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Yeghegis (Arm: Եղեգիս), Vayots Dzor Marz
Returning through Artabuynk to the main E-W paved road, one soon reaches the village of Yeghegis* (488 p, until 1994 Alayaz), historically Armenian, as attested by the rich sprinkling of antiquities. When its Azeri inhabitants departed, the houses were occupied by Armenians, half refugees from Sumgait in Azerbaijan and half locals seeking a house and land of their own. Entering the village, one sees on the left a stone enclosure with khachkars commemorating the Orbelian family. Left on a narrow village road takes one first to the Astvatsatsin basilica, rebuilt in 1703, then to a small domed 13th c. church of S. Karapet with cemetery and then, on a green hill E of town a few meters past S. Karapet, where the road turns left, S. Zorats cathedral* =65= (39 33.06n x 046 01.74e) or S. Stepanos, built in 1303 by a grandson of Prince Tarsayich Orbelian. This is a pretty unique church design, not only for Armenia, but in general. The congregation is meant to stand outside facing the open-air altar. The church has been extensively restored. Its name comes allegedly from the custom of consecrating arms and horses there before battle. In the NW part of the village, incorporated into house and garden walls, are substantial remains of cyclopean walls and caves/cellars. Right of the road inside the village is a small ruined basilica. In 2000, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professor Michael Stone excavated on the S side of the Yeghegis river opposite the village (take the road that winds under the damaged Azeri cemetary and cross the footbridge) a Jewish cemetery with some 40 gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions, attesting to the existence of a literate and prosperous Jewish community in Yeghegis in the 1200's. Somewhere on the mountain a few km NE are ruins of 13th c. Gyulum Bulaghi Vank (probably Upper Noravank, attested in manuscripts).
Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Medieval Jewish Community in Eghegiz (Yeghegis), Armenia
By Michael Nosonovsky
KULANU February 2002
Recent findings indicate that a Jewish community existed in Eghegis, Armenia for several centuries. In a publication in the Russian Journal "Christian Orient" for 1912 a picture appeared of Jewish tombstones in Eghegis, Armenia, dated 1497 CE. A Persian word in the inscription indicates that the Jews probably came to Armenia from Persia and this community may be related to Persian-speaking (Judeo-Tat) communities of Mountain Jews in North Caucasus and Azerbaijan. A short comment on the matter will appear in a Russian language Internet-Journal "Zametki po evrejskoj istorii" . This is the English translation of the paper, along with a picture of the monument which was scanned from the Russian Journal "Christian Orient", V 1, No 3 (1912).
Armenia is one of only few countries where no Jewish settlement of any significant importance is known, although all neighboring countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Persia) had big Jewish communities. According to some legends, the king Tigran in the 1st century CE brought from Judea to Armenia several thousands Jews. There are also legends about a Jewish origin of Armenian royal dynasty of Bagratids (ruled from 7th century CE), but there are no material evidences for this kind of legends. A Byzantine chronicler tells that many Jews were brought to captivity from different Armenian cities by Persian king Sapor the 2nd (310-380 CE). The Talmud mentions “Jacob from Armenia” (Git 48a) and Jewish captives from Armenia (Ieb 45a). The country is mentioned sporadically in medieval Hebrew texts¹, but it should be kept in mind that historical Armenia includes besides Armenia proper territory of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkish Kurdistan.
It was reported recently², that in 1996 several Jewish tombstones were found in Armenian town of Eghegis by local bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan. A team of Israeli archeologists including Professors Michael Stone and David Amit studied the monuments. According to reports, one inscription in Hebrew with Aramaic formulas says: “Niftar Baba bar David be-khodesh Tammuz shenat aleph-taf-resh” (“Passed away Baba, son of David in the month of Tammuz year 1600”). The Seleucid era was widely used in the Middle East, the year 1600 corresponds to the year 1289 CE. Another inscription is dated with 1255 CE.
We must note that this finding is not unique. A letter was published yet in 1912 in a little-known Russian Journal “Khristianskij Vostok” (“Christian Orient”) by a leading Russian orientalist Prof. N. Marr about a similar monument found in 1910³ . The stone (size 1.6 x 0.4 m) was found in the Muslim-Turkish village of Alagaz near historical Eghegiz in Voyotz-Tzora province of Armenia. The inscription has four lines, two lines on one side of the stone include a name of the deceased and two lines on the opposite side include a blessing, in a similar manner to the inscriptions found recently. Russian Hebraist Prof. P. Kokovtsov translated it from Hebrew:
Niftar ha-bakhur ha-kasher he-‘anaw mar khawaga Sharaf ’aldin ben ha-zaqen khawaga Sabay S[ofo]”T[ov] melekh ha-kavod yanikhehu ‘im ’ Abraham Yickhaq we-Ya‘aqov We-Yeqayyem ‘al qavrato yikhyu metekha navlati yaqumun we-g[amre] shenat ATTKh
Passed away young, pious, and modest Mr. khawaja Sheraf-ed-Din, son of old khawaja Sabay, let his end be in good. Let the King of Dignity lay him in peace with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And let fulfill over his grave “your deads will resurrect, my corps will stand up” etc. (Is. 26:19) Year 1808 (=1496/1497 CE).
Therefore the Jewish community existed in Eghegiz not only in the late 1200s, but also for more than 230 years after that. Muslim names and titles in the inscription are remarkable: Sharaf-ed-Din, Sabay, Baba, khawajah (Mister or Teacher). The word khawajah is of Persian origin and it probably indicates that the Jews who settled in Eghegiz came from Persia and kept Persian as their spoken language. Biblical quotations and Talmudic formulas is an evidence of high learning standard in the community. We may assume that Eghegiz community was related to the Persian-speaking (Tat) Mountain Jewish community in Azerbaijan and North Caucusus, an early history of which is obscure. It should be noted also that oldest inscriptions in Chufut-Qaleh in the Crimea, which can be reliably dated, also belong to the same post-Tartar period.
By considering two archeological findings: a little known inscription published in a Russian Journal 90 years ago and very recent discoveries of Israeli archeologists, we come to a conclusion that a Jewish community existed in Armenia for several hundred years and this country should be included into a list of medieval Jewish Diaspora countries.
1. Armenia Evrejskaja Enciklopedia. – St. Petersburg, . – v. 3. - Pp. 145-146.
2. Stones from the River Jerusalem Report, 24 Sept 2001, K. Brook. The Unexpected Discovery of Vestiges of the Medieval Armenian Jews Los Muestros: The Sephardic Voice. - No. 45 (December 2001), (http://kulanu.ubalt.edu/armenian_jews.html), Dafna Levy. The lost Jews of Armenia // Ha-Aretz (on the Internet accessed 1/30/2002
3. Evrejskaya nadgrobnaya nadpis’ 15 veka iz Erevanskoj gub. (Hebrew tombsone inscription of the 15th century from Erevan province) Khristianskij Vostok (Christian Orient). – Vol 1 (1912).. - No. 3. – Pp. 353-354 (ñ) M. Nosonovsky, Boston, Mass, Feb. 2002
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