Salmast, (spelled Salmas in Persian) is located in present day Iran. It was originally part of Ancient Armenia but fell under Persian empire within the last two centuries.
There are many controversies over the origin behind the name of Salmas. Throughout history, some people have called it either Zarvand or Zaravand.
Documents and maps from the 7th century Armenian geographer and mathematician Anania Shirakatsi, indicate that there is no record of any city or province by the name of Zarvand on any maps of Ancient Armenia; there is however a mention of a province and a city by the name of Zaravand which on the ancient map extends 500 kms east of modern day Zeyravanda region of Iran. [Souren Tikran Yeremyan, Armenia in Wold Georgroaphy, HSSR GA – Published in Yerevan, 1963, page 50]
More recent historical research and documents, such as Soviet Armenia Encyclopedia confirm that both Zaravand province and the city of Zaravand indeed “occupied north eastern part of present day Zeyravanda stretching from Lake Rezayieh/Urmia to the Red Lake on the eastern side, and it formed Parskahayks 8th province in the ancient times. The before-mentioned encyclopedia goes further by stating that it was Kind Sargon of Assyria (722-705 B.C.) who named the region Zaravand. [Editorial – Volume 3, Yerevan, 1977, Page 662]
Thus, these historical documents prove that Salmas was never part of Zaravand region, nor part of the ancient city of Zaravand. Quite the contrary, Zaravand was a separate province in north eastern part of Ancient Armenia covering the land around present day lake Urumia to northern part to present day Khoy, in Iran.
According to the Shirakatsi’s documents (page 52) as well as the Soviet Armenia Encyclopedia, (page 667-668) the Historical name of Salmas Province is Zarehavan.
The documents indicate that Zarehavan was [Parskayak]’s 7th province that covered about 1100 km of Southwest of Lake Urumia/Rezayieh, and was appointed at one point to be the consulship for the city of [nor shirakan].
Both Shirakatsi’s records, and Soviet Armenian Encylopedia (v.2, pages 667-668) state that the ancient Zarehaman region covers the same area that is present day Salmas. The Encyclopedia also explains the region was under the Armenian authority even during the times of [Ardeshirs] and [Arshakumians] … Armenians continued to live in the area up until the outbreak of Russo-Persian war in 1826. During the two year battle between the Persians and Russian, Armenian fled the region and settled in Eastern Armenia.
The province of Salmas had both a city and a village by the name of Zarehavan. The City is now called Kohenshahr, which in Persian means “Old City.” The village of Zarehavan is now called Zarafkhaneh (Sharafkhaneh ?-O.H.).
The province bore the name of Salmas until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The ancient name of the capital city was Dilman, but under the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty, it was changed to Shahpour, but again was changed back to Salmas after the revolution.
Salmas without a doubt is a region with rich history in Architecture, music, and literature. Many ancient and historic ruins of schools, theaters and churches can be found in Salmas. Cemeteries and tombstones, and a few churches and Cathedrals that date back to 8th century are still standing strong within the region. One very famous cathedral/church is called Vank of Tade and has been a center for Eastern Christian Pilgrims for many centuries. Another pilgrim center is the ruins of Raffi’s house – the renowned Armenian writer (1835 - 1888) who was born in the Prishat village of Salmas. Other writers such as Yeghishe Charentz have merged from Salams and rose to fame within Armenians as well as international communities around the world.
Salmas is also famous for being part of Lake Urumia/Rezayieh. Although the lake has almost drought out in recent years, small springs still float into it.
The bodies of many Fedayis or members of Armenian Militia are laid to rest outside of Christian cemetery in the Mahlam village of Salmas Province. These soldiers fought against the tribal Kurdish/Turkish/Azeri forces that were out to massacre Armenians and pillage their villages. According to some Salmas native Armenians, such as late Hayrik Sarvarian, and the late Armenian professor Hakop Boghosian, Voskan, the Fedayis courageously fought against the enemy. Even though their number was very small compared to the enemy forces, they gradually advanced their forces from Mahlam to the neighboring villages. Once they reached the fields of Zevanjouk, another village near by, they were besieged by the enemy. To avoid captivity and torture, many of these Fedayis shot themselves in the head. During the battle, the enemy forces beheaded the corpse of the Armenian soldiers and left them in the fields. Their remains were eventually brought back to Mahlam but since their death was considered to be a suicide – an aspect against Christian beliefs, the soldiers never received proper Christian burial, and were buried outside of designated Christian cemeteries as an act of condemnation. Regardless, they were, and continue to be recognized for their heroic deeds
In conclusion, there have been little studies on Salmas and its rich history. In recent years, architects Varoujan Arakalian, and Armen Haghnazarian (19.. -20..?) have done some studies on the architectures of Churches and Cathedrals of Salmas, but no other specific work has been done on Salmas. Nevertheless, one can only hope that Armenian and any other architects can start conducting researches and studies on the Salmas from every aspect so that its history will not be forgotten.
Translated from Armenian by Roubina Dermardirosian