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Chapter 25
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 27

 p206  Chapter XXVI
Destruction of Ani and Spread of the Turkish Power

Fatuity of Imperial policy

The alternate oppression and neglect of the Armenian kingdom by the Byzantine rulers was not only odious, but impolitic, even stupid, because Armenia, as an outpost of Christianity in the East, could, had she been kept strong, have arrested the Turkish wave for many years; but no one in the capital on the Bosporus seemed to comprehend this fact or see the impending danger to the Empire. The Greeks ruled in western Armenia and part of northern Armenia, the other part being under Georgian domination, while the Seljuks held the eastern part of Transcaucasia, and Arab emirs occupied the southern provinces. But this state of affairs did not last long. The Greeks, deprived of their best military resource — the Armenian element — were unable to maintain in the land of Ararat an army strong enough to check the new invaders. They were soon driven out by Alp-Arslan and by his son Melik-Shah (1072‑1092), whose domains were shortly to extend from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River in the East, and to the Bosporus on the West. It was not long before two Ortokid dynasties were created in Armenia and Kurdistan, the former by Sokman, the Shah-Armen (or "King of Armenia") and the other by Il‑Ghazi.

Toghrul Beg's merciless conquest

The conquest of Armenia by the Turks was not easily accomplished, however. From 1048 to 1054 Toghrul Beg hurled his hordes at the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. His cousin Koutulmish and his nephew Hassan were defeated, but his brother  p207 Ibrahim ravaged Vaspourakan, then marching northward, took Ardzen, a city of 800 churches and of immense wealth. They gave the city over to flames, after plundering it and taking from the district 150,000 persons into virtual slavery.

In 1054 Toghrul Beg led his troops into the Van district and spread devastation everywhere. The King, Gagik-Abas, was defeated in battle and took refuge behind his city walls. The Turkish chief then turned northwestward and laid siege to the city of Manazkert, but that place was saved through a heroic resistance led by Vassil, the son of the city's Armenian governor. Toghrul took revenge by pillaging the city of Ardzké, north of the Lake of Van. Kars had been taken and half destroyed by Ibrahim, but its King Gagik-Koriké was safe in the Kars citadel, built upon an impregnable rock.

Imperial palace wars aid Turks

World conditions, on the other hand, were favorable to the Seljuks. With the death of Constantine Monomachus in 1054 the struggle between the new Emperor Michael VI and his rival, Isaac Comnenus, engrossed Byzantine attention, and Armenia, deprived of her princes, was unable to offer an effective resistance when Toghrul advanced as far as Melitine in western Armenia. At that point, he was compelled to retreat because of a shortage of provisions. The Armenians took advantage of this fact to deliver some telling blows upon the invaders in the mountain defiles, inflicting them serious losses. However, Toghrul captured Sivas in the following summer (1059), reduced it to ruins and slaughtered the major part of the population. The survivors were carried away into slavery, and the Seljuk army recrossed the Halys River (Kizil Irmak) with an immense train of booty, including wagons loaded with gold, silver and rich fabrics — for Sivas had been a commercial center of great importance.

Alp-Arslan storms Ani

Alp-Arslan ("Bold Lion"), nephew and successor of Toghrul, was even more cruel than his uncle. He devastated the entire area of the Armenian plateau and the Lesser Caucasus. The city of Ani alone closed its gates against him with a courage born of despair. Bagrat, the duke, an Armenian, was then in command in behalf of the Emperor. Tired of fruitless assaults, Alp-Aslan was about to retire  p208 when the governor, fearing a new and more violent attack, ensconced himself in the citadel. Deserted by the Greek troops, the population began to flee along the valley of the Akhurian (Arpa-tchai). The Turks thereupon climbed over the undefended ramparts and entered the city on June 6, 1064. A frightful butchery followed, blood flowed in torrents in the streets, and in public places thousands fell by the sword. Those who had taken refuge in the churches perished and were buried in the ruins of the burnt edifices. Such survivors as were believed to be wealthy were tortured in an effort to force them to reveal the hiding places of their treasure.

"Men were slaughtered in the streets," says Aristakes of Lastivert, "women were carried away, infants crushed on the pavements; the comely faces of the young were disfigured, virgins were violated in public, young boys murdered before the eyes of the aged, whose venerable white hairs then became bloody and whose corpses rolled on the earth."

The dreadful holocaust continued for several days until the knight conqueror withdrew, leaving all in ruins behind him. Bagrat, the duke, and the Greek soldiers, had fled under cover of a storm. Alp-Arslan replaced them by a Moslem governor and garrison, and passed on towards Nakitchévan, followed by a caravan of booty and a multitude of slaves. Among the treasures seized from the Bagratid capital was the great silver cross which rose above the dome of the Cathedral. Alp-Arslan wanted to place it on the threshold of his mosque at Nakhitchévan, so that the "true believers" might enjoy the satisfaction of trampling upon the emblem of Christ every time they entered their sanctuary.

City of Ani disappears from History

Never again did Ani rise from its ruin. It was in turn occupied by the Seljuks (1064‑1072), by the Kurdish emirs (1072‑1124), by the Georgians (1124‑1126, 1161‑1163), by the Tatars and the Persians, until its story was finally and completely ended by an earthquake in the year 1300, overthrowing what little remained of its former splendor. The inhabitants migrated to Georgia, to the Crimea, even to Moldavia and Poland.

Ani, "the city of a thousand churches," is now nothing but a wilderness, dotted with ruins, the abode of wild beasts; but the loneliness of the erstwhile metropolis gives an infinite charm to the vestiges of its past glory. On this rocky peninsula, bounded by deep  p209 ravines through which flow whirling streams, the dead city stretches out laden with mysteries, where only fragments remain of the great churches and frowning ramparts. Where princely mansions stood, there are now nothing but formless masses of rubble, hidden under thickets. Streets and public squares can scarcely be traced, but amid this tangled mass of ruins are still to be found bits of those superb sanctuaries, beauti­ful in their ordered lines, charming in their lacy sculpture and curious frescoes.

[image ALT: An engraving of two stone slabs with intricately carved crosses. They are medieval tombstones at Ani, a city of Armenia.]
Tombstones at Ani

The majestic remains of the sacred edifices testify to the refined taste of the architects and kings of Ani. The double wall which, with its towers, its castle, its donjon, defended the city on the north, evokes a thousand reflections upon the links connecting Armenia with the West. And the traveler who visits this solitude is oppressed by a feeling of profound sadness as he recalls the horrors of which these places have been the theater — those massacres and plunders, a poignant account of which is left to us by the chronicler Aristakes.

The country surrounding Ani is arid and barren. The rocks are of rosy, brown and yellow hues; the earth a dull red. The hills seem still to bear the scars of the flames which destroyed the city, and of the volcanic tremors which completed its obliteration.

A few remains of the once-great wealth of Ani, saved from plunder, survive to the present day. In the treasure-vault of the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin are preserved some silver crosses, church ornaments and precious manuscripts. Other relics which were discovered in excavations in Ani, and piously kept there in a museum on the spot were wantonly destroyed in 1920 by the Turkish troops who invaded the new-born Armenian republic, a land which for a century had been Russian territory. That area still remains within the Turkish frontiers.

Turkish Mosque built at Ani

The first Moslem ruler of Ani, Manoutchar, built in 1318 on the brow of the cliff above the Akhurian River, a mosque, the ruins of which may still be seen, and whose architecture was certainly inspired by the Christian monuments of Ani, more particularly by the church of Khoscha-Vank.

Armenia Major having lost her independence, several of her princes emigrated towards Greek territory; some accepted the yoke of the Seljuks while yet others embraced the faith of Islam. But  p210 the majority of the nation refused to quit the soil of their ancestors and tenaciously clung to its traditions.

Role of the Armenian Nobility

Greater Armenia had lived for a millennium and a half when she met with political death. Since her foundation, she had not ceased her struggle for independence; but her geographical position between two militaristic empires, doomed her to destruction. From the time of Alexander's conquest and the appearance of the Romans in Asia, always menaced by the Parthians, the Sassanids and the Arabs on one side, and the legions of Rome or Byzantium on the other, she was unable to beat off forever such mighty adversaries. Her nobles, her aristocratic leaders, although brave and warlike, did not possess that community of spirit requisite to carry the nation through such great perils.

When the children of Haik achieved the conquest of the country of Ararat, they were led by their tribal chiefs, a nobility of Armeno-Phrygian origin. But in the process of assimilating the conquered peoples of Nairi and Urartu, they found it advisable to respect the traditions of those vanquished populations, and the native chiefs of the land, who had once battled against the armies of Assyria, were therefore maintained in their lordly status in the new society. The result was such that a study of Armenian family names indicates a Urartean origin for a considerable number of the noble houses of Armenia. These two strains of nobility inevitably became antagonistic: one of them, the Armens, considering themselves the ruling class, the other, of the Nairi-Urartean stock lamenting the passing of the days of their domination.

Other divergent elements were added under succeeding foreign dominations — Achaemenid, Greek, Parthian, Sassanid, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Turk. The nation's aristocracy was thus extremely  p211 diversified; interests and tendencies became varied and opposed, all these resulting in competition, hatred, with the consequence of great weakness for the whole nation. The nobles of Armenia were valiant, but they subordinated the welfare of the State to their own personal ambitions. The existence of seven small Armenian kingdoms at the time of the Turkish invasion is a proof of this. Covered with mountains, difficult of access and divided by nature into a multitude of districts, Armenia invited political disunity.

Such divisions were exploited by neighboring alien powers. Byzantium committed the gravest of errors by her hostility to the Armenians and by her narrow sectarian policy, which finally brought about the ruin of Armenia and the decline of the Greek power in the Near East. Byzantium seriously needed, not a subject people on her eastern frontier, but an allied Christian kingdom; and there she had a potential one in Armenia, stretching from the Tigris to the Black Sea and from the Euphrates to the Caspian and the Caucasus, with ten million inhabitants; a possible buffer state, capable of putting many legions of fighting men in the field against the enemies of Christendom.

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone slab with two intricately carved crosses and an inscription along the edges. It is the medieval tombstone of the Armenian bishop Hairapet of Syunik.]
Tombstone of Hairapet, Bishop of Sewniq

A foreign appraisal

"The conception of such a state," says Jacques de Morgan, "would have meant the salvation of the Empire; but in Constantinople, that capital wasted with palace revolutions and wrangles over dogmas, the broad lines of Roman policy had been lost sight of. The result was that instead of consolidating the royal power of Ani, the Byzantines  p212 busied themselves in sowing discord among the Armenian princes, with eyes on their feudal territories they were unable to hold.

"Less exposed to Moslem attacks than their Araxian kinsmen, the Bagratids of Georgia managed to maintain their throne for six centuries after the fall of Ani; but these princes had the mighty Caucasian mountain fortress to repair to as a last resort whenever they were too hard pressed."

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Page updated: 28 Oct 17