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influential change

Armenian History


The continuous presence and influence of the Armenian people, within the same regions as the dogs originated, unbroken since before written history, makes the two histories inseparable and a general consistent presence.  All factors necessary and probable for the domestication and development of the dog are present in historical Armenia, and within the current Republic of Armenia.

The maps below show some of the historical influence and occupation of the Armenians, and therefore sharing of their domesticated dogs, for the last 2000 years, until the political upheavals and massacres of the last 100 years.  There was a consistent presence of the civilization which created the Gampr in a broad area for thousands of years.  The historical changes are relevant to the decisions regarding what is, and what is not a Gampr, and becomes relevant to how we handle the conservation efforts of our Armenian Gampr.

The kingdoms of the area fluctuated due to wars and treaties. Armenian dynasties came and went, along with brief domination by warring Romans and Parthians followed by Macedonians and Seljuk Turks.  The Armenian people's presence, as well as the Gampr, has overcome and persevered for thousands of years.



1,000,000+ years ago

The Armenian Highlands area was settled by humans during the Lower Paleolithic period, more than one million years ago, supported by the presence of Acheulean tools discovered during the archeological expedition of the Lori Province, in 2003-2007.   Headed by Stepan A. Aslanian, his team studied 26 sites where they discovered distinctive Acheulian surface artifacts, two stratified Acheulian sites, and the Grotto Pechka with re-deposited Mousterian and Mesolithic assemblages.  

However, it is assumed that this area was settled closer to 1.85m years ago, since in-depth excavations at nearby Dmasnisi, Georgia Republic sites, which are approximately only one hour away, have proven that the area was inhabited during the Early Pleistocene period.  


Further exploration of the Armenian sites have been very small scale and underfunded since the Soviet collapse, partly in due to lack of funding, but the hopes are that one day archeologists will be able to continue intensive excavations and studies.


Dashtadem-3 archeological site in present day Armenia, 25km NW of Stepanavan


Some of the 2,464 Acheulian artifacts dating back to more than 1m years ago.

Lower Paleolithic

400,000 years ago

Daniel Adler, associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, and colleagues based on a completed study in which the researchers examined thousands of stone artifacts recovered from Nor Geghi 1, an Armenian Southern Caucasus archaeological site that features preserved lava flows and artifact-bearing sediments dated to between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago.  The artifacts, dated at 325,000 – 335,000 years old, were a important findings such as bifacial tool hand axes. The recovered flakes are small and easy to carry, highly useful for hunter-gatherers. “The combination of these different technologies in one place suggests to us that, about 325,000 years ago, people at the site were innovative,” says Adler.   


The discovery of Nor Geghi 1 (NG1), July 2008, with Basalt 1 (top) and stratigraphic Units 1–5. N. Researchers Wales and P. Glauberman are pictured. Credit: Daniel S. Adle


Nor Geghi 1 (NG1). A) bifaces, B) Levallois cores. Credit: Daniel S. Adler

Middle Paleolithic

40,000 years ago

"Recent investigations of the Upper Paleolithic of Armenia revealed at least two new stratified sites: Aghitu-3 cave (also referred to as the Fortress of Aghitu) and Kalavan-1 open-air. These sites provide us with a well-preserved environmental and cultural stratigraphic record, respectively dated between 40,000 and 24,000 Cal BP (early to middle Upper Paleolithic) and 18,000–16,000 Cal BP (late Upper Paleolithic). For now, the timeframe between 24,000 and 18,000 Cal BP remains unknown. Furthermore, the as yet undocumented Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Armenia counts among the most important research questions. We are sure that these ongoing projects will help fill the existing gaps and place new Upper Paleolithic sites on the map of Armenia. These sites, together with the ones in Georgia and the northern Caucasus, are helping to paint an overall picture of the cultural development of the regional Upper Paleolithic populations."  Boris Gasparyan,  2014 Stone Age of Armenia


Aghitu-3 cave. 1: View of the Aghitu basalt massif looking west into the valley of the Vorotan River and showing the Zangezur mountain range in the background; 2: View looking west into the cave. Photo credit:

Boris Gasparyan & Andrew W. Kandel


gampr origins

Many ancient petroglyphs dating back beginning ca. 15,000 continuously to the 3rd millennia BCE  have been discovered across the Armenian Highlands on the Geghama mountain range and at Ughtasar where up to 20% of the carvings resemble the modern Gampr and other art depicting dogs that no longer exist.


Ughtasar is the site of an important archaeological find, a large petroglyph field on top of Mt. Ughtasar (“Camel Mountain”) about 17.5 km NW of Sissian.  The petroglyphs were carved onto black and grey volcanic stone using stone tools.  There over 2,000 carvings including humans, animals, circles, spirals, dots, lines, and other geometric and abstract shapes.

The carvings depict humans in scenes of hunting and fighting (both using animals), cultivating land, competing and dancing. Other depictions of animals are aurochs urus (wild ancestors of cattle), goats, sheep, gazelle, deer, horses, boars, wolves, jackals, leopards, bears, tigers and dogs.  Cattle breeding, sheep and goat herding is also depicted.  For more photos, see Ughtasar Rock Art Project.

Shepherds plowing the earth next to a Ga

Dated 14,000 years old, this is the oldest look to the origins of the modern Armenian Gampr.

Other rock carvings, as seen below, were discovered in the province of Kars (Armenia), 11km outside the ruined, ancient city of Ani.  


Later on its prime, between 961 and 1045, Ani became the Bagratid capital of Ancient Armenia and was a major commercial center on the Silk Road.  Nicknamed the 'City of 1001 Churches', Ancient Ani, Armenia is located in today's village of Alem,Turkey.

Ancient rock carvings of Armenian Gamps

Rock paintings near the ancient city of Ani, depicting Armenian dogs, horses, goats, deer and humans Photos: Ancient Pages

rock paintings near Ani, depicting Armen

Mardin Temple

11,300 years ago

In 2019, in historical Armenian lands (modern day eastern Turkey), Mardin Province, archaeologists unearthed an ancient temple believed to be 11,3000 years old.  Officially, the oldest temple in the world is Portasar (see below) but it is believed that this temple located in Mardin will outdate Portasar once excavations are complete and certified.

Prior to the Armenian Genocide, this area was mostly inhabited by Armenians, Kurds and Assyrians.  The oldest known civilization of the Mardin province is Subartu. Later in time, in 3000 BCE, it was the Hurrian kingdom then later Urartu


Unearthed portions of the 11,300 year old temple

Cradle of Civilization

11,000 years ago

Experts say that this is the cradle of civilization and the place of the Neolithic Revolution.  When the Armenic society began to first settle in cities like Portasar, the Indo-European language was born, causing civilization to then spread around the world.


Currently, the Portasar temple (Turkish: Göbekli-Töp), is the oldest (certified) megalithic structure in the world, which was erected by hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age around 11,000 years ago.  Portasar is located on the highest point of a mountain ridge 15 km to the north-east of the ancient city of Urha (later changed to Edessa), historical Western Armenia, now called Shanlıurfa, Turkey.  Some look to this area as an ancient holy city since it's where Mesrop Mashtots restored the ancient Armenian alphabet after a devastating fire.

The temple is located in Upper Mesopotamia, an area nested within the Fertile Crescent.  This general area was one of the first centers of the Armenian Northern Mesopotamia, which is the world's birthplace for many firsts such as innovative construction, farming, domestication of animals, irrigation and more. 


According to Andrew Curry of the Smithsonian Magazine, much of Portasar is yet to be discovered with only 5 percent of the 22-acre site currently since excavation started in 1994. There are at least sixteen additional megalithic structures that have yet to be dug up and it is expected to take another 50 years to complete.


11,000 year old Portasar Temple, Photo Credit: N. Becke


7,000 years ago

The remnants which remain tell us Metsamor was consistently inhabited from 7000 BCE until the late middle ages, pre-dating the founding of nearby Yerevan, one of the oldest capital cities in the world (founded 2800 years ago).  Metsamor may be the oldest smelting site in the world and artifacts at the site include indications of trade with Egypt, a younger civilization.


Archaeologists have documented 4000 years of consistent dog breeding, starting around 2000BCE. By archaeologists determination, these were dog-wolf hybrids, intentionally bred and religiously significant. The dogs were buried with their owners, decorated with amulets. One figure discovered had a leash and collar, as well.  Egyptian, Central Asian and Babylonian objects were also found at the site, indicating that from earliest of times Metsamor was on the crossroads of travel routes spanning the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the North Caucasus and Central Asia. By the early Iron Age Metsamor was one of the “royal” towns, an administrative-political and cultural center in the Ararat Valley.


Metsamor Smelting site. Figurine found at Metsamor, site of oldest use of a leash for a dog.


Map of the archaeological sites in Armenia where dog remains have been found. (source: Dogs Through Time: An Archaeological Perspective, Oxford : Archaeopress, 2000.)

Mokra Blur

7,000 years ago

Located in Armaviri Marz, Mokra Blur (Kyul Tepe) is a town in Armenia about 13 miles west of Yerevan and just one quarter of a mile East of Vacheh Village (previously Griboyedov).  Mokhra Blur is an open air excavation of a city, researched in the 1970's, that was once a thriving religious, administrative and metal industrial epicenter.  The excavation, led by Professor Alishian, uncovered 11 meters (36 feet) of earth before reaching the uppermost strata of the city’s development. -TACentral



6,000 years ago

Areni-1 cave in 2016, where the famous 5,500-year-old shoe and 6,100 year old winery were discovered by a team led by Professor Areshian and Prof. Boris Gasparian of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia.

The oldest leather shoe in the world, is made from a single piece of cowhide, cut into two layers, tanned and laced.  It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe. “It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman,” said lead author of the research “We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition,” said Dr Pinhasi. “It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realized that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Ötzi, the Iceman.” Three samples were taken in order to determine the absolute age of the shoe and all three tests produced the same results. Interestingly enough the shoe very much resembles a traditional Armenian shoe known as “charokh” a type of moccasin, still in popular use in Armenia. Read more from Journal Plos.


5,500 year old shoe, photo credit Journal.Plos


6,100 year old winery, photo JAOS

Also in the caves of southern Armenia, the team of international archaeologists unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes. Fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, withered grape vines, skins, and seeds were discovered. 


Ancient-wine expert Patrick E. McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, called the discovery “important and unique, because it indicates large-scale wine production, which would imply, I think, that the grape had already been domesticated.” The apparent discovery that winemaking using domesticated grapevines emerged in what’s now Armenia appears to dovetail with previous DNA studies of cultivated grape varieties, McGovern said. Armenian Highlands are considered the birthplace of viticulture. More information here from the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Sons of Haya

4,700 years ago

Although it is established that the proto-Armenians and subsequent tribes and people have been in the same area for thousands of years, the earliest possible record identifying the name 'Armenians', is from Armenic Sumerian records from around 2700 BCE, when Armenians are referred to as the sons of Haya, after the regional god of the Armenian Highlands.  Another early record from Akkadian inscriptions dated to 2300 BCE, which mentions Armani together with Ibla, as territories conquered by Naram-Sin.  Thutmose III of Egypt, also mentions the people of Ermenen in 1446 BCE.  Still today, Kurds and Turks refer to Armenians by the name Ermeni. The first major state in the region was the Kingdom of Ararat formed by the Armenian people of Nairi, near Lake Van, (present day Turkey) in the thirteenth century BCE. -Eric H. Cline and David O'Connor (eds.) Thutmose III, University of Michigan, 2006, ISBN 978-0472114672

Hayk Nahapet is the legendary founder of the (formally named) Armenian nation. He is said to have settled at the foot of Mount Ararat and defeated the Babylonian king Bel on August 11, 2492 BCE (Navasard) near the mountains of Lake Van, in the southwestern part of Historic Armenia (present-day eastern Turkey). 


Statue of Hayk the Great in Yerevan, Armenia

Bronze Age

3,000 years ago

Recently, the 3000-year old remains of of a domesticated dog were unearthed in the Armenian city of Van (modern day Turkey).  This dog was cared for as a pet, not used as just a utility animal. It was buried inside a residence. Van, from pre-history until 100 years ago,  was the home of Armenians – first as the people of Aratta, then Armani, Hayasa, Urartu, andlater as Armenians.  

Anthropological findings indicate that the current gampr type became what it is today, at least 3000 years ago (Richard Ney, n.d.), and as the breed was developed out of necessity and continues to be a necessary part of human survival in its native area, the Gampr has retained a surprising amount of its original characteristics.


3000 Year old Gampr unearthed in the city of Van

Kingdom of Urartu

2900 - 2600 years ago

In ancient Armenia, Urartu's capital was Tushpa, which was later renamed the City of Van. 

The early settlement was centered on the steep-sided bluff now known as Van Castle (Van Kalesi), close to the edge of Lake Van and a few kilometers west of the modern city.   Urartian cuneiform inscriptions have been discovered, dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. In trilingual  Behistun inscriptions, carved in the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country is referred to as Urartu in Babylonian, which was called Armenia in Old Persian.

The name Kingdom of Van (Urartian: Biai, Biainili) derived from the Urartian toponym Biainili, which was pronounced as Vanele (or Vanili), and called Van, leading to the names "Kingdom of Van".

At its height, the Urartu kingdom stretched north beyond the Aras and Lake Sevan, encompassing present-day Armenia and even the southern part of present-day Georgia almost to the shores of the Black Sea; west to the sources of the Euphrates; east to present-day TabrizLake Urmia, and beyond; and south to the sources of the Tigris.

The Kingdom of Van was destroyed in 590 BCE.


Map of  the Armenian Kingdom of Urartu from years 860-590 BCE, Suren Yeremian


The ruins of this fortress (Bayazit Kalesi) and tomb date back to the 9th century BCE Kingdom of Urartu just outside present-day Dogubayazit, Turkey.

Lake-Van-on-Map-of-Turkey (1).jpg

Present day map marking the location of Van Lake and the City of Van, Turkey


anno domini

Yerevan had already been a thriving city for 800 years, 2000 years ago. Just a short distance away, the people at Metsamor had been breeding Gamprs for the previous 2000 years, and trading with faraway cultures, including Egypt. Tigran the Great had recently amassed a huge empire.


Armenia was not yet a Christian nation. There was a pantheon of gods relating to natural forces and civilized ideals, such as beauty, art and literature. Among them was Aralez, a deity in the form of a winged dog who could heal fallen warriors with his tongue.


(Right) Aralez by Toros Roslin, 1210-1270

historic-map-tigran-empire (1).gif

90BCE, Realm of Tigran the Great

Arshakuni Dynasty & More


Also known as Arsacid, the Arshakuni Dynasty underwent rapid changes of control, ruling parties changing sometimes every two years.  According to tradition, the Armenian Apostolic Church was established by two of Christianity's twelve apostles, Thaddaeus and Bartholomew

who preached Christianity in Armenia between the 40-60s  C.E.  Between 1st and 4th centuries C.E., the Armenian Church was headed by patriarchs.  The Armenian Apostolic Church is a part of the Oriental Orthodox communion, not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox communion. It seems that the Christianization of Armenia by the Arsacids of Armenia was partly in defiance of the Sassanids, who had brought Zoroastrianism.


In 428C.E., the Sassanids abolished the Artacids; Armenia was swallowed up by the Persian Empire and became included in Persian Armenia, which had existed consistently since the time of Cyrus the Great. This era was followed by Muslim conquest.


Byzantium & Bagratids 


Byzantium & Bagratids 

After Byzantine Emperors Maurice and Heraclius took Armenia back from the Persians, various Byzantine rulers of Armenian descent controlled the portion that continued to be retained after a retaliation by the Caliphate.  After this time, Armenia flourished under the Bagratid dynasty, recognized by both Baghdad and Constantinople as an independent kingdom in 885/886. The City of Ani was established as the capital and became known as the City of 1001 Churches, with eventually 200,000 residents.


Cathedral at Talin, 7th century, north of Ani


Cathedral in Ani, 9th century

The Seljuks, Bagratids & Cilicia

middle ages

The Bagratid Empire of Armenia, a feudal system with little loyalty to a central ruler, fell to the Seljuks, after starting the Bagrationi Empire of Georgia. This also resulted in the creation of Cilician Armenia.


Escaping the Seljuks, Gagik II, the last king of Ani, and his countrymen moved to Cilicia where they took shelter with a Byzantine governor.  Ruben, a relative of the last king of Ani, in 1080, founded a small principality which gradually expanded into the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. This Christian state, which was in a 300 year turmoil with the surrounding Muslim states, gave  valuable support to the crusaders and traded with the major cities of Italy. The kingdom collapsed in until 1374 when the last king fled to Spain.  During its existence, Cilicia was strategically and culturally important to many countries in Europe.


The Safavids established a Khanate of Erivan, which existed from the mid 1600s until early 1800’s, when Iran lost vast Caucasus territories to Russia. From 1828-1991, Eastern Armenia was dominated by the Soviets.

Armenian life and issues in 1909, the massacres at Adana,

a precursor of what was to come 6 years later

Illustration Armenienne 1909, with Vahan Tumasyan 


1915 Genocide

& soviet 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, which lived on the Armenian Plateau, Lesser Caucasus Mountains and Transcaucasia, 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, which is now a large part of northeastern Turkey. Turkey has claimed descendants of the Armenian dogs as their own, and renamed them Kangal-Sivas and Akbash, further harming the population of the gampr.


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.

In early 1900s, the southern border of Armenia in 1915, can be viewed below 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.

The second map was made by the Allies in 1919, showing a much greater area.


One of the many orphanages, expressing thanks to the USA


After the 1915 genocide, map of the borders of the Republic of Armenia after the end of Soviet occupation

Soviet Effect on the Gampr Population

great loss

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 other non-gampr pedigree programs.


Typical Western type gampr


Efe, from the area near the ancient city of Ani (once part of Western Armenia) is Eastern type

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 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, Armenian and Tatar mixed.

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.


Photo taken in Leningrad, 1932

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. Thousands of the best long haired dogs were taken to the Soviet kennels.  In their kennels, these dogs became the focus of a breeding program that also included adding Rottweiler, 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.


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.

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).

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. The standardized  Caucasian Ovcharka, however, has a distinctive look of its own, has fewer variables; the landrace gampr has at best a descriptive standard.

Dividing The Gene Pool

economic recession

During the last 30 years, the political events and socio-economical pressures within Armenia have led to practices which have caused some changes to the breed, and in perceptions of what is gampr.


Normally abundant, the gampr experienced a sudden drop in population during the years of 1991-1993, when Armenia experienced a staggering loss of economic activity and a virtual cut off of electricity and gas by Turkey and Azerbaijan, during two of the worst winters on record.  The economic recession affected the surviving dogs dramatically. Many shepherds lost their herds, and the dogs with them. Just a small percentage of the gampr population survived, often the smaller dogs who required less food.

Until this recession, the gampr gene pool had been more unified. In any litter, most would be what was often called hovashoon, and maybe one gelkheght [gel(wolf) kheght (choke)].  A typical shepherd’s pack consisted of many hovashoon and one gelkeght.  Gelkheght is just the term used for a temperament and size difference, sort of a super-gampr, who was naturally dominant. The rest of the pack were the more active, often smaller, faster hovashoon. Hovashoon work well in a group, circle and patrol actively, rarely tiring, but don’t always engage with wolves. This is when the gelkeght would join in and kill the wolf. 

At the time of the recession while many dogs and sheep were dying, dog-fighting became very popular, and several people collected as many of the larger gamprs as possible – the gelkheght.

These naturally filled the role of a fighting dog, due to their inherent dominating nature.  This activity was both good and bad. Good because the part of the gene pool that consisted of the larger, more robust and predator-aggressive dogs was preserved. Bad, because the gene pool became divided, and selection for breeding changed slightly from its original purpose. The people who were fighting dogs also kept sheep, so, the native gelkeght generally retained their ability to be livestock guardians.


(Left) Hava, Typical hovashoon and Swinx (right) gelkhegt

soviet effect
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