by Karekin Zarbanalian
Aristakes Lastivertc'i can be considered as preeminent among Armenian authors of the 11th century, although we do not have any biographical information whatsoever about him. We can only say from his discourse and literary style that he appeared to be a cleric, and that he displayed ample knowledge of the Holy Scripture: For everything in the world is delimited by God, yet to demonstrate this as he did in his History required exceptional philosophical insight and breadth and depth of thought, for to this end it is not enough merely to repeat the words of prophets.
The Subject of Lastivertc'i’s History.— Aristakes was an eyewitness, earwitness and veracious historian of this miserable period in Armenia. Cruel and pitiless enemies, finding the material and moral misfortunes of our country to be propitious to them, were prepared to wield every evil to seize everything from us, or else trample everything into ruins. Thus, Lastivertc'i justly begins the preface of his History by lamenting our nation, signaling the catastrophe that is to come. “Our glories turned to ruins,” he says. “We remained breathless; death grew strong and swallowed us; everyone attacked us; and those who were torn from their loved ones, if not slain by the sword, were dispersed like erratic stars.”
It is after this sad prologue that Lastivertc'i commences his History. He recalls the reign of David [III] Kuropalates, that generous builder of the world and lover of the poor, in whose time the land of Armenia found peace and tranquility. He also recalls the reign of Gagik I Bagratuni, son of Ashot and brother of Smbat and Gurgen, who, being mighty and victorious in war, kept the lands of Armenia in peace. But after his death, his sons Smbat-Hovhannes and Ashot fell into disagreement with one another over the division of the country and turned to Georgi, the king of Abkhazia Georgi, who extended his control and military power over Armenia to reconcile them, thus inviting the emperor of Byzantium [Basil II] to turn against him, because of which they fell into battle, the damages and destruction of which were borne by Armenia.
After that, Aristakes narrates the succession of various Byzantine emperors and their relations with Armenia. A significant event in the history of this era is sale of the city of Ani to Byzantium, with which Gagik II was deprived of his royal throne. Lamenting the misfortune that befell his nation, he lost his life and his entire kingdom. Lastivertc’i relates that sorrowful incident with touching cries and patriotic tears. He recalls the royal capital of Ani and its elegant structures and order, but then: “The king, having fallen from honor, sits like a captive in a distant place. Similarly, the patriarchal throne, devoid of occupants, displays the sad face of a new bride, newly widowed… Our everything has turned to lamentation.” (pg. 107).
Thus, Armenia, in this unprotected state, emboldened her enemies on all sides to bring about her destruction. It was at the hands of these enemies that there were horrible and cruel massacres in the plain of Basen, the mountains of Smbat and Arcn, and that the city of Kars was terribly struck. Then arrived the bloodthirsty and death-breathing sultan, Alp-Arslan, who crushed and demolished the city of Manazkert, not to mention the massacres and sacking of Handzet, Derdzan and Ekegheats, whose sad stories the author’s heart did not venture to describe, for, as he says, when he recalls them, “my breathing becomes choked off by tears, my heart is moved to pity, my mind is dazed, and trembling seizes my hands.” (pg. 175)
And yet he did not hesitate to recall other painful incidents pertaining to the misfortunes of the homeland. Ani, which at the time was the capital and the main commercial city in Armenia, in all its glory and greatness, became a plaything in the cruel hands of its conquerors, and Lastivertc’i relates the painful events that befell it. This is the dominant part of his History, which he imprints in his elegant and moving style and with his poetic genius, thus concluding his opus.
Some find Lastivertc'i’s style to be extremely mournful. There is no doubt that the author has this element of his composition is basically unmoderated, which perhaps at times exhausts the reader instead of serving to move his heart. And so it would appear that this author is among a class of geniuses who have a sad disposition, although of course the dark and tragic events of his day would have intensified this.