Vardan Mamikonian is celebrated by Armenians as one of the greatest military leaders of ancient Armenia. Vardan Mamikonian has also been elevated to sainthood by the Armenian church, due to the fact that he died defending the Christian faith at the Battle of Avarayr, waged in 451 against Armenia’s Persian overlords. Thus the Battle of Avarayr, also known as Vartanants, is now a beloved Armenian holiday and an overarching symbol of Armenian freedom.
But was Vardan Mamikonian indeed worthy of his legend? And what would be an acceptable cost for liberty?
Today a growing number of scholars unaffected by nationalistic rhetoric present compelling evidence that Vardan Mamikonian was made to shine on the stage of history at the expense of another contemporary leader, Vasak Syuni, satrap of Armenia. These scholars point out that after being given an ultimatum by Persia to convert Armenia to Zoroastrianism, Armenia’s leading princes were thrown into disarray. While many proposed to rise against Persia, Vasak Syuni pleaded for realpolitik and diplomacy, suggesting a bona fide Machiavellian plan to outwit the Persians into revoking their demand. Vardan Mamikonian himself fled to Byzantium but was brought back to Armenia by Vasak Syuni. The ensuing developments, during which the vicious rivalries of Armenian power politics, combined with shortsightedness and ultranationalism, played themselves out to heinous effect, culminating in the utterly doomed Battle of Avarayr. Vardan Mamikonian was sung as a martyr. Vasak Syuni – a brilliant politician, an outstanding patron of the arts, and a genuine patriot – was tried, humiliated, and ultimately vilified as a traitor by a power-hungry junta. To this day, no Armenian dares name their child after Vasak.
Vardan Mamikonian is also the name of a character in Journey to Virginland, a novel by Armen Melikian, whose antihero is named Dog Son of Dog. In Melikian’s phantasmagoric, bitingly sobering universe of ideas and their titanic clashes, a dead ringer mainly for present-day Armenia, Vardan Mamikonian is a personification of the machismo, puerile bravado, and gratuitous jingoism that continues to stem the growth of an otherwise magnificent culture.
“In the best sense, I’m reminded of George Orwell’s classics, and other authors of similar stature, though there is no true parallel possible with a novel as unique in concept and execution as Journey to Virginland.”
Prof. Paul McCarthy
University of Ulster, Ireland
New York Times bestselling author
Get your copy of Journey to Virginland to read more on this transformed character of Vartan Mamikonian or Vardan Mamikonyan (in eastern Armenian) and many other sobering subjects on Armenia here.