1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Van (Turkey)

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VAN. (1) The chief town of a vilayet of the same name in Asiatic Turkey; altitude, 5400 ft. Pop. 28,000, of whom 14,000 are Armenians, and the remainder Moslems, mostly of a mixed Kurdish race. It is situated about a mile from the eastern shore of Lake Van, and built along the south side of the citadel rock, an isolated rocky ridge 1300 yds. long, rising 360 ft. out of a plain which extends up to the sharply defined rocky mass of the Varak range, 8 m. distant. On the gently sloping ground cast of the citadel are the Gardens, covering an area of 5 m. by 3, and containing several suburbs and detached houses, along central avenues fringed with trees, and having channels of running water by the sides for irrigation.

The town itself is a poor place with flat-roofed mud houses, narrow winding streets, and surrounded by a ruinous mud wall; but it still contains the business quarter, the government offices and the principal bazaars. In the Gardens are vineyards and orchards of apple, pear, quince, plum and apricot; the houses of the wealthier inhabitants are imposing, built of a wood-framework on a stone foundation and filled in with sun-dried bricks. Many of them are brightly ornamented in the Persian style. Water comes from karez or underground channels and streams from Varak, fed from the Sikhe Lake, an ancient reservoir which preserves the snow waters on the summit of the mountain. For the southern quarter there is the Shemiram Canal, also of very ancient construction, which derives its supply from a large spring 19 m. distant, near Meshingird. There are British, Russian and French consuls who reside in the Gardens. There are a large American Mission with schools, orphanage and a resident doctor, a French (Dominican) Mission with schools, and also a branch of the archbishop of Canterbury's Mission to the Nestorian Christians who live in the mountains to the south. The climate is generally healthy, extremely cold in winter, with 2 to 3 ft. of snow from December to March, while the summer heat is not excessive. The Persian trade of Van has declined; European goods, with which the bazaars are fairly well supplied, come from Trebizond through Erzerum. There is a fair local trade in wheat and agricultural produce, also sheep and cattle, wool, hides and furs for export. A thick woollen cloth called shayak, coarse cotton chintzes and a kind of soap prepared from the efflorescence's of the lake, with dried and salted fish, are also produced.

The cuneiform inscriptions of Van are very numerous, the town having been the capital of the Vannic kingdom of the Assyrian period. At the end of the Gardens is the rocky mass of Toprak Kale, on which was a. fire temple and altar; near it is the Meker Kapusi (“Door of Mithridates”), a large inscribed slab of rock with the names of several deities. On the citadel rock are several inscriptions, the principal being a trilingual one of Xerxes on the southern face. Many other inscribed stones and tablets have been found built into modern buildings, while the excavation of a mound brought to light relics of a stone age.

Van occupies the site of Dhuspas, of which the native name was Biainas (Assyrian, Urardhu), the Byana of Ptolemy and the Ivan of Cedrenus, whence the modern Van. Dhuspas, the Thospia of Ptolemy, gave its name to the district of Thospitis, the modern Thosp. The Biainian dynasty, of which Sarduris I. (c. 833 B.C.) was the first king, died out with Sarduris II., who in 645 B.C. entered into an alliance with Assur-bani-pal. Inscriptions of nearly all the kings exist, and the various excavations at Toprak Kale show an advanced state of civilization and great technical skill (see illustrations in Maspero's Histoire ancienne, vol. iii., Les Empires). In the 6th century B.C. Van passed into the hands of the Persians, and shortly before it fell to Alexander the Great it was rebuilt, according to Armenian historians, by a native prince called Van. In 149 B.C. Valarsaces or Vagharshag, the first Armenian king of the Arsacidae, rebuilt the town, and a colony of Jews was settled in it by Tigranes (94-56 B.C.). In the middle of the 4th century A.D. it was taken by Sapor (Shapur) II., and became the capital of an autonomous province of the Sassanian Empire, until it fell into the hands of the Arabs (c. 640), under whom it regained its autonomy. About 908 the governor of Van or Vaspuragan was crowned king by the caliph Moktadir, and in 1021 his descendant Senekherim was persuaded by Basil II. to exchange his kingdom for the vice royalty of the Sebasteian theme. After having formed part of the possessions of the Seljuks, Mongols, Tatars and Persians, Van passed in 1 514, after the defeat of Shah Ismail by Selim I. at the battle of Kalderan, to the Osmanlis, who only occupied the town in 1543. In 1636 it was taken by the Persians, but soon recovered. In 1845 the town was held for a time by the Kurd chief Khan Mahmud, who eventually surrendered and was exiled.

(2) The vilayet of Van lies along the Persian frontier between the vilayets of Erzerum and Mosul. The northern sanjak comprises open plateau country N. and E. of the lake (with a large Armenian agricultural population and Kurdish semi nomad tribes occupied chiefly in cattle and sheep raising), also of several fertile districts along the south shore of the lake. The southern sanjak is entirely mountainous, little developed and having the tribes only partly under government control. This comprises most of the upper basin of the Great Zab, with the country of the Nestorian Christians and many districts inhabited by Kurdish tribes, some of them large nomad tribes who descend for the winter to the plains of the Tigris.

The mineral wealth of the vilayet has never been fully explored, but is believed to be great. There are petroleum springs at Kordzot, deposits of lignite at Sivan and Nurduz, several hot springs at Zilan Deresi and julamerk. Excellent tobacco is grown in Shemsdinan for export to Persia.

(3) Lake Van, called Arsissa Palus and also Thospitis from its Armenian names, is roughly rectangular 5 5 m. long and 40 broad, with a long north-eastern arm which increases the greatest length to 80 m. It stands about 5260 ft.” above sea-level. It is without an outlet, and its greatest depth is along the southern shore. It has constant steady fluctuations, rising and falling some 8 ft. in a periodic movement of five years. In the middle of the 19th century a sudden rise submerged several places on the banks, including Arjish Kale, and the waters did not again subside. The north-eastern arm is much shallower than the rest. The water is bitter and undrinkable, being largely impregnated with carbonate and sulphate of soda with some borax. The salts are evaporated in pans, and called perek, being sold for washing purposes. There is, however, good water along the coast from springs and streams.

The lake has been navigated from the earliest times, and about 80 sailing boats, carrying about 20 tons burden, now ply on it, chiefly with wheat and firewood. Severe storms make navigation dangerous in winter. The southern shore is fringed by a steep range of mountains, with several thriving villages along the coast. The hills have now been almost denuded of trees. At the south-eastern corner is the island of Akhtamar with its ancient church, erected (c. 928) by Gagig, first king of the Ardzrunian dynasty. The Catholicos of Akhtamar is one of the highest offices in the Armenian Church, and dates from 1113. The small islands of Lim and Gdutz have also monasteries and churches. Large numbers of darekh, a kind of herring, exist in the lake, and are caught in nets from boats or when they enter the shallow lagoons in the spring and summer. Either fresh or salted they form an important article of diet of the poorer people.

See Sayce, “Cuneiform Inscriptions of Lake Van,” in Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, vols. xiv., xx. and xxvi.; Lynch, Armenia, vol. ii. (1901); Belck and Lehmann, papers in Verhand. d. Berliner Ges. für Anthrgpologie (1892-99); Zeit. far Ethnologie (1892, 1899); Mitt. d. Geog. es. (amburg, 1898, 1899).  (C. W. W.; F. R. M.)