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Partitioned Armenia

By c387 Rome and Persia had decided to abolish Armenia as an independent state and to divide the country between them, a move which was finally accomplished with the removal of the last Armenian king in 428. The intervening 40 years were ones of weakness, decline and foreign domination though with a strengthening Christian presence. Present-day Armenia lies in the part which came under Persian rule after 428. A major hindrance to the acceptance of Christianity was removed through the creation in c400 of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots. This permitted the Scriptures to be made available in Armenian for the first time and for other religious works to be published. Although this important education programme was centred in Persian-controlled Armenia, permission was obtained from the Roman Empire (whose capital had by this time been moved to Constantinople) to set up schools there as well.

However, the Persian monarchy's increasing dependence on the Zoroastrian religious establishment led to pressure on Armenian Christians under Persian rule to convert to Zoroastrianism. The first crisis occurred in 450 when taxes were imposed on the Church and the nobility was ordered to convert. The Armenians, in alliance with some Huns, inflicted heavy casualties on a much larger Persian force at the Battle of Avarayr in 451. Although the Armenians were ultimately defeated and their leader Vardan Mamikonian killed, Armenians see it as a moral victory because continuing resistance subsequently resulted in the taxes being removed and freedom of religion granted, although the patriarch and some clergy were executed and many nobles were imprisoned. Persia continued to discriminate in favour of Zoroastrians in making important appointments, a situation which prevailed until the death of the Persian king in 484.

Roman expansion finally restarted in the 6th century but it was to make little headway despite several campaigns against Persia until 591 after which the frontier was redrawn to place some of the western parts of present-day Armenia under Roman rule: the new border ran just west of Garni. However, neither Rome nor Persia was prepared for a new wave of invaders - Arabs who, from the 630s, invaded, fighting in the name of Islam. The Persians were soon defeated and the Romans lost major provinces. By 661, Armenia was under Arab rule though there were promises of religious freedom. Armenian revolts in the early 8th century gave rise to some temporary Arab repression but it was only from the rule of Caliph Umar I (717-20) onwards that Armenian Christianity was seriously threatened. Orders were given that Christian images should be torn down, financial levies were increased and pressure was applied to convert to Islam. This stimulated the creation of a cycle of rebellion, harsher treatment, another rebellion, even harsher treatment, until by c800 annual taxation on Armenia amounted to 13 million dirhams, 20,000 pounds of fish, 20 carpets, 200 mules, 30 falcons and 580 pieces of cloth. Under these conditions many Armenians chose to leave the country for Roman areas.


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