BY RAFFI TAPANIAN
Van is a city that is currently in Turkey’s Van Province on the eastern side of the Republic of Turkey, located around Lake Van. This city has a long history of being populated by thousands of Armenians in the past 3,000 years under the various Armenian kingdoms and foreign empires, but following the Armenian Genocide of 1915 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian population has vanished. Along with the erasure of the Armenian population of Van, the erasure of thousands of years of Armenian heritage has and continues to take place. Cultural genocide.
Naregavank (Monastery of Nareg)/Նարեկավանք
Naregavank, or the English translation “Monastery of Nareg”, was an Armenian monastery that was built in the 10th century on the shores of Lake Van. It was one of the most prominent learning centers in Armenia, where the 10th-century Armenian poet, Gregory of Nareg, studied and flourished. Naregavank was an important Armenian monastery where there was a major production of Armenian manuscripts. Following one thousand years since the monastery was constructed, Naregavank stopped functioning following the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and was then completely demolished in 1951 by the Turkish government.
Varakavank (Monastery of Varak)/Վարագավանք
Varakavank, or the English translation “Monastery of Varak”, was an Armenian monastery that was built in the early 11th century near the shores of Lake Van. The monastery was built by the Armenian king Senekerim-Hovhannes Artsruni. According to tradition, it was built to house the True Cross, which is the remnants of the cross Jesus was crucified on. The True Cross was eventually transported to another location in Armenia after fears that Varakavank will be attacked. Varakavank eventually served as the seat of the Armenian archbishop of the Armenian Church in Van. Throughout the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Ottoman army destroyed large portions of the monastery, and more of the monastery was later destroyed in the 1960s.
Cathedral of the Holy Cross/Սուրբ Խաչ եկեղեցի
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is an Armenian church that was built in the early 10th century on Akhtamar Island, an island in Lake Van. The church was built by the Armenian King Gagik I Artsruni. Between 1116 and 1895 the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island was the location of the Armenian Catholicos of Akhtamar. In 1916, following the Armenian Genocide, the Catholicosate of Akhtamar was formally abolished. Since then, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross has been subject to vandalism and is currently operating as a secular museum.
Abarank (Aparank) Monastery/Ապարանք
Abarank Monastery is an Armenian monastery located in the Van province, in the historical Armenian village of Mogs. The monastery was built in the 10th century to house a relic of the True Cross. Prior to the Armenian Genocide, the monastery consisted of the churches of Surb Hovhannes Karapet, Surb Astvatsatsin, and the chapels of Surb Stepannos and Surb Arakelots. Since the Armenian Genocide, the condition of Abarank has been deteriorating, with adjoining churches in complete ruins.
Ktuts Monastery/Կտուց Վանք
Ktuts Monastery is an Armenian monastery founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century, which was built on an island in Lake Van. It once held the relic of John the Baptist’s hand, but that is now held at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. During the Hamidian massacres in the late 19th century, many refugees used the Ktuts Monastery as shelter, but the same was not done during the Armenian Genocide because access to the island was prevented by the Ottoman police. Since the Armenian Genocide, the monastery has been abandoned.
Hokiats Monastery/Հոգեաց Վանք
Hokiats Monastery is an Armenian monastery built in the 4th century It was once a famous writing center among Armenians, but not anymore because since the Armenian Genocide, the monastery has been left empty. According to tradition, the tombs of the first Christian monarchs for Armenians, King Tirdates IV and Queen Ashkhen, are located at Hokiats Monastery. Following the Armenian Genocide, the monastery was used by locals to hold livestock. Currently, the monastery is in a state of ruins.
Desert of Lim/Լիմ Անապատ
The Lim Monastery was built on an island in Lake Van sometime in the 9th century but was restored and rebuilt in the 14th century by Catholicos Zacharia I of Aghtamar. The scriptorium was operating up until the Armenian Genocide, when the monastery was plundered by the Ottoman Empire. The Madenataran library in Yerevan holds 306 manuscripts from the Lim Monastery. The monastery was still standing in the 1950s, but since then has been almost completely destroyed and is currently in a state of ruins.
Arkelan Monastery/Արգելան Վանք
Arkelan Monastery was an Armenian monastery built at the northeastern tip of Lake Van in the 11th-12th century, in a town called Pergri. In various texts, the importance of the Arkelan Monastery and its scriptorium is mentioned. During the Armenian Genocide the monastery served as a temporary refuge for Armenians from nearby villages, but who were subsequently executed on the Pergri River bridge nearby. The monastery was abandoned following the Armenian Genocide, and since then the monastic building has disappeared and the cemetery has been desecrated.
Monastery of the Miracles/ Արծկէոյ Սքանչելագործի Վանք
Formerly known as the Holy Protector (Sourp Erashkhavor), and also Ardzgué Monastery, the Monastery of the Miracles is an Armenian monastery built in Van during the 8th century. The name comes from the presence of famous relics at the site which have traditionally been thought to have healing powers. Following the Armenian Genocide, the monastery was confiscated by the Turkish government. Today the monastery is heavily damaged and today a mere skeleton of the former structure remains.
Monastery of Medzop/Մեծոփայ Վանք
The Monastery of Medzop is an Armenian monastery that is near the Dzaghgants mountains, which run along the north shore of Lake Van. The monastery was built as early as the 12th century. The Monastery of Medzop was confiscated during the Armenian Genocide and methodically destroyed by the Turkish government. Today, hardly any trace of the monastery can be found.
Madnavank Monastery is an Armenian monastery that was built in the 14th century, part of it being carved out from the mountainside. There are numerous caves within the monastery that leads you to the former gathering rooms, granaries, cells, and oratories. Following the Armenian Genocide, the outside of the monastery has been completely destroyed and has disappeared, but the caves still remain.
Convent of the Red Gem/Կարմիր Ակն Վանք
The Covent of the Red Gem was an Armenian monastery built on the southern shores of Lake Van. The monastery was built as early as in the 10th century, and tradition has it that the king of Vaspurakan, Gagik (908–943) would spend his retreats there. The monastery was plundered during the Hamidian Massacres in 1895, and was completely confiscated following the Armenian Genocide. Since then, parts of the monastery has been completely leveled while other parts are quickly deteriorating.
The Monasteries of Saint Anania and Saint John in Bor/Պոռայ Սուրբ Անանիայի եւ Սուրբ Յովհաննէնի Վանքեր
The Monasteries of Saint Anania and Saint John in the village of Bor, west of Lake Van, was built as early as the 5th century. Both of the monasteries were confiscated following the Armenian Genocide and converted into warehouses. The ornamental stones throughout the monasteries have all been removed or covered up. The structure is currently being used by locals, with pieces of the cross-stone even being uses as a fountain.
The Monastery of Saint-Thomas at Kantzag/Գանձակայ Սուրբ Թովմասի Վանք
The Monastery of St. Thomas was an Armenian Monastery overlooking Lake Van, which was built sometime in the 11th century. The monastery was named after St. Thomas because the remains of the saint were brought to the monastery from Edessa. This monastery was completely deserted during the 1895 Hamidian Massacres, before the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Currently, the monastery is still abandoned and is in grave danger of collapsing.
Monastery of the Holy Resurrection of Tivapuyn/Դիւաբոյնի Վանք
The Monastery of the Holy Resurrection of Tivapuyn was an Armenian monastery built on the south shore of Lake Van. The monastery was first mentioned in 13th-century texts, but some believe it may have been built as early as the 10th century. The monastery was confiscated following the Armenian Genocide and was used as a sheepfold up to the 1970s. It has deteriorated considerably since and is in a state of ruins.
Saint Marinos Monastery/Սրխու Սուրբ Մարինոսի Վանք
Saint Marinos Monastery is an Armenian monastery located in the southwest of Van, on the slopes of the Hayots Tzor Valley. The monastery was built in the 12th century, and originally had the alternative name of Srkhouvank. The monastery was founded to house a community of nuns and was dedicated to the female saints Marinos and Theodora. Once again, the monastery was confiscated following the Armenian Genocide and has been left empty ever since. The monastery is deteriorating and it is becoming increasingly unrecognizable.
The Armenian monasteries described above is not an absolute list of the Armenian monasteries in Van, Western Armenia. This is describing some of the Armenian monasteries just in the city of Van, but there have always been Armenian monasteries from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1914 there were 2,538 functioning Armenian churches and monasteries in the Ottoman Empire. Following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, this number was reduced drastically, now there are only 34 functioning Armenian churches, mainly in Constantinople.
Editor’s Note: The author self-published the above piece in Medium on April 23, 2020.