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The Crusaders through Armenian Eyes
By Robert W. Thomson
The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, edited by Laiou, Angeliki E. and Mottahedeh, Roy Parviz, published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection Washington, D.C. (2001)
Introduction: The impact of the Franks on various aspects of Armenian life and culture in the principality, then kingdom, of Cilician Armenia has long attracted attention. Significant changes in Armenian social institutions and religious attitudes were brought about by direct contacts with Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and these have been studied with varying degrees of thoroughness over many years. One less tangible aspect of Crusader influence, however, has not attracted the same attention as developments in art, religion, language, and other facets of life in Cilicia. That is the way in which Armenians, both those in Cilicia who came into personal contact with the Crusaders and those in Greater Armenia who experienced the Crusades less directly, interpreted the arrival of the Frankish armies. How were the Crusades fitted into an Armenian worldview?
By the time of the Crusades there was a long-standing tradition of historical writing in Armenian, going back to the fifth century. Over a period of more than six hundred years, Armenian writers had had to come to terms with numerous vicissitudes. Even if the arrival of the Crusaders was generally interpreted in positive terms—rather than as yet another calamity, like the arrival of the Turks—nonetheless, it caused a fairly radical upset in the eastern Mediterranean which merited more than a casual reference.
Previous upheavals, like the Muslim advance of the seventh century, or the arrival of the Turks in the eleventh, had been placed by Armenian writers in a broad framework. Historians had looked backwards to seek out links with past events in Armenian history (real or imagined), and forwards with visions of deliverance from present foes and the inauguration of an era of peace and well-being. When in turn the Mongols came upon the scene, the Armenians already possessed a framework of interpretation that could be adjusted and adapted to these new circumstances. How, then, were the Crusades integrated into an Armenian scheme of things?