Ashmyany. A Piece of Lithuania in Belarus

Address: Ashmyany
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Ashmyany is a town in Grodno Region. The town and region surrounding modern Ashmyany was once within the ethnic Lithuanian territory. During the 17th and 18th centuries, a lot of local Lithuanians died from war and famine, and Slavic colonists grew in population. With time Lithuanians were outnumbered by Slavs. Presently, its Lithuanian past is sealed in the towns's name, which is of Lithuanian origin. Town's name derivative from river name Ašmena (modern Ashmyanka River), which is originated from appellative Lithuanian word akmuo (stone).

The first reliable mentioning of Ashmyany (in the Lithuanian Chronicles) tells that after the death of Gediminas in 1341 the town was inherited, among other places, by Jaunutis. In 1384, the Teutonic Knights attempted to attack Ashmyany as a beginning attempt to destroy the hereditary state of Jogaila. The Teutons managed to destroy the town, but it quickly recovered. In 1402 another Teutonic attack on the city occurred, but was bloodily repelled and the Teutons were forced to withdraw to Medininkai.

In 1413, the town became one of the most notable centres of trade and commerce within the Vilnius Voivodship. Because of that, in 1432 it became a battlefield of an important battle between the royal forces of Jogaila under Žygimantas Kęstutaitis and the forces of Švitrigaila allied with the Teutonic Order. After the town was taken by the royalists, it became a private property of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and started to develop rapidly. In 1566 the town finally received a city charter based on the Magdeburg Law. In the 16th century the town also became one of the most notable centres of Calvinism in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, after Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł founded a collegiate and a church there.

It was a county center first of Wilno Land, then of Wilno Voivodeship during Polish rule. Between the Polish Defensive War of 1939 and 1941 the town was seized by the USSR and then until 1944 by Nazi Germany. During the very end of the Soviet occupation, the NKVD on the night of June 22 and morning of June 23, 1941, murdered and buried in one mass grave 57 Polish prisoners from the local population. During the Nazi occupation, which began June 25, 1941, the Jews of Ashmyany were restricted to a ghetto.On July 7, 1944, it was taken by the Red Army during the Vilnius Offensive. In 1945 town was annexed by the USSR and included as a part of the Byelorussian SSR. Since 1991, it has been a part of Belarus - the happy end (or the beginning) in the history of formation of Ashmyany.

Museums:

  • F. Bahuszewicz Museum of Local History. A small museum dedicated to local history, and in part to the poet Franciszak Bahuszewicz, one of the founders of the modern Belarusian literature, who spent his last years in a village nearby.
  • The house of the Strugacz Family. Lejba Strugacz, a wealthy entrepreneur of Jewish descent, is remembered as the founder of the local yeast factory still active today. The family house built in the early 20th century is a fine example of modern architecture.

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