Armenia, as elsewhere, literacy was the domain
of the nobility, while institutions of higher
education were monopolized by the church. The
tradition of Mesrob Mashdotz and his students
as custodians of the national heritage carried
on through the ages. The
a class of celibate priests devoted to the
church and to learning, and later when exempted
from the original task of spreading the new
religion, turned their attention to creative
writing, translating, teaching and studying.
Interestingly, a quick inventory of homegrown
Saints of the Armenian Church reveals a unique
attribute common to most.
St. Mesrob to St. Nerses Shnorhali to St.
Gregory of Nareg, they were all creative
writers or scholars. In fact, little is known
about the purely religious achievements that
merited their beatification.
Although Armenian institutions of higher
education were primarily monasteries and
religious centers, “earthly” subjects such as
natural sciences, medicine, music or astronomy
were not excluded from the curriculum. The
legendary David the Invincible
and his works in philosophy and rhetoric were
taught throughout the region. In the 7th
century, Anania Shiragatsi wrote about nature
and mathematics as well as planetary motion and
the periodicity of lunar and solar eclipses.
Accepting the roundness of the earth,
Shiragatsi speculated that the sun illuminates
both spheres of the earth and the moon, and the
moon has no natural light but reflects the
light of the sun.
century, Hovhannes Sargavak, a cleric,
pioneered poetry with secular themes and wrote
an exceptionally interesting book on
mathematics, entitledPolygonal Numbers.
the centuries, one of the most consistent
characteristics of the Armenian tradition in
the field of learning has been the vigilance of
the scholars, who were primarily clerics, to
keep pace with the advances and the changes
taking place in the world, borrowing
unabashedly from sources in other languages. In
return, they made their contribution to the
enhancement and development in the fields of
literature, philosophy, medicine and astronomy.
The fragmented documentation that survives
today, in spite of the continued destruction
and pillage by the Persians, Byzantines,
Seljuks, Mongols and particularly the Turks, is
a testimony to their contribution.
The Genocide of 1915, perpetrated by the Turks,
put an end to this tradition. Perhaps
(1869-1939), whose immeasurable contributions
in the field of Armenian folkloric and secular
music is unparalleled, was the last in a long
whose impact on the cultural patrimony of
Armenians cannot be emphasized enough.