Friday, December 9, 2011

Gyumri; the Capital of Shirak Province of Armenia

Gyumri (Armenian: Գյումրի) (Arabic: غيومري) (Persian and Urdu: گیومری)is the capital and largest city of the Shirak Province in northwest Armenia. It is located about 120 km from the capital Yerevan, and, with a population of 168,918 (2008; up from 150,917 reported at the 2001 census), is the second-largest city in Armenia.

The name of the city has been changed many times in history. It was first known as Kumayri or Gyumri, then Alexandropol (Russian: Александрополь, Armenian: Ալեքսանդրապոլ, 1840-1924), then Leninakan (Armenian: Լենինական Russian: Ленинакан, 1924–1990), then again as Gyumri.

The city is situated on a 126 km distance north to Yerevan in the central part of the Shirak Highland, at an approximate height of 1550 meters above sea level. The Akhurian River passes through the western suburbs of Gyumri. Gyumri's climate is characterised with very severe and cold winters, where the minimum temperature could fall down to −41 °C (−42 °F). On the other hand, summers in Gyumri are relatively hot with temperatures could reach up to 36 °C (97 °F). The annual precipitation makes up to 500 millimetres (20 in) in average.

Gyumri is one of the oldest localities in Armenia. The region of Gyumri is mentioned in different Urartian inscriptions since the 8th century BC. The first settlement at the location occupied by today's city of Gyumri is believed to have been founded some time in the 5th century BC, perhaps ca. 401 BC, by Greek colonists. 

An alternative theory suggests that the city was founded by Cimmerians, based on the fact that Cimmerians conquered the region in 720 BC and that the original name of the city was Kumayri, which bears phonetic resemblance to the word used by ancient Armenian in reference to Cimmerians. 

Historians believe that Xenophon passed through Gyumri during his return to the Black Sea, a journey immortalized in his Anabasis.

During the Middle Ages Gyumri was known as a large and important settlement, and a center of Armenian rebellion against the Caliphate (733-755).
19th century:

Gyumri continued to develop in the 19th century, when, along with its surroundings, it became part of Russia after the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813). Gyumri came under Russian control in 1804 around 25 years earlier than the rest of Eastern Armenia. During this period it was one of the best-known cities of the Transcaucasus region. In 1829, in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War there was a big influx of Armenian population as about 3000 families, who had migrated from territories within the Ottoman Empire, in particular from the towns of Kars, Erzurum, and Doğubeyazıt, settled in and around Gyumri. Before this settlement policy, Armenians were minority in Gyumri. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin visited Gyumri during his journey to Erzurum in 1829.

In 1837 Russian Czar Nicholas I arrived in Gyumri and renamed the town Alexandropol. The name was chosen in honor of Czar Nicholas I's wife, Princess Charlotte of Prussia, who had changed her name to Alexandra Fyodorovna after converting to Orthodox Christianity. During the Soviet era Gyumri was renamed Leninakan in Lenin's honor. A major Russian fortress was built on the site in 1837. In the 1840s, Alexandropol (a town since 1840) experienced rapid growth. It was an important outpost for the Imperial Russian military in the Transcaucasus where their military barracks were established (e.g. at Poligons, Severski, Kazachi Post).
20th century and beyond:

Ottoman forces captured Gyumri on May 11 1918 during the Caucasus Campaign in World War I but withdrew from it on December 24, 1918 after being required to under the Armistice of Mudros. During the Turkish-Armenian War, Turkey attacked Gyumri and occupied the city on November 7, 1920, after winning the Battle of Alexandropol. After the battle, the Turkish forces were headquartered in Gyumri. From this city the Turks presented the Armenian republic with an ultimatum that Armenia was forced to accept—otherwise Turkey would have invaded Yerevan, Armenia's capital, from their headquarters in Gyumri. Armenia was forced to sign the Treaty of Alexandropol to stop the Turkish advance towards Yerevan, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Armenia, thus ending the Turkish-Armenian War. Turkish forces withdrew from Alexandropol afterwards Treaty of Batum. 

In 1924 the name was changed to Leninakan after the deceased Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Leninakan was a major industrial center for the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and its second largest city, after Yerevan, the capital. The city suffered major damage during the 1988 Spitak earthquake, which devastated large parts of the country.

The current name of the city was decided in 1990, at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Russian 102nd Military Base is located in the city. Today, Gyumri is Armenia's second largest city.
Main sites:

As an old town, Gyumri has rich history and a unique style of architecture. Unfortunately it lost many of its historical and cultural buildings after the disastrous earthquake in December of 1988.

During the centuries Gyumri, the "city of trades and arts", has been famous for its schools, theaters, and gusans . The first opera performance in Armenia took place in Gyumri in 1912, and the first Armenian opera theater was also opened here, in 1923.


The Kumayri historic district in the city of Gyumri is said to resemble an open air museum. It is the old part of Gyumri with more than one thousand 18th and 19th century buildings. It is also one of the few places in the Republic of Armenia with an authentic historical Armenian urban architecture. Nearly all the buildings in the Kumayri district have survived two major earthquakes, in 1926 and 1988. The district is in the center of Gyumri.
Archeological excavations conducted in the 20th century have shown that the area has been populated since at least the third millennium BC. Many graveyards and dwellings have been found. The first recorded mention of Kumayri is from 773 and describes the revolt against Arab domination led by prince Artavazd Mamikonian that resulted in the revival of Armenian statehood one century later. Later, during and after the reign of the Bagratid kings of Armenia, Kumayri developed into a well-built modern town that was a center of commerce for the region.

Sev Ghul:

Sev Ghul (meaning "Black Sentry") is a Russian fortress in Gyumri dating to the 1830s. It is built on a hill, heavily armed and, in case of a siege, the fortress site could accommodate 15,000 soldiers and officers. The monumental statue of "Mother Armenia of Gyumri" stands on an adjacent hill. The 102nd military division of the Russian Federation is stationed near another old Russian fortress known as Red Fort.
Other sites:

  • The Aslamazyan Sisters House-Museum built in the 1880s, housing nearly 700 drawings, paintings and other works of The, the Soviet-era artists "Aslamazyan sisters".
  • The Dzitoghtsyan House-Museum or the Museum of National Architecture and Urban Life of Gyumri, an old Gyumri mansion, houses collections covering both the history and everyday life of Gyumri as well as paintings and other works of art.
  • The Merkurov House-Museum.
  • House-Museum of Avetik Isahakyan.
  • House-Museum of Hovhannes Shiraz.
  • House-Museum of Mher Mkrtchyan.
  • Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God or the Seven Wounds of the Holy Mother of God, built in the 17th century.
  • Church of the Holy Saviour or Surb Amenaprkich, constructed between 1859-1873. Designed to resemble the Cathedral of Ani. The church was heavily damaged by the 1988 Spitak earthquake and is currently under reconstruction.
  • Surb Neshan Apostolic Church, built in 1870.
  • The Russian Orthodox church of Saint Nikolai the Wondeworker, also known as "Plplan Zham" (the Shimmering Chapel), built in 1879-80.
  • Saint Gregory the Illuminator's Church of Gyumri.
  • Saint Jacob of Nisibis Apostolic Church (Surb Hakob Mtsbinetsi) built in 2005.
  • Gyumri's Central Park, founded during the 1920s on the site of the old town cemetery.
  • The restoration project of the damaged buildings of Gyumri has been spearheaded by Earthwatch to preserve the city's unique architecture.

Almost the entire population of Gyumri belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Gyumri is the home of the Diocese of Shirak with the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God. The Armenian Catholic Church has a tiny community in Armenia headed by the Eparchy of Armenia and Eastern Europe which is based in Gyumri. The presence of the small Russian Orthodox community in the city is marked with Saint Nikolai the Wonderworker's Church
Economy and Transportation:

  • The economy of Gyumri is mostly depended on construction sector, tourism and banking services. Industry as well has a big share in the domestic product. The most important industrial activities are the production of building materials, yarn and textile manufacturing and food industries. Gyumri is home to Shirak "Gyumri" Beer Company.
  • During the pre-Soviet era, Alexandropol was considered to be the third most important trade and cultural center in the Trans-Caucasus after Tiflis and Baku (Yerevan would not rise to prominence until being proclaimed the capital of the independent Republic of Armenia in 1918 and Armenian SSR in 1920). At the end of the 19th century, the population of Alexandropol reached 32,100 residents, mostly Armenians. The first rail link to Alexandropol was finished in 1899, which was the Tiflis-Alexandropol railway. The rail line was then extended from Alexandropol to Yerevan, Jolfa (in 1906), and Tabriz. As a result, Alexandropol became an important rail hub.
Air transportation:

Gyumri is served by the Shirak Airport, located about 5 km from the centre of the town. The airport offers regular flights to Moscow, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don. It also serves as an alternate airport to Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport. Being located on top of high mountains, the Shirak Airport is not of much preferable destinations for most air carriers.


Gyumri has a large number of educational institutions. It is considered the main cultural and educational centre of northern Armenia. The city has three major higher educational centers: the Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute named after Hovhannes Shiraz, "Progress" Gyumri University and "Imastaser Anania Shirakatsi" Gyumri University. Branches of Yerevan State University are also operating in the city. Currently, there are 47 public education schools, 23 nursery schools and 7 special schools for music are operating regularly in the city. Gyumri has a rich heritage of art and cultural legacy, and is considered to be the capital of Armenian humor.

Gyumri has a major contribution in the sports life of Armenia. Many olympic and world champion wrestlers, weightlifters and boxers are from Gyumri. The city is notable for its worldwide champions in individual types of sports, such as Robert Emmiyan in long jump, Yurik Vardanian in weightlifting and Ara Abrahamian in Greco-Roman wrestling. The city is home to the Armenian football (soccer) team FC Shirak. They play their home games at Gyumri City Stadium, built in 1924. Other teams from Gyumri are Aragats and Kumairi. The all-time leading scorer for the Armenia national football team Artur Petrosyan is from Gyumri. Lots of special sport schools are serving the young generation of Gyumri such as the School of Gymnastics, the School of Athletics (named after Robert Emmiyan), the School of football (named after Levon Ishtoyan) and other special schools of boxing, weightlifting, wrestling, martial arts and chess.


The population of Gyumri has gradually grown since 1840 after gaining the status of town. The huge decline of the population was due to the disastrous earthquake of 1988. The residents here have a distinct look and style, and a boundless pride in their city. Their own dialect is very close to Western Armenian.
Famous natives:
  • Anania Shirakatsi, medieval Armenian scholar
  • G.I. Gurdjieff, mystic and philosopher
  • Sergey Merkurov, sculptor
  • Artur Petrosyan, footballer, all-time leading scorer for Armenia
  • Sheram, gusan, poet and composer
  • Avetik Isahakyan, poet
  • Armen Tigranian, composer ("Anush" opera)
  • Olga Chekhova, actress
  • Khachatur Avetisyan, composer
  • Shushanik Kurghinian, poet
  • Ruben Zaryan, Art historian
  • Hovhannes Shiraz, poet
  • Mher Mkrtchyan, actor
  • Levon Ishtoyan, footballer, Soviet champion with FC Ararat (1973)
  • Vazgen Manukyan, politician, Armenia's former Prime Minister
  • Svetlana Svetlichnaya, film actress
  • Edmond Keosayan, film director
  • Artavazd Peleshyan, film director and theorist
  • Levon Mkrtchyan, film director
  • Yurik Vardanian, weightlifting Olympic champion
  • Robert Emmiyan, European long jump record holder
  • Manvel Gamburyan, mixed martial artist (UFC)
  • Ara Abrahamian, wrestler
  • Bambir, folk-rock band
  • Arthur Sarkissian, artist
  • Gennady Timchenko, businessman
  • Sergo Chakhoyan, weightlifting world champion
  • Ararat Sarkissian, artist

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