This Week in Armenian History

Beginning of Navasart (August 11, 2492 BC) 

You may hear about Navasart after the Navasartian Games that Homenetmen organizes on both coasts of the United States and elsewhere in the world. Of course, they inherit the spirit of the old Navasartian Games, even if the date has become the weekend of Fourth of July, and not the actual date on August 11.

As a matter of fact, Armenians from all walks of life cherished and celebrated Navasart for millennia, and only bits and pieces of its fabled history have been reconstructed through historical sources and anthropological research. In fact, Navasart was celebrated until the beginnings of the twentieth century in the Armenian regions of Gharabagh, Zangezur, Agulis (in Nakhichevan), Salmast, and Alashgerd, among others.

Navasart was the name of the first month in the ancient Armenian calendar (August 11-September 9), and the first day of the month was New Year. It corresponded to August 11 in the Gregorian calendar that we use today and commemorated the beginning of Armenian history: according to legend, on August 11, 2492 BC, the patriarch Hayk killed the Babylonian tyrant, Bel, thus founding the Armenian nation. Today, August 11, 2022, according to the “Haikian calendar” (Հայկեան տոմար) or “Armenian proper calendar” (բուն հայկական տոմար), which was the oldest one in use, is 1 of Navasart of the Armenian year 4515.

The beginning of the celebration of Navasart was marked by the sound of the trumpet of Navasart (Նաւասարդեան փող) The celebration of Navasart lasted seven days, which probably followed the existence of the seven celestial bodies known in antiquity (the first five planets, the sun, and the moon). That tradition was reflected in the presence of seven classes of each food on the table of the New Year, as well as in the making of seven toasts.

Various traditions were also maintained, such as visiting homes where a death had been recorded through the year and drank a glass, called voghormatas (ողորմադաս), to the memory of the deceased. Red was the color of Navasart with the meaning of happiness. Thus, there were red ribbons and ornaments hanging from house walls and trees. Presents and food surrounded by golden candles were sent to neighbors, friends, and acquaintances.

Navasart was a day to please the main Armenian pagan gods through various offerings of grains and sacrifice of animals (madagh), with the hope of being granted wishes, like fertility and love, in the coming year. It was quite the elaborate affair, but it did not solely consist of music and food. The Navasartian Games, similar to the Greek Olympics, included athletic competitions, bow and sword tournaments, horse and chariot races, etcetera.

According to fables, tables would collapse under the weight of all of the dishes, sweets, and dried fruits presented on this day. Though there was such abundance, people did not stuff themselves, but most of it was simply offered as gifts to the gods.

The word Navasart (Նաւասարդ) comes from the Avestan words nav (“new”) and sard (“year”); Avestan is an ancient Iranian language in which the sacred book of the Zoroastrian religion, the Zend-Avesta, was written. The Persian New Year, Newroz, which is still celebrated today, shares some similarities with Navasart.

In 2009, the Parliament of Armenia approved a project declaring August 11 “Armenian National Identity Day.” Since 2007 (year 4500 in the Armenian calendar), the Armenian community of Argentina has celebrated Navasard on an yearly basis. The picture shows the moment when the pogh, the trumpet of Navasart, marked the beginning of the festivities, which were held on Saturday, August 6, this year.