Read Also: Armenians – the only masters of Kars. The administrative center of the Kars region (and the current Kars province of Western Armenia) is the city of Kars. It is one of the twelve capitals of Armenia, specifically, it was the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Bagratuni in 928-961 AD, as well as the Armenian Kingdom of Kars in 963-1065 AD.
At the same time, Kars was also the capital of the gavar Vanand of the Ayrarat ashkhar of Greater Armenia. The city of Kars is mentioned in written sources from the 9th century, but as a fortress and fortified settlement (in Armenian geography there is a term “berdavan”, i.e. fortress-settlement) – already from the 10th-9th centuries BC.
One of the original versions of the toponym Kars is Karuts Berd or Karuts Kahak, literally translated as “Kar’s fortress” or “Kar’s city”, on the basis of which many Armenian studies experts attribute the etymology of both Kars and another large Armenian city, Karin (Erzurum), to the ancient name Karenitis – a tribe that participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian nation.
In this regard, it is interesting to compare with the toponyms Karenis, Karni, or Karnak of Ancient Armenia, which may derive from the name of the descendant of Hayk Nahapet – Garnik. In the case of Kars, an analogy with the Armenian verb “karutsel” – to build – is striking.
Also, the version that Kars, Karuts Kahak may originate from the Armenian “kar” (stone, as well as a fortress, fortified avant-kert) is not without grounds. It is appropriate here to recall the widely used term “kert” by many Armenian dialects, meaning rock, cliff – and it is on such a rock that the famous Kars fortress was built.
In conversational Armenian language, as well as in Turkic transcription, the name of the city sounds like G’ars – a consequence of the dialectal variant of the Shirak pronunciation.
The city of Kars is located in the gavar of Vanand of the Ayrarat ashkhar of Greater Armenia, 65 km southwest of Gyumri and 42 km northwest of Ani, on both banks of the Kars river, a right tributary of the present Akhuryan (in ancient times this river bore the name Akhuryan, and the present Akhuryan was called Shirakadzor).
To the west of Kars begin the foothills of the mountain range Karmir Porak (Turks and Kurds call it Allahakbar), and to the east and south of the city extends the vast Vanand or Kars plateau.
Until 1918, Kars was part of the Russian Empire, as a result of which many Russian toponyms have been preserved in the district of the city. Thus, the peaks surrounding Kars bear the names Peschernaya, Orel, Signalnaya, Verblyuzhya, Stolovaya, and the links of the defensive system built on them are the forts Opasny, Storozhevoy, Pehotny, etc.
In addition, there are dozens of settlements around Kars, in which Russian settlers lived until 1920-22 – Blagodarnoye, Alexandrovka, Olgovka, Dashkovo, and others. One of the villages was called Vladikars – by analogy with Vladivostok, Vladikavkaz, now it is called Lyadikars.
Among others, there was a village with an Estonian population – Novoestonskoye. Among the many medieval Armenian monuments in Kars, there was also a monument to the Russian weapon, which for almost two centuries shoulder to shoulder with Armenian volunteers and warriors defended Kars from Turkish gangs.
The monument to Russian heroes was unveiled on November 6, 1910, on Gavarakan (Gubernskaya) Street, near the Church of the Derbent Regiment. In 1919, the Turks blew up the monument, but in 2010, a copy of it was restored in Gyumri, on the Hill of Honor.
The building of old Kars almost exactly replicated the panorama of Gyumri – these two- and three-story houses of unique charm made of black Shirak tuff, these cobbled streets, carved wooden balconies and eternal domes, domes – there were 18 Armenian and Russian churches in the city, not counting mosques converted from ancient churches.
Among the Armenian churches of Kars, the main one was the Cathedral of Surb Arakelots (“Mayr Yekeghetsi” – Mother Church) or Holy Apostles, still towering in the center of the city.
The Surb Arakelots Church was built in the middle of the 10th century during the reign of the Armenian king Abas Bagratuni. Circular in plan, this central-domed majestic structure is one of the best masterpieces of Armenian medieval church architecture, and it has also been quite well preserved.
In Armenian architecture, this type of church is known as the four-sided Mastara. Other Armenian churches in Kars are Surb Nshan (Holy Cross), Surb Astvatsatsin (Mother of God), Surb Grigor, Surb Mariam.
Among the Russian Orthodox churches, the Cathedral of Archangel Michael stood out, among the Greek ones, the Church of St. George (Surb Gevorg) is worth mentioning. Until 1920, there were urban primary schools for girls and boys, a women’s gymnasium, a school at the church of Surb Mariam, as well as a Real school, among the graduates of which was the great Charents. Not far from the latter, a summer garden was laid out on a small island on the Kars river.
The dominant position over the entire city is occupied by the famous Kars Fortress, from which, actually, Kars began to be built. The fortress is located in the western part of the city, on a rock, it is surrounded by powerful double walls with 26 towers, the territory of the fortress stretches for a kilometer in length and 500 meters in width.
The importance of the Kars Fortress remained unchanged over the centuries. The Turks, who periodically captured it, also continued to build and strengthen the fortress, so that in the mid-19th century the Kars Fortress was considered a structure equal to Przemyśl and Verdun.
Surrounded by a system of defensive forts, Kars, led by its oldest Armenian fortress, was impregnable.
Its loss at the beginning of the 20th century was not a consequence of military actions, but the result of political games, the victims of which were Armenia, which had consistently defeated the enemy on the battlefield more than once.
Among the medieval Armenian monuments of Kars, three arched stone bridges thrown over the eponymous river, which are among the best engineering structures of medieval Armenia, are of no small importance.
In 1916, the population of Kars was just over 32,000 people, of which almost 26,000 were Armenians, the rest were Russians, Greeks, Turks, Tatars, Assyrians. Many famous Armenians were born in Kars, forever inscribed in the Eternal Book of Armenian history.
To this day, though in a very deplorable state, the house where Yeghishe Soghomonyan was born on March 13, 1897, has been preserved. He is the immortal Charents, a poet, writer, translator, and simply a patriot, whose famous words “Oh, Armenian people, your only salvation is in your unity” remain relevant even today.
In 1913, according to the memoirs of Charents’ classmate Aram Chebanyan, an excursion of students from the Real school was organized to the ruins of Ani. Among the frolicking boys, who did not think too much about the realities of the surrounding world, Yeghishe stood out with some sad thoughtfulness. To the question of what is happening to him, Yeghishe replied:
“You are happier than me, you are not gnawed by longing, you are not horrified by the thought that all of Armenia lies in ruins, like this once powerful city of Ani…” In 1915, Yeghishe Soghomonyan, who joined the 6th Armenian Volunteer Corps, took part in the battles for Van. In 1920, he served as a commissioner for special assignments in the Ministry of Public Education and Art of the First Republic of Armenia. In 1937, he perished in the Soviet meat grinder that was building a “bright future”…
In addition to Charents, the people’s artist of the Armenian SSR, a corresponding member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR, Ovannes Zardaryan (1918-1992, among his paintings are “The Bridge of Sighs in Venice”, “Bright Evening”, and “Spring” stored in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow);
The writer and public figure Atrpet (Sargis Mubayadzhiyan, 1860-1937, the author of the novel “Almast”, dedicated to the activities of the secret group “Defender of the Fatherland”, as well as the story “Tzhvzhik”, based on which the film of the same name was shot);
The writer Ahavni (Ahavni Grigoryan, 1911-1992, was born in the village of Dalar (Taylar) near Ani, the author of the famous novel “Shirak”); poet and writer Vaan Aramuni (1914-1966), Iranian-Armenian writer L.Bznuni and many other figures of culture, art and science of Armenia. Part I
by Grigor Beglaryan
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan
Read Also: Armenians – the only masters of Kars.