Sunday, November 12, 2023

Urartu and the Armenian nation

Urartu was a centralized and powerful kingdom that was capable to rival the main power of that period, the Assyrian kingdom. Quite extreme and various opinions are expressed about the Urartu's relation to Armenia and Armenians.

I will not discuss now the usual arguments, but rather will look on this subject from the perspective of nation formation. For this purpose, let's see some examples how well-known nations formed.
French nation speaks a Roman language that they inherited from Roman empire. But we can't say that in Roman empire there were French people. When Western Roman empire collapsed a new strong Frankish kingdom formed in Europe. Franks were a German speaking tribe. Later their kingdom was divided into three parties and one of them became the kingdom of France, where French nation formed.
In medieval period Germany was divided into dozens of kingdoms. In 19th century the Germanic kingdom of Prussia ruled by a Germanic dynasty who had a strong army started to unite the rest of Germany into one state. The name Prussia was derived from Old Prussians who were not a Germanic people but a Baltic people like Litvans and Latvians Today Old Prussian language is extinct. Germanic tribes were living in modern Germany since the Iron Age but only recently a German nation formed. Other German nations formed also based on their respective states. Austrians, Dutch people whose name has common origin with Deutch (German), Danes and others.
All Slavic people were speaking the same mutually intelligible language 1400 years ago. Yet they didn't transform into one nation. Today there are many Slavic nations that formed from different states. Russians for example derive their name from a Scandinavian/Germanic tribe Rus' who created the Kievan Rus' state. After the fragmentation of that state a new Moscow Principality formed ruled by a branch of Rurikids. Recent paleogenetic studies confirmed that Rurikids the ruling dynasty of Kievan Rus' had the N haplogroup typical to Sweden with deep roots from Uralic speakers.
Another example is the Chinese who call themselves and their language Han, from a dynasty that united both Sinitic and non-Sinitic people into one state known as China today.
I can enumerate numerous examples how nations formed, and, in all cases, we will notice a crucial role of a centralized state. This by the way is not something new. It's more or less what social constructionism is saying about the emergence of various social constructs, the nation being one of them.
Returning back to Armenian nation formation it's obvious that we must differentiate the origin of the language and the origin of a nation. It's practically proven now that Armenian language was spoken in historic Armenia since the Middle Bronze Age (~4500 years ago). And Etiuni is the one of best candidate for linguistic ancestor of old Grabar, even though other candidates can't be ruled out at this stage. Recently a notorious scholar David Anthony also adhered to that idea. But the presence of language speakers does not automatically mean emergence of a nation(s). I use the plural because there are many examples that one linguistic group creates multiple nations.
From this perspective it's self-evident that it was the Urartu that leads the foundation of Armenian nation by creating a centralized kingdom with homogenous rules which united many different tribes and polities. Here a citation from our work (Petrosyan & Palyan 2023)
"" The unified language connecting the different regions of the Kingdom of Van became the Armenian, the speakers of which should have been present in the highlands since the Middle Bronze Age.""
There is simply no other candidate for this role in the history of Armenia. Even if we assume that Yervanduni seized the power before the conquest of Armenia by Cyrus in 547BC, even in that case there is still very short time to create some kind meaningful state, that will become the basis of the Armina satrapy in Achaemenid Empire. Another hypothetic possibility is that the legendary Paruyr Skayordi created a relatively strong kingdom centered on Etiuni at the end of 7th century BC, but its somewhat unlikely that it would have the same name as Urartu. Unless off course it enlarged so much to be perceived as a political successor of Urartu.
In any case the main reason why Persians recognized most of Armenia as a one satrapy was the memory of Urartu kingdom in those lands. Persians were obviously aware of Urartu because it attacked them many times. So it's natural that they would create a satrapy known as Urashtu/Urartu in Babilonian. This satrapy permitted to most Armenians to continue to live in the same political entity which further crystalized the Armenian self-identification. If not the Urartu it's quite possible that there would be other satrapies with different borders and names.
As for the term Armina in Persian. There are two possibilities. Persians were using that term since 8-7th century BC, which would mean that Armina refers to the genuine Urartu kingdom. This possibility is very realistic because there are other examples when Persians used alternative names for a well-known polities. Such as Sparda instead of Lydia. Katpatuka instead of Tabal. Huja/Hujiya instead of Elam. Modern Cappadocia and Khuzistan are derived from Katpatuka and Huja respectively. Another possibility is that Armina refers to another kingdom that formed immediately after the Urartu in the same territory. This latter scenario is very unlikely given the short time span and the fact that Babylonians would be aware about the new kingdom and will not use the same name.
In conclusion the modern exonym of Armenians is derived from the Urartu state that united the highlands in to one state, which itself triggered a processus of Armenian nation formation. A processus which continued later also and in Hellenistic era we have the mention of Strabo who says that the whole country was speaking the same Armenian language. As for the origins of ruling class of Urartu and the language used in the cuneiform inscription, they are off course interesting and important subjects. But different opinions on those subjects can't affect the veracity of this conclusion.
PS Relevant links are in comments. I will add also the paper of A. Petrosyan about the possible origins of the term Armenia

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