Ovanes Aznaurian ARMENIA AND SPACE

Armenia has always been active and advanced in astronomy. There is evidence of millennia-old astronomic observatories in Armenia, petroglyphs, the ancient Armenian calendar, astronomic terminology and names used in the Armenian language since the 2nd to 1st millennium B.C.

It is evidenced by the Warrior Stones or Stone Army (“Zorats Karer” or Karahunj), i.e., the ancient megalithic compound dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. located on a mountain plateau in Sunik province of Armenia, at the altitude of 1770 meters above sea level, 3 km north of the city of Sisian. The compound consists of numerous large standing stones some of which with round holes at the top. These are basalt stones 1.5—2.8 meter tall and weighing up to 8.5 tones. The most intriguing features in the compound are the holes, 4—5 cm in diameter at the top of 80 stones. They are roughly hewn and some of them are tilted. The internal surface of the holes is better preserved than the external surface of the stones.

Presently, there are 37 standing stones with 47 holes. These holes were bored at such angles that allowed observation of celestial bodies at different times of the day and in different seasons of the year. The fact that the Karahunj stones probably served astronomic purposes is confirmed by research of the astrophysicist Elma Parsamian based on the exploration of another observatory (2800-2500 B.C.) in the ancient settlement of Metsamor (5000 B.C.) in Armenia. In Metsamor, there are unique images and a trapeze depicting the emergence of Sirius through the rays of the rising Sun dating back of the 3rd millennium B.C. Elma Parsamian’s research in Metsamor can be found in the introduction to the Russian version of the book on Stonehenge by Steven Hawkins.

The advocates of the astronomic purpose of the vertical stones in Karahunj point out to the long history of star observation in Armenia, as from generation to generation Armenians applied various instruments to compile the star map of the night sky. It is widely believed that the sky had been divided into constellations millennia ago on the Armenian Plateau. According to the British astronomer and historian W.T. Alcott, prehistoric Armenia is the only place where all the zodiac animal symbols can be found. Currently, some researchers associate the place of origination of the Indo-European language with the Armenian Plateau, where they once propagated all over Asia, Balkans, Greece and Europe. Origination of most European languages and zodiac symbols goes back to this propagation.

The Armenian Plateau, also referred to as the Mountain Isle (since it is higher than the neighboring Iranian and Asia Minor plateaus), is the watershed of five large rivers of West Asia, namely, the Tigris, Euphrates, Araxes, Kura and Chorokh. Some researchers tend to identify these rivers with the five Biblical rivers of the Eden.

Innumerable astronomic symbols carved on rocks have been discovered in Armenia at Mt. Ukhtasar and Mt. Ishkhanasar, at Lake Sevan and other places, symbolically depicting the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, planets, comets, stars, constellations and even the Milky Way.

​The development of Armenian astronomy is associated with mathematician, geographer and astronomer Anania of Shirak (circa 610 — 685 A.D.), who believed that the Earth is round and is rotating around the Sun, that the Milky way consists of numerous dying stars. Anania of Shirak correctly calculated the time of lunar and solar eclipses. As a result of these calculations Armenian stargazers afterwards detected the emergence of a supernova in May 1054, one month before the first record to that effect in China. The remnants of this supernova, i.e. the Crab Nebula, have been explored to-date by the Armenian Burakan Observatory. Anania of Shirak compiled chronological tables and astronomy manuals.

The works by Anania of Shirak are a fundamental source of ancient Armenian astronomical terminology, including the naming of constellations and stars. Anania of Shirak also authored a 48-chapter treatise, Cosmography and Calendar, where he covered astronomy, meteorology and physical geography. Anania of Shirak compared the structure of the world with the egg where the Earth is the yolk, the atmosphere is the white of the egg, and the sky is the egg shell. He tried to calculate the distance to the Sun and the Moon, and he rightly believed that the Milky Way was a cluster of stars, the Moon was a dark body just reflecting sunlight. He wrote that the Earth was spherical, and no one burned him at the stake.

Contemporary history saw the emergence of the prominent Soviet Armenian astrophysicist and astronomer Victor Hambartsumian, widely known as a founder of theoretical astrophysics in the world and in the USSR. Starting in 1932, Victor Hambartsumian published numerous works in scientific journals (including “Monthly Notices” of the Royal Astronomical Society of the Royal Astronomical Society) on the physics of gaseous nebulae and stellar envelopes, dynamics and static mechanics of stellar systems, interstellar matter and fluctuation theory, light scattering in turbid media, theoretical analysis and generalization of observational material on stars and stellar systems in our galaxy which resulted in the discovery of a new type of stellar systems of positive energy and named “stellar associations”. V. Hambartsumian proved the youth of stellar associations which helped to solve a number of fundamental problems in stellar cosmogony. It was proved that galactic star formation processes are currently underway and have a group behavior pattern.

In 1946 V. Hambartsumian established Burakan astrophysical observatory, a leading astronomical research institution in the CIS. The main instrument of the observatory is the Hambartsumian Reflecting Telescope, one of the largest in Europe, and the second-largest optical telescope in the CIS.

Another great Armenian scientist Paris Herouni created a unique radio-optical telescope or the Herouni radio-optical telescope, which is also a sophisticated powerful radio telescope.

As we can see, Armenia and Armenians have always been closer to Cosmos than we are used to think.

Ovanes Aznaurian (b. 1974) graduated from Yerevan Pedagogical Institute, majoring in history and law.

Magazine Publications:
«Literaturnaya Armenia» (Armenia), «Emigrant Lyre» (Belgium), «New World» (Canada), «Time and Venue» (USA), «Rainbow» (Ukraine), «Neva», «Druzhba Narodov», «October», «Ural» (Rossia), etc.Ovanes Aznaurian authored short story collections Symphony of Solitude (Yerevan, 2010), Symphony of Anticipation (Yerevan, 2014), and a novel Three Churches (EKSMO, Moscow, 2019).
He was shortlisted for the literary prize “Russian Gulliver” (2015); he is the Isaac Babel Prize winner (2018), a PEN-club member of Armenia and Caucasus Writers Club member.
Ovanes Aznaurian resides in Yerevan.

Translated into English by Aram Ohanian