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The History of Swastika and its Role In Armenian Culture

This article navigates through the journey of the swastika, shedding light on its positive connotations while addressing its controversial modern associations. Explore the profound history of the swastika, a symbol embedded in diverse cultures, with a special focus on its significance in Armenia. Delve into the origins, meanings, and the oldest use of the swastika, also known as "arevakhach" in Armenian, symbolizing eternity.

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used by various cultures and religions for thousands of years. It is a cross-like shape with four arms that are bent at right angles, forming a loop or a spiral. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit language, meaning “conducive to well-being” or “good fortune.”


The swastika has different meanings and interpretations depending on the context and orientation. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the swastika represents the sun, prosperity, good luck, spiritual teachers, or the Buddha’s footsteps. It is often drawn on doors, thresholds, vehicles, scriptures, or temples as a sign of welcome or blessing. It is also used in ceremonies and festivals to mark auspicious occasions.

 

In some Indo-European religions, such as Greek, Roman, Germanic, and Norse mythology, the swastika symbolizes lightning bolts or thunder gods. It is associated with power, strength, victory, or protection. It can also signify the four elements (earth, water, fire, air), the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter), or the four directions (north, south, east, west).

 

The swastika was also found in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Armenia, Mesopotamia, China, and India.

 



The flag of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (1920–1945) features a swastika


However, the swastika’s popularity declined in Europe after World War I when it was adopted by some far-right groups as a symbol of antisemitism and racial supremacy. The most notorious example was Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany, who used the swastika as their emblem from 1920 to 1945. They claimed that the swastika represented their Aryan race and their ideology of Nazism. They also distorted its original meaning by associating it with violence and hatred. As a result of their atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust, many countries banned or restricted the use of the swastika in public places. Today, the swastika is still considered a hateful symbol by most people, especially those who suffered under Nazi oppression.




 Swastika sign on the fortress wall of medieval Armenian capital Ani


However, the swastika is not universally rejected or condemned. In some Asian countries, such as Nepal, India, Thailand, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, China, and Japan, the swastika remains a sacred symbol of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is still used for religious purposes, such as weddings, festivals, and pilgrimages.

 

Swastika in Armenia - The Symbol of Eternity

 

In Armenia, starting from ancient times, the swastika or arevakhach (from the words sun and cross) was a symbol of eternity, an ancient national symbol, and a symbol of the national identity of the Armenian people. The sign symbolizes good wishes, sun, life, fire, lightning, fertility, and childbirth, progress and development.

Right and left rotations are assigned active and passive meanings and can be used to indicate these meanings. For example, a baby crib decorated with the symbol of eternity on the right rotation is intended for boys, and on the left rotation, for girls. One of the oldest known uses of the swastika can be traced in Armenia. A jar with the swastika sign was excavated in Shamkhor (historical Armenian land), dating back to 16th-15th centuries BC.

 


The swastika sign can be traced among petroglyphs in Geghama mountains. Image Credits: Karen Tokhatyan


In the modern-day territory of Armenia, the swastika sign can be traced among petroglyphs in the Geghama mountains, dating back to 8,000 – 5,000 BC. It represents one of the earliest uses of this mysterious symbol.

In Armenia and its historical territories, the sign of eternity is found everywhere: on architectural pillars and elements, on the walls of churches, altars and frescoes, in miniatures, on khachkars, carpets, jewelry, clothes, household items and objects, in symbols of state, public, private and religious structures.




Swastika sign can be also traced in Armenian rug weaving traditions! On this 17th century Armenian rug, in the center, we can see swastika sign.



Today, for the Armenian people, the swastika still has a part especially in art and spiritual symbolic culture, the sign of eternity is an integral part and is universally distributed as a symbol of Armenian identity.


A recent scandal involving the usage of the swastika:

Kanye West, the rapper formerly known as Ye, was suspended from Twitter for violating the platform’s rules against incitement to violence. He posted an image of a swastika blended with a Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, on Thursday night (Dec 1, 2022). The tweet was quickly deleted.




 An image posted by Kanye West to Twitter before his suspension, December 1, 2022.


The swastika’s history shows that it is not just one simple shape but a complex and diverse symbol that has been interpreted in different ways by different cultures and times. It reflects both positive and negative aspects of human civilization.



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