Fifth Century Historian Describes Deplorable State of Armenian Society

5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


A friend recently sent me an excerpt written in the 5th Century by historian Movses Khorenatsi in which he described the deplorable societal conditions in ancient Armenia.

My friend commented: “St. Movses could have easily written these words about our Armenian clergy, leaders, church, organizations, judges, institutions and us today in 2017 as he did in the 5th Century. So what has changed in 1,600 years? What will change? What if nothing changes? What if this is who and what we are? The greatest challenge we face as Armenians is how to survive and succeed on the world stage in spite of ourselves and not give up hope. Because despite the worst of our nature that St. Movses describes, somehow this small nation found a way to survive to this day. Let’s not lament over Armenia. Let’s rejoice over our children, grandchildren and the bright future that each of us can create for our nation.”

The quotation below is from Movses Khorenatsi’s trailblazing book, “History of the Armenians.” The chapter is titled, “Lament over the removal of the Armenian throne from Arsacid Family and of the archbishopric from the family of St. Gregory.” The book has been translated from Armenian into English by Prof. Robert W. Thomson of Harvard University. I have added in brackets a few clarifications to the translation.

5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi

5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi

Movses Khorenatsi wrote:

“I lament over you Armenia; I lament over who you are superior to all the nations of the north. For your king and priest, counselor and teacher, have been removed. Peace has been disturbed, disorder has taken root, orthodoxy has been shaken, and heresy has strengthened through ignorance.

“I pity you, church of Armenia, which has lost the splendor of the sanctuary and has been deprived of the noble pastor and his companion. No longer do I see your rational flock pastured in a verdant place and by peaceful waters nor gathered in a fold and protected from wolves, but scattered to the wilderness and precipices. ….

“The teachers are ignorant and presumptuous, taking honor by themselves and not called by God, elected by money and not by the [Holy] Spirit; lovers of gold and envious, they have abandoned gentleness, where God dwells, and have become wolves, tearing their own flocks.

“The religious are hypocritical, ostentatious, vainglorious, lovers of honor rather than lovers of God.

“The [senior] clergy are proud, slothful, frivolous, lazy, haters of the arts and instructive words, lovers of commerce and buffoonery.

“The students are lazy to study and eager to teach; they are theologians before their examinations [before they finish their studies].

“The laity are arrogant, insubordinate, blusterers, loafers, topers [drunks], pernicious, and they flee their patrimonies.

“The soldiers are cowards, false boasters, hating their weapons, negligent, lovers of ease, intemperate, thieves, drunkards, marauders, imitators of brigands.

“The princes are rebellious, companions of thieves, robbers [bribable], rapacious [greedy], avaricious, grasping, plunderers, despoilers of the land, depraved, likeminded with their subjects [servants].

“The judges are inhuman, false, deceitful, venal, [not protectors of rights] ignorant of the law, volatile, contentious.

“And [in general], love and shame have been entirely removed from all….”

“The kings are cruel and evil rulers, imposing heavy and onerous burdens and giving intolerable commands. Governors do not [keep the order] correct disorders and are unmerciful. Friends are betrayed and enemies strengthened. Faith is sold for this vain life. Brigands have come in abundance and from all sides. Houses are sacked and possessions ravaged. There is bondage for the foremost and prison for the famous. There is exile abroad for the nobility and innumerable outrages for the common people. Cities are captured and fortresses destroyed; towns are ruined and buildings burned. There are famines without end and every kind of [epidemic] illness and death. Piety has been forgotten and expectation is for hell….”

My friend who sent me this “lament” is comparing Movses Khorentasi’s description of the deplorable state in Armenia 1,600 years ago to today’s conditions in general both in Armenia and the Diaspora! Of course, one cannot generalize to everyone in Armenian society. There are respectable exceptions in every segment of our society, among the teachers, clergy, military, students, judges, and rulers.

I agree with my friend when he expresses the hope that our nation will survive despite all the shortcomings and setbacks, and despite all enemies inside and outside of the country, as it has for centuries since Movses Khorentatsi wrote his highly critical observations!

Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. serop said:

    Wow, it seems not much has changed since 1600 years ago, no wonder the clergy can drive around in Bemtlys & our Cathoghikos was se;ected by the corrupt & vile leaders of the clans that control Armenia as if its 500AD.
    Our only hope is military coup, jail all the thieves and traitors, sack the current Godless Ghatoghhikos and his evil minions that he has placed in the Armenian church defiling everything that is meant to be Holy

  2. Lina said:

    It’s a bit exagerated , there are lots of countries in Europe that are in a deplorable state, and lots of countries in Europe starting to lose their identities, stopppppp nagging , that’s too muuuuuch ,we’re not in kindergarden , have children in Armenua alright

    • Varouj said:

      Agree with you Lina, stop the nagging.. we’re tired of all the people that love to point out what’s wrong in their eyes. I look at the positive.. we’re no different than any other nation, just subject to the most heinous and murderous neighbors one could imagine. Imagine for a second that Armenia was right up next to Finland, do you think we’d be this downtrodden?

  3. State of Emergency said:

    He’s just describing human nature. Some good and some not so good. Always has been and always will be this way.

  4. Mary said:

    Shame on the newsletter who publishes such fake news. Come and live in Armenia and see the realities yourselves. Enough staying behind Harvard and like universities, who are completely out of touch with realities of other countries and all know who pays them. Let them write on their countries. However, the biggest shame is to “Asbarez”.

    • serop said:

      Sorry Mary, spent 8 years trying to convience some of the leaders in Armenia to even adopt minor changes,
      Our Holy Church is led by a corrupt & Godless man placed there by the DAVAJANS who lead our nation
      Its you that should be ashamed, visit the vilages, small cities and see how most people live without hope.
      You must belong to that 2% elites that drive around in Benzes & BMW’s pretending the world is at your feet

      • Varouj said:

        What’s 8 years?? Just a fraction of a second of our history. These leaders will be gone in a few decades, the youth are bright, creative, progressive, just see if they will not build a new Armenia!!!

  5. Satenik said:

    Well we have survived, seems all the shortcomings and social and political ills did not prevent Armenians from keeping their identities to this date.

  6. A.Napetian said:

    All that shame just!00 years after converting to Christianity? And we’ve always been proud of converting to Christianity at 300 AD?

    • hye said:

      Napetian, Christianity has nothing to do with that. Aren’t middle eastern countries fighting with each other.

    • serop said:

      Put your mind to it, read up on him & his corrupt brother, read up on how he is replacing all decent Clergy in the Church and replacing them with faithless corrupt individuals associated with the oligarchs , and then maybe you can understand the ” rantings”
      Otherwise just like the mindless masses from diaspora go and visit Edjematzin, say a prayer have a Xhoravats on your way back and pretend you have done great service to your nation..

  7. Norserunt said:

    Well done, Mr. Sassounian. Very timely reminder. Armenians have always been Armenia’s number one problem. It’s nothing short of a miracle that we are still around.

    Before we continue attacking our “Serjiks”, “Sashiks” or “Lfiks” we should first take a long hard look at our collective selves. After all, governments are an accurate reflection of their people. All the “oligarchs” we hate today did not come down from another planet, they are the product of Armenian society. Think of it this way: Mexico is the way it is because of Mexicans. Germany is the way it is because of Germans. China is the way it is because of the Chinese. Senegal is the way it is because of the Senegalese. Armenia is therefore the way it is because of us Armenians. Period.

    Close study of our history reveals to us that we Armenians, generally speaking, are too individualistic, too arrogant, too proud, too emotional, too self-centered, too self-righteous, too clannish, too materialistic, too ostentatious, too competitive and too jealous of each-other to develop a properly functioning nation-state. Consequently, Armenians have produced a surplus of cowards and traitors. Without going into detail, geographic and political circumstances have bred us to be the way we are. Our flaws as a people is therefore genetic and cultural. Allow me to explain by putting Khorenaci’s words into a proper historic-political context: Soon after Armenia came out from under Persia’s influence as a result of adopting Christianity (the western value of its time) and by doing so moved closer to Rome (the ancient equivalent of the political West today), the collective genetic and cultural flaws of us Armenians gradually began revealing themselves and Armenia began suffering civilizational decline. After the Urartian period (6th century BC onward) Armenia was essentially under Persian rule. Armenia remained in Persia’s orbit for nearly one thousand years. Armenia was powerful, prosperous and relatively peaceful during this period. Troubles however began when Armenia’s rulers (starting with Tigran II) began flirting with Rome (similar to official Yerevan’s “complimentary politics” of today). Armenia’s flirtations with Rome gradually increased during the first two centuries of the Christian era. The Garni Temple is a testimony to Armenia’s “complimentary politics” of the time. Armenia’s deepening ties with Rome began causing problems between Armenia and its traditional and strategic ally, Persia. Armenia’s western-fetish also turned the country into a battlefield between Persia and Rome. The final blow to Persian-Armenian relations came when Armenia adopted Christianity. Fully out from under Persian control and influence, our people’s collective flaws soon began showing. Thereafter, Armenia was for the most part a subject nation to this or that regional power. Brief periods of semi-independence (Bagratid and Cilician) were unstable and bloody for the most part. In hindsight, Armenia has not enjoy a single peaceful century since its move out of Persia’s orbit.

    Similarly, Armenia enjoyed peace and prosperity under two hundred years of Russian and Soviet rule, albeit with a terrible periods during the First World War and the early years of Bolshevism. Nevertheless, under the watchful eye of the Russian Empire, the territory of modern day Armenia, at the time predominantly populated by Islamic and Turkic people, began an Armenian revitalization. During the Soviet period, Yerevan, what was a duty old town, became a metropolis and Armenia became a modern republic As soon as Armenia came out from under Russian/Soviet rule, once again, the collective genetic and cultural flaws of us Armenians gradually began revealing themselves. And here we are. Every single one of Armenia current day ills are tied the way the Soviet system was made to collapse by Western interests and by the inherent genetic and cultural flaws of Armenians society itself. Look at it this way: Russia/Soviet Union gave us Aram Khachaturyan, independent Armenia gave us Aram Asatryan. Enough said.

    So yes, history does repeat. And that’s a scary notion from an Armenian perspective. And that is essentially why I pray to God that the nation of Russia (which is the modern equivalent of ancient Persia) never fully takes its protective hand away from us.

    Before anyone accuses me of being anti-Christian or an atheist, let me just say that I’m a very proud Christian. But, as a person, I am also intellectually honest and objective. Therefore: Although adopting Christianity did eventually prove beneficial for us Armenians, as it preserved our national identity in a region that eventually became thoroughly Islamic in the 7th century, it hurt us severely in the 4th century by helping drive a wedge between us and Persia with whom we were closely allied at the time for nearly a thousand years. In any case, regarding Christianity, it all worked out well in 650 AD as that is when Persia succumbed to Islam. Had we Armenians not adopted Christianity in the 4th century, regardless of the geopolitical troubles it caused, we would have fully assimilated into the Islamic world, or been relegated to the status enjoyed by Yezdis today. Therefore, I am not criticizing Christianity. I am criticizing Armenians.

    • State of Emergency said:

      Don’t belittle yourself the Russians did not give us Aram Khachaturyan. What they gave us is lessons on corruption and oligarchies. Spare us your Russophile bias.

    • A.Napetian said:

      Thanks a lot for that simple analysis, please help us in similar cases in Hyrenik, Asbarez and GlobalHy. hnorhagal.

    • Hye said:

      Really, they gave us Khachaturyan? Russia took 600,000 Armenian soldiers in WW2 and gave us back half(300,000 soldiers(the rest died((and I won’t go into the condition of the soldiers that came back))). Tell me how many Russian soldiers died on Armenian sole starting from 1825. Who gave Who and what, tell me NorSerunt.

  8. Varouj said:

    Well I for one am glad that all that individualism, arrogance, pride, emotion, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, clannishness, materialism, ostentatiousness, competitiveness, jealousy, are all in the past, because this nation is moving forward baby! All of you people that are still stuck on the old “this is why we can’t be something better”, will naturally prevent progress because you have your minds reciting that old victim’s narrative that is on endless loop. Come on give it a break Sasounian, we’ve read this column dozens of times before, you have an incredible knack of finding the best material that supports your position.