All history is “contemporary history,” has famously written Benedetto Croce. As we get ready to mark a new anniversary of Vartanantz, we may ponder on this idea of the Italian philosopher to look back at the significance of the Battle of Avarayr in 451 AD.
The obvious lessons are well learned by all Armenians. We were defeated in the battlefield, yet we preserved our Christian faith and by doing so, defended our national identity, which more than at any other point in our long history, became inseparably intertwined with our Church.
Yet the reason why a battle fought and lost 16 centuries before is still meaningful today is that it serves as a mirror to reflect the current, existential challenges Armenia faces. We may no longer feel the suffering of those who fought and lost—yet eventually won, for all of us—at Avarayr, yet if you read Ghazar Parpetsi’s “Armenian History” written shortly after the battle in the fifth century, you will get a sense of how bitter and unbearable that defeat was. Their fears were no smaller than ours. Their pains, as poignant as ours today over the 44 Day War in 2020 and the fall of Artsakh last year.
And as we read and reread our rich, long, glorious history, with great joy so often marred by sometimes greater sorrows, we may draw other lessons from Vartanantz: not only that we stood united and defended our faith, essential as both are. We may also learn that we achieved a modus vivendi with our imperial neighbor, Persia, with whom we have coexisted mostly peacefully for the last 15 centuries. The unfortunate need to defend ourselves from predatory neighbors has made us resilient and strong in the face of unbearable loss. We know, perhaps better than any other nation, that a people that stands up to its enemies, even against overwhelming odds, has a far better chance to survive than those that capitulate without fighting.
Yet making peace requires perhaps even more courage. We have an abundance of it. With it, and following reason rather than emotions, we may attain an enduring peace for a safe, united Armenia.