Van is a city in eastern Turkey and the seat of Van Province, and is located on the eastern shore of Lake Van. The city's official population in 2010 was 367,419, but many estimates put this as much higher with a 1996 estimate stating 500,000 and former Mayor Burhan Yengun quoted as saying it may be as high as 600 000.
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 B.C. 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 region came under the control of the Armenian Orontids in the 7th century BC and later Persians in the mid 6th century BC. 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. This region was ruled by the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia before 4th century AD. In the History of Armenia attributed to Moses of Chorene, the city is called Tosp, from Urartian Tushpa.
The Byzantine Empire briefly held the region from 628 to 640, after which it was invaded by the Muslim Arabs, who consolidated their conquests as the province of Ermeniye. 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 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 Kara Koyunlu Turks, and later by the Timurids.
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 Persian Safavid Empire. The Safavids captured Van in 1502. The Ottomans took the city in 1515 and held it for a short period. The Safavids took it again in 1520 and the Ottomans gained final and definite control of the city in 1548. They first made Van into a sanjak dependent on the Erzurum eyalet, and later into a separate Van eyalet in about 1570.
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.
During the early 1900s, the city of Van had eleven Armenian schools and ten Turkish. Armenian churches within the walled city included Saint Tiramayr, Saint Vardan, Saint Poghos, Saint Nshan, Saint Sahak, and Saint Tsiranavor; in Aygestan, Haykavank, Norashen, Arark, Hankoysner, and other quarters, each had a church.
The province's Armenian population was devastated during World War I by Ottoman troops in the opening phases of the Armenian Genocide. The regional administrator, Jevdet 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 Allepo 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, Jevdet Bey ordered the execution of four Armenian leaders, which drove the Armenians to take up arms in self-defense. On the other hand, Turkish historian and genocide scholar Taner Akcam 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.
While scholars in Turkey allege that the Armenians launched a rebellion in Van in 1915, most historians agree that the Armenian residents, hoping to avoid the slaughter 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 Akcam, citing the Osmali 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. However, 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 Sevres, the Entente Powers decided to cede the city to the Democratic 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 flouted, 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 Sevres was annulled and Van remained officially 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 lies at about 1,750 metres (5,570 ft) above sea level. In the 1950s Van suffered from a devastating earthquake.
Hosap Castle (Hosap Kalesi) was built in 1643 by a Kurdish warlord San Suleyman Mahmudi in the village of Hosap (Guzelsu in Turkish), meaning Good or Beautiful Water. The entrance of the castle is decorated with murals showing islamic and ancient oriental symbols.