Old Armenian buildings in the city of Kars

The city of Kars, rich in Armenian history, witnessed significant shifts in its population demographics and architectural structures throughout the centuries. Its Armenian population decreased drastically due to the forced relocations during the Russian-Turkish war in the 19th century, as well as the horrors of the Armenian genocide in the 20th century.

By the end of the genocide, the Armenian community in Kars was nearly wiped out, leaving the city in the hands of the Turkish, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, and other minor ethnicities. The large-scale displacement of the Armenian population from Kars led to the expansion of the Armenian diaspora across the globe, from Russia and Georgia to Europe and the United States.

The city’s Armenian history is palpable even today. The name of the city itself, Kars, originates from the Armenian word “karats/Ikarus”, signifying “building/strengthening”. Kars is nestled in the north of the Ayrarat province of the Vanand region of the Armenian Highlands.

In the 9th century, the city was recognized as the capital of Armenia, and for a period, it was the seat of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, the city, rich in Armenian heritage and culture, was occupied by Turkish forces in 1920. During this occupation, thousands of civilians lost their lives, and a great number of Armenians were displaced, becoming refugees.

The implications of the large-scale displacement from Kars have been far-reaching. As of 2022, the descendants of Armenian refugees from Kars and its surroundings range from 670,000 to 810,000 individuals worldwide. The demographic composition of Kars has shifted drastically over the years, with Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Turks, and other minorities now making up the majority of its population.

In a hypothetical scenario where all Armenian descendants returned to Kars, the population could reach up to 1.1 million, with Armenians comprising the majority. Yet, a large-scale return of Armenian refugees to Kars would invariably bring numerous challenges. The city, like many other regions of Western Armenia, has undergone significant changes in terms of its population demographics, and cultural and religious landscape.

Numerous properties, including residences and religious sites that once belonged to the Armenians, are now in the hands of different ethnic groups. Resolving these issues would require international intervention and cooperation, with potential strategies including voluntary evacuation, compensation for the appropriated property, or even repurposing of certain sites.

The fate of Kars, alongside other historically Armenian regions, is intertwined with the international recognition of the Armenian genocide. Only through understanding and acknowledging the gravity of the atrocities committed against the Armenian population can the global community work together towards restoring justice and fostering reconciliation. This would involve not just dealing with the past, but also envisaging a future where the cultural heritage and historical rights of all communities are respected and preserved.

Vigen Avetisyan

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