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Armavir – the old capital of Armenia

Armavir is a province (marz) of Armenia with the capital in Armavir. It is in the west of the country, located in the Ararat valley, between Mount Ararat and Mount Aragats, and shares a 45-mile border with Turkey to the south and west.

The province is the location of the Holy City of Echmiadzin which serves as the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the seat of the Catholicos of Armenia and of All Armenians.

Armavir, regarded as an ancient capital of Armenia, is a city and an urban community located in the western part of Armenia. It is the capital of the Armavir Province. The city was known as Sardarapat until 1935 and Hoktemberyan until 1992.

The historic city of Sardarapat was the site of the 1918 Battle of Sardarapat, a decisive event seen as not only stopping the Turkish advance into the rest of Armenia but also preventing the complete destruction of the Armenian nation.

Armavir was inhabited from the 5th-6th millennium BC. onwards. Ancient Armavir was located  not far from modern villages of Armavir, Ailavan and Jrashen of Hoktemberian region. Various obsidian instruments, bronze objects and pottery have been found from that period.

According to the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (fifth century AD.) in his History of Armenia Armavir were founded by Aramais, grandson of Hayk, the legendary ancestor of the Armenians. It was the first capital of the kingdom of Armenia (although, from a geographical standpoint, the first capital of Armenia was Van).

Movses has preserved the tradition that when King Valarsace the Parthian settled in Armavir (ca. 149 B.C.), he built a temple there and asked his royal coronant and aspet (knight) Shambu Bagarat (Bagratuni), to give up his religion and worship idols. But Shambu refused to comply.

Movses also relates that when King Tigranes II (whom he places on the throne from 90-36 BC.), in order to take revenge on Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, sent an expedition to Palestine, he carried a great number of Jews into captivity, and settled them in Armavir and in Vardges.

Movses goes on to state that later Jews were transferred from Armavir to Yervandashat; and under King Artashes I, were again transferred into the new capital Artashat.

When King Sapor II of Persia invaded Armenia (360-370 A.D.), he led away from Artashat 30,000 Armenian and 9,000 Jewish families, the latter brought by King Tigranes from Palestine, and then completely destroyed the city.

Old Armavir, as was demonstrated by archaeological digs in the 20th century, was located atop the erstwhile Argishtikhinili (Urartian: ar-gi-iš-ti-ḫi-ni-li) from the 4th century BC onwards. In the 1830s, the Swiss traveller Marie-Frédéric Dubois de Montpéreux had suggested that a mound near the village of Nor Armavir could be the ancient fortress of Armavir.

Argishtikhinili was a town in the ancient kingdom of Urartu, established during the expansion of the Urartians in the Transcaucasus under their king Argishti I, and named in his honour.

Urartian inscriptions tell us that in 776, that is 6 years after the foundation of Erebuni, king Argishti built a new city, Argishtikhinili (Armavir), one citadel of which was situated on the east hill, and the other on the west (on the hill of Surb David).

In the beginning of 4th century BC Argishtikhinili was awfully devastated. The signs of violence and fire can be easily seen. The town fell into decline, and the water-supply system broke down. Only in the eastern part of Argishtikhinili life normalized little by little.

The ruins of the Argishtikhinili fortifications are found 15 km to the southwest of the present-day town of Armavir, Armenia, between the villages of Nor-Armavir and Armavir in the Armenian marz of Armavir. The town was founded on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Aras River. Over the centuries, the river channel has shifted to several kilometres south of the town.

Interest in the site increased with the discovery in 1869 of cuneiform tablets, which turned out to date from the time of Argishti I and Rusa III. In 1880, excavations at the Armavir hill began, conducted by imperial Russian archaeologists ahead of the Fifth Russian Archaeological Congress at Tiflis.

In 1896, the Russian Assyriologist M.V. Nikolsky conjectured that beneath the ruins of Armavir is an even more ancient Urartian township. This was confirmed by later excavations.

Owing to World War I and the Armenian Genocide, systematic investigations at Armavir began only in 1927, under the leadership of Nicholas Marr. Between 1944 and 1970, the academics Boris Piotrovsky, Giorgi Melikishvili and Igor M. Diakonoff conducted researches at Argishtikhinili. Their translations of Urartian texts contributed enormously to the understanding of Urartu in general, and Argishtikhinili in particular.

Between 1962–1971, there were two simultaneous digs at the Argishtikhinili mound under the aegis of the Armenian Institute of Archaeology: one, investigating the remains of ancient Argishtikhinili, was led by A.A. Martirosyan, while the other investigated old Armavir.

Urartian documents indicate that Argishtikhinili was founded in 776 BC following the command of Argishti I, in the eleventh year of his reign. The establishment of the town was preceded by a long-term Urartian expansion into the Transcaucasus, which was aimed at controlling the fertile Ararat plain.

In 331 BC., when Armenia under the Orontid Dynasty asserted its independence from the Achaemenid Empire, the ruler of the country Yervand proclaimed himself the king of Armenia and constructed a capital city in Armavir. The Urartian defensive wall and the buildings were still good and could be used. Slabs of clay have been found from the Achaemenid period written in the Elamite language concerning episodes of the Gilgamesh epic.

Various inscriptions in Hellenistic Greek carved around the third century BC., have been found, including poetry from Hesiod, lines from Euripides, a list of Macedonian months, and names of Orontid Kings.

A king’s farmstead of Hellenistic times was founded here, the dwelling houses of which were heated by fire-places, and in the agricultural side of the buildings they had a special place for pressing the vine, and other agricultural implements.

As a palace complex for kings of the Yervandid dynasty became a many-roomed building on the eastern slope of the hill. The Urartian temple then is reconstructed and made the king’s temple of Sun and Moon. In order to fortify the entry to the temple from the north-west side, a half-rounded turret is built down the slope, the stones of which are connected with each other by iron clamps which have the form of swallow’s tail.

In the West side of the fortress between the two fortress’ walls lived rather modest people, the foundations of whose houses still remain.

At the southern foot of the hill on two rocky blocks king Yervand ordered Greek inscriptions, which give an account of political matters at the end of III BC, the worship of the God of the Sun in Armavir, and the innovations of the Hellenistic world

Owing to the change of course of the river to the south Yervand moved his capital city to his newly founded city Yervandashat, situated by the Akhuryan and Araks rivers confluence. But life still went on in Armavir. The eloquence – evidence of which are the beautiful examples of painted ceramics, metal agricultural implements and weapons, fragments of stony dishes, and clay statues. The town itself stretched till the rocky mountain ridge, situated west of present Armavir.

Life in the town little by little died away in the beginning of AD. Armavir was already an abandoned fortress in 4th century. Life returned here in the middle of the century.

During Bagratid’s power a small settlement existed with its own dwellings and agricultural halls, which functioned till the Mongols’ invasions, after which the hill was consigned to oblivion.

During Antiquity, Armavir was taken by the Seleucids, Parthians, Roman Empire, Sassanids and Byzantine Empire before it was taken over by the Arabs in 645.

Arabic sovereignty lasted until the first quarter of the ninth century. The Sajids managed this region in the 9th century. After that, the Georgian Bagrationi Dynasty managed this region. The Byzantine Empire reconquered this region in 1045 but this region passed to Seljuk Turks in 1064, who renamed the city Sardarabad.

This region was passed among Georgians and Armenians, Eldiguzids and Khwarezmid Empire after Seljuk’s decline. Mongols captured this region in 1239 and founded Ilkhanid state in 1256. This region was passed to Chupanids in 1353, Jalayirids in 1357 and Kara Koyunlu in 1388. Tamerlane captured this region in 1400. Qara Yusuf retook this region in 1407 from Timurid Empire. However Shah Rukh who was Timurid ruler captured this region in 1421 and in 1429.

Jahan Shah who was Kara Koyunlu ruler captured it in 1447. Kara Koyunlu’s sovereignty lasted until Uzun Hasan, ruler of Ak Koyunlu, conquered it in 1468. Ak Koyunlu’s sovereignty lasted until 1501, Ismail I’s conquest. Ismail I was founder of Safavid Dynasty.

This region was temporarily occupied by Ottoman Empire in 1514, in 1534, in 1548 and in 1553. It was then conquered by Ottoman Empire in 1585 but retaken by Abbas I of Persia who was Safavid ruler in 1603. It was occupied by Ottomans between 1635–1636 and 1724–1736. At the fall of the Safavid Empire, Armavir became part of the Erivan Khanate.

The Russo-Persian War (1826-1828) began due to Persian demand to reconquer the territories lost to Russia between 1804 and 1813. At first, the Persians repulsed the Russians from the South Caucasus in 1826. However, Russian general and commander of the Russian army, Ivan Paskevich, reconquered South Caucasus and extended its territories to include the Erivan Khanate in 1827.

This region formally passed from Persian to Russian sovereignty after the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828. Armavir became the Sardarabad uyezd of the Armenian Oblast, which itself became the Erivan guberniya in 1840. This situation lasted until the February Revolution in 1917.

After the February Revolution, the region was under the authority of Special Transcaucasian Committee of the Russian Provisional Government and subsequently the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the TDFR was dissolved in May 1918, this region passed to Democratic Republic of Armenia, having a conspicuous role in Armenian history due to Battle of Sardarapat. There, the Armenian forces staved off extermination and repulsed the Ottoman Army whose campaign in the Caucasus was aimed at occupying Yerevan.

However, the Ottomans did occupy most of the Erivan Governorate, forcing the Armenians to sign the Treaty of Batum in June 1918. The Ottoman Army retreated after signing Armistice of Mudros at the end of 1918 and so Sardarapat returned to Democratic Republic of Armenia in November 1918.

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