Typical to the uplands of Vasbouragan, are the lofty valleys crowded between the mountains, wherein flowing mid-sized rivers support and sustain life.
The climate is mild in these valleys on the shores of Lake Van, conducive to agriculture, particularly for the cultivation of fruit orchards and vineyards. Mountain pastures promote the raising of livestock.
The road linking the Orient with the west passed through here. From early times — 7 to 8,000 years ago — this inseparable portion of the Armenian Highlands has been the cradle of Indo-European peoples, from where, large groups of their ancestors have migrated to the far corners of Asia and Europe, while racial groups attached to their highlands have remained in place.
Later, following the heroic exploits of Haik the patriarch, they were to call themselves Hai. Five centuries later — following the expansion and strengthening of their patrimony by Aram – foreigners would call them Aramani-Armenians.
It was here, that the queen of Assyria, Semiramis, in the 20th century B.C., after doing battle with the patriarch Ara, built her summer city, Shamiramakert and the famous canal, which, 12 centuries later, was to be renovated by a scion of the Haikian clan Kadm, King Menua, renaming the city Tushpe-Tosp, and the canal, Menua’s Canal, after his own name. For three whole centuries, the Kingdom of Van, founded by Aram, demonstrated its power to the surrounding countries, often imposing its will on mighty Assyria.
In the cuneiform inscriptions of the Van Kingdom, for the first time are mentioned the ethnic masters of Vasbouragan, the Artzrunis, who were to play a major role in the eventual development and independence of Armenia, particularly during the 8-9th centuries, when a strong wave of rebellion had risen against Arab hegemony and the reinstatement of the country’s kingdom was at hand.
As in the days of past rulers of Van, when the privilege of unifying Armenia had befallen to the Vasbouraganians, so did – after 2,000 years – the Artzrunis assume the task, trying to achieve unity under their aegis. However, they were not successful in their efforts to create a pan-Armenian kingdom, and they limited their hegemony over Vasbouragan.
In 908, Gagik Artzruni separated Vasbouragan from the Bagratuni Kingdom, creating his own separate kingdom. During the days of King Gagik and his heirs, the Kingdom of Vasbouragan reached, in the north, from the river Arax to the Kardvats Mountains, and to the west, from Lake Van to the lake of Kaputan “Vogrimio” Lake. From there — from the point where the rivers Red and Arax merged — the boundaries extended to the vicinity of Artashat, then, twisting towards the south-west, reached lake Van. Aside from Vasbouragan, the Artzruni Kingdom included the province of Mokq and the major part of Persian Armenia.
Enjoying over a 100 years of peace, the cities of Van, Vostan, Aghtamar, Adamakert and Nakhijevan lived an era of intense construction and progress. Gagik Artzruni rebuilt the half-ruined citadel of Vostan, renovated the city’s Holy Mother-of-God church, and the Van citadel, called Amrakan Qaradzav. He built churches and the aqueduct leading to the water tower. Following that, he constructed a stone underground water main leading from the slopes of mount Varag to Van. At the same time, he completed the building of the palace started by his father, with its lavish, gilded halls. He built the luxurious Artsruni summer place in the hamlet of Getn in the province of Djvashrot. Near the city of Adamakert, in Rshtunik, on a site called Odz, he built the community of Gagkakert, populating it with the resettled households of nearby villages.
The crowning achievement of Vasbouragan’s building frenzy was the throne-city of Vostan, started in 919, where the citadel was transformed into a marvelous, unassailable royal castle. On Aghtamar Island, Gagik Artzruni built the city of the same name, along with its harbor. Among the civilian buildings, the most famous was the royal palace, which boasted ramparts, granary, wine-cellar, armory and rest and leisure sections. In the same year, King Gagik built the superb Aghtamar Church, adorning it with numerous ornamental sculptures.
Commerce, transportation and exchange of goods reached new heights, the goldsmiths’ and jewelers’ arts flourished along with education and cultural activities. In the realm of historiography, Ananun and Tovma shined, along with the philosophers Anania Shirakatsi and Khosrov Andzevatsi, while the monastery of Narek gave birth to its genius, the unrivalled Grigor Narekatsi.
Vasbouragan was the breeding ground of our mother tongue and its dialects, which found renewed relevance in the 16th century through the pen Nahapet Kouchak of Kharakonis.
The Kingdom of Vasbouragan lasted until the year 1021, when Turkish invaders from the east started their raids against the realm. From one side, Byzantium and from the other, the Turks, created a difficult situation for the Kingdom. The Vasbouragan army was unable to mount a serious defense against the Turkish hordes. King Senegerim sent a peace mission to Emperor Vasil II, whose forces had captured Tayq. Taking advantage of Vasboutagan’s untenable situation, the Byzantine Emperor offered him the city of Sebastia with its environs as refuge. The Vasbouraganians were forced to accept the offer and, leaving their homeland with their families, moved to Sebastia.
The number of the migrants reached 70,000. For those left in Vasbouragan with a limited number of troops, it was impossible to stop the Turkish incursions. History shows, that the treachery of the Byzantines played its destructive role, opening the road not only to the demise of the Armenian Kingdom but to the eventual destruction of their own empire as well.
Over the following centuries Armenia lost its independence, and Vasbouragan fell under the yoke of foreign domination. Conquerors, following each other, destroyed the country, yet the Armenians remained on their soil until the Genocide of 1915, when the small Armenian population rose up and defended itself against the Turkish yataghan, raising the flag of rebellion and pushing the imperial Ottoman army back and declaring its independence, which was scuttled, this time by the treachery of Russian imperial policies.
The population of Vasbouragan survived thanks to a heroic resistance and, forced to leave behind its historic patrimony, retreated to the plains of Ararat where, three years later, its indomitable fighters helped establish the free and independent Republic of Armenia.