Legendary Musasir – One of the Oldest Cities in Armenia
One of the most ancient cities of Armenia, the legendary Mutsatsir or Musasir, for many centuries has been the main religious and spiritual center of the Kingdom of Van (Urartu), as well as its throne city where the kings of Van have been crowned. Disputes about the location of Mutsatsir continue to this day. I localized this city in my atlas of Armenia which is now being prepared for publication.
Mutsatsir was located in the extreme south of Greater Armenia, in the district of Aygark of Korchayk Province, in the lower interfluve of the two left tributaries of the large river Aghbak – Nairi River (Nihorakan, Shamdinan) and Arbush – 8km northeast of a village which still bears the name of the ancient city. Namely, it was known as Mujajir or Mazizhor village. This village now lies in the far north of Iraqi Kurdistan.
It is in the above-described place that the extensive ruins of the once magnificent Mutsatsir are located. They are so majestic that the Kurds for two hundred years have been referring to it by its Armenian name, even though no Armenians currently live there.
The first written mention of Mutsatsir is the cuneiform writing of the king of Assyria Ashurnasirpal II carved in 879 BC on a rock near Mount Nemrut on the western shore of Lake Van.
In 714 BC, the city was captured, plundered, and destroyed by the Assyrian king Sargon II. He attached great importance to the capture of Mutsatsir since it was there where the kings of the Kingdom of Van were being crowned. After the fall of the city, the Kingdom of Van lost its positions in the political area of the region.
The royal coronation has taken place in the temple of the god Hayk or Haldi (Ardini) erected in Mutsatsir. This is one of the most ancient temples in Armenia. Its magnificence could compete with those of the main temple cities of the country, Ashtishat and Til. The capture and looting of the Hayk-Khaldi temple were portrayed in a bas-relief on one of the walls of Sargon’s palace in the Assyrian capital Dur-Sharrukin (Dur-Sarugan).
According to Rafael Ishkhanyan, “today, this image gives us an idea of one of the most wonderful examples of the ancient architecture of Armenia.” The temple built of stone was decorated with pillars, on which the triangular slope of the roof rested. Unfortunately, only the sketches of Sargon’s bas-relief have reached us. The fragments of the monument found in the excavations of 1842-43 sank in the Tigris River on the way to France.
According to the testimony of A. Khachatryan, Sargon II, having seized and plundered the temple of Hayk-Khaldi in the summer of 714 BC, captured many members of the royal house of King Rusa I and killed his beautiful wife Rusain at the entrance to the temple. Upon learning of the tragic death of his wife and the looting of the country’s main temple, King Rusa I committed suicide.
In addition, 6,110 residents of the city were captured and brought to Assyria according to Sargon’s order. The untold wealth of the temples of Hayk-Khaldi and Bagmashtu – Khaldi’s wife – was looted. Golden statues and ornaments, silver utensils, decorative shields stones, ivory crafts – everything that could be taken away was taken away.
Among the stolen treasures was the pure gold statue of Rusa I portraying him standing on his war chariot. In total, the weight of the gold, silver, copper, and bronze looted by Sargon exceeded three hundred tons. And now, imagine the greatness of Ashtishat where there were as many as five such temples.
But the significance of Mutsatsir and its main temple for Armenian history are far from being limited to material riches alone. Here, in the Korchayk Province of Greater Armenia, one of the most ancient centers of the toponymy of our country was located.
The name of the district itself where Mutsatsir was located – Aygark – is very symbolical. It means “Hayki Ark”, that is, “the patrimony of Hayk”, the progenitor of the Armenians and their god. The name of the Chaldean tribe that participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenians was derived from the second name of Hayk, Khald.
It is here, in the extreme south of Korchayk and Greater Armenia that the Nairi (Nihorakan) district was located, which gave a name to one of the most significant components of the Armenian country (there are several of them – Nairi, Hayasa-Azzi, Mitanni, Aratta-Ararat, Gomakan-Commagene, Arme-Shupria).
In the ancient Armenian language, the root “nar” or “nare” meant “water” or “river.” This root was adopted by ancient Persian (“nikhor”) and Arabic (“nahr”) languages.
Korchayk Province from the east bordered the ridge of the Vaspurakan-Zagrosh mountain system, which was also known as the Nairian mountains or Kukh-Nikorakan. From their slopes, the Nairi River, the first of the Armenian rivers to receive this name, originated and flowed to the southwest. Subsequently, several dozen rivers would be named Nairi.
This particular Nairi was a large left tributary of the Aghbak River, which now flows into the main river in the north of present-day Iraqi Kurdistan, near the town of Tsovart or Dzwar (now Zibar). In ancient times, the edge of the territory of Greater Armenia was here, and it was here where the borders of Korchayk Province and the country of Adiabene (north of Assyria) converged.
Now, the very first Nairi river is called Shamdinan. And one of the main and largest villages of the district, Aygark – a village that boasts several millennia of history – still retains its ancient Armenian name “Stuni.”
The name of the village of Tiar, which in the 19th century was the administrative center of the district of the same name, comes from the Classical Armenian “der” and Assyrian-Kurdish “deir.” Both meant “monastery of novices”, “desert”, or “temple.” In these toponyms, one can see the trace of the name of the ancient country of Autiar, as well as the name of the Armenian deity Tir.
Further to the south, in the territory of Korchayk Province, on the left bank of Aghbak River, near the village of Kharbi or Kharabe (means “destroyed”, the name goes back to the Armenian Karbi), at a distance of five kilometers from each other are the caves of Shanidar and Zawi-Chemi-Shanidar (Tsav-Shanidar). Here, the oldest Stone Age settlements have been discovered.
The lower, 4th cultural layer in the Shanidar cave dates to the 40th millennium BC. The upper two layers belong to the Neolithic. In the excavations carried out in 1951-60, the expeditionary group of the American Columbia University unearthed the bones and fragments of the skeletons of early humans that are about 60 thousand years old and are classified as Neanderthals. But the names of these caves are more interesting.
“Shanidar” translated from ancient Armenian means “a built-up (populated) hill.” Zawi-Tsav relates to the ancient “Tsob-Tsov” (“Tsap-Tsav”, “holy”). With these ancient names echoes the aforementioned “Der-Deir”. Thus, in as early as 3-2 millennia BC, local Armenians had been aware of the ancient settlements and named them logically.
But without the knowledge of the Armenian language and without the will to acknowledge its obvious dominance in the territory Armenian Highlands and the surrounding countries, scientists will stumble upon a wall of an utter muddle, confusion, and misunderstanding of geographical and historical names.