Ahmed Ibrahim
5 min readMar 12, 2023

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The History of Armenian Manuscripts

During his meeting with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, His Eminence, the Grand Imam, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyib, Sheikh of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Ararat Mirzoyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, suggested that Al-Azhar host a permanent exhibition to display rare handwritten copies of the Noble Qur’an and copies of historical Islamic manuscripts that Armenia possesses. So it is important to highlight the history of Armenian manuscripts in general, including Islamic manuscripts.

Armenian manuscripts

Armenian manuscripts are part of an Armenian tradition of formally prepared documents with flourishes such as borders and miniature illustrations. They are related to other types of Medieval Armenian art and illuminated Byzantine manuscripts. The earliest surviving examples date from the 5th century, during the Golden Age of Armenian art and literature. Armenian illuminated manuscripts represent Armenian culture and its spiritual and cultural values.

Toros Roslin, the most famous Armenian miniaturist, lived in the 13th century. The art form was embraced by Greater Armenia, Lesser Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. It first appeared in Armenia with the creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 AD. There are only a few fragments of an illuminated manuscript from the sixth and seventh centuries that have survived. The oldest complete manuscript dates from the ninth century. When the main schools and centers began to emerge in the 13th and 14th centuries, art experienced a golden age.

Those of Syunik, Vaspurakan, and Cilicia stand out the most. Many Armenian illuminated manuscripts have survived centuries outside of Armenia. Despite the invention of the Armenian printing press in the 16th century, the production of miniatures continued until the 19th century and is still practiced today in Armenian painting and cinema.

Armenian miniaturists have always had contact with other artists from the East and West, whose work has had a profound and rich influence on Armenian illumination. According to the Russian poet Valery Bryusov, "crossing and intertwining before merging into a single and entirely new whole, two forces, two opposing principles, have, over the centuries, governed the destiny of Armenia and shaped the character of its people: the principle of the West and that of the East, the spirit of Europe and the spirit of Asia". The most famous works of Armenian miniaturists are distinguished by their precise execution, originality of composition and color treatment, brilliance due to the use of pigments primarily prepared with metal oxide bases, and a highly stylized depiction of the world.

The largest collection of Armenian manuscripts, including the Mugni and Echmiadzin Gospels, is housed at the Matenadaran Institute in Yerevan. The St. James Cathedral depository of the Holy Apostolic Church's Patriarchate of Jerusalem houses the second-largest collection of Armenian illuminated manuscripts. Other large collections can be found at the British Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and Mechitarist establishments in Venice and Vienna, as well as in the United States. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has a 14th-century Armenian illuminated manuscript in its collection of Armenian manuscripts, which is one of the largest in the world. They also have the Gladzor Gospels manuscript (see the University of Gladzor).

Islamic manuscripts

For eight millennia, Armenian matrilineal genetic continuity has existed in the South Caucasus. Armenia is also depicted on the world maps preserved in the Psalm-Book of 1250, the Islamic Map of 1570 (the origin of this map dates back to the Islamic cartography of the 12th or 13th centuries), the World Map of Benedictine monk Beatus (12th century), the World Map of Pomponius Mela (1st century; the map was printed in the 15th century), and the World Map of Herodotus (5th century BC).

Armenia eventually fell under the control of the Persian Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs, the Ottoman Empire, and Tsarist Russia. Armenian territory today comprises approximately 10% of the Greater and Lesser Armenias that existed thousands of years ago.

After overcoming all obstacles, Armenians continued to live in peace and create literary, cultural, and architectural masterpieces in their motherland. So far, Armenians have not only preserved their cultural values but have also honored and preserved Islamic manuscripts and Holy Places passed down from earlier periods when Armenia was subject to foreign rule.

First and foremost, the Qur'an has been translated into Armenian several times, including A. Amirkhanyan's (1838–1913) translation from Arabic into Armenian and E. Hakhverdyan's (2004/2005/2006) translation into Armenian.

The manuscripts of the Qur'an preserved in Armenia's Matenadaran, the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, founded in 1959, are of particular importance. It houses not only Armenian manuscripts but also manuscripts in other languages (Persian, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and so on).

V. Ter-Ghevondian, K. Sahakyan, V. Makaryan, M. Khecho, and M. Minasian's book Catalogue of the Qur'an Manuscripts of the Matenadaran (Yerevan, 2016) lays out the theoretical background and lists all the manuscript copies of the Qur'an dated to earlier ages and preserved by Armenians in the Matenadaran, Armenia's repository of ancient manuscripts. The book under consideration includes a preface, a manuscript description, a bibliography, an index, and illustrations. It introduces the manuscripts preserved in the Matenadaran's Arabic fund and may be useful research material for orientalists, Islamologists, and historians.

Furthermore, "the manuscripts are written on both Oriental and Western paper, with a significant amount written on modern paper; in 2013, a fruitful collaboration began between the Yerevan Matenadaran and the Islamic Manuscript Association (Cambridge, UK)."

The download link of the book “Catalogue of the Qur’an Manuscripts of the Matenadaran”:
https://www.matenadaran.am/ftp/el_gradaran/MatenadaraniQuranneriCucak.pdf

The Iranian heritage in Armenia

In terms of Islamic Holy Places, it is worth noting that the Blue Mosque in the heart of Yerevan has been preserved. The Mosque was rebuilt thanks to an initiative launched by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Armenia, with the assistance of the "Mostazafan va Janbazan" fund.

Armenians have also completely restored Gohar Agha Upper Mosque (Yughari Govhar Agha Mosque). The Armenian-funded Oriental Historical Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with Iranian specialists, completed the restoration of the 19th-century Gohar Agha Upper Mosque in 2019.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Armenian monasteries and churches are being preserved and restored; thus, the full restoration of this mosque was intended to pay homage to Islamic culture.

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Ahmed Ibrahim

Full-fledged Content Creator & Tech Journalist. Worked previously with top publishers like AkhbarTech, Abda Adv, and RobbReportArabia.