It is not known why the Father of the Armenian Alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots, chose to begin the translation of the Bible from the Book of Proverbs: in classical Armenian, “Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ,” or “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.”
Yet, these first words translated into Armenian would surely determine the fate of our nation and forge its character. More immediately, they ushered Armenia to the Golden Age—Ոսկեդար (Voskedar)—of its literature and culture.
Just the sheer scale of the enterprise is astonishing. Along with the enlightenment that having the Scriptures in Armenian brought to the nation, carrying in our own language the wisdom of the ancients and the word of God, the state instituted a public school system to make the people literate. Armenia bloomed. After the mother of all translations was completed, literature flourished in the country, an era that stretched for centuries well into the Middle Ages, with perhaps the highest summit of classical writing attained by the pen of Grigor of Narek, until the arrival of the Turkic hordes and their ravages wrought havoc on our land, bringing obscurantism, illiteracy, destruction, and decline, before the cultural Awakening (Zartonk) of the nineteenth century.
We now find ourselves in a similar situation, threatened by the successors of the very bringers of a millennium of misery and death to our nation.
The lesson here is not that we can fight the enemy’s weapons with pens. We cannot. There are urgent, existential needs that we need to address immediately. Yet the geopolitics of Mashtots’ Armenia—admittedly a much vaster one—were not for the faint of heart. Sandwiched between the Roman and the Persian empires, Armenian statecraft was by necessity marked by a careful balancing act. It surely sounds familiar in these days of anxiety and pain.
Yet it is high time, as in our golden age, for our women and men of genius to join efforts with the Catholicoi of our Church and the leaders of our independent state to find a way out of the current crisis. Mashtots was not alone in his mission. He had the active support of the spiritual and political powers: it may not be a stretch to say that the feat he pulled would be impossible without the active support of Catholicos Sahak Partev and King Vramshapuh. And the miracle he did by devising a system that associated symbols to sounds forged the Armenian identity. The shape of letters cast the mold of our nation.
If we could do it then, we surely are capable of comparable feats now. And how endlessly fantastic it is to be able to quote characters from our history that parted from this world in the early centuries of the Christian era, whose achievements and triumphs are still current and offer a roadmap to move forward.