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Document Details :
Subtitle: 'A Country Swept by Chilly Gusts of Frosty Snowstorms'
Author(s): DORFMANN-LAZAREV, Igor
Journal: Journal of Eastern Christian Studies
Volume: 68 Issue: 3-4 Date: 2016
For scholars of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations Armenia lies in a remote East, whereas since the Russian conquests of the Caucasus between 1783 and 1829, it has firmly occupied a place in the south of our mental map, beyond the Caucasus, in ‘Transcaucasia’. Yet ancient geographers regarded the Taurus chain as a natural frontier between Northern and Southern Asia, reckoning the Armenians amongst the ‘Northern peoples’ also on account of the ‘boreal’ climate of their mountainous homeland. Also a number of Armenian writers placed Armenia in the north. So did Catholicos Xač'ik Araruni in his letter to a Byzantine Metropolitan, dispatched c.987, in response to the Metropolitan’s appeal to join the Church of the Empire, even though his correspondent resided farther north than Xač'ik. This geographical conception predates the classical authors and reflects ancient routes of cultural transmission across the Near East, which informed the culture of the Armenian high plateau for millennia. This memory lingered in the minds of Armenians: Moses of Khoren links the origins of his people to the Biblical Togarmah, a grandson of Japheth, whose country was situated ‘at the extremities of the North’ with respect to the land of Israel. According to Moses, Togarmah’s son Hayk refused to submit to the giant Bel, leaving Babylon with all his household for the land of Ararat, ‘which is in the northern regions’, settling ‘in the cold of the freezing seasons’ of a plateau northwest of Lake Van. In responding to the Byzantine appeal that the Armenians should adhere to the faith of the Empire, Xač'ik was certainly emboldened by the example of Hayk who had preferred independence in a harsh country to subservience to Bel in a mild climate and had sent back Bel’s emissaries empty-handed. A mental map thus could impinge on theological debates.