Several prominent Armenian academics (e.g., Armen Petrosyan) and, recently, even some western academics (like Rasmus Thorso) have suggested that the Armenians have their origins in a little-known Iron Age tribe called the “Etiuni” (or more accurately, the “Etiuhi”). This tribe supposedly spoke Armenian and lived in the upper eastern regions of the Armenian Highlands near Lake Sevan, and they supposedly contributed to (or, according to Petrosyan, even caused) the “destruction” of the Urartian kingdom.
There is, however, little evidence for such claims. The Etiuni themselves have not left any written records either, so most of what we know about them comes from Urartian texts.
The Urartians would regularly wage wars and raids against the land of the Etiuni, where the kings of Urartu would conquer and subjugate their chieftains (in one case even castrating one of the Etiuni kings), depopulating and repopulating the area and, at times, filling the harems of Tushpa (Van) with women from Etiuni cities.
In another notable case, an Etiuni plot to steal the Urartian god/divinity named “astiuzi” (cognate to the Armenian “Astuaz,” meaning “god”) from the temple of Haldi in Ardini was thwarted by a preemptive attack on the Etiuni tribes.
It is safe to say that Urartu and Etiuni weren’t on the best of terms. For one reason or another, this tribe in particular has captured the imagination of some Armenian academics, who have pointed to the Etiuni as the ancestors of Armenians. However, as you might suspect by now, I am highly skeptical of this theory.
Why are we even talking about Etiuni?
Let us first discuss why some scholars are even talking about the Etiuni. In my opinion, at the core lies the false rejection of the Urartu-Armenian connection. Mainstream academia (especially linguists) is somewhat uneasy with the idea that Urartu was simply Armenia. They do admit by now that Armenians are natives to the Armenian Highlands and some even started to admit that Urartian DNA matches perfectly well with modern Armenians, but how this kingdom relates to Armenians and where the Armenian language, in particular, came from still remains “enigmatic” to them. The Armenian language has been classified as belonging to the hypothetical Indo-European macro family, but it is awkwardly separate from all other known Indo-European languages. Thus, it has been placed in a separate branch of Indo-European with no known direct ancestor or descendent. The Urartian, on the other hand, has been placed in a different language family, usually called the “Hurro-Urartian.” Thus, the tired old question: “How could the Urartians have been Armenians if they spoke a different language?” Unable to properly answer this question, some Armenian academics have rejected the idea that the Urartians were simply Armenians and have started to devise all types of fantastical theories, such as the one with the Etiuni.
From Urartian records, we know that the Etiuni primarily lived in Eastern Armenia. Argishti son of Menua, for example, established Yerevan (Erebuni), after a conquest into Etiuni territory. Some even suggest that the Etiuni lived around Mount Ararat as well, which they supposedly called Erkuahi, which Petrosyan has interpreted as deriving from the Armenian word “Erku,” meaning “two,” a reference to the mountain’s twin peaks.
However, the etymology is doubtful, as there is no evidence that Mount Ararat was ever called “Erkuahi.” In fact, the “-hi” suffix in Erkua-hi suggests that this word denotes a tribe or a house, as “-hi” is the Urartian suffix for people, corresponding to the Armenian suffix “-tsi” (e.g., Amerika-tsi, Hamshen-tsi, etc.). Secondly, in most cases, the name was actually rendered as “Erikuahi,” rather than “Erkuahi.”
Therefore, the tribe’s name could best be etymologized as the “People of Erikua.” “Erikua” or “Erkua” was probably the name of a tribal chieftain, rather than a toponym. There was, in fact, a mention of such a chief/king of the Etiuhi by the name of Erkuaini.
Although such theories are far less credible than the Urartian-Armenian continuation theory, I’ve noticed that such claims nevertheless encounter far less resistance from mainstream academia. After all, these theories are based on obscure tribes whose written and spoken traditions have not been attested in archaeology.
Another reason this theory is being adopted by academics is because it provides a “neat” explanation for the “emergence” of the (Indo-European) Armenian language in the region. Only, the explanation is not neat at all, as you’ll read soon. Now, I will not be debunking every etymological mistake, but it should be sufficient to say that there are a lot of “assumptions” surrounding the topic of the Etiuni.
However, I am not concerned with narratives that neatly fit certain mainstream assumptions. I am concerned with genuinely discovering the truth about my ancestors and, hopefully, correctly telling their story to my readers. Thus, I have a problem with the Etiuni theory.
Besides the fact that there is overwhelming evidence for the Urartu-Armenia connection, including a contemporary trilingual translation of the word “Urartu” into “Armenia,” as I have outlined in my five-part articles on “Who were the Urartians?“, there is now undeniable genetic evidence that highly suggests an Urartian origin for Armenians and not an Etiuni origin.
The DNA of modern Armenians is most closely related to Urartians (from the Van region) and hardly with the so-called Etiuni, who occupied parts of Eastern Armenia near Lake Sevan during the Iron Age. If we plot the coordinates of modern Armenians and ancient samples from the region, we can clearly see that the Iron Age inhabitants of Eastern Armenia cluster much closer to Northern Caucasians and Georgians than they do with modern Armenians. In contrast, modern Armenians cluster most closely with the Iron Age Urartian samples from Van.
Click [HERE] to view the full PCA without markers.
So, if we go by the Vannic Urartian accounts of a war with their contemporaries who lived near Lake Sevan, a land they called Etiuni, and we compare the genetic profile of both Urartians and the Etiuhi, then we can see a clear genetic distinction between the two. Urartians clearly resemble modern Armenians, while the Etiuni seem to cluster more with the North Caucasians, most of whom aren’t even Indo-European speakers, mind you. It is therefore highly unlikely that Armenians originated from the Etiuni or even just inherited their language, as some have started to suggest. Genetic evidence clearly shows signs of Urartianization of the region during and after the Iron Age, and not Etiunization, which would be expected if the Etiuni indeed defeated Urartu and established their “Armenic” kingdom.
Then who were the Etiuni?
If the Etiuni were not the predecessors of the Armenians, then who were they, and how did they come to occupy north-eastern parts of the Armenian Highlands? You might be asking yourself this by now. Well, the Etiuni are indeed an interesting bunch. As we can see from the above PCA plot, they are genetically somewhat similar to Middle to Late Bronze Age individuals from the same area. This means that they could be related to the Lchashen-Metsamor culture, which is an interesting culture in and of itself. Many scholars claim that these cultures were Indo-European, but their genetic descendants in the Caucasus don’t speak Indo-European languages. I am sure much remains to be discovered regarding the population dynamics of the Southern Caucasus.
Interestingly enough, from both archaeological and genetic data, we can clearly tell that the Lchashen-Metsamor people themselves probably arrived in the South Caucasus during the Bronze Age. As the older Chalcolithic and Neolithic samples from the Southern Caucasus (Armenia and Azerbaijan) clearly show a different genetic profile. In fact, these much older samples are more Armenian/Urartian-like than they are Etiuni-like.
Here, we can see from the PCA plot that Chalcolithic and Neolithic samples (encircled in red) cluster well within the range of the modern Armenian genetic profile and not so much with those of the more Caucasian-like Etiuni.
Here is another rendering of the genetic distance of modern populations to Neolithic samples from the Republic of Armenia (historic Eastern Armenia). Here, too, we can clearly see that modern Armenians and people who are genetically close to Armenians are the closest matches to those Neolithic samples that predate the Etiuni and their cultural and genetic ancestors.
So what did happen?
As we have seen above, the much older Neolithic and Chalcolithic samples from the Southern Caucasus (such as those released from the lowlands of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia) show us clear evidence that people who occupied those parts of the Armenian Highlands further back in antiquity were very similar to Armenians. However, somewhere in the later parts of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, Eastern Armenia seemed to have experienced a sizable invasion from (northern) Caucasian-like people (perhaps even multiple) who, in the Urartian records, have been called the Etiuni and perhaps also the Diauhi. During the Iron Age wars that the kingdom of Urartu fought, however, these people were largely displaced probably pushed back north towards the Caucasus mountains, and Eastern Armenia was re-Armenized, as we can clearly see from genetic data and read in Urartian records. This event, or perhaps a similar earlier one, mirrors Khorenatsi’s history, where he tells us that, during Noah’s time (in the Neolithic), Armenians lived around Mount Ararat, but later, their descendants moved south towards warmer lands until Hayk/Haldi returned to Van and re-Armenized the region. Khorenatsi also tells us that, by the time of Hayk’s return, those lands were occupied by other tribes, some of whom Hayk incorporated into the Armenian nation.
Lastly, I would like to add that, of course some form of mutual mixing has occurred over time, and it’s not impossible that modern Armenians trace their origin from both Urartu and Etiuni. Urartu perhaps more so genetically, and Etiuni culturally. However, this seems to me a far more confusing explanation. It would mean that:
- The Etiuni spoke a form of Armenian, while their genetic descendants like the Georgians and Abkhaz don’t.
- Armenians are genetically mostly Urartians, but they replaced their language with that of their enemies for whatever reason.
- Although we see a genetic “Urartianization” of the region during and after the Iron Age, at the same time there was a wave of Etiunization of the culture.
All these inconsistencies just don’t add up and require far greater mental gymnastics than I’m comfortable with. And that is my problem with the Etiuni.