Raiders of the Accountant’s Lost Archival Chamber

Bournoutian speaks at NAASR about new book, ‘Jambr’

BELMONT, Mass. (A.W.)—On Feb. 11, George Bournoutian, Professor of East European and Middle Eastern Studies at Iona College, spoke at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) on the recent publication of his latest translation work, Jambr (Archival Chamber).

An economic record and history from the Holy See of Etchmiadzin of its holdings, Jambr is the first English translation of a rich source of materials assembled in the 18th century by Catholicos Simeon of Yerevan.
Marc. A. Mamigonian, NAASR’s director of programs and publications, introduced Bournoutian’s talk, saying, “He’s just flown in from Antarctica—and that’s the first time I can say that about any of our speakers.”

“In 1771, Simeon of Etchmiadzin established the first printing press in Armenia,” Bournoutian said. “And Jambr occupies the role of the most important of his writings. The term itself comes from the French word, chambre.”

Catholicos Simeon, he explained, used these documents against “numerous Muslim khans that sought to usurp or tax the archives of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin.”

 “Jambr begins, chapter one, with the history of the Apostolic Church and the establishment of the Holy See. Simeon then details the lives of the various Catholicos’s.”

Of crucial importance was that Simeon lists the amounts of mills owned by the See: threshing mills, oil and pressing mills, and properties owned by the Holy See and in the Yerevan region.

During the tumultuous periods chronicled in Jambr, Bournoutian stressed that an important perspective to reading the work is the uniqueness of the Armenian Church. He noted, “Our church is a national church for Armenians only. Unlike Catholicism that has Spaniards, Frenchmen, etc.”

Until the 12th century, the Holy See remained in the boundaries of historic Armenia, he explained. In 1439, during the Council of Florence, the Armenian, Greek, and Coptic Churches attempted to rejoin the Church in Rome, but by 1441, “the Holy See was moved back to Etchmiadzin.”

He said of the Holy See’s reliquary that “Without the right arm of St. Gregory the Illuminator, no Armenian Church had legitimacy.”

Bournoutian recounted the clerical reign of Grigor X from 1443-65, stating, “Grigor was responsible for obtaining the four major villages that compose the majority of Etchmiadzin’s land holdings from the Muslim Turkmen. … Under Grigor X, the Muslim sharia court for the first time accepted the Armenian Church with the same tax-exempt status as Muslim mosques.”

He continued, “In all the documents from then forth, it’s very important that the Catholicos is referred to as the Caliph of the Armenians, a Muslim term with the same respect as the Muslim Caliph. Just as the Caliph was emissary of Muhammad, so the Catholicos was the emissary of Christ.”

Bournoutian also noted that there was a clergy infighting period in the Holy See history. “There was a time of co-Catholicos’s, and at times there were up to four Catholicos’s in Etchmiadzin!”

Turning to speak of Movses of Sunik’s reign in the See circa 1610, Bournoutian explained, “This was the renaissance period of Etchmiadzin when the creation of the Hermitage of Sunik would end the corruption of Etchmiadzin and the period of the co-agitators [co-Calthoicos’s].”

He added, “Two years later Movses was elected official Catholicos of Etchmiadzin and the period of chaos was over.”

“Simeon regarded the Holy See of Etchmiadzin as the only legitimate seat of religion for Armenians.” Yet other Armenian communities regarded their own religious heads as leaders of the Armenian Church. Bournoutian quoted Simeon, who wrote how “the Armenian people in Constantinople—out of ignorance—have begun calling the leaders in Constantinople Patriarchs.” Simeon, in contrast, went so far in his rancor as to call them “whores.”

“The Nuncios of Etchmiadzin collected dues from all the Armenian Dioceses in all the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian provinces,” Bournoutian continued. “It all comes down to money.” When Etchmiadzin fell under Russian imperial dominion (called the “Ottoman Catholicos period”) “Yerevani Armenians started to elect their own Catholicos.”

During the Ottoman period, “Armenian merchants and minor Armenian princes began to purchase property through the Muslim courts. These types of immoveable properties could be transferred, rented, sold, and inherited as private property, but only the church land was tax-exempt.”

Bournoutian continued, “We have documents to prove that if peasants could not pay their dues, the Church of Etchmiadzin would foreclose on the property.” Of historical prominence he cited, “This is very unusual to see, cases of two Christians going against each other in a Muslim court.”

“The Holy See, unlike other monasteries, paid no taxes. It’s very complicated and it’s a 500-page book. It’s not an exciting book, but it’s a very important legal source to those in the field [of history],” he concluded

  Jambr is available for purchase at NAASR’s bookstore or online at naasr.org/store/home.php.

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Andy Turpin

Andy Turpin has been the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly since 2006. He was raised in Palma City, Fla. His family is of Italian, Welsh and Armenized-Romani stock. He graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., with degrees in history and journalism. Following graduation, he went to Armenia as an English as a Second Language (ESL) U.S. Peace Corp volunteer. He received his CELTA-ESL degree from Cambridge University in 2006.

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