WHAT IS A GAMPR?
The Armenian Gampr is a very rare and ancient, native aboriginal landrace livestock & family guardian dog dating back to at least 12,000BCE, consistently utilized by the Armenian people on historical Armenian lands stretching from the southern Caucasus mountains (Current Armenia, southern Georgia, and the new country of Azerbaijan) and the Armenian Highlands, which is now Anatolia, Turkey.
With an impressive blend of gentleness and discerning caution, courage and immense, formidable power, the gampr is known for its independent thinking and calm, keen intellect. Primarily used as livestock guarding dogs, today's gampr benefits from the advantage of having over 14,000 years of hardwired natural instinct built right into them, making them a natural choice for livestock protection. Historically, only dogs who were intelligent and hardy could survive to be reliable breeders, therefore natural selection has done a superb job in designing one of the most durable, healthful, and enduring dogs in the world.
The gampr intensely bonds with its family and those it is charged with guarding, being especially renowned for their natural love and connection to children. They will protect their family and livestock with their life, but only after assessing the situation and deciding on an appropriate, rational reaction. Gamprs are very athletic and powerful, yet graceful, and should exhibit self control in stressful situations.
As a landrace breed, they are not similar in appearance but similar in function and ability. In addition to that, gamprs of the past commonly fell into a few descriptive categories: hovvashoon (shepherd's livestock dog), gelkheght (wolf choker), archashoon (bear hunter), potorkashoon (search and rescue avalanche dogs) and palace guardians. Over the years however, many dogs were lost and the gampr population drastically declined, with some types being thought gone for good. Today many gamprs are a nice blend of the individual types and the terms rarely used.
Oso, of Shadow Hills, CA, more gelkheght type
Typical hovashoon, shepherd's dog
Historical Armenia covered a huge land mass and contained regional varieties of landrace gamprs. Over the millennia, these regional types have been intermittently crossed with each other, due to semi nomadic nature of some shepherds and boundary changes, which moved gampr genetics from the north Caucasus to the Taurus mountains. Due to these vast regional varieties from this large area, the genetics of the gampr are very diverse, which is an indication of a healthy gene pool and excellent adaptability.
Today's modern maps may show certain areas as now belonging to other countries, but the archeology and history of those areas were historically Armenian, as were the dogs native to those areas. Some modern dogs, such as some of the Kangals, Kars and Akbash of Turkey, the Nagazi of southern Georgia and the Gurdbasar of Azerbaijan are descendants of the aboriginal landrace gampr.
Armenian gampr, Tsiran, of Lily Pond Acres, MS.
Landrace, by definition, is a localized breed developed for a purpose and chosen for function, as opposed to a standard appearance. Over time and successive breedings, landraces tend to maintain a higher degree of genetic health, and generally consistent and predictable function.
To understand what is a gampr, it is very important to understand and recognize what is not. The landrace gampr is not an Alabai, Caucasian Ovcharka, Kangal, Anatolian, Kars, Karakatchan, Central Asian Shepherd, Sage Kuchi, Sharplaninatz, Akbash or a cross of any of these modern day dogs. A dog is no longer true landrace gampr if it has any additional breeds in it’s genetic history.
The most common case of mistaken identity today are Central Asian and while perhaps 60% of the genetics of the modern Central Asian is of gampr origin, they are no longer a gampr, but a separate standardized breed. The Central Asian Ovcharka (CAO) was standardized by the Soviet breeding program, and particular regional types blended. It is also not aboriginal; it is more modern in origin.
Another Soviet create specimen, the ‘modern aboriginal’ which is now being registered with FCI as Caucasian Ovcharka, although short haired. These dogs are primarily descended from the Dagestani, Ossetian, and South Russian dogs, north of the Transcaucasia.. They are attractive, and look like a stylish version of the native gampr but they are heavier and have not stood the test of thousands of years of selection, and their breeding is based on a different source of genetics.
Now with modern breeding and traveling methods, the Dagestani-type ‘modern aboriginal’ is becoming more prevalent, especially in Georgia. A small percentage of the landrace gampr genetics do come from Dagestan-type dogs; it is the nature of a landrace to have porous borders. But the percentage is low and it's only in regard to the historical exchange of dogs in primitive travels. When origin is analyzed, and type compared, the ‘modern aboriginal’ is a different subgroup of the dogs, and while some may look similar, they are not gampr.
However, some dogs today may still be gampr even though they reside outside of Armenia's current border. There are populations of aboriginal dogs, living today in isolated areas which were once historical Armenian lands, some of which are still gampr, yet called by names given to them by their new countries. In some cases, those isolated dogs have only bred with other local dogs without the genetic influence of other breeds. Therefore, dogs such as some of the Kangals, Anatolians, Kars and Akbash dogs of Eastern Turkey (western Armenia), or some of the Nagazi dogs, in southern Georgia and the Gurdbasar dogs of Azerbaijan, may, with proper investigation, be accepted as natural landrace gampr, regardless of what they are now called.
The ‘modern aboriginal’ is heavily, incorrectly promoted as a native aboriginal dog of the Caucasus. It has a different coat, and is selected more for bite work than livestock guarding ability.
Below are some of the aforementioned breeds, which were derived from the different regional varieties of the landrace Gampr, and in some cases still look very similar to the gampr (breed description), while others marking only a faint resemblance.
From Sivas, Turkey, what was once called Sepastia, Hittite capital of historical Armenia
Developed in the 1920's from Armenian gamprs, German Shepherds, St. Bernards and more.
Heavily disputed as a breed, they derived from a pocket of regionally similar Gamprs in historical Armenia
Dogs from the Kars Province of Turkey. Once the province of Ararat and Bagratid Armenia capital.
From the origins of Alabai and others, created with selective USSR breedings and standardized
Georgian shepherd dog, once a primitive breed but today many are bred to heavy Dagestani type dogs and few aboriginals exist
1970's Standardized breed from selective breedings, retaining a white head or a black head (karabash)
Dogs with regional variation who historically travelled with the nomadic Kuchi tribe
Azerbaijani state did not exist prior to 1918, however they claimed and renamed local inhabitant dogs as their own
Wars & Oppression
Over the last centuries, due to changing of country borders and Armenian lands being taken by oppressors and violent aggressors, killing or pushing the Armenian people from their native homelands, it has resulted in a dramatic loss of the gampr population as a whole. Although many were killed or died from starvation, those gamprs who survived wars and the hostile takeover of areas, which were once Armenia, became the foundation for several modern day breeds of those newly defined countries. Additionally, in the last 100 years, modern breeding practices, such as line breeding, outcrossing and standardization, have caused further decline of the natural landrace gampr population.
Most specifically, during the 1915 Genocide many Gamprs were killed or starved causing a tremendous decline in the population. Later, during the Soviet domination, many gamprs were taken from their homeland to the USSR Red Star breeding kennels, that eventually produced the modern Caucasian Ovcharka (CO) and other experimental breeds, causing the population to nearly be decimated.
1920's Armenian gamprs awaiting a train to the USSR Red Star Kennel, to be used to create the modern day Caucasian Ovcharka
Special stations were set up to contain gamprs who were being taken back to to the Russian kennel. They took what they considered were the best of the breed.
Many long haired and larger varieties were taken during this time causing the gene pool great damage.