Chipped Away into Nonexistence: Armenia Surrounded by Islam


by Raymond Ibrahim

The ruins of Ani, Armenia’s capital, formerly known as “The City of 1001 Churches”

“Peace” was recently achieved between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which had been fighting for nearly two months, after the Christian nation agreed to cede its ancestral lands in Artsakh to its Muslim neighbor.

From a temporal and myopic point of view, such a settlement may seem progressive; from a long point of view it is regressive and reflective of the continuum of Armenian/Islamic history and relations: in exchange for peace, Christians have always been forced to cede territory to Muslims.  Indeed, the heart of the Muslim world—the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia Minor—was all Christian before the sword of Islam invaded.

Thus, before Islam violently conquered eastern Anatolia (Asia Minor) in the eleventh century, Armenia was significantly larger than today. Beginning a thousand years, however, Turks chipped away at and absorbed ethnically Armenian territory.  What is happening today is simply part of that continuum.

The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa (d.1144), an Armenian historian who lived close to the initial conquests, makes all this clear.   According to this valuable historical resource, in 1019, “the first appearance of the bloodthirsty beasts … the savage nation of infidels called Turks entered Armenia … and mercilessly slaughtered the Christian faithful with the sword.” Three decades later the raids were virtually nonstop. In 1049, the founder of the Turkic Seljuk Empire himself, Sultan Tughril Bey (r. 1037–1063), reached the Armenian city of Arzden, west of Lake Van, and “put the whole town to the sword, causing severe slaughter, as many as one hundred and fifty thousand persons.”

Other contemporaries confirm the devastation visited upon Arzden. “Like famished dogs,” writes Aristakes (d.1080) an eye witness, the Turks “hurled themselves on our city, surrounded it and pushed inside, massacring the men and mowing everything down like reapers in the fields, making the city a desert. Without mercy, they incinerated those who had hidden themselves in houses and churches.”

Eleven years later, in 1060, the Turk’s laid siege to Sebastia (which, though now a Turkish city, was for the preceding 400 years Armenian).  Six hundred churches were destroyed, “many and innumerable people were burned [to death],” and countless women and children “were led into captivity to Persia.”

Between 1064 and 1065, Tughril’s successor, Sultan Muhammad bin Dawud Chaghri—known to posterity as Alp Arslan, one of Turkey’s unsavory but national heroes—laid siege to Ani, the fortified capital of Armenia, then a great and populous city. The thunderous bombardment of Muhammad’s siege engines caused the entire city to quake, and Matthew describes countless terror-stricken families huddled together and weeping.  Once inside, the Islamic Turks “began to mercilessly slaughter the inhabitants of the entire city . . . and piling up their bodies one on top of the other….  Innumerable and countless boys with bright faces and pretty girls were carried off together with their mothers.”

Not only do several Christian sources document the sack of Armenia’s capital—one contemporary succinctly notes that Muhammad “rendered Ani a desert by massacres and fire”—but so do Muslim sources, often in apocalyptic terms: “I wanted to enter the city and see it with my own eyes,” one Arab explained. “I tried to find a street without having to walk over the corpses. But that was impossible.”

Such is an idea of what Muslim Turks did to Christian Armenians—not during the Armenian Genocide of a century ago but one thousand years ago, starting in 1019, when the Islamic conquest of Armenia first began.

“That was the beginning of the misfortunes of Armenia,” Matthew of Edessa concludes his account:  “So, lend an ear to this melancholy recital.”  This has proven to be an ominous remark; for the aforementioned history of blood and tears was, indeed, just “the beginning of the misfortunes of Armenia,” whose “melancholy recital” continues to this day,” most recently by the nation’s recent concessions which, in the long run, may well have been in vain.

Little wonder many Armenians are displeased with their government’s surrender of even more land—to the point of storming parliament and “beating Parliament Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan unconscious in front of his family.”  Perhaps they are aware that, as history suggests, true and permanent peace between Armenia and its Muslim neighbors will only be achieved when the Christian nation has ceded itself into nonexistence.

Note: Quotes from Matthew of Edessa were excerpted from the author’s book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West.  


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