Special for the Armenian Weekly
As the two of us hiked up the mountain to Arakelots Monastery in Mush under the scorching midday sun, we noticed a few turtles along the way, but paid little attention.
Reptiles were the last thing on our minds. My friend Taleen and I were anxious to get to the ruins of the historic monastic complex, a foremost learning center beginning in the 11th century, and a symbol of Armenian defiance against Ottoman oppression since the early 1900’s.
It was here that one of the first Armenian freedom fighters, Arabo, had studied in the late 1880’s; it was here that, in 1901, a major standoff had taken place between the Ottoman-Turkish army and some 60 Armenian fedayees from Sassoun and Mush, led by Antranig and Kevork Chavush.
The complex was abandoned after the Armenian Genocide, and blown up by the Turkish military in the 1960’s. Taleen, whose ancestors hail from Sassoun, was quick to point out that the few standing walls of the monastery, deeply scarred, inspire defiance against injustice.
But I was looking elsewhere. “We are not alone,” I quipped.
Right in front of the monastery’s St. Thaddeus Church ruins, a tortoise stared at me with what I discerned to be the I-beat-you-to-this-place look.
I had come for defiance and I was greeted by perseverance.
On the hike down, Taleen had to put up with my attempts to reconstruct the turtle’s ascent up the 6,050-foot hill.
It was a journey the turtle started decades earlier, I told her. It inched forward without fanfare, while passersby—villagers, fighters, and pilgrims—paid little attention to it.
Most likely the turtle didn’t receive any help. Perhaps teenagers playing in the area picked it up and left it off a few feet ahead every now and then, but nothing more!
I am sure there were other turtles that tried to dissuade it from what they considered an endless, unrealistic march. They told the turtle that where they were was just fine.
But our turtle remained unfazed and soldiered on, one inch at a time.
And one day, the turtle felt the footprints of Arabo under its webbed feet, looked up, and saw the defiant ruins of Arakelots Monastery waiting for its arrival.