Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Why mount Masis is not mount Ararat

Doing a course on Armenian history, I took out a fine old Armenian publication «Հայկական Սովետական Հանրագիտարան» (Soviet Armenian Encyclopaedia) 1976 edition.
No interest in any of the Soviet propaganda that may exist in it.
These are famous encyclopaedias in Armenia and the Diaspora, with a wealth of information about Armenian culture and history that until the Internet age, was so hard to find.

There is a double-page map of Arsacid (Arshakuni) Armenia of the 4th century AD.
I was looking at the old province of Gortuk (Gordyene) when my eyes saw in clear Armenian writting «Արարադ Լ
That means Mount Ararat.

Looking on Google Map for the present name of this mountain, I learnt it is now called mount Judi.

Apparently, for the early Christian church (and even today in Judaism and Islam) this was the location of the mountain that "Noah's Ark" set upon after the Flood.

The mountain that almost all diasporan Armenians call "mount Ararat" was actually called, according to the map in the encyclopaedia «Ազատ-Մասիս» (Azat - Masis).
Confusingly the map makers have kept the modern provincial name of the area, «ԱՅՐԱՐԱՏ»(Ararat).

Azad-Masis may derive from the Avestan title Yazata-Mazista which equates to "the venerable, the greatest".
This 5,137 meter high extinct volcanic mass was called the "Palace of Aramazd and Astghik"* by the ancient Armenians.
The lower south-eastern slope, which in the Arsacid map is called "Մասիս" (Masis and Diasporan Armenians call this summit, Masis whilst those of the Republic call Sis) was said to be "a place of incessant fire, of Dragons"*.
At the base of this mountain was a sacred spring called "Buth"*.
This probably derives from the Avestan deity of the water, "Burz".

A possible scenario is that the mountain could not be destroyed, like the pagan temples, by the zealous Gregory the Illuminator and his successors in their mission of converting the kingdom to Christianity, and so, the mountain was renamed to something Christian.

But there was already a mountain called Ararat, in the province of Gortuk?
Alas, this province did not remain under Armenian control.
Due to Armenia being brought into an alliance with the Roman Emperor Julian II (who reverted to Paganism) the kingdom was expected to provide military aid for his campaign into Mesopotamia (Iraq) to attack the capital of the Persian kingdom, Ctesiphon.
After initial victories, the Roman army was dicisively defeated at the "Battle of Samara" and Julian was killed.
Okay, what about "the real mount Ararat" and Gortuk?
After the Romans were defeated and left to find a new leader, Jovian, and make large concessions to Persia to survive and escape back to the Roman empire, they made a treaty with the Persian king.
This involved ceding control of most of Armenia to Persia, including the province of Gortuk.

It seems that the real mount Ararat in Gortuk was forgotten, the region that sired the "Urartuan" people.

And that original Ararat was forgotten by western Christianity, but not by the local Armenians, or Judaism or Islam.

So in summary, yes "Noah's Ark landed in Armenia upon mount Ararat", just it was in the Armenian province of Gortuk.

*See "Armenian Mythology" by Mardiros H. Ananikian, from "The Mythology of All Races: Volume VII", (published in New York, 1925)

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