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A Covenant of' 'Ali,
Fourth Caliph Of Baghdad,
Certain Immunities and Privileges
To The Armenian Nation

By Johannes Avdall, Esq., M.A.S.
  • Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXIX, Part. I (N°I to IV, 1870), pp 60-64

  • Edited by The Honorary Secretaries - Calcutta, Printed by C. Lewis, Baptist Mission Press.

  • Bibliographical Research in Library, Presentation And Web Setup : Nil V. Agopoff (Paris)

[(p60)] 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An authentic historical document is extant, originally written in Cufic characters, and purporting to be an Edict or Covenant of 'Ali, the Lion of God, fourth Caliph, and son-in-law of the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 It appears that this rare piece of antiquity was lost or mislaid among his unpublished papers.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.


"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,
[(p61)] Jacob 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. [(p62)] 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 eternal penalties.

"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.

  • Johannes Avdall, Esq., M.A.S.
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