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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Armenian Jews: Where They Came From-Where They Went

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   

Armenian historians have written that Jews came to Armenia right after the destruction of the 1st Temple of Solomon.  This would have Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE who destroyed it.  Armenia is a part of Western Asia and is east of the Caspian Sea. Yerevan, Armenia is 779 miles away from Jerusalem, Israel.  If it is 9:26pm in Jerusalem, it is 11:26pm in Yerevan.  One could drive from Portland, Oregon to Cottonwood Heights, Utah and also cover 779 miles.  It would have made quite a camel caravan of traveling.  Traders would have made the trip before and possibly led people there.  
The Temple was rebuilt from 538 to 515 BCE and then was called the 2nd Temple.  It took 71 years to regain this 2nd Temple.  Of course, ties existed between the Jews who stayed in Armenia and the Jews of Judah during the 2nd Temple days.  Judah had been a section of Israel that split off when King Solomon died in 933 BCE.  The state of Judah lasted with kings till Zedekiah was the last king from 597 to 586 BCE when they were attacked.  

The Romans had taken over Jerusalem making Herod a King of Judea.  He lived from 73 BCE to 4 BCE.  He was the son of Antipater, the Idumean  and  had a Nabatean mother, Cypros.  Antipater had helped the Romans take over Jerusalem.  He had at one time been the ruler of Idumea (Edom).  This was a country in SE Eretz Israel, also called Mount Seir. Edomites were traditional enemies of the Israelites.  They had fought against the first Jewish King Saul and King David.  In the 8th century the Edomites were vassels of Assyria.  It was John Hyrcanus who forced them to convert to Judaism.   Edom  was a mountainous country and was south of the Dead Sea and bordered on the Red Sea at Elath. They were Semites, traditionally descendants of Esau and were hunters.   Herod  was a cruel ruler and a murderer.  He had ordered the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem.  

 One of his grandsons, Aristobulus, was made king of Little Armenia by Nero.  Two other grandsons ruled Greater Armenia.While young, Herod had been appointed Governor of the Galilee of Judah by his father.  He showed no problem coming on very strong with the population and executed any who disagreed with him.  For this the Sanhedrin wanted to give him the penalty of death for killing, but Hyrcanus and Sextus Caesar, governor of Syria, intervened with higher powers.  

The Romans also allied with  King Tigranes II the Great of Armenia. Armenia became the strongest state in the Roman republic.   He lived from 140 to 55 BCE.  Tigranes brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to Armenia when he left Judah because of the Roman attack on Armenia in 69 CE.  He also became king of Syria as well.  Like Armenia, Tigranes was a pagan.  

Many Jews settled in Armenia during these next generations.  The Talmud mentions a Rabbi Jacob of Armenia and a school at Nisibis.  

From the 4th century on, the Jewish population started to shrink  because of exile and emigration.  Medieval travelers found many small Jewish communities at Nisibis and other places.  

Armenian Christians lived in Jerusalem since the 5th century and there is an Armenian quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.  

The longest river in Europe is the Volga River.  It flows through Central Russia and along this river lived a Turkic people, including the: "AzerbaijanisChuvashesKazakhsTatarsKyrgyzTurkmensUyghurs,UzbeksBashkirsQashqaiGagauzYakutsCrimean Karaites,KrymchaksKarakalpaksKarachaysBalkarsNogais and as well as past civilizations such as the GöktürksKumansKipchaksAvarsBulgars,TurgeshesKhazarsSeljuk TurksOttoman TurksMamluksTimurids,Khiljis, and possibly Huns and the Xiongnu".  

Since Turkey bordered Armenia, it is good to know that there came to be many  varieties of people in the area.  However, Khazaria did not come about to its fullest till the 8th to 10th centuries CE.  They were made up of either Turkish or Finnish tribes  and their capital was Itil in the Volga delta and were called the White Ugrians. 
 "The Khazars probably belonged to the West Turkish Empire (from 552 C.E.), and they may have marched with Sinjibū (Istämi), the first khāqān of the West Turks, against the Sassanid (Persian) fortress of Ṣul or Darband"

 Hungarians were called Black Ugrians.  The Khazar royal house intermarried with the Byzantiums.  Their king Bulan and supposedly 4,000 of his royal household converted to Judaism in the 8th Century CE.  Their Prince Obadiah saw to it that they were converted properly.  The original Khazars came from the east. 

We have some Jews leaving Armenia in the 300's and their neighbors, Turkey and Russia, having Khazaria appearing in their lands by the late 700's.  Whether any Jews had drifted into Khazaria is not known.  That is a long span of time.  Being Christians from Armenia went to Jerusalem in the 5th century tells me that Jews from Armenia must have gone back, also.  As proof of this, Jews have been praying every day to return to Jerusalem lest they should lose their right arm if they forget it.  This remembering and returning is very important.  

Then from 360 to 370 there was an increase in Jewish Hellenistic immigration into Armenia.  Many Armenian towns became mostly Jewish.  By the same token, the Persian Shapur II began deporting thousands of Jews to Persia (today's Iran).  

Hellenism made an impact in Armenia so studies did not grow here.  During the Medieval days, most of the Jews left, thought to become part of the Kurdish Jewry.  A cemetery lies in Vayots Dzor in the city of Eghegis SW of Yerevan with more than 40 tombstones that date to the 13th century and 16 with Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions.  

Much later in the 19th century, Jews entered Armenia from Persia and Poland, so then they had a mixture of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews.  From 1840 they had communities in Yerevan.  Hundreds of displaced Jews moved to Soviet Armenia.  Then there were at least 10,000 Jews living there.  Another wave came in between 1965 and 1972 made up of the intelligentsia, military and engineers.  They were attracted to a more liberal society.  

The Ottoman Empire learned a lot from the Germans who were their allies in WWI.  Muslim leaders were visiting with Hitler during WWII who were against the Jews.  The empire committed Armenian genocide and slaughtered from 1 million to 1 1/2 million Armenians.  They massacred the males and forced the women and children in marches in the Syrian desert.  Other ethnic groups were to be next.  Today of course there is still this divide between the Armenians and the Turks because of this needless slaughter that took place in 1915.  .  

Today there are less than 1,000 Jews in Armenia because of  emigration and assimilation.  Between 1992 and 1994, more than 6,000 Jews  immigrated to Israel because of economic and political reasons hurting Jews.  However, in 1995, Chabad House was established in Yerevan.  They offered classes about Judaism, Hebrew, Jewish traditions and free meals.  

Resource:  The new Standard Jewish Encyclopedia


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am sure besides the Armenian Jews, many or all Christian Armenians have strong Jewish bloodlines after years of assimilation, besides being the origin of Ashkenazi lands..

Anonymous said...

I find this very interesting about the ancient Armenian churches?