The Kingdom of Armenia and ancient Ashkenaz

In the autumn of 1997 Michael Stone received exciting information from Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan, 1 Primate of the See of Siwnik of the Armenian Apostolic Church. According to this information, near the village of Eghegis, in the Vayots Dzor region, about 80 km south-east of Erevan, an ancient cemetery had been discovered (Map I). The first pictures that Stone saw showed indubitably that the tomb-stones in this cemetery bore Hebrew inscriptions. In other words, this was a Jewish cemetery (Amit and Stone 2002).

This is the first paragraph of this paper that describes one of the most ancient cemeteries of Jews found in Armenia. This was also my first exposure to the remarkable work of Prof. Michael Stone (Hebrew University) whose website is a trove of literary treasures focusing on Armenia and Armenian Jews.

As you recall, our recent work (Das et al. 2016) uncovered four primeval villages in northeastern Turkey, a region which I termed Ancient Ashkenaz. I am not so sure now how appropriate this term is, provided that Armenians were the first to consider themselves the descendants of Ashkenaz (and Tograma), however they seemed to prefer (or were thought to prefer by the Greek authors who wrote about them) the term Armenian which was used since the 6th century BC.

Our next paper (Das et al. 2017, in press) would expand more on the origin of the term Ashkenaz. In this paper, we also carried out the first analysis of Ashkenazic Jews and ancient Middle Eastern populations. The findings were somewhat surprising for us, but they would be even more surprising to the proponent of the Rhineland Hypothesis.

It remains unclear why Jews adopted the term Ashkenaz and not Tograma for themselves. However, the term Ashkenaz, or a very similar term, was also what Scythians were called. Following our work and that of Stone’s, I believe that future research on the origin of Eurasian Jews should focus on the historical region of the Kingdom of Armenia and the Black Sea where the Scythians resided.

 

References

Amit D, Stone ME. 2002. Report of the survey of a medieval Jewish cemetery in Eghegis, Vayots Dzor region, Armenia. Journal of Jewish studies. 53:66-106.

Das R, et al. 2016. Localizing Ashkenazic Jews to primeval villages in the ancient Iranian lands of Ashkenaz. Genome Biol. Evol. 8:1132–1149.

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