The Armenians have endured thirteen tumultuous centuries comprised of invasions, migrations, and displacements that have forced them to loosen their grasp on Armenian culture. From the beginning of their existence, Armenians had to concoct different ways to create nationalism and preserve their culture from afar. As a result, Armenian language and literature have featured crucial elements of national culture and identity for more than a millennium. The journey began in 406 AD with the invention of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots.
Mesrop Mashtots began a new era with Christian Armenian literature. His goal was to translate Biblical books into Armenian. Only some works from the most ancient Armenian literary tradition preceding the Christianization of Armenia in the early 4th century survived because the Armenian Church eradicated the “pagan tradition.” The nature of literature ultimately changed as literature grew more popular among Armenian people. Eventually, literature became a way to promote nationalism and cultural pride among the millions of displaced and struggling Armenians.
For example, in the Medieval Era, when Armenia was under Arab control, the Armenian people desperately wanted a great hero who would liberate them and reestablish Armenian sovereignty. Thus, David of Sasun was created. He was the Armenian equivalent of Hercules. In the story, David comes in conflict with his Muslim father, kills him, escapes to Armenia, and becomes the founder of the heroic clan of Armenians against Arabs. Armenians were inspired by this story. They were unified, even under restrictions and displacement.
Later, when Armenia was under Persian rule, Armenians developed the Troubadour Tradition. Because many Armenians were now scattered all over Europe, they needed national pride more than ever. To overcome the divide between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, they established printing shops in places such as Venice and Rome. Then, a troubadour would go from village to village and recite his literature to the people. Successful troubadours would participate in competitions in the courts of Georgian Kings, Muslim Khans, and Armenian Meliks. This age of literature was actually different from the previous ages because the troubadours used popular language from foreign influences instead of Classical Armenian. This allowed their works to reach wider audiences. Armenian literature was getting stronger, even though they were struggling to maintain their culture. This literary history was influenced by foreign neighbors.
There is little to no history of Armenian literature during the early 1900’s. This was the time period in which the Armenian Genocide took place. Armenian intellectuals were unable to produce works of literature because the Turks were threatened by them. They believed that the Armenians were planning to rebel. Thus, Armenian intellectuals were the first to be attacked and ripped from their homes. The production of Armenian literature was halted and their culture took a hit, but that didn’t stop the Armenians from trying to maintain their cultural identity. Throughout their entire history, the Armenians were able to overcome threats to their cultural identity. Literature was just one of the ways they were able to connect with each other and keep their way of life intact.