The Bulgars in Armenia - a key to the earliest Bulgarian history

Early mentionings of “Vanand” in the Armenian sources

Proving that a Bulgar tribal group did migrate to Armenia, there remains to establish the exact date of the event. Horenaci places this event near the legendary part of his story and does not describe it from the position of an eye-witness. That is why the migration could not had happened in the V c. AD. The end of the IV c. AD must also be excluded - it is confidently established that in 387 AD Theodosius the Great and Shapur III partitioned Armenia into Roman and Persian spheres of influence. Arshak III continued to rule in the western Roman part, while in the east the Persians put on the throne Khosrov IV Arshakuni (Vakharshak II). The boundary between them ran through the region of Vanand. It was there where the kings met in a battle, in the field of Erevel/Ereveal [b. III, 46]. One chapter before that, however, M. Horenaci provides an important detail. At the partitioning of Armenia by Khosrov, people from the “clan of the Vanandians” separated themselves from the rest. They joined neither of both sides but retreated to the mountainous and woody gorges of Tajk - a rich in fortresses and castles north-western Armenian province situated in the valley of the Chora river.

These Vanandians were described as villains, against whom Khosrov IV and the general Sakhak mounted a punitive expedition. Many of the Vanandians were slain, the rest neither crossed to the region of Khaltik under the Greeks not joined Arshak but found refuge in the Fourth Armenia, at the border with Syria. The king's army chased them as far as the upper source of Euphrates [b. III, 44]. Later, after the death of the Persian king Jezdigert his son Shapur, who until then ruler over Armenia, returned to the imperial capital. There he was killed by his father's courtiers. In the ensued interregnum Nerses Chichrakeci united the greater part of the Armenian nakharars and drove out the Persian garrisons. The participation of the Vanandians in these events is described by Horenaci thus:Here all Vanandians distinguished themselves by their bravery.[b. III, 56].

Horenaci's “from the clan of the Vanandians” means that the term “Vanandians”  had an ethnonymic and not a topographic context. They were not only inhabitants of the region of Vanand but descendants “from the clan” of Vanand, that is - Bulgars. Horenaci also describes them as a separate part of the Armenian society at that time. For these brave and freedom loving people the peaceful settling and the equal coexistence was the only just and worthy way of contacts with other tribes and peoples. A peaceful settlement was sought in Armenia by Vanand; a peaceful settlement under king Dagobert and later in Pentapolis sought Alcek; a peaceful settlement in the Keramissian field was realized by Kuber; a peaceful settlement was probably sought by Asparukh. But any infringement of their rights was responded by force by the ancient Bulgars.

A small problem in this excerpt arises from the mentioning of the Fourth Armenia. The subdivision of Byzantine Armenia into four parts was established by the 31th novel of the Codex Justuniana on 18.III.536 AD. The studies of St. Malkhasjan showed that the insertion of ‘Third” and “Fourth” Armenia in the original text of Horenaci was made later by a transcriber with the aim to present a clearer localization of the events to the readers. In contrast, “First” and “Second” Armenia had been in use before the V c. AD as units created by another administrative subdivision [7].

But could not the appearance of the Bulgars be another late transcriber's insertion? As such an anachronism is interpreted the mentioning of the Khazars and Bassils (Bersils) in events during the reign of Vakharsh (194-211 AD). M. Artamonov even assumes that the Bersils might have been identified as a local tribe, had not they been mentioned together with the Bulgars and the Khazars. Then they could ‘escape’ the early “anachronical” Armenian historiography [8]. It is known that the Khazars were first ruled by the Sabirs, later - by the Turcuts, and only after that they came out from the inner parts of the Land of Bersilia and attacked Bulgaria of Kubrat.

It is possible, although not very probable, that the Armenian historiography, as an out-post of the European one, was the first to record the appearance of the Khazars, was it as subjects of the Bersils or as their confederates. It is also possible that the link of the Khazars to the “country of Bersilia”, the spring-board of their western advance, had lulled the transcriber to place in one line events from the end of the II and the beginning of the III century (Khazars next to Bersils). It must be stressed that they are mentioned in a parenthetical phrase (“and namely - Khazars and Bassil”; b. II, 65). Even if it was so this interpretation would affect only the Khazars but not the Bersils - an opinion which is recently shared by the researchers in the Armenian historiography. If the Khazars are mentioned only once, the Bulgars and the Bassils (Bersils; later - the tribal group of “Bersula” in Volga Bulgaria) are mentioned many times by M. Horenaci. Regarding the Bulgars, there is a natural evolution in the ethnicon in the narrative. The suggestion of their later insertion cannot be accepted and the hypothesis of V. Gening and A. Khalikov that M. Horenaci had simply substituted one early and already forgotten ethnicon of the tribe which actually had migrated there with that of the tribe (the Bulgars) found living there by Horenaci himself is absurd. A certain length of time must have passed before the settlers “Vlndur Bulgar Vund” would have turned into “Vanandians”.

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7. Horenaci M., Istorija Armenii, E., 1990, s. 226.

8. Istorija khazar, L., 1962, s. 131-132.