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City with an Armenian Past

Kars is a beautiful city located in the North East of Turkey. Some sources say the name Kars is derived from the Georgian Kari meaning ‘gate’, while other say it comes from the Armenian word Hars meaning ‘bride’. Others say that it’s name came from the Turkish tribe Karsaks from the north Caucasian mountains. The origins of it’s name are still in dispute!

Little is known of it’s early history except that it had it’s own dynasty of Armenian rulers and was the capital of a region known as Vanand. The town appears in Roman history as part of ancient Armenian history. Medieval Armenian historians referred to Kars by a variety of names. At some point in the 9th Century it became part of the Bagratunis Kingdom and was the capital for over 40 years. During this period the Church of the Holy Apostles was built.

Later the seat was transferred to Ani and Kars became the capital of an independent kingdom again called Vanand. It’s independence from Ani is uncertain, however after the capture of Ani by the Byzantine Empire, the title of capital was transferred to the ruler of Kars. Soon after it was taken by the Seljuk Turks.

In 1206 it was captured by the Georgians who held control until 1230 when it had Turkısh rulers. In 1397 the city surrendered to Timur. Beyliks ruled until it was captured by the Ottoman Army. During the years 1878-1881 over 82,000 Muslims from the formerly Ottoman controlled territory migrated back to the Empire (more than 11,000 from Kars). Conversely many Armenians and Caucasus Greeks migrated to the region from the Ottoman Empire.

In WWI, during the Caucasus Campaign Russia ceded Kars along with Ardahan and Batum to the Ottoman Empire under the Treaty of Brest-Livosk in 1918. However it’s control remained under Armenian and Russian Forces. Recaptured by the Ottomans again on April 25 1918, it was again required to withdraw into pre-war frontiers.

The Ottomans refused to relinquish it and instead it’s military governor established a government, but in 1919 after a joint operation it again came under Armenian administration. Skirmishes took place and in 1920 it was taken with little resistance by Turkish forces and under the terms of the Treaty of Sevres, Armenia was forced to return all Ottoman territories.

After the advance of the Bolshevik into Armenia, Turkey signed a treaty with the Soviet Union. The soviets annexed Ardahan in exchange for Turkish control of the regions of Kars. The Treaty of Kars finally established peace. During WWII Russia again laid claims to Kars against a very weak Turkish position.

However the Cold War was beginning between America and the Soviet Union and seeing Turkey as a possible strong ally in the region, America came to Turkey’s side both financially and militarily. Finally the Soviet Union dropped any further claim to the region. The border with Armenia has remained closed since 1993 and despite diplomatic advances the border still remains closed.

What to See

Ani – the ancient ruined Armenian city – is located on the border and is an absolute must! The majority of the ruins are from between 8-13th Century AD. Its walls are 8 metres in height and 4500 metres long.

This very beautiful and peaceful site belies the centuries of conflict and controversy that continue into modern day. Because of it’s location in past times, permission was needed to visit the site but now this is not necessary.

Kars museum has archeology and ethnography exhibits worthy of a visit. Kars, Inkaya-Micingirt and Surgurtus-Zicin Castles and the Palaces of Beylerbeyi and Selcuklu Palace close to the Ani Historical Site show the city’s imperial past.

Kars also has many religious buildings, including the Church of the Holy Apostles, Tigran Honents Church, Church of the Virgins. The most outstanding Mosques are Yusuf Pasaö Ebul Hasan Harakani Tomb and Mosque and Fethiye Mosque.

Situated about 40 kilometers out of the city is Kuyucuk Lake. An internationally recognized and protected wetland it is home to 182 bird species. Kars ALSO has a skiing centre – Sarikamis. At 3000 metres and surrounded by pine forests, the best time for skiing is from December to April when Kars is generally under snow.

What to Eat

Cuisine specialties of Kars are flour soup and Hangel, a kind of pastry served with yoghurt, and Kars is famous for it’s goose cooked in tandoor, and rice with lamb meat!


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