In 1973 George Bournoutian was doing research for his doctoral dissertation in the Matenadaranmanuscript depository in Armenia, when he was given the opportunity to travel to Azerbaijan to explore the archives in Baku. Those were the Soviet days when nationalist feelings were kept tightly in check, and when no one dreamed that one day the Armenian enclave known as Karabagh would become a highly disputed and bloody political issue.
Bournoutian related the story during a public lecture at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary on Monday night, entitled, "The Current Scholarly Debate over Karabagh."
TO HEAR DR. BOURNOUTIAN'S LECTURE IN FULL Click Here. Perusing the holdings in Baku, Bournoutian came across several old Persian manuscripts containing little-known primary histories and chronologies with numerous indisputable references to the historical Armenian presence in Karabagh.
"I was familiar with these sources," Bournoutian recalled. "They had been published in Azerbaijan in the early 1950's in a series of volumes that quickly went out of print and were forgotten. Only two copies exist in the entire United States."
So cordial was the atmosphere, that the staff of the archives was kind enough to furnish microfilm reproductions of these manuscripts for Bournoutian.
Jump ahead to a few years ago, when Bournoutian came across new, allegedly scholarly editions of these old sources in Columbia University's library. Published in 1989-1990 by the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences with full Russian translation, these volumes had been edited by the prominent Azeri academician Zia Buniatov.
"As I turned the pages of the new editions, I realized something was not right. Nearly every reference to Armenia and the Armenians had been obscured or deleted altogether," Bournoutian said, enumerating example after example for the audience. He cited, for example, a chronicle by the German chronicler Johannes Schildberger, who sojourned to the region in the early 1400's. In the original Azeri editions of the 1950's, this source included nearly twenty pages of detailed information on Armenian villages in greater Karabagh. Yet in the new edition of 1989, those twenty pages have been entirely deleted.
"What's more," Bournoutian added, "is that these new editions have been published in the tens of thousands and sent, free of charge, to the world's great universities and libraries."
What made Bournoutian's lecture even more remarkable was that he relied exclusively on non-Armenian sources in order to document that it was only in the early nineteenth century that, as a result of the Russo-Persian wars, Karabagh becomes a part of Azerbaijan. Before that time, according to the unanimous testimony of Greek, Arab, Ottoman, Persian and Russian sources, the entire region was populated by Armenians and was a part of Armenia. This applies not just to the mountainous (Lernayin) region of Karabagh in Armenian control today, but also to the central valleys and lowland steppes of greater Karabagh.
A Call for Study and Funding
"We must support objective scholarship of Armenia's modern history," Bournoutian said at the end of his lecture. "Sadly, there are very few students who are stepping in to study these crucial chapters in our nation's history. Worse yet, there is precious little funding available to support this kind of work."
Following a lively question and answer session Bournoutian signed copies of his latest book, Two Chronicles on the History of Karabagh (Scholar's Press, 2004).
As a form of outreach to the community St. Nersess offers periodic public lectures by prominent speakers on a variety of topics related to Armenian faith and heritage, and on contemporary issues.
TO HEAR DR. BOURNOUTIAN'S LECTURE IN FULL Click Here.