Of Weird Science and Dangerous Illusions

“Azg,” the Yerevan-based daily, has recently published (November 13, 2009) Naira Hambardzumyan's interview with Prof. Vahagn Gurzadyan, an astrophysicist and member of the Yerevan Institute of Physics. His sensitive and well-grounded comments on recent claims in ancient astronomy are worth of attention. One would like to remind the readers that, unfortunately, there is no lack of fringe theories and ideologically-tainted statements in the press and the bookstores of Yerevan that pretend to pass for scholarship in matters related to Armenian Studies. It is refreshing to see that serious scholars in Armenia try to settle the record straight and protect true science from unwarranted assaults. Here is our translation of the last part of the interview.

- You have also applied astronomical methods for archaeological dates. What can you tell us about that?
= It became increasingly clear that contemporary methods of astronomy and the experience of satellital data-collection are useful to be applied to the deciphering of ancient inscriptions and archaeological annals. The results of our monograph “The Dating of the Fall of Babylon” (1998), coauthored with archaeologists from Paris and Harvard, opened the way for the organization of an international conference in Ghent, in the year 2000. Today that book and our articles are among the basic sources mentioned in the encyclopedias of history of Ancient Orient.
- What would you say about the widely publicized existence of old astronomical observatories in Armenia?
= If you think that I will express my satisfaction, alas, I am going to disappoint you. The equation Karahunge=astronomical observatory=Stonehenge; so-called discoveries made with a non-functional radio antenna; the ascription of Egyptian and Babylonian cultures to the Armenians; Adam was Armenian; “mathematics” is mat-e-mat, in Armenian; and so on and so forth, are absurdities which bear no relation with scholarship.
As a rule, in other countries they disregard anti-science or pseudoscience, because specialists subject them to strong criticism. However, among us, the abovementioned herounism (1) adds nationalism to anti-science and exploits the feelings of the society. This makes vulnerable our culture in general from outside, because it can be always exploited against us, and creates a dangerous illusion of exceptionalism of our nation from inside. It is unbelievable, but this anti-science, freely promoted in the airwaves, today is entering even school and children literature, and this happens at the expense of an amazing passive stance by academic institutions.
- Could you be more specific?
= This is not the place to go into details. However, suffice it to say about Karahunge that, first, the village of Karahunge is located in a place completely different, and I have photographed rocks with passages in Western Armenia, to the east of Mount Ararat, very far from Karahunge. On the other hand, the excavations in Stonehenge during the last decades have come to the conclusion that it is a funerary monument, which rejects the hypothesis made in the 1960s about its construction with calendar purposes. There are many Stonehenges in the same Great Britain, more than twenty only in the island of Malta, and nobody’s mind has been crossed by the idea of digressing about the exceptional astronomical knowledge of their constructors. It is ridiculous, but they have even seen evidence of the spherical form of the Earth in our petroglyphs; I would not be surprised, in the future, if they would also see images of starships.
- Over the years, you have also been member of the council that leads the European scientifical structure in Strasbourg, you are the editor of “International Journal of Modern Physics” and have presided over international conferences. How do you see the course of our scholarship from the viewpoint of that experience?
= It is not a secret that science is living through difficult times in Armenia, but that is also a subject in itself. In the context of what I said before, I would like to recall that the history of the Armenian people does not need additional coloring; the same could be said about many highlights of our science. The problem is to make our actual values more cognizable to the world, so our literature of the Golden Age, medieval architecture, Narekatsi, and Roslin find their place in the Western encyclopedias and textbooks. There is only a way to do that: the highest level of scholarship.

(1) Herounism: from the name of Paris Herouni, a radiophycist and member of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia, who authored a book, Armenians and Old Armenia (Yerevan, 2004), where he claimed many of the theories discussed in this interview. See http://www.carahunge.com/ for more details.

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