Armenian Native Faith (Hetanism)

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Hetanism (Armenian: Հեթանոսութիւն Hetanosutiwn) or Armenian native faith, was the dominant ethnic religion of Armenia before the adoption of Christianity in 301 AD. The sources regarding the practices and tradition of the religion are limited due to centuries of religious persecution by the Christian Armenians as well as the mystery cult of ancient priests, and the modern religion is largely reconstructionist in nature

Even though the organized religion in its final form appeared in the 3rd century BC, the roots of it stretch back as Urartu and the proto-hetanist religion of Ḫaldism, as well as ancient near eastern religions. It was greatly influenced by both Zoroastrianism and Hellenic paganism, but largely retained it’s uniqueness

The rebirth of the religion can be traced back to the 19th century intellectualist Hetanosakan movement, most notable Hetanist being Daniel Varuzhan, who advocated for the complete replacement of Christianity by Hetanism.

It gained major support in the early 20th century, with the doctrine of Tseghakron (Ցեղակրօն, literally “national religion”) of the philosopher and nationalist political theorist and warlord Garegin Nzhdeh. It took an institutional form in 1991, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union in a climate of national reawakening, with the foundation of several Hetanist organizations.

According to the 2011 Armenian census, 5139 people in the Republic of Armenia identified themselves as Hetanist, and the number is estimated to have doubled or even tripled in 10 years.
The word Հեթանոսութիւն (Hetanosoutiwn comes from Greek ἔθνος, ethnos – “Nation”), and is formed with the root Հեթանոս and suffix -ութիւն.

Since at least 11th century, the adherents of the movement have also called themselves Arordi or Arevordi (Armenian: Արորդի, Արեւորդի), meaning sons of Sun.



The Hetanist religion emerged from different religions of the region – most notably the religion of Aratta and ancient near east. The first organized proto-Hetanist religion was practiced in the Kingdom of Van (Urartu). The religion of Urartu was a united pantheon of different armenian tribes and confederations, which was “collected” and standardized by kings Ishpuini and Menua. Although different Gods were worshiped, the central God Ḫaldi was the central deity of worship who had the authority over the entire universe and every being respectively. This semi-monotheism of Ḫaldism later developed into a more monotheistic religion of Hetanism. The trinitarian nature of the Urartian religion – with 3 chief Gods of Ḫaldi, Teisheba, Shivini also carried out to Hetanism, which is another argument in favor of Ḫaldic-Hetanist continuity theory.

Anahit, Mother of Armenia
The first largely polytheistic form of Hetanism appeared after the collapse of Urartu and the emerging of the first pan-armenian kingdom of Orontids under Paruyr Skayordi, who is considered the first king of Armenia. Under Orontids, the central Gods of Hetanism started to emerge – including Hayk(later renamed Aramazd under Iranian influence), Aray(later Mihr), Anahit and Vahagn


The final formation of the organized religion roughly corresponds to the reign of Tigranes II, the first emperor(king of kings) of Armenia. Around the first century BC, the complete theological and philosophical nature of Hetanism was formed, and the pantheon got it’s final form.

The Mehians and priests concentrated on their hands the literature, schooling and education, regulation and domination of civil acts (birth, marriage, family), review of new laws, jurisdiction, even medicine. Thus, religion and priesthood represented a strong power inside the state. Religious institutions – Mehians, had vast lands spanning from westernmost border of Armenia to Artsakh, as well as concentrated big amount of wealth, gold, silver and many more different luxuries, which were acquired from donations of princes, nobles, kings and even peasants.

Due to the nature and teachings of their religion hetanist leaders and priests were always loyal and close to the king, thus their large influence in the affairs of the kingdom never brought up notable conflicts or destabilized the kingdom.

The image of supreme and eternal God, Ar/Ara appeared, all others God’s turned merely into different manifestations of Ar, moving Hetanism into monotheistic world of religions.

Replacement by Christianity

Armenia was one of the first regions where Christianity spread and flourished. The founders of Christian communities in Armenia were apostles Thaddeus (Jude) and Bartholomew (dates of preaching 35 AD – 60 AD), who bear the titles of “first illuminators of Armenia”. Before the 4th century, Christianity was not very popular amongst the Armenians and was spread only in small communities across the whole country. Nevertheless, the Christians were periodically persecuted. The persecution was especially harsh during the reign of king Sanatruk.

In Armenia, the first center of Christianity is considered Mtsurq, which was a city built by king Sanatruk. After the fall of the city to Sasanid forces, the center moved to Ashtishat, where it stayed until the fall of the Armenian kingdom.

Christianity started growing rapidly under king Tiridates III the great, under whom Christianity was declared official state religion

Christianity as state religion

According to a folk tradition recorded in Agatangeghos’ “Armenian History”, when Tiridates III returned to Vagharshapat with the help of the Roman army in 287 AD to reclaim his father’s throne, on his way to the Yeriza settlement he offered a sacrifice to the goddess Anahit. Grigor, right hand of the king, refused attend the sacrifice because he was a Christian. The Armenian king also learns that Grigor was the son of prince Anak of Parthia who killed his father Khosrov. Tiridates orders him to be thrown into the underground prison of Artashat (now known as “Khor Virap”) as death penalty.

A hetanist priest preaching

In addition to Gregory, Hripsime’s virgins also contributed substantially to the spread of Christianity and conversion to state religion in Greater Armenia. According to tradition, they were Roman virgins who were persecuted by Emperor Diocletian and fled eastwards. Among them were St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, St. Shoghakat, St. Nune, and others with various saints up to 40 women. One of them, Nune, founded the Georgian Church. The virgins first worship at the Christ’s sacred places (holy sites of Palestine) and then cross Edessa to Greater Armenia, settling near the capital of Vagharshapat in the tents. Tiridates, after seeing the beauty of young Christian virgin, wants to marry Hripsime, but she refuses. In response, in 300 AD, he ordered that all virgins be executed.

After the martyrdom of the virgins, the Armenian king suffers a severe fever. According to the folk traditions, the disease is considered to have made Tiridates into a swine. The king’s sister, Khosrovidukht, repeatedly dreamed that Tirdates could only be treated by Grigor, who was a prisoner in Artashat. He is released from prison and solemnly admitted to the capital Vagharshapat. Gregory first summons the souls of the martyred virgins, then preaches the religion of Christianity for 66 days and then healed the king. Tiridates III and the whole court is baptized; Christianity proclaimed a state religion.

This tradition, albeit romantic, is considered to be a legend — Adopting Christianity was merely part of Tiridates’ extensive policy of creating an Armenia independent both from Persia and Rome.

Persecution by Christians

After the embracement of Christianity, more than half of the armenian population was still Hetanist. The government soon adopted a harsh anti-Hetanist policy. Thousands of ancient temples were destroyed. Priests were killed and entire villages which refused to be converted were destroyed.

The last pagan leader, Arzan, was recklessly murdered at the entrance of a temple.

The only surviving temple in Armenia is Garni temple. Today, It is considered a “symbol of Armenia’s classical past as well as its deep historical ties to the civilizations of Greece and Rome.” In ancient and medieval times, the areas surrounding the temple were utilized as a royal garrison and military fortress.

In the city of Artashat, southeast of the capital, Yerevan, Mithraic temple ruins, built from black marble, have been unearthed as well.

Hetanism was a prominent religion in Armenia before renaissance era. The last Hetanist community survived until the 1920s


19th century hetanist movement
At the peak of armenian national awakening, armenian intellectuals started seeing Hetanism as a viable and even desirable alternative to the religion of Christianity. The most prominent advocate of the national conversion was Daniel Varuzhan, one of the most most popular poets of Armenia and a martyr of the Armenian genocide. Varuzhan and his fellow intellectualists organized the first Armenian hetanist group/organization – Mehian, which printed articles about armenian nationalism and Hetanism. According to the ideology of Varuzhan and his followers, the Christian ideology of “turning the cheek” has become a disaster for the Armenian nation, which before was a great nation with brave soldiers and wise rulers. According to them, the Armenian nation fell low after the acceptance of Christianity and became a slave to the west and the east.

Garegin Nzhdeh

Garegin Nzhdeh, the ideologue of an Armenian “national religion”.
Garegin Nzhdeh is considered one of the most important figures of the armenian history. He was a philosopher, statesman and fedayi of the first half of the twentieth century, who left an enduring legacy in the history of Armenia, and is still one of the driving forces of Armenian nationalism. People praised him as the “prophet of the Armenians”. Nzhdeh founded a movement named Tseghakron (“religion of the nation”), which was among the core doctrines of the Armenian Youth Federation. In Nzhdeh’s poetic mythology, the Armenian nation is identified as Atlas upholding the ordered world, and praised Hayk, the mythical patriarch of the Armenians, and Vahagn, the fire and warrior god “fighter of the serpent”, and believed Hetanism would awaken the Armenian nation and raise its spirit. Nzhdeh’s movement took place in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

The first organisation of Armenian Native Faith, the “Order of the Children of Ari” (or “Ara”; Arordineri Ukht in Armenian) was established in 1991 by the armenologist Slak (Eduard) Kakosyan (1936–2005). He belonged to a generation of Armenian dissidents and was exiled in the 1970s from Soviet Armenia; in 1979 he fled to the United States where he became familiar with the ideas of Garegin Nzhdeh (1886–1955).

According to modern hetanists, Garegin Nzhdeh is deified as an incarnation of Vahagn, the re-establisher of the true faith of the Armenians and of the armenian values.

1990s: Establishment of the Children of Ari
The hetanists re-emerged after the collapse of the soviet union. They began to hold rituals on traditional Armenian holidays. The Temple of Garni became the centre of the community, a council of priests was set up in order to manage the organisation and the rites. During the 1990s, the group reached visibility in wider Armenian society. According to the scholar Yulia Antonyan, the emergence of the Armenian Native Faith is attributable to the same causes which led to the rise of other modern religious movements, but also Hindu and Protestant movements, in the other post-Soviet countries: The Armenian Native Faith represents the indigenous answer to the social and cultural upheavals which followed the collapse of Soviet society and of its atheist and materialist ideology.

Republican Party support and grassroots spread

An Arordiner priest.
Ashot Navasardyan (1950–1997) and Andranik Margaryan (1949–2007), founding fathers of the Republican Party of Armenia, were hetanists like many other members of the party and took part in the very first ritual at the Temple of Garni. The Armenian government provides financial support for the Children of Ari. Arordiner festivals are celebrated in some regions with the support of local municipalities. Despite this strong link with the nationalist political scene, hetanism itself does not have a political orientation, and the priests are forbidden from joining any political party.

Although it started among the Armenian intellectual elites as a means to reawaken Armenian identity, in most recent times the Armenian Native Faith movement has expanded its contingent of adherents among the provincial and rural populations, and among the Armenian diaspora. Besides the philosophical approach of the intellectuals, the common people are driven to the Armenian Native Faith by various reasons, ranging from mysticism to a sentimental devotion to the gods. Antonyan documented the case of a thirty-five years-old woman who believed to be infertile, and who joined the Armenian Native Faith movement after she allegedly became pregnant by praying to Anahit, goddess of fertility, and to Astghik, goddess of love and beauty. The woman gave her daughter the name “Nana”, another name of the goddess of fertility.

Local Arordiner communities have been organised in villages outside the capital Yerevan. The structure of the Order of the Children of Ari, and of the local communities themselves, is characterised by a clear hierarchy, with the council of priests, led by an elected chief, handling the organisation of all activities. The highest position within the hierarchy is that of the supreme priest, which has remained vacant since Slak Kakosyan’s death in 2005.

Theology and cosmology

Statue of God Ar
Ar and Ara
The theology of Hetanism is a monism: According to the faith, in the beginning was the Ar, who was the creator of the reality . The Ar is the impersonal, without qualities, transcendent principle begetting the universe, the universal ideal and a conscience. According to Hetanists, Ar is the life-giving word root, and it is the origin of words like, for instance, art (“arable”, “cultivation”; culture, art), aryyun (“blood”), argand (“womb”), armat (“root”), arka (“king”), ara (“male”), Arev (the Sun), Ara (manifested Ar), Ari (acting with Ar), Chari (opposing Ar). The “essence of things” and their “perfection” is represented by swastika motifs.

The different deities are beneath the supreme Ar. They are not separate beings, but merely different manifestations of Ar. Though monotheistic in theology, the Armenian Native Faith is mostly polytheistic in practice. The gods of the Arordiners include:

Name Also known as Details
Hayk Aramazd, Khaldi The primary God of ancient armenians, head of the pantheon, manifestation of fatherhood, the earth and the sky. He was called almighty and all-father. His temple was in Kamakh, Ani province, which also was a grave for Armenian kings of the artaxiad dynasty of Armenia. Along with Anahit and Vahagn contituted the holy triad.
Anahit Teisheba Daughter of Aramazd. She was the mother god, and was pictured with a long veil coming down from her hair, she was referenced to as the great mother Anahit, the good-bringer, maifestation of motherhood and the personofication and mother-protector of Armenia. It is due to Anahit that the Armenian nation still exists and will continue to live. Armenian kings, before enacting decisions or going to wars would ask the goddess for approval and tips, to succee in what they plan. She was also the devine manifestation and personofication of motherhood and fertility.
Together with Aramazd and Vahagn she constituted the holy triad.

Vahagn Aray, Demetr The third God of the pantheon was Vahagn, who was described in ancient armenian poems as a bright and red-haired teen with fire-like hair and beard and eyes that shined like the sun. He is the dying and reborning God, who is born from the union of water and fire, soil and the sky.
He is the most popular Armenian God and is a notable figure in the armenian consicene even nowadays.

Astghik Astghik, Astlik Astghik was the lover of Vahagn and was considered his polar opposite. She was the goddess of love and water. According to folk tradition, Vahagn met Astghik in the field of Ararat. Their marriage was a blessing for the earth, and soon holy rain started pouring from the sky fertilizing the lands.
Nane Next to nothing is known about her, although her popularity was big. She was most likely a goddess of war.
Ara the Beautiful Ara He was the manifestation of the spring, God of land fertility and the bringer of prosperity.
Mihr Shivini Mihr was the God of the sun-light. Not to be confused with the sun-god Aramazd.
Tir Tyur Tir was the manifestation of knowledge, enlightenment and writing.
Vanatur Amanor Vanatur was the manifestation of friendlyness
Spandaramet Spandaramet was the manifestation of the underground world. In opposition to almost all other religions in the world, Armenians believed that the soil brings life, not death. The underground was where the root of the life starts, so Spandaramet is the manifestation of life, not death.
Tarqu Tork Angegh Legendary defender of Armenia, who threw rocks at Greek ships trying to invade Armenia. Manifestation of defence and struggle.
Grogh Grogh Bringer of death.
Aramazd, Vahagn and Anahit together constituted the holy trinity of the hetanist religion. Contrary to other religions of the world, Armenains didn’t have a conception of hell or bad Gods. All bad in the world comes from humanity, and the underground is root of life.

Armenians consider holy the water, lions, apricot tree and fire.

Afterlife and eschatology
Hetanists have a cyclical view of reality, and they believe in the reincarnation of individual souls through the genetic lineage. That is to say, men are believed to come back to life in the following generations of their own descendants, in the kin which they begot while living. According to hetanist doctrines, the entire world goes through similar cycles, from the smaller ones represented by the days and the years, to the greatest ones represented by eras of ten thousand years.

The struggle between light and dark unfolds through the cycle of each era: Order and connection with the ancestors prevail during the world’s summer and spring; while disorder, confusion and forsaking of the ancestral roots prevail during the world’s autumn and winter. In the latter period, beings are not in harmony with Ar, they are not nourished by cosmic energy. At the darkest stage of history, though, which according to Arordiners corresponds to the current times, Vahagn is born again and brings the warrior forces back to life.

The Ukhtagirk
Ukhtagirk, the holy book of the Armenian Native Faith, may be translated as “Book of Vows”. It was the life work of Slak Kakosyan, who finished the manuscript just before his death in 2005. Kakosyan, however, is not the “author” of the Ukhtagirk, but rather the “recorder” of oral traditions, its “compiler” (kazmogh). The book was officially proclaimed the holy text of the Order of the Children of Ari in 2000, a couple of years before its completion, when the religious organisation was officially registered by the Armenian state.

The book is divided into seven parts: ① Astvatsashoonch (“Dictionary”), which explains the Armenian language as a mystical system of symbols related to the root Ar; ② Tsagumnaran (“Genesis”), which explains in mythical terms the origin of the world, the gods and mankind; ③ Avetaran (“Book of Testaments”) and ④ Dzonaran (“Book of Odes”), which deal with philosophical and ontological categories to explain reality and values; ⑤ Veharan (“Book of Greatness”) and ⑥ Patgamaran (“Book of Commandments”), which present mythologised descriptions of Garegin Nzhdeh’s life and ideas, respectively; and the seventh and last chapter, ⑦ Hymnergaran (“Book of Hymns”), which is a collection of poems written by Kakosyan and his followers, as well as by authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The mythological parts about creation rely upon Armenian medieval sources and folk knowledge.

Chanting ritual texts from the book is considered to procure mystical experiences, and the physical book itself is crucial for some ritual activities, such as wedding ceremonies, in which the rings are passed to the bride and groom on top of a copy of the Ukhtagirk. At the same time, Arordiners do not consider their book unquestionable, but the text is open to corrections as required by changing circumstances. This attitude is supported by a declaration of Slak Kakosyan himself, who conceived the book in the terms of a changeful and adaptable truth.


People gathered on the occasion of a public ceremony at the Temple of Garni.
Armenian Native Faith practices, rituals and representations mostly rely on the instructions given by the Ukhtagirk. For instance, it is common for the priests to make pilgrimage to Mount Khustup, where, according to the book, Garegin Nzhdeh experienced the presence of the god Vahagn. The priests’ aim is to replicate such experience. The veneration of Nzhdeh and the pilgrimage to his burial site, which is located on the slopes of the Khustup, is also slowly developing within the larger community of Hetanists. In general, mountains are revered as holy, so, besides Khustup, other mountains, including Mount Ararat and Mount Aragats, function as pilgrimage destination for hetanists.

Armenian Native Faith rituals include the yearly ceremonies performed on Armenian traditional holidays, and three rites of passage: The knunk, a complex ritual of initiation; the psak, that is wedding; and death rituals. The death rituals require the cremation of the body, and its return to the four elements. Fire is symbolised by the cremation itself; then the ashes are divided into three parts, of which one is buried in the earth, one is scattered in the air of the Garni Gorge, and the third one is poured in the water of the Garni River. Afterwards, the deceased is memorialised by the collective lighting of a torch. The first Arordiner to be cremated was Kakosyan himself,when cremation is illegal in Armenia. Later, hetanists obtained by the state the right to cremate their dead.

Stage of a knunk ritual.
The Armenian term knunk may be translated as “conversion” or “reversion” (to the native way of life). Yulia Antonyan observed that about ten to twenty people take part to each knunk ritual, which is held on the occasion of the public ceremonies at the Temple of Garni. At the same time, there are many hetanists who believe that in order to worship the native gods of Armenia it is not necessary to undergo an official conversion.

Temples and idols
Arordiner public ceremonies and rituals are held at ancient sacred places, which are often in ruins. The re-appropriation of churches that were built on native sacred sites is also common. The most important of these sites is the first-century Temple of Garni, a temple which was rebuilt in 1975, which has become the main ceremonial center for the Armenian Native Faith movement.

The Arordiners have reconsecrated the temple to Vahagn, although historically it was dedicated to Mihr. They have also been given approval for the rearrangement of the compound, in order for it to match the ideal structure of ancient Armenian sanctuaries. They have added a holy spring dedicated to Slak Kakosyan and a wood of apricot trees, the holy tree of Armenian Native Faith. The temple is now organised into three sacred spaces: The first is the sacred spring, the second one is the temple proper, and the third one is the holy wood, located on a hillock. The rituals at the Temple of Garni take place following a route which starts from the spring, passes through the temple, and endly reaches the holy wood. Downhill, each newly established local Arordiner community plants a tree, symbolising the unity and well-being of the group itself. These holy trees are adorned with ribbons and handkerchiefs symbolising one’s requests to the gods.

Besides the Temple of Garni, other sites considered holy by the Arordiners and used for their rituals include the Metsamor Castle (third millennium BCE), considered a site for the cult of the mother goddess, the Erebuni Fortress (eighth century BCE), Shengavit (fourth to second millennium BCE) and Zorats Karer (third millennium BCE), and the mountains. Sculptures representing the gods which have been realised within the context of modern Armenian Native Faith are inspired by both historical specimens and the creativity of modern artists.

The Arordiners celebrate a number of holidays: Terendez, Zatik, Hambardzum, Vardavar and Khaghoghorhnek. To these holy days they add a holy day for the remembrance of ancestors (20 September), the Birth of Vahagn (21 March), the Birth of Mihr (22 December) and the Navasard, the New Year celebrated in August.

Poetry and legends
Several hetanist legends and poems have survived till our days. One of the best examples of this is Vahagni tsnund, the birth of Vahagn, recorded by Moses of Chorene

Armenian Transliteration English translation
Երկնէր երկին, երկնէր երկիր,
Երկնէր և ծովն ծիրանի.

Երկն ի ծովուն ունէր և զկարմրիկն եղեգնիկ.

Ընդ եղեգան փող ծուխ ելանէր,

Ընդ եղեգան փող բոց ելանէր,

Եւ ի բոցոյն վազէր խարտեաշ պատանեկիկ.

Նա հուր հեր ունէր,

Բոց ունէր մօրուս,

Եւ աչքունքն էին արեգակունք։

Yerkneer Yerkin, yerkneer yerkir
Yerkneer yew tsovn tsirani

Yerkn i-tsovun uner yev ezkarmrikn ellgenik

End yellegan poll tsoux yelaner,

End yellgedan poll bots yerlaner

Yew i-botsoyn vazer xarteash patanekik,

Na hur her uner

Bots uner morus

Yev Achqoonq ein aregaqonq

In travail were heaven and earth,
In travail, too, the purple sea!
The travail held in the sea the small red reed.
Through the hollow of the stalk came forth smoke,
Through the hollow of the stalk came forth flame,
And out of the flame a youth ran!
Fiery hair had he,
Ay, too, he had flaming beard,
And his eyes, they were as suns!
Hayk and Bel
One of the most ancient and famous traditions is the tradition of the battle of Hayk, founder of the armenian nation, and Bel, a Babylonian tyrant.

In Moses of Chorene’s account, Hayk son of Torgom had a child named Armanak while he was living in Babylon. After the arrogant Titanid Bel made himself king over all, Hayk emigrated to the region near Mount Ararat. Hayk relocated near Mount Ararat with an extended household of at least 300 and settled there, founding a village he named Haykashen. On the way he had left a detachment in another settlement with his grandson Kadmos. Bel sent one of his sons to entreat him to return, but was refused. Bel decided to march against him with a massive force, but Hayk was warned ahead of time by Kadmos of his pending approach. He assembled his own army along the shore of Lake Van and told them that they must defeat and kill Bel, or die trying to do so, rather than become his slaves. In his writings Moses states that:

“ Hayk was a handsome, friendly man, with curly hair, sparkling eyes, and strong arms. He was a man of giant stature, a mighty archer and fearless warrior. Hayk and his people, from the time of their forefathers Noah and Japheth, had migrated south toward the warmer lands near Babylon. In that land there ruled a wicked giant, Bel. Bel tried to impose his tyranny upon Hayk’s people. But proud Hayk refused to submit to Bel. As soon as his son Aramaniak was born, Hayk rose up and led his people northward into the land of Ararad. At the foot of the mountain he built a village and gave it his name, calling Haykashen. ”

Hayk and his men soon discovered Bel’s army positioned in a mountain pass (Moses of Chorene located the site as Dastakert), with the king in the vanguard.

At Dyutsaznamart (Armenian: Դյուցազնամարտ, “Battle of Giants”), near Julamerk southeast of Lake Van, on August 11, 2492 BC (according to the Armenian traditional chronology of the first month of the Armenian calendar, Navasard or 2107 BC (according to “The Chronological table” of Mikael Chamchian), Hayk slew Bel with a nearly impossible shot using a long bow, sending the king’s forces into disarray.

The hill where Bel with his warriors fell, Hayk named Gerezmank meaning “tombs”. He embalmed the corpse of Bel and ordered it to be taken to Hark where it was to be buried in a high place in the view of the wives and sons of the king.

Soon after, Hayk established the fortress of Haykaberd at the battle site and the town of Haykashen in the Armenian province of Vaspurakan (modern-day Turkey). He named the region of the battle Hayk, and the site of the battle Hayots Dzor.

Ara the handsome
Another ancient Armenian legend is connected with Ara the beautiful, God of spring and rebirth.

According to the legend, Shamiram had fallen in love with the handsome Ara and asked him to marry her. When Ara refused, Semiramis, in the heat of passion, gathered the armies of Assyria and marched against Armenia. During the battle Semiramis was victorious, but Ara was slain despite her orders to capture him alive. To avoid continuous warfare with the Armenians, Shamiram, reputed to be a sorceress, took his body and prayed to the gods to raise Ara from the dead. When the Armenians advanced to avenge their leader, Shamiram disguised one of her lovers as Ara and spread the rumor that the gods had brought Ara back to life, convincing the Armenians not to continue the war. Nevertheless, Ara is reborn later and gets his revenge on the assyrian queen.

It was also reported that a village called Lezk, near Van, traditionally held that it was Ara’s place of resurrection.

Torq Angegh
Torq was considered one of Hayk’s great-grandsons and reportedly represented as an unattractive male figure. He is mentioned by Armenian 5th Century historian Movses Khorenatsi and considered one of the significant deities of the Armenian pantheon. Taken in the context of Proto-Indo-European religions, it is conceivable that an etymological connection with Norse god Thor/Tyr is more than a simple coincidence. According to tradition, with his immense strength he threw rocks at the invading Greek navy, keeping the shores of Armenia safe.

Relations with Christianity

A ritual dance at the Temple of Garni.
The relations between the Armenian Native Faith movement and the Armenian Apostolic Church have been good and collaborative, since both share the common interest of protecting and promoting Armenian identity, especially against what are perceived as disruptive foreign forces infiltrating the country, such as Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. The Armenian Apostolic Church generally sees Arordiners as allies. A high-ranking spokesman of the Armenian Apostolic Church declared:

The Armenian Church has an unequivocal stance on sectarians (i.e. Protestants et al.), but we do not interfere into hetanos affairs.

Similarly, the head of an Armenian institution catering to the victims of destructive cults declared:

The Armenian nation must remember its pre-Christian past, and Ara’s Children help them remember. They also support the Armenian Apostolic Church in its fight against destructive sects.

Armenian Native Faith believers’ attitude towards Christianity oscillates between two positions: The critique of the religion’s role in Armenian history, and the conditional acceptance of the Armenian Apostolic Church as a national institution. Christianity is criticised for having destroyed the rich and highly developed ancient Armenian culture, replacing the values of courage, martial spirit and honour with those of humility, obedience and modesty, thus causing the collapse of Armenian statehood and condemning the nation to centuries of subordination to foreign powers, migrations, persecutions and massacres. According to the strongest accusations, Christianity is responsible for the “first genocide of the Armenians”, which coincided with its forceful introduction in the fourth century.

At the same time, the Armenian Apostolic Church is considered an institution peculiar to the Armenian nation, and the fruit of a synthesis of Christian and indigenous elements, in which the former represent just the surface. The hetanists find proof of this in the Church’s prayers devoted to the Sun and light, in Church festivals overlapping indigenous Armenian festivals, and in the practice of matagh, Christian animal sacrifice. Moreover, the hetanists believe that the Armenian alphabet, which Church historiography holds to have been invented by the monk Mesrop Mahtots, is actually an elaboration of ancient Armenian symbolism based on the motif of the swastika.

Hetanists generally do not have problems visiting Armenian churches and treating them as holy places, since many of them were built on the site of pre-Christian temples. Furthermore, some figures of the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church are revered as Hetanists in disguise: The catholicoi (high-ranking bishops) Vazgen I (in charge 1954–1994) and Garegin I (1995–1999). The former was a supporter of Nzhdeh and on his tombstone, instead of a cross, he has a letter of the Armenian alphabet which is considered a variant of the swastika and symbolic of seven Armenian gods. The latter is said to have visited Garni before his death and, despite being terminally ill, to have walked alone to the temple.

This article is part of Religion Ledger

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