Armenians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Vartanantz today, Thursday, February 16, commemorating the war between pagan Persia and Christian Armenia in 451. The king of Persia ordered all Christians under his rule to abandon Christianity and embrace Zoroastrianism. The Armenian clergy and leaders refused to follow this command and took an oath to fight the enemies of truth. Before the two armies met on the battlefield on the morning of May 26, 451, Vartan Mamigonian, the leader of the Armenian forces, addressed his soldiers: “He who supposes that we put on Christianity like a garment, now realizes that as he cannot change the color of his skin, so he will perhaps never be able to accomplish his designs. For the foundations of our faith are set on the unshakeable rock, not on earth but above in heaven, yet by faith we are established in heaven where no one can reach the building of Christ not made by human hands.”
Vartan was the leader of the Armenians in the decisive battle on the plains of Avarayr, and although outnumbered, the Armenians put up a fierce resistance against the mighty Persian Empire. Vartan and many of his soldiers died, but the Persians sustained even greater casualties, and they recognized the strong commitment the Armenians had to their Christian faith. With this battle the Armenians clearly demonstrated that Christianity had become a part of their national identity.
The resistance to Persian rule continued for more than thirty years, led by Vahan Mamigonian, nephew of Vartan. Vahan successfully negotiated the Treaty of Nvarsag in 484, the earliest document granting religious freedom and home rule.
The Armenian Church canonized the heroes of Vartanank as a group in the fifth century.