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room, a spacious apartment with bare floor and white-washed
walls. A few chairs and a large table were the only furniture ;
the only ornaments the usual coloured oleograph of the reigning
emperor, and, perhaps, the almanac and the posting map, which



I20 Armenia

were suspended on the walls. Yet the postmaster was not the
only occupant of the building ; children appeared, and with them
a young and beautiful girl. A Polish maiden ? one could not
doubt of the answer, as one admired the slender form, the swelling
bust, the full lips and the pale face with its animated eyes. Ah !
the pitiful story eloquently told by this unambiguous presence —
the mother already a victim to the prolonged atrophy of these
cheerless surroundings, the father a sapless tree in an alien soil.
Who sent them to such cold solitudes, these warm natures and
passionate temperaments ? Find a wilderness and it will be
tenanted by a Pole. . . . The practical question arose : how
accommodate ourselves and the family within the four white
walls? The father protested that it was completely impossible;
the girl came to our assistance, and revealed the existence of an
adjoining closet, which she offered to share with the children for
the night. After partaking of a frugal meal, after several
futile attempts at sustained conversation, our strange party dis-
posed itself for the night.

P"or myself, I could not sleep, for all the comfort of my camp
bed, and memories of sound slumbers which it evoked. Was it
the grave faces of the Russian peasants and the strange irony of
their history and circumstances that haunted and kept the mind
strung? Or were the senses fluttering under the presence of the
fair woman whose soft breathing one could almost hear ? God
residing in those frames of steel, God incarnate in her voluptuous-
ness ! — Yet their God was not the God of the pantheist, but a
stern, a militant God. . . . And thought wandered out into the
stony by-paths, the home of the sprites that mock thought. The
ingenious wickedness of man with his Churches and his heretics,
and all the cowering crowd of Jews, Armenians, Poles !

A faint light was already diffused over the cheerless apart-
ment as I passed down the row of heavy sleepers and gained the
door and the open air. Day had broken — a morning of perfect
stillness, the vapours lingering on the saturated grass. A cold,
grey world of bleak uplands and mist-veiled mountains, a chill
atmosphere which sent one pacing to and fro. But when the sun
rose above the haze into the clear vault of heaven, the colours
started, the chill softened into delicious freshness, and the peculiar
beauty of the scene was revealed. One looked in vain for the
snowy fangs of Alagoz ; they had been lost to view behind the
amphitheatre of nearer outlines which comjjosed the closing phases



To Alexandropol 121

of our stage of yesterday. But within the limits of those gentler
shapes was outspread an ideal landscape, typical of the most
elevated areas of the tableland (Fig. 22). The plainer levels were
invested with the character of swelling downs, and down and hill-
side were carpeted with turf. Over the green and fibrous surface
flowed the Arpa and its tributary, flashes of white and luminous
blue. Here and there brief patches of cultivation checkered the
soil, especially towards north-west and west. In the middle
distance one could discern two villages of moderate size — the two
Shishtapas, barely distinguished from the waste. Beyond the
Turkish Shishtapa, obscuring all but the first line of the settle-




FiG. 22. Head Waters of the Arpa Chai,

ment, lay a captive cloud, an opaque opaline mass. The illustra-
tion shows the rivers descending towards you and uniting at your
feet. The hills which line the distance circle round and mass
behind you, closing the prospect towards the south. In that
direction the united waters bid farewell to the grassy uplands, and
enter the stony tracts which slope to the plain of Alexandropol
between the outworks of the Chaldir system and those of the
meridional border range.

September 7. — By half-past eight we were following the course of
the Arpa and taking leave of the green meadows and blue streams.
We were soon involved among the hummock ridges which confine
the amphitheatre of the Shishtapas, and through which the river
winds in a stony valley, at some little distance to the west of the



122 Armenia

track. Progress was retarded by the steepness of the inclines as
we crossed this elevated ground. Once again in possession of a
prospect, we were skirting the bases of successive promontories,
which projected, on our left hand, from the mountains of the
meridional border into the broken surface of a volcanic plateau.
This plateau extends for many miles to the westward, and is
bounded by lofty mountains on that side. The Arpa was running
off into the easier levels in the west, while the road hugged the
rocky eastern shore. The waters of the river were not visible
after leaving Shishtapa ; they are buried in a canon, of which you
trace the sinuous edges through the bleak and boulder-strewn
waste. Ala-Kilisa, a village of Armenian -speaking Greeks ;
Amasia, a Turkish settlement; Karachanta and Kara Mehemet, the
first inhabited by Turks, the second by Armenians, were success-
ively left behind. At half-past ten we arrived at the station of
Jellap, a stage of twenty versts (thirteen miles).

The post house is situated at some little distance from the
village — an Armenian settlement which is exposed to view after
you have left the station, high-seated among the rocks above the
road. It is a gloomy habitation, standing in a stony valley by
the banks of a stream which descends to the trough of the Arpa
from the rocky hummocks to which the road adheres. Starting
at a {(tw minutes after eleven, we commenced by crossing a
projecting promontory, mounting the slopes of the puny ridges by
steep gradients, and never regaining the prospect which had been
lost before reaching Jellap. At length, at half-past eleven, the
valleys opened ; and we overlooked the landscape of the plain of
Alexandropol.

A vast plain lay before us, level as water, to the floor of which
the ground declines on every side. A single mountain, which has
the appearance of a gigantic bank of soil, is drawn in a long
horizontal outline along its southern verge. This outline is the
dominant feature in the scene, extending from north of east to
south of west (Fig. 23). The heart and highest points of the volcanic
elevation are situated in the easterly portion of the mass ; they
are represented by the jagged profile of the broken outer side of a
crater, and they gleam with perpetual snow. Some conception
of the stupendous proportions of the mountain may be derived
from a rough measurement of its protraction in a latitudinal sense.
On the east the volcanic emissions have been arrested by the
barrier of the border ranges ; on the west they have descended



To Alexandrot>ol 123

from the central or subordinate points of eruption to the valley of
the Arpa Chai. From that valley, in the neighbourhood of Ani, to
the road which passes between the volcano and the meeting slopes
of the border chain is a distance of over 40 miles. Throughout
this space the bulk of the giant is thrown across the landscape,
his head and body resting against the framework of the border
ranges, his feet extended to the margin of the historic stream.

Such a prospect is the rich reward of the traveller ; we paused
to admire and to realise the scene. It was difficult to believe that
those snowy peaks were over 30 miles distant ; yet a glance at
the map brought home to us this fact. The floor of the plain has
an elevation of some 5000 feet, while those peaks are 13,000 feet
high. Between us and the base of the mountain no meaner
object disturbed the view, which ranged uninterrupted across dim
tracts of earth and stone, tinted with shades of ochre in the burnt
grass and scanty stubble, but treeless, without verdure of any
kind. In the east the limit of the plain is the outline of the
border ranges, of which we were touching the skirts ; they describe
a wide curve, concave towards the expanse, and appear to pass
over into a meridional direction before the point of intersection
with the volcanic mass. Their sides are bare of vegetation, as are
those of the volcano, and they are much broken into hummock
forms. From north-west descend the slopes of the Chaldir system,
of which the base is inclined towards the plain. In the west the
eye is unable to discern a boundary to the misty distance of flat or
undulating ground. A little to the right of the white summits in
the south your attention is directed to a slender line of grey — a
low relief upon the surface of the plain. It is Alexandropol ;
such is the first view of the site of the city, backed by Alagoz.
We made rapid progress across the level interval and arrived in
the town at a quarter before one.



CHAPTER IX



AT ALEXANDROPOL



Thf: city and district of Alexandropol are included in the
administrative division of the Government of Erivan. Yet they
are separated from the capital and territory of that name by
a natural barrier of vast extent. The mass of Alagoz, which
one may compare to a gigantic shield with a central boss,
interrupts communication with the valley of the Araxes. It
must be turned and cannot be crossed. In a geographical sense
the province of Alexandropol unites more naturally with that
of Kars ; while, if we measure its importance by the populousness
of its principal town, it deserves to enjoy a position of primacy
in the Government of which it may form part. The city has
double the number of inhabitants as compared to Erivan, if I
can trust the figure given me by the governor and corroborated
by the leading notables — a round total of 30,000 souls. ^

Its extreme youth and the fact that it is almost exclusively
peopled by Armenians are the most remarkable features about
x'\lexandropol. At the commencement of the nineteenth century
the site was partly vacant and partly tenanted by an insignificant
village called Giimri. The district formed part of the outlying
province of Shuragel," which belonged to the Georgian kingdom
at the time of the annexation of Georgia by Russia in 1801.
The Cossacks who came to take over this important piece of
territory appear to have established a camp in the vicinity of
Giimri ; the place was early developed into a frontier station
on the side of Turkey, and in 181 7, when it was visited by an

' The official statistics, based on the census of 1886, give Alexandropol a population
of 24,230 souls, of whom 22,920 are Armenians. Only 200 of these are Armenian
Catholic.

^ Ritter (Erdkunde, vol. x. pp. 438-39) identifies tlie modern name Shuragel witlr
the country designated in Armenian literature as Shirak.



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At Alexandropol 125

English traveller, was already occupied by a considerable Russian
garrison.^ In the war between Russia and Turkey, which broke
out in the spring of 1828, this partially fortified position served
the Russians as an advanced base. It was on the line of advance
or defence on the side of Gumri that the Russian military
authorities placed the greatest store. There the Russian posses-
sions were most open to attack ; but, on the other hand, it
was through Gumri that they could take the offensive with the
greatest advantage, since it enabled them to cut off Akhaltsykh
and the northern provinces from Erzerum and those upon the
west. How Turkey could have permitted her powerful neighbour
to acquire this strip without an appeal to arms can probably
best be explained on the ground of Oriental fatalism. When
Marshal Paskevich had taken Erivan and concluded the war
with Persia by the Peace of Turkomanchai (February 1828),
his hands were free to cut large slices from the Ottoman empire ;
and it was at Glimri, overlooking the Arpa Chai, the boundary
against Turkey, that he effected the concentration of his troops.
From Giimri he set out in person at the head of his army on
the 26th of June 1828. The outcome of this war was the
capture of Kars and Erzerum, and the permanent acquisition by
Russia of Akhaltsykh and the northern districts under the Treaty
of Adrianople (1829). The restoration to the Sultan of the
two first- named strongholds increased the strategical value of
the station on the Arpa Chai. Giimri was slowly but persistently
converted into a first-rate fortress, the necessary timber for the
constructions being supplied to his hereditary enemies by the
Pasha of Kars from the forests of the Soghanlu Dagh. In 1836
the place was visited by the Emperor Nicholas I. in person,
who inspected the works, which, however, were only in an
inchoate state."' The inhabitants date the prosperity of their
town from the Imperial visit, which at once inaugurated an era
of rapid expansion and transformed the village of Giimri into
the city of Alexandropol. Since Russia has become possessed
of Kars, the fortress on the Arpa has somewhat declined in
importance ; but it is still occupied by a considerable garrison,
and the strength of its defences should enable it to give a good
account of itself in time of war.

1 Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, etc., London, 1821, vol. i.
p. 168.

2 Wilbraham, Travels in the Transcaiicasian Provinces, London, 1839, p. 277.



126 A r me 711 a

Our experiences at Akhaltsykh had warned me to proceed
with caution in endeavouring to reah'se the topography of the
site. It was not often or in pubhc that I could have recourse
to my compass ; yet I contrived to collect sufficient particulars
of an innocent nature to supply my own wants and those of my
lay readers. Conceive in the first place a fordable river flowing
on a southerly course through a plain of vast extent and slightly
basin -like surface. On the left or eastern bank beyond a strip
of quite level ground rises a ridge of insignificant elevation,
roughly parallel to the stream. Of no great breadth upon the
summit, it tends to circle inwards on the north of the town,
which it screens from the river. South of the site it dies away
into the plain. The north-west angle of this ridge is occupied
by the citadel, and consists of a spacious table surface, with
plenty of room for barracks and magazines. The entire forma-
tion is strongly fortified with earthworks and with massive
structures in brick or stone. Such is the principal or, at least,
the most conspicuous feature in the defences of Alexandropol.
But it is by no means the only advantage which they derive
from Nature.

Just inside and, therefore, east of this longitudinal ridge a
second back of nearly equal height and of similar direction rises
beyond a ravine which is threaded by a brook, and which widens
as it extends from the citadel towards the south. It forms the
standpoint from which I took my photograph of the town (Fig.
24), extending eastwards at its skirts. The tombs seen in
the foreground belong to a straggling Armenian cemetery. From
this position on the inner ridge I estimated the distance across
the ravine at about five hundred yards, and our distance from
the river at about three-quarters of a mile. As the valley
narrows towards the citadel, it is filled with the trees of a little
park, whither the citizens repair to escape the dazzling light of
summer and to enjoy the contrast of deep shade and murmuring
waters. It forms a welcome patch of verdure in the treeless
expanse. On this same ridge, but further south, are seen the
graves of officers and men who fell in the last Russo- Turkish
war. They are grouped about a monument to Loris Melikoff;
but I believe that great general of Armenian origin is buried
at Tiflis.

In the manner I have tried to describe, Alexandropol is
screened on the west at first by the river, and then by two long



At Alexandropol 1 2 7

ridges, with a valley between which may be compared to a
gigantic moat. I am not aware that the inner crest is
strengthened by fortifications ; but it offers an admirable second
line of defence. The curious feature about the site is that the
ridging formation is not yet exhausted ; three minor and roughly
parallel elevations are covered with the houses of the town.
They cause the streets to go up and down, and make them none
too pleasant walking. As a fortress, I should be inclined to
conclude that the place is weak upon the east and south ; while
the nature of the ground beyond the river, rising as it does
from the right bank to a height almost equal to that of the
outer ridge, exposes it to a bombardment from that side.

It must not be supposed that these characteristics of the
topography are prominent in the landscape. They are lost in the
folds of the plain and overpowered by the scale of their surround-
ings. Look where you will, you have around you the floor of
a sea-like expanse, bounded at immense intervals by mountainous
coasts. In the east it is the indented outline of the range on the
side of Georgia, curving round from a south-easterly into a due
meridional direction as it approaches the point of intersection
with Alagoz. From that point the great volcano composes a
side of the frame, inclining a little south of an east-west line. It
forms a magnificent object as seen from Alexandropol, high in
the sky, yet with scarcely perceptible gradient in the profile on
either side of the core of precipitous peaks. You follow its train
declining into the vague spaces of the west, where the bulging
convexities become broken into hummock forms. The greatest
breadth of the plain, as it appears to the eye, would be measured
from the wall of the range which intersects with Alagoz to a
distant mass of mountain in the south-west. That vague
boundary probably belongs to one of the elevations on the
plateau whicli extends between Kars and the xA.raxes. Between
it and the skirts of the volcano there is a' broad depression in the
outlines, giving passage to the Arpa Chai. The misty prospects
on the west and north-west did not reveal during the course of
our stay the limits of the level surface in those directions.

Let us see now what these latter-day Armenians have made
of their city ; for the public and private edifices are creations of
their own. It is evident that they have inherited the love of
building which distinguished their forefathers, and that the craft
of that excellent masonr\- w^hich we admire in their ancient



12;



Armenia



monuments has not become extinct. On the other hand, they
share to the full in the tastelessness of the modern peoples in the
decorative arts. Their churches are at once pretentious and
commonplace both in design and in ornamentation. Of those
exquisite mouldings with their lace-work chisellings which adorn
the exteriors of their medijeval counterparts there is, indeed,
scarcely a trace on these ambitious structures. But even the

standard of the seventeenth
century, of which many a
specimen has been preserved
elsewhere, notably in the
porches of much older
churches, has not been
maintained into our times.
Size and a certain effect,
rather than elegance of
proportion and a loving care
for detail, are the charac-
teristics of the new style.
The cathedral, dedicated to
the Trinity, is a spacious
building, which is held up
to your admiration, as
blending the features of the
old models. It is difficult
to understand how such an
assertion and such a com-
parison can be forthcoming
from people who have at
their doors in the neighbouring cloister of Marmashen an
example of the art of their ancestors. I need only say of the
cathedral that it is built of black volcanic stone, relieved by
courses of the same material but with a ruddy hue. I was
informed that it was commenced in 1859 and completed in 1874.
Besides this temple the Gregorian Armenians have three
churches, of which the most considerable is a large structure in
grey stone, named after the Virgin Mary. The Armenian
Catholics are possessed of a single but roomy church. The
Greek chapel of St. George is of some interest because of its
connection with the Greek colony of Erzerum, who, like so many
of the ancestors of the Armenian inhabitants of Alexandropol,




Fig. 25. Byzantine Picture in Greek
Church.



At Alexandropol 129

followed the armies of Marshal Paskevich upon his evacuation
of Turkish territory. It contains a picture of St. George and
the dragon (Fig. 25) which is of considerable merit, and is
said to contain the date of 1327. But those figures, as they now
appear, are due to a recent restoration. The father of a M.
Mergoroff, whom I met during my stay, was principally con-
cerned in its transportation at the time of the exodus. I
understand that it was brought to Giimri, whence it migrated to
a village called Zalga, only returning after the lapse of seven
years. M. Mergoroff writes a curious hand, partly composed of
Greek letters and partly based upon the Russian alphabet. This
characteristic may correspond to the present culture of his
countrymen at Alexandropol, numbering some four hundred souls.

This flourishing town is badly supplied in respect of
education, the Armenian schools being restricted by Govern-
ment to a purely elementary course, and having the rank only of
schools of two classes.^ They are three in number and are
attended by 700 boys, besides two institutions which dispense
instruction to 500 girls. The Russian State school is said to
be limited in accommodation, and is attended by no more than
140 youths, principally Armenians. The inhabitants have been
agitating for a Russian gyninasinni or High School, such as has
been vouchsafed to their less numerous compatriots at Erivan.
They attribute their ill-success and the greater advantages
enjoyed by Akhaltsykh to the fact that the latter town belongs
to the Government of Tiflis while they are dependent upon
Erivan. At Alexandropol I heard little of the much-vexed
school question, which I shall treat in a subsequent chapter.
But the inhabitants were loud in their complaints that, while
forbidden to raise the standard of their own schools, they were
not provided with adequate education by Government. Such
a situation is typical of the application of Russian methods, and
would be humorous if its results were less grave.

I must have spent much of my time in attending the various
ceremonies attendant upon the wedding of a M. Ter Mikelean.
I think I may have come near to getting married myself, the lady
being none other than his intended bride. For on one occasion,
when we were all assembled in a lower apartment, and, the bride's
father being dead, her nearest male relation was conducting her
sale by formal auction, my own bid seemed for some time to
1 For the explanation of this term see the chapter on Erivan.
VOL. I K



i^o



Armenia



hold its own against all rivals, amounting, so far as I remember,
to twenty pounds. I was relieved at discovering that there was
a want of reality about the proceedings, and that it had been
arranged beforehand that the damsel should be knocked down to
the chosen bridegroom. When we were taken upstairs, and,

among a throng of
women, were per-
mitted to gaze upon
the girl's features,
my apprehensions
were almost con-
verted into regret.
Such a sweetly
pretty face, recalling
the favourites of
Andrea del Sarto,
with their fresh sim-
plicity and candid
eyes ! I was in
[)art rewarded by
her consenting to
form the centre of
a wedding group,
and thus to enable
me to perpetuate
her youthful beauty
( f'ig. 26). The lady
with the head-dress,
standing behind her,
is her amiable
mother, a type of
Giovanni Bellini ; while the gentleman with his back to the
wall is M. Vahan Barsamiantz, engaged in an export business
of the fruits of the castor-oil plant, which is cultivated in the
valley of the Araxes. The musicians in the foreground were
the most lively and strenuous performers I have ever met, being
rarely silent and never tired. Every member of the group was
an Armenian. When night came there were dances in the open
air to the light of streaming torches. The strains were not yet
hushed as wc regained our encampment, which we had placed in
a shabby garden of the suburbs.




Fig. 26. Wedding Party at Alexandropol.



At Alexand7^opol



\%\



I must not omit a notice of an excursion which we made to



Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 49)