In 2010 the official population figure for Van was 367,419, but many estimates put it much higher with a 1996 estimate stating 500,000 and former Mayor Burhan Yengun is quoted as saying it may be as high as 600,000. The Van Central district stretches over 2,289 square kilometres (884 square miles). Van has another older name, which is Tushpa and was called so, when it was a capital of Urartan Armenian Kingdom.
Archaeological excavations and surveys carried out in Van province indicate that the history of human settlement in this region goes back at least as far as 5000 BC. The Tilkitepe Mound, which is on the shores of Lake Van and a few kilometres to the south of Van Castle, is the only source of information about the oldest culture of Van.
Under the ancient name of Tushpa, Van was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the 9th century BC. 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. Here have been found Urartian cuneiform inscriptions dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Babylonian is called Armenia in Old Persian.
The name 'Van' comes from the Urartian Biaina.
The region came under the control of the Orontids in the 7th century BC and quickly later the Persians in the mid 6th century BC. The Van Fortress located outside Van holds an inscribed stereotyped trilingual inscription of Xerxes the Great from the 5th century BC upon a smoothed section of the rock face, some 20 metres (66 feet) above the ground near the fortress. The inscription survives in near perfect condition and is divided into three columns of 27 lines written in (from left to right) Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. In 331 BC, Van was conquered by Alexander the Great and after his death became part of the Seleucid Empire. By the early 2nd century BC it was part of the Kingdom of Armenia. It became an important center during the reign of the Armenian king, Tigranes II, who founded the city of Tigranakert in the 1st century BC. In the early centuries BC, it fell to the emerging Arsacid dynasty of Parthia until the 3rd century AD. However, it also fell once to the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia in this timespan. In the History of Armenia attributed to Movses Khorenatsi, the city is called Tosp, from Urartian Tushpa.
Following the fall of the Parthians and the emergence of the Neo-Persian Empire, better known as the Sassanian Empire, the town naturally fell into the possession of the latter. During the over 700 years lasting Roman-Persian Wars, some of the wars razed at or around the location of modern-day Van. The Byzantine Empire briefly held the region from 628 to 640, following the victory in the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, after which it was invaded by the Muslim Arabs, who consolidated their conquests as the province of Arminiya. Decline in Arab power eventually allowed local Armenian rulers to re-emerge, with the Artsruni dynasty soon becoming the most powerful. Initially dependent on the rulers of the Kingdom of Ani, they declared their independence in 908, founding the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan. The kingdom had no specific capital: the court would move as the king transferred his residence from place to place, such as Van city, Vostan, Aghtamar, etc. In 1021 the last king of Vaspurakan, John-Senekerim Artsruni, ceded his entire kingdom to the Byzantine empire, who established the Vaspurakan theme on the former Artsruni territories.
Incursions by the Seljuk Turks into Vaspurakan started in the 1050s. After their victory in 1071 at the battle of Manzikert the entire region fell under their control. After them, local Muslim rulers emerged, such as the Ahlatshahs and the Ayyubids (1207). For a 20-year period, Van was held by the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate until the 1240s when it was conquered by the Mongols. In the 14th century, Van was held by the Timurids, followed subsequently by the Turkoman Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu confederations.
The first half of the 15th century saw the Van region become a land of conflict as it was disputed by the Ottoman Empire and the neighboring Persian Safavid Empire. The Safavids captured Van in 1502, as it went naturally with all former territories of the Ak Koyunlu. The Ottomans took the city in 1515 following the climactic Battle of Chaldiran and held it for a short period. The Safavids retook it again in 1520 but the Ottomans gained an almost definite hold of it in 1548 during another Ottoman-Safavid War. Ottoman control over the town got confirmed in the 1555 Peace of Amasya which came as a result after the end of the war. They first made Van into a sanjak dependent on the Erzurum eyalet, and later into a separate Van eyalet in about 1570. In 1602, the Safavids under king Abbas the Great recaptured Van alongside other swaths of lost territories in Eastern Anatolia. However, Ottoman control over it was at last now made final and definite in 1639 with the Treaty of Zuhab.
During the early 1900s, the city of Van had eleven Armenian schools and ten Turkish schools. Towards the second half of the 19th century Van began to play an increased role in the politics of the Ottoman Empire due to its location near the borders of the Persian, Russian and Ottoman Empire, as well as its proximity to Mosul. During the period leading up to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were well represented in the local administration.
The demographics of Ottoman Van are a debated and contentious point as they relate directly to claims of ownership by either side prior to the outbreak of World War I. For the city of Van itself it's estimated that it had 50,000 inhabitants prior to World War I, of whom 30,000 were Armenian and 20,000 were Muslims. Based on the official 1914 Ottoman Census the population of Van province consisted of 179,422 Muslims and 67,797 Armenians. The Ottoman Census figures include only male citizens, excluding women and children. According to a more recent research, the corrected estimates for the Van province (including women and children) are: 313,000 Muslims, 130,000 Armenians, and 65,000 others, including Assyrians.
The demographics of Van are a greatly debated point, given the changing provincial borders. For example, in 1875 the province was divided; Van and Hakkari were separated, only to be rejoined in 1888, drastically changing the census numbers. Some writers argue that this merging was done to keep the Armenians from forming a majority. In 1862 it was estimated that in Van there were 90,100 Christians (including Syriac Christians) and 95,100 Muslims. The French Consul in Van reported that in Van and Bitlis 51.46% were Kurds, 32.70% were Armenians and 5.53% were Turks. On the other hand, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople estimated 185,000 Armenians in Van, 18,000 Assyrians, 72,000 Kurds, 47,000 Turks, 25,000 Yezidis and 3,000 Gypsies. Both sides have been accused of overcounting the numbers at the time given the revival of the Armenian Question and population statistics became important during the Berlin Conference.
The province's Armenian population was devastated during Armenian Genocide by the Young Turks. The regional administrator, Cevdet Bey, was reported to have said that "We have cleansed the Armenians and Syriac [Christian]s from Azerbaijan, and we will do the same in Van. Numerous reports from Ottoman officials, such as a parliament deputy, the governor of Aleppo as well as the German consul in Van, suggested that deliberate provocations against the Armenians were being orchestrated by the local government. In Mid-April 1915, Cevdet Bey ordered the execution of four Armenian leaders, which drove the Armenians to take up arms in self-defense. On the other hand, writer and genocide scholar Taner Akçam acknowledges that in the case of Van, the deportations may have been driven by military necessity and states the resistance in Van should be examined as a separate case.
Some scholars explain that the Armenians launched a rebellion at Van in 1915, lured by Russian promises of independence. Other scholars argue that the Armenian residents, hoping to avoid the slaughter being inflicted on the rural populations surrounding Van, defended themselves in the Armenian quarters of the city against the Turks. The Russians finally relieved the Armenian defenders of Van in late May 1915. In August, a victory over the Russian army allowed the Ottoman army to retake Van. In September 1915, the Russians forced the Turks out of Van for the second time. Russian forces began to leave the area after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, and by April 1918, it was recaptured by the Ottoman army. According to Taner Akçam, citing the Osmanli Belgelerinde Ermeniler 1915–1920 (Armenians in Ottoman Documents, 1915–1920), after the Turks took back the city from the Russians, they killed all Armenians in the city. Clarence Ussher, an American physician and missionary in Van, and an eye-witness to the events, reported that 55,000 Armenians had been killed. The end of World War I forced the Ottoman army to surrender its claim to Van, although it stayed in Turkish hands following the Turkish War of Independence.
In the Treaty of Sèvres, the Entente Powers decided to cede the city to the First Republic of Armenia. Turkish revolutionaries, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rejected the terms of the treaty and instead waged the Turkish War of Independence. However the idea of ceding Van to the Armenians was floated, and Ismet Inonu was said to have surveyed army officers on 14 October 1919 on the issue of ceding Van and Bitlis. However the parliament in Ankara rejected any compromise on this issue.By 1920, Van fell under Turkish control again and its remaining Armenian inhabitants were expelled in a final round of ethnic cleansing. With the Treaty of Lausanne and Treaty of Kars, the Treaty of Sèvres was annulled and Van remained de facto under Turkish sovereignty.
By the end of the conflicts, the town of Van was empty and in ruins. The city was rebuilt after the war a few kilometers east of the ancient citadel, which is now known as Van Castle (Van Kalesi). The city now lies at about 1,750 metres (5,741 feet) above sea level.
Van has a harsh continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm, dry summers. Rainfall occurs mostly during the spring and autumn. Under Köppen's climate classification Van features a hot dry summer subtype (Köppen: Dsa) of the humid continental climate.
The modern city is located on the plain extending from the Lake Van, at a distance of 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the lake shore.
Van has often been called "The Pearl of the East" because of the beauty of its surrounding landscape. An old Armenian proverb in the same sense is "Van in this world, paradise in the next." This phrase has been slightly modified in Turkish as dünyada Van, ahirette iman or "Van for this world, faith for the next."
The city is home to Van Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi (Van 100th Year University) and recently came to the headlines for two highly publicized investigations initiated by the Prosecutor of Van, one of which was focused on accusations against the university's rector, Prof. Hasan Ceylan, who was kept in custody for a time. He was finally acquitted but lost his rectorate. He is a grandson of Agop Vartovyan, an Ottoman Armenian who is accepted as the founder of modern Turkish theatre. Prof. Hasan Ceylan is also the department chairman of Environmental Engineering in the Van 100th Year University.
In 1941, Van suffered a destructive 5.9 Mw earthquake. A more severe 7.2 Mw earthquake occurred on October 23, 2011. On November 9, 2011, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake caused several buildings to collapse.
In culinary terms, as some cities in Turkey became renowned for their kebap culture or other types of traditional local dishes, Van has distinguished itself with its breakfast culture.
Van stands on Highway D300, which runs from the Iranian border 100 km east at Kapikoy through Van then along the south lake shore to Tatvan (100 km), and westwards to the rest of Turkey. Highway D975 runs north to Dogubeyazit and south towards Hakkari. Frequent buses and dolmuses ply these highways.
Van is the western terminus of the railway line from Iran, with freight and passenger trains (currently all suspended). There is a train ferry (upgraded in 2015) across the lake to Tatvan. There is no railway around the lake; it is intended eventually to build one but to date there are no plans. This would actually create an unbroken rail link between Europe and the Indian subcontinent, as Tatvan is the terminus of the line to Ankara and Istanbul.
Van has daily flights to Istanbul, Ankara and other major Turkish cities from Ferit Melen Airport.
Near Van, there is a longwave broadcasting station with a 250-metre-tall (820-foot) guyed mast. It went in service in 1990 and operates on 225 kHz with 600 kW.
The Van Cat is a breed of cat native to this town and named after it. It is noted for its white fur, and having differently colored eyes.Mkrtich Avetisian, an Armenian journalist and political figure, one of the founders of Armenakan organization.
Mkrtich Khrimian, an Armenian writer, religious leader, and Catholicos of All Armenians (1892–1907).
Bedros Kapamacıyan, Ottoman-Armenian mayor of Van.
Vahram Alazan, an Armenian poet, writer and public activist, the First Secretary of the Writers Union of Armenia from 1933 to 1936.
Arshile Gorky, an Armenian-American painter who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism.
Panos Terlemezian, painter, a People's artist of Armenian SSR.
Aghasi Khanjian, the leader of Soviet Armenia from 1930 to 1936.
Vardan Ajemian, an Armenian theatral director and actor, People's Artist of the USSR.
Gurgen Mahari, an Armenian writer and poet.
Haig Patigian, an Armenian-American sculptor.
Armenakis Yekarian, Armenian political activist.
Nairi Zarian, a Soviet Armenian poet and writer.
Kegham Vanigian, Armenian political activist.
Varazdat Harutyunyan, Armenian scholar and architect.
Ruhi Su, folk singer and political activist.
Yeghishe Derderian of Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Ferit Melen, a politician and prime minister of Turkey between 1972 and 1973.
Hüseyin Çelik, former minister and deputy chairman of the ruling JDP.
Sinan Çetin, movie director, was born on March 1, 1953.
Van is twinned with: Bursa, Turkey