“The city of Nakhichevan is situated in a region closely connected to the most distant periods of human history and to one of the world’s greatest events: the Great Flood, which has left its marks in the traditions of various Eastern peoples and is fully described in the Bible. Not far from Nakhichevan are locations such as Mount Ararat, Ilan-Dag, Arkuri, Yerevan, Julfa, Kulp, Kiamagu, and Marand (the latter two being in Persia). These names evoke associations with the Great Flood, Noah, and his ark. According to the Bible, Mount Ararat graciously sheltered our pious ancestor Noah and his ark after the flood, thus becoming, in a manner of speaking, the second cradle of mankind,” writes K.A. Nikitin, the inspector of the Nakhichevan city school, in his 1881 article “The City of Nakhichevan and Nakhichevan District.”
(“Collection of Materials for the Description of Regions and Tribes of the Caucasus,” Issue II, Tiflis, 1882.)
A tradition has been preserved about Noah’s activities in the salt mines of Nakhichevan and Kulp, where he was supposedly the first worker. According to legend, Kiamagu was the mountain where the ark first landed, and from there Noah moved on to Ararat. On the way, the ark collided with Mount Ilan-Dag, striking its peak so hard that it split, and since then, it has appeared as if it were cut in two.
Near the city of Nakhichevan flows the River Araks, known since ancient times. Across this river, the remnants of whose bridges have survived near the Armenian city of Julfa, passed the Roman legions and the majestic movement of peoples from East to West.
“In antiquity, Armenians called the city of Nakhichevan ‘Nakhjevan,’ and the Greeks and Romans called it ‘Naxuana’ (the name was changed for ease of pronunciation as Greeks and Romans lacked certain phonetic sounds). It was the main city of the Nakhichevan district in the Vaspurakan region of ancient Armenia. The word ‘Nakhichevan’ is Armenian and consists of the words ‘nakh-idjevan,’ which means ‘the first place of resettlement.'”
Regarding the origin of this name, tradition tells the following story. During the flood, Noah began surveying the surrounding area from the ark, which had come to rest on Mount Ararat. Noticing a stretch of land not covered by water, he exclaimed: “erevumé,” which means “it is visible,” i.e., dry land not covered by water is visible. This exclamation, spontaneously uttered by Noah upon seeing the land that heralded the end of his waterborne journey, became the reason why the word “erevumé” was initially used to name the entire visible area. Later, the name was assigned specifically to a single city, which is now known as Yerevan (Erevan),” writes K.A. Nikitin.
Upon exiting the ark, Noah cultivated a vineyard at the foot of Mount Ararat. A settlement subsequently emerged there, named Arkuri (“Ark-ury” in Russian means “planted a vineyard”), where the St. Elijah Monastery was later constructed (both Arkuri and St. Elijah Monastery were destroyed in an earthquake in 1840). From there, Noah moved to the area where the city of Nakhichevan now stands. He settled this location with his family and laid the foundation for the future city, which led to its name of Nakhuaran or Nakhjevan, meaning “the place of the first refuge.”
Noah and his family lived in Nakhichevan for a long time, and from there, according to tradition, the human race began to spread. Noah and other members of his family eventually died in Nakhichevan and were buried there.
K.A. Nikitin describes the tomb and mausoleum of the Prophet Noah located in Nakhichevan as follows:
“Thanks to tradition and history, which have recorded these traditions in their annals, as well as the religious sentiments of the Armenians, the tombs of Noah and other members of his family have been preserved from the ravages of time. They are maintained and restored to the extent that they retain their original appearance.”
Noah’s tomb is located on the southern side of the city, near the remnants of an old fortress. In its current form, it was restored by the Persians in the 8th century during their rule over Nakhichevan. Now, it appears as a small chapel sunken into the ground. A church originally stood here, which later collapsed; the present chapel serves as the lower floor of the former church. The interior of the chapel, which one must descend into via stairs, resembles a nearly circular cave with vaults supported by a stone pillar at the center.
Under this very pillar, according to Armenian tradition, lies the ashes of the patriarch Noah. The cave has neither icons nor decorations; its walls are whitewashed and inscribed with the names of travelers and worshipers in various languages.
From “Travel Notes of a Pilgrim” (Tbilisi, 1889) by N. Ter-Avetisyan:
“In Nakhichevan, outside the fortress walls, there’s an Armenian cemetery where Noah’s tomb is located. It is a low, octagonal building made of brick with a flat roof, resembling the patched remnants of a large tower with two entrances on opposite sides. Inside, the structure is arched and rests on a slender pillar in the center. People pray by this pillar, light candles, burn incense, and this spot is popularly referred to as ‘Noah’s Ark.’
Superstitious Armenians used to flock to Noah’s tomb during Holy Week. They had the custom of attaching small stones to the clay-smeared vault of the cave, believing that if the stones stuck, their wishes and prayers would be fulfilled.
Noah’s wife—Noemzar (Noemgara)—died in Marand, a Persian city located 80-90 km en route from Jolfa to Tabriz. According to folk etymology cited by medieval Armenian chroniclers, Marand means ‘Mayr and,’ i.e., the mother of all humanity is buried here.
Regarding Noah’s burial in Nakhichevan, the 13th-century Armenian chronicler Vardan Arewelc also writes in his work ‘Ashkharatsuyts,’ dedicated to the geography of Armenia and neighboring countries: ‘The tomb of the great patriarch Noah is in Nakhichevan, while Noemzar’s tomb is in Marand.’
K.A. Nikitin asserts that “some Persian and Armenian historians (Lazar Djangrinsky, geographer Hamid Ulla-Kasbinsky, and Stepanos Orbelian) date the foundation of the city of Nakhichevan to 1539 BCE and affirm that it was ‘the most beautiful and famous city in the world.’ According to their records, Nakhichevan, in its heyday in the 4th century BCE, had up to 30,000 houses or about 150,000 residents, who were distinguished by their wealth and engaged in extensive trade activities.”
In the oldest English-language universal encyclopedia “Britannica,” the founding date of Nakhchivan is stated as 1500 BC. Thus, it is one of the oldest cities on Earth, and according to the Biblical chronology of history, it is the first city founded by humans after the Great Flood. In the work by the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Kazar I Dzhakhetzi (1737 – 1751) titled “The Desired Paradise,” the following is said about Nakhchivan: “Noah built the city of Nakhchivan, which is the beginning of all constructions and the mother of all cities.”
In 633 BC, Nakhchivan was devastated by the Scythians. During the reign of the Armenian king Tigranes I (565 – 520), its population further increased with Armenians who moved there from other areas, and with captive Medes (Tigranes I participated in the campaign of the Persian Cyrus against Astyages and the destruction of the Median Kingdom, after which he settled captive Medes in Nakhchivan).
Ascending the throne in 610 AD, Heraclius I, the Byzantine Emperor of Armenian descent, destroyed Nakhchivan along with its fortress during his campaign in Persia against King Khosrow II. Another Byzantine Emperor – Basil II (975 – 1025) – of the Macedonian (Armenian) dynasty, conquered the Vaspurakan region along with Nakhchivan; in the 13th century, it was looted by the Mongols. In 1360, it was destroyed by the Turkish Sultan Murad during the war with the Persians. In 1380, it fell under the power of Shah-Miran (Mirza-Moaz-Eddin), one of Tamerlane’s sons, who conquered Armenia and was thereafter called Shah-Armen.
Such twists and turns in the fate of Nakhchivan contributed to its decline. It changed hands from one ruler to another, and its residents were subjected to plundering, murder, devastation, and enslavement. Nakhchivan was finally turned into a heap of ruins by Shah-Nadir of Persia in 1673, after which not a stone was left standing. However, like a phoenix, the city was reborn, albeit not in its former glory. The 18th and 19th centuries find it having lost its previous wealth, beauty, and trading fame, with a population reduced from 150,000 to a modest figure of 6,000 people.
For centuries, Nakhchivan constantly belonged to Persia. Only on February 10, 1828, according to the Treaty of Turkmenchay, was it ceded to Russia.
The counties (regions, provinces) of Nakhchivan and Goghtn (Vaspurakan region), Erndzhak, Shaaponk, and Djahuk (Syunik region), and parts of the county of Sharur in the Ayrarat region of Greater Armenia, all now form part of the Nakhchivan Republic, which according to the Moscow Treaty of 1921 between Russia and Turkey was given to Soviet Azerbaijan. After the signing of the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, they became part of the Armenian region created by the Russian Empire, and after its abolition, from 1849 to 1918, they were within the boundaries of the Yerevan Governorate. From the end of 1919, the modern territory of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic was part of the First Republic of Armenia.
Marina and Hamlet Mirzoyan, Moscow
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan