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Early Armenian Explorers

In this brief article, I am presenting information about early Armenian travelers - brave individuals renowned for not only forging valuable trade and diplomatic connections during their journeys but also acquiring esoteric knowledge from Tibetan monks and Hindi fakirs. Concurrently, Abovyan emerged as the pioneer to ascend the summit of the Biblical Mount Ararat, dispelling notions of an Ark resting there. Additionally he conquered Little Ararat, as well as Mount Aragats (the first recorded ascent).

Sargis Abegha

Sargis Abegha (b. 1550 - d. 1635) was an Armenian traveler-writer of the 16th century. Thanks to his "Travel Notes," discovered in 1940 in Diyarbakır, we can learn about his journeys. In the beginning of 1587, he left Yerznka for Constantinople, from where he began his six-year journey (1587-1592) in Europe. He traveled by ship to Smyrna, then to Italy (visiting Venice, Rome, Padua, and other cities). He traveled on foot from Italy to Switzerland (Zurich, Basel, etc.), reached Flanders along the banks of the Rhine (Koblenz, Cologne, etc.), went to England (London and 25 other cities), and then to France (Lyon, Marseille, Paris, etc.). From the port of Nantes, he went to Spain (Burgos, Salamanca, Zamora, etc.), Portugal (Porto, Lisbon, etc.), and then back to Spain (Seville, Cordova, Granada, Toledo, Madrid, Barcelona, etc.). He sailed to Italy from the Spanish port of Valencia, visited Genoa, Florence, Naples, and other cities, as well as the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. He returned by ship from Venice in 1591 to Constantinople. From there, he went to Moldova, visiting cities with large Armenian communities such as Tsassi, Suchava, Botoshan, and Khotyn. He crossed the Dniester to Poland, visiting Kamenets-Podulsk, where he found large Armenian communities. He returned to Moldova, sailed from Akkerman to Trabzon, and returned from there to St. Kyrakos Monastery. Sargis, in his "Traveling Notes," did not limit himself to the description of temples and sanctuaries; he also provided details about the population of the cities he visited, their occupations, the state of charitable and cultural institutions, and the political situation of the given countries. During his travels, he learned Italian, German, Flemish, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Summarizing the first and main period of his journey (1587-1591), Sargis writes that he visited 1,000 fortresses and cities, 4,000 churches, 3,000 monasteries, and 8,000 nunneries.

Zakaria Aguletsi

Zakaria Aguletsi was an Armenian traveler and merchant, born around September 26 (October 6), 1630, in Verin Agulis. Between 1647 and 1681, during his commercial activities, he visited Iran, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Holland. He documented his travels in his travel notes, providing information on the nature, population, land and sea routes, domestic and international trade, economic and political life of the second half of the 17th century, as well as the structure of rural communities in Armenia. He also discussed internal conflicts, community state, manorial lands, forms of tax collection, administrative structure, popular unrest, and the enrichment of the population by the khans. Aguletsi's records also include details about retail and wholesale prices of products, offering insights into the living standards of the population.

Khachatur Abovyan

A mosaic of Khachatur Abovian and Friedrich Parrot (in Khachatur Abovyan House-Museum)


Khachatur Abovyan (1809-1848) was an outstanding Armenian writer, pedagogue, enlightener, and founder of Eastern Armenian secular literature. He was also an explorer.


In 1829, Professor Friedrich Parrott from the University of Dorpat (a city in Estonia) came to Etchmiadzin to climb the peak of Ararat with a group of scientists. Khachatur Abovyan was ordained as a deacon and translator in Etchmiatsin for important occasions involving Russian and European travelers who came to conduct various scientific studies.The expedition had received approval from Emperor Nicholas I, who also provided a military escort.


At the professor's request, Catholicos, familiar with the local circumstances, allowed Abovyan to participate in the scientific expedition. Passing Araks, they reached Akori, located on the northern slope of Ararat, at an altitude of 1200 m above sea level. Following the advice of Harutyun Alamdaryan, the expedition set up a camp near the Saint Hakob Monastery (at an altitude of 2400m above sea level). Their first attempt to climb the peak of Ararat on the northern slope failed due to a lack of warm clothes.


After 6 days, following the advice of Stepan Khojiyants, the village head of Akori, the expedition started the ascent on the northwestern slope. Having reached the height of 4885 m, they had to return because they would not be able to reach the top before sunset. The expedition successfully reached the top of Ararat on the third attempt on September 27, 1829 (October 9) at 15:00. Abovyan made a hole in the ice and placed a wooden cross facing north. He also put a piece of ice in a bottle and brought it down as holy water. Later, climbing to the top of Ararat was declared "blasphemy," and Abovyan was persecuted by the clergy.


On November 8 of the same year, Abovyan and Parrot climbed to the top of Small Ararat, Sis. In 1845, Abovyan climbed to the top of Ararat again, this time with the German naturalist Otto Wilhelm Hermann von Abich. For the third and final time, Abovyan climbed to the top of Ararat in 1846 with the Englishman Henry Danby Seymour.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (c. 1867 – October 29, 1949) was an Armenian philosopher, traveler, mystic, spiritual teacher, composer, and dance teacher.

Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri) in the Russian Empire (now Armenia). He spent his childhood in Kars (medieval Armenian capital), which, from 1878 to 1918, served as the administrative capital of the Russian-ruled Transcaucasus province of Kars Oblast.

Both the city of Kars and its surrounding territory housed a diverse population, including Armenians, Russians, Caucasus Greeks, Georgians, Turks, Kurds, and smaller numbers of Christian communities from Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the Yazidi community. Growing up in this multi-ethnic society, Gurdjieff became fluent in Armenian, Pontic Greek, Russian, and Turkish, the latter spoken in a blend of elegant Osmanlı and some dialect. Later, he acquired "a working facility with several European languages."

In his youth, Gurdjieff avidly read literature from various sources. Influenced by these writings and experiencing phenomena he could not explain, he developed the conviction that a hidden truth known to mankind in the past could not be ascertained from science or mainstream religion.

In early adulthood, Gurdjieff's search for such knowledge led him to travel extensively to Central Asia, Egypt, Iran, India, Tibet, and other places before returning to Russia for a few years in 1912. Notably, he was one of the earliest European travelers who successfully visited Tibet, a region that, as we know, was closed to foreigners.

During his travels, Gurdjieff studied various spiritual traditions, including Sufism, Buddhism, and Eastern Christianity. He collected fragments of ancient knowledge, as well as sacred music and dances from the countries he visited.

He founded the "Institute for Harmonious Development of Man" (1919-1922), dedicated to personal growth, consciousness, and existence in everyday life.



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