Kharpert: The Golden Plain of the Armenian Plateau

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The fortress of Kharpert is perched atop an empty hillside. This hillside had been the Armenian Quarter of Kharpert until 1915. Photo © 2014 Matthew Karanian, Reprinted with Permission.

BY MATTHEW KARANIAN

Kharpert is the Voski Dasht, the Golden Plain, of the Armenian Plateau.

This area, which is the site of historic Armenian settlement of Tsopk, and which is known in today’s Turkey as Harpoot, is also one of the oldest areas of Armenian habitation. Some scholars believe that Kharpert may even be the cradle of the Armenian nation.

Whether the Armenian nation originated here, or farther east in Bitlis, or Van, or elsewhere, however, there is no dispute that Armenian Kharpert holds one of the keys to understanding the origins of the Armenian people.

In centuries past, Kharpert’s fields of grain helped the region to earn its designation as the Golden Plain. By 1915, however, Kharpert had earned a new moniker: “the Slaughterhouse Province.” An American diplomat who lived in Kharpert from 1914 to 1917 bestowed the name upon the region. He selected the name after observing the fate of the deported Armenians who had been herded to Kharpert from their homes in other parts of the Armenian Plateau.

During the century before its demise in 1915, Armenian Kharpert had developed into a significant center for missionaries from the US, and for American-sponsored schools.

The exposure of Kharpertsi Armenians (Armenians from Kharpert) to these US institutions in the late 1800s helped to inspire them to adopt Western ways, and to travel to the US—sometimes as immigrants, and sometimes as sojourners or pandukhts, laborers who intended to work in the US, save their earnings, and then return to Kharpert to help their families.

Just prior to 1915, the top American diplomat in Kharpert had estimated that roughly 80 percent of the Armenians who immigrated to the United States had come from Kharpert. These travelers formed some of the earliest Armenian communities in the United States, in the factory and mill towns of southern New England. Many settled in places such as Worcester, Massachusetts, which was the site in 1891 of the first Armenian church in the US.

Among Diaspora Armenians living in North America today, the Kharpertsi are believed to be among the most numerous. And for most of the twentieth century, say some, the Armenians of Kharpert were the quintessential Armenian Americans.

Adapted from ‘Historic Armenia After 100 Years,’ (Stone Garden Press, $39.95, Pub. Feb. 2015) by Matthew Karanian. Pre-order now for $35 postpaid in the US from: Stone Garden Productions; PO Box 7758; Northridge, CA 91327 or pay with credit card by requesting an invoice from Bedros@StoneGardenProductions.com

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