Van, Turkey

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Metropolitan Municipality
Left to right; Maras avenue,Van from Edremit peak , Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross, famous Van cat, lake Van, Ferit Melen Airport and panoramic view of Van
Left to right; Maras avenue,Van from Edremit peak , Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross, famous Van cat, lake Van, Ferit Melen Airport and panoramic view of Van
Van is located in Turkey
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 • Mayor Bekir Kaya (BDP)
 • District 1,938.14 km2 (748.32 sq mi)
Elevation 1,730 m (5,680 ft)
Population (2012)[2]
 • Urban 370,190
 • District 472,069
 • District density 240/km2 (630/sq mi)

Van (Armenian: Վան; Kurdish: Wan‎; Ottoman Turkish: فان‎) is a city in eastern Turkey's Van Province, located on the eastern shore of Lake Van. The city has a long history as a major urban area. It has been a large city since the first millennium BC, initially as the capital of Urartu in the 9th century BC and later as the center of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan. It remained an important center of Armenian culture until the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Today, Van has a Kurdish majority and a sizable Turkish minority.[3]

In 2010 the official population figure for Van was 367,419,[4] but many estimates put it much higher with a 1996 estimate stating 500,000[5] and former Mayor Burhan Yengun is quoted as saying it may be as high as 600,000.[6] The Van Central district stretches over 2,289 square kilometres (884 square miles).[7]


Archaeological excavations and surveys carried out in Van province indicate that the history of human settlement in this region goes back at least as far as 5000 BC. The Tilkitepe Mound, which is on the shores of Lake Van and a few kilometres to the south of Van Castle, is the only source of information about the oldest culture of Van.


Inscription of Xerxes the Great on the cliffs below Van castle.

Under the ancient name of Tushpa, Van was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the 9th century BC. The early settlement was centered on the steep-sided bluff now known as Van Castle (Van Kalesi), close to the edge of Lake Van and a few kilometers west of the modern city. Here have been found Urartian cuneiform inscriptions dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Babylonian is called Armenia in Old Persian.

The name 'Van' comes from the Urartian Biaina.[8]

Kingdom of Armenia

The region came under the control of the Orontids in the 7th century BC and quickly later the Persians in the mid 6th century BC. The Van Fortress located outside Van holds an inscribed stereotyped trilingual inscription of Xerxes the Great from the 5th century BC upon a smoothed section of the rock face, some 20 meters (60 feet) above the ground near the fortress. The inscription survives in near perfect condition and is divided into three columns of 27 lines written in (from left to right) Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. In 331 BC, Van was conquered by Alexander the Great and after his death became part of the Seleucid Empire. By the early 2nd century BC it was part of the Kingdom of Armenia. It became an important center during the reign of the Armenian king, Tigranes II, who founded the city of Tigranakert in the 1st century BC.[9] In the early centuries BC, it fell to the emerging Arsacid dynasty of Parthia until the 3rd century AD. However, it also fell once to the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia in this timespan. In the History of Armenia attributed to Movses Khorenatsi, the city is called Tosp, from Urartian Tushpa.[10]

The Byzantines, Sassanids, and the Artsrunis

Following the fall of the Parthians and the emerging of the Neo-Persian Empire, better known as the Sassanian Empire, the town naturally fell into the possession of the latter. During the over 700 years lasting Roman-Persian Wars, some of the wars razed at or around the location of modern-day Van. The Byzantine Empire briefly held the region from 628 to 640, following the victory in the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, after which it was invaded by the Muslim Arabs, who consolidated their conquests as the province of Arminiya.[citation needed] Decline in Arab power eventually allowed local Armenian rulers to re-emerge, with the Artsruni dynasty soon becoming the most powerful. Initially dependent on the rulers of the Kingdom of Ani, they declared their independence in 908, founding the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan. The kingdom had no specific capital: the court would move as the king transferred his residence from place to place, such as Van city, Vostan, Aghtamar, etc. In 1021 the last king of Vaspurakan, John-Senekerim Artsruni, ceded his entire kingdom to the Byzantine empire, who established the Vaspurakan theme on the former Artsruni territories.[citation needed]

The Seljuk Empire

Incursions by the Seljuk Turks into Vaspurakan started in the 1050s. After their victory in 1071 at the battle of Manzikert the entire region fell under their control. After them, local Muslim rulers emerged, such as the Ahlatshahs and the Ayyubids (1207). For a 20-year period, Van was held by the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate until the 1240s when it was conquered by the Mongols. In the 14th century, Van was held by the Timurids, followed subsequently by the Turkoman Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu confederations.

Turco-Iranian rivalry and the Ottoman era

The first half of the 15th century saw the Van region become a land of conflict as it was disputed by the Ottoman Empire and the neighboring Persian Safavid Empire. The Safavids captured Van in 1502, as it went naturally with all former territories of the Ak Koyunlu. The Ottomans took the city in 1515 following the climactic Battle of Chaldiran and held it for a short period. The Safavids retook it again in 1520 but the Ottomans gained an almost definite hold of it in 1548 during another Ottoman-Safavid War. Ottoman control over the town got confirmed in the 1555 Peace of Amasya which came as a result after the end of the war. They first made Van into a sanjak dependent on the Erzurum eyalet, and later into a separate Van eyalet in about 1570.

In 1602, the Safavids under king Abbas the Great recaptured Van alongside other swaths of lost territories in Eastern Anatolia. However, Ottoman control over it was at last now made final and definite in 1639 with the Treaty of Zuhab.

Towards the second half of the 19th century Van began to play an increased role in the politics of the Ottoman Empire due to its location near the borders of the Persian, Russian and Ottoman Empire, as well as its proximity to Mosul.

During the period leading up to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were well represented in the local administration.[11]

Van from Joseph Pitton de Tournefort's 1717 book Relation d'un voyage du Levant
The rock and walled city of Van in 1893 by H. F. B. Lynch.

During the early 1900s, the city of Van had eleven Armenian schools and ten Turkish schools.[12]


The demographics of Ottoman Van are a debated and contentious point as they relate directly to claims of ownership by either side prior to the outbreak of World War I. For the city of Van itself it's estimated that it had 50,000 inhabitants prior to World War One, of whom 30,000 were Armenian and 20,000 were Muslims. Based on the official 1914 Ottoman Census the population of Van province consisted of 179,422 Muslims and 67,797 Armenians.[13] The Ottoman Census figures include only male citizens, excluding women and children. According to a more recent research, the corrected estimates for Van province (including women and children) was; 313,000 Muslims, 130,000 Armenians, and 65,000 others, including Assyrians.[14] The demographics of Van are a greatly debated point given the changing of provincial borders. For example, in 1875 the province was divided and Van and Hakkari separated, only to be rejoined in 1888 which drastically changed the make up of any census, and some writers argue that this merging was done to keep the Armenians from forming a majority.[15] In 1862 it was estimated that in Van there were 90,100 Christians (including Syriac Christians) and 95,100 Muslims.[16] The French Consul in Van reported that in Van and Bitlis 51.46% were Kurds, 32.70% were Armenians and 5.53% were Turks.[17] On the other hand, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople estimated 185,000 Armenians in Van, 18,000 Assyrians, 72,000 Kurds, 47,000 Turks, 25,000 Yezidis and 3,000 Gypsis.[18] Both sides have been accused of overcounting the numbers at the time given the revival of the Armenian Question and population statistics became important during the Berlin Conference.[19]

World War I and Armenian Genocide

Ruins of the old walled city of Van seen from the castle rock.

The province's Armenian population was devastated during Armenian Genocide by the Young Turks.[20] The regional administrator, Cevdet Bey, was reported to have said that "We have cleansed the Armenians and Syriac [Christian]s from Azerbaijan, and we will do the same in Van.[21] Numerous reports from Ottoman officials, such as a parliament deputy, the governor of Aleppo as well as the German consul in Van, suggested that deliberate provocations against the Armenians were being orchestrated by the local government.[21] In Mid-April 1915, Cevdet Bey ordered the execution of four Armenian leaders,[22][23] which drove the Armenians to take up arms in self-defense.[24] On the other hand, writer and genocide scholar Taner Akçam acknowledges that in the case of Van, the deportations may have been driven by military necessity[25] and states the resistance in Van should be examined as a separate case.[26]

Some scholars explain that the Armenians launched a rebellion at Van in 1915, lured by Russian promises of independence. Other scholars argue that the Armenian residents, hoping to avoid the slaughter being inflicted on the rural populations surrounding Van, defended themselves in the Armenian quarters of the city against the Turks.[27] The Russians finally relieved the Armenian defenders of Van in late May 1915. In August, a victory over the Russian army allowed the Ottoman army to retake Van. In September 1915, the Russians forced the Turks out of Van for the second time. Russian forces began to leave the area after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, and by April 1918, it was recaptured by the Ottoman army. According to Taner Akçam, citing the Osmanli Belgelerinde Ermeniler 1915–1920 (Armenians in Ottoman Documents, 1915–1920), after the Turks took back the city from the Russians, they killed all Armenians in the city.[28] Clarence Ussher, an American physician and missionary in Van, and an eye-witness to the events, reported that 55,000 Armenians had been killed.[29][30] The end of World War I forced the Ottoman army to surrender its claim to Van, although it stayed in Turkish hands following the Turkish War of Independence.[citation needed]

Turkish War of Independence and Republic

The center of modern Van seen from the castle rock

In the Treaty of Sèvres, the Entente Powers decided to cede the city to the First Republic of Armenia. Turkish revolutionaries, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rejected the terms of the treaty and instead waged the Turkish War of Independence. However the idea of ceding Van to the Armenians was floated, and Ismet Inonu was said to have surveyed army officers on 14 October 1919 on the issue of ceding Van and Bitlis. However the parliament in Ankara rejected any compromise on this issue.[31][page needed]By 1920, Van fell under Turkish control again and its remaining Armenian inhabitants were expelled in a final round of ethnic cleansing.[27] With the Treaty of Lausanne and Treaty of Kars, the Treaty of Sèvres was annulled and Van remained de facto under Turkish sovereignty.

By the end of the conflicts, the town of Van was empty and in ruins. The city was rebuilt after the war a few kilometers east of the ancient citadel, which is now known as Van Castle (Van Kalesi). The city now lies at about 1,750 metres (5,741 feet) above sea level.


Van has a harsh continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm, dry summers. Rainfall occurs mostly during the spring and autumn. Under Köppen's climate classification Van features a hot summer subtype (Köppen: Dsa) of the humid continental climate. Van holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Turkey, being −46.4 °C (−51.5 °F) recorded on 9 January 1990.

Climate data for Van (1960–2012)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 12.6
Average high °C (°F) 1.9
Daily mean °C (°F) −3.4
Average low °C (°F) −7.6
Record low °C (°F) −28.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 32.4
Average precipitation days 9.9 10.1 12.0 12.7 11.4 5.5 2.1 1.4 2.3 8.5 9.0 9.8 94.7
Average snowy days 9 10 8 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 40
Average relative humidity (%) 78 77 77 72 67 59 57 53 54 65 74 78 67.6
Mean monthly sunshine hours 145.7 148.4 192.2 216 288.3 351 378.2 362.7 306 229.4 171 136.4 2,925.3
Source #1: Devlet Meteoroloji İşleri Genel Müdürlüğü [2]
Source #2: Weather2 [3]

Van today

The modern city is located on the plain extending from the Lake Van, at a distance of 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the lake shore.

Van has often been called "The Pearl of the East" because of the beauty of its surrounding landscape. An old Armenian proverb in the same sense is "Van in this world, paradise in the next."[32] This phrase has been slightly modified in Turkish as dünyada Van, ahirette iman or "Van for this world, faith for the next."

IOC Offshore Van Grand Prix 2010
Festival of Van lake 2011

The city is home to Van Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi (Van 100th Year University) and recently came to the headlines for two highly publicized investigations initiated by the Prosecutor of Van, one of which was focused on accusations against the university's rector, Prof. Hasan Ceylan, who was kept in custody for a time. He was finally acquitted but lost his rectorate. He is a grandson of Agop Vartovyan, an Ottoman Armenian who is accepted as the founder of modern Turkish theatre. Prof. Hasan Ceylan is also the department chairman of Environmental Engineering in the Van 100th Year University.

In 1941, Van suffered a destructive 5.9 Mw earthquake. A more severe 7.2 Mw earthquake occurred on October 23, 2011.[33] A 5.7 magnitude aftershock caused several buildings to collapse on November 9, 2011.


In culinary terms, as some cities in Turkey became renowned for their kebap culture or other types of traditional local dishes, Van has distinguished itself with its breakfast culture.

Famous breakfast table in Van.


At present, Van is connected with Tatvan, which is 96 km (60 mi) away on the opposite shore of Lake Van, by a train ferry that helps to avoid the necessity to build a 250 km (155 mi) railway through difficult mountainous terrain. The railway will be constructed when traffic increases sufficiently.

Van is connected with the rest of Turkey through the Ferit Melen Airport.


Near Van, there is a longwave broadcasting station with a 250 metres tall guyed mast. It went in service in 1990 and operates on 225 kHz with 600 kW.

The Van Cat

The Van Cat is a breed of cat native to this town and named after it. It is noted for its white fur, and having differently colored eyes.[34]

Notable residents

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Van is twinned with:

Photo gallery

See also


  1. "Area of regions (including lakes), km²". Regional Statistics Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. 2002. Retrieved 2013-03-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Population of province/district centers and towns/villages by districts - 2012". Address Based Population Registration System (ABPRS) Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Özoğlu, Hakan (May 1996). "State–Tribe Relations: Kurdish Tribalism in the 16th-and 17th-Century Ottoman Empire". British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Taylor & Francis. 23 (1): 5–27. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. [1]
  5. David McDowall, "Modern History of the Kurds," I.B. Tauris, 1996, pg 440
  6. TESEV. "An Assessment of the Van Action Plan for the Internally Displaced" Accessed at
  7. Van Central district (
  8. Edmund Herzig, Marina Kurkchiyan, The Armenians: Past And Present In The Making Of National Identity, p. 31
  9. The Journal of Roman Studies – Page 124 by Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
  11. Hewler, 39
  12. Template:Armenian Van-Vaspurakan 2000
  13. Values as printed on File:Proportions des populations en Asie Mineure statistique officielle d1914.png
  14. Muslims and Minorities, Justin McCarthy, New York University Press, 1983, pp. 110–111
  15. Hewsen, 35
  16. Anahide Ter Minassian. "The city of Van at the Turn of the Twentieth Century." Armenian Van/Vaspurakan. Richard G. Hovannisian Ed. Mazda Publishers, inc. 2000 Pg 179.
  17. Minassian, 180
  18. Minassian, 181
  19. Sarkis Y. Karayan. "Demography of Van Province, 1844–1914" in Armenian Van/Vaspurakan. Richard G. Hovannisian Ed. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, inc. 2000 Pg 196
  20. Akcam, Taner. A Shameful Act, p. 140. New York:Henry Holt Co. 2006. ISBN 0-8050-8665-X
  21. 21.0 21.1 Akçam, 201
  22. Morgenthau, Henry. Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, p. 205. Wayne State University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8143-2979-9
  23. Ussher, Clarence Douglass. An American Physician in Turkey. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917, p. 236.
  24. Ter Minassian, Anahide, "Van 1915" in Armenian Van/Vaspurakan, pp. 209–44.
  25. Akçam, p. 202.
  26. Akçam, p. 200
  27. 27.0 27.1 The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide – Page 42 by Yaïr Auron
  28. Akçam, p. 140
  29. Rubenstein, Richard L. (2010). Jihad and genocide (1st pbk. ed.). Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 51. ISBN 0742562026.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. L. Jacobs, Steven (Jun 30, 2009). Confronting Genocide: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. p. 130. ISBN 9780739135907.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Akçam, Taner. "A shameful Act." Translated by Paul Bessemer. Metropolitan Books, New York. 2006.
  32. Hewsen, Robert H. (2001). Armenia: A Historical Atlas. The University of Chicago Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-226-33228-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. "Report: Death toll rises to 217 after massive earthquake in Turkey". CNN. 2011-10-24. Retrieved 2011-10-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "Characteristics". Turkish Van Cat Club. Retrieved 15 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. "Kardeş Şehirler". Bursa Büyükşehir Belediyesi Basın Koordinasyon Merkez. Tüm Hakları Saklıdır. Retrieved 2013-07-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links