St Sophia Church At Varaga Vank
Southeast of the ancient Armenian stronghold of Van lies Varagavank-for centuries one of the pre-eminent religious, educational, and cultural centers of western Armenia. St. Sophia, one of several churches in the huge monastic complex, owes its existence to Princess Khushkhush, daughter of Gagik Bagratuni and wife of King Senekerim of Vaspurakan, who sponsored its construction in A.D. 981.
The monastery was employed as a fortress in the late Middle Ages, and came to be known as Pertavor ("fortress-site"); though it continued to serve as a religious institution, it thereafter maintained an uneasy relationship with the secular authorities of Van. In 1857, a young Mkrtich Khrimian (later to become Catholicos "Khrimian Hayrig") became the abbot of Varagavank, and succeeded in wresting the monastery from outside control.
But its period as an independent entity was short-lived. In 1896, as Armenians throughout the Ottoman empire were massacred without mercy, Varagavank was plundered, and it was totally abandoned in the wake of the Genocide of 1915. This once glorious complex on the slopes of Mount Varag now lies deserted, and in ruins.