Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Western Armenia
WESTERN ARMENIA (Eastern Turkey)
This chapter is based on a road trip through Cilicia and Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey) I took in May/June 2004. A lot of additional background information and history of Western Armenian towns, as well as churches/monasteries has been added to the pages linked to below, but much of it still needs to be translated from Armenian to English (you can simply click on the "edit" tab at the top of a page and help with the translations!).
Western Armenia is the territory to the west of today's Republic of Armenia which was depopulated of Armenians during and after WWI by the Ottoman Empire and Turkey in the well documented Armenian Genocide. The boundaries can either be the six eastern vilayets, plus Kars, Ardahan and Igdir, or it can alternatively be Wilsonian Armenia, the borders of which were drawn by President Wilson as required by the Treaty of Sevres (never ratified) and the League of Nations.
A Turkish visa is required to visit Western Armenia, the cost of which depends on what passport you hold. Note that the land border with the Republic of Armenia is currently blockaded by the Turkish government.
Western Armenia fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire about 600 years ago, while Eastern Armenia was held by the Persian, then Russian Empire. The political boundry, mountains and distance contributed to the development of two major dialects (Eastern and Western). By the 20th century, two major centers of Armenian culture had developed, Constantinople (Istanbul) for Western Armenians, and Tiflis (Tblisi) for Eastern Armenians. Some diaspora communities and institutions were very active as well - primarily in Venice, Jerusalem, Isfahan and India (Madras and Calcutta). After WWI, the center of Western Armenian life shifted to Beirut, then Los Angeles, while that of Eastern Armenians shifted to Yerevan. (More detailed history.)
The six vilayets (provinces) of Western Armenia included Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Kharput, and Sivas before the Armenian Genocide. Wilsonian Armenia had different borders, leaving out some of the areas to the south and west, but adding a long coast on the Black Sea (Trebizond, Rize, Hopa). <googlemap lat="39.087436" lon="41.748047" zoom="6"> (A) 39.906428,41.273704, Erzurum (B) 38.502572,43.375998, Van (C) 38.399998,42.109641, Bitlis (D) 37.934095,40.195348, Diyarbekir (E) 38.673281,39.225934, Kharput (F) 39.749714,37.019902, Sivas </googlemap>
See also: Detailed Map of Armenian Sites in Turkey
Provincial Names and Divisions
This section will be broken out based on the old Ottoman Vilayet divisions, and the newer and smaller ils divisions which are closely based on the Ottoman one. The basic guide will for now be on this one page, but in time will be broken out into sections, most likely the original vilayets. The names used will be those used at the time of the genocide, as that is when Armenian history there stopped, and that is what we are interested in covering.
|OTTOMAN VILAYET||Present day 'ils'|
|ERZURUM||Erzurum (minus the kaza of Oltu)|
|Artvin (Yusufeli, including Oltu)|
|Bayazit (minus Iğdir and Kulp)|
|Ağri (including Iğdir and Kulp)|
|SIVAS||Sivas [(including Şebinkarahisar)]|
|Elaziğ (minus Çapakçur, Genç, Palu, and Maden)|
|Gaziantep (minus Besni)|
|DIYARBEKIR||Diyarbakir (minus Kulp)|
|Elaziğ (only Palu and Maden)|
|Bingöl (including Çapakçur and Genç)|
|Batman (including Kulp)|
|Samsun (with Havsa, Ladik, and Vezirköprü, all from Sivas)|
|The former independent sanjak of Maraş is now the ils of Kahraman Maraş|
|The former independent sanjak of Urfa is now the ils of Şanliurfa (incl. Siverek and Viranşehir)|
|The former Russian province of Kars is now the ils of Kars.|
Ani =100= (40 30.73n x 043 34.33e)
Van and Environs
The city of Van is located near the SE corner of the large salty Lake Van. The modern city, built near, but not over the old one is not remarkable, and the old destroyed Armenian sections were left to melt away with time. The old Van Fortress =?= (38 30.30n x 043 20.38e) still stands. The Armenians defended themselves against Turkish troops for 5 weeks before the Russians arrived in May, 1915. The Russians left 6 weeks later, with many Armenians choosing to leave with them, and settle in the East.
By far the greatest highlight of this area is Aghtamar (Akhtamar) Island, with it's monastery =100= (38 20.42n x 043 02.23e) visible from the shore. The boat launch is a half an hour drive S then W from town along the lake shore. The boats cost $20 for the whole boat, split among up to 12 people. They leave whenever they fill up, or if you are willing to spring for the empty seats. You can stay as long as you like, until sunset.
If you continue past the Aghtamar Island boat launch, you soon reach the penninsula on the S shores of the lake. Head off the highway, through a village, and along the dirt road along the shore. At GPS coordinates 38 21.53n x 042 55.74e you should head up (left) into the hills, and you will soon spot Golu? Vank =?= (38 22.34n x 042 54.25e). The road is not so great, and you may have to hike the last section, which would take 20-30 minutes. The monastery is relatively well preserved, with khachkars in the walls, inscriptions, serf walls and other structures. Continuing back along the shore past this turnoff, enjoying fantastic views, you will reach a little Kurdish village in a picturesque bay after about half an hour, with a crumbling church == (38 24.38n x 042 53.53e). Just around the bend from this village is another Armenian monastery == (38 25.01n x 042 52.44e), also relatively well preserved. You must park at the foot of the hill and hike up the steep hill to reach the monastery with sweeping views. There are the remains of at least two more monasteries further along the penninsula, nearer the N tip, but locals say they are in ruins.
Two other islands on the east side of the lake, Lim and Ktuts also have monasteries, but no regular ferries, making trips pricey and more complicated.
The site of the destroyed Naregavank Monastery =0= (38 17.82n x 042 55.70e) is in a valley S of Lake Van. There is now a plain mosque on the site of the monastery, which is in the middle of a Kurdish village. The tomb of the famous writer Krikor Naregatsi may be preserved in the area. There is nothing remaining of the actual monastery to visit.
About 10km E of the town of Van are the remains of the once huge complex of Varagavank Monastery =?= (38 26.99n x 043 27.66e), known by locals as Yedi Kilise or Yedikilise (Seven Churches), reflecting it's past glory. The ruins are still worthy of a visit. A few churches of the monastery remain in various states of collapse, two without roofs, one with frescoes, and some nice carved crosses, particularly along the front under the arches. Once the best known monastery of Vaspurakan and seat of the Archbishop of Van, the monastery takes it's name from Mt. Varag (now Erek Dagi), whose southern slopes it rests on. The monastery was destroyed by the Turkish army on April 30th 1915, during the siege of Van. (for additional information and photos including some pre-destruction shots visit: http://www.virtualani.freeserve.co.uk/varagavank/index.htm)
The village of Khorkom, name named ? is where Vostanik Atoyan was born. He escaped to the US during the genocide and changed his name to Arshile Gorky. He committed suicide in 1948.
West of Van
To the west of Lake Van, the town of Mush lies in the Taron region, surrounded by fortified monasteries. The monasteries of Surb Arakelots and Surb Karapet are the most important. Surb Arakelots was defended by General Antranig in 1901, and Surb Karapet is where Khrimian Hairig published the "Eagle of Taron" newspaper in 1863, later on becoming Catholicos. This region resisted oppression on numerous occasions, the enclave of Sasun was able to maintain its autonomy throughout Ottoman rule. The famous Armenian epic, "David of Sasun" took its inspiration from this spirit. The population in this area was considered a thorn in the side of the authorities, and the massacres here during the genocide were particularly ruthless.
Igdir and Environs
Igdir is historically and culturally significant to the Armenians as the location of Mount Ararat, several Urartian rock monuments, and the Caravanserai of Zor, believed to have been built by an Armenian architect named Ashot in either the 13th or 14th century. The historic ruins of the Armenian Church of Zor were also located in this area as well, though, nothing remains of them today. The historic cities of Aralix (Արալիխ; now known as Aralık) and Koghb (Կոգհբ; now known as Tuzluca) are also located in the area.
- VirtualAni - An account of Igdir from National Geographic, 1919
- VirtualAni - The Caravanserai of Zor
Kars and Environs
Kars is a city in the province with the same name. It was a one time Bagratid capital of one of the minor branches. Surp Arakelots Cathedral (Holy Apostles) is a beautiful Armenian church that was first turned into a museum, then a mosque. The province was part of the first independent Armenian republic, but was taken by Kemalist Turkish forces in November 1920, at which time massacres of Armenians ensued, and no Armenians were left. Kars is the base for travel to the magnificent ruins of Ani - the medieval capital of Armenia known as the city of 1001 churches and a rival to Constantinople in its time.
Erzerum and Environs
Erzerum was in the heart of Western Armenia. With tens of thousands of Armenians before WWI, the Russians only found about 100 left when they captured the city in 1916. The nearby city of Yerznga (Erzincan, Turkey) was also a large Armenian center. Yerznga was home to famous historical Armenians such as Movses Yerznkatsi, Hovhannes Yerznkatsi and Constantine Yerznkatsi. Yerznkatsi means "from Yerznka" in Armenian.
Downstream the Euphrates from Erzerum was Avag Vank (Senior Monastery), a very important cultural center. A little further from the monastery is the Kamakh Gorge, where thousands of Armenians were pushed from the cliffs, into the Euphrates.
To the NE of Erzerum is the region of Taik, which also had a Georgian influence and presence. Churches like Oshk and Khakhu are claimed by both Armenians and Georgians as their own.
Diyabekir and Environs
Diyabekir is near where the city of Dikranagerd (Tigranakert / Տիգրանակէրտ) was built by King Tigran the Great (Մեծն Տիգրան) in the first century BC, as his capital city. The invading Romans destroyed it in his lifetime, but Armenians associate Diyabekir with Digranagerd, and sometimes call it that. The city is now the heart of the Kurdistan region of Turkey. There are a few semi-ruined Armenian Churches in Diyabekir. One dilapidated church was occasionally used for services when a priest from Istanbul was occasionally sent to visit the handful of remaining Armenians up to the 1970s.
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Kharberd was wiped off the map in 1915. In 1878 the famous "Armenia College" had been established there by American missionaries. Turkish authorities were not happy with this and 10 years later it was renamed the "Euphrates College".
Malatya is where Polyeuctus, a Christian Armenian, was martyred in the IIIrd century AD. He was later immortalized by Corneille's writing and Donizetti's music.
Cappadocia was once the site of an Armenian population, churches and fiefdoms. There are still photographs of the important Armenian churches of Tomarza, Talas, and the fortified monastery of Surb Karapet - which was a site for pilgrammage for Armenians from Gessaria. The church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Cappadocia still attracted a few remaining Armenians from the area until recently.