Swastika in Armenia

Swastika is an ancient Sanskrit term that is suggested by linguists to mean either “illumines being” or “good being.” However, the symbol in question has a much deeper history,one that has fascinated people throughout the ages. This eight pointed geometric symbol suggesting a celestial body has traveled great distances world-wide with the Indo-European “Aryan” tribes with whom the symbol seemed to have played a sacred role.

It is imperative for the reader to consider that the term Swastika and what it specifically meant to the Sanskrit speaking Indians should not be understood as exclusive. The Swastika, before and after it entered ancient Indian culture, had numerous other associations and renderings which have been revered by various ancient cultures worldwide. Thus, the term Swastika should not be exclusively connected with Sanskrit, and more importantly, it should not be exclusively connected with the traditional form made infamous during the Second World War. However, for the lack of a better term, I shall continue referring to the symbol as Swastika.

Throughout, the cultural evolution of mankind, the Swastika has been prominently depicted within innumerable forms throughout the world. From the Celtic isles to the Aztec jungles, from the eastern European steppes to the Egyptian desert, the Swastika has been one of mankind’s most resilient and versatile symbols. The Armenian highlands of Asia Minor and the Southern Caucasus are home to some of the earliest depictions of the Swastika, as well as home to some of the most beautifully evolved medieval and modern forms of the symbol. The Armenian highland (also known as historic Armenia and/or Asia Minor, which today comprises the territories of eastern Turkey, northern Mesopotamia, north-western Iran and southern Caucasus) are home to a vast amount of petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating back to the Neolithic era. Amongst these primitive depictions by early man, the Swastika, with its various forms, is prominently displayed. However, where did this popular symbol originate? How did this symbol come to appear within various cultures as divers as Celtic and Aztec? And, what did this most mysterious of symbols represent?

Many prominent Armenian academicians such as Adontz, Adjarian, Kavukjian and Jahukian as well as international ones such as Gamkrelidze, Ivanov and Renfrew alike agree that the general territories of the Armenian highlands might very well have been the original homeland of the proto Indo-European tribes prior to their great migrations east and west. Moreover, classical Armenian is considered by Armenian and some International linguists as a language that closely resembles the theorized proto Indo-European language spoken by ‘Aryan’ tribes prior to their migrations. The aforementioned theories, long-held by Armenian linguists and archeologists, are now gaining international validity as more and more specialists within the field are realizing the futility of placing the original homeland of the Proto Indo-Europeans within Central Europe and/or Southern Russia. Hence, considering the extensive research conducted by Adjarian and Kavukjian coupled with contemporary developments within linguistics and archeology, it would be a logical conclusion that the vicinity of the Armenian highlands was the original home of the Indo-European tribes and, hence, the Swastika.

It is also interesting to note that according to the suggestions of some Armenians, the Armenian alphabet, a unique alphabet founded in 406 A.D. by a group of scholars lead by the monk Mesrob Mashtots, is believed to have more than a few of its characters derived from various forms of Armenian petroglyphs including the Swastika. However, there is no way to confirm whether this was a deliberate effort on the part of the monks or whether it came about subconsciously, through their environmental exposure to such types of symbols which were ever popular within the ancient world. Rudimentary depictions of the Swastika have been in the forms of an eight pointed star-like objects, spiral/helix crosses and solar disks. These prominent depictions of spiral eight point Swastikas and various forms of sun discs have led scholars to unanimously conclude that the images simply imply a symbolic reverence to the sun by its early depicters. The sun, being a supreme sacred symbol in the ancient world was most commonly represented as an even proportioned cross, often within a circle/disk some times referred to it as the ‘cross of life’ or an eight pointed star. However, the early simple renderings of sun disk were to evolve into more expressive forms within lands inhabited by Armenians.

It has thus been established that the origins of the Swastika lies within veneration of a sun deity. This sun deity was especially revered by proto-Armenians who considered it the manifestation of the all-powerful and eternal god. All variations of the very popular, almost national, Armenian symbol of eternity found practically on every decorative church relief and Khatchqar is the direct descendent of the pre-historic eight point spiral Swastika. These virtually ubiquitous medieval Armenian motifs are revered to this day as a symbol of eternity, which of course, has become an allegorical symbol of the eternal God of Christianity. It is easy to see why this great solar body, humankinds only source of light, and thus, life, must have generated great awe and reverence within the psychology of early man. Veneration of the sun as a symbol of the universal supreme deity was, very probably, the most prominent form of worship practiced by early man. The rituals and iconography of sun worship has proven to be one of humanities most resilient. It’s profound influences are found within all cultures worldwide.

The sun was revered second to none. The sun was the physical manifestation of the supreme deity in the heavens within the highlands of Armenia. During the classical period, Aramazd (an Armenianized version of the Iranic supreme god Ahura-Mazda of Zoroastrianism), symbolized by the Zoroastrian sun/fire, was the supreme deity of the Armenian highlands. Throughout the Armenian highland, even as late as the nineteenth century A.D., there were isolated pockets of sun worship being practiced. Of historical importance is a medieval Armenian source’s description of an Armenian sun cult whose adherents were known as “Arevordi,” meaning sons (children) of the sun (light). It is note worthy that this was some eight centuries after the conversion of Armenians to Christianity.

It is also suggested that even the essence of the compound word “Ar-men-ia,” implies sun worship. The prefix ‘Ar,’ the first syllable of Armenia, is the primordial root word for Areg or Arev (sun). This pre-historic root word for the sun also manifests its-self as the pre-historic Armenian god Ara popularly known in Armenian historiography as Ara the Fair, the primordial god most commonly associated with agriculture and spring. The second component of the compound word ‘men’ obviously designates group of people. The final component of the compound word ‘ia’ designates a geographic location. Thus, the compound word Armenia may very well imply – the land of the god Ar or the land of sun worshipers. These Indo-European sun worshipers of the Armenian Highlands adopted the various depictions of the Swastika as their primordial sacred symbol. It should be noted here that the Armenian Highlands were not the exclusive location were the god Ara was revered and worshiped. According to Armenian historians Ghapantsian and Kavookjian, the worship of the cult of Ara as they term it, could be observed within the worship of various peoples throughout the ancient Near-East and Europe.

For the Urartians the deity was known as Ardi; within the Hellenic world he was known as Ares, Aras and Er, Germanic tribes recognized him as Ertag; among the Celts of Ireland he was manifested as Ir, within Georgia he was called
Arali, among Slavic tribes he was know as Yar or Yarilo, within Mesopotamia Ar was worshiped as Aria and Aru. It is interesting to note at this time that the sun god Ra (Ra-Amon) of ancient Egypt might very well have been a corrupted (reversed) form of the root word of the god Ara. Ar or Ara may very well have been introduced into Egypt by the conquering Hyksos tribes who Armenian historians speculate originated somewhere within the territories of the Armenian Highlands.

The ethereal significance of the Swastika was most regrettably corrupted during the Second World War, probably for eternity. Nevertheless, Armenia today, is arguably the only nation on earth where the symbol of eternity, that which is derived from the ancient Swastika, is a prominent and integral part of artistic expression and spiritual symbolism. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to claim that the Swastika is the oldest sacred symbol on earth. Accordingly, the Swastika belongs to all the nations, not just those of Indo-European heritage. It is a symbol profound in its antiquity, beauty and meaning. It transports us into the psyche of early man and takes us to the beginnings of human existence. It is a sacred symbol our primordial ancestors used to convey their awe and admiration of God’s creation — symbolized by the spiraling sun.

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