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Shirak Land History

Shirak is one of the chief towns of Airarat province of historic Armenia. It lies on the middle and lower reaches of the river Akhurian and occupies about 3730 square kilometers (map). Set at 1530 meters above sea level, the Shirak plateau is mainly in black earth belt. The biggest river of the region is the Akhurian, which originates from Lake Arpi and divides the plateau into two parts, joining the Araks in the south. The river has several tributaries that drain into the valley. The historic district of Shirak has been inhabited since the early stone age. The flora and the fauna--the latter of which is evidenced by various fossil discoveries--suggest that the region was favorable for gathering and hunting, and that sources of flint, dacite, volcanic glass served as raw materials for making stone tools. At the end of the 4th millennium BC, Shirak entered into the Bronze Age. Numerous places with historic monuments such as stone fortresses testify to this transition. Though Eneolithic monuments in the Shirak region have not been studied yet, the early and rich Bronze Age culture is thought to have inherited much from a previous culture. In Early Bronze Age, communities occupied not only foothills but also highly mountainious regions, which are often 2000 meters above the sea level. The Early and Late Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1200 BC) gave birth to the development of economy, culture, and social relations that are witnessed by various monuments and archeological units. In this period on the Armenian highlands, according to Hittite and Assyrian sources, tribal communities emerged
At the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BC) on Armenian plateau there began the processing of iron, which favoured the further development of Shirak's economy and social relations, growth of agriculture, cattle-breeding and arts.
In the 9th century BC in the wider sphere surrounding Lake Van the state of Urartu emerged, which, with its simultaneous growth, began to occupy and override neighbour tribes, making their territories an organic part of Urartu.
Of the first Urartian kings (Argishti I 786-764 BC) two cuneiform records remain (photo), where Argishti records Eriarkh's invasion of Shirak and about its booty.
Victory inscriptions of Van's kingdom of Urartu contain rich information about the population of Shirak, and about its highly developed agriculture and cattle-raising in this period. There is one historical interpretation which suggests that the word Shirak originates from the name Eriarkh, which is recorded in the Urartian cuneiforms.
After the fall of Urartu Shirak was one of the organic parts of an Armenian kingdom, which later turned into a satrap of Achemenid Iran. One of the best manisfestation of Shirak culture in this period is the site of Beniamin and its antique residence (5-2BC) in the royal house of which the influence of Achemenid culture and its local mainfestation is vividly clear.
During the last years of the reign of king Ervand (3 century BC) the royal residence moved from its capital at Armavir to the newly estabilished town of Ervandashat, located in the south of Shirak, in the place where the waters of the river Araks join the waters of the Akhurian.
King Artashes I's reign (189-160 BC) brought about a rapid advance in national economy and culture, and the dynasty he established became especially powerful and prevalent under the Armenian king Tigranes the Great (95-55 BC). Map.
Written records give evidence that Shirak, being situated on a crossroads, was bound up with the cultural centers of neighbouring regions.
The Artashat-Sebastapol highway, which was mentioned in Pyetingeryan boards, passed through Shirak to Georgia and Abkhazia. The importance of this route was also highly recognized in the Middle Ages.
During the reign of the Arshakids dynasty (1 century AD) when feudal relations were established in Armenia, Shirak's previously regal province was given to the great Kamsar family.
At the beginning of the 4th century, after Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion, new types of religious constructions began to be built, among which cathedrals and other constructions have survived up to the present as masterpieces of Medieval Armenian architecture. After the fall of the Arshaks and after the seizure of Armenia by Arabs, Kamsar nobility was still powerful in Shirak. This was a period of improving material and cultural levels; the province became famous for its numerous astounding architectural monuments, for its cultural workers and service men.
In the time of the Bagratids (9-11 centuries) the province was on a new rise. In 961 Ani was estabilished as capital and in a short time it became one of the biggest and most popular cities in the East. The population was about 100,000 in the 11-13 centuries. The fast upsurge of the city was conditioned not only by the economic rise but also by its suitable geographical position: it was nearly in the heart of the Bagratunyants kingdom and with its convenient networks was tied both with various parts of Armenia and with Georgia, Caucasus Alban, Iran, the Mediterranean, Byzantium and with the districts neighbouring the Black Sea. Arts, culture, and trade flourished in the city. Ani had a wide market square, numerous hotels and inns (photo).
In the second half of the 10 century the descendants of Kamsar family - the Pahlavuni generation which had been cut off from social life, played an active part in economic, cultural, military, and political life of the province. Many castles, barracks, cloister composites such as Haringe, Horomos, Khtkong, Marmashen etc, were not only centers of religion and art but they were also great industrial economic units (photo).
Numerous historical-archeological monuments in the Shirak region, several lithographs and family cemetries in theMarmashen cloister testify to the energetic activity of the Pahlavuni generation in building projects.
There was a considerable abatement in national economy and culture when the province was occupied by Turks after the fall of Bagratunyan family. Only in 1199 when the province was set free from Turks and the Zakaryans began to rule the country was there a rapid advancement in economy, culture, and the arts. In the 12-13 centuries, are internal and external trade developed considerably. But at the same time internal struggles among nobilities all over the territory of Iran, rising of dines prevented the further development of trade. The situation made them find out new ways of trade with Poland, Russia etc. This short "flight" of Shirak was interrupted by the seizure of Mongolians and Tatars who ruled the country in the 13-14 centuries.
In 1555 Sephid Iran and Ottoman Turkish concluded a treaty according to which Armenia was divided into two parts: Western Armenia became an organic part of Iran and Eastern Armenia - part of Turkey. This political situation survived till the 19 century. After the Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813, according to the Gylistan treaty, Western Shirak became an integral part of Russia. Within the years of 1829-1830 many of Armenian families from Western Shirak towns Kars and Karin migrated to this area (photo).
In 1837 the Russian tsar Nikolay I paid a visit to Shirak. On the river Akhurian near the village Gyumri a fortress was built, and a stronghold town which was called Alexandrapol in honour of the Tsarina, which later in 1924 was renamed Leninakan, and later still, in 1992 was renamed Gyumri. Gyumri is one of the ancient towns of Armenia. All over the territory of the town you can find several monuments, fortress-residence, mausoleum fields, and churches testifying to the fact that there has been life here for more than 5000 years. Gyumri is first mentioned in an 8th century manuscript as Kumayri by the historian Gevond. Here in the Shirak province, in 744 there took place a victorious battle against Arabic usurpers. For many centuries Kumayri has been mentioned in various textual sources as Koumiri, Kimiri, Giumri. In 1992 the town was again renamed Giumri.
In 1849, the province of Yerevan was created and the district Alexandrapol, which with its borders mainly corresponded to the eastern part of historic Shirak. Later the western part of Shirak was included in the region Kars.
Very soon Alexandrapol became one of the most flourishing towns in Shirak. In 1897 according to a general census its population was 131,417, including 120 villages. In 1899 when the first railroad was built, it turned into an important transport junction. At the turn of the 20th century the population of town was 51,000. Industry, arts, trade, education and culture were in the process of development.
The First World War, revolutions, the Turkish intervention of 1918-1920, which was accompanied looting and masscre destroyed the industry of the province and forced thousands of people to migrate. The Turkish occupation of 1918-1921 was especially cruel. After the establishment of the Soviet Union a new page began in the life of province. In 1924 Alexandrapol was renamed Leninakan and Leninakan province was abolished. According to a new territorial -administration division Shirak was divided into 5 regions. In 1926 the total population was 54,857 but in 1988 204,000. The development of industry, culture and science ceased when the terrible earthquake of 1988 struck.

According to the new administrative division of the Republic of Armenia, the Shirak region, with its capital Gyumri, is now one of the 11 administrative districts of Armenia (map).

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Aragats Mountain

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