Have you ever felt, after arriving somewhere, that your entire life was a gravitation towards that particular destination?
This is not an “all roads lead to Rome” kind of sensation. It is, rather, as if all the roads you thought you were consciously taking in your life were subconsciously taking you to a specific, fateful destination.
On Sun., March 21, my fifth day in Turkey, I lived that kind of “arrival,” as I found myself among the ruins of Ani.
Once the glorious capital of an Armenian kingdom, Ani had been luring me towards her for 30 years, it seemed.
It felt like I had learned to walk only to, one day, walk here.
If you’re looking for glorious monuments, look elsewhere. Ani has been grieving her lost glory for centuries. The stones of many of her majestic churches have now become building blocks for uninspiring (and that’s an understatement) houses in nearby villages. Her scars are only covered with newer scars, which are covered with even newer ones.
Here, the distortion of history is as striking as the scars. There is not a single mention of Armenians on the Ministry of Tourism signs and placards. People from Krypton could have built those churches for all we know.
Horse feces at the entrance of one of Ani’s churches was a powerful reminder of her place in this country (see photo). It reminded me of the fecal matter I saw at one of the 1915 mass graves in the Syrian desert of Der Zor last September. Back then, I told the Economist: “Donkeys are now defecating on the bones of my forefathers. They were not allowed dignity, not even in death” (“Bones to Pick,” the Economist, Oct. 8, 2009).
Nearby, the ruins of a bridge on Akhourian—the river that demarcates the border between Turkey and Armenia today—reminds us of the state of affairs between the two countries. If you are not sure exactly why Turks and Armenians are nowhere near “normalization,” ask Ani.
During my stay in Turkey, I learned about several initiatives to renovate Armenian cultural monuments (from Malatya to Diyarbekir to Ani). TEPAV, the think tank that invited me along with a group of eight American experts to Turkey, is planning to renovate the bridge on Akhourian and, after that, other structures and monuments.
The Turkish state can’t bring back those who lost their lives during the massacres and genocide, but if it is genuinely interested in mending fences with Armenians (as I was told it was by top officials of the current administration), perhaps it should start by creating a conducive environment in which the thousands of Armenian architectural structures across the country can be renovated, and their authenticity preserved. Reparations for the genocide (a topic many progressive intellectuals I met here are comfortable discussing these days publicly, and even more so, during private conversations—something which was almost impossible only a few years ago), is not only about returning confiscated land, property, and money.
Ani is a monumental reminder that Turks do not need to go very far to face their past. She is staring at them with a piercing look every single day.
“To see Venice and die,” they say. We, Armenians, can easily say the same about Ani.
I won’t. Because Ani is worth living for. Ani is worth revisiting. And Ani is worth every drop of sweat you and I can spend to make her rise from the ashes and feces.