We come across the name Urartu, first in the Old Testament, under the name Ararat. As we remember, Ararat was the mount where Noah's Ark has landed after the big flood of Old Testament. No question that these two names Mount Ararat and Urartu are closely related with each other. Following the collapse of the Hittite Empire, the kingdom of Urartu has emerged around the Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Urartians have formed a state by absorbing Hurrians who were their relatives and living in the Lake Van region. Urartian kingdom based in their capital Tushpa on the shore of Lake Van, has covered a large territory extending from Caspian Sea and southern Caucasus to eastern and southeastern Anatolia and also northeastern Mesopotamia. In the 13th C. BCE., Urartians have formed two separate small kingdoms, Uriatri and Nairi. The name Uriatri, in Assyrian language means "Mountainous Area", a description that fits perfectly the geographical features of this area. In the Assyrian annals, this area and Lake Van are referred to as "Nairi Lands" and "The Lake Nairi". The period from 13th C. BCE to 9th C. BCE, is called the "Period of Confederation of Principalities". By this time, military pressure from Assyria on Urartu Lands was so intense that small kingdoms of Urartu have formed a coalition and fought off against Assyrians successfully. This coalition led to a unified Urartu State around 875 BCE. The kingdom of Urartu was founded by Sarduri I c. 840-830 BCE. The young state was able to resist Assyrian attack by Shalmeneser III and extended its influence to northern Iran, northern Syria and Trans-Caucasia. Sarduri I has built his capital at Tushpa (modern Van where the extensive ruins are still in great shape). In the time of Ispuini, the son of Sarduri I, who ruled from ca.830 to 810, Assyrians have recognized the Urartian kingdom as a sovereign and independent state. For the next two hundred years, Urartians have secured the largest political and cultural power of the Eastern highlands of Anatolia and Caucasia area.
With the gradual weakening of the Assyrian military power has made the way for Urartians to gain some more territories and also to spare some sources for the building of the Urartian cities and towns. Particularly Ispuini has built many temples and fortresses around the capital Tushpa.
Another important site of the Urartians was Toprakkale. From an inscription found here, we know that this area was incorporated into Urartian kingdom during the reign of Ispuini and despite the bloody fights between Urartians and Assyrians, Urartians have produced many pictorial and cuneiform inscriptions in the language of their enemy Assyrians. This explains to us that Urartians like Hittites had people form various stocks.
During the reign of Menua (ruled 810-786 BCE), the son of Ispuini, Milidia and Euphrates were taken into Urartian State. By that time, Urartian land was so vast that it was difficult to manage it from one central administrative center, so Menua appointed local governors to different parts of his kingdom. Menua has built a water canal of 32 miles long for the irrigation of the Tushpa area which was used by the farmers until very recently.
Argisti I (ruled 786-764BCE), the son of Menua, has built a temple and fortress on a hilltop at Aznavurtepe, this fortress is known today by the locals as the "tomb of the father Aznavur". Argisti I crossed the river Araxes and proceeded right into the heart of Caucasia and built the town Argistihinili (means city of Argisti). The inscription he had put over and around the rock tomb on the Van fortress is known as the longest Urartian inscription found ever. The inscription mentions the war campaigns and the geographical expansion of the state.
During the reign of Sarduri II (ruled 764-735 BCE), the Urartian kingdom was at its peak. Aleppo was taken from the Assyrians and Assyrians lost their contact with the Mediterranean Sea. Sarduri II penetrated almost as far as Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Sarduri has also left some written records of his reign, two steles, one found which was placed in two large niches inside the cult section of the temple, on the northeastern slopes of the Tushpa fortress which is a rock stele contains information about the events during his reign, the other stele has disappeared a long time ago. Similar steles have been found at the sites, Ispuini and Sardurihinili (Cavustepe). Sarduri II's reign brought around great prosperity and wealth. The fortress at Sarurihinili (Cavustepe) shows the advance level of Urartian architecture.
But, in the reign of Tighlat Pleser III, military situation began to change against Urartians. Tighlat Pleser III, after reforming his army and employing new war tactics, attacked the Urartian capital Tushpa, and performed a cruel massacre here. He erected a huge stele on the upper part of the fortress Tushpa.
Rusa I, who came on throne after his father Sarduri II, avoided to encounter Assyrians directly and secured his borders through a series of treaties he made with the neighboring kingdoms. By this time, another king of Assyria Sargon II sent spies to Urartian lands. These spies passed the clay tablets with information about Urartu military along to Assyrian king. With the information obtained, Sargon II attacked the Urartu Land and Assyrians achieved a decisive victory over the Urartians. On this defeat, Rusa I the king of Urartians committed suicide. Even this heavy defeat did not bring the Urartian kingdom to an end.
Rusa I's son Argisti II became next king after his father's suicide. Argisiti II concentrated on rebuilding of the Urartian cities as well as building new cities. Titumnia, which is located on the northern shores of Lake Van was built by this king. Titumnia known by the modern name Zernakitepe is the first city known in Anatolia, built on grid plan, with streets intersecting each other at right angles. Argisti II also built an artificial lake and irrigation canals, with the aim to develop agricultural production.
Internal conflicts following the death of Sargon II, caused some troubles in the Assyrian lands, and Urartians enjoyed a brief period of peace and wealth. But, this time, the trouble for Urartians came from Northeast. Cimmerians began intense attacks on Urartian lands. Argisti II, to resist the Cimmerian assaults, built new fortresses or reinforced the existing fortresses on the northern part of his kingdom.
Rusa II (ruled 685-645 BCE), built Toprakkale near the capital Tushpa as his second capital. He also built a dam behind the Mount Erek and water canals, to provide Urartian farmers with irrigation. About this time, another threat appeared from east, The Medes turned their eyes to Urartian lands. Urartians under pressure from two warrior peoples, the Medes and Cimmerians, had to establish cooperation with their enemy Assyrians. Although Urartu kingdom has survived for some time following the death of the king Rusa, but has never been an important political power. The political power in this area has changed to Scythians, the Medes and Babylonians, following the destruction of Assyrian kingdom by the Medes. Urartu lands was invaded and looted many times by the Scythians. Probably the Medes erased the Urartian kingdom for ever from the historical scene. Assyrian annals which were invaluable source of information for this area mentions no king after Sarduri III, the son of Rusa II. However, some scholars accept Rusa III, the son of Erimana, as the last king of Urartu kingdom.