Ardahan – another stronghold of the Kingdom of Van

The Ardahan fortress, also known as “Shaitan Kale” or “Devil’s Castle,” is a historical site located in the Ardahan province of northeastern modern Turkey (Historical Armenia). While the exact date of its construction is unknown, the architectural features of the fortress and surrounding ancient settlements suggest a connection to the Kingdom of Van (Urartu-Armenia), which existed between the 9th and 6th centuries BC.

The Kingdom of Van, or Urartu, was a powerful Iron Age kingdom centered around Lake Van in what is now modern-day Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. The Urartian civilization was known for its architecture, engineering, and artistic expertise. The architectural style of the Ardahan fortress, as well as the remains of the ancient settlements in the area, could be indicative of Urartian influence.

The residents of the area, mainly Turks and Kurds, refer to the fortress as “Shaitan Kale” or “Devil’s Castle” due to the mysterious nature of its origins and the legends surrounding it. It is believed that the name may have been derived from the legends of supernatural forces or events that took place at the site.

Further research and archaeological investigations could shed more light on the precise date of the fortress’s construction and the extent of the connection between the Ardahan fortress and the Kingdom of Van.

Information about the Ardahan fortress and nearby settlements is scarce. However, it’s important to note that the history of the region has been shaped by various civilizations and empires, which could explain the population’s movement from the fortress city to the foot of the mountains in the 9th century.

The Ardahan region has been under the control of different empires throughout history, including the Kingdom of Van, the Medes, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Seljuks, the Georgian Kingdom, and the Ottoman Empire. With each change in power, the region would have undergone various transformations and adaptations, including shifts in population and urban development.

The movement of the population from the fortress city of Ardahan to the wide, flat area at the foot of the mountains might be due to several factors. It is possible that the residents were seeking more arable land for agriculture, better access to resources like water, or improved trade routes. Additionally, changing political or military situations might have influenced the relocation, as living at the foot of the mountains could provide better protection from potential invasions or conflicts.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the population shift in the 9th century without more information, it is clear that the Ardahan region has a complex history that has been shaped by various influences over time. Further archaeological research and historical analysis could help uncover more details about the Ardahan fortress and the history of the surrounding settlements.

Ardahan played a significant role as a trade hub during the 9th and 10th centuries, linking the Arab caliphates to the states of the Black Sea region. This strategic location made Ardahan an important commercial and cultural center during that period.

In the 11th century, the region experienced a series of invasions and conquests, including the arrival of the Seljuks and later, the Tatar-Mongols. The Tatar-Mongols captured the Ardahan fortress in 1236, further altering the political landscape of the area.

By the 14th century, the region underwent another significant change when the Ottoman Empire, under the rule of Sultan Suleiman I, gained control of the Ardahan district. This marked the beginning of a new era in the region’s history, as it became part of the vast and powerful Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans maintained control over Ardahan for several centuries, until the early 20th century when the region was contested during World War I and the Turkish War of Independence.

Following the Treaty of Kars in 1921, Ardahan became part of the Republic of Turkey. Today, the region’s rich and diverse history is reflected in its cultural heritage, including the Ardahan fortress and the surrounding settlements.

In 1828, during the Russo-Turkish War (1828-1829), Russian troops took control of the Ardahan fortress, liberating it from the Ottomans. As a result, the region became part of the Russian Empire, and it remained so until the end of World War I.

During this time, the Armenian population in the region increased, as they were encouraged to settle in the area. However, the political situation changed drastically after World War I, when the Russian Empire collapsed and the region became contested once again. The Treaty of Kars in 1921, which involved Russia, Turkey, and the newly-formed republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, established the new borders between these nations.

As a result of the treaty and the tumultuous events leading up to it, the Ardahan district was returned to Turkey. Tragically, the Armenian population in the region faced violence and persecution during this time. Many were killed, while others were forced to flee, seeking refuge in Eastern Armenia and Georgia.

The complex history of the Ardahan region, including the fortress, reflects the broader historical events in the Caucasus and Armenian Highland throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The Ardahan fortress, as well as the stories of the people who lived in the region, serve as reminders of the region’s turbulent past and the ongoing importance of understanding and preserving its cultural heritage.

Vigen Avetisyan

Image by Александр Бакулин

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