Western Armenia, also referred to as Byzantine Armenia, is a historical and essential part of Armenia. It is composed of monumental and magnificent cities such as Ani, Kars, Van, Bitlis, Mush, Erzurum.
Even though today Western Armenia is technically in Turkey’s territory, Armenians have a unique connection to it. This is where the roots of many Armenians are coming from.
That is why you will never hear the expression eastern Turkey. What you will hear is Western Armenia.
Historically, it was also called Byzantine Armenia. That territory has a long and huge history. Glorious victories, propitious country and Armenian kingdoms were part of the history. Sadly, there were also dark and bloody pages of the history.
During 16-19th centuries, Armenian homeland was divided between Ottoman Armenia (western part) and Persian Armenia (eastern part).
Today’s article is aimed to explore historical past of Western Armenia full of flourishing and prosperous, but at the same time suffering periods.
Let’s recognize the mysterious homeland in which Armenian people lived for thousands of years and the glorious culture that has been left there.
Glorious and Historical Western Armenia
Armenia is a landlocked country in the Transcaucasia region, bordered on the north and east by Georgia and Azerbaijan and on the south and west by Iran and Turkey. The original name of the county was Hayk, later Hayastan, named after the legendary ruler Hayk.
The beginning of the history of Armenian people is considered to accept from 2492 BC, when the ancestor of Armenian nation, Hayk forefather, won Bel, the king of Assyria, achieving independence for his nation.
Western Armenia is a conditional designation of western parts of historic Armenia. This territory was ruled by numerous and peculiar Armenian kingdoms, foreign empires and countries.
In 387 AD, after the division of Greater Armenia (in Armenian Mets Hayk) between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia, around 20% of western parts of Armenian homeland fell under the rule of Byzantine Empire (Upper Armenia or Bardzr Hayq, province of Sophene or Tsopk and part of Aghdznik). This is where the name Byzantine Armenia comes from.
Even when Armenia regained its independence under the rule of Bagratuni kingdom, some parts of Western Armenia continued to remain as part of Byzantium. This situation lasted until the Arab invasions. Later, Western Armenia fell under Ottoman domination, known as Ottoman Armenia.
Western Armenia During Armenian Rule
As we mentioned above during different periods of its existence Western Armenia had been part of various powerful Armenian kingdoms, each of which was original by its specific features.
Here we collected the main information about several Armenian kingdoms, which are worthy to be mentioned, in order to have a general idea about Western Armenian.
The first state in the territory of historic Armenia, which included a large part of the Armenian highlands, was the kingdom of Van. There are different opinions related to this state.
One of the opinions is that Van Kingdom is not Armenian state, although the majority of the state population was consisted of Armenian tribes. Van (Tushpa) was the main city and also the capital of Van kingdom.
The kingdom prospered and developed particularly during the reign of the kings Menua, Argishti I and Sarduri B. They founded numerous cities in Ararat valley such as Erebuni (present-day Yerevan), Argishtikhinili, Teyshebaini.
After the end of Van Kingdom Yervand Sakavakyats established the first Armenian state-Yervanduni Kingdom. All the lands of the highland inhabited by Armenians were united in one state.
During the first period the capital of the kingdom remained Van, the residence of Van Kingdom. In 6th century BC Armenia became a province of the Achaemenid state and the territory of Armenia was divided into two satrapies.
The capital of Western Armenia remained in Van, the administrative and political center of Eastern Armenia became Erebuni (Yerevan).
After the invasion of Alexander the Great, Armenia regained its independence. The capital was moved to Armavir. Later Yervand the Last built Yervandashat city, which became the capital of the kingdom.
In 201 BC Seleucid commanders Artashes and Zareh invaded the Great Armenia and Tsopk region. They ended up Yervanduni ruling power and established their authority in that territory. During the reign of the king Artashes A the kingdom became one of the most powerful states in Western Asia.
He founded a new city in Ararat valley, which he named Artashat. Now in the place of the town stands the church “Khor Virap”.
The kingdom especially prospered during the reign of Tigran the Great. In that period, the state was traditionally called “Armenia from sea to sea.”
Different fields of daily life were developed such as culture, metallurgy, glass making, currency, etc. A new magnificent city was founded, which Tigran the Great named Tigranakert. Due to efforts of Artashesian kings Armenia became the most powerful state in that region.
During the 1st century a new page of Armenian history started. Armenia’s economic and cultural life continued to evolve.
In 77 AD, Garni royal palace and bath was built. Initially, the capital of the kingdom was Asrtashat. Then Vagharsh I built Vagharshapat city, and Kotake Khosrov III (330-338) built Dvin capital.
In 387, for the first time, Armenia was divided between Persia and Rome (Byzantine Empire).
Western Armenia Under Byzantine Rule
In 387 the western provinces of Mets Hayk (Bigger Armenia) became part of Byzantine Empire. Definitely, there were no strict boundaries as they have always been subject to changes. After the second division boundaries of Byzantine Empire were expanded. In 428, Armenia lost its statehood and became Byzantine Armenia.
Armenians played a great role in the Empire. There were many famous emperors and commanders of Armenian origin; for example, Nerses commander, as well as emperors Heraclius, Vasil I of Macedon, Romanos I, Hovhannes Chmshkik and Nikephoros Phokas.
Before the reign of emperor Justinian I (527-565) the ministers of Western Armenia maintained their ancestral lands, military forces, traditional rights and privileges.
Unable to tolerate such situation emperor Justinian I eliminated the rights of Armenian ministers to have their own military units and military power. All Armenian lands were merged into a single military district (strategy), which center was the city of Karin.
The economic power and independence of Armenian ministers were their lands, which were transferred from fathers (patron) to their eldest sons.
According to the edict accepted in 536 younger sons and daughters of small and medium nobility also gained the right to receive lands form their patrons on an equal basis.
This rule had caused deep dissatisfaction, which sometimes was accompanied by bloody clashes. That’s why Byzantine Empire was not able to fully implement its intentions in Western Armenia. Byzantine Empire maintained its power until the first Arab invasion.
Western Armenia during Ottoman Rule and World War I
Speaking about the history of Western Armenia we cannot leave out the important facts connected with this period as all crucial issues of Armenian people are related with this period.
In 1555, according to Turkish-Persian treaty of Amasia, Western Armenia became decisively part of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Armenia was consisted of 6 “vilayets”- Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Kharput and Sivas.
After the establishment of Ottoman Empire many Armenian merchants, intellectuals were moved from Western Armenia to Constantinople. Armenians who lived in Constantinople enjoyed the support of the sultan, unlike those who lived in the territory of historical Armenia.
The Ottoman Empire was governed by the laws of Islam and according to that laws Christians and Jews had to pay additional taxes. During the reign of Turkish Sultan Abdul-Hamid II the life conditions of Armenians were increasingly deteriorating in Ottoman Armenia.
Despite the prolonged wars, forced and voluntary migrations, up to the 19th century Armenians composed the majority of the population of Ottoman Armenia.
The Darkest Page in the History of Western Armenia – The Armenian Genocide
The situation in Western Armenia suffered drastic changes in the 19th century. After Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 years some parts of historical Armenia, Kars and its surrounding areas, were given to Russia. During this period about 90 thousand Armenians moved to Eastern Armenia from the territories of Western Armenia occupied by Russian troops, which resulted to economic decline in Western Armenia.
Armenian national-liberation movement was Armenian’s experience to liberate their country from the Ottoman and Russian dominations and restore Armenia’s independence.
During World War I Ottoman Turks accused Armenians in cooperating with the Russian Empire and used it as a pretext for declaring the Armenian population as the enemy inside the country.
The events within 1915-1923 period is evaluated by historians as the organized mass murder by the state, Genocide.
This was the first genocide of 20th century. May historians think that ignoring ethnic cleansing in the Territory of Ottoman Empire resulted the Holocaust. The total number of victims is estimated about 1.5 million people. April 24 is declared a day of Genocide victims.
Western Armenia Today
Western Armenia remains as the part of Turkish territory, but Armenian people never reconcile with the loss of most of their homeland. The issues connected with the fate of Western Armenia, commonly referred to as “The Armenian Question”, has been forgotten by international community by the time.
Today, however, Armenians have opportunity to organize trips to their historical homeland in order to get acquainted with Western Armenia “Golden Ring” – Ani, Kars, Igdir, Bayazid, Van, Bitlis, Mush, Erzurum, Basen, Ardahan.
There are many tours to see the ancient bulidings, historical monuments, churches, “khachqars” created by their ancestors and at the same time to enjoy an indescribable beauty of Armenian nature.
A special and unique attention is payed to the whole complex of monuments of Ani (known as the “city of a thousand and one churches.”), Van citadel, St. Cross Church in Akhtamar, Arakelots Monastery in Mush… The Catholic Church in Erzurum has been turned into a mosque, and in that same manner the neighboring churches also have completely been rebuilt as a mosque.
Armenians still call this part of their historical past as “Western Armenia” because forgetting about it means to erase history which was created by Armenian powerful kingdoms.
We hope that knowing all these basic and interesting facts about Western Armenia will arouse your interest to plan a trip and will make your journey a real adventure!
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