Friday, April 10, 2009

Geographical Effects on Armenian self-identity

Of the various elements contributing to the cultural distinctness of a particular ethnic group, geography plays a substantial role. It ultimately effects the technological sophistication and cultural developments of a given region of the world. The advent of agriculture, animal domestication, and metallurgy helped usher in the exponentially developing technological and cultural explosion of the modern world. We have flourished as a species, due in large part to the geographic serendipity of certain population centers, and our highly evolved social networking skills. The complex ability of human beings to continually reinvent their world, and constantly struggle to improve their condition is a milestone in the history of our species. Knowing that modern human beings have been around for 200,000 years, it wasn't until 50,000 years ago that a cultural awakening took place, in which human development and imagination flourished. Some liken it to a reorganization of the brain that may have lead to an increasingly sophisticated linguistic ability. Regardless of the biological shifts, archaeological records indicate that explosions in artistic expression and cultural relevance occurred that has increased in momentum for every progressive generation. It was at this junction in time that we may consider ourselves as having arrived as modern humans. Yet, all the trappings of our success were still thousands of years away. The agricultural revolution had to wait for the end of the last ice age, when global temperatures uncharacteristically stabilized enough for our expansive growth.

Through luck and circumstance, the land that was eventually called Armenia was located in a geographically fortuitous zone for rapid cultural growth. The available wild grains, that were soon domesticated, the wild sheep and goats, that were also quickly domesticated, and the surface deposits of copper, tin, and iron truly providing metallurgical richness were all factors in determining one of the world's first centers of sedentary life and the eventual development of civilization. In essence, the lands of Armenia possessed all the latent characteristics to help plant the seeds of modern civilization. Although ancestral populations to the Armenians were slowly discovering ways to tame nature and shape their world, the resource-rich land was highly mountanous and provided many challenges to hospitable life. The extremely unstable continental climate, raging rivers, earthquakes, volcanoes, and constant human migration through the area were all obstacles to a comfortable life. As is common amongst all humans though, these progenitors were adept at using their mental and physical tools to tame even the most difficult environments. Having a thorough understanding of the rugged terrain, their awareness payed off in ways that effected the technological revolution.

As is often the case with geography, maps will provide frames of reference to visually simplify the topics discussed and the areas in question. Generally, the Republic of Armenia today is but a small portion of the eastern end of historic Armenia. There is no simple name for this contentuous area of the world. It is a zone divided by many various names, but none that simply describe the region that was the technological and innovative cradle of civilization. The following map indicates the present-day political boundries of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, centered on the Western Asia peninsula known alternately as Asia Minor, Anatolia, or Asian Turkey.

The ancestral lands of the various people that contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians can be further localized. To simplify the nomenclature, I have invented a term for this rugged land; Hurromontania. It will become obvious as we proceed through history that at some point in the late Bronze Age, a people known as the Hurrians culturally dominated this region of the world. Their influence was felt from surrounding empires that developed long after the Hurrian's assimilation and demise. The Hittites, Assyrians, Medians, Phoenecians, and even Egyptians all had their cultures influenced, whether directly or indirectly through contact with the Hurrians. Thus, due to their widespread and lasting influence, and the fact that almost all the territory that was Hurrian was eventually populated at one time or another by their semi-descendants, the Armenians, I have named this region in their honor (marked in Red, with the orange area representing the largely Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni).

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