Where is Armenia? A Pilgrimage to the Sources, a Traveling towards 13th-century Armenian Conceptions of the World and the Armenian(ate) Sphere, lecture by Rachel Goshgarian (Lafayette College), Harvard University, September 14, 2023, 4:00–5:30 pm
Gayatri Chakraborty-Spivak explained in her 1994 essay, “Will Postcolonialism Travel?” that “Armenia cannot lean toward existing theories. It cannot be comfortably located in the generally recognized lineaments of contemporary imperialism and received postcolonialism. It has been too much in the interstices to fit such a location. Indeed, that is its importance. Its history is diversified, with many loyalties crosshatching so small a place, if indeed it is more a place than a state of mind over the centuries.” (Spivak, 2008) Our sources lead us to understand that in the late medieval period Armenia was, in many respects, a place beyond our contemporary notions of geography and location. Armenia was Armenia because Armenians lived there and continued to participate in an Armenian(ate) sphere, circumscribed by a particular Armenian tradition of imagining the world, and not always because they wielded cultural, legal or political hegemony over a specific geography. How does one, then, understand the ways in which Armenians understood physical frontiers – if the Armenian(ate) was bounded not by geography, but, rather, by a cultural sensibility, and a shared concept of the history of the world— and the place of Armenians therein— written primarily by church-educated men? Was late medieval Armenia a world without frontiers, in fact?
This talk will consider and contextualize a 13th-century geography composed by an Armenian, church-educated man in an attempt to offer insight into the ways in which he understood the physical geographies within which he lived and traveled, the frontiers and boundaries that he saw therein, the cultural spheres in which he was raised and to which he contributed, and whose life’s trajectory took him to many places of note, including: Gandzak (Ganja, Republic of Azerbaijan), Goshavank (Republic of Armenia), Tabriz (Islamic Republic of Iran), Sis (Kozan, Republic of Turkey), and beyond. The presentation will place Vardan Arevelts‘i’s large scope of the world into conversation with the oldest extant Armenian map, a T-O map composed in the 13th or 14th century and located today in the Mesrop Mashdots‘ Matenadaran in Yerevan (MS 1242). The talk will then move to a particular series of places and will consider the ways in which 13th-century Armenian elites living in the Kars region (Republic of Turkey) encouraged an inscribing of local geographies and Armenian communal and political philosophies onto structures between Ani, Khtzgonk‘ (Beş Kilise) and Horomos.