Shirak Marz, the Northwest corner of Armenia, is defined  by  the  upper  flow  of  the   Akhurian river, the NW corner of Mt. Aragats, the Georgian border, and a series of mountains dominated by the 3000 m Mt. Urasar in the East. In spring the rolling treeless hills and rocky outcrops are quietly beautiful. The capital city of Gyumri/Leninakan, since the 1988 the focus of international humanitarian assistance, remains depressingly unrebuilt, but is rich in archaeological interest for the specialist, among which are important the catacomb type tombs of the 14th-9th c. BC near Artik, Bronze Age settlements in Keti, Karnut,  ruins of an Urartian stronghold with perfectly preserved Urartian inscription of Argishti I (786-764 BC) carved into the basalt wall in Vahramaberd8th c. BC through 4th c. AD settlement site in Beniamin, substantial cult site of 2nd c. BC to 3rd c. AD near Shirakavan, Hellenistic settlement in Hoghmik. The Urartian citadel at Horom is perhaps the most impressive of its kind in Armenia. There are many architecturally important churches, such as in Sarnaghbyur, Pemzashen, Lernakert, Artik, Ani-Pemza, Mayisyan (mostly of the 5-7th centuries) and monastic complexes such as in Harich. Marmashen, NW of Gyumri, near the village of Vahramaberd, is a particularly interesting monastic complex. The 11th c. caravansaray near Jrapi and the Armenias medieval capital Ani overlook from the border by the village of Kharkov are also recomended for visit. The hilly grasslands of the Northern part of the marz have their own bleak charm, and important migratory bird life around the Arpilich Reservoir. Shirak was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1804, before the rest of Armenia. Alexandropol/Gyumri was a strategically vital garrison town and rail depot in the Czar’s frequent wars against Turkey. The closure of the Turkish border, the terrible condition of the road across the Georgian border, and in particular the earthquake which leveled much of the region, have depressed the region economically and contributed to a major exodus to Yerevan, Moscow, and Glendale.