Armenians – the only masters of Kars

Until the beginning of the 1920s, the Kars region was part of the First Republic of Armenia, divided into the provinces of Kars, Olti (Vokhtis), and Artahan (Ardahan).

However, violent changes in the ethnographic picture of the region, accompanied by almost total distortion of its toponymy (starting from the second half of the 17th century), led, eventually, to the fact that today we, Armenians, the only masters of Kars, do not know and do not remember our original geographic names of this ancient Armenian land, for many centuries being one of the granaries of Armenia.

The absurdity reaches such extent when, for example, we start talking about a 7th century church in the village of Sogutlu or Oguzlu. Let’s get acquainted with the true names of many Kars villages – it is they who should appear in articles and proclamations of Ay Data.

After all, we are talking about two large and famous provinces of the Ayrarat region of Great Armenia – Shirak and Vanand.

The eastern part of the Kars province of the same name is occupied by a small district (havarak) named Shoragyal – a distortion of the Armenian toponym Shirak. At present, a hypothesis is popular that traces its etymology to the name of the Sirak tribe, which took part in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian nation.

The father of Armenian history, Movses Khorenatsi, associates the toponym “Shirak” with the name of one of the descendants of Haik Nahapet – the famous gourmand and lover of lavish feasts, Shara.

It is here, in the central part of the Shirak province, in the basin of the right tributary of Akhuryan or Shirakadzhura (in ancient and medieval times Akhuryan was not this river, but the present Karsidzhur) – the river Akanits or Mavrekadzhur, were located the huge barns of Shara – the granaries of Armenia.

Indeed, the extensive highland fields and plateaus of Shirak have been cultivated by Armenians for wheat and other cereal crops since ancient times, providing bread for the entire country.

And it is in Shirak, which over time has distorted into Shoragyal, that three of the ancient Armenian capitals are located – Ani, Kars, and Shirakavan.

Shirakavan itself, originally called Erazgavors, was located on the right bank of the present-day Akhuryan, 16 km southwest of Kumayri, south of the confluence of its right tributaries – the Karaan and Vardanidzhur rivers, in the picturesque gorge of Gehiart.

Later, on the site of the ancient city, the village of the same name, Shirak, arose, which over time became the center of the same-named havarak. For this reason, the Turks who appeared here later began to call the village Bash-Shirak (literally Head or Upper Shirak, meaning “main”).

Even later, Bash-Shirak turned into Bash-Shoragyal. Further on, the toponymic confusion was intentionally further exacerbated – the Turks began to call the large village of Akaku, located west of Shirakavan, up the course of Karahan, Shoragyal.

Today, this village is distortedly called Ak’yaka, and the historical Shirakavan itself – Shatin or Chetindurak.

Erazgavors-Shirakavan was the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Bagratuni in 890-928, after which King Abas Bagratuni moved the capital to Kars. Shirakavan was a large city, the center of Armenian literacy and culture.

In addition to the famous and once huge barns of Shara, in 897 a remarkable Surb Amenaprkich Cathedral was erected here – a masterpiece of Armenian early medieval architecture. Even earlier, in 826, the Church of Surb Ovannes was built.

Among other monuments of this city, it is worth noting the small chapel of Bardzreal Khach. Until 1920, the Saakyan school also operated in the village of Shirakavan.

West of Shirakavan, on a small triangular plateau formed by the Akhuryan, Karahan, and Kars rivers, in the aforementioned Gehiart gorge and at the tops of Pshekh and Bisiar, ancient rock images are found, and on the north side, near the village of Tignis (ancient Tehenis), there is the fortress of Shirakavan, which also protected the capital Ani from this side.

It is in Shirakavan, according to one version, that Anania Shirakatsi was born between 605 and 610 – a famous Armenian medieval cosmographer, geographer and cartographer, to whom the well-known “Armenian Geography” of the 7th century is attributed.

Shirakaci created a model of the globe a thousand years before Mercator! According to another version, the birthplace of Shirakaci is the village of Aneank or Anania, located just southwest of Shirakavan, with its ruins located in the valley of the Akancic river (later named in honor of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice Mavrekadzhur), west of the Karmir Vank monastery.

However, the name Aneank is most likely not associated with the name Anania, but with the name of the capital, Ani. In Shirakavan in 1907 and 1910, sisters Mariam and Eranui Aslamazyan were born – famous Armenian artists of the 20th century.

In recent times, after the violent annexation of the Kars region and Surmalinsky district to Turkey, on the left bank of the current Akhuryan, in Soviet Armenia, the villages of Erazgavors and Shirakavan were founded (on the site of older settlements), named after the glorious capital of the Bagratunyats kingdom.

However, the losses of Armenian history and architecture in Shirak did not end there. At the turn of the 20-30s of the 20th century, on the Akhuryan river, friendly Soviet and Turkish “powers” built a large Akhuryan reservoir, under the water of which remained dozens of Armenian monuments on both banks of the river.

Among other things, the ancient settlements of Shirakavan and Sevakn were flooded, numerous monuments of the famous village of Jrapi (churches, bridges, medieval aqueduct), a number of ancient Armenian villages – Astekhani, Bernezi, Akhuzum and much more …

9 km west of the capital Shirakavan, on both banks of the Kars river (ancient Akhuryan), is one of the most famous and wealthy villages of Shirak – Argina. The village is divided into two major parts – Old and New Argina.

At the western end of Old Argina are the ruins of a large Armenian medieval city with the same name. Being a significant fortress even in pre-Christian times, Argina is first mentioned in written sources of the 6th-7th centuries, in particular, by Sebeos, in connection with the Greco-Persian war of 603.

After Shirakavan became the capital of the Bagratunyats kingdom, the throne of the Armenian Catholicos is located in Argina, in the oldest monastery, restored and expanded by the efforts of Catholicoses Anania Mokatsi and Hachik Arshakuni, whose graves are here.

Among other buildings, the remarkable Cathedral of Argina stood out, repeating its architecture similar to the cathedrals of Ani and Eereruyk.

Argina also had the most famous higher school and a large library in its time, being one of the main centers of Armenian medieval literacy, culture, and science. The monastery complex was built under the leadership of the famous architect Trdat. In addition, both parts of the village of Argina had their own churches.

The surroundings of the cities of Shirakavan and Argina, of course, were densely populated by Armenians at all times. In the already mentioned triangular plateau of Shirakavan, in the interfluve of the current Akhuryan and Kars, at the tops of Pshekh and Ginek, is the village of Bravehu, now called Eski (i.e. Old) Brval.

The name of the village in ancient Armenian means exactly “old”, “ancient” (literally – excavated). In addition to the church and Armenian cemetery with khachkars and other tombstones with inscriptions in Armenian, in the vicinity of the village, there are rock carvings of the IV-V millennia BC.

North of Argina, at the confluence of the right tributaries of the Akhuryan – the rivers Karahan and Moks (Moguts), is the aforementioned village of Akaku or Ak’yaka, the southern part of which used to be a separate village called Shahshah or Chahchah (Kzylchahchah).

West of Akaku rises the summit of Akaku, closing a small valley of Karotvayr, and north of the village lies the Bantsrel plateau with dozens of caves and grottoes, preserving traces of the oldest settlements of Shirak. Here stand out the tops of Blur, Btakond and Kajagrak.

The villages neighboring Akaku – Salakar, Tignis and Kotan – are located on the Kars-Kumayri railway, in the lower course of the Karahan. The village of Salakar has been called Uzunkilisa for the last two or three centuries (the Turkic “kilisa” is a calque of the Armenian “ekexeci” and the Greek “eglisia” – “church”), now – Esen’yayla.

A left tributary of Karahan, Til, flows through the village. In Salakar itself were the church of Surb Astvatsatsin and the Armenian cemetery. Near Tignis (in ancient times – Tehenis), as already mentioned, are the ruins of the fortress of Shirakavan.

The church of Tignis was called Surb Minas. Near the village in 1807, Russian troops under the command of Count Gudovich inflicted a heavy defeat on the Turkish bands of Kara-Yusuf Pasha. In 1868, the inhabitants of Tignis founded New Tignis slightly above the old village.

In 1903, 620 Armenians lived in Tignis. The ruins of another ancient Armenian village, Djrvezh (“waterfall”), lie between the villages of Argina and Bravehu-Brval, on the right bank of the Kars river.

We have described a tiny piece of Armenia, one of the districts of the gavar Shirak of the Ayrarat ashkhar of Greater Armenia, occupying an area smaller than the center of Yerevan – and count how many dozens of Armenian toponyms we have mentioned!

So it is everywhere, all over the territory of our great country – thousands, tens of thousands of names and names of our history, distorted, changed, translated, still being trampled and subjected to cultural-historical genocide.

It’s time to become true masters of our own history and culture, of our country – at least for its geographical names…

by Grigor Beglaryan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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