ARF-ER to Organize Multiple Trips to Western Armenia

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region, through its “Armenian Genocide Justice” Centennial Committee, recently announced plans to organize a series of trips to Western Armenia led by scholars and activists Khatchig Mouradian and George Aghjayan. Both Mouradian and Aghjayan have made numerous journeys to Western Armenia over the past three years and look to share their experiences with a young generation of Diasporan Armenians.

Participants in one of the trips led by Aghjayan and Mouradian (May 2014) meet with the daughter of a genocide survivor and her family. (Photo by George Aghjayan)
Participants in one of the trips led by Aghjayan and Mouradian (May 2014) meet with the daughter of a genocide survivor and her family. (Photo by George Aghjayan)

The objective of these organized trips is not tourism, but instead involves visits to remote areas rarely visited today by Armenians. The journeys provide ample opportunities to meet and interact with local communities, including Islamized Armenians. The hope is that through awareness, the local communities can gain greater appreciation for the Armenian presence in Western Armenia and the cultural significance of both the structures and people that remain there.

Children playing in front of Sourp Etchmiadzin Church south of Van, near the border with Iran. (Photo by George Aghjayan)
Children playing in front of Sourp Etchmiadzin Church south of Van, near the border with Iran. (Photo by George Aghjayan)

“While all journeys to Western Armenia serve a valuable purpose, I think it particularly important for those who are young to experience first-hand the realities in Western Armenia today,” Aghjayan said. “I have seen the impact of such journeys for one of my daughters and other young adults that have traveled with us. But also, I have seen the importance for those living there to see young people among us…to know that the lingering injustice is an important issue for them.”

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  1. and what’s the point? to enrich the Turks and come back with sad memories and go into deep depression and curse our fate, Tashnaks shoud go to Gharabagh and help their economy

    • Sam, I have no political affiliation and I am not trying to condone what the Tashnags or huntchags or any other party is or is not doing. But to suggest that organized trips to our ancestral homeland and specially encouraging the younger generation to participate, in your own words(“will enrich the turks,come back with sad memories”) etc., is in my opinion a terribly negative view. Do you suggest we never set foot on our homeland and abandon any effort to keep “Hay Tahd” alive? I think every single armenian living in the diaspora should make the effort to pay at least one such visit. The turks have already almost completely wiped out any evidence of our forefathers’ existence on those lands.They will only be too pleased if we did not show our faces in that part of the world and will continue to complete their mission to destroy the few remaining sacred monuments.
      As for your comment on Karabagh, I am completely in agreement with you that not only Tashnags, but all parties should encourage a policy of investment and settlement in our historic Artsakh. However to achieve that, they need the full co-operation and assistance of the governing bodies in terms of subsidies and periods of tax exemption. But this is another topic worthy of further discussion.

  2. I have been following Kahtchig Mouradian’s incredible trips to Western Armenian and would love to know when will these trips be organized and how long will they be. I would love to take my sons with me. Please let me know.

    • I recently went on this trip over the summer, and we weren’t harassed at all. The local populace was friendly and inviting to all of us.

  3. Wow am I conflicted! I completely agree with Sam and yet have a craving to go. One thing is for sure, getting tidbits of a church here and a church there from Turkey as a defacto and deminimus compensation for the Genocide is complete bullshit and the hooded churchmen better stop putting their interests ahead of the population. Christ lives in people not in buildings!

  4. I am in complete agreement, we should all, if we can, pay a visit to the homeland not only to gain a better perspective of our heritage but to instill in our children a sense of our history. If we do not keep our culture alive we will have let the Turks win. Unfortunately, I am too old to travel and my children have been completely Americanized, although I have taught them about our history and our families struggles to come here. My family has a rich history on both sides, and tales of courage abound. From Aintab, I would love to visit but age and finances make this limiting. As such for the churches, they were ours and we have a right to them, Turkey is supposed to return them. That is just the first step, next is our homes and lands, and then our money.

    • Designated tour guides from local Armenians of Turkey, or even stay in their respective comfort places (hotels or motels) will be very desirable, for those, who are wishing to visit their ancestral land!

  5. It is a shame that you are organising people to go to turkey,On the 100th anniversary of our martyrs.Out of respect to our fallen forefathers,you should discourage people travelling to turkey,buy their
    goods or fly in their planes for at least one year.Even if it hits the turks pockets in a small way,it is a respect that the dried bones of our forefathers deserve.This has nothing to do with politics,but even in that respect turks allowed entry to Kesap from turkey,yet today they are able to stop Kurds to cross the border to fight ICIS,think of that.

  6. As the comments already show, these trips to Turkey invariably always polarize us with the yes and no camps. Both are right and both are wrong, can there be such a thing?

    A while back I stumbled on a youtube Armenian program where an Armenian wanted to see his ancestral homeland but did not do it for a long time because he could not bring himself to go there while it was in “Turkey”. He said, part of him was telling him that if he visits western Armenia under Turkish occupation, he is enriching Turkey and its crime against the Armenian victims, for instance, it is a very difficult process to go through when you imagine that Turkey killed your family members, exiled your family, denied its crimes, eluded justice, and is now actually making money off of you based on your desperation and desire to visit your ancestral homeland. For us as the offspring of Genocide survivors something about this really does not feel right, and there is a sinister feel to it.

    The man in that program ultimately succumbed and visited his ancestral homeland which was Cilicia, and next visited all of western Armenia and said it was the right thing to do, because he immediately felt connected to the land as something familiar, in addition to all the non-Armenian locals telling the Armenian visitors “welcome to your home”. Some of them also admitted they have some Armenian ancestry, so in this regard we must also remember that there are also full blooded Armenians living in Turkey currently.

    One of the several villages of Musa Ler also managed to survive and is today known as an Armenian village called Vakif, with all of its inhabitants being Armenians, although only about 100 people live there.

    So I think there is no right or wrong here, ultimately it is a personal choice. But I think it is the right thing to do for an Armenian to connect with their ancestral homeland when the chance comes up, after all our lands largely have Kurds living on them, and we cannot make the conclusion that these lands will always be in Turkish control.

    Lastly, are we really concerned that we are helping Turkey economically, because the bigger problem here that I see is that there are Armenians, in fact even from Armenia itself vacationing in Turkey every year, and which has nothing to do with them seeing their ancestral homeland, but going to Turkey for the specific purpose of “having a good time” and spending money to enrich Turkey. So if we want to criticize Armenians going to Turkey, lets push those vacationing Armenians to the front of the line for those amongst us helping Turkey, not the ones who go there to reconnect with their ancestral land.

  7. I visited Western Armenia some 10 years ago as part of a tour led by Armen Aroyan. There’s much I could say about that trip which was truly life changing for me in a positive sense. However, within the context of the on-going debate for diaspora Armenians – should I stay or should I go, one particular experience comes to mind. It happened following the visit of our tour group to a famous Armenian Vank (monastery) in the Van region. This Vank had in previous years been turned into an animal stable, but thankfully now was kept clean and protected by local Kurds. Our group was told that a major part of the reason for the protection of the Vank was the presence of our group and those like us, i.e. that our very presence keeps Armenians relevant in the region.

    Of course none of us wants to help Turkey, especially in the occupation of our beloved homeland in Western Armenia. But these tours to Western Armenia are more than just sentimental visits. These tours make a statement, loud and clear, that we Armenians have not forgotten our beloved homeland, and that indeed in time, we plan to be back in full sovereign force.

    If you will, think of these tours as a kind of scouting mission to gather intelligence data. Any armed force knows full well that before occupation of a territory, the more intelligence of the territory the better. So that’s effectively what we are doing with such tours, gathering intelligence for eventual reoccupation of Western Armenia by and for Armenians. Sure it costs money and there will be some benefit to the current Turkish occupiers, but lets not loose sight of the eventual prize, the liberation of Western Armenia to provide a free, independent, and united Armenia.

    • For those who are conflicted about going to Turkey, I understand your concerns. However, I would point out one historic fact: Up to the 19th Century, there were almost no Jews left in Israel, but then, a number of rich European Jews underwrote trips to Israel, followed by the creation of settlements. By 1947, the Jews had practically reclaimed their homeland.

      Over the years, I have heard many speeches by Diaspora “leaders” saying how we would “reclaim our land”, etc., but these trips to Western Armenia represent the very first practical steps in making that dream a reality. And they reopen a dialog with the current generation of Turks, many of whom have grown up hearing and believing only the lies of their government.

      Of course, this does not mean that we should not help the people of Artsakh or of the Republic of Armenia. But the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

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