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February 23, 2006

Mapping Armenia: Historic Maps of Armenia: The Cartographic Heritage - Rouben Galichian

Posted by Jeremy Black

Historic Maps of Armenia: The Cartographic Heritage
by Rouben Galichian
Pp. 232. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004
Hardback, £49.50

Excellent value for such a sumptuous work, this well-produced book is an important contribution both to the history of Armenia and to cartographic studies. The introduction offers a brief history of maps of Armenia as well as a discussion of the problem of the variable usage of the term Armenia.

Galichian argues that the use of the term Eastern Anatolia to describe the Armenian Highlands or the Armenian Plateau is incorrect. He traces this usage to the nineteenth-century Ottoman government and their wish to assert the Turkish heritage of these lands, and draws attention to different usage in Ottoman manuscripts of the period up to the eighteenth century, in particular in the work of the Ottoman geographer Mutafa Ibn Abdulla (1609-57). Galichian suggests that Ataturk's change of the Arabic characters into Latin script made it possible for editors to omit reference to Armenia when books were reprinted using the new script.

Galichian also takes issue with the use of the term Transcaucasia on the grounds that it is only geographically correct from the point of view of Russia; although on that basis many names would need changing.

In the main section of the volumes, each reproduction is accompanied by an explanatory text, which provides the reader with details of the cartographer, the origin of the map and its date, as well as size and provenance. Particular attention is devoted to the manner and extent of the depiction of the area of Armenia. The oldest Armenian geographical volume was written between 591 and 610 CE, but although it is believed by some commentators that originally the text was accompanied by maps, none are extant. Some Armenian medieval manuscripts include T-O-type maps of the world, which show the influence of Islamic cartography. The oldest surviving map in Armenian was prepared in 1691 and shows the location of the important Armenian churches and the entire area of historic Armenia. The first full atlas in Armenian was printed in Venice in 1849.

The maps handsomely reproduced in this volume come from a variety of sources, including the Vatican Library, the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Library of Congress. The gradual hardening of territorial divides emerges clearly, although Armenia did not always benefit. Thus, the map of the boundary between Turkey and Armenia prepared on behalf of Woodrow Wilson in 1920 serves as a comment on the failure to attain hopes, a theme that can be pursued through Garbis Armen's Historical Atlas of Armenia (New York, 1987), which shared with Communist Armenian historical cartography a concern to extend Armenian territoriality.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of Visions of the World: A History of Maps (Mitchell Beazley, 2003), Maps and Politics (Reaktion, 2000), Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (Yale University Press, 1997) and The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).

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I wonder if these maps could be used to assess the Turkish contention that the population of Turkish Armenia before WWI was much less than has been assumed, and therefore the massacres Armenians testify to in the era of 1915-23 could not have been as extensive as has been asserted.

Posted by: Robert Speirs at February 27, 2006 06:29 PM
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