From the 2nd century BC, located in the upper reaches of the Kura River, Gugark has been one of the 15 provinces of Greater Armenia. Currently, this territory is located within modern Georgia, Turkey, and Armenia.
According to Strabo, the region was taken away from the Iberians in the 170s BC by the Armenian king Artashes. According to Movses Khorenatsi, Gugark used to be part of Armenia but was occupied by the Iberians. Armenian prince Smbat defeated the Iberians and reunited it with Greater Armenia.
Subsequently, Gugark as a border region was governed by a special governor (bdeshkh) with unlimited powers. In Gugark – more precisely, on the banks of Kur River – was the city of Tsunda. In Gugark also were the cities of Artahan, Kajats, Kajatun, Gadzhenk, and Lori.
Until 338, Gugark consisted of 16 gavars (counties). In 387, the rest of its previous territories were included in Gugark with the exception of Gavar Ashotsk which entered the province of Ayrarat.
7th-century Armenian geographer Anania Shirakatsi describes the province as follows:
“Gugark, west of Uti, has 9 regions owned by Georgians – Dzoropor, Tsobopor, Kolbopor, Tashir, Trely, Kangary, Artahan, Javakhk, and Klardzhi. In this province grow analut, khachar tree, quince, and beech.”
Strabo’s Geography says:
“In Armenia itself, there are many mountains and plateaus where even vines are hardly growing. There are many valleys there, some of which are not particularly fertile, while others, on the contrary, are extremely fertile – for example, the Araks plain along which the Araks river flows to the borders of Albania and then into the Caspian Sea. Beyond this plain is Sakasena bordering Albania and the Cyrus River. Farther is Gogarena.”
Javakhk is one of the nine gavars of the Gugark Ashkhar (province) of Greater Armenia. The roots of the toponym “Javakhk” go back to the times of the Van Kingdom (Urartu). In the Khorhor inscription made by the ruler of the Van kingdom Argishti I (786–764 BC), the toponym “Zabakha” is first encountered. Subsequently, the ending “a” was omitted, which was characteristic of the Indo-European languages. Then, in “Zabakh”, “j” came to replace “z”. Then, the ancient Armenian ending “k” was added to this toponym.
Today, Javakhk is part of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Territory of Georgia. The territory of Javakhk has been inhabited by Armenians since ancient times. This is evidenced by Armenian and foreign sources. The modern Akhalkalaki is one of the cities of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
Akhalkalaki district is located on the right bank of the Kur River. The municipality includes 64 villages, the population of which is 91% Armenians and 5.7% Georgians.
A mixed population (Armenians and Georgians) resides in the village of Paralet and in the village of Okami. Another mixed population (Armenians and Greeks) lives in the village of Hospio.
Let me remind you that Armenians, residents of the city of Akhalkalaki, are the descendants of immigrants from the city of Karin (modern Erzurum).
I am often asked about the Turkic-speaking Catholic Armenians in some villages – Bavra, Kardigam, Khurguma, Turtskh, Alastan, Varevan. They are usually called “gbo-frangi”. According to older inhabitants, these people had to change their language (from Armenian to Turkish) but retained their Armenian identity, traditions and, most importantly, faith.
In this case, the continued use of a foreign language was a kind of protective measure – this phenomenon has been preserved since the Ottoman times… At this time, only the elderly speak Turkish in the above-mentioned villages. Turkish didn’t find popularity among the youth.