Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia and the capital of the Shirak Province in the northwestern part of the country. Being one of the most ancient settlements in Armenia with the history of 3000 years, Gyumri is a significant location to visit and admire. Its name has been changed several times.
It was originally founded as Kumayri, later re-founded as Alexandropol between 1837 and 1924 during the Russian rule, then Leninakan between 1924 and 1990, then as Gyumri. Each name brought a new era of history, a new civilization and new people to the town.
Kumayri : An old settlement on Xenophon’s way
The region of Gyumri is mentioned as Kumayri in the historic Urartian inscriptions dating back to the 8th century BC. The first settlement at the location of modern-day Gyumri is believed to have been founded during the 5th century BC, ca. 401 BC, by Greek colonists. An alternative theory suggests that the city was founded by the Cimmerians, based on the fact that Cimmerians conquered the region in 720 BC and that the original name of the city was Kumayri, which bears phonetic resemblance to the word used by ancient Armenian in reference to Cimmerians. Historians believe that Xenophon passed through Gyumri during his return to the Black Sea, a journey immortalized in his Anabasis. During the Middle Ages, Kumayri was known as a large and important settlement. The town was a centre of Armenian rebellion led by Artavazd Mamikonian against the Islamic Arab Caliphate, between 733 and 755. Being controlled by several Turkic tribes and Persian dynasties, the town had lost its significance during the following centuries, until the beginning of the 19th century.
Alexandrapol: The first steps of the Russians to Eastern Armenia
Gyumri and the surrounding territories became part of the Russian Empire after the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813). The Russians controlled over the town on 12 June 1804, around 25 years earlier than the rest of Eastern Armenia. During the period of the Russian rule, Gyumri became one of the developing cities in the Transcaucasus. In 1829, in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War, there was a big influx of Armenian population, as around 3,000 families who had migrated from territories in the Ottoman Empire -in particular from the towns of Kars, Erzurum, and Doğubeyazıt- settled in and around Gyumri. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin visited Gyumri during his journey to Erzurum in 1829.
Alexandrapol: Belle Epoque
In 1837 Russian Tsar Nicholas I arrived in Gyumri and changed the name into Alexandropol, in honour of Tsar Nicholas I’s wife Alexandra Fyodorovna. A major Russian fortress was built on the site in 1837. Alexandropol was finally formed as a town in 1840 to become the centre of the newly established Alexandropol Uyezd. Alexandropol became one of the major centres of the Russian troops during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. After the establishment of the railway station in Alexandropol in 1899, the town witnessed a significant growth, becoming the largest city in Eastern Armenia.
By the end of the 19th century, Alexandropol was home to 430 shopping stores as well as several workshops and cultural institutions. The city was famous with its churches and gusans, folk musicians and composers. Alexandropol was divided into several regions, or “Mailahs”, among them Geghtsonts or Peasants; Slabodka; Greek or Urumneri; Katolikneri, or Frank; Boshi or Traders and Turki Mailah. Rich and poor lived side by side, each building as substantial and elegant as funds allowed.
Alexandrapol: Making the “Orphan city”
The Armenian Genocide sent thousands of Armenian refugees, especially the elderly, the women and the children to Eastern Armenia, where the closest town to the Turkish border was Alexandrapol, a sustainable developed center and a key military location being protected by the Russian army. Besides the Russian protection, the town was a railroad hub which made the goods and products transfer easier and quicker. Accepting and hosting the thousands of fugitives from the Western Armenia, Alexandrapol has become a complex of three orphanages housing over 22,000 children.
The reports were being made by international workers from Europe and the US who were passing information back to their countries. The people working with the refugees decided to use the buildings of Kazachi, Seversky and Polygon military posts, that were empty for a long time. Almost 170 buildings were turned into orphanage dormitories. Each dormitory held anywhere from 250 to 1,000 children. They transformed the remaining buildings into bathhouses, bakeries, garages, hospitals, laundries, and schoolrooms. The Russian church at Kazachi Post was used for Armenian Apostolic services.
Leninakan: The Engineering Brain and Industrial Center of the Soviet Country
Armenia ultimately accepted Soviet rule in late 1920 in exchange for protection against Turkey. Being under the Soviet rule, the name of the city was changed in 1924 to Leninakan after the deceased Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. The city suffered an earthquake in 1926, when many of its significant buildings were destroyed including the Greek church of Saint George. Remaining faithful to the traditions of Alexandrapol, where in 1902, the first bank in the city was opened, and the city had 31 manufacturing centres including beer, soap, textile, etc., Leninakan became a major industrial centre in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and its second-largest city, after the capital Yerevan.
The first steps in improving city’s economy were taken from 1920-1930. In a city having rich railway traditions, electrical trains were introduced in 1953 and in 1965 the locomotive station was built. Within a short period of time Leninakan turned into a center of light industry with the textile factory was founded in 1924, the paint factory in 1942 and in 1975 the cotton fabric production union called “The May Rebalion”. Simultaneously, “Lenkosh” union was founded.
Due to the consistent politics in Leninakan, heavy and machinery industry started to develop in the city. The “Strommash”, Milling, Electrical machinery, “Armelectriccondenser”, Bicycle, “Armelectricaplaciance”, “Galvanometr”, Analytic devices and Refrigerator compressor factories were founded from 1950-1960. Sufficient amount of work was created in the sphere of transportation and communication. An airport was built in the city in 1931 and in 1960 trolley buses became part of the city’s public transportation system. The number of city industrial centers reached 54, employing 48000 workers according to records dated, January 1, 1988.
Leninakan: December 1988: Devastated and Half Dead
It was “only” a magnitude 6.8 quake, but the damage was devastating. The prosperous city of Leninakan fell down within 20 seconds. 17,000 victims, thousands of injured, hospitalized and left without homes. It took only several seconds of the natural disaster to destroy dozens of factories, hundreds of architectural, cultural and historical monuments, public buildings and industrial complexes. The recovery cost was estimated to be greater than the cleanup after Chernobyl.
This seemed to be the worst period for the Armenian nation to be suffering both from the natural disaster and its damages in the unsustainable and potentially explosive political times and relations with the Soviet Union and the dangerous situation over Nagorno Karabakh. Everything seemed to be messed up with the population’s poverty, no economy, and war. The only solution to survive was the decision to create a new independent Armenian Republic.
Gyumri: From Disaster to Recovery Zone
Renaming the city from Leninakan into Gyumri is connected with independence, when the city was experiencing the most complicated conditions, carrying the hardships of the devastating earthquake of 1988 and the Artsakh freedom fights. The city, from December 1992 existed in extremely difficult conditions losing over 60% of its housing. Because of the ban of gas and energy supply, the city was deprived of the social welfare. Because of the lack of fuel the operation of public transportation stopped. Positive changes started in the city during 1999-2002, when the government adopted the “Disaster Zone Reconstruction and Development Concept” followed by the “Disaster Zone Complex Project”.
During that period “Lincy”, Huntsman and “The Red Cross” started their projects. With John Huntsman’s initiation a micro district was formed on G. Nzhdeh Street. With “Lincy” and “The Red Cross” funds over two dozens of apartment buildings were rebuilt, main roads were paved, the theatre named after V. Achemyan was completely renovated, as was the Aslamazyan sisters’ house museum and other public centers. During the same period essential work was done in the sphere of school, health and sports building construction.
Already, in the middle of 2008, with the efforts of the running president S. Sargsyan, “Disaster Zone Housing” a vitally important project began and thanks to this, over 3000 families were provided with apartments. Today Gyumri has become a city with industrial and banking potential, with 12 bank branches, more than 20 large companies and over 500 business entities.
Gyumri: Reborning Center of Culture, Innovation and Technology
Gyumri has always been labeled as a city of culture and innovation. The town was known as a center of arts and crafts. Gyumri boasts hundreds of talented artists, poets and craftsmen that were born here. Gyumri was home to the first Armenian Opera performance, Anoush by Armen Tigranyan, that was premiered in Alexandrapol in 1912.
The earthquake of 1988 has devastated hundreds of art schools and cultural centers in Leninakan. During the “post disaster recovery period” Gyumri and Gyumretsis were struggling to restore the culture and innovation traditions in the reborning town. Eventually in 2013 Gyumri has regained its title of the cultural hub and has been recognized as CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Cultural Capital.
Besides the arts and crafts, the technology sector has also become an integral part. While being a part of Soviet Union the city was center of mechanical engineering and was the provider of high qualified specialists. Armenian Government along with the Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF) and the World Bank kickstarted the redevelopment of the city by building a technological center in 2014. The main goal of this project is to develop tech industry in the city and provide the necessary conditions and support for Gyumri technoligical startups.