenia by his own marzbans (consuls or governors), selected among the Persian subordinates or even among the pro-Persian Armenians. This monarch tried to keep the Armenian country weak and divided by continuing political discords and social struggles.
| Notwithstanding, the Armenian nakharars (ministers) didn't completely lose their privileges; they maintained the right to govern the people in their respective regions, and to dispose of a sufficient number of soldiers in order to protect public institutions, military strongholds and castles. But the army existing in the country was subdued thoroughly to the Persian authority, who could make appeal to it against all liabilities.
|The Persians tried to compel Armenian people to renounce their Christian
religion and adopt the Zoroastrianism (Persia's official religion,
a paganistic faith based on the adoration of fire), treacherously
intended to widen the distance between Armenians and Christian Rome,
so that they could attract them closer to Persia. For such a purpose,
freedom was granted, at first, to Armenians to act at their own way
in the management of their whole internal affairs, cultural or instructional
life, including even courts and schools. This underhand project, however,
|Indeed, by intensifying their Christian culture, Armenians became
a strong western-like nation in the area. Many churches, temples of
worship, and cultural centers were built, and the Armenian alphabet
was invented, opening a new era for the generalization of sacred literature
and the strengthening of national spirit. However, the situation seemed
to collapse soon. The successor of Vram, King Yazgerd II, decided
to intervene otherwise. Tyrant and arrogant, he thought ambitiously
to conquer Armenia and do what the others failed to do. It was during
his reign (439-457 A.D.) that the first Armenian rebellion took place,
resulting in the war of Avarayr, about which we are going to speak
|Yazgerd II dreamed of submitting all the vassal nations and countries
to Persia's culture and religious life-style, projecting to create
a unified and uniform world of force. In 440 A.D., Persian hordes
invaded Mesopotamia, destroying and sacking everything, killing people
or taking prisoners everywhere. The King of Byzance, Theodosius II,
tried to oppose in vain: weakened by political and social strikes,
he receded and signed a shameful treaty. Between 442-448 A.D., King
Yazgerd sent his powerful armies against the Kushans (Afghanistan),
and became the overwhelming authority in the region. The time was
favorable to impose Zoroastrianism everywhere and to anybody. During
a council held in Ctesiphon, Yazgerd expressed his brutal anger against
Persia's close neighbors, the Armenians, insulting them exceedingly,
because these people, according to him, were the last ones to yield,
firmly holding the links with their Christian religion.
|Yazgerd's mighty-minded counselor, Mihrnerseh, who also was the
army general, conscientiously advised his King for prudence and moderation,
strongly urging him for peaceful behavior toward Armenians, foreseeing
away to penetrate more easily among these people and consequently
gaining more influence and avoiding the eventuality of an Armenian-Byzantine
agreement. Then, Yazgerd looked for cooperation with the Armenians
to reach his goals. Vassag Suni, a powerful and authoritative Armenian
marzban designated by Yazgerd himself to govern a part of the country,
accepted this cooperation. The Persian King had - he thought, the
right man in his hands. He never doubted the sincerity of this man
who, even when cooperating and helping the Persians, was secretly
aiming to reestablish the fallen royal dynasty in the Armenian' land
and become the new king.
|Vassag Suni's intention was a praiseworthy attempt of national interest
on one hand, he didn't hesitate to get involved in a dangerous manipulation
of intrigues, trying to instigate everyone against each other: Persians,
Byzantines and Armenian ministerial families, looking out solely for
the success of his selfish aims. Mihrnerseh came to Armenia with a
royal decree to abolish Christianism. Urgently, an immediate council
was held by the ecclesiastical and political chiefs in the city of
Ashdishad, where an answer was compiled to the king's propositions.
It said in the letter that Armenians willingly promised loyalty and
submission to the king of Persia, but they refused categorically any
renouncement of the Christian religion.
|When Mihrnersah returned to his country, another army general, Denshabouh,
was sent to Armenia, in 450 A.D. with the order to plunder and devastate
the country. Again, Armenians preferred to be inflexible. Completely
disappointed, Yazgerd invited all the Armenian nakharars to come to
Ctesiphon and explain their refusal in person. Once in the Persian
capital, the nakharars were treacherously jailed and ordered to accept
the magian paganistic religion. Yazgerd also threatened to exterminate
the Armenian people without discrimination or send them into the neighboring
|In order to save the nation from such a horror, the prisoners decided
unanimously, after heavy hesitations, to yield to the king's propositions,
presenting a fictitious abjuration of their faith. Consequently, Yazgerd
allowed them to go back home, accompanied by 700 Persian pagan priests,
who had the mission to spread Zoroastrianism. The following order
was given: "Accept our law, and you shall receive many presents
and honors from the king. If you do not accept this law willingly,
we have given orders to build temples everywhere to adore the sacred
fire in your country. If any of you should rebel, he shall be put
to death, and his wife and children imprisoned or exiled." In
the village of Ankegh, where the pagan priests had first arrived,
the demolition of churches began. The angry inhabitants, encouraged
by the Armenian priest Ghevont, expelled and killed all the Persians.
Meanwhile, a council was held in Shahabivan by the dignitaries, inviting
the Armenian people for a general rebellion to defend their national
rights and faith. At that time, Vassag Suni secretly informed King
Yazgerd that he wished to continue to cooperate and help them continuously.
40,000 of his men passed under the Persian army command.
|The rebellion of Armenians meant an open invitation to war. So an
impressive and huge Persian troop - 300,000 soldiers, sheltered behind
enormous and furious elephants - came and settled near the Zarevant
region, being prepared for a final attack over Armenia. In those perilous
days, a man known for his bravery and integrity, Vartan Mamigonian,
was designated as the commander-in-chief of all Armenian armies. Vartan
was a bright soldier, endowed with exceptional abilities. He was respected,
even by the Persians and the Byzantines. He organized his forces for
a courageous combat against the invasion.
|It was springtime in Armenia (May 26, 451 A.D.). The war preparation
lasted a week, till June 2nd, day of Pentecoste. The day before the
battle, Vartan dedicated a speech to his soldiers, saying: "I
have been in many wars, and you too with me. We have been victorious
very often, and we were defeated few times. Every one of us wears
on his body wounds and scars: they are the signs of bravery, for which
we have been awarded. All these awards, however, are useless things,
even nonsense. We have served until now mortal kings
is time to serve the immortal king. Let's not be afraid by the military
superiority of our enemy. If God gives us victory, we can shatter
the strength of our opponents. But we are at the end of our lives,
let's accept it cheerfully, and so we shall have a holy death in God's
will. Let's never be cowards."
|The fighting troops were gathered on the field named Ardaz, near
Avarayr Village (region of Shavarshan), near Deghmoud River. On June
2nd, at dawn, yet in the mist of darkness, a mass was celebrated solemnly
on the battlefield. Many soldiers were baptized and the crowd sung
and prayed with fervor, and then received the Holy Communion. Accompanying
Vartan, the priest Ghevont rendered everybody enthusiastic with a
warm speech, enhancing the love for their faith and their country.
Then Vartan organized his army in four divisions, putting three of
them under the command of some of his bravest generals, such as Nershabouh
Arzrouni, Khoren Khorkhorouni and Tatoul Vanantetzi. Vartan himself
took command of the fourth and central army.
|The first attack was by the Armenian Cavalry, who impetuously crossed the river, causing a violent and heroic beginning of the fight. But the left wing of the Armenian forces failed and began to recede. Immediately, Vartan came to rescue his men and dispersed the famous Persian "Madian" troop. Full of excitement by this success, Vartan attacked the "army of elephants", where he met Vassag Suni fighting against his Armenian compatriots. Vartan tried to reach him, but that was impossible as the traitor was sheltered behind the elephants. He was surrounded by the tower-like animals, and under the violent shower of arrows and spears, the Armenian general-in-chief fell heroically, purifying his soul from the momentaneous apostasy that he had some days before. At sunset, there were thousands and thousands of dead on the field. The Armenians withdrew in a hurry and dispersed to the mountains and their fortresses. They eventually decided to continue their resistance. There were 1036 Armenians dead on the ground. Persians left over 3000 men.
|After this battle, the priest Ghevont was arrested with many other companions, under the accusation of instigating the people against the king of Persia. He was condemned to death and then ferociously executed. Soon, Vassag Suni, the traitor, was stripped of all his honors and jailed. Persians had discovered his intentions to be a king by ruse and treachery. He died miserably in the prison. The war continued from the Armenian strongholds, under the command of Vahan Mamigonian, son of Vartan's brother Hamaiag, who also died heroically during the battle. Even though they were defeated, Armenians gained a moral and strong victory over the Persians, who at last left Armenians to their freedom to do how they liked. The memory of that lasts during centuries, and Vartan has been the most popular figure of hero for all Armenians.