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Kars ( , Kars or Ղարս, Ghars) is a city in northeast Turkeymarker and the capital of Kars Provincemarker.


As Chorzene, the town appears in Roman historiography (Strabo) as part of ancient Armenia.For the etymological origin of the name "Kars", some sources claim it is derived from the Georgian word ყარსი ("kari"), meaning "the gate" while other sources claim it is from the Armenian word հարս ("hars") which means bride.

Medieval period

An 11th century Armenian miniature depicting the King Gagik-Abas, his daughter and wife.
Little is known of the early history of Kars beyond the fact that it had its own dynasty of Armenian rulers and was the capital of a region known as Vanand. Medieval Armenian historians referred to the city by a variety of names, including "Karuts K'aghak'" (Kars city), "Karuts Berd", "Amrotsn Karuts" (both meaning Kars Fortress) and "Amurn Karuts" (Sturdy Kars). At some point in the 9th century (at least by 888) it became part of the territory of the Armenian Bagratids. For a short time (from 928 to 961) Kars became the capital of their kingdom. It was during this period that the town's cathedral, later known as the Church of the Apostles, was built.

In 963, shortly after the Bagratid capital was transferred to Animarker, Kars became the capital of a separate independent kingdom, again called Vanand. The extent of its actual independence from the Kingdom of Ani is uncertain: it was always held by relatives of the rulers of Ani, and after Ani's capture by the Byzantine Empire in 1045 the Bagratid title King of Kings held by the ruler of Ani was transferred to the ruler of Kars.

In 1064, just after the capture of Ani by the Seljuk Turks, the Armenian king of Kars, Gagik-Abas, paid homage to the victorious Turks, so that they would not lay siege to his city. In 1065 Gagik-Abas ceded control of Kars to the Byzantine Empire, but soon after they lost it to the Seljuk Turks.

In 1206/1207 the city was captured by the Georgiamarker and given to the same Zakarid family who ruled Ani. They retained control of Kars until the late 1230s, after which it had Turkish rulers.

In 1387 the city surrendered to Timur (Tamerlane) and its fortifications were damaged. More Turkish rulers followed until 1534, when the Ottoman army captured the city. The fortifications of the city were rebuilt by the Ottoman Sultan Murad III and were strong enough to withstand a siege by Nadir Shah of Persia, in 1731. It became the head of a sanjak in the Turkishmarker vilayet of Erzurum.

Modern period

The 1828 Russian siege of Kars.
In 1807 Kars successfully resisted an attack by the Russian Empiremarker. After another siege in 1828 the city was surrendered on June 23, 1828 to the Russian general Count Ivan Paskevich, 11,000 men becoming prisoners of war. Although it later returned to Ottoman control, the new border between the Ottoman Empire and Russia was now much closer to Kars. During the Crimean War a Turkish garrison led by British officers including General William Fenwick Williams kept the Russians at bay during a protracted siege; but after the garrison had been devastated by cholera and food supplies had failed, the town was surrendered to General Mouravieff in November 1855.

The fortress was again stormed by the Russians in the Battle of Kars during the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 under generals Loris-Melikov and Ivan Lazarev. Following the war, Kars was transferred to Russiamarker by the Treaty of San Stefano. Kars became the capital of Kars Oblast (province), comprising the districts of Kars, Ardahanmarker, Kağızmanmarker, and Oltumarker.

From 1878-1881 more than 82,000 Muslims from formerly Turkish-controlled territory migrated to the Ottoman Empire. Among those there were more than 11,000 people from the city of Kars. At the same time, many Armenians and Greeks migrated to the region from the Ottoman Empire and other regions of Transcaucasia. According to the Russian census data, by 1892 Russians were 7% of the population, Greeks 13.5%, Kurds 15%, Armenians 21.5%, Turks 24%, Karapapakhs 14%, and Turkmen were 5% of the population of Kars oblast.

In the First World War, the city was one of the main objectives of the Ottoman army during the Battle of Sarıkamışmarker in the Caucasus Campaign.

Russiamarker ceded Kars, Ardahanmarker and Batummarker to the Ottoman Empire under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. However, by then Kars was under the effective control of Armenian and non-Bolshevik Russian forces. The Ottoman empire captured Kars on April 25, 1918, but under the Armistice of Mudros (October 1918) was required to withdraw to its 1914 frontier. The Ottomans refused to relinquish Kars; its military governor instead constituting a provisional government, the South West Caucasian Government, led by Fahrettin Pirioglu, that claimed Turkish sovereignty over Kars and the Turkish-speaking and Islamic neighbouring regions as far as Batumi and Alexandropolmarker (Gyumri). Much of the region was occupied by the Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker (DRA) in January 1919 but the pro-Turkish government remained in the city until the arrival of the British troops, who dissolved it on April 19, 1919, arresting its leaders and sending them to Malta. In May 1919 Kars came under the full administration of the Armenian Republic and became the capital of its Vanand province.

Skirmishes between Turkish revolutionaries and Armenian border troops in Oltumarker led to an invasion of the Armenian Republic by four Turkish battalions under the command of General Kazım Karabekir, triggering the Turkish-Armenian War. The war led to the capture of Kars by Turkish forces on October 30, 1920. The terms of the Treaty of Alexandropol, signed by the representatives of Armenia and Turkey on December 2, 1920, forced the DRA to cede more than 50% of its pre-war territory and to give up all the territories granted to it at the Treaty of Sèvres.

After the Bolshevik invasion of Armenia, the Alexandropol treaty was superseded by the Treaty of Kars (October 23, 1921), signed between Turkey and the Soviet Unionmarker. The treaty allowed for Soviet annexation of Adjara in exchange for Turkish control of the regions of Karsmarker, Iğdırmarker, and Ardahanmarker. The treaty established peaceful relations between the two nations, but as early as 1939, some British diplomats noted indications that the Soviet Union was not satisfied with the established border. On more than one occasion, the Soviets attempted to renegotiate with Turkey to at least allow the Armenians access to the ancient ruins of Animarker. However, the government in Ankara refused these attempts.

Recent history

After World War II, the Soviet Union attempted to annul the Kars treaty and regain its lost territory. On June 7, 1945, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov told the Turkish ambassador in Moscow that the regions should be returned to the Soviet Unionmarker, in the name of both the Georgian and Armenian republics. Turkey found itself in a difficult position: it wanted good relations with the Soviet Union, but at the same time they refused to give up the territories. Turkey itself was in no condition to fight a war with the Soviet Union, which had emerged as a superpower after the second world war. By the autumn of 1945, Soviet troops in the Caucasus were already assembling for a possible invasion of Turkey. The British prime minister Winston Churchill objected to these territorial claims, while President Harry S. Truman of the United Statesmarker felt that this matter shouldn't concern other parties. The Cold War was just beginning.

In April 1993, Turkey closed its Kars border crossing with Armenia, in a protest against the capture of Kelbajarmarker district of Azerbaijanmarker by Armenian forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Since then the land border between Armenia and Turkey has remained closed. Although national politicians have shown little inclination to change this policy, and Azerbaijan together with Turkish nationalist groups have campaigned for the closure to remain, there has been increasing local pressure for the border to be re-opened. In 2006, Kars Mayor Naif Alibeyoğlu said that opening the border would boost the local economy and reawaken the city.


Population: 8,672 (1878); 20,891 (1897); 12,175 (January 1913); 129,789 (1922) ; 54,000 (1970); 142,145 (1990); 130,361 (2000). Its mayor is Nevzat Bozkuş, whose party is AKP.

Kars Citadel

Kars Citadel
Kars Castle (Kars Kalesi), also known as the citadel, sits at the top a rocky hill overlooking Kars. Its walls date back to the Bagratid Armenian period (there is surviving masonry on the north side of the castle) but it probably took on its present form during the 13th century when Kars was ruled by the Zakarid dynasty. The walls bear crosses in several places, including a khachkar with a building inscription in Armenian on the easternmost tower, so the much repeated statement that Kars castle was built by Ottoman Sultan Murad III during the war with Persia, at the close of the 16th century, is inaccurate. However, Murad probably did reconstruct much of the city walls (they are similar to those that the Ottoman army constructed at Ardahan).

By the 19th century the citadel had lost most of its defensive purpose and a series of outer fortresses and defensive works were constructed to encircle Kars - this new defensive system proved particularly notable during the Siege of Kars in 1855.

Other historical structures

Below the castle is an Armenian church known as St. Arak'elots, the Church of the Apostlesmarker. Built in the 930s, it has a tetraconch plan (a square with four semicircular apses) surmounted by a spherical dome. On the exterior, the drum of the dome contains bas-relief depictions of twelve figures, usually interpreted as representing the Twelve Apostles. The dome itself has a conical roof. The church was converted to a mosque in 1579, and then converted into a Russian Orthodox church in the 1880s. The Russians constructed porches in front of the church's 3 entrances, and an elaborate belltower (now demolished) next to the church. The church was used as a warehouse from the 1930s, and it housed a small museum from 1963 until the late 1970s. Then the building was left to itself for about two decades, until it was converted into a mosque in 1998.

The "Taşköprü" (Stone Bridge) is a bridge over the Kars river, built in 1725. Close to the bridge are three old bath-houses.

As a settlement at the juncture of Turkish, Caucasian, Kurdish, Russian, and Armenian cultures, the buildings of Kars come in a variety of architectural styles. Orhan Pamuk in the novel Snow, which takes place in Kars, makes repeated references to "the Russian houses", built "in a Baltic style", whose like cannot be seen anywhere else in Turkey, and deplores the deteriorating condition of these houses.

Notable individuals from Kars

Kars in popular culture

  • Kars is the setting of the novel Kar (Snow) by Orhan Pamuk.
  • Modest Mussorgsky composed the march "The Capture of Kars" to commemorate Russia's victory there in 1855.


Kars has an extreme humid continental climate (Köppen Dfc), with a wide range of temperature between the summer and winter, due to its high elevation and relatively high latitude. Summers are generally brief and warm but not hot and humid and with cold and sometimes frosty nights, and winters are very cold and very snowy. The average January temperature of . Temperatures often drop below at night. It snows a lot in winter, staying for an average of four months in the city.Temperatures as low as -52°C (-56°F) have been recorded in winter.


Kars is served by a station on the Turkish Railways (TCDD). The line continues into Armenia near Gyumrimarker, but the actual border crossing has been closed since 1993. There is a proposal to construct a branch that will connect Kars with Akhalkalakimarker in Georgia, from where trains can continue to Tbilisimarker, and Bakumarker in Azerbaijanmarker.

External links


  1. Arakelyan, Babken, Vrezh Vardanyan, and Hovhannes Khalpakhchyan. «Կարս» (Kars). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. vol. v. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1979, pp. 342-344.
  2. Harutyunyan, Varazdat M. "Ճարտարապետություն" ("Architecture"). History of the Armenian People. vol. iii. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1976, pp. 374-375.
  3. Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary. "Kars oblast". St. Petersburg, Russia, 1890-1907
  4. "Kars battles for access to Armenia and beyond", Turkish Daily News, July 30th 2006.
  5. Railway Gazette International February 2009 p54 with map

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