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
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
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
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