Kaza of Bulanik - Monasteries, churches, and places of pilgrimage

Author: Tigran Martirosyan, 26/06/17 (Last modified 26/06/17)

The kaza (county) of Bulanik formed the Moush sandjak (prefecture) of the vilayet (province) of Bitlis and was the seat of the vice-prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Certain sources indicate that first church, or episcopacy, in Hark (the historical Armenian name of Bulanik), was consecrated as far back as the fourth century AD by Gregory the Illuminator, the first head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The church stood in Manazkert, which during the existence of the Kingdom of Greater Armenia from the fourth century BC and until the fifth century AD, was the principal town of Apahunik, a county adjacent to Hark. However, because bishops serving in that church or episcopacy figured in some chronicles as being affiliated with Apahunik, and in other ones with Harkʿ, it has been argued that both counties might have been under the jurisdiction of the same diocese or episcopate at the time. From the fifth century onward, Hark had its own church or episcopacy, as testified by records of attendances at various ecumenical councils. [1]

Ruins of the Skanchelagorts Surb Nshan monastery (Source: VirtualANI).

This status persisted in Bulanik during the Ottoman era in the form of vice-prelacy and lasted until 1915. The Bulanik vice-prelacy was situated at the monastery of Saint Daniel near Kop, a locality that by the end of the Ottoman era became the principal town of the county. Administratively, the vice-prelacy reported to the Moush prelacy located in the town of Moush, seventy-eight kilometers (forty-nine miles) southwest of Kop. From 1876 to 1882 and from 1885 to 1886 the prelate of Moush was Bishop Grigoris Aleatchian. [2] From 1908 until 1915, Bishop Nerses Kharakhanian held the position. [3] Despite being a cleric associated with the Moush prelacy, the vice-prelate of Bulanik had no voice in the Moush district council, called meclis-i idare, to which the prelate was entitled, nor was he eligible to attend the council meetings. In the years before the genocide, archimandrite Hamazasp Vardanian was the vice-prelate of Bulanik. He also fulfilled the duties as the abbot of the Saint Daniel monastery.

Beginning from the 1870s, a small Protestant community formed in Moush barely amounting to one hundred households. [4] Of these in Bulanik about a dozen, according to one source, or five to six, according to another, were Lutheran Armenian households. [5] After being ordained as a priest in 1913, Pastor (Verapatveli) Melik Baghdassarian ministered to the county’s Armenian Protestant families. [6] In the early 1900s, in all of the Moush sandjak there were about one thousand Armenian Protestants. No source used for this study contained data on Armenian Catholic households in Bulanik, if there were any. Elsewhere in Moush, however, the number of Armenian Catholics amounted to three thousand. [7]

Bulanik was famous for its religious feasts and rituals, such as Kaghand (New Year), Tsnndyan Ton (Christmas), Terndez (Candlemas Day), Surb Sargis (Feast of Saint Sargis), Barekendank (Festival week before Lent), Djodj Pas (Great Lent), Aghbrgir or Avetarani Qouyrer (Sisters of the Gospels), Hambardzum (Ascension), Vardevar or Vardavar (Transfiguration), Astvaratsin (or Astvatsatsin) yev Surb Khach (The Holy Mother of God and Holy Cross). [8] Religious holidays were customarily observed and celebrated at local churches or monasteries. For Djodj Pas, each household brought food to share to the local church on the last Friday of Lent, where anyone could partake of the food. The potluck dinner would recur the day following Easter. For Vardavar, festivities were held at the Saint Daniel monastery, during which horsemen grass hockey djirid, as well as dances, chants, and sacrificial offerings, were arranged for the residents of adjacent villages of Bulanik and Manazkert counties. For Astvatsatsin yev Surb Khach, which fell in August, the locals would go on their first pilgrimage of the year to the Saint Toukhmanuk churches.

The following were the most revered Christian saints in Bulanik, who were known for their ability to bestow blessings and absolve sins. The list includes sanctuaries and places of pilgrimage where these saints were worshipped:

The Holy Mother of God (Balak kounbet, Kanach chounbar, Khatoun yeghnik Surb Tiramer)

Surb Tiramer was feared for her ability to affect sinners with leprosy, in the local parlance “godou yara.” The Surb Astvatsatsin church at the Metsopavank monastery near Akants (Artske) on the northern shore of Lake Van [9] was the sanctuary where the Holy Mother of God was worshipped and where Bulanik Armenians would go on a pilgrimage. Near the monastery sprang a spring-well; lepers considered its water healing and used it to bathe sore areas.

Saint John the Baptist at Moush (Msho Sultan Surb Karapet)

Surb Karapet was revered for granting the faithful their hearts’ desires. This saint was worshipped at the homonymous monastery, which was located thirty-five kilometers (twenty-two miles) northwest of the town of Moush (present-day village of Çengilli). After Easter and until the feast of the Transfiguration, Bulanik maidens, and occasionally young men as well, would observe a daily and weekly fast for Surb Karapet. On weekends, only dishes cooked with butter or egg dishes, or both, were allowed; no meat dishes were eaten during the weekend fast. Young adults would observe the fast for seven years, after which they would go on a pilgrimage to the Surb Karapet monastery to ask the saint to grant them the desires of their hearts.

Saint George (Surb Gevorg)

George was a Roman soldier in the Guard of Roman emperor Diocletian, who ordered his death for failing to recant his Christian faith. As a martyr, he later became one of the most venerated saints in Christianity. In Bulanik, Surb Gevorg was revered for his ability to cure hernia. There were two sanctuaries where Surb Gevorg was worshipped and where Bulanik Armenians would go on a pilgrimage. One was at the homonymous monastery in Shirin, a village located in the kaza of Sparkert of the Bitlis sandjak. The other was at the homonymous monastery in the Putku locality near Moks, a town located in the kaza of Moks (Mokats) of the Van sandjak.

Saint Sargis (Surb Sargis)

Sargis was a general in the army of the Roman emperor Constantine I. When Constantine died, Julian the Apostate ascended to the throne, and Sargis, who converted to Christianity, fell into disfavor. He and his son Martiros found refuge in Armenia where King Tiran urged Sargis to join the banners of the Persian Shah. The Shah named Sargis to the post of commander-in-chief, but demanded that he convert to fire worshipping. Sargis flatly refused and died together with his son. The saint was held in reverence insomuch that Bulanik Armenians would observe a fast for him. For three days young men and women abstained from food till evening. Before bedtime they ate salty unleavened bread. It was believed that a girl, who offered a jug of water to a young man in his dream, would become his bride, and vice versa. The sanctuary where the locals went to worship Surb Sargis was at the homonymous monastery near Dugnuk, a village situated fifteen kilometers (ten miles) north of Manazkert.

The Miracle worker (Skanchelagorts)

Skanchelagorts was a holy relic kept in the monastery of the Holy Seal (Skanchelagorts Surb Nshan) that stood on a slope of Mount Sipan near Artské. It was believed to be a piece of the bronze basin in which Jesus had been washed just after his birth. Mary and Joseph brought the bronze splinter to Judea, from where Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew brought it to Armenia. The relic was believed to have the power to cure diseases, such as bubonic plague, smallpox, etc. [10]

Father Housik’s son and his sole liturgy (Ter Houska vordin yev yur mekik patarage)

Priest Housik’s son Stepanos was a young priest who officiated at the service only once. After he was ordained as a priest, Stepanos had a horrible vision during his first liturgy; subsequently, he made a vow to never hold church service again. Bulanik Armenians would invoke his name to ensure an oath would never be broken, as Stepanos upheld his vow. The sanctuary where Stepanos was worshipped, the monastery of Ter Houskan’s Son (Ter Houskan vordu vank), was also known as the monastery of the Holy Mother of God at Argelan (Argelana Surb Astvatsatsin vank), and was situated near Berkri, [11] a town located ten kilometers (six miles) northeast of the easternmost coastline of Lake Van.

Saint Toukhmanuk (Surb Toukhmanuk)

Surb Toukhmanuk was a Kurdish boy who converted to Christianity and suffered martyrdom at the hands of his Muslim co-religionists. Legend has it that the six-year old son of a Kurdish sheikh named Hamzá would go with his Armenian peers to priests and read scriptures in Armenian. When word got around, Hamza dragged his son out of a village, later Kurdified to Hamzashekh, cut the boy’s body into pieces and then handed it to his Armenian villagers. Bulanik Armenians sanctified the boy and erected churches named toukh manuk, meaning “swarthy lad.” The name is likely a folk-etymologized borrowing from the Kurdish language, in which the word “manuk” sounds like “lamuk,” a derivative of “lavo,” meaning “lad.” On Saturday nights, incense was burnt and oil-lamps were lit in Saint Toukhmanuk churches in reverence of the little saint. [12]

Forty Martyrs (Karsoun manuk)

These martyrs were a group of Roman soldiers, who became victims of the persecutions by Emperor Licinius and sacrificed their lives for the sake of Christian faith near the town of Sebaste/Sivas (Sebastia) in Lesser Armenia, a vast region to the west of the Kingdom of Greater Armenia. In traditional Christian martyrologies these martyrs earned the name of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. There was no particular place of worship for these saints in Bulanik, but the martyrs were revered with such fervor that women and girls would kneel in prayer forty times forty.

The village of Gouravi in the Plain of Moush (Source: Sargis and Misak Bdeyan, Harazat Patmutioun Tarono [The Authentic Story of Taron], Cairo, 1962)

One primary source that contains a count of monasteries and churches by village for the Moush sandjak is the lists of Armenian churches and monasteries submitted to the Ottoman ministry of justice and religious minorities in 1912 to 1913 by the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The lists, which were compiled apparently on orders from the Ottoman authorities, contained not only the names of monasteries and churches, but also their locations, years of construction, and whether or not they were licensed by a ferman, a special decree issued by the Sultan. It is evident from the lists that the Patriarchate received information from prelacies in the Armenian-populated provinces and towns. The report that accompanied the Patriarchate’s lists, called taqrir, mentioned eighty-two monasteries and churches for the Moush sandjak and adjacent villages. [13] For unknown reasons, however, the kaza of Bulanik and other counties of Moush (Manazkert, Vardo, and Sassoun), were left out, thus restricting the count to monasteries and churches in the town of Moush and the villages of the Plain of Moush.

Other source suggests that inclusive of Bulanik, Manazkert, and Vardo, as well as the adjacent province of Batman and the Hizan sub-district (nahiye) of the Bitlis county, the number of churches amounted to 148. [14] According to Archbishop Malachia Ormanian, in the early 1900s there were 230 churches and monasteries under the Moush prelacy jurisdiction, which extended over the Moush and Gench (Genç) prefectures. Of these, the most eminent in Moush were the Surb Karapet monastery and the monastery of Holy Apostles (Surb Arakelots). Apart from being large theological centers, these monasteries were important sanctuaries of the Armenian Christian pilgrimage not only in Moush but, indeed, in all of the Armenian Highlands. Interestingly, it was fedayi Nadό, a guerilla fighter from the Blour village of Bulanik, who during the genocide rescued the Gospel Book of the Surb Arakelots monastery and deposited it for safe-keeping in the Etchmiadzin cathedral. [15]

The town of Akants (Artske) (Source: Henry Lynch, Armenia: Travels and Studies, volume 2: The Turkish Provinces. London, 1901).

Below is a list of monasteries, churches, and places of pilgrimage in the kaza of Bulanik during the Ottoman era. Wherever possible, the list includes information regarding the number of the serving clergy, which was extracted from the last of a three-volume travel guide published by Manuel Mirakhorian. Most names of the clergymen were obtained from the book “The Calvary of Ottoman Armenian Clergy and its Flock’s Catastrophic Year of 1915” published by Teodik (Teotoros Lapjinchian). A few names were extracted from the treatise on the history of Armenia written in 1871 by Dr. Avetis Berberian, the book on the losses of the Armenian clergy during the genocide written in 2009 by Bishop Papken Tcharian, as well as from periodicals Arevelk and Ararat. Unless otherwise mentioned, the information submitted below is drawn from sources covering a period of about thirty years or from the mid-1880s to 1915.

1. The title page of Divan Hayots Patmoutian (The Archives of Armenian History), volume 13: Outrages in Turkish Armenia. Tiflis, 1915. (in Armenian)

2. The title page of Hayots Yekeghecin (The Church of Armenia: Her History, Doctrine, Rule, Discipline, Liturgy, Literature, and Existing Condition) by Constantinople Patriarch Malachia Ormanian. Constantinople, 1911. (in Armenian)

Monasteries of the Bulanik county

According to the 1913 – 1914 Patriarchate census, there were three monasteries in Bulanik, [16] of which, prior to World War I, only two were functioning: the Saint Daniel (Surb Daniel) monastery and John the Baptist (Surb Karapet) monastery. The third, the Saint George (Surb Gevorg) monastery, was in a dilapidated state throughout the decades before the genocide. Another dilapidated monastery, the Saint John (Surb Hovhannes) monastery, stood outside of Bulanik in the neighboring kaza of Khlat. However, Surb Hovhannes is mentioned in this study because the site of the monastery was considered sacred by Bulanik villagers. Bulanik Armenians revered their monasteries to the extent that the monks were occasionally given a cow as a gift. As a Bulanik custom had it, the clothes of a deceased household member were given to the monks as a form of payment for burial service. As English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard observed in the mid-nineteenth century, “local monasteries were resorts of the afflicted and diseased who trusted to their faith, rather than to medicine, for relief.” [17]

Surb Daniel monastery marked as “Kilise” (Turkish for “church”) on a WWII-era British map.

The Monastery of Saint Daniel (Surb Daniel)

To the south of Kop stood a beautiful monastic complex; its close proximity to Kop earned it the name “Kopavank” (the monastery at Kop). The monastery was also known as Karmir vank or Karmro vank. The monastery contained the relics of Daniel, a choirbishop of Assyrian descent, who worked as the custodian of the churches of Taron during the reign of King Tiran Arshakouni (339 – 350 AD). Catholicos Housik I, the Patriarch of the Armenian Church at the time, rebuked the king and his courtiers for leading a wicked life and forbade them from attending the church. In retort, the king ordered Housik to be beaten to death with sticks. Daniel denounced the king for Housik’s murder and predicted a divine scourge for the crime. Tiran simmered with unappeasable rage and had Daniel strangled. [18] Circa 347, Daniel’s remains were interred on a hill, where his monastic cell once stood. A popular folk tradition holds that during the transportation of Daniel’s breathless body, an upper crossbar of the cart, in Armenian “kop,” fell off near a village, which subsequently took its name from that cart detail. Later, circa 360, over the site where Daniel was buried, a walled monastery was built [19] becoming in the consecutive centuries the most important sanctuary of the Armenian Christian pilgrimage in Bulanik.

Administratively, the Saint Daniel monastery reported to the John the Baptist (Surb Karapet) monastery in Moush. Monastic clergy consisted of three monks headed by the vice-prelate, who administered without a sexton or a deacon. Several monastery laborers ministered to them. English Major Frederick Millingen observed that a small convent near Kop, obviously referring to Surb Daniel, had one chapel. [20] According to Irish geographer Henry Lynch, the monastery had an elegant chapel without a bell tower, in which over the altar hung an image of the Holy Virgin and Child. [21] Msho Gegham (Gegham Ter-Karapetian), author of the memoirs about Taron monasteries, suggested that the monastery had two chapels: the Holy Mother of God chapel and the Saint Daniel chapel. [22] Layard noted that the Kurds had plundered the convent of its books and its finery, but the chapel remained pretty well as of the mid-nineteenth century as it had been some fifteen centuries ago. [23] There was a small two-storey residence of the vice-prelate and eight or nine rooms for the monks. On the premises there stood a shed, a barn with several cows, buffalo, oxen and sheep, two water mills, and a hulling stone. Apparently, the cattle stock was abundant; the northern gate was marked by a plaque that read: “This monastery once had cattle in an amount such that within twenty-four hours fifty wicker baskets of manure were taken out.” The monastery was in possession of three meadows and fertile land property, with farm buildings within their enclosure.

The monastery was renovated in 1701 under the care of archimandrite Mkrtich Ziaratsi, a representative of the Patriarchate. The repair and restoration work was carried out by foreman Simon, from the town of Baghesh (Bitlis). [24] No historical monuments, records or chronicles existed in the monastery. According to one source, history has not preserved any record of the glorious past of the monastery or outstanding clergy that served in it, except for Bishop Hakob Harkatsi, a leader of the Tondrakian religious movement in the late tenth and early eleventh century. The movement was centered on the area around Mount Tondrak, north of Lake Van. Bishop Hakob negated the need for the church and the clergy to act as intermediaries between God and the faithful and preached asceticism. Catholicos Sargis I Sevantsi defrocked the bishop, accused him of heresy, and had him put in jail. In the closing stages of his life, Hakob lived in Tondrak and then in the Khlat village among his fellow confederates. [25] Other source suggests that Surb Daniel was a famed monastery in Bulanik. [26] In the monastic graveyard stood beautiful carved cross-stones khachkars and tombstones. One of them was the tomb of Karabakhi archimandrite Khachatour, who was an abbot of the Saint John (Saint Hovhannes) monastery at Bagavan, also known as Uchkilisa monastery near Vank, a village in the Diyadin county of the Erzrum province. In the early eighteenth century, Khachatour fought the invading Persian army and was taken captive. In captivity, he was badly tortured, but was eventually set free. Fate brought him to Kop, where he entered the Surb Daniel convent, and subsequently died.

Of the abbots of the monastery the following names have come down to us. In the early 1800s, the abbot was Father Vardan. [27] In the early 1870s, the abbot was Father Ghazar, who reputedly was succeeded by Father Mambre Yeghishe. [28] In the 1880s, the abbot was Father Harutiun Shahinian. [29] In the early 1890s, Father Simon assumed the abbotship. Prior to the Hamidian massacres, under the pretence of finding an arms cache hidden in the monastery, Father Simon was arrested on false charges. Unable to prove guilt, the Ottoman authorities sent him into exile. [30] In the early 1900s, the abbot was Father Petros Pledj. [31] In the years before the genocide, Hamazasp Vardanian assumed the abbotship. Along with his direct duties, he wrote extensively for the newspapers published in Moush and Constantinople. When the Russian forces arrived at Manazkert in May of 1915, Father Vardanian mingled with the crowds of Bulanik Armenians fleeing from Ottoman troops between the fourteenth and sixteenth of the month; the troops committed mass murders of Armenians as they advanced. [32] Father Vardanian died of exhaustion upon reaching the town, his body left unburied by the panic-stricken countrymen. [33]

The Surb Daniel monastery was razed by the Turkish authorities at an unknown date after the genocide. According to Mirakhorian, Lynch, and Bensé (Sahak Movsissian), an ethnographer and native of Bulanik, the monastery stood not far from the southern quarter of Kop, about one kilometer (0.62 miles) south of the town in the direction of Lake Khachli. As of 1975, a heap of stones reputedly the remains of the monastery, some bearing carved crosses, stood in the hillside on or close to the road tending south from Kop towards the lake at approximately 39°06’N 42°15’E. [34] More recent topographic position finding suggested the monastery was located at 39°4’33.35”N 42°16’25.22”E, or possibly slightly to the east or west of that location. The village seen in the background of the photograph below is almost certainly Sheykhyakoub (present-day Göllüova), previously a large Armenian-inhabited village and second closest locality to Surb Daniel after Kop.

The Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (Surb Karapet)

Surb Karapet stood in Khachlu, a previously Armenian-inhabited village situated south of Kop on the southern shore of Lake Khachli, and surrounded by fertile tracts of land, orchards, and vineyards. The monastery was an elegantly built, splendid structure with beautiful khachkars standing nearby. Although several sources identified a monastery in Khachlu, the 1913–1914 Patriarchate census, oddly enough, listed a dilapidated church. There was also an ancient Armenian graveyard in the village, the location of which can be determined by a cottage hospital built over the destroyed graveyard in the early 2000s. [35]

The Monastery of Saint George (Surb Gevorg)

The monastery stood near Alibodjan, a village situated southeast of Kop and east of Lake Khachli. The Surb Gevorg monastery had fallen into disrepair decades before the genocide and was listed as a dilapidated structure in the 1913–1914 Patriarchate census.

The Monastery of Saint John (Surb Hovhannes)

Surb Hovhannes stood near Kers, a village situated on the northern shore of Lake Nazik, twenty-one kilometers (thirteen miles) northwest of the town of Khlat. The monastery’s close proximity to Kers earned it the name “Kersa Surb Hovhannesi vank” (the Saint John monastery at Kers). Bulanik villagers went there on a pilgrimage, as they considered the large forested area near Surb Hovhannes, called “prak” in the local parlance, sacred. Trees and shrubs were considered sacred insomuch as neither the Armenians nor the Kurds dared to prune a single branch. Villagers would wrap ragged scraps of clothes—their own or those belonging to loved ones—around the tree branches, believing that by doing so they would leave pain and sickness behind at the sacred site. [36]

Churches of the Bulanik county

During the late-nineteenth century and prior to the genocide, there were around fifty Armenian and mixed-population villages in the Bulanik county, most of which were scattered across the plain that bore the same name, and some beyond. Almost every Armenian village had a functioning church; some had two or even three churches. Most of the village churches were shabby and unsightly structures that lacked conveniences and splendor. Almost every functioning church had serving clergy. In fact, there were so many village priests in Moush, including Bulanik, that if their number were divided by the total number of Armenian-inhabited villages, each priest would minister twenty households at most. [37] Ottoman government annuals, called salnamés, from 1871, 1872, and 1873 stated there were twenty-six Armenian churches in the kaza of Bulanik. [38] The 1878 Patriarchate census of the Moush prefecture listed thirty churches in the county. The Patriarchate listed twenty-nine churches in Bulanik prior to World War I. [39]


The Church of Saint George (Surb Gevorg). According to Tadevos Hakobyan, Stepan Melik-Bakhshyan, and Hovhannes Barseghyan, authors of “Dictionary of Place Names of Armenia and Adjacent Territories,” Surb Gevorg was one serving clergyman, Father Nerses. According to Hakobyan et al., Surb Gevorg was a shabby church. The mosque that stood in the village had previously been a church, almost certainly Armenian.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). There were two serving clergymen, according to Mirakhorian. Teodik reported that there was only one clergyman, Father Martiros.


The Church of Saint John (Surb Hovhannes). There was one serving clergyman.

Grave on the summit of Khamour  (Source: Henry Lynch, Armenia: Travels and Studies, volume 2: The Turkish Provinces. London, 1901).


The Church of Saint Bartholomew (Surb Bardoughimeos).


Hakobyan et al. suggest there purportedly was a monastery in the village, as Dono is oftentimes identified with the Donevank village, where, as reported by a late medieval Armenian chronicle, under the patronage of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin), a gospel was written. Hamazasp Voskian, author of the treatise on the Taron-Touruberan monasteries, is ambivalent about the existence of a monastery in the village, arguing that there was no shortage of village names in all Armenia with suffix “vank” (in Armenian, “monastery”), but in which oftentimes no monasteries were found. [40]


An unnamed church. There was one serving clergyman, Father Soghomon Ter-Hovsepian.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). Surb Astvatsatsin was an ancient church built of stone and complete with three sacristies. There was one serving clergyman, Father Movses Ter-Vardanian.


The Church of Saint Toukhmanuk (Surb Toukhmanuk). Hakobyan et al. suggest that Surb Toukhmanuk was a chapel and not a church. There was one serving clergyman.


The Church of Saint James (Surb Hakob).


The Church of Saint George (Surb Gevorg). There was one serving clergyman, Father Gabriel Mkhitarian.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). The church was a simple structure built of stones. Kharabashehir stood on the site of a settlement that was reputedly founded by Hayk Nahapet, the progenitor of the Armenian nation, who gave it the name Haykashen, meaning “built by Hayk.” [41]


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). The church was built of black hewn stones. There were two serving clergymen, Father Hovhannes Manoukian and Father Ghazar Ter-Meliksedekian.

1.The cover page of Storagroutiun Hin Hayastaniayts (Description of Ancient Armenia) by Ghukas Inchichian. Venice: Saint Lazarus Island, 1822. (in Armenian)

2.Book cover of the first edition of “The Calvary of Ottoman Armenian Clergy and its Flock’s Catastrophic Year of 1915” by Teodik. Constantinople, 1921. (in Armenian)


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin) built circa 1850, the Church of Saint Toukhmanuk (Surb Toukhmanuk) built circa 1820, and the non-functioning Church of Saint George (Surb Gevorg). There was also a dilapidated chapel of Saint Stephen (Surb Stepanos) in the town. According to the Patriarchate 1878 census figures, there were two churches in Kop: the Church of Saint James (Surb Hakob) and the Church of Saint Toukhmanuk (Surb Toukhmanuk). Hakobyan et al. suggest there were two other dilapidated chapels. There were five to six serving clergymen. According to Sevan Nishanyan, the main entrance of the District Gendarmerie in the present-day town of Bulanık represents the stone columns of one of the above-mentioned Armenian churches. [42]

Gospel from Kop. This seventeenth-century gospel, titled “Varderi tan Karmir kogh,” was brought in 1910 from Kop by a member of the Melik’s family and deposited in the Tsovazard village, Armenia (Source: The Gegharkunik Diocese Youth Federation website).


An unnamed church.


The Church of Saint Thaddeus (Surb Tadevos). There was one serving clergyman.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). The church was an ancient structure built of black basalt stones. However, the location and architectural appearance of the church, according to Mirakhorian, were far from perfect. There were two serving clergymen, Father Sahak Astvatsaturian and Father Nahapet.


The Church of Saint John (Surb Hovhannes). Hakobyan et al. suggest that Surb Hovhannes was a chapel and not a church. Whether one or the other is true, the structure stood in the western quarter of the village. There were two serving clergymen.


The Church of Saint Stephen (Surb Stepanos).


The Church of Saint James (Surb Hakob).


The Church of Saint George (Surb Gevorg). According to Mirakhorian, the church, which was also called Surb Gevorg Zoravar, was an unornamented, yet beautiful structure. There were two serving clergymen, according to Mirakhorian. Teodik reported that there was only one clergyman, Father Raphael.


The Church of Saint Stephen (Surb Stepanos). Mirakhorian identified Surb Stepanos as an ancient church. There was one serving clergyman.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). There was one serving clergyman, according to Mirakhorian. Teodik reported that there were two clergymen, Father Khachatour and Father Haroutiun.


The Church of Saint Toukhmanouk (Surb Toukhmanuk). There was one serving clergyman.


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin) and the Church of Saint George (Surb Gevorg). In the late-nineteenth century, the village had several households of Armenian Protestants, adherents of the Holy Ghost Apostle (Hoguyn Srbo Araqyal) church.


The Church of Saint Minias (Surb Minas).


The Church of Saint James (Surb Hakob). There was one serving clergyman. The village was the birthplace of Makar I Teghouttsi, an Armenian Catholicos from 1885 to 1891.


According to the Patriarchate 1878 census, there was an unnamed dilapidated church or monastery in the village. The prefix “vank” in the village name suggests that the village could have a monastery, although it does not prove the fact.


According to Mirakhorian, the village had the Church of Saint Toukhmanouk (Surb Toukhmanuk) built circa 1815 of beautiful black hewn stones. In Mirakhorian’s opinion, the church was a spacious, yet low-ceilinged, structure. According to the Patriarchate 1878 census, the Church of Saint Stephen (Surb Stepanos) stood in the village. Hakobyan et al. suggest there were two churches in the village. There were two serving clergymen. The name of one of them, according to Mirakhorian, was Father Tachat. According to the testimony of a genocide survivor, Father Karapet was a village priest. [43]


The Church of the Holy Mother of God (Surb Astvatsatsin). There was one serving clergyman. As of the late-nineteenth century, the village had six to seven households of Armenian Protestants. In the village graveyard lay an unhewn stone with Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions carved in it, which attracted travelers and occasional pilgrims. [44]

Catholicos Makar I Teghoutsi (1885-1891), a native of the Teghout village of Bulanik.

Places of pilgrimage in the Bulanik county

In addition to churches and monasteries, there were chapels, khachkars, heaps of stones, forested areas, mountains, and spring-wells that Bulanik Armenians regarded with reverence and awe as they went there on pilgrimages. The longest pilgrimage occurred after Easter, when for forty days the villagers would go to the many places in the county and beyond that they considered sacred. It was an entrenched belief among Bulanik Armenians that the mightiest and most wish-fulfilling saints were the ones who resided on barrows or mountain tops or those who were lapped round in woods. Throughout Bulanik the tops of mountains or barrows were often crowned by rude enclosures of some sages or holy men’s graves. As custom had it, the after-Easter pilgrimage was followed by occasional daily or weekly fasts.

Apostle Thaddeus (Tadevos Araqyal) chapel at Yondjeli

Approximately halfway along the road from Yondjeli to Kop stood a chapel, in which was a tombstone engraved with a Greek inscription. The locals used the diminutive form of Apostle Thaddeus’ name for the chapel, “Tatos Araqyal.” Passersby would turn off into the chapel in order to kiss the tombstone and wrap scraps of ragged clothes about the shrubs.

Gonklik barrow at Kop

Legend has it that at the top of the Gonklik barrow, which stood north of Bilejan mountain and southwest of Kop, there once lived a hermit. He kept body and soul together by stealing calves from the villagers. Eventually, he was apprehended by one of them and then passed out of sight. The locals, however, would not forget their calf-stealing, wretched, hermit and would make a pilgrimage to the top of the barrow.

Grekner chapel at Goghag

Not far from the village, atop a wooded barrow called Grekner, stood a chapel, which was considered sacred not only by the Armenians, but also the Kurds, who made their own pilgrimages there. Near Goghag was another large forested area called prak. It was covered with wild cherry trees which, similar to the prak on the northern shore of Lake Nazik, were considered sacred. Neither the Armenians nor the Kurds dared to prune a single branch, fearful of being struck by a demonic possession or courting some other disaster.

Khachkars at Abri, Khachlu, Surb Daniel, Votnchor, Zernaka berd and elsewhere

At these and many other locations in Bulanik there were khachkars that attracted pilgrims. For instance, cross-stones stood in the southern quarter of Abri and in Votnchor. Near the Surb Karapet monastery in Khachlu stood khachkars, several of which were seen adorning the house of a local Kurdish sheikh in the years before the genocide. [45] Several khachkars complete with elaborate designs stood in the monastic graveyard at Surb Daniel. A khachkar stood near the ruins of the fortress “Zernaka berd” atop the Zernak Mountains in the westernmost edge of Bulanik. After arriving at the cross-stones’ sites, Bulanik Armenians customarily made sacrificial offerings, lit candles, burned incense, and walked their children under the cross-stones that had large niche at the base. These were popularly called “tsak khachkarer.” [46]

Khoylibaba spring-well at Akrag

To the northwest of the village rose a wooded mountain called Khoylibaba or Kolibaba. Legend has it that the mountain was named after a hermit from Khoy. Translated from Persian as “elder from Khoy,” khoyli baba thus referred to the man who lived in a rock crevice at the top of it. Near the hermit’s cell sprang a healing spring-well; the sick considered it sacred and used its water to bathe sore areas. The trees around the spring-well were considered sacred, too; cutting them would embitter the elder and hewers would not remain unharmed. On the peak of the ridge of Khamour, which stretched from southwest to northeast from Khoylibaba Mountain, was a conspicuous object, apparently a sage or holy man’s grave. Lynch observed that its headstone, a huge slab grimly resembling a human bone, might have been disposed to receive a giant’s remains. [47]

Lyusaghbyur spring-well at the Saint Daniel (Surb Daniel) monastery

Near the Saint Daniel (Surb Daniel) monastery at Kop sprang the well “Lyusaghbyur.” The sick used its water to bathe sore eyes, while the healthy sprayed it on body parts to prevent sickness. In fact, there were quite a few spring-wells called “Lyusaghbyur” near the intact or dilapidated monasteries. Legend has it that after bathing his eyes with the well-water, a blind man had recovered his sight. Thus originated the name lyusaghbyur, that is, waters that “threw daylight.” There were also springs called “Katnaghbyur,” whose waters tasted “like milk,” and “Shakaraghbyur,” whose waters tasted “like sugar.” In the neighboring kaza of Sassoun stood the Surb Aghberik (Aghberkavank) monastery, also a place of pilgrimage for Bulanik Armenians, whose name, a deviation from “aghbyur+ik,” was derived from a spring-well that sprung nearby and was said to have healing qualities. [48]

Mount Sipan

Eastward of Upper Bulanik villages a magnificent view of Mount Sipan greeted their residents. This snow-capped dormant volcano, rising immediately north of Lake Van, was the second highest peak in the Armenian Highlands after Mount Ararat (Masis). Its massive dome in the shape of a truncated cone was considered a sanctuary, because, according to legend, in it laid the giants, in Armenian “aznavourner.” Bulanik villagers would go on pilgrimages to Mount Sipan in order to make sacrificial offerings. From the slopes of the mountain they could admire, on one side, the lovely view that the waters of Lake Van commanded, and, on the other, the beautiful landscape of the Bulanik and Manazkert counties. [49]

Red Monastery (Karmir vank) at Abri

In the northeastern quarter of the village were the ruins of either a church or a chapel. The locals, however, called the ruins “Red Monastery,” which suggests that the original structure might have been a monastery. The rural settlement beside the ruins was known as Til and was formerly populated by the Armenians. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the settlement was already a deserted place.

Saint Daniel (Surb Daniel) monastery at Kop

Once a year, for the Feast of Transfiguration of Jesus (Vardavar), large groups of the Armenian peasants from adjacent villages of Bulanik and Manazkert counties made a pilgrimage to the monastery.

Saint John (Surb Hovhannes) chapel at Medjitlu

The Saint Hovhannes chapel stood in the western quarter of the village. This miniature chapel was surrounded by trees that were considered sacred. The entire site was especially revered by the meek and needy.

Saint Toukhmanuk (Surb Toukhmanuk) chapel at Hamzashekh

There is no consensus among sources used for this study as to whether the chapel was erected as a separate structure or an integral part of an ancient church.

Seven spring-wells (Yotndjur) at Votnchor

The village name is a distorted dialectal version of Yotndjur, translated from Armenian as “seven springs.” These sprang in the southeastern quarter of the village. The locals considered seven spring-wells sacred. The sick used their water believing they would recover from fever and other ills.

Unnamed chapel at Kekerlu

Within walking distance of this village, the summit of a low hill was crowned by a small chapel, constructed of stone and mud, complete with a wicker door. In it was a large stone, engraved with a cross, which apparently was the object of worship, as passersby could sometimes see little lamps before it reposed on a horizontal slab. [50]

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