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Section 1: The ancient origins of the Armenian people.

Overview: The Armenian Highlands have been inhabited by neolithic tribes/ civilizations for over 12,000 years since the establishment of the worlds oldest temple "Göbekli Tepe" (Portasar). These various ancients contributed to the formation of the Armenians as a distinct ethnic group and kingdom.



The Hayasa-Azzi are an indigenous tribal confederation which flourished on the Armenian highlands around the mountain of Ararat and parts of modern-day eastern Turkey (Western Armenia) between 1500 and 1200 BCE. The Armenian people call themselves "Hye" and their country "Hayastan" as a result of the Hayasa-Azzi, which they originated from. Over time, the Hayasa-Azzi mixed with other similar ethnic groups and local tribes such as the Hurrians, Arme-Shupria, and Nairi, the latter spoke languages that were similar to each other,shared a common ancestor, and were indigenous to the Armenian Highlands. The reason for this mixture was probably motivated by the need for defence against more aggressive and powerful neighbours like the Hittites and the Assyrians. The Hayasa-Azzi were then infiltrated by the Thraco-Phrygians following the collapse of the Hittite Empire in 1200 BCE. Eventually, these various peoples and kingdoms would be fused into the region’s first recognisable and recorded state, the kingdom of Urartu from the 9th century BCE.


Armenian Highlands




Tribes of Nairi



The Hurrians inhabited the lower south-western portion of the Armenian Highlands,especially around Lake Van. Written evidence of the Hurrians dates back to the 3rd millennium BCE but, based on archaeological evidence, the Hurrian identity stretched back to the 4th millennium BCE. They are generally known in ancient sources as the Hurri/Subartu and in biblical texts they are referred to as the Hurites. One of the earliest and most important Hurrian sites was the city of Urkesh, where the earliest known inscriptions of the language were discovered. Various Mesopotamian city-states worshipped Hurrian gods and many poeple in these city states even had names of Hurrian origin, such as, Kharbe and Nagar. Starting from the 4th millennium BCE, the Hurrians thrived and expanded across upper Mesopotamia (Armenian Highlands), they originated in the area, and spread to conquer new territories. 

Their expansion was sometimes halted by other regional powers like the Assyrians. During the reigns of Sargon The Great (2334-2279 BCE) and Naram Sin (2261-2224 BCE), most notably, the rulers of Akkad waged a successful war to expand their territories in northern Mesopotamia which most likely led to the defeat of several Hurrian city-states, among them Nagar, which was turned into a Akkadian capital city.

2190-1900 BCE

During the time when the kingdom of Akkad went into major decline (2190 BCE), the Hurrians took advantage of the power vacuum in Mesopotamia and formed a confederation. This confederation consisted of the various Hurrian kings that ruled the city-states in the region. As a result of this, Urkesh and Nagar continued to be important Hurrian cities in this period. In the last century of the 3rd millennium BCE, Hurrian cities were attacked and conquered by Sumer, particularly during the reign of kings Utuhegal of Uruk (2117-2111 BCE) and Shulgi of Ur (2029-1982 BCE). Despite this new threat, the main Hurrian homeland and their capital Urkesh remained safe and untouched. Also, under king Tish-atal , Nineveh (Assyrian capital) was under Hurrian control and even the city of Harhar (modern day western Iran), too.


1900-1200 BCE

During the 2nd millennium BCE, the Hurrians were migrating into the northern Syria region. They were also migrating westwards and southwards, this trend in migration resulted in the peaceful migration of Hurrian merchants, farmers, and artisans. The Hanigalbat region, which was an area in upper Mesopotamia, became the new center of the Mitanni kingdom (1500-1240 BCE) which was Hurrian. 

From the 16th-15th century BCE, there was tension beginning to build up between the Hittite Empire (1700-1200 BCE) and the Mitanni, this situation was a result of the hostilities between these two powers which had been going on in the 17th century BCE. The expansion of the Hittites resulted in: more Hurrians coming under Hittite rule and diminished spreading of Hurrian cultural elements. 

During the conquest of Mitanni by Assyria and Hatti in the 13th century BCE, the Hurrian language and culture continued under the political control of the Hittites and Assyrians. By the 1st millennium BCE, the Hurrians had been absorbed into other cultures of the region but, many of them would flee to the Lake Van region to unite with the tribes of Nairi who were being united by Arame I in a confederation. 

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The Kingdom of Urartu, also known as the Kingdom of Van, was a powerful civilization which developed in the Bronze and Iron Age in the Armenian highlands, from the 9th century BCE. Ruling territories through military strength and the construction of fortresses, the kingdom prospered in the arts, metalwork, trade, and conquest, before it's eventual collapse. 




The name Urartu, is the Assyrian pronounciation for the Armenian name, Ararat (the mountain Ararat) and the Babylonians referred to the kingdom as Uruatri. The Urartians called themselves Biaina and their state Biainili (Land of the Nairi).

Urartu began as a confederation of kingdoms which had developed during the 14th century BCE around the lake Van region (tribes of Nairi). Urartu became a recognisable and independent state/power during the 9th century BCE and was ultimatly started as a response to an external threat from Assyria. The culture of Urartu prospered due to the rich and fertile Armenian plateau, which was well supplied by rivers. Crops consisted of wheat, barley, millet, rye, sesame, and flax. The art of wine making, which ultimatly began in the Armenian highlands, was important to the ancient Urartians and was a important part of their culture. They consumed vast amounts of fruits such as; plums, apples, cherries, quinces, and pomegranates. The domestication and breeding of various animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, and horses prospered in the kingdom due to excellent mountain pastures. Mineral deposits in the area included gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, and tin. The various trade routes that passed through the Armenian highlands, thus connecting the Urartians with the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean and Asia was another source of prosperity. Although the mountains in the north and south provided the Uratians with a natural form of defense, the construction of fortifications was necessary to ensure the kingdoms protection from invaders who were hungry for their wealth. 

The government of Urartu consisted of a centralised monarchy, advisers, and a group of civil administrators who supervised temples and watched over construction projects such as fortresses, roads, and canals. The fortress capital, Tushpa, was built on a limestone hill on the eastern shores of Lake Van in the Armenian highlands. Tushpa would later be called Van and had a population of 50,000 people. The capital also had a royal necropolis consisting of chambers cut into the mountain on which the city was built. Regional governors were assigned to various provinces and they represented the king, enforced justice, and collected taxes.

The kingdoms first monarch was Arame who reigned from 860-840 BCE. Assyrian sources mention that the kingdom first rose to prominence during 830 BCE under king Sarduri I (reigned from 835-825 BCE) whose descendants would rule for the next two centuries. In 776 BCE, Argishti I (reigned from 785-760 BCE) founded the city of Argishtihinili, on the Plain of Ararat. Argishtihinili  later became the second city of the kingdom and was renamed Armavir. Then, during 685 BCE, king Rusa II (reigned from 685-645 BCE) founded the important northern city of Teishebaini (modern day Yerevan), wich was also on the Ararat plain. Other important Urartian cities were Bastam, Karmir Blur, Adiljevaz, and Ayanis. The state controlled large areas of agricultural production due to annual campaigns by its army and a network of fortresses. 





The irrigation facilities of the Urartians, which are still in use today, are a product of successful and genius engineering methods. These irrigation facilities have withstood earthquakes and the ravages of time, thus proving that they were built to last thousands of years. The irrigation structures were initially ordered to be constructed by king Menua I. They were built to bring water to the Van region, where the capital of the Urartian Kingdom was located. The canals began from the plains of Gürpinar, which is 50 km south of Tushpa/Van. The Menua Canal, which is still used today, meets the water needs of the fields, vineyards and gardens of the region. More than 5000 hectares of land along the canal is irrigated and utilized.


Menua boasts about his irrigation system on a cuneiform tablet:


“I Menua, the son of Ishpuini have opened this channel thanks to the power of the great God Khaldi. My irrigation system is called Menua. Thanks to the greatness of the God Khaldi, I Menua, the strong king, the great king, the king of the Biainili, am the master of the city of Tushpa. Therefore, whoever attempts to destroy this text and reads this should know that I Menua have created this irrigation channel and that whoever attemps to destroy it, will be ruined by the great God's Khaldi, Teisheba, Shivini and all the other Gods, you will be shut off from sunlight for eternity.” 


The Keshish dam built by King Rusa II, 20 km east of Van is another important water irrigation structure belonging to the Urartians. It was built as a part of the new irrigation system which was formed with the establishment of the city of "Toprakkale" that Rusa II name as his second capital.  


Rusa II boasts about his irrigation system on a cuneiform tablet:

“I've saved a lot of water for my people. I called it the Rusa Lake. In the meantime, the barren land has been transformed into an oasis because of the channel I constructed. I order the people of Tushpa to process the land in front of Rusahinili… to to clean them with tools after I establish the city of Rusa and form this lake. I order vineyards and gardens to be established. I have done great things here. This lake guarantees success for the future of Rusahinili.” 





There were various policies upheld by Urartian kings during the conquest of neighboring tribes in the beginning of the kingdoms rise to power, which consisted of the conquered tribes sworn loyalty to Urartu and the extraction of tribute in the form of goods rather than subjugation. These policies eventually changed during Urartu's golden age and the extraction of slaves and territories became a more common form of conquest. For example, Argishti I's campaigns against the Hatti in 780 BCE resulted in him capturing 320,000 slaves. By the 7th century BCE, Urartu's territory stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Upper Euphrates (east to west) and the Caucasus mountains in the north to the Taurus Range in the south. All Urartian kings led their armies into battle and fought valiantly against their foes. Urartian women were known to be powerful warriors who fought with zeal and strength alongside their male counterparts. Graves discovered of Urartian female warriors with arrowhead wounds and massive cuts on their bones, suggests, that these female warriors engaged in massive battles. Weapons, as depicted on Urartian temples, vases, etc., included iron and bronze swords, spears, and javelins, as well as bows. Heavy shields were used which had large central bosses decorated with images of mythical beings, bulls, and lions. There is also evidence of helmets and metal scale armour. Urartu did enjoy some victories in the mid-8th century BCE, but the Assyrian ruler Tiglath Pileser III (reigned from 745-727 BCE) was more aggressive than his predecessors and laid siege to Tushpa. Another significant conflict between the two states was during the campaign of Sargon II (reigned from 722-705 BCE) in 714 BCE. Other enemies of Urartu included the Cimmerians, Scythians, and finally the Medes. 




Offerings of food, weapons, and precious goods such as wine, and animal sacrifices were all made to the gods in dedicated outdoor ritual spaces, temples, and at doorways carved into mountains,hills, and stone which were known as the Gates to the Gods. The pantheon of the Urartians contained a mix of Arme-Shuprian, Nairi, and Hurrian gods such as the god of storms and thunder Teisheba, from the Hurrian Teshub. The 9th century BCE king of Urartu Ishpuini, promoted Khaldi as the main deity of the pantheon, a deity of Akkadian origin. Khaldi is often portrayed as a man standing on a bull or lion, which is symbolic of his power. Khaldi, in particular, had temples dedicated to him, which have distinctive square towers with reinforced corners. This god was so loved, that the Urartians were sometimes called the Khaldians. The ruling king was known as Khaldi's servant and all wars were carried out in his name. Another important deity was Shivini, the Sun god, was depicted with wings and a solar disk. The most important female deity was Arubani, who was Khaldi's equal, Sielardi was the goddess of the moon, and Sardi was the goddess of the stars. 




Urartian art included the Tree of Life symbol with people standing on either side making offerings, depictions of daily life, nature scenes, depictions of various deities, rulers, soldiers, and common people. Urartian art even utilized intricate patterns and designs. Urartian music utlized the use of small 9-11 stringed harps, lutes, bowed instruments, woodwind instruments, and percussion instruments, which are the ancestors of todays Armenian traditional instruments. The Urartians were innovative and ambitious architects that created architectural marvels. Significant Urartian constructions include the 80-kilometre long stone-lined canal which brought fresh water from the Artos mountains to the capital. The structure was built by king Menua (reigned from 810-785 BCE) and allowed the growing of vineyards and orchards resulting in Tushpa gaining a reputation as a garden city. Although vast amounts of Urartian religious structures havent survived, an example of an Urartian temple can be seen in a relief in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon. The relief depicts the temple of Khaldi at Ardini before it was sacked by the Assyrians in 714 BCE. The building has a six-columned facade and triangular pediment, shields hang from the exterior walls and a great urn stands either side of the entrance.   

Although little remains of Urartian fortifications, one of the most significant and best preserved fortresses is at Erebuni near todays capital of Armenia, Yerevan. The fortress of Erebuni was built during the reign of king Argishti I, impressive sections of the fortification walls still stand today. Another significant and well preserved fortresses is at the city of Van, in modern day eastern Turkey (western Armenia). The fortress of Tushpa (Tospa) in Van was built during the reign of King Sarduri I. Typical features of Urartian fortifications are massive walls supported by stone foundations made of large square blocks and towers. In Assyrian reliefs of Urartian fortifications, these towers are crenellated and have windows. Their survival since antiquity is a testimony to the amazing building skills of the Urartians, especially considering the fact that the region is subject to frequent and powerful earthquakes. Palace buildings are composed of multiple chambers and much larger halls, the roof was supported by a centrally placed wooden column and the latter by multiple rows of columns. Other features of Urartian palaces and public buildings are open courtyards and storerooms where large potteryjars were sunk into the floor to hold food, wine, and beer. The larger examples of these sunken jars have a capacity of around 750 litres (200 gallons) each. Structures that were located away from residential buildings, probably because of fire risks, include potteries and smelting kilns. Building materials that were used include large blocks placed together without mortar, worked stone blocks, and mud bricks. Roofing was made using wooden beams or barrel vaults of adobe bricks. Flooring was constructed of stone, having either large basalt slabs or even large-stone polychrome mosaics with geometric designs. The interior walls of the buildings had frescoes and sometimes had sockets cut into them into which were placed bronze plaques for decorations or cut stone slabs in black, white, or red. Doors were constructed of thick planks of wood and locked using a hinged bronze latch. Excavations in Armenia and modern day eastern Turkey (western Armenia) have revealed both public and private buildings in Urartian cities with interior wall paintings. Surviving fragments of interior wall paintings depict scenes with mythical beings, animals, processions of deities, and scenes from everyday life such as hunting and agriculture. Backgrounds of these paintings are usually white, the outlines are drawn in black and red/blue are the most commonly used colors.

Metalworking has a long and rich history in the Armenian highlands, dating back to the 10th millennium BCE. Artisans and craftsmen in the Urartian kingdom produced intricate goods such as helmets, jewelery, horse bits, buckles, and candle holders constructed of bronze and copper. Large bronze cauldrons with animal or human heads around the rim were produced in large numbers. Religious art includes bronze figurines of prominent gods such as Khaldi, Teisheba, and Shivini. Some deities are depicted as animal/human hybrids such as a fish man, bird man, and scorpion man. .



Writing System/Language:


Early Urartian writing used pictograms, but later on a distinct form of cuneiform  was developed. Surviving cuneiform inscriptions from the kingdom, of which there are some 400 examples, prove that the Urartian language was related to Hurrian, with the two languages sharing a common ancestor language dating to the 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE.




In the 7th century BCE, the Urartian kingdom came to a mysterious and violent end as a result of their cities being burned and destroyed. The empire was probably weakened by the countless amounts of battles it had with the Assyrians. The perpetrators that led to the downfall of Urartu are not known for sure yet, but the Scythians and Cimmerians are suspected, due to Scythian arrowheads found at the destroyed site of Teishebaini. Another possibility is that there was a overthrow of the king from within the elite. The destruction of the city by fire sometime between 594 and 590 BCE suggests that the city was attacked unexpectadly, due to the inhabitants of the city having left their weapons and precious belongings to flee in a hurry. It is believed that the various cities of Urartu fell at different times to different peoples over a period of two or three decades.

The Medes ended up ruling over Urartu from 585 BCE onwards and then the region was later incorporated into the Achaemenian Empire of Cyrus the Great in the mid 6th century BCE. However, the Urartian language survived into the Hellenistic period. Many former Urartian cities eventually became the location of important settlements throughout the antiquity era and many of their Urartian names survive today such as, Van (Vaspurakan) & Yerevan (Erebuni). The existence of Urartu was unrecorded and unknown to ancient Greek historians, therefore it's existence was forgotten, until it was rediscovered in the 19 century CE by archeologists who pronounced after DNA analysis and linguistic analysis that the Armenians are descended from the ancient peoples of Urartu, thus classifying them as Urartians. 

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