The Amaras Monastery hosted the first school
where Armenian alphabet was used for teaching
by its creator, St. Mesrob Mashtots (362 – 440 AD)
- Monuments: Ancient Periods
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The earliest monuments in Artsakh relate to the pre-Christian era when polytheism was the most widespread form of religion. The most representative art form from that time period in Artsakh are large anthropomorphic stone idols that are found in the eastern lowlands of the northern counties of Jraberd and Khachen. They date from the early Bronze Age.  A curious detail is that the idols are often portrayed as having braids and daggers hidden behind their backs.
In the northeastern outskirts of the Republic of Artsakh, and further to the east, so-called sahmanakars (meaning border stones in Armenia) are found. They originally appeared during the reign of the Artashessian (Artaxiad) royal dynasty in Armenia (189 BC-53 AD) who used the stones, with inscriptions, to demarcate the kingdom’s frontiers for travelers. According to the Greek historian Strabo, the Artaxiads were the founders of the Kingdom of Greater Armenia and the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia. Both kingdoms were proclaimed in 189 BC by two Artaxiad kings – Artashes I (Artaxias I, in Greek sources) and Zareh (Zariadres, in Greek sources). Both kings were representatives of earlier Armenian Yervanduni dynasty (Orontids, in Greek sources).
In Artsakh, the tradition of marking borders with sahmanakars endured throughout the Middle Ages. The largest of such medieval markers stands near the town of Mataghes in the northern Mardakert District. An inscription on one such stone declares: Here [the province of] Syunik ends.  The inscription is the earliest illustration of the alternative name for Artsakh as Lesser Syunik. Syunik is the province of Armenia that borders on Artsakh from the west. Artsakh’s ruling Arranshahik dynasty was described in historical records as a cadet branch of Syunik’s princely dynasty of Syuni that ruled the province from the earliest times up to the 18th Century.
The most spectacular pre-Christian historical monument in Artsakh is, undoubtedly, the Hellenistic city of Tigranakert.  It was established by King Tigran II the Great, Armenia’s most well-known monarch. Tigran’s life and deeds are described in multiple Greek and Roman texts. Tigran II founded several cities named Tigranakert in his own honor in different parts of his large, if short-lived, empire. One Tigranakert, set up in the southwestern portion of his kingdom – known as Tigranocerta in Roman sources – became the capital city of Armenia in the 1st Century BC. Its ruins are located near the present-day city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey. The easternmost Tigranakert was established in Artsakh and the northernmost Tigranakert – in the neighboring province of Utik; it is located near the town of Shamkir in the Republic of Azerbaijan. An international group of archeologists has been coordinating the excavations of the Tigranakert of Artsakh.
The archeological examinations show that the Tigranakert of Artsakh was a well-developed Hellenistic metropolis, which after the conversion of Armenia to Christianity in the year 301 AD became a vibrant regional center of Christian life. Although Artsakh’s Tigranakert did not survive into the Late Middle Ages, the area where the settlement once stood retained its name, appearing in written records and remaining in public memory as Tikrakert.
There are two early principal medieval historical records on Tigranakert of Artsakh. One comes from the Armenian historian Bishop Sebeos whose History is chiefly dedicated to the Arab-Byzantium war of 654 AD.  The other account comes from the 7th Century historian of eastern Armenian provinces Movses Kaghankatvatsi. In his History of the Land of Aghvank he describes a clergyman from Tikrakert. 
In the early Middle Ages, Artsakh and neighboring provinces of Utik and Paytakaran, known together as The Eastern Prefectures of Armenia, became a target of missionary activities of prominent religious leaders from Armenian mainland. The most distinguished of them were St. Gregory the Illuminator (d. 337 AD), who baptized Armenia into the first Christian state in 301 AD, and St. Mesrob Mashtots (361-440 AD), the scholar who created the unique Armenian alphabet.
A number of Christian monuments that are identified with that vital period of Armenian history belong to the world’s oldest places of Christian worship. Among them is the Amaras Monastery, which, according to ancient authors, such as the forefather of Armenian history Movses Khorenatsi (c. 410-490), was founded in the 4th century AD by St. Gregory himself. 
The oldest part of the monastery is the martyrium of St. Grigoris completed in 489 AD. The martyrium is dedicated to St. Gregory’s grandson, Bishop of Aghvank, who was killed by the pagans, around 338 AD, when teaching the Gospel in the land of the Mazkuts (present-day Republic of Dagestan, in Russia).  The mausoleum of St. Grigoris is a vaulted burial chamber equipped with two lateral vestibules that serves as the crypt for a church dating from a later period. Amaras is an active monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the Martuni District of the Republic of Artsakh.
While traveling in Artsakh and the neighboring provinces of Syunik and Utik, in circa 410 AD, St. Mesrob Mashtots established a school at Amaras where the Armenian script, invented by him in 405 AD, was first introduced for teaching purposes. 
For 35 years until his death in 440, Mashtots recruited teams of monks to translate the religious, scientific and literary masterpieces of the ancient world into this new alphabet. Much of their work was conducted at the monastery at Amaras. 
The description of St. Mesrob Mashtots’ journey to Artsakh and the neighboring province of Utik is a focal point of several chapters of the History of the Land of Aghvank written in the 7th century by one of Artsakh’s most prominent natives—Armenian historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi. 
Related to the evangelizing missions of St. Grigoris, is the story behind the foundation of Artsakh’s most highly elevated mountaintop
Another temple whose history relates to the mission of St. Mesrob Mashtots is the Targmanchats Monastery near the town of Karhat (present-day Dashkesan in Azerbaijan, located to the north of the Republic of Artsakh). The words Surb Targmanchats (Armenian: Թարգմանչաց), which means Holy Translators, designate both St. Mesrob Mashtots and St. Sahak Partev – head of the Armenian Apostolic Church (387-436 AD) who sponsored Mashtots’ scholarly and evangelizing expeditions. Using Mashtots’ alphabet, St. Sahak translated the Bible from Syriac into Armenian in 411 AD (as testified by Mashtots’ pupil Koryun in his biographic work about his teacher). The main church of the monastery, reconstructed in 989, consists of one vaulted room (single nave) with an apse on the east flanked by two small axillary chambers. The Targmanchats Monastery was left outside of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region when its administrative borders were designed in 1923.
The basilica of St. Gevorg (St. George) at the Tzitzernavank Monastery in Kashatagh, is not only an important religious site, but is the best-preserved example of an Armenian basilica with three naves.  It is a large and well-preserved structure dating probably from the fifth or sixth centuries. It stands not far from the so-called Lachin Corridor, a territory that connects Armenia with the Republic of Artsakh. The word Tzitzernavank originates from the root “tzitzern” (Armenian: ծիծեռն) meaning “little finger” in Old Armenian. This points to a period in the history of the monastery when it was believed to contain relics of St. George the Dragon-Slayer. In the past, the monastery belonged to the Tatev Eparchy of Syunik, and is mentioned as a notable religious center by the 8th Century historian Stephanos Orbelian and Bishop Tovma Vanandetsi, in 1655. Beginning from 1992, the Tzitzernavank Monastery underwent renovation and became a venue of autumn festivals organized annually on St. George’s Day. Tzitzernavank is an active monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church. 
Early medieval churches with a cupola built on a radiating or cruciform floor plan were numerous in Armenia during the seventh century, and are well represented in Artsakh. One example is the chapel at Vankasar, where the cupola and its drum rest on the central square of a cruciform floor plan. The chapel is located on the eastern frontier of the Republic of Artsakh, and was reputedly founded by Artsakh’s monarch Vachagan II the Pious from the Arranshahik dynasty. Another example of such a design is the Okhta Trne church at Mokhrenes (Armenian: Օխտը Տռնէ, meaning Eight-Door Church), probably dating from the fifth to seventh centuries. Its walls, roughly cut and bonded, enclose a quatrefoil interior with four small diagonal niches. Less common is the free cross plan with a cupola, found in the Chapel of St. Savior (Armenian: Սբ. Փրկիչ) in the Mardakert District.
Artsakh’s designs at times differed from the course of the architectural evolution of mainland Armenia. Observations suggest that certain floor plans frequently employed in other regions of Armenia during the seventh century are not found in Artsakh. These include the chamber with a cupola supported by wall braces (e.g. the cathedral in Aruch, in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia); the cruciform plan with a cupola on four free-standing pillars (e.g. St. Gayaneh Church in the Holy City of Echmiadzin, Armenia), and the radiating type with four rooms in a rectangle (e.g. St. Hripsimeh Church in the Holy City of Echmiadzin, Armenia, which was completed in 618 AD). 
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