Ancient Armenia consisted of administrative units called “ashkharhs” (“world” in Armenian), which could be deemed analogous to modern states.
Each of the ashkharhs had broad self-management capabilities. Essentially, an ashkharh was an autonomous monarchy with its own ruling dynasty, culture, cuisine, traditions, and dialect of the Armenian language. The significant differences in the traditions and lifestyle of present-day Armenians are caused by the originality of the ancient ashkharhs.
In its turn, an ashkharh consisted of gavars. Among the Armenian ashkharhs, Sophene had the least number of gavars (8), whereas Vaspurakan had the most (36).
Overall, there have been 19 ashkharhs in Ancient Armenia:
- Greater Armenia:
- Higher Armenia (Karin Ashkharh),
- Tsopk (Sophene),
- Turuberan (Taron),
- Nor-Shirakan (Parskahayk),
- Lesser Armenia:
- Hamshen (Khald),
- First Armenia (Sebastia),
- Second Armenia (Gamirk),
- Third Armenia (Commagene).
Cilicia has also been an Armenian ashkharh but hasn’t been a part of either Greater or Lesser Armenia.
What was the total area of all ashkharhs?
All in all, the area of all the ashkharhs has been about 440,000 square kilometers. For some perspective, the areas of several modern countries are (square kilometers):
- France in Europe – 551,695,
- Germany – 357,386,
- Poland – 312,696,
- Ukraine – 603,628,
- Turkmenistan – 491,210,
- Uzbekistan – 448,978.
It turns out that Ancient Armenia had a territory comparable to that of modern European countries. Having every kind of resource in its territory, Armenia was rich in highlands and mountain peaks. The average altitude in Ancient Armenia was 1,800 meters, with its highest peak being Greater Ararat (5,165 meters) located in the central Ayrarat ashkharh.
Armenia had access to three seas: Cilicia neighbored the Mediterranean Sea from southwest, Hamshen bordered the Black Sea from northwest, and Paytakaran bordered the Caspian Sea from east. Aside from that, there were three large lakes in Armenia called “internal seas”: Van between Vaspurakan and Taron, Kaputan in Nor-Shirakavan, and Gegham (now Sevan) in Syunik.
What was the total population of the ashkharhs?
In antiquity, the average population density in Armenia was 10 people per 1 square kilometer, meaning that approximately 4 million people lived in Ancient Armenia. In the Middle Ages, at the time of the Seljuk Turks’ invasion into the region in the 11th century, there have been 8 million people living in the territory of the ashkharhs. There have been 10,000 villages, towns, and cities in the ashkharhs at that time as well, with nearly every single settlement having its own church.
Over the following centuries, the population of Armenians in the ashkharhs sharply decreased due to the plunders and killings carried out by the Seljuk Turks. The Armenians began to be replaced by Muslim tribes.
Many Armenians left their country and settled in other states all around the world. 700 thousand Armenians moved to Constantinople, Smyrna, and other cities of the Ottoman Empire lying outside of Armenia.
By the mid-19th century, 6 million people lived in the territory of the historic ashkharhs, only 3 million of whom were Armenians. The rest were Turks (1 million), Kurds (600 thousand), Tatars (550 thousand), Greeks (512 thousand), Yazidis and other non-Muslims (341 thousand), as well as Arabs, Chechens, and other Muslims (210 thousand). Overall, there were 4,5 million Armenians in the world at the time.
What happened to the ashkharh?
Most of the ashkharhs were disbanded during the Late Middle Ages. In those territories, foreign invaders created various formations alien to Armenians, such as vilayets, khanates, pashaliks, etc.
Essentially, only historical memory remained from the ashkharhs. Armenians living in those lands for some time continued to use their historical names. Some of those names died along with the hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the massacres committed between 1876 – 1923. In those years, some Armenians were forcibly converted to Islam. Now, they are officially recorded as Turks or Kurds. Those who had escaped the Armenian Genocide spread across the world, forming the multi-million Armenian Diaspora.