Gampr History: During Soviet and Turkish Occupation

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The Armenian Gampr, and Armenian Lands Under Continued Occupation

Due to the long and varied history of the Armenians, the gampr dogs have a variety of phenotypes and inherent uses.

The various populations of dogs, who were working guardians of sheep and homes and which lived on the Armenian Plateau, Lesser Caucasus Mountains and Transcaucasus, shared a gene pool that over the centuries narrowed down into the prevalent characteristics which were functional and predominant in their regions.

Genetic heterozygosis, such as is inherently part of the landrace gampr, is a useful characteristic in a country that has been beset by wars since pre-history, famine, earthquakes, multiple occupations, and the first genocide of the twentieth century, when three-quarters of the Armenian race were annihilated by the Ottoman Empire (Morgenthau, Henry. US AMbassador to Armenia, February, 1920)

This genocide, occurring from 1915 though 1923, devastated the Armenian culture and weakened the ancestral link to the gampr dog. The historical borders of Armenia had previously included Western Armenia, now a large part of northeastern Turkey. Turkey has claimed descendants of the Armenian dogs as their own Kangal-Sivas and Akbash.

At nearly the same time as the genocide, the remainder of Armenia became a part of the Soviet Union. The USSR already had thousands of gamprs, assimilated before 1915. These dogs served as personal guardian dogs, and rode on wagons as security. After the formation of the USSR, and the founding of the Red Star Kennel, these dogs became part of the foundation of the standardized Caucasian Ovcharka, which then included dogs of the north Caucasus, St. Bernard, German Shepherd and other strategic breedings to further the goals of the kennel.

During the 1940s-70s, people living in Azerbaijan grazed their sheep flocks in the areas of what is now eastern Armenia, and purchased many pups from Armenian shepherds. Each year, more were taken back to Azerbaijan.

In the north, Stalin enlarged Georgia. He included areas of primarily Armenian residents, such as Javakh. The history of Georgia was re-written to portray the Bagrationi dynasty as a family that had no Armenian roots. There was no longer any access to the Black Sea coast, and Armenia itself became a much smaller country.

The gamprs in Armenia continued to be dispersed to various locations, including many who were taken to a Sokhos in Turkmenistan to be bred to the aboriginal alabai.

The Genocide of 1915

    The first map below, created by the USA during the genocides of the early 1900s, shows the southern border of Armenia in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire pushed the Armenians further north, and at the same time became the new owners of the dogs native to the region which they renamed the "Anatolian Plateau." Lake Van is seen here inside the Armenian border, the name of which corresponds to the Van Cat, now renamed the 'Turkish Van,' which is a unique breed of Armenian domestic cat from that region.




After the 1915 genocide, Soviet occupation and the various treaties

Photos below: One of the many orphanages, expressing thanks to the USA; map of the borders of the Republic of Armenia after the end of Soviet occupation

From Gevork Nazaryan:

Clarence D. Ussher (1870 – 1955), an American physician working in the Van region who witnessed the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Ussher reported that 55,000 Armenians had been killed throughout the villages of the Van province alone. In 1917 Dr. Ussher published his memoirs, which are one of the most detailed eyewitness accounts of the Armenian Genocide. His wife, Elizabeth Barrows Ussher, died in 1915 during the genocide while tending to the Armenian survivors.

In his memoirs, Dr. Ussher reflected on responsibility for the genocide:

"It is the Turkish Government, not the Turkish people, that has done all this. The Government has tried to deceive its Mohammedan subjects and arouse their hatred against the Christians. Jevdet Bey reported the Van Armenians as in rebellion. The fifty-five thousand slaughtered Armenians in that province were reported as fifty-five thousand Muslims massacred by Christians. He described in revolting detail actual atrocities – women and children, ranging from six years to eighty, outraged and mutilated to death – but made one diabolical change in his description: he said these women were Moslems thus treated by Christians.

Yet few of the Turks were deceived. They distrusted their government. Eighty out of a hundred of them were opposed to the massacres and deportations, and in some places presented petitions of protest, stating that the Armenians were useful and loyal citizens and that it would be an injury to the country to send them away. Some valis resigned their positions rather than carry out the orders of Enver and Talaat, who were inexorable."

Dr. Ussher dedicated his memoirs "...to the memory of my beloved wife and the other martyrs, American and Armenian..."

Dr. Ussher later served with the Near East Relief working to save the sick and malnourished Armenian orphans of the genocide at various NER orphanages throughout Armenia.


Dr. Ussher in NER uniform.

The main phenotype of gampr in Western Armenia encompasses what is seen, modified by modern breeding, in the kangal and Anatolian. The two dogs below were bred in different regions of the Republic of Armenia, but roughly fit the phenotype of Western Armenia.








But this was not the only phenotype - many variations can be seen among the remainder of the landrace dogs that have not been incorporated into any pedigree programs.

Efe, at left, is a male collected from the area of Kars, near the ancient city of Ani which is part of Western Armenia that was incorporated into Turkey.

Assimilation into the USSR

After these upheavals in the south, what was left of the Armenian homeland in the north became part of the USSR. Armenian provinces of Kars, Ardahan, and Iğdır(Turkish for Ararat mountain area) not to mention those which were included in the Treaty of Sevres were given to Turkey by the Russians in exchange for some areas on the black sea coast that are recognized as Georgia today. This was done also to get on good terms with Kemal Pasha, the new leader of Turkey who had managed to organize forces for relentless pressure on civilians and soldiers even after losing the great war. Europe and the UN had pulled out of the struggles in Turkey.

Russia became Sovietized, and when Stalin took over after Lenin's death, he began to pressure the Armenians. He annexed Javakhk into Georgia (which had been a contested area, although most of the population was Armenian). He added land to Georgia by trading Armenian lands, then took Javakhk, a historically Armenian area which is continues to have a strong population of Armenians. Nakhijevan(the name, an Armenian word, means 'place of origin') and Artsakh were given to a newly invented state, Azerbaijan, to appease the Turks again, and to later ask them for allegiance. That didn't turn out too well for Stalin, since Turkey joined NATO. Azerbaijan was invented to put pressure on Iran, which has an ancient province called Aderbaijan. The people of that province are almost all by ancestry Persians but were assimilated by the Turks during the early invasions. The Azeri are mostly by ancestry North Caucasian tribes(too many to mention), Armenian and Tatar mixed.

Photo below of dog exported from Armenia in 1980s

This may seem a divergence from an explanation of breeding, but the development of the Armenian Gampr for thousands of years has had some recent re-defining of "Armenian" origin, therefore it is necessary to illuminate the latest boundary changes, and how to sort out what is actually Armenian or not. Stalin referred to dogs from the previously Armenian lands as "Caucasian," and when the boundaries of Armenia emerged from the USSR, it was a much smaller country, with the newly defined Georgia and invented Azerbaijan occupying the northern territories and Turkey occupying the south. But in the minds of Armenians, many of the dogs from these regions were still gamprs.

During Soviet rule, most of the best remaining northern dogs were taken (Ney, n.d.), and became a portion of the founding of the Red Star breeding program, which has resulted in the widely recognized Caucasian Ovcharka. The Soviets originally intended to breed a police dog, and began crossing them to other breeds in an effort to make the independent-minded native livestock guardian more biddable, and more likely to attack on command. The “modern incarnation of the Russian show type also has some St.Bernard, Sarplaninac, Leonberger and Moscow Watchdog blood running through its veins, courtesy of ambitious Soviet breeders…”(Wolf, 2007).

Unlike this new Caucasian Ovcharka, the gampr and other native guardians, such as the koochee of Afghanistan, are unlikely to actually physically attack without a direct unmistakable threat to their family, human or four-legged. Their method is to push, to frighten an intruder by charging and barking, then retreating only to rush in again until the intruder goes away. They actually bite only when absolutely necessary.

Photo below taken in Leningrad, 1932

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the trend has been to breed the modern Caucasian Ovcharka larger and more defensive, which has created serious genetic complications for the breed. Even though there are some definite differences between the native dogs and the modern Ovcharka, the Ovcharka has the recognition of the Federacion Cynologue Internacional, an international dog breed club, and therefore the native breeds are not valued as a national treasure, but are often bred with Ovcharka or fighting dogs from Dagestan, south Russia or Central Asia. This poses a threat to the genetic purity and soundness of the gampr, with the potential to disrupt the fine-tuning of thousands of years of natural development (Qadirie, Rasaq, n.d., and Trut, 1999).

Thousands of the best longer-haired gamprs were taken to the Soviet kennels.

Of the many changes of the ruling government, the one affecting the physical soundness of the dogs the most was the Soviet dog breeding program. For the creation of several "new" breeds, the Soviets searched among their vast territories for the most exemplary dogs of a variety of characteristics. Thousands of dogs were taken from Armenia and the greater Caucasus. In their kennels, these dogs became the focus of a breeding program that also included rottweiller, German Shepherd, St Bernard and several others which the Soviets used to enhance certain desired characteristics. In order to enhance a characteristic in a bloodline, it is generally deemed necessary to line-breed, a custom that while enhancing a desired characteristic also brings forth the related polygenic traits that may not be as desirable.

A very important distinction of the gampr and the shepherd dogs of central Asian descent is that they are a landrace breed with highly variable, and easily mutable, characteristics.

The resident (aboriginal Armenian) bloodlines have not been refined to the point of being so predictable that one can be assured of what results will happen with any particular breeding. Along with nearly every color possibility, there are endless variations of every kind that can be brought to bear within a few generations. The gampr is a genetically complex breed, and with all of the positive aspects of the breed, a forced manipulation for singling out any one aspect brings a host of others, linked polygenically, which then are compounded within that bloodline.

Upon the dissolution of the USSR, many dogs of many varieties were left behind, and the countries which were re-establishing themselves became their new owners. The Soviets were responsible for the intensifying of the coat of "Caucasian Shepherd(Ovcharka)," into what is now a very long voluminous and dramatic version of the original dog of the Caucasus Mountains and Transcaucasus. As Stalin himself was Georgian, it was popular to claim that his favorites, the largest and furriest specimens, were Georgian. Perhaps 60% of the current CO is of gampr origins.

The native dog of Armenia (at left below) bred to the native type from North Caucasus (white dog below) with some St Bernard, Rottweiller, German Shepherd etc were combined:#
The combination and selection over many generations in a intensely managed gene pool (standardized) created the modern Caucasian Ovcharka:


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However, they are no longer gampr, no longer of the highly variable gene pool that can exhibit such a variety of characteristics that littermates often look completely different. The CO has a distinctive look of its own, has fewer variables. It has become a standardized breed - bred to a prescriptive standard; the landrace gampr has at best a descriptive standard.

The current socio-economic situation in the countries which had been members of the USSR is such that dog-fighting has become a lucrative industry. A dog who wins a fight also wins financial rewards for his owner, and the trend of the last 20 years has intensified the pressure on the gene pool to produce, at the expense of other genetic qualities, dogs who can win in the fighting ring. This is a grossly over-exaggerated form of the natural desire of these dogs to protect their territory and family, and it is becoming detrimental to the structural and mental stability of the breed.