The History of Tamerlane and His Successors

by Vardapet T'ovma Metsobets'i


[1] Scholars and literary men must know that time is divided into three parts: past, present, and future. Vardapets (doctors) of the Church should know about these three in order to relate [what occurred] in the past, to discuss the present, and to know about and forsee the future. Similarly we too must write in a somewhat abbreviated fashion about the present, about what transpired in our own period, about the wicked, faithless kings of the East who brought ruin to the Armenian people in these latter days, and [we must] make mention of all the foreign peoples.

A man named Tamerlane (T'amur-lank), holding the faith and precepts of the obscene Mahmet, precursor of the antichrist, appeared in the East, in the city of Samarqand (Smerghand), merciless, cruel, treacherous, filled with all the evil [g9], impurity and strategems of the tempter satan. Some say that he was from Sart'ap' which is in the district of Kogovit hard by Mt. Masis (where Noah's ark is) and close to the district of Artaz. He went to Tabriz (T'awrez) and the khans sent him to the k'eshiks [guards] to check the enemies on the Khurasan road. He arose and went to Khurasan, crossed the Jehan river [Amu Darya] [2] and arrived at the city of Samarqand in the East. Observing that the entire land was lordless, he became the head of brigands and the chief of the murderers. There assembled about him some 515 men who were as wicked as he was. Secretly going to the city's fields, they ravished and made off with its herds. The princes of the city came out to war against them. But they turned about and fought [their pursuers] striking and killing them. Then entering the city they took possession of it, and [Timur] took the wife of its lord, Xanum, as his own wife. Gradually growing stronger, he took the city of Bukhara. Crossing to the other side of the Amu-Darya river he entered the country of Khurasan, and took many of its cities, putting everyone to the sword. Fear and dread fell upon [the people] and they gave the land over to him.

[Timur] tricked some with false bribes, some he swore [to himself] [g10], some he adopted, some he gave in marriage to his daughters, then killed the bridegrooms by means of his daughters. He also took the royal city of Herat (Hre), marrying his daughter to its prince. [The daughter] remained with the man for a few days then killed him with a sword, sending to her father for him to come and take the city. And he went and took it, making it a royal city.

[3] Now a certain prince named Shah-Mansur resisted [Timur] for more than eight years and did not yield up [the cities of] Shiraz, Kirman, and Isfahan (Aspahan). The foul Timur made peace with him, and as a ruse, turned toward the East [as though departing]. Shah-Mansur sent a great many ambassadors and supplications to him. When Timur saw the ambassadors who came, he feigned illness, had a lamb brought, slaughtered, and drank its blood. He then commanded that the ambassador be called into the multitude, and Timur gave the appearance of someone dying. He had a copper vessel brought and vomited out the lamb's blood before the entire multitude. When the ambassador saw this he was inwardly delighted and thought: "Today, soon, he will die." That night [the ambassador] jumped on a horse, reached prince Shah-Mansur, and gave the glad tidings to the entire land. And they held a great arayish, that is to say, a celebration. Then all the people of the land who were harassed [g11], hungry, thirsty and [had been] greatly endangered, dispersed, each going to his dwelling place.

But that evil scheming Timur organized his army and traversed a journey of three or four days in but one day, arriving at the city gates. Going to battle, in a few days they destroyed them and seized their fortresses. Now the brave Shah-Mansur, remaining intrepid, armed his forces of 800 men. Suddenly he opened the gates of the city and went [4] amidst the countless, limitless brigade until they reached the very spot where Timur had assembled the Aryan [Iranian] cavalry. Then [Shah-Mansur] raised his sword over the head of satan's son, but [Timur's] soldiers surrounded him with their shields and [Shah-Mansur and his supporters] were unable to slay the dragon of the abyss. Instead, surrounded by [Timur's] troops, they were cut down, one and all. Thus did [the Timurids] capture the entire land of Khurasan, the city of Balkh (Bahl), Khurasan, Shiraz, Kirman, Isfahan, Nishapur, Kuran, Makuran, Tus, T'anjan, Damghan, Mazandaran, Ray (Re), Qazvin (Ghazuin), and they reached as far as Sultaniyeh to the borders of Tabriz in Atrpatakan [g12]. Edil, the prince of Sultaniyeh, went before [Timur] with treasures and royal supplications and made peace with him.

The khan of Tabriz, Sultan Ahmad, under the leadership of the emir of the Medes (Marats'), Ezdin ['Izz al-Din Shir, Kurdish ruler of the Shambo tribe in Hakkari] fled via Ostan of the Rshtunis, to the city of Babylon (now called Baghdad), to his relatives and troops, for they simultaneously ruled them as well. Now the Edil whom we mentioned, led Timur to the city of Tabriz and gave it over to him. Then secret consultations took place in his army to kill Timur the Lame in the city bath. But someone who learned about the plot went and informed Timur privately about emir Edil's treachery. When Timur found out, he had Edil summoned. He caused a fire [5] to be kindled, had Edil placed alive in a copper kettle, and cooked in the presence of himself and the entire multitude. And thus did they destroy him.

Now this too is known: that before the coming of Timur to our land, in 835 of the Armenian Era [1386], the king of the North, named Tokhtamysh, lord of the Rus and Azax, who resided in Sarai close to the Crimea, sent an ambassador to the khan of Tabriz, Sultan Ahmad, Uwais' (Osis') son, to make friendship and peace. But [Ahmad] through wicked and foul deeds disgraced him. When the ambassador [g13] returned to [Tokhtamysh] he tore his collar before him, and filled with rage [Tokhtamysh] summoned a prince named Jani-beg (Chanibek) and entrusted many troops to him. [Jani-beg] came against [Ahmad] through the gate of the Alans and Darband. Now [Ahmad] eluded him, came to Ostan and thence to Baghdad. The troops from the north besieged Tabriz and after fighting for seven days, they took it. Killing and robbing many, they looted all of [Ahmad's] districts. Thence they went on to the city of Nakhchivan (Naxchuan) and devastated all the twelve districts of the Siwnik' country, killing and enslaving many people. It was winter when this occurred. But suddenly, at the command of God, a severe snow fell upon them on the day of the Revelation of Our Lord. Many people escaped captivity. Then, leaving [6] a large part of the booty behind, [Jani-beg and his men] returned to their land by the same road whence had come the bestial people of the Tatars, called Toghtoghan. And they made peace with the country of Shamaxi since [the inhabitants] peaceably opened the Alan Gates before them.

Now in this time lived the blessed and venerable vardapet of Armenia, Yovhannes, nicknamed kaxik ("suspended," "hanging")—suspended in the love of God. [Yovhannes] was from the district of Orotn, from the village of Vaghand, son [g14] of the great prince Iwane from the line of the first princes of Siwnik' from which [line too] was Vasak (who spoke slander before Yazkert, king of Iran to the effect that their father's brother Vaghinak was slain). [Yovhannes] was extremely wise and learned in the Old and New Testaments, an unraveler of the subtle in the Bible and in profane [works], a student of our vardapets, the great Esay and Tiratur. [Yovhannes] assembled about himself many students from all districts and made the Armenian people gleam radiantly with vardapets and priests, with beautiful order and orthodox doctrine. He especially struggled day and night against the Christ-hating Aght'armayits' [Roman Catholics] of the Ernjak district. In these days he reposed in Christ and there was darkness in the land of Armenia. His students took his body and buried it at Ernjak monastery, close to his student the blessed hermit Maghak'ia. [Maghak'ia] was from [7] [Kafa] the seaside city of Crimea (Ghrim), son of an extremely wealthy family. He left his inheritance and came to the great vardapet Yovhannes. Receiving from him the authority of vardapet, [Maghak'ia] went to the district of Nakhchivan and constructed Armenian monasteries. He also endured much resistance [g15] from those false Christians, the Aght'armayits' [Roman Catholics]. Subsequently he was poisoned by his godmother, an Aght'arma, and left our people in great mourning. For he kept in good repair the schoolhouses of two vardapets, Yovhannes and Sargis: Aprakuneats' and Astapatin. Throughout the entire duration of his life he ate no meat and drank no wine. He wore two hair-cloths, one of which he would remove and walk through fire, while the other one he never took off. He wore around his body to his knees an iron [brace] with four wide bands [which] tormented his limbs [like] criminals [are tormented]. Our spiritual fathers, vardapet Yovhannes and the cleric Mat'eos, saw him at the hour of his death and stood by him. And they informed everyone. Amazed and astonished they glorified God and wanted to erect a cross. But the great vardapet Yovhannes did not permit it. Rather they buried him in their cemetary. People who saw Maghak'ia said that from the feast of the great martyr saint [8] Sargis to the feast of the Transfiguration (Vardavar) he drank no water and that during Lent he ate only barley flour mixed with water, from Sunday to Sunday. It was there [with Maghak'ia] that they buried the great vardapet Yovhannes; the two [had been] yoked together in faith to the honor and glory of the holy Church. [Yovhannes] was born on the thirtieth of Nawasard and died on the very same day, like the great patriarch Sahak. For this is the normal death of pure [g16] Christian folk. May their memory be blessed, and may their prayers be upon the world. By supplications may Lord God have mercy on all of our people. Yovhannes' death occurred three years after the hermit Maghak'ia's.

Yovhannes was succeeded on the [abbot's] throne by that Christ-inspired source, that sun which never sets, the second illuminator, vardapet Grigorios Tat'ewats'i, by the consent and will of the great vardapet Sargis of the holy congregation of Xarabast and by his dear brothers (hamshirak), Yakob of Saghmosavank' in the Araratean district and by Georg Erznkats'i, and by the entire group of students of vardapet Yovhannes of Metsob, Yakob and Mxit'ar Rshtuni. On this, so much for now.

Let us return to our earlier narration about the abominable king of the East. In 836 of the Armenian Era [1387], [Timur] [9] took the land of Khurasan after an eight-year war. After that he went and took the city of Tabriz of Gandzak shahastan. Then he came against the fortress of Ernjak in the Siwnik' country; then against the Chakat country; he took the city of Surbmari destroying to the foundations our fortress which the venerable Bagratid family had strongly secured [g17]; he captured the city and all the surrounding villages. Now a pious tanuter named Martiros, an extremely strong warrior from the village of Koghb, a merciful man, a lover of the poor, went up onto Mt. Bardogh (called T'akalt'u by the foreigners) with extremely manly and brave youths from the village and saved all the believers through a great battle and with the intrepid aiding power of mighty God, Jesus Christ, our Savior. And though [Timur's] men fought many times, they were unable to take that mountain. But subsequently [Martiros] was murdered by an unclean Turkmen named Sahat'—drowned in the Araz waters, far from human sight. In this time the holy cross of Getarget was lost. It had been fashioned of the Wood of Life [the Cross] and given by saint Sylvester as a gift to saint Gregory the Illuminator. Two clerics from the blessed congregation of the holy father Vardik in Kaghzvan had taken it and were secretly keeping it. Ch'aghat'a [Chaghatai, referring to Timur] fell upon them, killing both. Thereafter no one knew where the spot was; even though their bishops [10] searched many times, they could not find it. And there was great mourning for all Armenia.

Next [Timur] came to the Araratean country and Karbi and the Kotayk' country. He besieged the fortress of Bjni [g18], took it and killed the bishop of the land, lord Vanakan, who was a wise and learned man, merciful and kind to all the poor. Furthermore, they tormented the entire multitude of believers with starvation, the sword, enslavement, and with unbearable tortures and bestial behavior they made the most populous district of Armenia uninhabited. Many people were martyred and were worthy of the crown; [they] are known only to the One Who receives them, Christ our God. May He crown them on the day that the flock of the righteous are rewarded. Amen.

[Timur] took booty, plunder, and countless captives. No one can relate the disasters and bitterness of our people. Going with numerous troops to the city of Tiflis (Tp'ghis) P'aytakaran, he took it and captured countless people; and it is believed that those killed outnumbered those left alive. Now it happened that the vardapet Step'annos nicknamed P'ir, was there [in Tiflis] and escaped death by a hairsbreadth. [At that time] the king of Georgia was Bagarat [V, the Great [11] 1360-95] descended from those Jews who were captured in the days of the kings of Babylonia, brought to our people, converted to the faith of Christ by the Illuminator and then numbered among our princes. And they became the kings of Ani and of all Armenia after the Arshakuni clan. [Subsequently] harassed by the impious, they fled to Georgia, apostasized the truth, and became Chalcedonians doctrinally [g19].

[Bagarat] came with numerous presents to submit to the detestable king, but [Timur], filled with satan's evil, made him apostasize and then took him and went to Qarabagh/Karabagh to the winter residence of our first kings. Now the king of Georgia, filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, tricked [Timur], saying: "Give me numerous troops so that I may go to Georgia, take the entire land and turn it to your faith—for the people speak eight languages—I shall subdue them all and bring them to your religion." The peoples [he referred to] are as follows: Dral, Osed, Imerel, Mekrel, Ap'xaz, Sonk', Vrats'i, and Mesx. [Timur] rejoicing, dressed him in a robe of honor, gave him numerous gifts and sent him off with many troops. With countless soldiers [Bagarat] came to Georgia.

Now this Bagarat secretly sent to his sons Gorgi [George VII], Kostantin [Constantine I] and David to come surreptitiously and help their father flee from Timur. [Bagarat] took Chaghatai [Timur]'s troops to the most narrow and tight places, while the king's sons held the expanse of the road. Putting their swords to work they killed many of them, more than 12,000 they say. Taking their father, they went to their dwelling [g20].

Now in springtime the abominable tyrant Timur took his troops and secretly came against the Turkmen Ghara Mahmat [Qara Muhammad Turmush, of the Qara-Qoyunlu Turkmens]. The latter, informed, fled from him. But [Timur] through a fast-paced campaign, like a mountain-goat, reduced a journey taking many days to a short one, and came against [Qara Muhammad] in the district of Chapaghjur. The latter turned back, joined battle, and worked an amazing feat, for he drove out the filthy tyrant and killed the chief of his forces, Loghmaghan, and many other soldiers with him.

He turned back and came to [that part of] the country of Taron called Mush. Now the country of the K'ajberunis, Archesh, and Aghiovit, the most ancient seat (tunn) of the Xorxorunis and the city of Manazkert in Hark' had been avoided [or bypassed] by Chaghatai [Timur]. [The Turkmens] arrived in the country of Paluni in the district [13] of Taron, [where] the tomb of Yovhannes and At'anagines [are], at saint Karapet, at the glorious capital city, the monastery of the Syrian vardapet, Zenob Glak. Making an attack, a group of pilgrims were captured, pilgrims who had come to revere the holy places of Karapet, Yovhannes, patriarch At'anagines, the blessed hermits Anton, Kronides and the seven vegetarians. A certain vardapet Step'annos [g21], a bishop named Nerses from the blessed congregation of Metsob in the Archesh district, the hermit vardapet Yakob and bishop Abgar of the holy congregation rousingly urged all for the love of God and the honor of saint Karapet to confess their sins and to commune in the redeeming body and blood of the Lord, to hold a great celebration, and to comfort the multitude of clerics at the holy congregation with mercy and sacrificial gifts.

Now lord Abgar the bishop and vardapet Yakob received our pilgrims with greater love and prayed many days with the intercession of saint Yovhannes and all the saints, to aid them and free them from enslavement to the wicked tyrant. Now the Turkmen army robbed all of our Christians at the order of the tyrant Yusup' [Qara Yusuf, son of Qara Muhammad Turmush]. What remained of the goods and the whole multitude they gave in security to the emir of Xut' named shex Sharaf [shaykh Malik Sharaf]. [14] He forcibly took them to the Euphrates River, close to the village of Hasdegh. The Christians, rebelling, did not want to ascend the mountain of Xut' and Sasun; rather, avoiding it, they wanted to go to their own land. Now [shaykh Sharaf] violently and with blows—by the care of God's mercy—forced us up the mountain of Xut' [g22]. And on the same day the forces of Chaghatai [Timur] fell upon us. But merciful God, Who works the will of those who fear Him and hears their prayers, through the intercession of saint Karapet and all the saints aided us. For the Turkmen named P'ir Hasan who separated from Qara Muhammad (and later killed him and his son, Bayram) came down the mountain, and we ascended.

At the same time bitter and fatal news reached us that the Turkmen army had taken the village of Hizank'uran (Hizan). There one could see disasters of anguish, for father disclaimed son, son, father; mother, daughter; daughter, mother; brother, brother; and lover disclaimed lover. And the clamor of their cries reached to heaven. I, too, was present. In tears they began to beseech God through the intercession of saint John the Baptist, the blessed Apostles of the congregation of angel-inhabited Ghazar, and the blessed cross of Jacob, Christ's [15] brother which was in the monastery. Their request reached God. For the Turkmen P'ir Hasan wanted to depart and go to Marat'u mountain. All of a sudden he encountered the troops [g23] of Chaghatai. And the people took refuge in God and brought to the blessed altar of sacrifice an ox which they sacrificed in the name of the blessed Apostles in the relics of the blessed evangelist Luke and the Apostle Andrew; and there are [to be found there] two right hands of the Apostles Peter and Paul which the patriarch Sylvester and King Constantine gave to [Gregory] the Illuminator. It is enclosed there. Tradition has come down to us that it was placed in Ghazar monastery.

Here one could see the bravery of men in single combat; for the brave-hearted roared, the faint-hearted fled, and the weak grew weaker. Helmets shone, swords flashed, spears broke, brave battled against brave and the noise of the clamor frightened observers of this war. Here one could see the mercy of God, the fruit of prayers and the hope of the believers. For God sent a force of angels to aid them: three glitteringly white men mounted on a white horse came from above, descended and joined with the Turkmen army, as relates our spiritual brother, the cleric Karapet (who saw the event). Then the strength of Chaghatai shattered and broke, for one of the Turkmens named Maraf [g24] killed one hundred men. The eastern army turned in [16] flight, horrified by the multitude of their own dead and by the confusion of alarm at the great war. Fear-ridden, they fell off a precipice to their destruction, more than 2,000 people it is said. Meanwhile we, with our sons and daughters, free from them, began with joy and mirth in a great noise to bless God the King of kings, Jesus Christ, Who Has compassion, on the Christians, Who freed [us] from the beasts of the East. And we offered a mass of thanksgiving and blessing to God in heaven.

An amazing event took place in this time, for [there lived] a pious and faithful woman from the district of Mush who had an extremely respectable, desirable son, with a face like an angel, being about seven or eight years of age. Now when the eastern army ascended the mountain of Xut' many of the Christians fled hither and thither and were secretly staying in thickets of the forest. When the infidels saw them, they wanted to attack and capture them. Now the saint-loving, pious mother turned around and saw that those who were coming after her were gaining on her and were close to seizing the lad. Taking a sword in her hand [g25] she sacrificed her desirable son like an innocent lamb out of love for the lamb Jesus Christ, as the heavenly Father Who offered up His spotless lamb, the son of [17] God, who was slaughtered and pierced on the Cross erected above holy Golgotha. Then the child's mother, going on a short while, ascended a high rock and threw herself off, dying, thankfully praising the name of Jesus Christ. She did this to prevent both of them from being deprived of Christ, and turning into satan's portion. Rather they would be God's portion and a pleasing sacrifice, more so than the father of faith, the great Abraham and more than the mother Shamun who offered [sons] as sacrifice to God, inspiring them to die willingly for God, our Messiah. These [sons] were Andranik, Akar, Makar, Xoren, Xorsen, Aminadab and Gaghie. And God permitted His beloved son to be killed and Himself worshipped not just that the God of Abraham or the house of ancient Israel be glorified. Let not the old Israel boast more than the new Israel of the faith of the sons of the great Abraham [g26] and of Gregory the Illuminator, who was of the corporal grandsons of the father of faith.

Let no one doubt or suspect this [story] for we vardapets and students went to saint Karapet [monastery] and again came to Mush and brought someone who saw and heard it, the hermit father, the cleric Dawit', spiritual brother of the blessed hermit Bartholomew of the [congregation of] Holy Apostles, from Ghazar monastery. From them we ascertained the truth and have left you a testimony of the blessing of God.

[18] But men from the district of Sasun and Xut', believers and unbelievers from the Mar people [Marats', sometimes translated "Medes," refers to the Kurds] encouraging one another, all turned to plundering Chaghatai's booty, and they filled up with their loot and treasures.

Now on the second day Timur came to the city of Mush and called its emir to him. The emir went with the greatest presents and gifts. And [Timur] said: "Come, take us to the Turkmen." [The emir] took them to the scene of that very battle and showed him the multitude of slain. Awestruck, [Timur] gazed at the sight, wondering at what had happened and at how many had been pierced by the sword. Then he saw those men ho had died, but not by the sword [i.e., those who fell off the cliff]. [Timur] said in the hearing of everyone: "This is not the deed of man, but of God the Creator" [g27]. He turned back to his troops and said: "Lead me against him so that I may take my revenge." [The emir] said: "It is not humanly possible to get at him for he has gone up Marat' mountain; and if you do go, he will wreak great, unbelievable damage on you." Accepting this, the infidel turned to the city of Baghesh [Bitlis]. Emir Sharaf went to him and received him affectionately and [Timur] gave him a letter of peace; and there was peace in all the land.

[19] Thence [Timur] came to Artske. When he reached the gates of the city, they seized a monk named Karapet, from the village of Jugha, who was coming from Jerusalem. They bound him and took him in fetters. The captured Christians remained firm in the faith in the city of Samarqand. Subsequently there was a bishop [dispatched], but he did not reach that land; instead, he died in Sultaniyeh. But Christianity was lost there when Timur's son Sha-Ruf [Shahrukh Mirza (1407-47)] ruled as king in the city of Herat, he set up his son Ulux-Beg as king in Samarqand. Then an impure Syrian Nestorian [qhasha] came and entered the home of one prince, staying some days with him for [religious] service, but slept with his wife. Leaving the attendance, he went to a distant place whence he wrote to them, saying: "Your precepts and your leader are false. I came among you, recognized the falseness of your precepts, and disgraced your women" [g28].

The prince took the letter to that emir Ullux-Beg. The latter inquired: "Of what people and creed is that man?" They replied: "The man is a Christian (Yisei er)." [Ullux-Beg], filled with anger, ordered all Christians to apostasize or be killed. Some few chose death, while many lost the faith. Our bishop Yovhannes (nicknamed Ch'anki because of his captivity), went and wrote these bitter tiding and brought them to us. Vay!

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