Black Sea Armenia
Surb-Hach Monastery

Black Sea Armenia


This is how the South-Eastern Crimea is called Primorsky or Black Sea Armenia in the Armenian chronicles of the Middle Ages. A large Armenian community has lived on the Crimean peninsula for almost a thousand years. The first ties of the Armenians with the Crimea are known since the time of the Armenian king Tigran the Great Mithridates of Pontus (II-I centuries BC).

The Armenian settlements of the Crimea became especially populous in the 13th and 14th centuries, which was connected with the Mongol invasion of Armenia. Since the beginning of the 14th century, Armenian settlers have been active in the Crimea (erecting buildings, engaging in handicrafts, agriculture, joining lively trade relations, opening schools, and founding scriptoria).

Black Sea Armenia
Surb-Hach Monastery

Armenian merchants took an active part in the Black Sea trade, as evidenced by the notarial deeds of the Genoese. They played a significant role in the trade of the Italians themselves on the Crimean coast. It was the Crimean Armenians who distributed goods brought to the North and East. They played an important role in the development of handicraft production in the Crimea, making up a significant percentage of the trade and handicraft population of Kafa, Solkhat, Sudak, Karasubazar.

The capture of the peninsula by the combined Tatar-Turkish forces at the end of the 15th century was a great ordeal in the life of the Armenian colony of Crimea. The Genoese colony ceased to exist. Due to the bloodshed of 1475 and the subsequent most severe persecution of Christians, the number of Armenian settlements in the Crimea greatly decreased. The situation changed only at the beginning of the XVII century. There are conditions for a peaceful cultural life. Handicraft production and trade were revived, ancient manuscripts were updated, and educational institutions were opened, of which the theological school of the Surb-Khach monastery was especially famous, where prominent personalities of their time taught.

In 1778, among other Christian peoples of the Crimea, more than 12,000 Armenians were deported. They were allocated desert lands near the banks of the Don. Only a few hundred Armenians remained in the Crimea, who for one reason or another were allowed to stay. An important fact is that the Crimean Armenians took with them many material values ​​created by them in the Crimea, including manuscripts.

After the peninsula became part of the Russian Empire, some Armenians returned to their native places. Soon their number in the Crimea increased due to migrants from Eastern and Western Armenia. The government created privileged conditions for the revival of the colony: temples, lands, city quarters were returned, and national city self-governing communities were created in the Old Crimea and Karasubazar.

Almost all over the peninsula there are settlements of Armenians: Feodosia, Old Crimea, Sudak, Belogorsk, Balaklava, Perekop, Evpatoria, Yalta and other cities. Ancient Armenian churches and other architectural structures and household items have survived to this day.

Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion, and to the surprise of many ordinary Ukrainians, who consider all Caucasians to be Muslims, Armenians are devout believers in Christ.

Black Sea Armenia
Surb-Hach Monastery

The Armenian Church remains faithful to the dogma of the one divine essence of Christ, adopted in 431 at the Third Ecumenical Council. The Armenian Church, whose first throne has long been in Echmiadzin, is dogmatically and cultically close to Orthodoxy, but is a follower of Monophysitism and recognizes the decisions of only the first three Ecumenical Councils, preserving the traditions and ideology of early Christianity.

Of all the Armenian churches that currently exist in Ukraine, three are in Crimea: the Theodosian Church of the Holy Archangels, the Yalta Church of St. Ripsime and the Evpatoria Church of St. Nicogaios, and the restored Surb-Khach Monastery, a pearl of Armenian medieval architecture in Crimea.

The history of the creation of this masterpiece is interesting: when in the XIII century many Armenians, escaping from the invasion of the Seljuk Turks, moved to the Crimean lands, among them were monks who were looking for a place for the monastery. The monk Hovhannes Sebastiati and his brothers had visions in the form of a cross. Thus the Armenian temple of Surb-Nshan (Holy Sign) arose on this earth. It was built in 1358 not only for Armenians, but also for those who seek spiritual purification, appeasement. This date is recorded in a poetic inscription on the dome of the church. Since then, a monastery began to form near the temple. Already in the XVII century the monastery became one of the main centers of pilgrimage of the Armenian Church in the Crimea and the Black Sea region. All researchers note the importance of the spiritual role of this monastery for the Crimean Armenians. There was a theological seminary, there was a rich library.Novices not only wrote chronicles, but also rewrote ancient books, decorated them with beautiful miniatures.

Black Sea Armenia
Khachkar at the entrance to the church of Surb-Nshan

In general, Armenians have left a great architectural heritage in Ukraine. The ancient cultural nation had quite significant urban communities in the polises of Galicia and the Crimea. The main church of Ukrainian Armenians was the Cathedral of the Assumption in Lviv, but the most beautiful Armenian church in Ukraine is rightly considered to be the church in Yalta.

The Church of St. Ripsime was built at the expense of the fabulously rich Baku oilman, philanthropist and Armenian Pogos Ter-Gukasyan (whom it was more convenient for the Russians to call Pavel Osipovich Gukasov). Another famous Armenian, who worked in Baku for a long time – fulfilled the architectural orders of the same Ter-Gukasyan and other oilmen – Gabriel Ter-Mikelyan, was invited as the architect of the church for the Armenian community of Yalta. As a basis for the church of St. Ripsime, the architect took a sketch of the eponymous, legendary for the Armenians, the temple in Echmiadzin, and, of course, significantly reworked it. The current church resembles the Armenian shrine of the 7th century in its outlines and some details, but in general this temple is unique and inimitable.

The importance of the Armenian community’s contribution to the development of trade, industry, agriculture, and culture of the Crimean Peninsula over the centuries cannot be underestimated, as it has organically entered the bright and colorful palette of the peoples inhabiting this fertile land.

Photos from open sources

Yevhenia Borysenko, “Crimean Room” № 41, 2016

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Evgeniya Borisenko

Author of cultural materials, editor of Ukrainian Culture Publishing House LLC

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