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Tatev 5: Tatev and the Tsuraberd Uprising

Tatev and the Tsuraberd Uprising

In the early 10th century many regions of Armenia experienced peasant uprisings, which first began as open protests that then adopted religious aspects.

Contemporary historian and eyewitness Hovhanes Draskhanakertsi described how the peasants of Aiyrarat (central and eastern territories of historic Armenia) fought against their feudal lords and landowners: destroying their castles and property.

Peasant revolts also appeared in Siunik. After the construction of St. Poghos-Petros was completed, the church was consecrated in 906 and on this occasion the ownership of adjacent villages was given by edict to the monks of the monastery as a gift. Rejecting the edict, the peasants of Tsuraberd, Tamalek, Aveladasht and other villages carried out a prolonged struggle against the monastery. Twice the protests transformed into open uprisings.

With the troops of Smbat, prince of Siunik, the monastery managed to pacify Aveladasht and Tamalek villages. The struggle to suppress the rebellion of Tsuraberd (present day Svarants) was harder, and bloodier. Here, in 915, the peasants attacked the monastery and plundered it, spilling the holy oil and killing some of the monks. Smbat eventually suppressed the uprising, but soon after Tsuraberd revolted again, requiring additional suppression.

Uprisings continued with interruptions throughout the 10th century until, in 1003, peasants of Tsuraberd attacked the monastery and killed the bishop, prompting Vasak I, king of Siunik to raze the village to the ground, suppressing its inhabitants.

Historians link the uprisings to the Tondrakian Heresy, which appears in Armenian history at roughly the same time as the peasant uprisings (9th-11th centuries) and which was also suppressed around the same time.

The Tondrakians were a radical sect that was as much a social heresy as apostasy. Grounded and guided by heretical ideas, they were a serious threat to the Armenian Church and were viewed as a religious sect. They denied the divine being of Jesus Christ, the mission of the Church along with all of its traditional rites, sometimes even the existence of life after death. They advocated class and social equality which they tried to establish by force, and they themselves carried out assaults. Tondrakians mostly shared their belief in social equality with the Paulicians (another heretical sect which flourished in Armenia in the 7th-9th centuries) and they structured their cells along the same lines.

Waning in the late 10th century, they were eliminated as a threat by the Byzantine appointed governor of the region, the Vardapet Grigor Pahlavuni (Magistros), though social unrest among the peasants—like that at Tatev—smoldered until they were completely suppressed in the mid 11th century (1050-1053).

Original text edited and approved by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin.