Book review: Journey to Ararat

In the early 19th century, many people considered Armenia’s Mount Ararat to be unclimbable, in part because of its height (16,854 feet), and in part because it was considered sacred ground due to the fact that it was supposedly where Noah’s Ark had come to rest. Until 1828, Ararat lay in Persian territory, but that year it was ceded by Persia to Russia in the Treaty of Turkmenchai. The very next year (1829), Friedrich Parrot, a doctor and professor of physics at the University of Dorpat (then part of the Russian Empire, but now in Estonia) led an expedition to Ararat and successfully reached its summit, accompanied several others including the ‘father of Armenian literature’, Khachatur Abovian. Parrot’s account of his journey was translated into English and published in the United States in 1846. Now it has been reproduced in a new edition with a critical introduction by Pietro A. Shakarian, a PhD student at Ohio State University.

ararat

Parrot was not engaged in tourism, but in serious scientific research. He observed everything in minute detail and took regular measurements of distances, heights, and everything else possible. His story of his journey to Ararat contains descriptions of flora and fauna, types of rocks, geological formations, animals, human habitations and customs, and much more besides. I wonder if some readers might not feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of detail. But as a scientific record, Parrot’s observations are certainly of value and it is impossible to read this text without learning a lot about the early-19th century Caucasus.

Personally, one of the things I found most interesting was the character of Parrot himself – the possessor of an extraordinarily curious mind, determined to classify and measure everything he encountered, using what were then the most modern scientific techniques; and yet also a man of his times, quite capable of seriously considering the possibility that rock formations on Ararat were the product of the Great Flood and that the Ark might still be buried under Ararat’s ice. I was also intrigued by some of his anthropological observations. Anyone wanting to know about the social history of the Caucasus will find much in this book which is illuminating about the homes, customs, and agricultural techniques of the region in this era.

Shakarian’s introduction does an excellent job of summarizing Parrot’s book and putting it into context. Shakarian concludes, ‘Parrot’s account of his expedition to Mount Ararat is perhaps one of the great 19th century travel memoirs of Transcaucasia. It is an invaluable work, filled with fascinating and important historical information on the Caucasus, Armenia, and the Russian Empire in the late 1820s.’

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4 thoughts on “Book review: Journey to Ararat”

  1. Nice review. To the best of my knowledge, the book has never been translated into Russian. It was translated into Armenian (from the German original) and published in 1990 in Yerevan.
    Minor correction. Khachatur Abovian was the ‘father’ of modern Armenian literature, not of Armenian literature in general. Armenian literature goes back to at least an early 5th c. A.D. and Mesrop Mashtots can be called ‘the father of the Armenian literature.’
    Abovian was the first to use Eastern Armenian in his book ‘Wounds of Armenia’, before that books were written in Old Armenian (‘grabar’).

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