The province (vilayet) of Van at the beginning of the 20th century

Kaza of Van - Geography

Author: Tork Dalalyan, 26/10/12 (Last modified 26/10/12)- Translator: Shogher Margossian

The city of Van viewed from a plane (beginning of WWI) (Source: Rafael de Nogales, Vier Jahre unter dem Halbmond: Erinnerungen aus dem Weltkriege, Berlin, 1925)

There is a quite rich and diverse literature on the city and province (vilayet) of Van, which is differential in as far as the importance of information and its trustworthiness are concerned. Naturally, it would be impossible to assemble and represent information put forth by all these sources, but we tired, as much as possible, to get a hold of the most fundamental sources which have been written by eye witnesses.
Amongst such literature, the works of Karekin Srvantsdiants, Yervant Lalayan, and Hampartsum Yeramian stand out. If the first two of the above mentioned, are works of a more ethnographic nature, then Yeramian’s two volume monograph is in sorts a biography about his birthplace conveyed in an enthusiastic and immediate manner, which at the same time communicates interesting information about various aspects of public and social life in Van (from the 1820’s till 1915). This work, bearing the monumental name of “Hushartsan” (Monument), begins by listing praises bestowed by visitors describing the landscape of Van [1].
The people of Van themselves did not fall short of praising their legendary nature, “Heaven in the sky, Van on earth”, [2] “Van on this world, the kingdom of paradise in the other” [3]. Through these proverbs, the locals, with their slightly exaggerated taste for boasting, express their longing for their lost homeland. The symbolic representation of the actual or the mythical riches of this land is given through the folk tale of the old lady who used to pour yoghurt-drink off the walls of the Van fortress [4]. It is said that the Persian Tahmasp Shah besieged the impregnable fortress of Van for seven years but seeing, on several occasions, that an old woman pours yoghurt-drink from the walls of the fortress, he loses hope and retreats from Van.
The southern part of the province features the Gortvats (Zakrosh) mountain range, covered by fruit trees as well as wild trees, while the northern and the eastern parts besides having grazing hills also feature wide and fertile flat lands. Various kinds of roots and fruits [5] grow in the eastern provinces. The southern provinces are thick with forests (oak, Norway maple, hornbeam, asp, as well as rose hip bushes) [6].
The Van vilayet is a mountainous region rich in a variety of mines. In the beginning of the 20th century, Yeramian writes that the mines of the Van vilayet are still “virgin and unexploited” but it is known that there are coal, petrol, chalk, arsenic, copper and iron mines which are abundant in the mountainous regions. It is also known that traveling scientists have discovered traces of gold and silver mines in some parts of the south-eastern mountains [7]. If we list by province, the Pergri province has petroleum supplies, while Ardjag and Shadakh/Çatak have coal. There is iron in Djulamerik, sulfur in the Ardjag and Ardzge/Adilcevaz provinces, and asphalt in Mugs/Müküs. The other provinces are also rich in mines - the Timar province is rich in construction materials [8].

Van: a scene from the town (Source: P. Müller-Simonis, Durch Armenien, Kurdistan und Mesopotamien, Mainz, 1897)


The Van vilayet

Armenian sources often refer to the Van vilayet as the Van pashaluk (paşalık), the Van prefecture or the Van province. The administrative center is the city of Van.
Prior to World War I, the Van vilayet stands at an area of forty thousand square kilometers divided into two sandjaks, each of which in turn are divided into various kazas and nahiyes. The number of the latter varies depending on different periods in time. As is the case with the word vilayet, Armenian sources use different wording to describe geographical entities within Van giving way to considerable confusion. To avoid such confusion, in our text we have adopted the following wording: vilayet –province, sandjak – sub-province, kaza – district, nahiye – sub-district.
The borders of the Van vilayet are:  Aderbadagan from the east, which is the Iranian Magu, Khoy and Salmas regions (the Noshiragan world of the historical Armenia); from the north, west and south Van respectively boarders Erzurum, Bitlis and the Mosul vilayets. At the center of the Van vilayet is the historic fortress of Van which overlooks the salt lake or the “sea” of the same name. The eastern kazas of Bitlis (Khlat/Ahlat) and Tadvan extend till the lake and for this reason their natives often like to say that they are from Van [9].
Van would sometimes be considered as part of the Erzurum state as a mutasarrif and sometimes as an independent province only reporting to the Istanbul headquarters as was the case following the 1877 Russian-Turkish war [10]. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Ottoman sources also referred to the Van prefecture as Ermenistan.
As a separate regional administrative unit, the Van vilayet emerged in 1549 and included the main counties of the Vasbouragan region of historical Armenia such as some parts of the Mogk, Gordjayk and Duruperan worlds. It consisted of separate districts, which in turn were made up of separate counties, and the later were divided into kazas. Until the first half of the 19th century, Van included the following kazas [11]: Ardzge/Adilcevaz, Yeghekis/Yeğekis, Ardjesh/Erciş, Pertagh/Namiran, Pergir, Zregan/Zrigi, Ekradi bin-Gotur, Khizan/Hizan, Khlat/Ahlat, Gargar, Ketsan/Kazani, Mush, Shirvan/Şirvan, Sbargerd/Ispayert, Van.

The city of Van, a general view. The Varak Mountain can be seen in the background (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

In the 16 -17th centuries, Bayazit was also included in the Van vilayet, which at the beginning of the 18th century becomes a part of the Erzurum vilayet [12]. In 1834, a considerable part of the Van vilayet is attached to Erzurum while Mugs/Müküs and Hakkari are attached to the Diyarbekir vilayets.
Until the 1840’s, there were Kurdish semi-autonomous authorities (hükümetler) [13] within the Van vilayet. At the end of the 1840’s, following the elimination of the Kurdish hükümetler, the Van vilayet is dissolved and is temporarily attached to Diyarbekir or the then called Kurdistan (1848-1850), and later on to the newly established Hakkari (1850-1855) vilayets. Some south-western parts are included in the newly established Bitlis vilayet. Van, Hakkari, Djezire, and Mardin form a separate vilayet together. In 1867-76 the Van vilayet region becomes part of the Erzurum vilayet (the former Ermenistan vilayet) [14].
In 1877, the Ottoman government restores Van as a vilayet but changes its area, considerably diminishing it. In 1880, Hakkari becomes an autonomous vilayet, and before 1884, the Mush kaza and the Sbargerd/Ispayert, Khizan/Hizan, Shirvan/Şirvan and Gardjgan/Karçikan nahiyes become part of the newly established Bitlis vilayet. However, in 1888 Hakkari and Gardjgan/Karçikanare permanently joined the Van vilayet. In 1893, the Amadya nahiye is excluded from the Van vilayet. In the coming years: in 1891, 1897, 1902 and 1913, the internal administrative structure of the Van vilayet also undergoes major changes [15].
On the eve of World War I, the Van vilayet had two sandjaks: Van and Hakkari. From the northern side it bordered Erzurum, from the west, it bordered Bitlis and Diyarbekir, from the south, its neighbors were the Mosul vilayets and from the north, Iran [16].

The Dock of the Aghtamar island of Lake Van (Source: ‘Keghuni’, illustrated Armenian journal, 1905, Venice, St Lazzaro)

The Van sandjak

The Van sandjak area is 22.700 square meters (of which 5.454 square meters is the area of Lake Van) [17]. In 1914, 92.7 % of the Armenian population of the vilayet lived in the Van sandjak. 103.432 Armenians occupied the nine kazas of the sandjak: Van, Pergri, Ardjesh/Erciş, Ardzge/Adilcevaz, Mahmudiye, Gevash/Gevaş, Gardjgan/Karçikan, Mugs/Müküs and Shadakh/Çatak [18].
The Van sandjak (center, the city of Van) occupies the vilayet’s northern and north-eastern as well as Eastern Tigris/Dicle (Bohtan) River’s upper flow regions. Prior, it appears that the Gardjgan/Karçikan kaza was part of the Gevash/Gevaş kaza as a nahiye, while Mugs/Müküs was part of Shadakh/Çatak and Gevash/Gevaş. And therefore, the kazas of the Van sandjak were the following: Ardzge/Adilcevaz, Ardjesh/Erciş, Pergri, Gevash/Gevaş (historically Vosdan/Reshdunik including the Gardjgan and upper Gargar nahiyes), Mahmudiye or Khoshap (Karasu nahiye), Norduz (historically Antsevatsik, renamed Mamuratul-Reshad in 1913), Shadakh, and Van. The here mentioned Van kaza covered the areas surrounding the city; the previous Vandosp kaza as well as the Ardjag, Timar and Hayots Tsor nahiyes [19]. Pergri later went from being a kaza to being a nahiye, while the Gargar, Ardjag, Timar and Hayots Tsor nahiyes were previously separate kazas. As for the Norduz/Antsevatsik and Khoshap kazas, they later became part of the Hakkari sandjak [20]. If we count the Van sandjak regions according to their geographic locations in relation to Lake Van, then Van and its adjacent dwellings would fall east of the lake, Timar to the north-east, Hayots Tsor, Norduz, Aghpag, and Djulamerik to the south-east and Rshdunik (Gevash/Gevaş), Gardjgan/Karçikan, Gargar, Mogats Yergir, Khizan/Hizan, and Shadakh to the south of the lake. To the west of the lake would be Tadvan and finally to the north and far north-east of the lake would be Akhlat/Ahlat, Ardzge/Adilcevaz, Ardjesh and Pergri [21].

The main Armenian settlements of the Van kaza are:

Ader (current Yaylıyaka) – 444 Armenians (71 households)Adigözel (current Adıgüzel) – 226 Armenians (31 households)
Adnagants (current Yeniköşk) – 247 Armenians (31 households)
Akchaviran (current Akçaören) – 147 Armenians (32 households) and 19 Kurds (4 households)
Alur (current Alaköy) – 1955 Armenians (343 households)
Amenashad (current Arısu) – 304 Armenians (40 households)
Amuk/Amgupert (current Yeşilsu) – 212 Armenians (40 households)
Anavank (current Dibekdüzü) – 254 Armenians (50 households)
Ankgh/Engil (current Dönemeç) – 678 Armenians (108 households), has the St. Asdvadzadzin (holy Vergin) monastery and the St Krikor (St Gregory) church.
Ardamed (current Edremit) – 720 Armenians (130 households) and 2.400 Kurds (420 households)
Ardavez (current Değirmenözü) – 118 Armenians (15 households) and 11 Kurds (2 households)
Ardjishag (current Erçek) – 1170 Armenians (189 households)
Aregh/Arikhan (current Bozyiğit) – 192 Armenians (28 households) and 34 Kurds (7 households), has the St Vartan and St Apraham (Abraham) monasteries
Asbashin/Asdvadzashen (current Çavuştepe) – 351 Armenians (48 households) and 248 Kurds (47 households), has the St Haroutyoun (resurrection) church
Asvadzadzin/Mirek (current Ermişler) – 462 Armenians (63 households)
Avants (current Iskele) - 1592 Armenians, 339 households
Ayanis (current Ağartı)Beghazik (current Aşağı Çitli) – 98 Armenians (15 households)
Boghants (current Aşıt) – 451 Armenians (71 households)
Chopanoghlu (current Çobanoğlu) – 168 Armenians (26 households) and 120 Kurds (15 households)
Chrashen/Sheykhatiye (current Otluca) – 475 Armenians (76 households)
Daghveran (current Dağören) – 244 Armenians (37 households) and 11 Kurds (2 households)
Derlashen (current Yumrutepe) – 657 Armenians (95 households)
Djanik (current Gedikbulak) – 714 Armenians (100 households)
Doni (current Gölardı) – 198 Armenians (25 households) and 34 Kurds (7 households)
Dzagdar/Zikter (current Tevekli) – 231 Armenians (38 households)
Ererin (current Doğönü) – 938 Armenians (151 households), has a monastery
Ermants (current Gövelek) – 24 Armenians (3 households) and 250 Kurds (50 households)
Everek (current Alabayı) – 1061 Armenians (187 households)
Farugh (current Köşebaşı) - 210 Armenians (35 households) and 82 Kurds (15 households)
Gduts Anabad/Charkhapan (current Çarpanak) – 82 Armenians (10 households), has a monastery and a school  
Geghzi (current Gürpınar) – 312 Armenians (44 households) and 60 Kurds (12) households
Gem (current Köprüler) – 547 Armenians (100 households), has the St Tateos (Thaddeus) church and a monastery
Gezeltash (current Kızıltaş) – 314 Armenians (51 households) and 32 Kurds (6 households), has the St Yerortoutyoun (Holy Trinity) church
Goghpants/Kobanis (current Sarmaç) – 218 people, 32 households
Gurupash (current Kurubaş) – 698 people, 108 households
Gusnents (current Kasımoğlu) – 825 Armenians (138 households)
Hashpshad Varin (current AşağıGölalan) – 126 Armenians (18 households) and 200 Kurds (25 households)

Hashpshad Verin (current YukarıGölalan)
Hazara (current Kayaboyun) – 305 (45 households)
Hindinstan (current Erkaldı) – 209 Armenians (37 households) and 30 Kurds (6 households), has the St. Asdvadzadzin (holy Vergin) church
Hirdj (current Köklü) – 205 Armenians (30 households) and 356 Kurds (68 households), has a church
Ishkhanikom (current Bakımlı) – 409 people (70 households), has one monastery either the St. Asdvadzadzin (holy Vergin) or the Karavank (Rock monastery) 
Karavants/Kerevanis (current Çayırbaşı) – 14 Armenians (2 households) and 42 Kurds (12 households), St Sarkis monastery
Keoshk (current Yeniköşk) – 232 people (40 households), has the St Krikor (St Gregory) chuch
Kerdzod(current Uluşar) – 637 Armenians (104 households) and 52 Kurds (12 households), has the St Haroutyoun (resurrection) church
Kharagants (current Enginsu) – 1525 Armenians (230 households)
Kharagonis (current Karagündüz) – 219 people (36 households), has the St. Asdvadzadzin (holy Vergin) church
Khavents (current Atmaca) – 633 Armenians (106 households)
Khek (current Yatağan) – 219 Armenians (34 households), has the St Kevork (George) monastery
Khjishg (current Halkalı) – 775 Armenians (132 households)
Khorkom (current Dilkaya) – 435 people (65 households), has the St Vartan monastery and the Vart-Badrig church
Khreshik (current Dilimli)
Koch (current Koç) – 137 Armenians (26 households)
Köchani (current Güveçli) – 705 Armenians (111 households)
Koms/Komk (current Ocaklı) – 340 Armenians (53 households)
Lamezgerd (current Kıratlı)– 206 Armenians (35 households)
Lezk (current Kalecik) – 1178 people, 192 households, 1 church (St. Asdvadzadzin)
Lim Anabad (current Adır) – 5 Armenians (1 households)
Lim (current Karakoç) – 143 Armenians (22 households) and 175 Kurds (35 households)
Marmet (current Topaktaş) – 811 Armenians (153 households)
Mars (current Andaç) – 1.100 people (209 households), has a church
Mashdag/Meshgeldek (current Gölkaşı) – 394 Armenians (64 households) and 66 Kurds (9 households), has the St. Asdvadzadzin (holy Vergin) church
Mekhgner/Mıhginir (current Gölyazı) – 308 Armenians (48 households)
Merganchugh (current Meydancık) – 56 Armenians (8 households) and 53 Kurds (10 households)
Nabat (current Çomaklı) – 165 Armenians (25 households)
Nanik (current Çakınlı)
Norkiugh (current Yolaşan) – 513 Armenians (88 households) and 10 Kurds (2 households), has the St Haroutyoun (resurrection) church
Norovants (current Esenpınar) – 215 Armenians (37 households)
Norshen (current Kumluca) – 270 Armenians (45 households)
Pans (current Çolpan) – 69 Armenians (8 households) and 104 Kurds (20 households)
Panzavank/Panzis Manastir (current Özyurt) – 28 Armenians (1 households)
Paytag/Bayrek (current Özkaynak) – 195 Armenians (28 households)
Pirgarir (current Pirgarip) – 373 Armenians (57 households)
Poghants/Poghanis (current Aşıt)
Satibeg (current Satıbey) – 56 Armenians (7 households) and 180 Kurds (36 households)
Sevakrag (current Ayazpınar) – 16 Armenians(2 households) and 133 Kurds (25 households)
Sevan (current Ortanca) – 439 Armenians (67 households) and 300 Kurds (60 households)
Shahbaghi/Şahbağı (current Beyüzümü) – 895 people (167 households)
Shahkelti (current Şahgeldi) – 156 Armenians (22 households)
Shamshatin (current Şemsettin) – 465 Armenians (70 households)
Shushants (current Kevenli) – 559 Armenians (80 households)
Sosrat/Sorsurat (current Tabanlı) – 251 Armenians (42 households)
Suvartan/Surpvartan (current Kıyıcak) – 114 Armenians (18 households), has a monastery
Tarapeg/Tevfikbeg (current Derebey) – 243 Armenians (37 households) and 104 Kurds (20 households)
Tarmar (current Değirmenköy) – 482 Armenians (68 households) and 75 Kurds (15 households)
Terkashen/Tirkeshin (current Uğurveren) – 35 Armenians (5 households) and 151 Kurds (30 households)
Tsorovants/Huravanis (current Kavuncu) – 100 Armenians (14 households) and 240 Kurds (40 households)
Urtug/Ortik (current Işıkpınar) - 247 Armenians (42 households) and 5 Kurds (1 households)
Varak/Yedikilise (current Bakraçlı) – 80 Armenians, (1 household), has a monastery and a school
Zaranis (current Arıtoprak) – 240 Armenians (37 households) and 11 Kurds (2 households)
Zivistan (current Elmalık) – 530 Armenians (80 households) and 280 Kurds (40 households) [22]

The Fortress of Van (Van Kalesi), and views of the city at the foot of the mountain (Source: History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan; photographs: A. Vruyr, 1916)

The City of Van- Location and Description

The city of Van is situated to the east of the Lake Van at a distance of 2-3 km from its shores (20 min walking distance) [23]. The city is sheltered by the lake on its western front, and by the eastern part of the Taurus mountain range on its eastern front. The city of Van is connected to the Lake through the Avants village (currently Iskele), which being right on the shores of the lake serves as kind of a port. Being situated on flat land, the climate of the city of Van is dry and warm. At the same time, winter lasts for 4-5 months. The city has fertile agricultural land, lush fruit orchards, abundant irrigation and drinking water [24], which is not of a very high quality [25].
Throughout history, the city of Van has seen various earthquakes (1276, 1441, 2 April 1646, 1648, 1649, 7 March 1701, 13 January 1704, 8 march 1715, 1791) and famine (1606). The 1648 earthquake was especially devastating, as it destroyed whole neighborhoods, many churches and mosques, and historical monuments [26].

Gravure: The Lezk (current Kalecik) village (Source: Jean Marie Chopin, César Famin, Eugène Boré, L'univers, vol. 2, 1838)

A mountainous cliff emerges at the center of the City of Van, which is home to the Urartian citadel. This is also where the main entrance of the city is, which is known as the Tabriz gate (Tabriz Kapı). To the east of the city is the Varaka Mountain with two churches of the same name: the Old and the New Varaka monasteries [27]. To the north-east of the city are the Toprakkale heights (the Urartian Rusahinili fortress) where excavations have produces many antiquities. These heights are home to a number of important places as is the Agrpi (or the Akrav/crow) cliff, the gate of Mher, the Zemp-Zemp maghara (cave), and the Dzrdod rock to which local traditions are related [28].
The biographer of his birthplace, Hampartsum Yeramian (born 1857), having lost his sight at the age of 11, had a vivid memory of the fairytale scenery of Van, which had impressed his youthful imagination. In the first volume of his monograph “Hushartsan” (Monument), he recalls the nature of Van he had seen at the age of five: “I would stand on top of a cliff with my back to the Varak and would watch the gigantic panorama: the western side. From the right the horizon is divided by the St. Krikor church and towards the west the caravans of the Agrbi hills with their bride and groom peaks reaching the seaside. From the left side, the Shoushantsi Mountains and the St. Khach (cross) hills separated from the Shoushantsi Mountains by a small valley, also touching the sea side. This sight comprised a large arch encompassing not only the field but also the Aykesdan of Van which from afar looked like a monotonous giant emerald. Through the green and the mirror-like blue of the sea emerged the historical fortress of Van. To the west was the wide lake with its four islands and the surrounding mountains; the southern mountain range with its evergreen forests and Artos and Arnos peaks, almost always cover in snow; and the north-eastern side with the majestic Sipan with its white peak, enveloped in clouds. To the west of the lake the misty Nemrut and Grgur were barely outlined, whose detailed and enchanting description is passed to us through Srvantsdiants’ work” [29].
At the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Van had 5500 households of which 3000 were Armenian. The city was separated into two parts: the inner part (the main fortified city) and Aykesdan to the east, spread over extensively. Most of the houses were made of bricks, one storey, two storey and a few 3 storey buildings. The streets were narrow and crooked. The Armenian populated part of the city was divided into 34 large and small streets, 31 of which have been severely damaged during the 1895 anti-Armenian mass violence. There were 12 Armenian churches: St. Diramayr (St. Mother of God), St. Boghos (St. Paul), St. Bedros (St. Peter) St. Vartan, St. Sahag, ect [30].

The Old city of Van viewed from the fortress (Source: C.F. Lehmann-Haupt, Armenien Einst und Jetzt, Berlin / Leipzig, 1926)

The Inner City of Van

The western part of Van is called the main city or the inner city. It is enclosed by fortresses from 3 sides and by the citadel to its north-east. The city has 4 gates: Tabriz to the east, Yeni (new) or Saray to the south, Orta (middle) to the south and Iskele (harbor) to the north-west [31]. The plan of the inner city is irregular with narrow streets, houses next to each other and poor vegetation. The craftsmen’s market, the house of governance, the police headquarters, the main mosques, the central prison, the post and telegram office, the Régie center, the main armory and the Armenian Prelacy are located in the inner city [32].

1. The city of Van, the Varak Mountain can be seen in the background (Source: Victor Pietschmann, Durch kurdische Berge und armenische Städte, Wien, 1940)

2. The entrance of the Van fortress (Source: Victor Pietschmann, Durch kurdische Berge und armenische Städte, Wien, 1940)

Being in Van in 1880-1881, Servantsediants says that the government offices, the armory and the courts, all the marketplaces and the khans were located in the main city [33].
Prior to Srvantsdiants’ arrival in Van, Yeramian, who worked as a teacher in the main city of Van in 1874-1878 remembers that the place was divided into narrow and dirty streets and did not have a park or a garden. It was especially difficult to pass through those streets in the winter season because the snow would accumulate in those streets for 4-5 months, at places reaching till the roofs of one storey buildings. Snow often covered the doors and the windows of these houses forcing the residents to exit their homes on piles of snow or dig tunnels through it in order to be able to leave their houses and maintain contact with the outside world. According to Yeramian, during the unsightly winter months, people were forced to seek recreation within homes or in the warm but smoky cafes where they got carried away playing backgammon or cards [34].

The Van Aykesdan

The eastern part of Van is rich in vegetation, has thick orchards and is called Aykesdan (Erkesdar, Erkesdara in the local dialect). The Turks also called it Baghlar [35].
According to Srvantsdiants’ artistic description, “the Aykesdan of Van … through the efforts of its residents, is a decorated, blissful place, where each house has an adjacent grove, orchard and water springs in front of the threshold, on both sides of the street by the strands of brooks are orderly planted leafy willows, at places also poplars, Jack trees and Scots elms. In the middle of the street is the communal spacious road and the leafy arms of the branch-full trees embracing each other from its sides into a wonderful umbrella for the passers-by, through which the rays of the sun project themselves as flickering stars on the ground or on the heads and faces of people in passing or those sitting such as the cool of the moonlight, in a peaceful night, glistens the breeze at the bosom of the shallow waters of the sea side. The roots of these trees, whose green and verdure hair is anointed with the dune in the air and the warmth of the sun, flourish with the passing water and the water flow babbling, murmuring, licking the feet of the trees and irrigating everyone’s rightful grove and orchard; providing water for cleaning the houses, drinking and for all use that need be” [36].
According to Srvantsdiants, Aykesdan extends over 4.5 km of roads and squares and one would need an hour to pass through it diagonally or vertically [37]. The people of Van call the streets poghan and the squares of the main roads poghniklokh [38]. The Khachpoghan Street, decorated with willows and poplars as well as the square of the same name are in Aykesdan. The other streets are irregular, narrow and crooked while the houses are clay-made and not very attractive. The British, French, Russian and Persian consulates, the Armenian Protestant School and the orphanage as well as the German, American and French missionary establishments are in Aykesdan. From governmental and public structures, Aykesdan is home to baths, market places as well as armories. According to the legend, Queen Shamiram of Assyria had built her summer residence in Aykesdan [39].
The Armenian population of Ekesdara (Aykesdan) was in contact and in constant movement especially on important holidays like Paregentan and Vartavar. They occupied the larger part of the geometric square outline of the town which could be crossed on foot, from east to west (not taking into consideration the Turkish quarters which are at a ¾ hours distance) and from south to north at equally about 2 ½ hours. 2/3 of the approximate 40 thousand population of the city of Aykesdan were Armenians. This is without taking into consideration the adjacent villages which later expanded and became suburbs of the city [40].
It appears that Aykesdan was a relatively new district, since Yeramian writes in his memoires that as a child, he remembered the elders of town telling that before, Aykesdan used to be a deserted field, which had although been a residential area in older times. As proof of this, people would discover tandoor-ovens (tonirs), khachkars (cross-stones), fundaments of dwellings as well as armatures, arrow heads and cuneiform writings while they ploughed the soil. But according to what Yeramian heard, in older times “only the southern part was prosperous, the part of the city called Shamiriam neighborhood, which extended eastwards from the seaside. This was possibly a suburb of Samiriamagert fortress that Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren, 5th century) mentions, irrigated by Shamiram amble waters brought from Hayots Dzor; a distance of 6 hours by a well structured water channel. And for that reason it was gifted with such heavenly parks and gardens” [41].

Vintager in the village of Shahbagh (current Beyüzümü) (Source: ‘Keghuni’, illustrated Armenian journal, 1905, Venice, St Lazzaro)

According to Yeramian’s accounts, Turks sequentially established in the western part of Aykesdan: in the Shamiram, Shapaniye, and Arark (western part) districts. Under the light of such demographic changes, the neighborhoods of Hamdi Bey and Hafiz Efendi of central Aykesdan also become Turkish populated. While, over time, Armenians moved to the eastern side: towards the Hangouysner, Norashen, Arark (eastern part), and Djavshen districts. By the end of the 19th century, the Peshen Poghan district to the north of Aykesdan was also Turkish populated while the Haygavenk district was Armenian populated. Other north-eastern districts like Verin (upper) Norshen and Varin (lower) Norshen, Poyents, and Garoyian had a mixed Armenian-Turkish population. Yeramian points out that there were the remains of a couple of Armenian churches in the Turkish neighborhoods and a number of Turkish families had Armenian surnames. The author asks, “Do they represent a generation who has converted in faith or have the perpetrators who have usurped the lands also taken the names of their owners?” [42]
Yeramian’s sources inform that in older times, the districts expending from the inner city eastward towards St. Jacop (St. Hagop) (Verin and Varin Norshen) and the twin streets of Garoyian were also Armenian populated. The latter was owned by a rich Armenian dynasty but the Turks, according to Yeramian, either by force or by paying a small amount, managed to take ownership of these areas. Accordingly, the Armenians from these parts moved to eastern districts. As such, the eastern part of Aykesdan was formed having the Khachpoghan (the Cross street) as its center and was divided into 4 Armenian-populated districts: St. Hagop, Hayngoysner, Norashen, and Arark. It must be said that Armenian sources often use the name Aykesdan only in reference to the Armenian-populated districts. As such, the St. Hagop district, which is actually at the central part of Aykesdan, is presented (as we also read in Yeramian’s writings) as an area to the east of the Armenian Aykesdan. The central street of the St. Hagop district with its various parts is called the street of the Blue Cross, where during Yeramian’s childhood (born 1857) there also was a sanctuary [43]. Each of the other Armenian districts had its own church and adjacent parish school.
The expansion of the Turkish-populated neighborhoods was a continuous process, about which Yeramian also speaks. This process continued in the St. Hagop and Norashen districts for decades. Tapping into his memories, Yeramian says that he used to know about ten Armenian families who, under pressure, were forced to sell their beautiful homes and wide orchards for decimal values, and moved to the central or the eastern parts of Aykesdan. Under such conditions, Turkish families settled around the St. Hagop church and only a few Armenian families remained to the south of the structure [44].
Concerning the issue of Aykesdan’s irrigation and vegetation, Yeramian writes: “The Aykesdan field initially had no water; therefore the new residents were forced to dig wells (kehriz) and surface dozens of springs to irrigate their young gardens and orchards. The poplar, plane, and willow trees planted in rows alongside the flow of these brooks gave the streets an air similar to that of European boulevards” [45]. Aykesdan was famous for its plentiful apple, pear, plum, apricot and other fruits. The grape was considered not to be very tasty but they used to produce fine wine from it [46].
Between the fortress and the area to its east, there was an old Armenian cemetery, which in 1909 Ottoman authorities turned to the hurriyet meydan (Freedom Square). During the same period, construction works to lay a central street leading to the main city and Aykesdan, reveal countless human remains which Yeramian supposes are the remains of the people of Van killed during the Leng Timur invasion (14th century) [47].

Gravure: the city of Van from the north-west. The Iskele (port) gate (Iskele Kapı) (Source: Charles Texier, Description de l’Arménie, la Perse et la Mésopotamie, Première Partie, Paris, 1842)

1.Gravure: the southern side of the city of Van. The Orta (middle) gate (Orta Kapı) (Source: Charles Texier, Description de l’Arménie, la Perse et la Mésopotamie, Première Partie, Paris, 1842)

2.Gravure: the eastern side of the city of Van. The Tavriz (Tabriz) gate (Tabriz Kapı) (Source: Charles Texier, Description de l’Arménie, la Perse et la Mésopotamie, Première Partie, Paris, 1842)

The Citadel

To the north-east of the city of Van, over a length of a kilometer on a 100-120 meter vertical cliff rises the citadel or the “fortress of Shamiram” with the remains of walls and other structures, cuneiform engravings and chambers carved in the cliff [48]. The detailed description of this structure reaches us through the 5th century writings of Movses Khorenatsi and later on, at the beginning of the 19th century, Ghugas Indjidjian describes them in even more detail [49].
A mountainous cliff emerges at the center of the City of Van, home to the Urartian Citadel. The citadel of Van, which is also known as Amarsdan, has rock carved barracks, armories, warehouses, staples, watch points and wide squares. At the foot of the citadel extends the equally strong high wall with its adjacent defensive structures [50].
The roads leading to the citadel pass through protective heights. The halls carved out of stone are square or rectangular; their walls have no decorations but are amazingly polished. Along the length of the walls are square recesses. Four entrances lead from the main hall to the side caves. A colossal staircase rises to the hall. The stone at the threshold of these hall-caves is covered with cuneiform engravings. The southern side of the cliff, which faces the city, is absolutely vertical but a staircase starts at the bottom of the cliff which leads to the stone carved chambers [51].

  • [1] Yeramian Hampartsum, Monument, vol. A, Aram Kasabian, Alexandria, 1929, p. 12. [in Armenian]
  • [2] Ibid., p. 12.
  • [3] Gamsar Avedisian, Asbram Avedisian, Armenological Studies, «Soviet Writer» publishing, Yerevan, 1979, p. 176 [in Armenian]
  • [4] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 17.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 13.
  • [6] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, p.174.
  • [7] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 13.
  • [8] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, p. 174.
  • [9] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 13.
  • [10] Ibid., p.31.
  • [11] The concise Armenian Encyclopedia, Yerevan, 2003, vol. 4.[in Armenian]
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Kegham Patalian, «the Kurdish authorities of the Van elayet (hukumiyetner) 14 -19th c.the 40’s», in Iran-Name, no 29-31, 1998. [in Armenian]
  • [14] The concise Armenian encyclopedia, Yerevan, 2003, vol. 4 [in Armenian]; Sarkis Karayan,"Demography of Van Province, 1844-1914", in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), Armenian Van/Vaspurakan, Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, California, p. 197-198.
  • [15] The concise Armenian encyclopedia
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Karayan, "Demography of Van Province"…, pp. 198-199.
  • [18] Robert H. Hewsen, Armenia: A Historical Atlas, University of Chicago Press, Chicago/London, 2001; Raymond H. Kévorkian, Paul B. Paboudjian, Les Arméniens dans l’Empire Ottoman à la veille du Génocide, ARHIS, Paris, p. 513.
  • [19] The concise Armenian encyclopedia
  • [20] Karayan, "Demography of Van Province"…, p. 198.
  • [21] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, pp. 174-175.
  • [22] Kévorkian/Paboudjian, Les Arméniens…, pp. 534-543; Sevan Nişanyan, Adını Unutan Ülke: Türkiye'de Adı Değiştirilen Yerler Sözlüğü, Everest Yayınları, Istanbul, 2010.
  • [23] Karekin Srvantsdiants, «Hamov-Hodov» in Yerger, vol. 1, Yerevan, 1978, p. 397. [in Armenian]
  • [24] Tatevos Hagopian, Historical Armenia’s Cities, Yerevan, «Armenia/Hayastan», 1987, pp. 231-239 [in Armenian]; Tatevos Hagopian, Sdepan Melik-Pakhshian, Hovhaness Parseghian, Toponyms dictionary of Armenia and its neighboring regions (TDANR), Yerevan, 1998, vol. 4, p. 748. [in Armenian]
  • [25] Srvantsdiants, Hamov-Hodov…, p. 397.
  • [26] Hagopian, Historical Armenia’s …, p.236; TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [27] Hagopian, Historicaal Armenia’s …, pp. 232-233; TDANR, vol. 4, p.748; Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, p.176.
  • [28] Ibid.,p. 176; Srvantsdiants, Hamov-Hodov…, p.397.
  • [29] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 48.
  • [30] Hagopian, Historicaal Armenia’s …, p. 238. 
  • [31] Srvantsdiants, Hamov-Hodov…, p. 397; Kévorkian/Paboudjian, Les Arméniens…, p. 517.
  • [32] TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [33] Srvantsdiants, Hamov-Hodov…, p. 396.
  • [34] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 95.
  • [35] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, p. 178.
  • [36] KarekinSrvantsdiants, Manana, Constantinople, 1876, pp. 39-40. [in Armenian]
  • [37] Srvantsdiants, Hamov-Hodov…,p. 396; TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [38] Srvantsdiants, Manana…,p. 44.
  • [39] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 37; TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [40] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 71.
  • [41] Ibid., p. 35.
  • [42] Ibid., pp. 35-36.
  • [43] Ibid., p. 36.
  • [44] Ibid., p. 36.
  • [45] Ibid., p. 36.
  • [46] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological …, p. 178.
  • [47] Yeramian, Monument…, p. 17.
  • [48] TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [49] Ghougas vartabed Indjidjian, Four territory world geography [in Armenian], first part, Asia, vol. I, Venice, 1806, pp. 138-139.
  • [50] Hagopian, Historicaal Armenia’s …, pp. 232-233; TDANR, vol. 4, p. 748.
  • [51] Avedisian/Avedisian, Armenological…, pp. 176-177.