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Page 76  
Defending Christianity

“The history of Armenia is the history of courage, strive and suffering.” 1

Armenia Under Sasanid Rule and the Battle of Avarayr (430-634)

We left the history when Armenia Major had lost its independence and come under the rule of Sasanids who were the masters of Persia.

Armenia was now following a path on which she would spend two centuries (430-634) of her life, not as an independent country, but as several large principalities led by Armenian noblemen. These principalities were virtually independent, but under the rule of their Persian masters.

In the beginning of this period Armenia was forced to face an almost impossible task: to defend her faith against a Persian army, a task which seemed to require a superhuman effort from the Armenians in order to succeed. 3

In Armenia, the Sasanids met with a great resistance from powerful Armenian aristocrats, each with extensive lands (among them the families Mamikonian, Kamsarakan, Rshtouni, Gnouni, Siuni, Artzrouni and Bagratouni). These aristocratic families, lived in strong mountain-top fortresses which were almost impregnable, and had their own special armed forces. The Sasanids took advantage of the striving of these noblemen for independence and their lack of discipline, and used it to further their goal of weakening the Armenian king’s central power and dividing Armenia. Once the Sasanids had submitted Armenia to Persian rule, these families actually expanded their relatively great power, a fact which the Sasanids had to accept in the hope of being able to use them if necessary.

The Persians confined themselves to appointing governor generals, or marzpan, but even these persons were chosen from the same Armenian aristocratic families (e.g. Vasak and Philipos from the house of Siuni and several members of the Mamikonian and Bagratouni families). The responsibilities of these Armenian princes were limited to first, recognizing their Persian masters, secondly to assisting the Persians, in case of war against foreign enemies, by leading their own special armed forces (in particular during the campaigns against people in the Caucasus and against the Turkic tribes in Turkistan), and finally to paying annual taxes. These taxes, which also could be paid with merchandise, were quite small (in difference to the extortionate taxes which Armenians would later have to pay in cash to the Arabs).

The critical conflict which arose between Armenia and Persia had its roots in religion. For by this period, Sasanid Persia was no longer the Arsacids’ Persia, which had been liberal and tolerant towards other religions among its subjects. More over, the Sasanids did not felt any kinship with the Armenians, whereas the Arsacids were linked to their Armenian cousins, the Arshakouni. Sasanid Persia had reverted back to the old Achaemenidian Persian religion, Mazdeism, with its fire temples, worshiping the sun and its fanatic priests. The Sasanids wanted to force their religion on all their subjugated peoples. And they had succeeded in all places but in Armenia, where they met a fierce resistance and failed to defeat it.