Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kars - Turkey

Near to the Armenian border, Kars is about 30 km from the ancient capital of Armenia, Ani.

Earliest History

Bronze and Iron age settlements have been excavated on the site, so have possible Uruatian buildings. There is re-used classical masonry in the citadel walls and the remains of what is probably a Zoroastrian fire temple. Ani is first mentioned by Armenian chroniclers in the 5th century A.D. as a strong castle built on a hilltop and a possession of the Kamsarakan dynasty.

In the middle of the 7th century Armenia was invaded and conquered by the Arabs. The ethnic makeup of the population was little changed by this invasion, but it destroyed the existing power structures and paved the way for the eventual emergence of new ruling dynasties. By the end of the 9th century Armenia had regained most of her former independence - but was divided into numerous kingdoms and principalities. The two most powerful Armenian kingdoms were those of the Artzruni dynasty, who were based around Lake Van, and the Bagratid dynasty, who ruled most of north-eastern Armenia and who would eventually have their capital at Ani.

The Bagratid Period

The Bagratids bought the castle of Ani and its nearby estates from the Kamsarakans, and in the year 971 the Bagratid king Ashot III transferred his capital from Kars to Ani. At this time Ani was probably little more than a fortress town built around the citadel hill. King Ashot constructed new city walls across the narrowest point of the site, below and a little to the north of the citadel (there may have been older earthen ramparts along the same route). The city grew so quickly that the much larger outer walls to the north were completed by the year 989. The ruins that still extend beyond these walls prove that even they did not enclose a large enough area to contain the whole population.

Ani became an important crossroads for merchant caravans and the city controlled trade routes between Byzantium, Persia, Syria and central Asia. Merchants and craftsmen flocked to Ani from Armenia's older cities, accompanied by a flow of population from the rural areas of Armenia. In 992 the Armenian Katholikosat moved its seat to Ani: at the start of the 11th century there were 12 bishops, 40 monks and 500 priests in the city. By the 11th century the population of Ani was well over 100 000, perhaps as high as 200 000, and its wealth and renown was such that it was known as "the city of a thousand and one churches".

After King Gagik I died in 1020 his two sons quarrelled and fought over who should succeed him. The eldest son, Hovhannes-Sembat, gained control of Ani. His younger brother, Ashot, controlled other parts of the Bagratid kingdom. Hovhannes had supported the ruler of Georgia in that king's war against the expansionist Byzantine empire and he feared that the Byzantines would now attack the weakened Bagratid Kingdom. To try and avoid this he made the Byzantine emperor Basil the heir to his dominions.

Ani Under Byzantine Rule

King Hovhannes died in 1041, and the then Byzantine emperor Michael IV claimed sovereignty over Ani. Hovhannes had died childless so the people of Ani put forward the son of Ashot, Gagik II, as his successor. A Byzantine army sent to capture Ani was defeated in 1042. (Armenian chroniclers speak of Byzantine losses of more than 20,000 men, but Byzantine chroniclers are silent about the whole event). Pro-Byzantine Armenians in the city persuaded Gagik to go to Constantinople to sign a peace treaty; on arriving there Gagik was imprisoned. The Byzantines again attacked Ani, and again they were defeated, but in 1045 the city's population, realising that they were leaderless and surrounded by enemies, decided to surrender Ani to the Byzantines. King Gagik II was given a palace in Constantinople and the city of Caesarea (modern Kayseri) as compensation. After the Turkish invasions into the Byzantine empire, he was murdered in the Greek held castle of Cybistra in northern Cilicia. Constantine, the son of Rupen, one of Gagik's generals, was later to be the founder of the separate Armenian kingdom in Cilicia.

Ani Captured By the Turks

Raiding parties of Turks, originating from central Asia, began to reach Armenia and Byzantine Anatolia in the second half of the eleventh century. The Byzantine Empire was not successful in stopping the advance of the Turkish Seljuk armies that were ever increasing in size and in confidence. In the summer of 1064 a large Seljuk Turkish army attacked Ani, and after a siege
of 25 days they captured the city.
In the year 1071,
at the Battle of Manzikert, the Turkish armies won a decisive victory over a combined Byzantine and Armenian force, and the Byzantine emperor Romanus Diogenese was taken prisoner. There was now nothing to protect Armenia, and much of the Byzantine Empire, from the waves of Turkish invasions.

Ani Under Georgian Rule

In 1072 the Turks sold Ani to the Kurdish Shaddadid dynasty, who maintained a precarious hold of Ani until the end of the 12th century (loosing it several times to the Georgians or to internal rebellions by the city's still almost exclusively Armenian population). In the year 1200 the Georgian queen Tamara captured Ani and gave it to the Mkhargrdzeli family, whose territory eventually resembled that of the Bagratid kingdom in size. Under their rule Ani regained much of its former prosperity - several of the churches date from this period, as do many of the towers in the city walls. The region was invaded and occupied by the Mongols in 1237, but
after the usual killing
and looting some stability returned and the Mkhargrdzeli dynasty continued to rule Ani, only now as vassals of the Mongols rather than the Georgians. However, by the 1330s they had lost control of the city to a succession of Turkish dynasties, including the Kara Koyunlu (Black Sheep clan) who made Ani their capital.

The Decline and Death of Ani

The mass emigration of the population had started with the Mongol invasions. By the mid 14th century Ani had ceased to be a trading city and the remaining trade routes now passed further to the south. Tamerlane captured Ani in the 1380s, but on his death the Kara Koyunlu regained control. By then Ani was about to collapse as a city - the Kara Koyunlu transferred their capital to Yerevan (the Armenian Katholikosat did the same in 1441) and much of the city’s remaining population abandoned it. It is a myth (still propagated in many guide books about Turkey) that the city was abandoned after an earthquake in 1319.

Ani became part of the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1579. A small town still remained within its walls at least until the mid 17th century, and a European traveller in the early 17th century mentions the existence of 200 churches in Ani and the immediate neighbourhood. The final decline of Ani was accompanied by the desertion of the rural population as the region became over-run by nomadic Kurdish tribes who would rob and murder at will. The survival of any form of settled life, whether by Christians or Muslims, ultimately became unsustainable. The church at Kizkale was in use by monks at least until 1735, so the final and total abandonment of the site is probably the mid 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century Ani was empty of human beings.