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The Emergence of the Armenian State in Cilicia
Memory

The Emergence of the Armenian State in Cilicia

For centuries the Armenian kingdom existed on the territory of the Armenian highland, at first united, then divided into several states (e.g. Arshakunyats, Bagratunyats). In X—XI centuries, a very important and tragic page begins in the history of the Christians of the East that will radically change both the fate of the Armenian people and the presence of Armenians on the territory of the East.    

During the 960s the Byzantine emperors, Nikephorus II Fok in particular, started an incredibly successful war in the East that would return to Byzantium the lands of Cilicia, Northern Syria and Antioch, lost three centuries ago. In the course of the onset of cruel campaigns these regions were repeatedly intensively Christianized: the Arab-Muslim population of these lands were either forced to leave it or were enslaved or were converted to Christianity. The empty lands were again settled by Christians: immigrants from Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor and Balkans. Of course they offered the Armenians too to come and live in these areas: sometimes inviting them, sometimes forcibly resettling them from the border lands. The process gathered pace at the end of the X century when the Byzantine emperor fighting in the East, annexed one of the two huge Armenian kingdoms, the kingdom of Artsruni, Vaspurakan to his empire. To weaken the presence of the Armenians in the mentioned kingdom he began to resettle them to Cilicia and Northern Syria.  

In the 1040s the tragic events occurred for the East: the emperor Konstantin IX Monomakh annexed the last greatest of the Armenian kingdom in Transcaucasia; the kingdom of Bagratuni, Ani.

During this period Armenians and Romains (Byzantines) were propelled into fierce confrontation and this is when the majority of the aristocracy was of Armenian origin in the Byzantine Empire and the Empire itself relied mainly on the Armenian troops (18—20 percent of the troops were Armenians).

Being raved about his triumph Konstantin Monomakh began to scrimp on the upkeep of the army by disbanding most of it. And at that very moment the Turk Seljuks attacked the lifeless East of Byzantium. Owing to the fact that Byzantium had taken the Armenian kingdom, the Turk Seljuks easily gained access to Asia Minor, where they would settle down forever and it would have serious implications for the Christian people of East.  

It should be noted that the Turks did not conquer mountains but rich lowland Byzantine cities. And the Armenian princes remained in the mountains who founded a number of small princedoms. The Turks fearing the princes, did not go to the mountains.

The most important of the princes was Ruben, who came from the entourage of the last Armenian king Gagik II.  He had harboured enmity against Byzantine for the destruction of the Armenian kingdom.   

Gagik lived until 1078 and died demonstrating impertinence and defending the honor at the cost of his life; he was a Byzantine exarch in the eastern Asia Minor and bore heavily the insults that the Romeans hurled towards the Armenians, humiliating the king.  Once he heard that the Orthodox archbishop had a dog which he gave the nickname «Armenian».  It made the cup run over.  Gagik decided to teach the archbishop a lesson: he ordered to steal him and the dog and tie them up in the bag.  For this Gagik was killed at the order of the Byzantine emperor.

After the death of Gagik Ruben and his adherers fled to the mountain Taurus. Eventually his grandchildren will find and kill the people that were guilty of the death of the last Armenian king. As it happens Rubenyans act as fighters for the historical truth and the violated rights of the Armenian people.

Rubenyans settled in the Taurus mountains, in the fortress of Vakhka, and base a small Armenian princedom, that were the vassals of the princes of Antioch. The title of the rulers of the princedom was the «rulers of the mountains» on the one hand and «parons (Mister)» on the other. 

In XII century the abundant territory of the Cilician plain became the centre of confrontation between the three states: on the one hand these lands were regularly controlled by the Antioch princedom of Franks and Normans, on the other the Byzantine Empire tried to recapture the cities (Tars, Mamistra, Adana, Anazavr) and also there was the Rubenyan dynasty who had united more and more Armenians of Eastern Taurus under his power, claimed the cities, too. The population in these cities was mixed: one part was Roman-Byzantine (Greek speaking), one part was Armenian and another part was Syrian.

Levon I Rubenyan, the «ruler of the mountains» united under his power the lands of the Western Cilicia plain and founded a mighty state there. In 1137 the Byzantine emperor conquered these lands, beat back the Cilician cities from the Armenians and the Antiochs and reached to the walls of Antioch. Levon I Rubenyan heroically defended but eventually put himself at the mercy of the Byzantine emperor and he and his sons were sent to Constantinople. There he died in captivity: It seemed that it was the end of the Rubenyan dynasty, and lynch occurred faster than in the case of Ani kingdom. One of the sons of Levon I, Ruben was killed while trying to escape from Constantinople but the two other brothers managed to run away from the captivity and crossing Asia Minor they returned to the Taurus Mountains again. They were Toros and Stephan.

From 1140-s three brothers Toros II, Stephan and Mlekh in alliance with the Franks started to fight as partisans in the Taurus Mountains, they returned their father’s fortress Vakhka and began once more to gather around it the Armenians calling them to fight against the Byzantine Empire.

Hence by 1150s Toros II became the “ruler of the mountains” and first occupied the eastern part of the Cilician plain and then thoroughly eradicates the Romeans from Cilicia returning the power to Rubenyan dynasty. And now the Armenians once again dominate in the Cilician plain.

Soon the Armenians in alliance with the Antioch Franks will arrange a massacre in the Byzantine Cyprus. Toros did not forgive the death of his father in captivity in Constantinople, he did not forgive the murder of his brother and the Orthodox priests that they captured in Cyprus, and he ordered to send them to Constantinople cutting off their noses.

In 1158 Byzantine emperor Manuil Komnin decided to take revenge on Armenians and Franks for the massacre on the island of Cyprus. The Byzantine army instantly occupied the Cilician plain. Here Toros flew the white feather: if his father fought against the Byzantine emperor, Toros just fled to the mountains and hid his wife and treasure.

But owing to the prince of Antioch and king of Jerusalem in particular, emperor Emmanuel forgave “the ruler of the mountains”, recognized him as a Byzantine vassal and the Rubenyan state continued to exist in the mountains as a vassal to the Byzantine empire. It was a wise step by the Byzantine emperor, who retained the Christian presence in Cilicia as a counterweight to Islam.

Toros II Rubenyan died on February 9, 1169. The Armenian ruler was able to stave off the Byzantine attacks on Cilicia, this way mapping a path to the final establishment of Armenian power in the region.  

After the death of Toros II, there was a period of crisis in the dynasty affairs, after which Mlekh takes the power. He entered into an alliance with the Muslims and with the anti-Byzantine and anti-Frank alliance he further expanded the boundaries of the Armenian state. A year later, in 1175 Mlekh was killed due to the conspiracy of Armenian princes. 

After the murder of Mlekh the power was passed to the children of his brother Stephan. Stephan was a daredevil: he made devastating raids on the Byzantine settlements located on the plain. The Armenian chronicles condemned him for his cruelty and fervor and noted that even his elder brother ticked him off for it. 

As a result was killed in a horrendous way: the Byzantine exarch (future emperor Andronik Comnin) invited him to Tars, there he was taken and boiled alive in the pot and his disfigured body was thrown away out of the walls of Tars.  

In 1185 the youngest son of Stefan, Levon II became the “ruler of the mountains”, a person who regardless the pain for the brutal murder of his father would become a wise and level-headed ruler and first king of Cilician Armenia, through the reign of which the state would reach its peak of prosperity.  

Note: despite the fact that the Armenian state emerged in Cilicia in the XI century, the presence of Armenians in these territories has a long and ancient history: In 84 B.C. the lands of Cilicia belonged to Armenia when the king of Armenia was Tigran the Great.

Read next: Leo I the Magnificent, the First King of Armenian Cilicia

Source: Sergey Brun’s series of lectures «Keepers of the Christian East».

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