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 Armenian Highland


Armenian Highland is situated in the northern borderline of Western Asia between Asia Minor and Iranian plateaus, Black Sea and Mesopotamian plains. The Armenian people originated and created their state in the Armenian Highland; they created their own culture here. The Armenian Highland almost completely coincides with the historical Armenian homeland. From ancient times it has been extended from the rivers Kur and Yeraskh (Araks) up to Gamirk (Cappadocia), from Pontus and Trialet mountains to the southern parts of the Armenian Taurus.

The Armenian Highland is surrounded by high mountain ranges: in ancient times the highland between them was called Mijnashkharh Hayots (Midland of Armenia).
Armenian Highland is boundary with Antitaurus mountains in 
the west, which divided it from the Anatolian Plateau (Asia Minor), and in the north – with west Pontus mountains. Northern borders of the highland stretches the watershed of Moskakan and Trialet mountains. In the East they are the borders of Artsakh and Kur-Araks valleys. The border of the highland reaching Karabakh turns to the west goes through the mountains in the north of Lake Kaputan (Urmia), then turning to the south it includes the western coastal regions of the lake and reaches Kordvats mountain range, which is the continuation of the Armenian Taurus. Turning again to the west and crossing the river Tigris it reaches Euphrates cuts it and goes up to Antitaurus through Malatya mountains. In these borders the region has over 400 sq. km. area. The surface of the Armenian Highland is divided into mountain ranges with different directions, between which concavities and plateaus extend, which have favorable conditions for agriculture, they are called in the Armenian sources <<fields>>. The highland has 1500-1800 m. average height above the sea level, with which it significantly exceeds both the neighboring Iranian and Anatolian plateaus.

In the center of the Armenian highland from east to west mountain range Haykakan Par is situated. In the outskirts of the latter rises extinct volcanic Ararat (Masis) with its two peaks, one of which is the highest mountain of the Armenian Highland (5165m.) and it is called in the Armenian sources Azat Masis (free Masis), which joins to Sis or Lesser Ararat mountain peak (3925m.) with <<Sardari aghbyur>> (Sardar spring). Masis is the holy mountain of Armenians, the symbol of the motherland (the 18th day of the Armenian ancient calendar is dedicated to it). People told many legends about Masis. According to the Bible the Biblical Noah’s ark came to rest on Masis (Ararat). 
From the eastern edge of Haykakan Par with the southern direction the mountain range of Vaspurakan is expanded, the continuation of which is the mountain range of Zagros. The Armenian plateau has numerous mountain ranges. In the west of the mountain range of Vaspurakan the picturesque mountain of Tsaghkants is situated, at the edge of which is situated the only existing volcanic mountain Tondrak (3542 m.). Up to now around him from the crater (600m. deep) still water steams and sulfuric fluids erupt with high temperature. In the southern part of the mountains Tsaghkants is situated the extinct volcanic mountain Sipan (4434 m.). It is the second highest peak of the highland. In the south of Sipan avoiding western shores of Lake Van Bznunyats mountains are stretched which are ended with the peak Nemrut. Nemrut is an extinct volcano, although it was active until the first half of XV century (the last eruption took place in 1441). The north - eastern large part of the Armenian highland is called Lesser Caucasus. In this part there are several prominent mountain ranges, as Javakheti, Virahayots, Bazumi, Pambak, Geghama, Sevan, Vardenis, Mravi Artsakh mountains. From mountains Vardenis starts and to the south up to Yeraskh (Araks) expands the mountain range of Syunik or Zangezur, in the southern part of which is situated the highest peak of Lesser Caucasus Kaputjugh (3904m.). In the southern borderline of Ararat valley is situated the highest mountain of the territory of Republic of Armenia – Aragats (4090m.). The prairies and feeds spread over his slopes are important livestock areas famous from ancient times. In the east of Aragats mount Ara is situated. In the southern part of the Armenian highland stretches mountain range of Armenian Taurus, in different parts of which various peaks are raised (Marutasar or Maratuk, Tsovasar, Andok, Arnos, Artos, etc.).
The Armenian Highland is famous for its richness of water resources. It is the only Hydraulics of Western Asia and it is not by chance, that it has got the title <<The land of rivers>> by the Semitic population of Ancient Mesopotamia in II millennium BC. From here Euphrates, Tigris, Yeraskh, Halis, Gaylget, Kur, Chorokh outflow.

The Armenian main river is Yeraskh or Araks, the basin of which is totally included in the territory of the Armenian Highland. The outflows of Yeraskh are situated in the area of Byuraknyan mauntains. In the past Yeraskh separately flowed into Caspian Sea, but over time it changed its watercourse and merged with river Kur. Yeraskh has numerous brooks - Akhuryan, Kasakh, Hrazdan, Arpa, Vorotan, Voghji, Tghmut etc.
 From the early times Yeraskh had economic and political huge significance. In the average current of his basin the biggest and most prolific plane – Ararat Valley is expanded, which has been the political center of the Armenian statehood - the Realm of Kings for centuries. In the Armenian Valley ancient cities of the Armenian state were built - Armavir, Yervandashat, Artashat, Vagharshapat, Dvin. The capital of Republic of Armenia Yerevan is also situated here.

Euphrates is the longest river (3065km) of Western Asia, while Tigris is the largest by waterflow (1850km). River Euphrates has two branches – Western Euphrates and Eastern Euphrates. Western Euphrates goes out from Tsaghkavet Mountains in the north of the city Karin (Erzurum). For centuries it has been considered to be the western border of the Kingdom of Armenia. Eastern Euphrates – Aratsani river goes out from Tsaghkants Mountains. Both branches of Euphrates merge near the city Kapan of Sophene and form united Euphrates, which then going beyond the borders of the Armenian Highland flows through Mesopotamia. The Tigris unites with the Euphrates and form Shatt-al-Arab river, which flows into the Persian Gulf. 
Tigris also has two branches – Western and Eastern. The outflows of Western Tigris are situated in the area of Sophene, near Lake Sophene. Going out of the borders of the highland Tigris flows through Mesopotamia, joins Euphrates and together with it flows into the Persian Gulf.

River Kur goes out from Kriakunq, which is in the province Kogh of Ta
օ state. With its main part it flows out of the borders of Armenian Highland, but in ancient times it delimited Greater Armenia from Virq and Albania. In the field of Mughan Yeraskh joins Kur and then they together flow into the Caspian Sea. 
Halis (Alis), Gayl rivers rise and flow into the Black sea from Upper Armenia. River Chorokh belongs to the basin of Black Sea too, which rises in Chormayr mountains situated in Sper.
In the Armenian Highland there are numerous lakes and ponds. The most majors are Kaputan (Urmia), Van and Sevan.

Lake Urmia is situated in the borderline of Iranian plateau. The largest of three lakes with the surface area is Kaputan (over 5900 sq.km.), it is an endorheic lake, water is salty, that is why no fish species is multiplied here. Because of high degree of evaporation the mirror of the lake is continuously reducing. The coastal zone of Kaputan has a thick layer of salt. A number of rivers flow into the lake, such as Salmast, Urmia, Araskh etc.. 

 

Lake Van is also known as Bznunyats, Tospa, Rshtunyats. It is the second largest river in the Armenian Highland (over 3800 sq. km.). It is an endorheic and saline lake. The level of the lake is constantly fluctuating sometimes descending, sometimes increasing. Like this in 1841 as a result of the severe water increase the lake buried ancient city Artchesh. Akhtamar village was also sunk. That is the reason that from seven islands mentioned in <<Ashkharhatsuyts>> (<<Geography>>) only Akhtamar, Arter, Ktuts and Lim remained, the most significant of which is Akhtamar with a magnificent monastery SurbKhach (monastery of the Holy Cross). The only fish in this lake is Pearl Mullet. Lake Van is a close basin involving in itself rivers and streamlets. The basin of lake Van is the ancient cradle of the Armenian state. At the same time it is a region having major economic and cultural importance. Numerous residences arebuilt in the coasts of the lake - Van, Artchesh, Artske, Khlat, Datvan, Vostan etc.

Lake Sevan which was called Geghama or Gegharkunyats sea in ancient times is is rich in various fish species (Sevan trout, Salmo ischchan aestivalis, as well as whitefish brought here in last decades). Up to the artificial lowering of the level the lake covered an area of over 1420sq. km. (now 1240 sq. km.) and was located at the altitude of 1919m (nowadays Sevan is 18m low). It has one island which was turned into a peninsula. The prominent monastery of Sevan (Sevan desert) is situated here with Surb Astvatsatsin (Church of St. Mary) and Surb Arakelots (church of Holy Apostles). Lake Sevan is fed by 28 rivers and streamlets, from which the most famous are Dzknaget, Gavaraget, Vardenis, Masrik. 
Hrazdan starts from Sevan with the special canal built form Urartian times. Except the mentioned rivers in different regions of the highland there are many small ponds (partially salty) the famous of which are Archak, Gaylatu, Tsovk, Nazik, Arpa, Parvana. 
The Armenian highland has rich lithosphere. From ancient times salt mines of Koghb, Kaghzvan and Nakhchavan were exploited. There were famous salt mines in Aghdznik, Turuberan, Vaspurakan. The area of Lesser Armenia is also famous for its salt mines. Big stocks of salt are discovered in the territory of Yerevan (Avan).
From ancient times the Armenian highland has been famous for its metal mines and has been considered to be one of the ancient metallurgic centers of world. It is enough to mention the metal molding complex of Metsamor in Ararat valley that existed in 4th millennium BC. In different regions of the highland there are mines of copper, iron, lead, arsenic.

Famous copper mines are in Gugark and Syunik. Aghdznik was also famous for its copper. Iron is found in most parts of the Armenian provinces but the most prominent of them are the mines of Aghdznik and Turuberan, which were exploited from ancient times. Due to the richness of iron the main occupation of the inhabitants of certain mountainous provinces of Taurus (Talvorik, Khut, Shenadzor, etc.) were blacksmithing and weapon manufacturing. From noble metals silver and gold are found. Silver mines are especially found in greater Armenia, Sophene, Artsakh etc. From ancient times the gold mines of Sper have been well known. The province of Sodk in Syunik (Tsavdek, Zod), the region of the mount Voskehat in Tao were also rich in gold. Chrome, molybdenum and other rare metals are also found.
The Armenian Highland is a rich depository of various building materials. Multi-colored tuffs (pink, white, black, etc) are widespread, from which is particularly well known the famous mine of Artik. Rich mines of marble, basalt, granite, incense (alum), pumice, perlits, clay, limestones and other minerals are also found.
There are substantial coal reserves in the district of town-village Olt of Tao, Shirak (Djajur), Tavush (Ijevan), Ararat (Jermanis).


In almost any part of the Armenian highland hot and cold springs have flowed out, which were known as <<Jermuk>>-s. Since ancient times Jermuk in Vayots dzor, Yeghegik - Yeghegin in Karno valley, the springs of Varshak in Tsaghkotn, the healing waters of Jermajur (Royal baths) in the area of Vaykunik province (Artsakh) have been very famous. Hot and cold mineral springs of Bjni, Arzni, Dilijan, Ararat, Gavar are also well known. The Armenian highland is surrounded by forests from almost all the parts. There are forests in Sophene, in the northern part of Upper Armenia, Aghdznik, in the area of the mountain range of Taurus in Turuberan, Tao, Artsakh, Gugark, in the south of Syunik, in the north-western regions of Utik (Tavush, Aghstev), in the north-east of Ayrarat, Moxoene. Among the trees are widespread oak, beech, hornbeam, maple, juniper, ash, walnut. The forests of Artsakh and Utik are famous for their wild fruit tree species. Here and there birch and pine groves are met. In ancient Armenia in different periods artificial grove-forests were also planted. Among these are famous Sosyats (near Armavir), Tsnndots (in the region of Bagaran), the forests of Khosrovakert and Tachar mayr (in the region between Garni and Dvin).
The soil of the Armenian highland is fertile. The zone situated in the foothill at the height of 1100-1300m is prominent for its delicious local types of grape and various stone fruits (apricot, peach). Armenia is an ancient center of growing many fruit species.  The foothill zone is prominent for its fruits (apple, pear, plum etc.) as well as the cultivation of cereals. The Armenian highland is the ancient homeland of wheat where even today you can meet its wild type. The centers of grain crops are the fields of Taron or Msho, Bagrevand, Hark, Kharberd, Karno, Kars, Basen, Yerznka, the basin of lake Van etc. In low-lying semi-desert and desert areas in the case of artificial irrigation grow cotton, rice, fig, pomegranate, olive, melon, watermelon and other vegetable crops.

The fauna of the Armenian highland is diverse. From ancient times the favorable conditions for the development of agriculture allow to breed sheep, goat, cattle, donkey, and different types of birds. From ancient times Armenia is considered to be the center of horse breeding. According to Greek geographer Strabo in the period of Achaemenid dominion Armenia provided 20 thousand fillies annually for the celebrations of the god Mihr (Mitra). Especially Artsakh was famous for its horse breeding. In ancient times pig breeding was widespread. Among wild animals are brown bear, wolf, fox, forest cat, lynx, badger, deer, buck, wild sheep, chamois and many types of birds. It should be noted that in ancient times wild animal world was more diverse. Unfortunately at present as a result of human activity many animals, which are mentioned in Armenian and foreign sources have completely disappeared or the living space of them has strongly reduced. In Ararat valley a type of insect has spawned from which vordan karmir (cochineal red) was made which had a great economic importance and was famous abroad.

In ancient sources valuable information have been preserved about the administrative units of Ancient Armenia - <<Ashkharhner>> (<<Worlds>>) (<<States>>, <<Provinces>>). From the middle of IV century BC the concept Greater Armenia (Major Armenia) and Lesser Armenia (Armenia Minor) appeared. Over the centuries the two parts of the Ancient Armenia had changing boundaries, therefore also different areas. 
Previously Lesser Armenia included the upper basin of Western Euphrates as well as the upper provinces of the rivers Halis and Gayl. After 331 BC when the Armenian independence was restored the development of Lesser Armenia and Greater Armenia proceeded in a unique, original way. As an independent state Lesser Armenia existed until the 1st century AD (there was a time when the provinces of the Pontus region near Black sea including the cities of Trebizond and Kerasunt entered into its borders) but gradually losing its main areas it became firstly a state dependent from Rome, and in 72 AD one of the ordinary provinces of the latter. 
The historical destiny of Greater Armenia - the homeland of the Armenian state proceeded otherwise. Being national state it also existed during further centuries (till the first decade of the 5th century) and became a unifying center for the Armenian region.
According to the records of the famous Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (1st c. AD) Artaxiad Armenia was divided into 120 provinces (in Greek - strategies). When Arsacid dynasty took the Armenian throne (66 AD), new modifications of the country’s administrative structure took place as a result of which administrative units were enlarged and the system of early middle ages <<ashkharhner>> or <<states>> appeared.

The division of the states of Greater Armenia has still recorded in the famous work of the great thinker of the ancient world Claudius Ptolemy (2nd c. AD)   <<Geography>>. Here 20 states are mentioned which have much in common with the data written in <<History>> of Agatangelos (5th c.). Further decades particularly the events of the second half of the 4th century made serious changes in the administrative structure of Greater Armenia.
                                                            
That is the reason that in <<Ashkharhatsuyts>> (<<Geography>>) number of the states of Greater Armenia is already 15. Those are Upper Armenia or Karno world, Sophene or Fourth Armenia, Aghdznik, Turuberan or Taron, Moxoene, Corduene or Kordvats ashkharh (land of Korduk), Persarmenia, Vaspurakan, Syunik, Artsakh, Utik, Paytakaran, Gugark, Tao, Ayrarat. These states had more than 190 provinces. In the Armenian history a significant role had especially Ayrarat, Vaspurakan, Turuberan, Syunik, Artsakh, Gugark, Upper Armenia and Sophene.

Being situated in the crossroads of the major international highways and having great strategic significance Armenia always experienced the raids of foreign conquerors. As a result the borders of the state were unstable; its area has continuously been decreasing. Nowadays the Armenian people preserved its state in the northeastern 1/10 part of Greater Armenia, that is  Republic of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR), which includes separate parts of  Ayrarat, Syunik, Gugark, Utik, and Artsakh provinces.

                                                                                                                                                         

 

   G. Badalyan