In the light of a wonderful song I recently discovered (see below) let us recall the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. The Kingdom was established by Armenians amid fierce religious wars (c. 1080 by the Rubenid dynasty). Cilicia was known for its strong ties to the European Crusaders, and saw itself as a bastion of Christendom in the East. It also served as a focus for Armenian culture, since Armenia proper was under foreign occupation at the time. Its special relation with the Crusaders was described by Pope Gregory XIII in his Ecclesia Romana:
“Among the good deeds which the Armenian people has done towards the church and the Christian world, it should especially be stressed that, in those times when the Christian princes and the warriors went to retake the Holy Land, no people or nation, with the same enthusiasm, joy and faith came to their aid as the Armenians did, who supplied the Crusaders with horses, provision and guidance. The Armenians assisted these warriors with their utter courage and loyalty during the Holy wars.”
Cilician Armenians had an important impact on Crusaders returning to the West, most notably with the architectural traditions. Europeans incorporated elements of Armenian castle-building, learned from Armenian masons in the Crusader states, as well as some elements of church architecture. Most Armenian castles made atypical usage of rocky heights, and featured curved walls and round towers, similar to those of the Hospitaller castles Krak des Chevaliers and Marqab. Cilician Armenia had a thriving economy, with the port of Ayas serving as a center for East to West trade. Marco Polo on his travels to the east passed through Cilicia and spoke of Ayas, as:
“a city of good and great and of great trade”
in his renowned book, The Description of the World.
The Cilician period also produced some important examples of Armenian art, notably the illuminated manuscripts of Toros Roslin. Many of which survived the genocide when the patriarch Catholicos of Cilicia brought them over to Lebanon (Antelias), upon establishing the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia. Cilica was at its time the only safe place for Christian Armenians as other parts of the Armenian Highlands where conquered by foreign invaders. Cilicia therefore managed to safeguard Armenian traditions, sciences, religion and many forms of medieval art. Thus emphasizing the importance of this period and Kingdom to Armenians and the development of their culture. With the invasions of Mamluks, Mongols and later Turks the kingdom eventually fell to the Muslims and the Armenian population was gradually pushed out with the Armenian Genocide in 1915 as the final stroke.
Although the territory of Cilicia is now under control of the Turks, the Armenians still honor the Kingdom in many forms of art. Below a song dedicated to Armenian Cilicia by the band “The Beautified Project”.