THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])
Fall of Hromkla [Hromgla]
(June 28, 1292)
Hromkla means “Roman Castle” (Qal’at al-Rum in Arabic, Rumkale in Turkish ). It was the Armenian name of a fortress built on the right bank of the Euphrates River, on the place of its confluence with the Parzman (Merzumen) Creek, 50 kilometers west of Urfa (Edesa).
A strategic border crossing during Byzantine domination of the area, Hromkla was surrounded by water on three sides and by inaccessible rocks on the remaining, with a four-layer wall.
Around 1080-1086 the fortress was occupied by the short-lived Armenian princedom of Philartos (Filaret) Varajnuni, and afterwards by the Armenian prince Kogh Vasil. After the death of the latter (1112), the dux Baldwin II of Edessa seized the fortress from his son, also called Vasil, and offered it to his relative, Joscelin I de Courtenay, who would succeed him as Count of Edessa (1119-1131).
The Seljuk invasions had forced to move the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church outside Armenia in the middle of the eleventh century. After various moves, Catholicos Grigor III Pahlavuni (1113-1166) settled in Hromkla in 1149 and two years later bought the fortress from Beatrice, wife of count Joscelin II de Courtenay, who had been imprisoned in 1150 after the fall of Edessa in 1144.
Catholicos Grigor III rebuilt the fortifications of Hromkla and founded two magnificent churches, St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Mary. The church of St. Savior was built at a later time. Hromkla became a cultural center during the tenure of Grigor III’s successor, the famous Catholicos St. Nerses IV Shnorhali (1166-1173). Many old manuscripts were collected and illustrated, and new ones were copied and written. Hromkla was famous for its school of miniatures. Two councils held there in 1178 and 1179, with the participation of almost all Armenian archbishops and bishops, studied and rejected the proposal to join the Greek Orthodox, and recognized the authority of the Catholicosate over all Armenians.
Hromkla was a domain of the Catholicos until the beginning of the thirteenth century, when King Levon I of Cilicia (1198-1219) turned the fortress into part of the court domains.
In May 1292 the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Melik-al-Ashraf, besieged the fortress. After a heroic resistance of 33 days by the population and the Armenian troops, the superior number of the attackers and the impossibility to obtain outside help forced the defenders to surrender on June 28. The guardians were killed, the fortress was ransacked, and most of the population, including Catholicos Stepanos IV, was taken prisoner. The fall of Hromkla was considered by contemporary historians as a catastrophe. The seat of the Catholicosate was moved to Sis, in Cilicia proper where it would remain until 1920.
The church of St. Mary was turned into a mosque after the sixteenth century, during Ottoman dominion, and the other churches were ruined (the remains of the Catholicoi Grigor III and Nerses IV were buried at the church of St. Gregory the Illuminator). The bombing by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, in 1839, destroyed Hromkla for good. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church was a sanctuary for Armenians and Yezdies.