During the Bronze Age collapse (13th to 12th centuries BC), the Nairi tribes were considered a force strong enough to contend with both Assyria and Hatti. The Battle of Nihriya, the culminating point of the hostilities between Hittites and Assyrians for control over the remnants of the former empire of Armenian (Indo-European) Mitanni, took place there, c. 1230 BC. Nairi was incorporated into Urartu during the 10th century BC.
According to Trevor Bryce the Nairi lands were inhabited by what he calls "fierce tribal groups" divided into a number of principalities, and are first mentioned by Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243–1207 BC) when he defeated and exacted tribute from forty Nairi kings. The names of twenty-three Nairi lands were recorded by Tiglath-Pileser I (1114–1076 BC). Their southernmost point was Tumme, known to have been south-west of Lake Urmia, and their northern one Daiaeni. These lands are known from the list of defeated kings: "the king of Tumme, the king of Tunube, the king of Tuali, the king of Kindari, the king of Uzula, the king of Unzamuni the king of Andiabe, the king of Pilakinni, the king of Aturgini, the king of Kulibarzini, the king of Shinibirni, the king of Himua, the king of Paiteri, the king of Uiram, the king of Shururia, the king of Albaia, the king of Ugina, the king of Nazabia, the king of Abarsiuni, and the king of Daiaeni." It is believed that Nairi extended from the Tur-Abdin mountains in the south to the mountainous area southwest of Lake Van in the north.
Shalmaneser III campaigned in the region, erecting a statue at the source of the Tigris. Bryce states that some of his "royal inscriptions indicate that the term now also denoted a specific region to the southwest of Lake Urmia, centred on the land of Hubushkia."(the exact location of Hubushkia is uncertain).
Albrecht Goetze suggested that what he refers to as the Hurriland dissolved into a number of small states that the Assyrians called Nairi. Others take this hypothesis skeptically; e.g., Benedict (Benedict 1960) points out that there is no evidence of the presence of Hurrites in the vicinity of Lake Van.