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  • Writer's pictureVazgen Barsegian

Native Armenian Faith, to be or not to be?

Pre-Christian Armenia, what did it look like ? what was life like ? what did Armenians worship ? and where did it go? are all questions that race through the mind of the average person once the topic of pre-Christian Armenia comes up. Believe it or not fellow reader, despite the major association of Armenia with Christianity, since it was the first nation to adopt it as a state religion in 301A.D., Armenia has a rich history concerning its native polytheistic faith which predates Christianity by thousands of years. The introduction of Christianity brought much destruction and desecration to the history and culture of Armenia. According to Agatangeghos (history chronicler from the 5th century A.D), Gregory the Illuminator (devout Christian who brought Christianity to Armenia) ordered the pagan temples to be sacked, burned, and destroyed. Apart from the desecration of temples, priests lost their lives, those hesitant to convert lost their lives, books and other literary sources pretaining to Armenian history and religion were burned, thus resulting in the major shift in society and power. For the first 100-200 years of Christianity's presence in Armenia, the bible was recited in Aramaic and services in the church were led by non-Armenian priests, since this new monotheistic religion was a very foreign concept for the Armenians, who had their own rich polytheistic faith for 4000 years prior to this time. Despite Gregory’s efforts to erase pre-Christian Armenian history, religion, and culture, there is currently a movement of neo-paganism (Arordiner) taking flight in Armenia as Armenian youth learn the historical facts surrounding Christianity in Armenia. The Arordi’s have made it an initiative to preserve pre-Christian Armenian religion, traditions, holidays, history, and customs. The Arordi movement was founded by the great Armenian statesman and military strategist, Garegin Nzhdeh in the early 20th century. More and more Armenian youth are attending pagan rituals at Garni temple (only surviving pre-Christian temple in Armenia), celebrating pagan Armenian holidays, reading Armenian mythology, and spreading awareness about Armenia’s ancient deities (Aramazd, Anahit, Tir, Vahagni, Mihr, Naneh, Gisaneh, Barsamin, Tsovinar, Astghik, Khaldi, Shvini, etc.)

Rubik Kocharian eloquently portrays the ancient pre-Christian lifestyle of the Armenians in his painting, which depicts the Kurm-priest (left) burning various sacrificial offerings brought by worshippers, infront of a temple dedicated to a particular Armenian deity, meanwhile Christians (right) are preaching the bible in hopes of attracting converts.

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