Lake Van contains four islands that have the remains of Armenian monasteries built upon them; they are Aght'amar, Ktutz, Lim, and Arter. The island of Arter, also known as Kuşadasi ("Bird Island" in Turkish), is the smallest and the least visited of the four. It is located about four kilometers to the west of Aght'amar island.


A legend explaining the origin of the island's monastery concerns the celebrated 10th century cleric Saint Gregory of Narek. Gregory was in prayer at his monastery at Narek, overlooking Lake Van, when he saw a vision of the Virgin and Child seated amidst clouds over the island of Arter. At the same time he heard a whispering voice telling him to approach the vision. This Gregory did by miraculously running over the waves to reach the island, and the monastery on Arter was founded to commemorate the event.

An inscription on the island, now missing, is said to have carried the date 1292 and mentioned the patriarch Ter Step'anos. The monastery is known to have been restored in 1766 by its head, vardapet James of Batakan. Batakan was village located somewhere between Vostan (Gevaş) and Narek. However, in 1772 the monastic communuity dispersed after James had been imprisoned and tortured.

Formerly, the island was very difficult to reach because of the lack of transport. Now, because of the large number of commercial boats for hire, the only difficulties are the expense and the unpredictable waters of Lake Van.

The Monastery Buildings

The monastery once had two churches. Only one, known as the church of the Mother of God, now survives, along with the foundations of some monastic buildings. They are located at the highest point of the island and are clearly visible from afar.

Externally, the church is rectangular and probably had a double pitched roof. The whole structure is built out of roughly dressed slabs of schist, and there are no decorative features. Some of the stones on the outside walls carry crudely carved inscriptions and crosses.

Internally, the church is a small, single-nave chapel. The nave is roofed with a semi-circular barrel vault that is reinforced by a single rib-arch resting on pilasters. These pilasters divide the interior wall into two bays, with the western bay being much shorter then the eastern one. The nave ends in an apse with a horseshoe plan. It is now hard to say if the apse contained a raised floor or not. In the wall of the apse there is a single window, and two small niches. There is also a larger niche, with an arched top, inserted into the north wall of the church. It may have contained a baptismal font. The only entrance to the church was through a door in its west wall.

To the west of the church there are a series of foundations, probably the remains of monastic buildings. There is a large rectangular room that appears to have been divided in the middle. Its entrance was through its south wall, and another door in its east wall led into a second chamber located directly in front of the church. To the west of the divided room is a smaller rectangular chamber, which has an entrance on its west wall. If the monastery had a graveyard then it either lies hidden somewhere under the dense grass that covers the whole island or it has been lost due to erosion caused by the rising water level of Lake Van.

J. M. Thierry ¹ wrote that the surviving church is probably pre-Arab, (seventh century, or earlier). This is because of features like the horseshoe-shaped plan of the apse. However, even though the structure is well built, I think that it is unlikely that a rubble / fieldstone construction could have survived from such an early period. Also, the re-used khatchkar embedded in the south wall is from a much later period. It may have been placed there during the 1776 restoration of the monastery; perhaps the whole church dates from that restoration.

1.   The island of Arter, also known as Kuşadasi

2.   A visitors' boat moored at the edge of the island

3.   The steep approach up to the church

4.   The church viewed from the south-west

5.   The church viewed from the west

6.   The church viewed from the north-west

7.   A khatchkar embedded into the south wall

8.   Inside the church, looking East toward the apse


9.   The apse of the church

10.   The south wall of the church

11.   Inscriptions on the east facade

12.   Panoramic view from Arter island - the second island is Aght'amar, the mountain is called Artos

13.   Sunset over Arter island with, in the background, the mountains that extend out to the Deveboynu peninsula

1. Thierry, Jean-Michel, Monastères Arméniens du Vaspurakan: Couvent de la Mère de Dieu d'Arter in
Revue des Études Arméniennes, volume XII, 1977, pages 198-200.