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10.3.10

2500 or 4500 year-old homeland?

Despite the proverbial opposition by the U.S. government and the age-old breaking of electoral promises as a candidate by the sitting President, on March 4, 2010 the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives voted 23-22 to approve H.R. 252 regarding the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Now it remains to be seen if this resolution will make it to the floor of the House, despite the usual antics by Turkey and the "shameful act" of natural convergence between the interests of the military-industrial complex  and those of American foreign policy, where money seems to have trampled any claims to moral high ground since the times of the Gettysburg Address, if not before.
One interesting piece of trivia came up from Armenia, where the chairman of the Democratic Liberal Party of Armenia (Հայաստանի Ռամկավար Ազատական Կուսակցութիւն, the Armenia-based branch of the Diasporan "traditional" party founded in 1921), Harutyun Arakelyan, wrote a congratulatory letter to Rep. Howard L. Berman, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which was released on March 9.
The "main subject" of Arakelyan's letter, as he wrote himself, was to point out an inaccuracy in the text of H.R. 252 which is worthy of comment. We quote that part of the letter in its entirety, with grammar corrections to the English text as released in the press:
"Resolution 252 contains a well-grounded survey of the crimes committed against the Armenian people by the last government of the Ottoman Empire registered in the archival documents of many countries which bear witness to the fact that the actions committed in 1915-1923 against the Armenian people are crimes committed towards humankind.
However, the resolution has included an inaccuracy which should be probably ascribed to your assistants or to pro-Armenian policies led by other Congressmen's assistants, who, when preparing Resolution 252, have made use of doubtful sources distorting Armenian history. Otherwise, the expression that Armenians were deprived of their 2500-year-old cradle would not have been introduced in the Resolution.
Far from the desire to begin a historical polemics, I would merely like to mention that there is plenty of evidence by foreign civilizations that the Armenian nation lived and created in the Armenian Highlands for more than 4500 years. Therefore, it would have been accurate not to write in the Resolution any chronology concerning the Armenian nation, and to mention merely that along with massacres, looting and plundering, Armenians were also annihilated and deprived from their homeland.
I am well aware that no editorial amendment can be introduced in the Resolution at this time. However, I hope that from now on your Committee will only make recourse to Armenian academic authoritative institutions."
It is out of question that there is no need to delve into chronology when dealing with historical facts in modern times. Mr. Arakelyan has a point there: just writing "ancestral homeland" would have been enough. Whoever drafted the resolution, it is most likely that s/he did it by merely lifting the "2,500 year-old homeland" cliche from an older draft or version of any document of this kind without further ado. There are plenty of authoritative secondary sources that mechanically date the apparition of Armenia in historical times around 600-500 B.C. (the fall of the kingdom of Urartu and the record of the name in Darius' the Great's inscriptions and in Hecataeus of Miletus geographical fragments) and do not go into additional research. They do not "distort" the historical record, unless they are purposefully engaged into that; they just state one of many possible versions of what the historical picture could look like, at a time when the scarcity of written sources makes hard to go past mere speculation.
Even if we accepted that Armenians (i.e. speakers of the Armenian language) were in the Armenian Highland around 2,500 B.C., does it mean that automatically the entire Highland was their/our homeland? We do not have either a full history of the Armenian Highland for those two thousands years which wove together historical facts and conclusively proved the existence of Armenians at the time. Therefore, is it meaningful to raise the subject in a political context when we do not have enough bibliography to substantiate such a claim? And our only way to substantiate it is to make recourse to authority (a well-known fallacy in Logics 101) by referring to Armenian "authoritative institutions." This already proves that we do not have yet even a basic consensus among historians in general about the 4,500 year-old homeland.
On a related note, this also proves the nonsense of harassing and bullying people, Armenian and non-Armenian, for writing or stating different versions of an yet ancient history, as we witnessed last year on the Internet and elsewhere (1). In fact, if Armenians had been annihilated and deprived from, say, part of a 800 year-old homeland, would it be less of a genocide and less of a deprivation?
Vartan Matiossian

(1) In case any reader is tempted to start such a bullying somewhere, I would like to remind that I have published several articles in Armenian, Spanish, and English since the late 1980s concerning the possibility of their presence in the Armenian Highland long before the sixth century B.C.

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