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Surb Karapet Monastery

Saint Karapet Monastery
The monastery before its destruction in 1915. Photo by Vartan A. Hampikian, published in New York in 1923
Saint Karapet Monastery is located in Turkey
Saint Karapet Monastery
Shown within Turkey
Basic information
Location Çengilli Köyü,[1] Muş Province, Turkey
Geographic coordinates
Affiliation Armenian Apostolic Church
Status Destroyed
Architectural description
Architectural type Monastery
Architectural style Armenian
Founder Gregory the Illuminator
Groundbreaking early 4th century
Completed 4th–19th centuries[2]

The Saint Karapet Monastery ("Holy Precursor", referring to John the Baptist; Armenian: Մշո Սուրբ Կարապետ վանք, Msho Surb Karapet vank' ; Western Armenian pronunciation: Garabed, also known by other names) was an Armenian monastery in the historic province of Taron, about 30 kilometers northwest of Mush (Muş), in present-day eastern Turkey.[3]

According to tradition, the site was founded by Gregory the Illuminator in the early fourth century to store the remains of John the Baptist. The monastery subsequently served as a stronghold of the Mamikonians—the princely house of Taron, who claimed to be the holy warriors of John the Baptist, their patron saint.[4] It was expanded and renovated many times in the later centuries. Historically, the monastery was the religious center of Taron and was a prominent pilgrimage site. It was considered the most important monastery in Turkish (Western) Armenia and the second most important of all Armenian monasteries after Etchmiadzin. Around the turn of the 20th century, the monastery was the seat of the Diocese of Taron,[5] which had an Armenian population of 90,000 (as of 1911).[6]

The monastery was burned and robbed during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and later abandoned. Its stones have since been used by the local Kurds for building purposes.[2][7]


  • Names 1
  • History 2
    • Foundation and early history 2.1
    • Modern period 2.2
    • Destruction and current state 2.3
  • Structure 3
  • Cultural significance 4
    • Annual events 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


Throughout history, the cathedral was known by several names. One of the common names was Glakavank (Գլակավանք), meaning "monastery of Glak" after its first abbot, Zenob Glak.[8] Due to its location it was also called Innaknian vank[9] (Իննակնեան վանք in classical spelling,[10] and Իննակնյան վանք in reformed), translating to "monastery of the nine springs".[9] Another name was for the monastery was Մշո սուլթան Սուրբ Կարապետ Msho sultan Surb Karapet, literally translating to "Sultan Saint Karapet of Mush". The epithet "Sultan" was bestowed as a reference to its high status as the "lord and master" of Taron.[11]

Turkish sources refer to it as Çanlı Kilise[12] (Turkish: "with bell towers"),[13] or Çengelli Kilise[14] (meaning "belled" in Kurdish,[15] also the name of the village in which its located). They sometimes provide a version of its Armenian name: Surpgarabet Manastırı.[1][12] Turkish sources and travel guides generally omit the fact that it was an Armenian monastery.[13]


Foundation and early history

According to tradition, the site was founded by [4] The main purpose of it "seems to be establishing the preeminence of the monastery."[9] A relatively short "historical" romance,[4] it tells the story of the five members of the Mamikonians, Taron's princely house: Mushegh, Vahan, Smbat, his son Vahan Kamsarakan, and the latter's son Tiran, who were known as the Holy Warriors of John the Baptist, their patron saint. They defended the monastery and other churches in the district.[9]

The monastery's possessions were expanded in the 7th century, but the monastery was completely reduced to ruins by an earthquake in the same century. It was subsequently rebuilt and St. Stephen (Stepanos), the monastery's main church, was founded. In the 11th century Grigor Magistros built a palace within the monastery, but it was destroyed by fire in 1058 along with St. Gregory (Grigor) Church which had a wooden roof.[5]

A manuscript by an unknown author, probably a resident of Taron, describes the attack on the monastery by Muslims after Sökmen II Shah Armen's death in 1185 during which the archbishop Stepanos was killed while the church monks left it for a year.[18]

Modern period

View of the monastery from the south (by H. F. B. Lynch)

In the mid-16th century, the monastery's St. Karapet church was built.[5] According to the 17th century traveler Evliya Çelebi the leadership of the monastery made large gifts to Turkish pashas in order to secure the monastic properties.[19] Between the 16th and 18th centuries the monastery often sheltered Armenians fleeing the Ottoman–Persian Wars. In the 1750s the St. Karapet church was destroyed by Persian troops. In the 18th century several earthquakes hit the monastery with the one in 1784 being especially devastating. It destroyed the main church, the refectory, part of the bell tower and the southern wall. "In 1788 the monastic complex underwent complete reconstruction—its gavit (a square (quadrangular) chamber placed in front of the church and on the same axis, destined for both civil and religious use) was enlarged, and renovation was carried out in its belfry, the monks’ cells, scriptorium, ramparts and other sections."[15]

In 1827 Kurdish gangs seized and robbed the monastery, destroyed the furniture and manuscripts.[5]

In the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire struggled for autonomy and independence, the monastery prospered in the 1860s–1880s. The journal The eaglet of Taron[20] (Artzvik Tarono, «Արծւիկ Տարօնոյ») was published by Mkrtich Khrimian[21] (better known as Khrimian Hayrik) since April 1, 1863 and edited by Garegin Srvandztian (arm). A total of 43 issues were published until June 1, 1865.[22] Lynch wrote that the printing press was placed under the ban of the government in 1874.[23] The monastery, according to two French travelers in 1890, possessed large areas of land and it took several hours to get from one end to another. It was covered by forests, arable fields and had three farms with around a thousand goats and sheep, a hundred oxen and cows, sixty horses, twenty donkeys and four mules, which were taken care of by 156 servants.[24] In 1896 an orphanage was founded next to the monastery. It housed a school for 45 children and a library.[5]

According to H. F. B. Lynch, who visited the monastery in 1893, with the presence of the Kurdish threat and the suspicions of the Turkish government "this once flourishing monastery has been stripped of much of its glamour; indeed the monks are little better than prisoners of State."[23] By the early 20th century the monastery's structure was deteriorating.[25] The decline continued until the start of World War I.[3]

Destruction and current state

During the Armenian Genocide of 1915 the monastery housed a large number of Armenians escaping the deportations and massacres. Turkish forces and Kurdish irregulars sieged it, but the Armenians within resisted for more than two months.[15] According to contemporary reports, around five thousand Armenians were massacred "near the wall of the monastery," while the monastery itself was "sacked and robbed."[26] In 1916 the Russian troops and Armenian volunteers temporarily took control of the area and transferred around 1,750 manuscripts to Etchmiadzin.[5][15] The area was recaptured by the Turks in 1918 and, subsequently, ceased to exist not only as a spiritual center, but also as an architectural monument. It remained abandoned until the 1960s when Kurdish families settled on the site. "Their homes, built from the fine dressed stones of the monastery, are often found decorated with khachkars taken from the ruins."[3] As of 2011, the monastery's remaining stones are "being systematically carried off by the local Kurds for their own building purposes."[7]


The monastery was surrounded by strong walls and was similar to a fortress. Lynch, who visited it in 1893, described the monastery as follows: "A walled enclosure, like that of a fortress, a massive door on grating hinges—such is your first impression of this lonely fane. [...] You enter a spacious court, and face a handsome belfry and porch, the façade inlaid with slabs of white marble with bas-reliefs."[27] A decade earlier, English writer and traveler Henry Fanshawe Tozer wrote of the monastery: "The buildings ... are of stone, very massive and very irregular, rising one above another at various angles. There was hardly any pretence of architecture, and none of the picturesque appearance which is so characteristic of Greek monasteries."[28]

On the eastern side of the main cathedral of the monastery were two chapels with polygonal towers and conical roofs, probably more ancient than the main church.

Besides the Church of St. Karapet, the monastery also contained within its walls the martyrium of John the Baptist, the chapel of St. Georg, the chapel of St. Stepanos and the church of St. Astvatsatsin (Mother of God).

According to Jean-Michel Thierry, the martyrium of the John the Baptist was probably at first a hall-shaped building with archaic-style cupola, but was later much altered.[29]

Cultural significance

The monastery was the national and religious center of Taron,[30] and was considered the largest and most eminent shrine in Western Armenia.[31] It was the second most important Armenian monastery after Etchmiadzin.[5] It remained a prominent pilgrimage site until the First World War.[3] "Caravans of pilgrims visited it even from the remotest parts of the country. They made the yard of the monastery a place of great merriment and festivities."[15] It was considered by believers to be "almighty"[5] and was renowned for its supposed ability to heal the physically[5] and mentally ill.[32]

The monastery housed tombs of several Mamikonian princes, "for whom the shrine served as a sepulchral abbey."[3] According to Lynch, the tombs of Mushegh, Vahan the Wolf, Smbat and Vahan Kamsarakan could have been found near the southern wall of the monastery.[23]

Annual events

The monastery was a center of large annual celebrations. Various secular events took place around the monastery, such as horse races, tightrope walking, competition of gusans during the festivals of Vardavar and Assumption of Mary.[5] Horse racing competitions were held on Vardavar and involved a large number of people.[33] Tightrope walking, widely practiced by the Armenians of Taron, was historically related to the worship of the monastery.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Kilise ve Manastır [Church and monastery]" (in Türkçe). Muş İl Kültür ve Turizm Müdürlüğü. Archived from the original on 23 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "St. Karapet Monastery, 4th-19th centuries".  
  3. ^ a b c d e  
  4. ^ a b c Mamikonean 1985, Translator's Preface
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Vardanian, V.; Zarian, A. (1981). "Մշո Ս. Կարապետ վանք [St. Karapet monastery of Mush]". Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia (in Հայերեն) 7. Yerevan:  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Darke, Diana (2011). Eastern Turkey.  
  8. ^ Avetisyan 1979, p. 203.
  9. ^ a b c d e f  
  10. ^ ՜՜Սուրբ Կարապետ՝՝ Քրիստոնեայ Հայոց Առաջին Աղօթավայրը (in Հայերեն).  
  11. ^ Zakaryan, Almast (2001). "Սարգիս Հարությունյան. Հայ առասպելաբանությունը. Բեյրութ, 2000, էջ 527 [Sargis Harutyunyan. Armenian Mythology]".  
  12. ^ a b "Tarihi Eserler [Historical monuments]" (in Türkçe). Muş Valiliği. Archived from the original on 23 September 2014. Çanlı Kilise (Surpgarabet Manastırı) 
  13. ^ a b Hovhannisyan, A. "Armenian Mush: Yesterday and Today". Institute of Oriental Studies of the  
  14. ^ Hayat türkiye ansiklopedisi (in Turkish). Istanbul: Tifdruk. 1965. p. 415.  
  15. ^ a b c d e "Issue dedicated to the memory of architecture historian Armen Hakhnazarian". Vardzk ( 
  16. ^ a b Ghrejyan 2010, p. 187.
  17. ^ Avetisyan 1979, p. 204.
  18. ^ Matevosyan, Karen (2007). "Մշո Սբ. Կարապետ վանքի պատմության մի դրվագ [A Historical Fragment of St.Karapet Church in Mush]".  
  19. ^ Papazian, A. H. (1992). "Թուրքական աղբյուրները Հայաստանի և հայերի մասին (XVI—XVIII դդ.) (Համառոտ ակնարկ) [The Turkish Sources about Armenia and Armenians (XVI-XVIII centuries)]".  
  20. ^  
  21. ^ Costandian 1999.
  22. ^ Avetisyan 1979, p. 206.
  23. ^ a b c Lynch 1901, p. 179.
  24. ^ Hambaryan, Azat (2000). "Արևմտահայ վանական տնտեսությունը (XIX դարի երկրորդ կես - XX դարի սկիզբ) [Monasterial Economy in Western Armenia (second half of XIX century beginning of XX century)]".  
  25. ^ "Մշոյ Ս. Կարապետ վանքի ողբալի վիճակը [The tragic condition of the St. Karapet monastery of Mush]". Luma (in Հայերեն) (Tiflis) (5): 248–249. 1903. 
  26. ^  
  27. ^ Lynch 1901, p. 177.
  28. ^  
  29. ^  
  30. ^ Avetisyan 1979, p. 201: "Ընդհանրապես Տարոնի աշախարհի ազգային և հոգևոր կյանքի կենտրոնը ս. Կարապետի վանքն էր։"
  31. ^ Avetisyan 1979, pp. 202-3.
  32. ^ Asatrian, Garnik; Arakelova, Victoria (2004). "The Yezidi Pantheon".  
  33. ^ Ordoyan, Grigor (2009). "Հնագույն մրցախաղերի կրկեսային կերպարաձևերը [Circus Forms of Ancient Contesting Games]".  
  34. ^ "Անհապաղ պաշտպանության կարիք ունեցող ոչ նյութական մշակութային ժառանգության ցանկ [Intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding]" (in Հայերեն). Armenian Legal Information System. 20 January 2011. Հաշվի առնելով, որ լարախաղացությունը սերտորեն առնչվում էր Մշո Սուրբ Կարապետի պաշտամունքին, այն հիմնականում տարածված էր Տարոն աշխարհում, մասնավորապես, մշեցիների շրջանում: Հետագայում այն մեծ տարածում գտավ բոլոր ազգագրական շրջաններում: Այսօր լարախաղացների կարելի է հանդիպել ՀՀ Կոտայքի, Գեղարքունիքի, Արագածոտնի մարզերում, Երևանի մի շարք հին թաղամասերում: 


  • Avetisyan, Kamsar (1979). "Տարոնի պատմական հուշարձանները [Historical monuments of Taron]". Հայրենագիտական էտյուդներ [Armenian studies sketches] (in Հայերեն). Yerevan: Sovetakan Grogh. 
  • Costandian, E. A. (1999). "Տարոնի հոգևոր առաջնորդը [Spiritual leader and eparchial chief of Taron]".  
  • Ghrejyan, Lousine (2010). "Երկվորյակների առասպելի ելակետային արժեքը հայ վիպական հուշարձանների հորինվածքում [Initial Significance of the Myth of Twins in the Composition of Armenian Epic Monuments]".  
  • Sinclair, T.A. (1989). "Surb Karapet (Turk. "Çengilli Kilise"), Monastery, ruined.". Eastern Turkey: An Architectural & Archaeological Survey, Volume I. London: Pindar Press. p. 292.  

External links

  • "The condition of Armenian monuments in Western Armenia since 1915". Vardzk ( 
  • Монастырь Сурб Карапет близ Муша. (Russian) (includes historical and recent photos)
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