Meghri - Sourp Hovannes Mkrtich Church
Land and Culture Organization (LCO) will be renovating the 17th Century Sourp Hovannes Mkritch (St. John the Baptist) basilica church in Meghri, Armenia.
This historical site is in severe disrepair and has a unique Armenian style. The ornamental motifs of the paintings are influenced by Persian decorative designs, which was probably done intentionally to prevent vandalism. Even the depicted structures were drawn in such a way as to resemble mosques. The walls of 17th-century churches in Meghri’s old and new quarters bear frescoes by artists from the family of Naghash Hovnatanian, a renowned artist from the period whose works are also within the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin. The first phase of the project will be clearing of the church ground’s and archaeologic excavations with Armenian historical archaeologists.
Meghri, one of the most fascinating and remote cities in Armenia, is situated in the southern most tip overlooking the Iranian border on the Araks River.Today, as Armenia’s southern ‘gateway’, it maintains its strategic and economic significance as a town located at the crossroads of the South Caucasus; Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, Iran and Russia.
The name Meghri derives from the Armenian “meghr” meaning honey. This tranquil quaint city of 4,500 is in a very fertile valley where they grow Armenia’s national symbol the pomegranate, figs, walnut, and persimmons. A river runs through the center of town, creatively named the Meghri River. Meghri has a warm and subtropical climate.
Meghri is built on terracing slopes which run down into the valley. A number of narrow streets stretch from the center of the town in different directions. Back in the 18th century, the town was divided into the Large (Mets Tagh), Medium (Meecheen Tagh) and Small (Pokr Tagh) Quarters. Each quarter or neighborhood has its own church – LCO campaign site Sourp Hovannes in the Medium Quarter, Sourp Asdvadzadin (St. Mary) in the Large Quarter, and Sourp Sarkis in the Small Quarter.
The fortress of Meghri that overlooks the city is originally from 1083 was rebuilt by the legendary Armenian national hero Davit Bek in the 18th Century. In 1727, 400 of Bek’s men held off the many times their number of Turkish troops for five days until reinforcements arrived. The statue of Meghri’s notable son, Armenian freedom fighter “Paramaz” Matteos Sarkissian is found in the city’s central square.
Located in the Arevik county of historical Syunik province, the area has been inhabited since the third millennium BC, proven by many archeological excavations and findings dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages in 4-2 BC. Meghri was once an administrative area in the Artashesian and Arshakuniats kingdoms. In 428 AD, the territory was subjugated by the Persians, and in 640 AD it was invaded by Arabs. In 885 AD, Meghri became part of the Bagratuniats kingdom.
In the period of Persian dominion, Meghri was a residence of local nobility. In 1157, it was invaded by Seljuks and released only at the end of the 12th century. It then became part of Zakarian Armenia. In the 14th century, it appeared in the center of Timur Lenk’s invasions. Then the city was invaded by Turkmen tribes.
Between 1722 and 1728, the residents of Meghri participated in the Liberation Wars. In 1810, the Russian commander gave Meghri back to Persia. In 1828, however, under the Turkmenchai Agreement, Meghri went back to the Russian Empire. In the 1840s, it became a province of Karabakh and 28 years later an administrative part of Ganjak province. Whilst part of the Russian Empire, representatives of Meghri took an active role in local reforms and developments.