This paper was originally presented at the ETS / NEAS meeting on Thursday, November 15, 2007.
INTRODUCTION: WHY AN 'ARMENIAN PERSPECTIVE'?
The title of this paper, 'An Armenian Perspective on the Search for Noah's Ark,' was chosen because I believe that the case for Mount Cudi as the landing-place of the Ark is built upon data coming exclusively from a single Syro-Mesopotamian historical stream, and is thus self-authenticating. This is an invalid approach to determining truth. An independent perspective, a fundamentally Armenian one, offers a needed corrective to wrong conclusions that have been drawn from it. This need is brought home by the apparently irreconcilable clash between the eyewitness reports pointing to Mount Ararat on the one hand, and the historical data that points to Mount Cudi on the other.
Attempts to deal with the two approaches have typically taken the form of searching for reasons to disparage one or the other, or finding creative ways to reinterpret otherwise self-explanatory information to force it, however awkwardly, into conformity with a particular model. Efforts were not being made to seek a framework that would allow both approaches to be taken basically at face value. I thought there was a possibility that BOTH approaches might be correct, the difference lying in how the data was being interpreted. I believe I have found a way to reconcile them, and lay out my case in the pages that follow.
SETTING THE STAGE: IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES
I want to begin by emphasizing the seriousness of the collision course these two approaches are on. If you have any familiarity at all with Ark research, you will probably recognize the name of George Hagopian. A native Armenian, he claimed to have twice, as a young boy in the early 1900s, climbed Mount Ararat with his uncle. He claimed to have actually climbed on top of the Ark. His testimony has been closely scrutinized by many researchers, and has stood up remarkably well.
The first thing I wish to note is that there is absolutely NO doubt that the mountain he claimed to climb was Mount Ararat. Hagopian demonstrated this certainty in many ways, including his use of the native Armenian name for Mount Ararat, Massis, and his intimate knowledge of things in the area of Lake Van. From journalist Rene Noorbergen's interview with Hagopian, we glean the following:
I first went there when I was about ten years old. It must have been around 1902. My grandfather was the minister of the big Armenian Orthodox Church in Van, and he always told me stories about the holy ship on the holy mountain. And then one day my uncle said, 'Georgie, I'm going to take you to the holy mountain,' and he took me with him, packed his supplies on his donkey, and together we started our trek toward Mount Ararat. 'Uncle, that's the holy mountain,' I said, pointing to what seemed to be our destination up ahead of us. 'That's right, Georgie,' he said. 'Massis is the holy mountain' (1960: 165).
We can therefore immediately rule out the idea that he placed his Ark discovery on any mountain other than Ararat. I also believe we can trust Noorbergen's reporting, as he was a professional journalist, foreign correspondent and photographer who handled magazine and newspaper assignments in more than 80 countries over a period of at least 22 years (1960: dust jacket back flap).
Second, by claiming he actually climbed onto the Ark, his story leaves no room for a misidentification of the Ark itself. This might be claimed against sightings from the air, where rocks and shadows could play tricks on the eyes, but is not a factor here.
Third, Hagopian's story was consistent; he did not vary his story in retelling it. This greatly impressed Bill Crouse, who observed,
Hagopian's story is difficult to falsify. As he told and retold his story he never deviated from his original account (1993).
Fourth, he was credible. In an interview about his experiences working with Hagopian and tape-recording his testimony, Elfred Lee noted:
He was not one who would fabricate or lie. We checked him out as well. He had a very good reputation in town. We verified his bank accounts and income to make sure he was not making anything off of his statement. We also went to Lake Van in Turkey and specific sites he discussed to verify his authenticity (Corbin 1999: 69).
As to his integrity, he [Hagopian] had a PSE test, the lie detector test...and he passed the test. Also, his personal life, his reputation, his friends, and business acquaintances bore witness that he was an honest man who would not lie or fabricate. And he was not looking for any personal gain from it (Corbin 1999: 79).
Taking all of the above into account, one gets the impression that here we have someone worth listening to regarding Noah's Ark. Bill Crouse admitted:
His knowledge of the Ararat area as he describes it is accurate and detailed. Other aspects of his story given to researchers seem to substantiate his credibility (1993).
We conclude that the story is quite believable in every way-EXCEPT for the subject matter! It seems to cry out for SOME reason to fault it. Bill Crouse gave it his best shot:
The fact that he [Hagopian] is no longer with us makes it difficult to render any kind of judgement...The story itself is interesting, but it still provides no empirical evidence, and even if credible, is not helpful in the critical subject of location. Some things that trouble me are the fact that the testimony itself is secondhand...The George Hagopian story remains an interesting, but unverifiable story (1993).
WHAT IS TRUSTWORTHY?
Crouse's comments merit discussion, because they go to a core issue: how we evaluate the trustworthiness of historical sources and eyewitness testimony. Why should Hagopian's death make rendering a judgment about his testimony more difficult than when we evaluate historical documents? Since audio recordings of interviews with Hagopian exist, we are much closer to having firsthand testimony here than with virtually anything we have from ancient historians. The transcribed interviews of Noorbergen and Lee confirm and validate each other. These sources are independent witnesses to Hagopian's story, and Deuteronomy 19:15 lays down the principle, reaffirmed by Christ in Matthew 18:16, that 'on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed' (NASB). Thus, I am convinced that the real issue is not so much about VERIFYING the Hagopian story, as it is about BELIEVING it.
We face this predicament-being able to only incompletely verify a story, and having to exercise a certain measure of faith that it is true-when we consider the writings of every dead historian of the ages. Yet, we don't let the fact they are long dead stop us from using their data; we just try to make sound judgments about the sources, based largely on three factors: (1) their 'reputation'; (2) their internal consistency; and (3) their external coherence with other known facts. The only essential difference between historical documents and eyewitness reports is the patina of antiquity possessed by the former. But that should have no bearing whatsoever on the trustworthiness of a source.
If the historical accounts pointing to Mount Cudi are OBJECTIVELY TRUE, one inescapable fact follows: HAGOPIAN WAS A LIAR. There is no wiggle room here. Since no intimations exist that his sanity was ever questioned, if the Ark was on Mount Cudi or any other peak, there is only one conclusion we can draw: George Hagopian was a masterful liar. But given what was reported about the character of Hagopian, such a conclusion does not fit him very well. So I decided to ask a question that no one else seems to have raised: are the Mount Cudi reports objectively true?
Read the PDF of the Complete Paper here: An_Armenian_Perspective.pdf