A Covenant of' Ali, Fourth
Caliph Of Baghdad, Granting Certain Immunities and Privileges To
The Armenian Nation - By
Johannes Avdall, Esq., M.A.S.
[Receveid 23rd September, 1869.]
An authentic historical document
is extant, originally written in Cufic characters, and purporting
to be an Edict or Covenant of 'Ali, the Lion of God, fourth Caliph,
and son-in-law of the Prophet, bestowing certain immunities and
privilegies on the Armenian nation. The Edict was given in the year
of the Hijrah 40, or A.D. 660, just a year before 'Ali's death.
It was first translated into Armenian by Gregor Campan, on the 15th
January 1767, in Astrachan, and afterwards by M. Saragian, authenticated
by Joakim Gregor Bagratuni of Constantinople in the year of 1804.
I was in possession of a copy of the original document, written
in Cufic characters , which I lent some years ago to the late Henry
Torrens, Esq. Vice-President of the Asiatic Society, for translation
and insertion in the Journal. It appears that this rare piece of
antiquity was lost or mislaid among his unpublished papers. The
following is a correct and faithful version from the Armenian translation
of the Edict or Covenant of the Caliph 'Ali.
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE BENEFICENT
AND MERCIFUL FROM WHOM WE SOLICIT HELP.
"Praise and thanksgiving
to the Creator of the universe, and blessings upon the great chief
and benign Muhammed and his sacred tribe.
"After all this, it is the puport of the translation of the
Covenant which was written by Háshim, the son of Athap*,
the son of Valas*, according to the command of the blessed chief
of the Arabians, and f the Lion, of the holy of the holies, of 'Ali,
the grandson of Abútalib, the exalted, in Cufic character,
is the celebrated domicile of Kharanthala*, in the magnificent palace,
in the month of Çafar, in the fortieth year of Hijarah.
(*) : So in the Armenian text. For Háshim
the Armenian has Hásham, according to the Persian pronunciation
of all Arabic Part. Present. - June, July, 660
"Whereas certain of the Armenian nation, men of distinction,
famous for their erudition and honoured for their dignity, namely,
Sayid 'Abdul-Shuyúkh and the son of Sahan, and Abraham the
Priest, Bishop Isaiah, and several others, forty in number, having
comunicated with me, and being present in the enactment of this
Covenant, solicited me to do this, and have rendered every assisance
in their power to our agent whom we had sent our forts and frontiers,
(which was the occasion of our conference and the enactment of this
Covenant)Therefore I have made this Covenant with them on
my behalf, as well as on behalf of all tribes of Islám shall
prevail, and the doctrine of Christianity shall continue. It shall
be the duty of all potentates and of all princes, and of all men
to carry out our Covenant by the help of God, so long as the sea
shall be capable of wetting woll, tufts from the earth, and stars
shall give light, and the moon shall rise upons aliens and strangers.
No man shave dare to violate or alter this Covenant, nor increase
dand deacrese or change the same; because he taht increases it,
inceases his punishment, and decreases our patience.
"And those who violate this Covenant, shall be considered intriguing
infringers of that which I have bestowed on them (the Armenians),
and in league with those who do not profess loyalty to me. They
also become transgressors against the divine ordinance, and thus
incur the just indignation of the only God.
"Moreover, the testimony of the Sayyid (Arch)Bishop and of
the others, whose names have written before, is a binding and sufficient
authority. Because the principal followers of Christmas requested
me to establish a Covenant and a treaty amonfg all the Christians,
placed under the shadow of the rule of the Musalmáns, now,
by virtue of this Covenant, there shall be perpetual peace and tranquillity
between Christians and Musalmáns. The contents of this Covenant
are indubitable and true, and I have given to them (the Armenians)
of my own accord and with a cheerful countenance. I shall abide
by this Covenant and act accordingly, so long as the Armenians shall
be faithful to me and continue in their loyalty to my government,
and take no part in opposing the religion of my people.
If they remain steadfast in the observance of this Covenant, they
shall resemble the Musalmáns and the Múmins.
"Moreover, I have convened together the grandees of the Musalmáns
and the leading men of my elders and dignitaries, and in their presence
have established my Covenant, which the Christian nation requested
of me and desired to possess. I have written down and recorded for
them conditions and stipulations, which are hereafter to stand firm
and remain in force. Should, in future, any monarch or prince, or
any person of rank and authority, oppress them and treat them with
cruelty, they should produce and present this record of my Covenant,
because it is incumbent on monarchs, and on all Musalmáns
to act according to our behests ; but the Armenians also, by acts
of fidelity and loyalty, should comply with our mandates and obey
ou will, inconfirmity with the contents of the treaty which I have
made and established with them. There shall be no disobedience or
opposition to my commands and wishes. Moreover, it is politic and
expedient, not to moest and oppress the Christians, so that by the
adoption of conciliatory course, they might be induced to comply
with the stipulations contained in this my Covenant.
"Thus my Covenant is a burden and an obligation to its recepients,
and wearisome and irksome to maliciously disposed and evil-minded
persons, and I desire that there should be no contention between
the Christians and my exalted nation. But if any one shall act against
all that I have written concerning the Christians, who have proved
themselves worthy of my favor and benevolence, such a person acts
against the will of God, who inspired me with grace to do this act
of goodness to that nation and to save them from troubles and vexations
; for I have entered int oa Covenant of patriarchs, of prophets
and of all holy men from the first to the last. And the word of
God to the holy prophets, which was brought down from heaven by
the angel, enjoins obedience to the laws and performance of duties,
and also faithfulness to my divine Covenant. Because the Christians
under my authority are my subjects, and I am ruler over them, it
is my duty to have a paternal eye over them, and to protect them
from all evisl and [(p63)]
troubles ; and thus a
good reward shall be given both to me and to my nation which is
scattered in different parts of the world.
"And the scale of taxation fixed by me for those nobles should
be strictly adhered to. No demand should be made from the beyond
what was already written down and sanctioned. They should not be
molested or oppressed. Their country should not be taken from them.
They should not be alienated from their country. The priests should
not be converted from Christiannity. The monks and hermits should
not be disturbed in their solitudes, nor removed from their monasteries.
Their preachers should not be prohibited to preach. Their habitations
and their hereditary lands should not be devastated. Nobody should
remove or to pull down the bells from the steeples of their Churches.
This is the law which I have made for them. But, those who shall
infringe my Covenant, by disobeying my behests, shall be transgressors
of the ordinance of God, and shall suffer sever punishments and
"Let no crowned head or man of authority of the Musalmáns
or believers, compel the Christians to profess the religion of Musalmáns.
Nor let them hold any controversies with them on matters of religion,
but let them treat them with kindness and tenderness ; and, under
the shadow of their mercy and clemency, protect them from all sorts
of opression and tribulations, wherever they may be found or wherever
they may reside. And the Christian people be in want of money or
in need of pecuniary help for the building of Churches and monasteries,
for their national and social assemblies, and for their civil and
domestic purposes, the Musalmáns ought to assist them and
supply them with the necessary means, by granting them a position
of their superabundant and disowned property. And this should also
aid them by good advice and suggestions in their transactions, because
doing so is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God and his
apostle. But, if any one should infringe the contents of this my
Covenant, he is an unbeliever and an apostate from the divine prophet,
and he will assuredly be deprived of his merits, and the prophet
shall look upon him with anger and [(p64)]
displeasure. If the stubborn and refractory shall
prove themselves unfaithful and disobedient to the Covenant which
I have established, they cannot remain faithful and obedient to
the son of Abútalib, the exalted.
For, whatever he may command and ordain, it is the duty of Musalmáns
to carry out his orders, by succouring and commiseration them (the
Armenians) at all times, so long as this world shall last. Glory
to the Creator of the Universe !"
The tragical events of the last twelve centuries, recorded on the
pages of the history of oriental nations, and in the ecclesiastical
chronicles of eastern Christendom, sufficiently testify how far
the contents of this Covenant of the pious and humane 'Ali, fourth
Caliph of Bagdád, have been kept inviolate by his successors
and his co-religionists.