Arab conquest of Armenia

The Arab conquest of Armenia was a part of the Muslim conquests after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE.

Persian Armenia had fallen to the Arab Rashidun Caliphate by 645 CE. Byzantine Armenia was already conquered in 638–639.

Islamic expansion

After Muhammad's death in 632, his successors started a military campaign in order to increase the territory of the new Caliphate. During the Muslim conquests, the Arabs conquered most of the Middle East.

Map detailing the route of Khalid ibn Walid's invasion of Armenia in 638.

Towards the year 639, under the leadership of Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rabiah, 18,000 Arabs penetrated the district of Taron and the region of the Lake of Van and put the country to fire and sword. The Arab warriors were poor and ill-armed, but reckless and inflamed with an intense fanaticism until then unknown among ancient peoples.[1]

On January 6, 642 the Arabs stormed and took the city of Dvin, slaughtered 12,000 of its inhabitants and carried 35,000 into slavery.[1] Prince Theodorus of the Rshtuni family confronted the Arabs, and came out victorious by liberating the enslaved Armenians.[2]

Bishop Sebeos recorded the history of the Arab conquest. In his History of Heraclius, he wrote of the sad fate of his country. He said,

"Who can tell the horrors of the invasion of the Ishmaelite (Arab), who set both the land and the sea ablaze? [...] The blessed Daniel foresaw and foretold like misfortunes. [...] In the following year (643), the Ishmaelite army crossed to Atrpatakan (Azerbaijan) and was divided into three corps. One moved towards Ararat; another into the territory of Sephakan Gound, the third into the land of Alans. Those who invaded the domain of the Sephakan Gound spread over it, destroying, plundering and taking prisoners. Thence they marched together to Erevan, where they attacked the fortress, but were unable to capture it."[1]

Armenia within the Caliphate

Theodorus Rshtuni and other Armenian nakharars (lords) accepted Arab rule over Armenia.[2] Constans II, the Byzantine Emperor, sent occasional reinforcements to Armenia, but they were inadequate. The commander of the city of Dvin, Smbat, confronted by the fact that he could no longer hold out against the Islamic army, submitted to Caliph Omar, consenting to pay him tribute. In 644, Omar was assassinated by a Persian slave and was replaced by Caliph Uthman. The Armenian acceptance of Arab rule irritated the Byzantines. Emperor Constans sent his men to Armenia in order to impose the Chalcedonian creed of Christianity.[2] He did not succeed in his doctrinal objective, but the new Armenian prefect, Hamazasp, who regarded the taxes imposed by the Muslims as too heavy, yielded to the Emperor. The Caliph thus ordered the massacre of 1,775 Armenian hostages then in his hands, and was about to march against the Armenian rebels when he was assassinated in 656.[1]

Armenia remained under Arab rule for approximately 200 years, formally starting in 645 CE. Through many years of Umayyad and Abbasid rule, the Armenian Christians benefited from political autonomy and relative religious freedom, but were considered second-class citizens (dhimmi status). The Armenian Church enjoyed greater recognition than under Byzantine or Sassanid jurisdiction.[3] The Caliph assigned Ostikans as governors and representatives, who sometimes were of Armenian origin. The first ostikan, for example, was Theodorus Rshtuni. However, the commander of the 15,000-strong army was always of Armenian origin, often from the Mamikonian, Bagratuni or Artsruni families. He would either defend the country from foreigners, or assist the Caliph in his military expeditions.[2] For example, the Armenians helped the Caliphate against Khazar invaders.[3]

Arab rule was interrupted by many revolts whenever Arabs attempted to enforce Islam, or higher taxes (jizya) to the people of Armenia. However, these revolts were sporadic and intermittent. They never had a pan-Armenian character. Arabs used rivalries between the different Armenian nakharars in order to curb the rebellions. Thus, the Mamikonian, Rshtuni, Kamsarakan and Gnuni families were gradually weakened in favor of the Bagratuni and Artsruni families.[2] The rebellions led to the creation of the legendary character, David of Sassoun.

During Islamic rule, Arabs from other parts of the Caliphate settled in Armenia. By the 9th century, there was a well-established class of Arab emirs, more or less equivalent to the Armenian nakharars.[3]

At the end of this period, in 885, the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia was established.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kurkjian, Vahan M.A History of Armenia hosted by The University of Chicago. New York: Armenian General Benevolent Union of America, 1958 pp. 173-185
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Kurdoghlian, Mihran (1996). Hayots Badmoutioun (Armenian History), Volume II (in Armenian). Hradaragutiun Azkayin Ousoumnagan Khorhourti, Athens, Greece. pp. 3–7.
  3. 1 2 3 Herzig, Kurkichayan, Edmund, Marina (2005). The Armenians: Past and Present in the Making of National Identity. Routledge. pp. 42–43.
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