How Armenian Scientists Saved the Door of the Arakelots Monastery – Early 20th Century

How Armenian Scientists Saved the Door of the Arakelots MonasteryDuring WWI, the Armenians suffered a terrifying tragedy. Taking advantage of the war, the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire initiated mass massacres of Armenians and other Christians living in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenians in particular suffered enormous losses, with the Turks killing approximately 1,5 million Armenians. Additionally, the Turks plundered and destroyed numerous cultural and historical monuments created by the Armenians over the past centuries.

Scientific expeditions

In the early months of 1916, far from the Caucasian front, the Russian troops, among them Armenian voluntary units, were able to fully conquer the governorate of Western Armenia. Being aware of the plundering and destruction of Armenian monuments carried out by the Turks, the Armenians undertook a number of scientific expeditions to rescue Armenian relics.

During the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Turks destroyed medieval centers of the culture of Mush: most importantly, the monastic complex of Saint Karapet and Arakelots Monastery. However, the Turks have also been taking out valuable items with them for selling. It is also known that German archaeologists working in the Turkish army were tasked to make sure that the most valuable items are transported to the Imperial Museum in Berlin.

The medieval door

Among the salvage of the Turks was the wooden door of the Arakelots Monastery, which was moved to a safer place for storage.

Historian and archaeologist Smbat Ter-Avetisyan was in one of the expeditionary groups tasked with the salvation of Armenian relics. Thanks to his efforts, over 1,000 Armenian manuscripts, historic documents, and ethnographic accounts have been saved. He accidentally discovered the wooden door of the Arakelots Monastery in the summer of 1916 in Bitlis, 18 kilometers southwest of Lake Van. He found and recognized the relic in an abandoned warehouse full of loot.

A group of Armenian volunteers scarcely took the door to Georgia to hand it in to the Armenian ethnographic museum for safekeeping. In 1921, a renowned Armenian archaeologist and historian Ashkharbek Kalantar transported the door to the National History Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. Today, the door is showcased in the hall “Armenia in the 10-14th centuries.”

If you are interested in some historical facts, this 2,02 x 1,42 (H x W) m door was skillfully made in 1134. It is not only an artifact of great historical significance but also of striking beauty. After all, it is a masterpiece of medieval Armenian craftsmen Toros, Grigor, and Ghukas. It features ornamentation comprised of geometrical shapes, images of animals, as well as bas-reliefs depicting horsemen.  The door has an inscription on it indicating the names of those who made it and also the year it was made in.

Arakelots Monastery

Arakelots Monastery is a famous medieval Christian Armenian temple, which was located in a close vicinity to the city of Mush. Traditionally, it is considered that the monastery was built on the relics of the Apostles in the 4th century by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, hence its name. It was plundered by during the invasion of Tamerlane in the 14th century. After being renovated in the 15th-16th centuries, the monastery became a prominent center of Armenian writing. In 1901, the territory of the monastery housed the unit of Andranik Ozanian and Gevord Chavush resisting the besiegement of the Turkish troops. This event is known as “The battle for the Arakelots Monastery”. The monastery was abandoned and ruined during the Genocide in 1915.


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