Living On

Armen is heavily missed. His absence left a hole in independent observation of the political and economic risk situation in Latin America. Beyond the merely analytical though his work was wide-ranging from Armenian philanthropy and social observation of Latin and European lifestyles through to being a "fly on the wall" at the Cannes Film Festival every year and reporting back on the more exotic foibles of the international jet-set.

We miss his wit, his sense of history and his bon mots (in French, Armenian and, even, Turkish). Armen was very much a product of the Levant but then, like so many other Levantines, converted to an international stage where they offer insight into all around them. This record tries to humbly accumulate his collected writings for public consumption so they can be preserved and appreciated for the urgency of the moment in which they were written to the timelessness of the observations.

How best to categorise the uncategorisable? Maybe Armen could be described as an Armenian/Anglo/Franco Samuel Pepys for our times.....

It is ironic that ultimately it was the very mediocrity and self-satisfaction of the Chilean "system", which he documented so thoroughly, that brought about his tragic end.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CHILEAN LAW AND HAMURABI - Are there any links?

Chile prides itself for being a very legalistic country. At the same time, the general perception is that together with Public Health and Education, the Judicial system is, to put it mildly, a shambles.

 Legalistic in Chile has two facets. One is that it is a very litigious country, possibly even more than the USA, and the other is the mere adherence to the letter of procedure rather than the spirit or fair outcome of any legal process. Possibly the best example of the latter are the secret laws of the military government. During the Pinochet years, the Junta, which combined Executive and Legislative powers, enacted a number of laws which were not publicised. Amazingly, after nearly 20 years of what passes as “democratic” government, not only are the 150 or so such texts still valid in principle, but they are still secret. Some of them did leak out and they consider no less than the death penalty for doing some things that you were not even aware were prohibited (obviously, because the laws were secret).

How could the secrecy be combined with a travesty of legality? Easy, and an excellent example of distorted legalese. Under Chilean principles of Public Law, the final stage of a piece of legislation is its publication in the state gazette, the Diario Oficial. Thus, the text was published in that gazette of which a sole single copy was printed and filed. The procedure was thus respected but nobody could have access to its content.

Another feature of Chilean law is that the legislative process is extremely undemocratic. Though the Executive and parliamentarians can propose laws like elsewhere, not only is the process very tortuous in order to avoid or delay as much as possible anything that would upset the current cosy apple cart, but even after that obstacle is crossed, if at all, the trials and tribulations are not finished.

There are two further institutions, whose unelected members mainly consist of individuals with dubious political and religious backgrounds. One is the Constitutional Tribunal, and the other the Comptroller General of the Republic. Whereas in other countries such or similar institutions exist only in order to give a ruling on extreme cases and situations, in Chile they have become a common additional step of the legislative process, acting according to their hang-ups and allegiances rather than in the spirit of common law and justice. A recent example of that is the ruling on the distribution of the morning-after contraceptive pill, which both organisations (heavily devoted, particularly the Comptroller General, to the Opus Dei) banned the state from handing out to people of limited means, whilst leaving untouched the possibility of the upper-class trainee tarts of the barrio alto to buy it expensively over-the-counter at any chemist’s. Talking of chemists, one of the chains recently shown up as having participated in a price-fixing cartel has now taken the matter up to the Constitutional Tribunal, in protest against one of its former partners in crime who agreed to cooperate with the courts. What the fuck this has to do with a Constitutional matter beggars belief.

Such corruption of the mind is of course widely accompanied by corruption in kind, examples of which abound despite efforts to black them out, and whose perpetrators are rarely punished.

To the extent that the first comprehensive code of justice that came to us is the table of Hamurabi which is kept at Paris’ Louvre museum, I thought it might be worthwhile comparing what the King of Mesopotamia thought of thousands of years ago, with the reality of “modern” Chilean justice.

For this exercise, I am heavily indebted to an article by Frank Holt, professor of history at Houston University, who stimulatingly described the Hamurabi principles in an article published in the May/June 2009 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine. You may find the full article at

I have another reason to take Mesopotamian legal history as a basis for comparison, beyond its pioneering status. For over two centuries, from the time my paternal grandmother’s family crossed the water from Persia to Iraq in 1763, joined in the late 1880’s by my grandfather and his brother who came from Turkey and bought most of what is now the land in and around Fallujah, my family lived in the land of Mesopotamia. If to that I add my own strong belief in truth and justice, there is no need to be a lawyer to write about the law.

ABOUT HAMURABI’S WORK King Hamurabi was an Amorite, a Semitic tribe originating like all Semites in the Arabian peninsula, who moved West and settled in Mesopotamia around 1900 BC. Their capital was Babylon, and in 1792 BC Hamurabi became king, starting a reign of 42 years. Though best remembered in the public eye for his legal code, he was a major diplomat and empire builder, among a people who greatly advanced sciences such as Astronomy and Mathematics.

The code of Hamurabi is believed to have come into being towards the end of his long reign, and is inscribed in 3800 lines of cuneiform writing on a 2.25 metre-high black basalt rock, which was broken in two by the time it was found in the early years of the XXth century by French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan and his team.

The actual legal body of the text describes some 282 litigious situations and rulings (dinat sharim), and the final section has a warning of terrible consequences against anyone defacing the stone, or “corrupt its words in any way”, even if the perpetrator was another king.

NOT ALWAYS AN EYE FOR AN EYE The best known facet of the Hamurabi Code is the symmetrical punishment of “an eye for an eye” etc..In fact, it was not a uniform principle. Like in Chile, different layers of society were treated differently when it came to applying the law. However, unlike Chile, this was clearly set out from the start, without any pretence at the universality of the law.

Mesopotamian society was divided into three distinct classes, membership of which could affect the “remedy” doted out by the judges. The upper class were the “awilum”, followed by the subordinate but free class (the “mushkenum”). At the bottom of the ladder were the slaves or “wardum”.

If the crime was committed within a given status class, then the symmetrical punishment applied. However, if the victim was of a lower class than the perpetrator, then the severe consequence would be replaced by a simple fine (if the victim was a slave, the fine was collected by its owner). In Chile , the lower classes are lucky if they can get as far as a court at all, and if they do, their incompetent or legal aid-appointed lawyer cannot compete with the strength and bribing power of the upper classes.

That is why of course a notorious paedophile and scoundrel in Chile can get away, literally with murder (and even in another case, be promoted to high public office). For the same unjust rulings, keepers of insalubrious animal homes and kennels where pets were held in unspeakable conditions do not even get fined, but a lady went to jail last week for keeping two cats in her apartment against the building’s regulations, and refusing to pay the resulting fine. An interesting aspect of Hamurabi legislation is about medical malpractice. Doctors were allowed to charge more to the richer patients (nothing wrong with that), but they had to give them their monies’ worth, as a botched operation on an “awilum” could result in a severed hand. In Chile, you have to be rich and powerful to win a medical malpractice case against a self-protecting medical profession where there is not even a collegiate association or register with compulsory membership.

Shoddy builders were punished under Hamurabi codes in a very straightforward fashion. If a defectively build construction collapses and kills the son of the owner, it is the son of the builder who is killed. In Chile, it takes years of expensive litigation (at the victim family’s expenses) to generally get nowhere. The death of the eldest son is interestingly one of the main consequences of the Armenian Curse, a phenomenon brought to my attention by an Australian friend, and I assure you in most cases it is pretty successful.

FALSE TESTIMONY There is one essential aspect of Hamurabi’s Code, which is also part of the Ten Commandments (actually the Ninth), and that applies to false testimony (“Thou shall not bear false testimony against thy neighbour”). Though laws against perjury might exist in Chilean codes, my experience is that anybody can accuse anyone of anything and set out a legal process for which the onus of innocence is on the accused rather than the proof on the accuser. Remember the story of the battered wife of general Lucar, who had to fight 12 years in the courts to ascertain her accusation and get rid of a counter-accusation by her husband for “an insult to his dignity”. I wrote about the case in a recent Monthly Defence Review.

False testimony, until a few years ago, was actually institutionalized in Chile. This was in relation with the civil annulment of a marriage, at the time when there was no divorce law. The only way to legally have your marriage declared null and void was to “prove” that the original marriage papers were incorrectly drawn. You therefore brought witnesses in who swore that at the time of obtaining the licence you actually lived at another address than the one you declared. Not only the divorcing parties, but the lawyers and the judges were all aware of the travesty and went along with it.

Nowadays, I have learnt the hard way that the very “neighbour” God mentions through Moses can put in totally preposterous accusations against you and they are received without batting an eyelid by the police and the procurator-fiscal, without a second’s thought about its veracity. Hamurabi was pretty drastic about such behaviour. If..anyone fails to prove his case, then that accuser shall be put to death”. As simple as that..

Further down that section (which is one of the first ones to be addressed in the Code), it is specified that any judge whose incompetence leads to a wrong decision is removed from the bench. In Chile they are promoted to the Supreme Court or Constitutional Tribunal, where they pontificate towards even larger iniquitous cock-ups.

CIVIL LAW Contrary to Chile, Hamurabic legislation made divorce easy, but also contrary to Chile, it was much stricter in codifying and applying aspects pertaining to the division of property and the welfare of small children. We know that to be able to receive alimony payments, even under court orders, is an ordeal for most ex-spouses in Chile.

To the extent that it was a polygamous society, it was more progressive than the Islamic principles that came into force some three thousand years later. You could not just get rid of a wife like that on acquiring a new one, particularly if she was ill. The protection even applied to slaves with whom the master had children. They could not be sold.

There is also plenty of coverage of financial arrangements, including non-responsibility for debts incurred by partners of a previous marriage . In Chile, you have to fight for years in order not to pay consumer debts incurred by the previous tenants living at your address.

TRIAL BY ORDEAL This attempt to leave to the Gods rather than to a jury the burden of ascertain guilt was taken up by the Inquisition department of the Catholic Church and civilian courts as well, and survived well into the Renaissance period. In Hamurabi’s Mesopotamia, if no concrete proof of a crime was not available, and they were strong presumptions, the suspect was thrown into a river, and if they could reach the other side without drowning, they were deemed innocent.

Though people were last thrown in rivers during the Chilean military government, thy were already dead by that time, so it was not exactly a way of establishing guilt or innocence. However, taking up or defending yourself in any court case in Chile is another type of ordeal. It is an ordeal of patience, because it takes years. It is an ordeal of money, because it costs a fortune, and it is an ordeal of immorality, because of the incompetence, partiality and corruption involved.

ELECTORAL IRREGULARITIES This last section has little to do with Hamurabi because there were no elections to speak of in his time. I would like to refer to the hysteria regarding the Iranian election results, and would like to ask on what grounds do foreigners sitting thousands of miles away have concluded that there was “massive fraud”? What are the sources? The protesters from the losing side (whose candidate by the way had a beautiful campaign song with a melody taken from an old Armenian song, Sirun Sari Yar “Beautiful Mountain Love”). The protests are huge? Well, 37 % of a big population is a lot of people, and life in Iran is hard. The accusations? Not enough voting bulletins in some polling offices (par for the course in many developing countries). Paying money for votes (ditto, Chilean candidates in recent years have been distributing bags of food and paying utility bills in their election districts. What is the difference?). Pressure on voters (Yeah, that is a good one, with several Chilean corporations regularly threatening their staff with dismissal if they did not vote for the bosse’s choice). Ubiquense!

HUEVADA DE LA SEMANA This week’s Huevada is almost tailor-made for the subject matter treated above. A long-established foreign businessman in Chile was moving out of a parked position in front of a bank branch. Unwittingly, he hit the mechanism that operates the entrance shutters (it was after closing time), hardly noticing anything apart from a slight bump he did not pay much attention to.

Fast forward to a few months later, when he attempts to leave the country on a business trip. He is arrested at the border for “evading justice”. That is the first time he heard that he had a legal case against him. The bank’s security camera recorded the incident and identified him through his number plate. At no time did the bank, its lawyers, the police or any court make any attempt to contact him. A court case obviously took place in abstentia, and he was ordered to be arrested, unbeknown to him (this is the “developed country which is applying to join the OECD). He had to spend some time in jail until his lawyer bailed him out. The bank was approached and an indemnisation settlement agreed upon and paid.

End of the matter, you might think. You would be wrong. When he next attempts to leave Chile, he is detained again and informed that as the matter “is still outstanding” (it was not), he was having his wrongly-named “indefinite” resident status cancelled. He could of course appeal, (“we are a legalistic country, you know”) but during the six months it takes for the appeal to be considered, he cannot leave the country (not very practical when you are a busy foreign businessman).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

“When Madrid Was the Capital of Armenia”

This is a paper Armen gave at the conference:

MARCH 18-21, 2009

held at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor 

Leon V of Armenia (referred to here as Leon VI), lifetime
portrait (above) and statue on his tombstone at Saint 

As reproduced in Historia del Pueblo Armenio by Ruben Artzruni (p. 259)

                         PARTICULAR FEATURES OF THIS STORY

The saga of how Leon V of Armenia ended up being the ruler of Madrid, the present capital of Spain, for a short period of the late XIV th century, is one of the more original episodes of the colourful and agitated history of the Armenian people. It is also one of the least documented and researched, both in Spain itself and in the Armenian world.

It is of course possible that a doctorate student wishing to dig further into the matter, would be able to gather additional details by extensive research in some ancient Spanish archives. However, considering that the author of the only book published to date and entirely devoted to the episode, a Spanish historian of some standing, leaves many questions unanswered, may indicate that information is indeed scant and often contradictory.

Why hasn’t the story been looked at more seriously by contemporary authors? It is primarily of interest to Armenians, and the little Armenian presence in Spain up to the early 1990’s could be an explanation for this neglect. In turn, one may ask why there were so few Armenians in Spain until they started arriving in droves from the 1990’s, mainly from the newly independent Republic of Armenia, and ended up currently numbering tens of thousands? After all, large Armenian communities, many predating the Genocide period emigration, had settled in neighbouring countries such as France and Italy, and further afield in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, for centuries. However, as recently as the early 1970’s, there were no more than a handful of Diaspora Armenians based in Madrid.

Here again, one may have to resort to conjecture. The Leon V episode is regarded by those Spaniards as are aware of it, as a folkloric episode at best, and by many others, even in contemporary papers, as an aberration. From what one can gather, it is not even taught in Spanish schools, and there is no reference to it in the Spanish version of Wikipedia when referring to the history of Madrid.

For some reason, despite the historically varied origins of the inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula (Visigoths, Celts, Arabs, Jews, Romans, etc..), not to mention the more recent waves of immigrants from Northern and Black Africa, the arrival of this unusual character is often seen as an unacceptable intromission into their identity. More than one comment refers to Leon V as an impostor, or at best a penniless layabout and adventurer who was successful in spinning a tale to his advantage among gullible Spanish rulers. He is ignorantly referred to as a “Slav”, by some academics, no less, or even a “Moor” (an insulting term even in modern Spain). His place of detention following his being taken to captivity in Egypt is described as “Babylon” and his captor “the Sultan of Babylon”. Even though there was a city fortress of that name in the Nile Delta, the reference is at best confusing, as the real Babylon had long ceased to exist by that name. This intellectual hostility must have translated itself into wanton neglect of “a best forgotten” episode of Spanish history.

As for potential Armenian researchers, their absence from Spain and the fact that, save some intellectuals in Soviet Armenia, Spanish-speakers were mainly concentrated in distant South America, could not have helped either.

The available secondary Spanish sources generally consist of references forming part of studies on the history of Madrid, or chronicles about the various sovereigns of the kingdoms then present on Spanish territory with which Leon V interacted at some stage. It is indicative that the only book entirely devoted to the subject which could be found (Leon V de Armenia- Primero y Único Señor de Madrid, by José Fradejas Lebrero) was itself published in 2007 by the Institute of Madrid Studies (Instituto de Estudios Madrileños). Among the couple of dozen sources the book cites in its bibliography, only one is Armenian (Michel Tchamitchian: Histoire d’Arménie, Venice 1784-86).

Fradejas, though described as a “prominent historian” and his being a Professor Emeritus of Literature, does not really seem to warm up to his subject, and spends an inordinate amount of the 73 pages of his text (the rest being appendices) criticising other authors of articles on the subject, sometimes in sarcastic and less than diplomatic language. The book also suffers from a lack of rigidity in its structure, and has no alphabetical index.  However, it has the merit of existing, and the reproduction of various relevant historical documents in the original ancient Spanish in the appendices, is most helpful.

                                        THE MAIN CHARACTER

The dearth of sources and subsequent in-depth research also means that there is confusion as far as dates, events and characters are concerned. This starts with the main character himself. Leon V is somewhat referred-to as Leon VI. This is caused by two options in the counting method. There was a first Leon who ruled from 1129 to 1137, but he was Prince of Cilicia and not a king, and it is not the usual practice to give serial numbers to princes, so the more usual (but not universally accepted) practice is to start counting from the first Leon to have the title of king (Leon II as prince, who elevated his principality into a kingdom in 1198).

To add to the confusion, there also was an emperor of Byzantium called Leon V, known as “the Armenian” (which presumably he was, like several others who have occupied that throne), who reigned from 813 to 820.

Leon V, born in Cilicia in 1342, was the son of Jean de Lusignan, regent, and the Georgian princess Soldane or Soldana (Sultana?), daughter of King George V of Georgia. Despite their Armenian-sounding name, the “Lusignans” are actually from the French town of the same name, in the Poitou region. Their arrival in the Middle East with the crusades led to several members of the family ruling Frankish kingdoms there over a long period.

There is a version according to which Jean and Soldana, were not actually married, which would be mainly for the anecdote, but for a possible bearing on their son’s legitimacy. It is said that due to that condition, he was barred by the Pope from receiving an inheritance left by his grandmother Isabelle (Zabel) on the Lusignan side. With all the cross-alliances, it is virtually impossible to say how much “Armenian” blood Leon V actually had, but what is undeniable is that he was the last king of what was left of the kingdom of Armenia. After all, the British royal family are of German descent, and the Spaniards are Bourbons (now mixed with Greek), so ethnic origins can become rather diluted.


The events leading to Leon V ascending to the throne of  Cilician Armenia in 1374, and the surrender of that Kingdom the following year, are well documented, and do not actually constitute the main purpose of this paper. They shall therefore be dealt with summarily. There is one version that relates to Leon V previously holding the crown on an interim basis in an earlier period (1364-65), which was an interregnum in the dynasty, but it has not been possible to confirm this. It may just be based on the fact that a papal edict of 1364 or 1365 confirmed his right to the crown, without him actually taking it up, as he could not physically leave Cyprus due to the strife conditions there.

Living in Cyprus, itself in the middle of political unrest and pressure from Moslem and Genoese foes, Leon was offered the vacant crown of Armenia, following the murder in 1373 of his distant relative Constantine VI. He virtually had to fight and beg his way back to Sis, capital of what remained of the kingdom, and was crowned there on September 14, 1374. There was ongoing tension between Catholics and non-Catholics among the population, for which reason the ceremony was performed under both rites.

The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia had by then virtually shrunk to the town of Sis and the surrounding region, and was being subjected to an invasion by Turkish-Egyptian forces. Though it is said that the reason for the invasion was that Armenia had stopped paying a traditional tribute to the Sultan, other sources see it as a move to get rid of the last Christian stronghold in the region. This is just in case it was used again as a springing base for recapturing the Holy Land. Some present-day websites actually consider Leon V as a pioneer of resistance to Islamic Jihad, a matter which has regained topicality in current times (www.stormfront.orgWhite European heroes of the struggle against Islam!”). It is known that the King was offered high office in the Sultanate if he abjured his Christian faith, an offer which he rejected. Despite having been badly wounded in battle, and being in a desperate position, he and his greatly outnumbered men finally retreated to the Sis citadel, which fell on April 16, 1375 (obviously the second half of April is not a very good period in Armenian history).

Throughout his short reign, and before, there was continued tension between “nationalist” Armenians who were not that keen on a ruler who was a Catholic (the ecumenical coronation ceremony seems to have exacerbated rather than assuaged feelings). It is said that the nationalists preferred defeat to his continuing presence, and there are reports that the defenders may actually have been betrayed to the assailants by some Armenian nobles opposed to Leon V.

Though Cheikh Eddine, governor of Aleppo, one of the assaulting armies’ commanders, had subsequently promised him an unconditional safe conduct, the King was taken captive to Egypt, and initially placed under what would be called today “House Arrest”. However, Armenian merchants resident in Cairo (trust such people to be always around in any corner of the world), petitioned the authorities to relax the exiled monarch’s conditions. Egypt at the time was ruled by the Mamluk dynasty (1250-1517), whose origins were Turkish slaves enlisted by the Arabs to fight against the Crusaders, and by subsequently taking advantage of internal strife among their masters, played their cards right and created a thriving Sultanate in Egypt, even transferring the Baghdad Caliphate to Cairo in 1261.

Leon V and his family were allowed some freedom around Cairo (probably subjected to strict surveillance), and even given an allowance. On ascending the throne in Sis, Leon V had found the treasury empty (generally thought to be as a result of embezzlement, but he graciously pardoned those responsible) and in the 7 months that he was in power, besieged and on the defensive, he had little opportunity to correct the situation. Furthermore, he was already poor on leaving Cyprus for Sis, so the generosity of his captors must have been welcome in Cairo.

In his exile, Leon V was accompanied by his wife, Margaret (Marguerite or Mary) de Soissons, whom he married in 1369. She was the daughter of Jean, governor of Famagusta, and they had at least one daughter, called Mary. Margaret de Soissons had been married before and left widowed. One has to say “at least one daughter”, because some chronicles refer to “two daughters”, adding in one case that they were twins. This is one more example of the lack of precise details. Subsequently, there is only reference to one daughter, named Mary, who is said to have died in Egypt whilst her father was still a captive, with her mother suffering the same fate (there is even supposed to be an identified tomb for Mary on the road between Cairo and Alexandria). However, other reports say that when the King eventually left Egypt in September 1382, the mother and the daughter left with him, accompanying him to a pilgrimage in Jerusalem where he wanted to give thanks for his freedom. Once there, Margaret and her daughter decided to stay put and not accompany him any further. He therefore had to leave them behind, but like a good macho Armenian ashamed to having to admit that his wife left him, he would have spread the rumour that “they died in captivity”. Things are further complicated by the fact that among the party in exile was another Mary, (Maria de Gorigos), widow of his predecessor.

Such confusion as to facts would accompany Leon V till his last days during his final exile in France. Over that period, he is said to have fathered two illegitimate sons. However, in his will dated July 1392 (16 months prior to his death) he only refers to one son, for whose education and future he makes provisions. This is Guyot, also know as Guy or Guido. That son is said to have been a canon of the church, serving in various locations in France, though he must have been rather precocious, as he is supposed to have died age 19. As for the other one (variously described as Philippe, Stephane or Etienne), there is a reference to him becoming “a knight in Sis”, which, if correct, would mean that he travelled all the way back to Armenia at some stage. Other reports described him as a captain in France, and refer to Etienne as a third son, who ended life as a filibuster in the Mediterranean.

Leon V pretended to accept his captive fate philosophically (he even made a promise to his captors not to try to escape). Whilst in Cairo, he turns down another offer of freedom should he convert. However, his real dream was actually to regain his kingdom, and towards that aim he persevered for the remainder of his life, though sadly, never managed to achieve it.


It was a good two years after the start of his forced stay in Egypt that things took a turn for the better

for Leon V. In the meantime, he had been receiving many visitors, mainly Christian pilgrims passing through Cairo on their way to and from the Holy Land. To all those who appeared to be able to hold some influence, he asks to intercede on his behalf among the crowned heads of Christian Europe. Thus are contacted not just Pope Gregory XI, but the emperors of Germany and Byzantium, the King of Cyprus and Queen Juana of Naples. Some are more diligent than others in their lobbying, arguing that the initial promise of an unconditional  safe conduct by the governor of Aleppo should be fulfilled.

Among those approached is Pedro IV, monarch of the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, who is said to have close commercial ties with the ruler of Egypt. Taking advantage of a trip by one of his merchant subjects to Cairo, he sounds the authorities who make promising noises, and suggest that King Pedro sends an ambassador to talk further about the matter. This he does, sending a personal emissary with a letter, but the efforts come to nothing.

Sometime in 1377, two Franciscan monks on their way to the Holy Land stop over in Cairo. One is the Frenchman Jean Dardel, and he is accompanied by another monk, Antonio de Monopoli (presumably an Italian, but about whom there is not a lot of information). The travellers hear about this Christian king being held captive, and ask to meet him. They hit it off immediately, and comfort him and his family for whom they feel very sorry, celebrating mass, and hearing their confessions.

After a certain time in the Holy Land, to comply with their pilgrimage, the monks as promised return to Cairo, and offer their services to Leon V. Leon Dardel first acts as chaplain to the King, then becomes his secretary and finally his appointed roving ambassador. Before leaving Cairo on their way back to Europe, Dardel enquires with the Sultan of Egypt as to what conditions he would require to free the Armenian monarch.

It seems that by then Moslem rule was so well established in the former Armenian kingdom and surrounding countries, that the conquerors thought it unlikely that any attempt at recovering these territories by the Christians was likely. The Sultan was therefore ready to offer generous terms. He did not want a money ransom for Leon V, but wished Christian kings to beg for his release, on their own surety, to use a legal term, as well as sending some presents consisting of precious stones and other goods that were not available in his own country. He also agrees that Dardel would serve as go-between in the proceedings.

Dardel and Monopoli leave Cairo on June 11, 1379 and arrive in Barcelona on March 1st, 1380. They seek and obtain an audience with King Pedro IV, who as previously, expresses a deep interest in the matter. However, there is a hitch. In the court of Aragon, the one who wears the pants is apparently the

Queen (Sybil of Forcia). She originates from Cyprus and is even loosely related to Leon V, but pursuing a policy of hostility which the Cypriots have adopted against the Armenian monarch from the times that he was first invited to ascend to the throne. Pedro IV is forced to procrastinate, to the great frustration of Leon’s ambassadors. After several months’ waiting, they are given letters of introduction to other Spanish rulers, possibly as a way of getting rid of them. However, nothing comes of the new contacts either. Finally, it is suggested to them that they visit Juan I, king of Castile, who is said to have a reputation for “goodness, prudence, wealth and generosity”. They are accompanied, as a modest gesture of goodwill from the King of Aragon, by his son and heir, also called Pedro.

The administration of the Kingdom of Castile at the time was a moveable feast, with the monarch, Juan I, in frequent displacement. The monks eventually catch up with him on November 29, 1380. He seems rather sympathetic but has many other things on his plate, such as a threatened schism in the Church, an uprising led by his illegitimate half-brother, and the settlement of the succession of the Portuguese throne. The monks, like zealous dogs who will not let go of a bone, follow him everywhere. Finally, in May 1381, Juan I says that he is close to having assembled the required gifts for the Sultan (the younger Pedro of Aragon having meanwhile assured, somewhat boastfully, that his father was doing the same back in Barcelona).

As the official representatives of Leon V were lobbying for him in the various courts of Spain, there was an amusing episode in the shape of an Armenian curate, who had converted to Islam. Having heard of the saga surrounding the liberation efforts, he impersonated one of Leon V’s entourage, Marshal Sohier du Sart, and went around collecting money and support from various high-placed people to “help the cause”. He was eventually found out and discreetly removed from the scene by the ecclesiastical authorities.


However, it appears that at the end, Pedro IV of Aragon only provided the transport, and the required pleading letters, but no gifts. The delegation set off from Barcelona on May 21, 1382, and arrived in Alexandria on August 14. They went on to Cairo to deliver the letters and Juan I’s gifts, thought not without the Aragon delegation getting a mouthful from Admiral Barkouk, the Sultan’s chancellor, who is said to have told them : “Don´t you know our customs? Even an apple would have been something! “. Still, the deal was seemingly done, and Leon V and his family were freed on September 30, 1382, 7 years and 3 months after having arrived in Cairo.

On October 7, Leon V, having acquired a vessel, sailed away from Alexandria. There is one version according to which the Sultan had second thoughts and sent an emissary to Alexandria revoking Leon V’s freedom, but the monarch had already departed.

There is again confusion as to his exact movements on leaving Egypt. It is known than he arrived in Rhodes not long afterwards, but he may have gone via Jaffa, from where he would have undertaken a thanksgiving pilgrimage to Jerusalem (where his wife and daughter would have stayed on, if you believe the story mentioned earlier). Leaving Rhodes, he did a “European tour”, stopping in Venice, meeting with cardinals representing the Rome-based  Pope Urban IV, and going on in person to Avignon to meet the “French” Pope Clement VII. The latter awards him a coveted papal medal, The Golden Rose, and names the loyal Jean Dardel bishop of Tortiboli (Naples region). Much of the information we have on this period, particularly before the arrival of Leon V to Spain, is based on Dardel’s diary Chronique d’Arménie. Events in Spain are well documented in the writings of Castilian Chancellor Pedro Lopez de Ayala about the reign of Juan I, whom he served. Despite all the goodwill and warm welcome, Leon V makes no progress in his quest to gather enthusiasm for the recapture of his Christian kingdom in Armenia.

The first encounter between Leon V and Juan I of Castile takes place outside the town of Badajoz on May 15, 1383. Considering that Juan was in Badajoz for the purpose of marrying the daughter of the King of Portugal, Beatrix, due to take place on May 12, he did a great honour to his Armenian counterpart, without having even met him, by postponing the ceremony until after Leon V’s arrival.

Not only that, but so as not to make him feel embarrassed by his status of impoverished refugee, prior to the wedding, he sent him gold and silk cloth, jewels and silver vessels. At the first meeting, a league’s distance out of Badajoz, Juan I came with a large high level delegation, and as Leon V approached riding a mule, then dismounting to kneel before Juan and salute him humbly, the King of Castile himself dismounted, as did all his delegation, in respect for the Armenian king.


The original document granted by Juan I of Castile to Leon V of Armenia, by which he awards him the “Lordship” (Señoria) of the “Villa of Madrid”, as well as the city of Villa Real (situated in the province of La Mancha and now called Ciudad Real) and Andujar (in the Jaen region of Andalucia) has disappeared. We therefore do not know its exact content, or even its date.

The most likely view is that it was granted soon after the two sovereigns met in Badajoz in May 1383, and around the time Juan I’st wedding was held (May 17). The gift also included an annual allowance of 150,000 Maravedis. Introduced in 1172, the Maravedi was the main Spanish monetary unit of account until 1854! So many different coins and currencies were circulating at the time in various parts of Spain that a conversion to present value is almost impossible, but by all accounts it was a substantial sum.

Another version is that the land donation was made in September of that year, following a meeting in Segovia of the general council (Cortes). What is sure is that it was prior to October 10, because on that date, Juan I issued another edict on the matter, of which we do have the original text, which introduces certain precisions to his initial generosity.

Some sources have jumped to the conclusion that the donation made Leon V “king” of Madrid, and in some sources he is referred to as “Leon Ist of Madrid”. This theory is fairly baseless. Madrid belonged to the Kingdom of Castile, whose king, as mentioned above, was Juan I. It was not even the capital, which in those times changed from Burgos to Toledo and then on to Valladolid. Castile was run as a sort of federation, with plenty of autonomy to its various components. Madrid itself had been given special privileges (“fueros” in Spanish) by kings Alfonso X & XI, in 1262 and 1339 respectively.

This would explain why the imposition of a “Lord and Master”, particularly a foreign exotic one, by the monarch, did not go down well among the local establishment. Like any organisation faced with a major change at the top, they were worried about consequences, in this case the possible loss of privileges and positions, and the imposition of new taxes. Somewhat reluctantly, the council of Madrid met on October 2nd to consider the matter, and though they decided to pay homage to their new master, they attached a rider expressing unease about the way the matter had been handled by King Juan. With a population which would have been no more than 15 to 20 thousand inhabitants, possibly much less, Madrid was initially considered a rather prosperous town, with revenue from crops and nearby forests. However, at the time of the donation, it had fallen on harder times. It had lost its strategic importance as the border with Moorish Spain moved further south, and it had suffered from several years of bad crops and a Plague epidemic in the middle of the 14th century. Still, it consisted of no less than 10 parishes, and alongside the majority Christian population, there were dynamic Muslim and Jewish minorities, each in their own district (Judería & Morería). A map of XIVth century Madrid appears at the end of this paper.

Soon after the council meeting, and sensing the unease expressed apparently by an emissary sent by the town’s good citizens, Juan Ist “clarified” his donation in a letter dated October 10, stating that the donation was only valid in the lifetime of Leon V, and that in the future, such an act would not happen again. This leads one to think that the original donation may have had a hereditary nature. Juan tries to justify his initial generosity by stressing that Leon lost his crown in defence of Christendom.  The letter makes no mention of Villa Real or Andujar (which in any case were situated in other parts of Spain).

In a further effort to placate the Madrid establishment, Leon V himself issues a declaration on October 19, where he confirms that he has no intention to touch any of the existing rights and privileges of his new citizens, nor increase their taxes. His entry into Madrid, dressed in colourful garb, together with whatever followers and courtesans that were still with him, was said to have been quite an exotic spectacle. He made his headquarters in the citadel (Alcazar) of Madrid, which was located where the grand Royal Palace is today, extending the building to make it more comfortable.


By most accounts, Leon V was true to his word in his treatment of the population of Madrid, but the reality of the matter was that his heart was not in it. He had not been captive for 8 years in order to end up ruling a faraway foreign town which did not seem to be particularly pleased to have him around. His aim was still the recovery of his kingdom, and he might have accepted Juan’s generous donations not just to tidy him over, but because the Castilian monarch has also hinted that should Leon wish to “go to his country”, he would provide him with a dozen fully equipped vessels, a venture where he hoped to be accompanied by some of his fellow Iberian rulers.

On February 29, 1384, Leon V starts a new quest among the more promising Iberian rulers, for help in a possible military venture to recapture his kingdom. Carlos, King of Navarra, apart from gifts in money and kind, promises him 200 men, as does Count Gaston of Bearn. As for the mean Pedro of Aragon, he does promise five vessels for a period of up to six months. He then moves on to France, where King Charles VI receives him cordially, but Leon realises that he cannot expect any concrete help until the Hundred Years War with England is concluded. Though his French is far from perfect, he backs up his claims by playing on his French (Lusignan) ancestry.

According to to Fradejas book, Leon V, like many crowned heads and lesser mortals before or since, takes a taste to Paris, its social life, women and court activities such as jousting and banquets. His newly acquired domains in austere Spain may by comparison have seemed a poor alternative, and his enthusiasm for recovering his kingdom may have appeared less pressing. He is installed in the Hotel de Saint Ouen, near Saint Denis, and the French king also grants him a monthly stipend, plus a special grant with which to furnish and equip his residence. Presumably, he was also still getting the Spanish allowance, plus the income from his three new domains there, which virtually doubled the sum.

On October 9, 1390, his original benefactor, Juan I of Castile, falls from his horse and dies. Leon V insists on attending his funeral, which seemingly did not take place until February 1391, in Toledo. It was his last trip to Spain.

Soon afterwards, on April 13, 1391 (another sign of a bad luck month for Armenians), Juan’s son and heir, Enrique III, decides to cancel his father’s donation. We have the full text of that document, where Enrique pretends that his father was mistaken in giving away Madrid, because it was always a property of the Crown, which could not be disposed of. Not only he revokes the donation, but also cancels any ongoing judicial action that may still be ongoing under the jurisdiction of the “King of Armenia” . However, the yearly money grant is maintained. It has to be said that Enrique III was barely a teenager at the time (at most twelve years old), so the decision may have been imposed on him by political pressure from elders.

One would have to be an expert in Spanish medieval law and custom to be able to judge the legality of the revocation. Though most monarchs of the period had “absolute” powers, they had to comply with certain laws and principles. On the moral side, setting aside the fact that it is extremely discourteous to take back a gift, even if given in error, the original donation, as corrected in October 1383 by Juan I, did specify that it would remain valid until the death of Leon V. In fact, it was taken away from him some two years before he passed away.

Interestingly, that very same year (1391) there were major pogroms in most Spanish towns, including Madrid, which saw their Jewish districts all but destroyed.

Curiously, none of the documents revoking the donation makes any reference to the other gifts, namely Villa Real and Andujar, and apart from the fact that they were domains of Leon V at one stage, there is no trace as to their fate. It could be that they were an appendage to Madrid in the original document, and its revocation automatically implied the cancellation of the other gifts. There apparently is no record of Leon having ever visited these other properties.


In the over 9 years that he was based in Paris (from June 1384 to his death on November 29, 1393), Leon V did more than enjoy the delights of the City of Light.

Soon after settling there, he developed a relationship with Juan of Aragon, heir to that throne (son of Pedro IV, the “mean” one), which he assumed as King Juan I of Aragon in June 1387. Using a trusted servant of the Spaniard as messenger, the two exchanged regular correspondence, with Leon V acting as an informer on what is going on in the French court, local politics and peace negotiations with England. He also acts like an unofficial agent for Juan, helping settle commercial disputes in which Aragonese merchants may be involved, and procuring special items from Paris requested by him. Juan occasionally reciprocates such help with gifts of money.

However, the main claim to fame of Leon V, even if it led to nothing, was his effort to try to secure a permanent peace between France and England. For that purpose he secures an audience with the French monarch Charles VI soon after his arrival in June 1384, and subsequently visits Richard II of England (sources differ as to whether it took place in 1385 or 1386, but it seems that end 1385 is the correct date for Leon’s arrival to England). The English monarch receives him lavishly. He gave a memorable speech at Westminster, and it was announced that thanks to Leon’s efforts, delegations from England and France were to meet in a place on the Northern coast of France, in order to seek a lasting peace. The meeting did take place but nothing came out of it. However, Richard also gave Leon V a pension of 1,000 pounds a year, which meant that at least for the Armenian, the exercise was not totally unproductive.

Considering not just the efforts on his own behalf, but the various actions he took in relation to third parties, Leon V was obviously an impressive character who did not leave indifferent those who dealt with him. Curiously, though his Spanish connections are not generally known, the monarch has a following among fans of esoteric stories. This stems out of the legendary link between the Lusignan family and the fairy Mélusine, who according to folklore was their “house fairy”.


Having made his will in July 1392, Leon V passed away in Paris on November 29, 1393, aged 51. He was initially buried in the Celestins convent, and after the French Revolution, transferred to the Basilica of Saint Denis, where most kings of France are buried. Saint Denis is a suburb of Paris, situated between Charles de Gaulle airport and the town centre. It can be easily reached by a short journey on a suburban train.

What trace is left of the short passage of Leon V in Spain? Apart from a single book and some academic papers, the only visible remnant is a Madrid street called Calle Leon V de Armenia, in the Carabanchel district of the modern-day Spanish capital. It is a small street, in a working-class neighbourhood previously famous for a notorious jail, which is now being pulled down.

Following the death of Leon V, the title passed on to Jacob 1st, a relative, who was King of Cyprus and thus combined the crowns of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia. The Lusignan line ended with the death in 1510 of Catherine Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus and grand-daughter of the Doge of Venice. Although the title of King of Armenia (according to Vahan Kurkjian in his History of Armenia) is described as “abolished”, the claim to the throne subsequently passed through Venice to the Italian royal family of Savoy. This is currently not something to boast about, as most of the leading members of that family have been prosecuted on various financial fraud charges since 2006, and some ended up in jail.

Spain was due to open an embassy in Yerevan presently. As a result of the South ossetia conflict and following NATO pressure, the location was switched to Tbilisi.


In September 2008, a few days before the commemoration of the independence of the Republic of Armenia, this author circulated a paper in Spanish, in the form of an open letter to King Juan Carlos I. In it, he argues that as it was both discourteous and a breach of the original donation to take away the land of Madrid from Leon V whilst he was still alive, it should be returned to the Armenians, in the form of another autonomous region of Spain. Making the comparison with other such regions such as the Basque country or Catalonia, where the local language has precedence over Spanish in many ways, it was also suggested that all the citizens living there would have to learn Armenian. In a gesture of goodwill, the Armenians would be prepared to forego the donations of Villa Real and Andujar, and give a special status to the Royal Palace and some other buildings housing ministries and other government offices. In case there was any doubt as to the legal feasibility of such a move after several centuries, it was pointed out that not that many years ago, the Spanish government gave Spanish passports to Jewish descendants abroad of those expulsed five centuries earlier. Apart from a standing distribution list, copies were sent to Spanish diplomats and government officials, both at central government and Madrid community levels, as well as all main Spanish newspapers and TV stations. It was of course meant in jest, though written up in a serious and respectful style. There was not a single reaction from Spain, except from Mr José Fradejas Lebrero, author as mentioned of the only book totally dedicated to this episode. In a curt and angry email sent from what appeared to be his wife’s address, he said that it was an outrageous and rude proposal, and totally baseless, for which I should apologise to His Majesty. As I have been able to find out during a personal and professional involvement of over 35 years with the Hispanic world, a sense of humour is not among its most visible characteristics.


ARTZUNI, Ruben  History of the Armenian People, in a Spanish translation published in Buenos Aires in 1971 (probably from an original version in Armenian published in Soviet Armenia)

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  Web version July 2008 On Jean Dardel

DARDEL , Jean  Chronique d’Arménie (Extracts from late 14th century manuscript)

FRADEJAS LEBRERO, José   Leon V de Armenia (in Spanish) Instituto de Estudios Madrileños, 2007

Madrid (several articles mentioned in this book’s bibliography were also consulted on line, in particular the Crónica de don Juan I, of Pedro Lopez de Ayala, various notes by Amanda Lopez Meneses, also writing under the pseudonym Madelena Saez Pomés).

FROISSART J. Chronicles, 1844, quoted in Christopher Walker’s Visions of Ararat

LAFUENTE Modesto  Historia General de España  Madrid 1861

KURKJIAN Vahan A History of Armenia  AGBU 1958  Website (Historia de Madrid)

RAMIREZ José Luis Leon V de Armenia, Señor de Madrid  Amigos del  Foro Cultural de Madrid


RYMER T.  Feodera,  The Hague 1739-45  quoted in Christopher Walker’s Visions of Ararat

And numerous other short references and websites

                              MAP OF MADRID IN THE XIVth CENTURY

                (modern reconstruction based on contemporary information)