Churches and Monasteries of Van-Dosb

Author: Robert Tatoyan, 01/10/18 (Last modified 01/10/18) - Translator: Simon Beugekian

The Monasteries of Van-Dosb

Varakavank (Inner Varak, Lower Varak, Holy Cross of Nor Menasdan)

Varakavank or the Lower (Inner) Varak monastic compound was one of the most renowned monasteries of Van-Vasbouragan – “A holy site revered and venerated by all of Vasbouragan – a stately site that captivated the spirit and the mind” [1]. It was located to the southeast of the City of Van, on the western-facing flank of the Inner Varak Mountain, atop a small plateau.

Varakavank consisted of seven adjacent churches, which earned it the nickname “Yedi Kilise” [Seven Churches) among the local Muslim population. The monastery was surrounded by a wall. The wall’s lower section was built of stone, and this was topped by mudbricks [2]. The compound’s churches were the Holy Virgin Church (built in the 11th century), Saint Kevork (narthex), the Saint Nshan Church (11th century), the Holy Cross Church, the Saint Sion Church, the Saint Hovhannes or the Holy Abbot Church (built in the 10th century), and the Saint Sophia or Partavor Church (built in 981) [3].

Photograph taken inside the Varak Monastery. Wards of the monastery’s orphanage, faculty, and monks (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

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1)  3) Cover pages of two issues of the “Ardzvi Vasbouragan” journal, published in the Varak Monastery.

2) Varak Monastery. Interior of the church
 (Source: H.F.B. Lynch, Armenia. Travels and Studies, Vol. II, London, 1901)

The most beautiful of the compound’s churches was the Holy Virgin. It had features of the Hripsemyadib architecture – it was built in the shape of a cross, without columns, had four altars, and had a dome consisting of 12 distinct decorated corners. The church was built of large unpolished stones, and the roof and dome were built of bricks. The interior walls were plastered white [4].

The Saint Kevork Narthex was built of polished stones, and the walls were decorated with murals. It had four rectangular columns and eight engaged columns, supporting horseshoe-shaped arches, which in their turn supported the eight-sided dome, with its pyramidal spire. The eastern wall of the narthex was completely covered in icons, and morning and evening services were usually held before that wall. There were three tombstones in the northeastern section of the narthex, marking the resting places of the remains of King Senekerim Artsrouni; his wife Queen Khoushoush, daughter of King Kakig Pakradouni; and Catholicos Bedros Kedatarts [5].

Abutting the Holy Virgin Church on the northern side was the Saint Nshan Church. It was relatively small in size, and had the appearance of a domed hall [6].

Clergymen and officials in Varak Monastery (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

The Holy Cross Church was built of polished stone. The arch above the main altar was semicircular, with two additional altars on each side. The church was vaulted, and in the center of the roof, a small, wooden dome rose atop a small, eight-sided platform. Faint shafts of life penetrated the interior through three narrow windows. The church had two doors, one opening onto the Saint Kevork Narthex, and the other onto the monastery’s courtyard behind its western walls [7].

The Saint Sion Church was located south of the Saint Kevork Narthex. The church’s dome and some of its walls were in a dilapidated state, and for that reason it was used as granary where the monastery stored its wheat [8].

The Saint Hovhannes or the Holy Abbot Church was built of polished stone and had three altars and a dome [9].

Adjacent to the Saint Hovhannes Church, on its southern side, was the Saint Sophia or Pertavor Church. It was a hall with a dome supported on twin buttresses, its altar illuminated by two windows [10].

The eastern and southern sectors of the monastic complex were covered by a large and beautiful orchard, which was given the name trakhdig (little paradise) by Khrimian Hayrig [11].

The monastery of Varak (Yedikilise), 1895 (Source: Delores Oro-Bedrosian collection)

The monastery was surrounded by a two-story structure, consisting of 47 rooms available for monks and visiting pilgrims, as well as a bakery, a bath, a school building consisting of eight rooms, and two large rooms that served as the monastery’s prelacy [12].

According to legend, Saint Hripsime, while on her way to Vagharshabad, had come across Varakavank, and there she had hidden the cross that she wore around her neck, made of the wood of the True Cross.  In 653, when the location of this relic was discovered, Catholicos Nerses III Dayetsi built the Saint Nshan Church on the Varak Mountain and established the Varak Holy Cross holiday [13].

Varakavank flourished in the early 10th century, under the patronage of Kakig Artsruni, then king of Vasbouragan. His wife, Mlke, gifted the church one of the most celebrated Armenian-language handwritten manuscripts, the Bible of Queen Mlke. For long years, Varakavank served as the seat of an archbishopric, and its abbots were considered to be the prelates of Van and the environs [14].

The Monastery of Varak, a general view (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice)

In 1857, Mgrdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig) was appointed abbot of Varakavank. He served in that capacity, almost without interruption, until 1885, sometimes holding the position alongside other positions of authority within the church.  The 30 years of Khrimian’s abbotship were marked by Varakavank’s growth and development. Thanks to his efforts, the monastery became the preeminent national, religious, educational, and cultural establishment in Van-Vasbouragan. One of the Khrimian’s first acts was to remove the monastery from the jurisdiction of Van’s prelates, and to place it under the direct authority of the Constantinople Armenian Patriarchate. In 1858, a printing press was established in the monastery, which printed the “Ardziv Vasbouragani” weekly publication (until 1864). The printing press also produced textbooks; as well as various religious, historical, and artistic publications, which were disseminated throughout the educational institutions of Van [15].

One of Mgrdich Khrimian’s most notable achievements as abbot of Varakavank was the establishment of the Jarankavorats School/boarding school in the spring of 1857. The school was soon serving about 25 children from the City of Van and surrounding villages [16]. In future years, the number of pupils reached approximately 40 [17]. The Jarankavorats was a modern establishment, which dispensed with corporal punishment and utilized the most innovative and progressive pedagogical methods [18].

The Monastery of Varak (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

One contemporary chronicler described Mgrdich Khrimian’s tenure as abbot of Varakavank thus – “During this 30-year period, the monastery became wealthy. Not one fragment of arable land remained fallow. Wherever appropriate, the property was covered in thousands of beneficial trees, and the Jar[ankavorats] School produced many more-or-less renowned priests, clergymen, educators, and men of letters, who served both the residents of the cities and villages of Van, as well as the entire Armenian society” [19].

When Mgrdich Khrimian was recalled to Constantinople in 1885, authority over the monastery was delegated once again to the Van Prelacy. Of all the prelates of Van, Archbishop Krikoris Aleatdjian (who served in that capacity until 1888) contributed most to the monastery. On his orders, the printing facilities were completely renovated, in addition to the dormitories of the Jarankavorats School and many other structures in the compound [20].

The monastery remained relatively prosperous during the terms of K. Alyatdjian and his successors until June of 1896, when alongside the other churches and monasteries of the area, it was attacked by bands of Kurdish bandits. Many of the monastery’s monks, Jarankavorats School’s students, and the field hands employed by the monastery were put to the sword, and the monastery’s wealth, including its animals and cattle, was plundered. Many of the administrative buildings of the compound were burned and razed to the ground. Consequently, the monastery was temporarily abandoned [21].

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1) Varak/Yedikilise monastery (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Durch Armenien, Kurdistan und Mesopotamien, Mainz, 1897)

2) St James of Koghtn on Varak mountain (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Durch Armenien, Kurdistan und Mesopotamien, Mainz, 1897)

3) Interior of Varak monastery with monks around King Senekerim’s throne (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Durch Armenien, Kurdistan und Mesopotamien, Mainz, 1897)

As soon as the wave of violence unleashed by the Hamidian massacres subsided, the people of Van began the work of reconstructing the monastery. The decision was made to entrust the work of reconstruction to laypeople – specifically, a board of trustees consisting of the city’s most prominent merchants, operating under the supervision of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Within a few years, the board of trustees was able to rebuild the destroyed buildings and to build new dormitories for the monastery’s monks, the students and faculty of the Jarankavorats School, and for visiting pilgrims. The monastery’s economy soon recovered successfully, reaching “hitherto unknown heights” [22].

Eastern Armenian intellectual A-To (Hovhannes Der-Mardirosian), who visited the Van Province in 1909, noted that the Jarankavorats School had three primary and four regular classes, and was serving more than 60 students. The monastery had a delightful garden, a large grove of trees, and a watermill fed by the water flowing from the springs of Mount Varak. It had plenty of assets, and consequently, a large income. Its wealth included more than 1,000 heads of sheep, more than 30 cattle and dams, and more than 20 oxen. The monastery also owned large tracts of pasture, and arable land exceeding 150 teseyadins [23]. Aside from this, the monastery received significant monetary support from dedicated trusts and funds. Much of this income was spent on the school, and the rest was used to meet the needs of the monastic order and the 40 field hands whom the monastery employed [24].

The plan of Varak Monastery (Source: Walter Bachmann, Kirchen und Moscheen in Armenien und Kurdistan, Leipzig, 1913)

The growth and development of the Jarakavorats School owed much to the work of Ardag Tarpinian, who was appointed principal of the school in 1905. He introduced a series of reforms. Specifically, he developed a new educational curriculum, which aligned with the curricula of the Armenian secondary schools in the Caucasus, namely the Kevorkian Lyceum and the Nersisian School [25].

One of the notable events in the history of Van Armenians and Varakavank was the 50th anniversary jubilee celebrations, in 1910, of the founding of the Jarankavorats School and the start of Khrimian Hayrig’s tenure as abbot. On this occasion, a fundraising campaign was launched, and contributions were collected from pilgrims visiting the monastery, as well as from Armenians in Van, Russia, and the United States. The money that was raised was used to meet the needs of the school [26]. The committee that organized the jubilee celebrations also published two illustrated booklets – Varaka Hopelyan – Hishadagaran yev Goch Varaka Grtagan Hasdadoutyan Hisnamya Hopelyani (1857-1907) [Jubilee of Varak – Chronicle and Announcement of the 50-Year Jubilee of the Varak Educational Institution (1857-1907)] and Hopelyan Varaka Jarankavorats Varjaranin (1857-1907), 1 Mayis 1910 Van-Varak [Jubilee of the Varak Jarankavorats School (1857-1907), May 1, 1910, Van-Varak] [27].

Roupen Pegkouliants, who visited Varakavank on the eve of the First World War, in June 1914, stated that the compound was in relatively good shape, although it still bore the traces of the destruction wrought by the Hamidian massacres. The Jarakavorats continued to function as a boarding school beside the monastery, serving about 70 pupils. A new school building was in the process of being built [28].

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1) The cover page of the illustrated booklet "Hopelyan Varaka Jarankavorats Varjaranin (1857-1907), 1 Mayis 1910 Van-Varak" [Jubilee of the Varak Jarankavorats School (1857-1907), May 1, 1910, Van-Varak].

2) The cover page of the illustrated booklet "Varaka Hopelyan – Hishadagaran yev Goch Varaka Grtagan Hasdadoutyan Hisnamya Hopelyani (1857-1907)" [Jubilee of Varak – Chronicle and Announcement of the 50-Year Jubilee of the Varak Educational Institution (1857-1907)].

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1) A general view of the exterior of Varak Monastery (Source: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

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The general layout of the monastery. 1 Holy Virgin; 2 Saint Kevork; 3 Saint Nshan; 4 Holy Cross; 5 Saint Sion; 6 Saint Hovhannes; 7 Saint Sophia (Source: Y. Lalayan, Vasbouragan. Nshanavor Vanker [Vasbouragan. Renowned Monasteries], signature (section) A, Tbilisi, 1912).

The monastery paid special attention to the development of beekeeping and birdkeeping. The compound included an apiary with 12 modern beehives. Distinguished specimens of birds had been collected and brought to the aviary. The monastery compound also included an oil press. The administration of the monastery’s affairs was relegated to a monastery administrative council, consisting the most prominent of Van Armenians [29].

In 1913, the monastery received a visit from the newly appointed governor of Van Province, Tahsin Bey. In view of the monastery’s state of progress, he presented it with a poultry incubator, and also posed for a photograph with the orphanage’s pupils [30].

In 1914, the monastery’s order consisted of only three priests [31] (by contrast, Yeremia Devgants, who visited the monastery in 1873, noted that at the time, the monastery’s order consisted of 14 members, including eight priests [32]). The monastery’s prior (the abbot was nominally the Prelate of Van) was 86-year-old Senior Priest Father Devgants (killed by Turkish police officers on April 7, 1915) [33].

Upper Varak Monastery (abandoned)

Upper Varak was located in the vicinity of Inner Varak, to the southeast of it, on the western flanks of the vale that separated the two chains of the Varak Mountains. By the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the monastery was abandoned, and its buildings lay in ruins.

According to Yeremia Devgants, the monastery buildings were destroyed perhaps as early as in the early 19th century, at the hands of “one barbaric Turk from Van,” who had blown up one the church’s domes with gunpowder and had then used the building materials he had cannibalized from the monastery to build a public bath in Aykesdan [34].

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1) The Monastery of Varak (Source: Paul Rohrbach, Armenien, Stuttgart, 1919)

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The Lake of Van, the Island of Akhtamar, and the Varak Mountain in the background (Source: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

A group of pilgrims near the Varak Monastery (Source: ‘Keghuni’, illustrated Armenian journal, 1905, Venice, St Lazzaro)

The Upper Varak Monastery consisted of two churches, of which only lone, dilapidated walls were left standing. One of the churches, which was probably the older one, was built in the shape of a cross and lacked altars, while the other, adjacent to the former, was rectangular and had two altars and two apses on the western side. The churches were surrounded by ruins of a wall and of monastic cells.

Slightly above the monastery, under a huge rock, was a cave, which according to legend, had been the cloister of the hermit Totig and his student Hovel. Nearby were the ruins of partially standing walls of a shrine. A frigid spring flowed out of the ground slightly below the shrine, which the locals called Christ’s Spring.

The spring called the “Abaranchanneri” (bracelets) flowed near the monastery, to the south of it. According to legend, two of the spring’s three streams were gifted by King Senekerim to his daughter Shoushan. This was the water used by the residents of the village of Shoushants, founded by Shoushan herself. The water of the third stream belonged to the people of Inner Varak. There was also a dilapidated chapel near the Abaranchanneri Spring, called Ourpat-ayr.

One of the handwritten manuscripts kept at the Varak Monastery (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

The monastery offered magnificent views of the area. The Lake of Van glittered in the west, while the Varak Mountain rose to the east, with its impregnable peaks of Kalilia and Asdghgan Pert (Asdghgan Fort). Kalilia was the highest eastern peak of the Varak Mountain and was revered as a pilgrimage site, because according to legend, Saint Hripsime had buried the cross that hung from her neck, made of the wood of the True Cross, at that location. The locals believed that those who fasted for an entire day then succeeded in climbing the rock at the summit 40 times would be blessed with eternal success [35].

In the 1860s, the Prelate of the Van, Mgrdich Khrimian, arranged for the church to be cleaned and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in it. “Countless pilgrims witnessed the Divine Liturgy celebrated once again in a church that was hitherto in ruins. They were filled with ancestral piety and fervor, and they wept and wailed over the church that their forebears had built with their dauntless and great work,” wrote Y. Devgants [36].

The day dedicated to pilgrimages to the Upper Varak was probably determined around this same time, and it was held each year on the Thursday of the Feast of Assumption. On that day, crowds of young pilgrims made their way up to the monastery and spent the night there. K. Sherents described these pilgrimages thus – “That day and night have their unique, mysterious significance. Many, burning with the flames of love, pick flowers and gather them into colorful bunches that they present to their sweethearts. In the morning, as soon as dawn has broken and the monastery appears in the semi-darkness as the morning star rises, group by group, in long lines, they begin their climb towards the Kalilia, the highest peak of the Varak Mountain, where a piece of the True Cross lay. They would kiss the relic, kneel before it, and sing the Nshanav Amenahaghtn hymn” [37].

Pilgrims at the ruins of the Upper Varak Monastery (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

Saint Krikor Monastery (Salnabad Monastery, Salnatsor Hermitage)

The monastery was located six kilometers to the southeast of Van, in the foothills of the Varak Mountain, at the summit of a hillock in a valley [38].

According to legend, the monastery was founded by Saint Krikor [Gregory] the Illuminator, who spent some time in the area as an ascetic, seeking the fragment of the True Cross that had been brought to the area by Saint Hripsime. The locals pointed to a small chapel in the forest slightly above the monastery, which had been built on the site of Saint Krikor the Illuminator’s own prayer site [39]. In the valley, on the banks of the stream, the locals pointed to two rocks upon which Saint Hripsime purportedly often sat [40].

The monastery consisted of the Holy Virgin and Saint Garabed churches, as well as a parsonage. The compound was surrounded by a wall, and had a separate building with rooms for monks and visitors [41].

The St Krikor Monastery (Salnabad) (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

The Holy Virgin Church had a length of 10 meters, a width of eight meters, and a height of seven meters. Six engaged columns supported horseshoe-shaped arches, four of which supported the dome, with its cone-shaped tip, and the other two loomed over two recesses that replaced altars on the western side of the church. The arch was semicircular, and had an altar on each side. The altar on the right side had a buttress with a stone that bore cuneiform inscriptions. A relic of Saint Krikor the Illuminator’s, a piece of his little finger, was kept at the church, inside a bejeweled cross [42].

There was a newly built, ordinary narthex right outside of the church, beside which was the Saint Garabed Church. In its architectural style, it was similar to the Holy Virgin Church, and had an eight-sided dome [43].

In the summers, the area of the monastery was quite breezy and the water was superb, so many families came from Van to spend the summers, lodging in rooms in the monastery or spending the nights in their tents [44].

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1) Saint Krikor Monastery (Salnabad Monastery) (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

2) Saint Krikor Monastery (Salnabad Monastery) (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

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The Saint Krikor Monastery of Salnabad – inscriptions on the church wall (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Saint Krikor Monastery (Source: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Yeremia Devgants, who visited the monastery in the spring of 1873, reported that the monastery lacked monks, and only had an abbot, Father Hagop Shabaghlian. There was also a field worker, a shepherd, and a caretaker with his two sons. The monastery’s parish included 11 Armenian-populated villages in Van-Dosb [45].

According to A-To’s figures (1909), the monastery was not wealthy, and had only 120 sheep and about 30 other animals. The monastery’s arable fields and pastures had been let, in exchange for 30 Ottoman pounds per year [46].

The monastery was home to a boarding school/orphanage (founded in 1898). It was funded by the Armenian Patriarchate, thanks to donations from various benefactors (including the national orphans’ society that operated in New York City) [47]. In 1909 the orphanage had 40 wards [48].

Saint Krikor Monastery (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Du Caucase au Golfe Persique, à travers l’Arménie, le Kurdistan et la Mésopotamie, Washington D.C., 1892)

Garmravor Holy Virgin Monastery

The Garmravor Holy Virgin Monastery was located atop a small plateau on the flanks of the Varak and Tsiatrnoug mountains. It was at a distance of three kilometers from the Aykesdan neighborhood of Van, and one kilometer from Varakavank [49].

The monastery compound consisted of one church and one narthex, in addition to the walls around it. The church was built of ordinary, unpolished stones. Two full square columns and eight half-columns supported horseshoe-shaped arches, which in their turn supported the rounded dome. The gozag was semicircular and housed a crucifix stand with the image of the Holy Virgin. The side altars were dedicated to Sain Hovhannes and Saint Kevork, respectively. The narthex was an ordinary building, without a dome, and with two full and eight half-columns [50].

Garmravor Holy Virgin Monastery (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

The monastery was known for the beautiful views it offered of Lake Van, Aykesdan, and the Sipan, Ardos, and Nemrout mountains [51]. Kevork Sherents, an intellectual and a native of Van, was amazed by these views – “To the east, sloping down at a terrifying angle, spread the perennially verdant and green meadows of the giant Tsiatrnoug Mountain (part of the Varak Mountain), dotted with colorful flowers. To the north, south, and west, the view stretched to great distances, all the way to the boundless horizons surrounding the Lake of Van on three sides. A single glance in that direction is sufficient to spot the districts and their notable villages that lie to the west, in the vast valley of Van, and Aykesdan, which appears as an elegant queen in this vastness, a fort-city with its wide avenues. One can see the fruit orchards of the Shamiram neighborhood, Ardamed, the Dzvsdan villages with their orchards and streams, Gdouts, Lim, Ar-Der, and the islands of Aghtamar with their farms” [52].

The monastery was renovated in 1868-1870, and then again in 1895-1896, to repair the damage wrought during the Hamidian massacres [53].

Garmravor Holy Virgin Monastery (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Yeremia Devgants, who visited the monastery in April of 1873, noted that the monastery had no serving abbot, and was subject to the direct authority of the Van Prelacy. Only one monk lived in the monastery, Father Asdvadzadour, who had relocated there from the Lim Hermitage, in addition to one overseer, one clerk, two field hands, two cowherds, and two caretakers [54].

A temporary orphanage/“boarding school” operated at the monastery after the famine that struck some provinces of Ottoman Armenian in 1880-1881, as well as after the massacres of 1895-1896 [55].

The monastery owned arable land, which was administered by a special board of trustees. In the early 1910s, one priest lived in the monastery, serving as an abbot, and receiving a salary of food, clothing, and 30 kurus from the board of trustees [56].

The Holy Cross Monastery

The monastery was located five kilometers to the southeast of Van, near the village of Goroupash, at the summit of a hill. It consisted of one church, one chapel (Saint Kevork), and a narthex. By the early 20th century, the roof of the narthex had already collapsed, and the church was in a dilapidated state [57].

The church measured nine meters in length, 5.5 meters in width, and about 12 meters in height. It was built of polished, white stone and in the shape of a cross. Two engaged columns supported arches, which in their turn supported the small eight-sided dome. The arch was semicircular and domed, with an altar on each side. On the western side, instead of altars, the church had semicircular, arched recesses. The church had only one door, on its western side, and two small and narrow windows. There were also four windows carved into the dome [58].

The Holy Cross Monastery. The Van city is in the background (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

The chapel was located south of the church, and had a height of nine meters and a width of three meters. It had an arched roof and no columns.

The church’s narthex was renovated in 1887, on the initiative of one Krikor apegha, who hailed from Van and had relocated to the monastery some time before. A record was made of this event [59].

The monastery served as a pilgrimage site and a resort area for the people of Van and the surrounding villages. “There was no lack of Armenian and Turkish visitors making merry under the monastery’s willows. But this did not benefit the monastery in any way,” mentions one account from the early 20th century [60].

The Holy Cross Monastery (Source: Bedros Yeghiayian collection, London)

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the monastery had no active order. Father Yeremia Devgants, who visited the monastery in 1873, noted that the duties of the monastery’s abbot were assumed by Father Khachadour, a priest from Gouroupash. Aside from him, the monastery also had two elderly caretakers, four field workers, one shepherd for its cattle, and one shepherd for its lambs. The monastery’s assets consisted of only 103 animals (85 sheep, 4 buffalos, 4 bulls, 1 cow, 9 calves, etc.) [61].

At the time of M. Mirakhorian’s visit to the monastery (1883), it had a priest serving as an abbot (the name is not mentioned), who intended to establish a boarding house/orphanage in the monastery [62].

The Holy Cross Monastery (Source: ‘Keghuni’, illustrated Armenian journal, 1905, Venice, St Lazzaro)

Groung Vanits or The Seaward Holy Virgin Monastery

The monastery was located about five kilometers to the south of the City of Van. It was situated at the peak of hillock, between the villages of Dzvsdan and Ardamed. The monastery offered a magnificent view of Lake Van, which was located at a distance of 750 meters.

M. Mirakhorian, who visited the area in the early 1880s, noted the monastery’s moniker, “Groung Vanits,” and linked it with the following legend – “One day, while a priest was celebrated the Divine Liturgy, he ran out of wine for the ceremony of the Eucharist. A stork flew into the church through the window and perched on the table, holding a bunch of ripe grapes in its beak. With great reverence, the priest accepted the bunch, and after crushing the grapes behind the altar curtain, resumed the ceremony.”

The monastery was “arakelashen” (built by apostles), but had been abandoned over time. It was put back into operation in the early 1720s-1730, by Archbishop Tavit Nouroyan and Father Zarifian of Ardamed, who built the church building that stood at the site prior to 1915.

The monastery compound consisted of the church, the narthex, the few rooms reserved for monks and for visiting pilgrims, and the wall that surrounded the compound. The church building was built of unpolished stones, and only had two narrow windows and one door, all on the western side.

The monastery was subject to the authority of the Aghtamar Catholicosate, and lacked a permanent order. Its properties included fruit orchards, as well as 225 acres of arable, unirrigated fields, which were let to two or three neighboring farmers for 15 Ottoman pounds. These farmers had arranged for a peasant family to settle at the monastery, to oversee the work on these fields.

Twice per year, on the holidays dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the monastery, in the presence of large crowds of pilgrims from both nearby villages and the City of Van [63].

The Saint Kevork Monastery of Shoushants (functioning as a church)

The Saint Kevork Monastery was located in the village of Shoushants. According to legend, the monastery was founded in the 11th century by the daughter of King Senekerim, Shoushan. From the middle of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the monastery functioned as a church. According to Y. Lalayan, the church building was “ordinary” and “unimposing.” In the immediate vicinity of the church stood the khachkar and memorial statue of Shoushan’s grave.

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1) A boulder in the Shousants Village (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

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In front of the Saint Kevork Monastery of Shoushants Village (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Durch Armenien, Kurdistan und Mesopotamien, Mainz, 1897)

A khachkar in the Shoushants Village (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Some of Saint Kevork’s relics were kept inside the church, and were thought by the local to have miraculous healing powers.

The festival day of the Saint Kevork Monastery of Shoushants was held every year on April 23, in the presence of large crowds visiting from both the City of Van and nearby villages [64].

The Churches of the Villages of Van-Dosb

Below, we present the churches of the Van-Dosb cluster of villages on the eve of the Armenian Genocide. The villages are listed in alphabetical order [Armenian alphabet]. The demographic figures of the villages of Van-Dosb and other nahies are given according to the population survey organized by the ecclesiastic authorities of Van and Aghtamar in 1913-1914 upon request of the Constantinople Armenian Patriarchate [65]

Avants/İskele

339 households, 1,592 Armenians.
Avants was the principal port on the eastern shore of Lake Van, and one of the larger Armenian-populated villages of the Van Sub-district. The village church, Saint Hovhannes the Baptist [Saint John the Baptist] was famed throughout the Sub-district. On its festival day, the church hosted pilgrims from the City of Van and from nearby villages [66]. In the mid-1850s, the church had two serving clergymen [67].

The Avants village, a port on the Lake of Van (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Ardamed/Edremit

130 households, 720 Armenians
The Holy Virgin Church. In the mid-1850s, the church had two serving clergymen [68].

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1) Ardamed. A general view (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

2) Ardamed. A boulder. According to legend, the Assyrian queen Shamiram once picked up this boulder with her hair and hurled it at enemies who were pursuing her (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

1
2

1) Ardamed. Vishabakar (Armenian megalith) (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

2) Bible. Miniature illustrations by Zakaria Avantsi, from the Van area. The Bible is currently housed at the Mesrob Mashdots Repository of Manuscripts (Madenataran), number 5332, Yerevan (Source: Armenian Miniatures from the Matenadaran Collection, Nairi Publishing House, Yerevan, 2009)

Pertag/Doğanlar

56 households, 581 Armenians.
The Saint Hovhannes Church (built of stone and mortar). In the mid-1850s, the village had one serving clergyman [69].

Tarman/ Değirmenköy

68 households, 581 Armenians.
The Saint Sarkis Church (roof built of wood). In the mid-1850s, the village had one serving clergyman [70].

Lamzgerd/Kıratlı

68 households, 482 Armenians.
The Saint Hovhannes Church (roof built of wood) [71].

Lezk/Kalecig

192 households, 1,178 Armenians
The Holy Virgin Church [72]. The village was also known for its Holy Savior of All shrine/pilgrimage site (roof built of wood) [73]. The festival day of the Holy Savior of All was held two weeks after Easter, on Red Sunday, in the presence of crowds of pilgrims from both the City of Van and from neighboring villages. Notably, a large number of these pilgrims were groups of young men and women, dressed and adorned in their best, and hoping to find the object of their love. As such, the festival often transformed into a curious exercise in families visiting with their children’s potential future spouses [74]. In the mid-1850s, the village had two serving clergymen [75]. On the eve of the Genocide, the presiding clergyman in Lezk was Father Sdepan Der-Sdepanian [76].

Lezk. A general view. The Holy All-Savior chapel/pilgrimage site sits atop the rock (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Dzvsdan/Elmalık

80 households, 530 Armenians.
The Saint Sarkis Church (or Saint Kevork, according to other sources [77]). In the mid-1850s, the church had three serving clergymen [78]. The church was also home to a 500-year-old handwritten Bible called the “Red” Bible [79].

Gentanants/Kavurma

49 households, 285 Armenians.
The Holy Virgin Church (sturdy structure built a stone roof). The church is mentioned in chronicles from the Middle Ages as the Gentananits Monastery, and is described as a hub of letters and scholarship. In the mid-1850s, the church had one serving clergyman [80].

Goghpants/Sarmaç

32 households, 218 Armenians.
The Saint Kevork Church [81]. The church is not mentioned in the survey conducted in the mid-1850s. Instead, the survey mentions the Saint Krikor of Salnabad Monastery, located near the village [82].

Pilgrims at the sacred willow of the Ghoghpants Village (Source: Mekhitarist Order, San Lazzaro, Venice. Courtesy of Father Vahan Ohanian)

Gouroupash/Kurubaş

108 Armenians, 698 Armenians.
The Saint Stephen Church. In the mid-1850s, the church had one serving clergyman [83]. On the eve of the Genocide, the church was also in possession of an ancient handwritten Bible, in addition to 2,000 Ottoman pounds’ worth of valuable vessels, silver crosses, clerical vestments, etc. [84].

Mkhgner/Gölyazı

48 households, 308 Armenians.
The Holy Resurrection Church (roof built of wood) [85].

Shahpaghi/Beyüzümü

167 households, 895 Armenians. 

The Saint Sdepanos Church (roof built of wood). In the mid-1850s, the church had three serving priests [85]. A Bible known as the “Red” Bible was kept in the church, and was believed to have the power to cure rubella, epilepsy, and other diseases [87].

Shoushants/Kevenli

80 households, 559 Armenians.
The Saint Kevork Church of Shoushants (formerly a monastery). In the mid-1850s, the church had one serving priest [88].

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2
3

1) Ezekiel's Vision, from the Hymnal of Van, 1529. The item is kept in Jerusalem (ms. 1667, fol. 237v).
2) The Temptation of Adam and Eve, from the Hymnal of Van, 1529. The item is kept in Jerusalem (ms. 1667, fol. 58v).
3) Romance of Alexander, 1535-36. The miniature is purportedly the work of Krikor I, Catholicos of Aghtamar, copied at Varak Monastery. The item is kept in Jerusalem – N. 473, fol. 19.
(Source: Bezalel Narkiss (ed.),
Armenian Art Treasures of Jerusalem, Massada Press, Jerusalem, 1979)

Vosgepag/Beşçatak

45 households, 270 Armenians.
The Saint Hovhannes Church [89]. According to the survey conducted in the mid-1850s, the village’s church was called the Holy Virgin Church (roof built of wood) [90].

Chopanoghlou/Çobanoğlu

26 households, 168 Armenians.
The Saint Hovhannes Church [91]. According to the survey conducted in the mid-1850s, the village lacked an operational church [92].

Bakhezig/Aşağı Çitli

15 households, 98 Armenians.
The Saint Hovhannes Church (roof built of wood). In the mid-1850s, the church had one serving priest [93].

Sghka/Bostaniçi

104 households, 660 Armenians.
The Holy Virgin Church (built of stone and mortar). In the mid-1850s, the church had two serving priests [94].

Farough/Köşebaşı

35 households, 210 Armenians.
The Holy Virgin Church (roof built of wood) [95].

[1] K. Sherents, Srpavayrer. Deghakroutyun Vasbouragani-Vana Nahanki Klkhavor Yegeghetsyats, Vanoreyits yev Ousoumnaranats [Holy Sites. Geography of the Most Significant Churches, Monasteries, and Educational Institutions of Van-Vasbouragan], Tbilisi, 1902, page 59.
[2] Y. Lalayan, “Vasbouragan. Nshanavor Vanker[Vasbouragan. Renowned Monasteries], Azkakgragan Hantes [Ethnographic Review], Tbilisi, 1911, Book XXI, page 59.
[3] M. Hasratian, “Varakavank,” Krisdonya Hayasdan [Christian Armenia] Encyclopedia, Yerevan, 2002, page 962.
[4] Lalayan, Azkakgragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 60; and Hasratian, “Varakavank,” page 962.
[5] Lalayan, Azkakgragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 62.
[6] Ibid., page 65.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., page 66.
[9] Ibid., and Hasratian, “Varakavank,” page 962.
[10] Lalayan, Azkakgragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 66.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Hasratian, “Varakavank,” page 963.
[15] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 64.
[16] Dzeroug, “Vani Nahanke Nergayoums” [“The Province of Van Today”], XXIV, Mourdj, 1904, N. 12, page 51.
[17] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 64.
[18] Hasratian, “Varakavank,” page 963.
[19] Dzeroug, “Vani Nahanke Nergayoums,” page 51.
[20] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 64.
[21] Dzeroug, “Vani Nahanke Nergayoums,” page 52.
[22] Ibid., H. Yeramian, Houshartsan [Memorial], Vol. A., Alexandria, Aram Sdepanian Press, 1929, pages 433-434 and Vol. B., page 133.
[23] One teseyadin was equivalent to about one hectare.
[24] A-To, Vani, Bitlisi, yev Erzurumi Vilayetnere [The Provinces of Van, Bitlis, and Erzurum], Yerevan, Cultura Press, 1912, page 24.
[25] See the memoirs of Karekin Movsisian, an alumnus of the Jarankavorats School: www.raa-am.com/raa/public/publish.php.
[26] Yeramian, Houshartsan, Vol. A., page 434; and Vol. B., page 133.
[27] Varaka HopelyanHishadagaran yev Goch Varaka Grtagan Hasdadoutyan Hisnamya Hopelyani (1857-1907), assembled by S. Chitouni, Constantinople, Ottoman Cooperative Society Press, 1910, page 32; and Hopelyan Varaka Jarankavorats Varjaranin (1857-1907), 1 Mayis 1910 Van-Varak, Constantinople, Dikran Doghramadjian Printing Press, 1909, H, page 24.
[28] Р. Бекгульянц, По Турецкой Арменiи. Впечатленiя отъ поѣздки лѣтом въ 1914 году, Ростовъ на Дону, 1914, page 18.
[29] Ibid., pages 16-17.
[30] Ibid., pages 18-19.
[31] Ibid., page 18.
[32] Y. Devgants, Djanabarhortoutyun Partsr Hayk yev Vasbouragan 1872-1873 [Travels in Upper Hayk
and Vasbouragan 1872-1873
], Yerevan, History Institute of the Academy of Science of Armenia, 1991, page 272.
[33] Teotig, Koghkota Hay Hokevoraganoutyan yev ir Hodin Aghedali 1915 Darin [Calvary of Armenian Clergy and its Flock’s Catastrophic Year of 1915], New York, 1985, page 43.
[34] Devgants, Djanabarhortoutyun…, page 276.
[35] Lalayan, Azkakgragan Hantes, Book XXI, pages 57-58.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 57.
[38] Lalayan, Azkakgragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 80.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid., page 84.
[41] Ibid., page 83.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid., page 84.
[44] Ibid., page 80; and Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 53.
[45] Devgants, Djanabarhortoutyun…, page 243.
[46] A-To, Vani, Bitlisi, yev Erzurumi Vilayetnere, page 25.
[47] Archbiship D. Balian, Hay Vanorayk [Armenian Monasteries], Holy Echmiadzin, 2008, page 264.
[48] A-To, Vani, Bitlisi, yev Erzurumi Vilayetnere, page 25.
[49] Lalayan, Azkakragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 77.
[50] Ibid.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 50.
[53] Ibid., page 51.
[54] Devgants, Djanabarhortoutyun…, page 246.
[55] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, pages 51-52.
[56] Lalayan, Azkakragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 80. Teotig mentions that on the eve of the Genocide, the name of the monastery’s abbot was Father Yeghishe Kheranian (Teotig, Koghkota…, page 44), who is presumably the same priest mentioned by Lalayan.
[57] Lalayan, Azkakragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 86.
[58] Ibid.
[59] Ibid., page 88.
[60] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 47.
[61] Devgants, Djanabarhortoutyun…, page 241.
[62] M. Mirakhorian, Ngarakragan Oughevoroutyun i Hayapnag Kavars Arevelyan Dadjgasdani. Deghagroutyunk Saren yev Tsoren, Hnen yev Noren Bidani Kidnots [Descriptive Chronicle of Travels to Armenian-populated Provinces of the Eastern Ottoman Empire. Reports and Practical Information on Mountains and Valleys, on the Old and the New], Part B., Constantinople, M.G. Sareyan Printing Press, 1885, page 241.
[63] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, pages 45-46; Mirakhorian, Ngarakragan Oughevoroutyun…, pages 227-229; Lalayan, Azkakragan Hantes, Book XXI, pages 84-85; and H. Vosgian, Vasbouragan-Vani Vankere [The Monasteries of Vasbouragan-Van], Part A., Vienna, Mkhitarine Press, 1940, pages 246-249.
[64] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, pages 47-48; Lalayan, Azkakragan Hantes, Book XXI, page 77; and Vosgian, Vabsouragan-Vani Vankere, Part A, pages 255-256.
[65] A-To, Medz Tebker Vasbouraganoum 1914-1915 Tvagannerin [Great Events in Vasbouragan in the Years 1914-1915], Yerevan, Louys Printing Press, 1917, pages 11-13, 18, and 21.
[66] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 70.
[67] Arevelyan Mamoul, Smyrna, 1878, September, page 180.
[68] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179; T.Kh. Hagopian, S.D. Melik-Pakhsian, H.Kh. Parseghian, Hayasdani yev Haragits Shrchanneri Deghanounneri Pararan [Dictionary of Place Names of Armenia and Surrounding Areas], Volume 1, A-D, Yerevan, Yerevan State University Press, 1986, page 491; K. Patalian, “Arevmdyan Hayasdani Badmajoghovrtakragan Ngarakire Medz Yegherni Nakhorein. Mas Arachin: Vani Vilayeti Gendronagan, Husisayin yev Arevelyan Kavarnere” [The Historical and Ethnographic Character of Western Armenia on the Eve of the Armenian Genocide, Part One: The Central, Northern, and Eastern Districts of Van Province], Vem All-Armenian Review, Year Seven (13), N. 2 (50), April-June, 2015, page 115.
[69] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179.
[70] Ibid.
[71] Ibid.
[72] Hayasdani yev Haragits Shrchanneri Deghanounneri Pararan, Volume 2, page 868, D-G, Yerevan, Yerevan State University Press, 1988, page 566.
[73] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 180.
[74] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 69.
[75] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 180.
[76] Teotig, Koghkota…, page 43.
[77] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179; and Hayasdani yev Haragits Shrchanneri Deghanounneri Pararan, Volume 2, page 868.
[78] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179.
[79] Hayots Tseghasbanoutyune Osmanian Tourkiayoum: Verabradznerou Vgayoutyunner: Pasdatghteri Joghovadzou [The Genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey: Testimonies of Survivors: Anthology of Documents], Volume I, Province of Van, Yerevan, Armenian National Archives, 2012, page 40.
[80] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179; and Hayasdani yev Haragits Shrchanneri Deghanounneri Pararan, Volume 3, G-N, Yerevan, Yerevan State University Press, 1991, page 88.
[81] Patalian, “Arevmdyan Hayasdani Badmajoghovrtakragan Ngarakire…”, page 116.
[82] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179.
[83] Ibid.
[84] Hayots Tseghasbanoutyune Osmanyan Tourkiayoum…, page 42.
[85] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 180.
[86] Ibid.
[87] Sherents, Srpavayrer…, page 66.
[88] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179.
[89] Patalian, “Arevmdyan Hayasdani Badmajoghovrtakragan Ngarakire,” page 117.
[90] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 179.
[91] Patalian, “Arevmdyan Hayasdani Badmajoghovrtakragan Ngarakire…”, page 117.
[92] Arevelyan Mamoul, 1878, September, page 180.
[93] Ibid.
[94] Ibid., page 179.
[95] Ibid.