An attempt of up-to-date interpretation of the history of Yerevan fortress

Being one of the most ancient settlements in the world Yerevan had numerous fortresses and castles. Each of them, appearing within a certain period concealed inside itself and brought to us the past episodes of the history of the city…

When people who are aware of the history of the city to a greater of lesser extent speak about the early period of our city they always begin from the period of Ararat kingdom of Van (IX-VI centuries AD) when Erebuni (with Arin-Berd) and Teyshebaini (with Karmir Blur) were separated with their significance as castle-fortresses. The latter were strong constructions of strategic and economic significance the founders of which, Argishti I and Rusa II built during their campaigns uniting the Land of Ararat. Later, in the VII century AD, these impregnable fortresses were destroyed and abandoned as settlements. Time has consigned to oblivion their traces and as if keeping them to reach present days.

However, the castles and fortresses built by Ararat kings of Van tell us about the history of our city only during the 1st millenium AD, and the archaeological diggings carried out in the area of the present day Yerevan (Shengavit, Tsitsernakaberd, Karmir Berd, Avan and so on) have raised the most ancient layers of history from the interior of the Earth: traces of an earlier culture which dates 3-4 millennia AD (from late Copper-Stone Age till Bronze Age). During their studies the archaeologists came to a conclusion that the Shengavit fortress-settlement is one of the centers of ancient civilization, a town-like settlement which makes the age of the present-day Yerevan even older.

New settlements replaced the old ones and the life in Yerevan continued in the Middle Age as well and this fact is proved by the information preserved in the manuscripts in the foreign sources and the spiritual centers of the city ( unfortunately, nearly no stone proofs of this period have been preserved and this also relates to the castle-fortresses). The little but reliable information found in manuscripts shows that Yerevan had fortresses in the Middle Age as well. The first information about them was left by Sebeos. It refers to the period of the Arab campaigns and lets us know that the Arabs didn’t succeed to invade Yerevan fortress during their battle taken place near Yerevan. «And they gathered around Yerevan and fought for the fortress but weren’t able to occupy it..», wrote the historian ( Bishop Sebeos «History», 4th edition, Yerevan 1939, page 118).

As we can see this information clearly states that there was a fortress in the Middle Age Yerevan, in the VII century and owing to it the town was able to resist the enemy. An expert in the history of the Armenian people, eminent historian H. Zhamkochyan finds that later on the matter concerns the well-known fortress of the 16th century which was located on the plain, at the slope of the left bank of the Hrazdan river. According to him, the fortress was built earlier and it is the Middle-Age Yerevan fortress.

Some interesting information about the Middle-Age Yerevan was kept in the manuscripts by the Byzantine historian Kedrenos. While speaking about the political events of the 11th century he describes a number of fortresses situated in the territory of Armenia, one of which was Khelidonion. This word literally means « a swallow» and its meaning is Swallow Fortress (Tsitsernakaberd). The authors studying the history of Yerevan – Gh. Alishan, Ye. Shahaziz, T. Hakobyan identify Khekidonion, Tsitsernakabers with the fortress which used to stand on the same name hill in the area of the city. The information of the fortress was left by the French traveler J. Charden. As he witnesses (Charden was in Yerevan before the disasterous earthquake of 1679, in 1673), an old tower built in Armenian architectural style existed in the area of Tsitsernakaberd hill: with epigraphic inscriptions on the walls and the ruins of a big and luxirous settlement around it. Later, (20th century) the archaelogical diggings carried out in the area of Tsitsernakaberd showed that it is a monument of an earlier period, of the Bronze Age and it kept existence in the Middle Age too.

K. Ghafadaryan also has his point of view regarding the fortresses of Yerevan. According to him, the first fortress with which the history of the city begins, is the Urartian fortress of Erebuni (782 AD). The fortress mentioned in the manuscripts of the Middle Age historians is the second fortress of Yerevan the place of which is not known for sure. K. Ghafaryan supposes that it used to be located on Kond hill as it was the highest point of the city. In his supposition he refers to the information given by the French traveler J. Charden already mentioned by us. During the travelling of the latter Yerevan was in the hands of Persians, and the Khan of Yerevan or the Sardar sat in the fortress. Describing this most well-known fortress of the 16th century which was called Sardar’s fortress, Charden tells us interesting details about another fortress siituated in the surroundings, the so called Aytsaberd (Goats’Fortress, Gechi-Kala) (in the opinion of those whi study the history of Yerevan, Gechi-Kala is translated as Goats” Fortress, but Persian Armenians translate it as Old Fortress), which “…was situated in the distance of 1000 steps and from its height reigned the city; the mid- fortress with the fortificated walls and embrasures could settle 200 people and the surroundings were vast and settled…” (Travelling of cavalier Charden about the Trans-Caucasia in 1672-1673, page 242).

As we can see, Charden describes a typical medieval fortress-town. Regarding the medieval fortress of Yerevan K. Ghafadaryan attaches big importance to the geographical position-in this case he meant the fact of location at the Hrazdan river. In his opinion, after the after the collapse of Ararat kingdom of Van the residents of Erebuni and Teyshibaini fortress-towns migrated to the north reaching the surroundings of the Getar and the Hrazdan. Those people engaged mainly in farming needed areas with water as together with their cities they lost the canals as well. As a result of the migration, in the 4th-5th centuries they settled in high-located Kond and in its surroundings and formed medieval Yerevan. The 16th century fortress mentioned at all researchers of the history of Yerevan is considered by K. Ghafadaryan to be the third fortress of the town and is called Sardar’s fortress like J. Charden did it. It should be noted that taking into account the role of the latter in the history of our city all the researchers consider that fortress to be the medieval Yerevan fortress, however as we can see some of the historians associate its existence with the early Middle Age (7th century), others –with the 16th century imputing its construction to the Turkish commander Fahrad pasha. The history of the Yerevan fortress is also presented this way in the Armenian Encyclopedia: The Yerevan fortress was built by Fahrad pasha in 1582-1583 on the plain at the left-bank vault of the Hrazdan river (Brief Armenian Encyclopedia, Yerevan 1995, v.2,page 132).

The Encyclopedia was based on «Old Yerevan» scientific work by Ye. Shahaziz. Such an approach is certainly surprising as Ye. Shahaziz used as the primary source a medieval manuscript (1587) and the Encyclopedia should have done the same or at least stood by the formulation given by Shahaziz, but as a likely variant it uses the author’s point of view but not the absolute truth (as encyclopedia does).

Ye. Shahaziz writes:”Fahrad pasha was probably the first to build the prototype of the present fortress at the place of an old Armenian fortress as it can be seen from 96 manuscript Gospel record written in 1587 kept in the state museum, and that the fortress built by Fahrad pasha is called newly-founded (Ye. Shahaziz, «Old Yerevan», 1931,page 177). The following thought again belongs to Shahaziz: «After the Urartian period, a fortress was built at the place of the present-day fortress or in its surroundings. From the very old times Yerevan had had its fortress which was located below the Hrazdan bridge, and the left, cliffy high slope seemed to separated for the fortress by nature.(the same source, page 178). It seems as if the author referred to by the Encyclopedia doesn’t consider the information given in the manuscript accurate. The Gospel, more exactly its re-copy made in 1671 (the manuscripts were re-copied in the churches of Yerevan many times) is among the few samples mentioned Yerevan in the chronicle. K. Ghafadaryan who also shares the mentioned-above point of view on the construction of the Yerevan fortress thinks that «Yerevan has been mentioned in the medieval chronicle so rarely that it’s impossible to make the historical issues more precise basing on them. (K. Ghafadaryan «Medieval monuments and lapidary records of Yerevan», Yerevan 1975, page 93). However, as we can see, this opinion doesn’t hinder making a justified conclusion from only one manuscript which had been re-copied many times.

And here what is said in the mentioned by everybody manuscript written by falsely-called bishop David: «…As it was mentioned in the Gospel, Fahrad pasha with his great army came from Istanbul to Ghara-Ghala village in the land of Ararat which was patronized by St Katoghike and St Stepanos” (Ye. Shahaziz, “Old Yerevan”, Yerevan 1931, page 178). This is the manuscript but the interpretations are different and the most important thing is that many of the researchers take this into account however don’t take it as the absolute truth and basing on the well-known historical sources bring forward their own point of view. Using those sources where there is also information provided by Turkish historians the author of thorough study of the history of Yerevan T. Hakobyan expressed his own opinion on the construction of the Yerevan fortress taking into account that manuscript and not considering it to be the absolute truth. “ The construction of the Yerevan fortress is imputed to Fahrad pasha almost in all historic materials, – he wrote,- but certain corrections are to be made» (T. Hakobyan, «Yerevan history of 1500-1800», Yerevan 1969, page 21).

Then, describing in details the history of the city, he also restores the picture, the role and significance of the fortresses and castles existing throughout the history in the city. His studies, including the period of the Persian dominancy, state that the area where the Yerevan fortress used to be, was already populated though not dansely while in the period of Persian dominancy the palace of Tokhmakh khan and gardens used to be here. Having studied the Turkish sources T. Hakobyan made up a conclusion that Fahrad pasha reconstructed the surroundings of the palace of Tokhmakh pasha fortifying the walls (« Having the palace of Tokmak khan in the middle a wide and steady wall surrounding it was built», wrote the Turkish historian Pechevi Ibrahim». Another Turkish historian Gelibolulu Ali desccribing the construction of the fortress wall added:”Eight towers were built in the mid-fortress, the outside fortress was cempleted with fourty-three towers” (the same source, page 23-24).To build the wall Turks used the stones from the surrounding constuctions and primarily the stones from the Armenian churches which they destroyed. These events of the 16th century got their reflection in «Ayrarat» work by Ghevond Alishan. Basing on the historiographic sources Alishan wrote: «As Archimandrite Hovnan wrote many churches had been destroyed to build the fortress with their stones and they wished to distroy the big two-sided church” (Ghevond Alishan, “Ayrarat – Armenian nature”, Venice, 1890, page 300). When the Turks started to destroy the two-sided church, a number of clergymen headed by Archimandrite Arakel (hereinafter-Katoghikos) went to the Turk commander in chief and asked him not to destroy it, however, not destroying it the Turks turned it into a shelter for their soldiers where they also kept some trophy-thirty horses and mules. It can be supposed that St Gevorg church survived in the passages of the fortress in the form of a half-ruined chapel could be among the destroyed churches. The information about it reached us from a plan made by the Russian party after occupying the fortress on October 1, 1827. This plan is kept in the Yerevan History Museum.

Even if we don’t take into account the undoubtedly advisedly exaggeration of the facts by the Turk historians it should be mentioned that the information evidences the reconstruction of the area, the temporary activities directed at occupying more favourable positions against Persians for the eastern side from where Persians attacked didn’t have such an unassailable position as the Yerevan fortress had from the western side from where Turks attacked.

Another notable circumstance is that short time later, during their rapid military operations (only in 45 days) the built fortress “collapsed during the disastrous earthquake of 1679 in Yerevan», as Ghevond Alishan wrote. The disaster took away all the tracks of the building activities carried out by Turks, leaving the further reconstructions to Persians. Chal khan, the khan of Yerevan, due to the help of the surrounding khanates restored the fortress and the residents of Yerevan restored their city and their churches.

Summarizing the studies of the history of the Yerevan fortress we have arrived at the following conclusions:

1. The term “newly-founded” mentioned in the handwritten Gospel may mean both “newly built” and “built once again», i.e. «restored». The circumstance that the term «restored» or «repaired» can never be found in old Armenian (and this fact has served the base for the supposition), and the new construction is expressed as founded, or constructed, so there wouldn’t have been any need to say «newly-founded» if the construction of the fortress had just started. In such a case, in old Armenian (grabar) it would be simply said «the fortress constructed in Yerevan». If we add to this the circumstance that the manuscript is one of those rare documents which contain such information we can say that it doesn’t give enough grounds to make justified conclusions.

2. Since the ancient period of history Yerevan had had its fortresses. The Yerevan fortress of the early Middle Age could be situated on the high slope of the Hrazdan river, which was the most convenient geographical position, as after the collapse of the Ararat kingdom of Van the residents of the cities of Erebuni and Teyshebaini, migrating to the north settled in the surroundings of the Getar and the Hrazdan rivers. Having agreed with K.Ghafadaryan we think that the fortress of medieval Yerevan should be searched for in Kond. The city lain around the mid-fortress built here is the Kentron (centre) community of today’s Yerevan. Later, the most famous Yerevan fortress of the 16th century used to be a part of Kond complex. The conclusion is based on the reserchers’ opinion that the fortress of Yerevan used to stretch to the north-west (Ye. Shahaziz) thus, with its geographical position it was near Kond. Similar information was also left by Kh. Abovyan in his historical novel «Wound of Armenia». In his well-known description of the Yerevan fortress he wrote: «With one foot in Kond and the other on the head of Damurbulagh» (Kh. Abovyan,”Collection of works”, Yerevan 1984, page 68).

It is obvious that the mid-fortress and its surroundings should have been densely populated and the remote areas –less populated. The part of the high slope of the Hrazdan to the north from the Kond mid-fortress used to be as mentioned, and beginning from the 16th century Persians, then Turks, then again Persians settled comfortably there up to the beginning of the 19th century. On the opinion of K. Ghafadaryan, the medieval Yerevan fortress used to occupy the area of 16 hectares, as we know from the studies, the fortress of the 19th century together with its constructions used to occupy the area of 7 hectares. The information on the sizes of the fortress was left by the Russians after the occupation of the fortress: they made the first measurements and made up the plan of the fortress (V.M Harutyunyan, L.M.Hasratyan, A.A. Melikyan, “Yerevan”, Moscow, 1968, art.24).Therefore, if we enlarge its area moving to the north we will reach Kond.

3. While studying the history of the Yerevan fortress we noticed an interesting phenomenon. Since the Middle Age, as far back as the 16th century, the residents of Yerevan seemed to avoid taking the fortress and the city as a single whole. This area which had become a seat for the foreign invaders was perceived by our compatriots as a prison (it’s not occasionally that according to the explanatory dictionary by E. Aghayan, the other meaning of the word «fortress» in Armenian is «prison»). The best proof for what is said can be found again in the description of the fortress in Kh. Abovyan’s novel: «It stood on the hill with its head raised and stares calmly like a thousand-headed dragon, the thousand-year-old,wrinkled, surrounded by holes, with its sharp teeth on the head fortress. Was it built by Persians-cunning deceivers, or the Ottomans-violent,uncompromising – laid its foundation? There is no writing, no mention about it. Its history is in the depth of darkness, nobody knows or even heard about it” (Kh. Abovyan, «Collection of works», 1984,page 64).

Being under foreign yoke for centuries, the fortress become a stranger for the people. We think that this fact can also be a cause for imputing its construction to a foreigner. During the Turk and Persian wars the Yerevan fortress had passed from hand to hand 14 times, and during the last period of Persian domination (19th century) it became one of the most impregnable fortresses in the east. In that period the most dangerous foe of Persia was the Russian Empire.

Strengthening of the positions of the latter in the east displeased great European powers, France and England, which did everything to push out Russia from the region. With this aim they showed military support to Persia, helped them with arms and ammunition. Their military commanders turned the fortress of Yerevan into an impregnable castle. With great difficulties,during two wars (1804-1813 and 1826-1828), after three attacks only the Russian army was able to occupy the fortress (October 1, 1827). Yerevan and the whole Eastern Armenia passed under the dominancy of the Russian Empire.

The fortress of Yerevan became the settlement of the Russian garrison and the seat of the authorities of the region. However, decades later, in 1864, in accordance with the decision of the Tsar government, the fortress was liquidated (with the improvement of the long-range artillery such forts lose their strategic significance) and gradually abandoned, but its constructions, walls reached the beginning of the 20th century. In that period the Armenian people restored their statehood. It seemed that the government of Yerevan would keep the historical monument played such a big role in the life of the city. But the dismantling of the fortress was going on. After the Sovietization of Armenia, the Committee for the protection of antiquities with its authoritative staff (Al. Tamanyan, Ashkh. Kalantar, N. Buniatyan and others) tried to save the monument but all their efforts were in vain. Various reports addressed to the Council are kept in the national archive. In those reports the committee asks: “Instruct to separate the constructions survived inside the fortress as an archaeological values, withdraw it from the jurisdiction of the military commissariat and put under the jurisdiction of the Committee for the protection of antiquities” (Armenian national archive, f.1063,list.1,book 16). The Committee had expressed its anxiety about this issue for many times, as “both the monument itself and its historical area haven’t been studied appropriately yet” (the same source,f.1063,list 1, book 104). Having mentioned all this we intend to show the lack of serious archaeological diggings in the area of the fortress, without which it’s certainly impossible to make conclusions about the age of the monument, about the definite time of its construction.

The fortress of Yerevan was completely demolished and its place the wine factory of “Ararat” was built. Considering their fortress to be the symbol of tyranny the residents of Yerevan felt such estrangement from it that they even didn’t try to keep it as a historic monument.

Summarizing our studies we can say that if we speak about the period of time when the Yerevan fortress was built, we should go back to the Middle Age and search the information in the early Middle Age, in the south area of the Kond fortress, inside the single whole with it. Since the 16th century that area was unfortunately separated and turned into a settlement by foreign invaders and later, in the 18th-19th centuries it tuned into an impregnable fort remaining the eternal symbol of tyranny for the residents of Yerevan.

As regards the construction of the walls by Fahrad pasha, the reconstructions made by Chal khan, or Hussein Ghuli khan (the last khan of Yerevan), they were only episodes in the history of the Yerevan fortress.

Susanna Harutyunyan
Senior Research Officer of the Yerevan History Museum

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