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The Sasanid King Yezdgerd II in 449 had issued a decree, aimed at all Christian peoples in his empire, in which he demanded that they accept Mazdeism as their religion. This decree alone was reason enough for a fierce revolt in Armenia, where the people gathered around their national leader, Vartan Mamikonian. Vartan was a member of one of the most powerful aristocratic families in Armenia., and had earlier fought in the Byzantine army during the rule of Theodosius II. The Armenian priests, led by the Armenian Catholicos, gathered in 450 in Ashtishat and wrote a letter declaring their firm loyalty to Christianity.

The Persians were thrown out from Armenia, their garrisons were swept clean, their priests were slaughtered, the temples were destroyed and the people were armed to meet the inevitable Sasanid counter reaction, which would not wait for long.

Even in this national revolt, which once again united Armenia, there were a number of noblemen who betrayed their country and their people. These noblemen, who either feared the Sasanids' revenge or were acting in their own interests, joined the Persian side in order to win their favour.

In the spring of 451 the Persian army entered Armenia, and on May 26 at Avarayr faced the Armenian army, with Vartan Mamikonian as its commander. Contemporary Armenian historians have estimated the Persian army at 200,000 soldiers and the Armenian at 60,000. However, these numbers have probably been exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the Sasanid army had a crushing superiority in numbers compared to the Armenian army. 6

The Armenian army entered the fray with great bravery and stood firm against the enemy army, which received reinforcements on regular basis. Vartan Mamikonian and 1036 men of his elite group, including eight of the high ranking Armenian leaders, lost their lives fighting. For their sacrifice they later received the title of "Heroes of the nation" from the Armenian Church. Their memories are celebrated annually on the anniversary of the battle at Avarayr, a day which has been named Vartanank, after the great national leader. Their memory constitutes one of the most proud and glorified pages in the history of the Armenian people. The name Avarayr has become a symbol for the will and hope of a people, who have been crushed under the heels of the enemy but have never been defeated. The Armenians lost the battle, but won the war. Despite winning the battle at Avarayr, the heavy losses which the Persian army sustained, forced them to halt in order to regroup. Soon after they were forced to move their troops in order to defend them-selves against the Huns at the borders of Turkistan, hence yielding the attempts to convert the Armenians to Mazdeism.

Yezdgerd II was succeeded by Pirouz (458-488) and once again the religious persecutions towards the Armenians were renewed. This time it was Vahan Mamikonian, nephew to Vartan, who led the resistance of the Armenian people. Armenia at this time received assistance from the Iberians (Georgians) as well, who also wished to defend Christianity. The Armenians managed to defend them selves well after surviving a long war. 7 The hostilities and the killings continued until the death of Pirouz. His successor, Vologuése (488-491), did not pursue the conversion of Armenians through violence. Instead, he appointed Vahan Mamikonian as the governor general of Armenia and accepted the peace terms of Armenia, which included among others recognition of the independence of Armenia and its freedom of religion, with the removal of the fire temples from the Armenian soil.

Through the courage and tenacity of its people, Armenia had compelled Persia to recognize the political and religious independence of Armenia and could thereby enjoy a semi-independent existence. 8