“At an altitude of about 2 km on the slopes of Greater Ararat, there once stood an Armenian village named Arguri (Akori), which translates from Armenian as “he planted a grapevine.” According to tradition, an Armenian church dating back to the eighth century stood at the place where Noah built his altar and made his first sacrifice after leaving the ark and safely descending the mountain with his family and rescued animals. In Arguri, he planted a grapevine and grew grapes, made wine, and drank to excess.” “Around the Black Sea”, William Eleroy Curtis, 1910.
Surrounded by legends and biblical tales, the highest peak of Mount Ararat, or Masis (5165 m), has long attracted Christian pilgrims, travelers, and naturalists from around the world with its beauty, grandeur, and mysterious inaccessibility.
The devastating earthquake on July 2, 1840, which destroyed part of the mountain’s slope, stirred the scientific community of European countries. In an era when many branches of geognostic, i.e., geological, science were in their infancy, most European scientists, primarily Russian researchers, became intensely interested in the cause of this phenomenon.
To address this issue, the Corps of Mountain Engineers of the Russian Empire, on the recommendation of A. Humboldt, turned to Abich, who had already earned a significant reputation in European scientific circles. In the early spring of 1844, by the highest decree of the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I, Professor Abich embarked on a 10-month mission to Transcaucasia, having previously received 5288 rubles in silver from the Russian treasury for expeditionary needs – a substantial amount for that time.
In the mid-19th century, in the Erivan province, this amount equaled the 15-year annual salary of the highest-paid master masons and stonemasons. Before leaving for the Caucasus in January of that year, in St. Petersburg, Abich received preliminary information about Armenia from the well-known public figure, ethnographer, and agrarian Baron A. Heckstgauzen, who had traveled through Armenia the previous year.
There, Abich also met with the newly elected 121st Catholicos of All Armenians, Nerses Ashtaraketsi, and obtained from him a recommendation letter to Khachatur Abovyan, in which the latter was asked to assist the professor as a translator. This meeting with the Catholicos made an indelible impression on the young geologist and laid the foundation for many years of friendship with both him and the great enlightener of the Armenian people, Khachatur Abovyan.
In the second half of August and early September 1844, Abich, together with Abovyan, made three unsuccessful attempts to ascend the peak of Mount Ararat, which due to adverse meteorological conditions were not successful. After this failure, Abich, having thoroughly studied the climate of the area, concluded that the most favorable time for ascent is the second half of July – early August or late autumn.
In that same year of 1844, Abich, diverting from his geological studies, comprehensively researched the ruins of the ancient Armenian capital, Ani, and compiled the first detailed map of the city. The results of these studies were published in 1879 in the book “Fifth Archaeological Congress in Tbilisi.”
On July 27, 1845, a small expedition led by Abich, accompanied by Abich’s assistant, a native of Bohemia, Karl Zinka, the topographer Bichugin, translator and Abovyan’s student Petros Sharoyan, former residents of the destroyed village of Akori, Onan Martirosov and Simon Sarkisov, and four Cossacks of the Don 12th Regiment, attempted a new ascent up the southeast slope of Mount Ararat. The very next day, at 11 a.m., Abich realized the long-unfulfilled dream of his great teacher and mentor, Alexander Humboldt.
The peak was conquered. This was the third documented ascent of Ararat, following the pioneering expedition of F. Parrot, H. Abovyan (1829), and the graduate of the Lazarev Institute of Eastern Languages, orientalist K. Spassky-Avtonomov (1834). However, this time, a professional geologist set foot on the peak for the first time. Comprehensive and detailed study of the summit and its surroundings did not immediately allow the scientist, who was cautious in his academic judgments, to definitively identify the primary cause of the massive catastrophe of 1840.
Only a few years later, after a detailed analysis of the available facts, Abich concluded that it was a jolt triggered by a tectonic earthquake, not an eruption. The earthquake, in turn, caused a massive landslide, as a result of which the Armenian village of Akori (Arguri) and the Monastery of St. Jakob were completely destroyed.
The subsequent scientific activity of the scientist on the Armenian highlands was extremely fruitful and multifaceted, touching on almost all theoretical and practical aspects of geology and physical geography: paleontology, stratigraphy, tectonics, mineralogy, lithology, petrography, geobotany, orography, climatology, glaciology, Quaternary geology, hydrogeology, study of minerals, and geological mapping.
The village of Akori is first mentioned in the 5th century by the Armenian chronicler and historian Ghazar Parpetsi. The village housed the historic 4th-century Armenian church of St. Jakob (Akori Surb Akop). The monastery was founded in 341 AD and was built on the northeastern slope of Mount Ararat, in the canton of Masyatsotn, province of Ayrarat of the Armenian Kingdom.
Legend has it that Jakob was a priest who tried to ascend Ararat every day in search of Noah’s Ark, but would fall asleep halfway and wake up at the beginning of his journey. After many years of attempts, he had a dream in which he was told not to seek Noah’s Ark, and God would give him a piece of wood from the Ark. This relic was displayed in the Church of Saint Jakob in Akori.
Photo: Mount Ararat from the village of Akori, khachkars on Mount Ararat.
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan