The renowned ancient Armenian monastery complex Tzarakar has been discovered near the village of Chukurayva, 5 kms south-east of the fortified town of Kechror, modern-day Turkey (the old Gabeghiank district, Ayrarat province of Greater Armenia), peopleofar.wordpress.com says.
What remains of it are the interior cut-in-rock structures, the exterior buildings are irretrievably lost.
The monastery consists of a church which has several entrances connected with each other, at least six chapels and other adjoining buildings. It is remarkable for its very interesting structure and extended lapidary inscriptions. Despite it, however, until recently neither specialists nor topographers ever paid any attention to it.
It was only in 1999 that the monument was first visited by a specialist, namely Scottish researcher Stephen Sim, who took photographs of it and made its schematic plan. Later it was visited by seismologist Shiro Sasano, who published a small-scale research work on it together with several photographs he had taken there in 2009.
In this way, these two foreign researchers discovered the cut-in-rock monastery and made it known to the scientific world. They, however, failed to find out its name and called it after the adjacent village presently inhabited by Kurds.
Understanding the importance of conducting comprehensive studies in the monastic complex, in 2010 the members of Research on Armenian Architecture conducted scientific expeditions and revealed a lot of information relating to it. The available sources attest that this newly-discovered monument complex is the monastery of Tzarakar, which is mentioned in medieval records, and the location of which remained unknown until very recently.
As is known, Tzarakar was one of the renowned monastic complexes in medieval Armenia, but in the course of centuries, it lost its glory and significance and was consigned to oblivion to such an extent that in our days even its location remained obscure.
Late 19th century, Gh. Alishan used the available sources to point to the area where the monastery could have possibly been situated: “…Tzarakar, which is mentioned in some works by historiographers and geographers, is known to have stood in a naturally impregnable site in the vicinity of Kechror: first of all, a cut-in-rock monastery was erected…”
S. Eprikian came to the same conclusion: “Supposedly, a monastery of this name and a village used to be situated near Kechror, Gabeghenk District, Ayrarat [Province].”
The colophon of an Ashkharatsuyts (a geographical work), dating back to 1656, also confirms: “…the district of Gabeghenits and the castle of Kaput also called Artagereits—the town of Kechror is situated there together with the cut-in-rock monastery of Tzarakar, where Archimandrite Khachatur Kecharetsi’s grave is found…”
This passage reveals two facts of the utmost importance: firstly, Tzarakar Monastery was cut in the rock, and secondly, most presumably, it was situated not far from the town of Kechror. That Khachatur Kecharetsi, a worker of education and a poet who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries, was buried somewhere near Kechror, is also attested by the following note on a map of 1691 compiled by Yeremia Chelebi Kyomurjian: “Town of Kechror, bordering on Basen, and Archimandrite Khachatur’s grave.” These two records clarify that the monastery of Tzarakar was truly located near the fortress town of Kechror.
Besides written records, the etymology of the toponym of Tzarakar was also of importance to its identification. Every visitor may easily see that the structures of the monastic complex are cut into quite friable masses of rock which are naturally striped and have certain coloring, looking like the parallel circular lines showing the age of a cut tree—evidently, the name of Tzarakar, the Armenian equivalent for Tree Stone, is conditioned by this resemblance meaning a monastery cut into a tree-like stone.
The only surviving parts of Tzarakar Monastery are those of its structures which are cut in the rock, and therefore, are difficult to destroy, whereas the others have been irretrievably lost. For this reason, at present the complex is considered as only a cut-in-rock one consisting of 6 chapels and a main cruciform church with a pseudo-dome surrounded with annexes.