A Travellerspoint blog

The Armenian Question

sunny 40 °C

Day 39
Sunday July 2 2017

  • Our hotel is opposite the park where every weekend the Yerevan Vernissage is held. Basically a market selling souvenirs and Armenian artefacts. As we exit the hotel, the various stalls are already opening up ready for Sunday shoppers. We will check it out later in the day.
  • Its already too hot to walk far.

For the first time on our trip we decide to use local taxis. AG does not wish to move the truck so conveniently parked outside the hotel. In any case rest days are just that, especially for drivers.

  • Before we get a feel for value, we are definitely ripped off by taxi drivers. They do not seem to operate meters. Nor do they have functioning rear seat belts - just like in China, except here traffic flow is frighteningly fast.
  • We head up to the top of Cafesjian Hill to see Mother Armenia and the Military War Museum which is located literally at her feet, within the pedestal. The green space around is known as Victory Park.
  • It was opened in 1950 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of glorious Soviet rule. Originally there was a statue of Stalin but he was removed in 1962, a process that resulted in 1 death and many injured people. It was grimly claimed that Stalin was able to kill even from beyond his grave.
  • Stalin was replaced by the Mother Armenia statue designed by Armenian sculptor Ara Harutunyan. She is made of copper, stands 22 m tall and holds a sword 11m in length. Including the pedestal the whole monument is an impressive 51m.
  • Mother Armenia is positioned to face Mts Ararat & countries beyond such as Turkey & Iran, sword ready in her hand. A protector of her country, what message might she symbolise? How's about: No more persecution of my people, no more destruction of our cultural heritage and no more loss of our territory. As Mrs May said recently: Enough is enough.
  • Entrance to the War Museum is free of charge. The staff may try and obtain 500 AMD as a voluntary contribution or fee for taking photos. It probably goes straight into their pockets so it's up to you whether you oblige them or not.
  • Most of the museum is dedicated to the conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno - Karabakh, known in Armenia as the War of Artsakh.
  • The region in question has long had a large ethnic majority of Armenians. The modern conflict has its roots in decisions made by Joseph Stalin in 1920's when both countries were under Soviet control. In order to placate Turkey, ( which he hoped might espouse communism ) the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which the region, whilst being independent would be under the ultimate authority of Azerbaijan. Under strong Soviet control, the conflict abated for several decades.
  • But once Soviet influence started to decline, regional tensions surfaced once again, particularly between 1988-94 when Armenia & Azerbaijan both gained independence from Russia.
  • Azerbaijan has not tried to exert any direct political authority over the region since 1988 but nor does it wish to cede this territory to Armenia. This is the actual wish of the vast majority of people who live there.
  • How futile is a civil war to solve difficult issues: during the time of active hostilities, it is estimated that about 20,000 people were killed, 60,000 wounded, with close to a million refugees being displaced. The absurdity is that the disputed territory itself only had a population of about 200,000. Refugee numbers were increased by Armenians fleeing other parts of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis displaced from Armenia.
  • So a political impasse exists, a tentative ceasefire holds since 1994 ( negotiated by Russia ) but even as recently as 2016 there have been worrying flare ups between the two countries.
  • Only some of the exhibits have English translation but you will get the gist of the story, bearing in mind that it is Armenian evidence on display.
  • We now hail another taxi to take us to the Genocide Memorial & museum. This place should definitely be on your list of 'must do stuff' if you come to Yerevan. You can visit the Memorial any day of the week but the museum is closed Mondays. It would be a shame to miss it.
  • The 'Reborn Armenia' memorial and the Sanctuary of the Eternal Flame were finally completed in 1967. It commemorates the 1.5 million Armenians who perished during their persecution by the Turks in the first genocide of the 20C.
  • For a long time under Soviet rule, no national ideology was permitted. Eventually in the mid 60's, as a result of huge pressure from outside and demonstrations and protest from within Communist Armenia, concessions were made and the Armenian Genocide Memorial was built. The museum was later added in 1995.
  • Every year on April 24, which is a National holiday in Armenia, special commemorations are made here and masses of people with Armenian heritage come from all over the world. The date has been chosen because it was on this day in 1915 that Armenian intellectuals, artists and professionals were forcibly deported from Constantinople - modern day Istanbul.
  • Indeed it is apparent from signage along the alley of trees that visiting Heads of State also take time to plant a diplomatic tree - as you do!
  • The whole area exudes symbolism on the most poignant of scale. There is the Memorial Wall where the names of desecrated towns & villages are engraved - whole communities were wiped out or deported or both.
  • The Reborn Armenia column is 44m high and is partly split vertically by a deep crevice. This artistic feature is only visible from certain angles, so make sure you walk all around and look up!
  • The architect's explanation is that it represents the survival and rebirth of Armenia - like a plant with a new shoot. To SG it also looks remarkably like a Greater and Lesser Mt Ararat - but hey the artist knows best!
  • The Sanctuary containing the Eternal Flame consists of 12 inward leaning slabs of stones that are reminiscent of that oldest of art form, the Armenian Khachkars. ( already mentioned in Friday June 30 entry ). There is no roof. It is said that the slabs are bowed in mourning & that the number 12 represents the former Armenian provinces, now lost to modern day Turkey.
  • The Eternal Flame burns at a depth of 1.5 m below the ground representing the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the period of genocide against them.
  • Even AG spends two full hours walking around the museum.
  • Signage is in Armenian, English & Russian. The exhibition is very detailed and harrowing. Of course it is the Armenian side of the story. But evidence is frankly irrefutable that terrible, inhuman acts were perpetrated against the Armenian people on orders of the Turkish authorities. Genocide is of course a heinous crime, but the lack of response and action by Western powers was also morally despicable.
  • The same mistake was made some 20 years later when Hitler rose to power and started the second genocide of the 20C. Indeed he learnt much from the terrible example set by the Turks.
  • But in the late 19 and early 20C many countries, including Great Britain, harboured fears and aspirations that dominated their political alliances & actions. It's called national self interest and it seems that sadly nothing has changed.
  • European history at this time is oh so complicated - take a look at Wikipedia and allow yourself a few hours/ days of study!
  • What did the Turks have against the Armenians? Towards the end of the 19C the mighty Ottoman Empire was finally in real decline. This continued into the beginning of the 20C and culminated with an 'unholy' alliance in World War 1 between Germany, Austria, Hungary and Turkey.
  • If anything it was its significant Armenian population that helped the Ottoman Empire to survive beyond its due expiry date. They were an educated, motivated, creative people who excelled in art, culture, medicine, law, banking and administration. They also embraced modern technology in contrast to the Sultan and his entourage.
  • Like all regimes in trouble, a scapegoat had to be found - the Armenians, the Infidels.
  • One of the first events of a long period of persecution against the Armenians were the Massacres of Hamidian 1894-6. It was the age of the telegraph communication system and the atrocities were reported in the Western media. Another massacre occurred in the city of Adana in 1909 when between 20-30000 Armenians were exterminated by the Turks. There is photographic evidence.
  • In the end it is estimated that over 1.5 million Armenians perished and many more were displaced from their homes and dispossessed of their wealth, assets & belongings. It was a terrible time to be Armenian.
  • And after World War 1 ? Turkey was on the losing side. According to the Peace Treaty of Sevres 1920 much of its former territory in Eastern Turkey was to be returned to Armenia (- Erzurum, Van, Kars for example ) and it was also to be given land access to the Black Sea. But much of the treaty was never put into action and it led to yet another war in the region - this time between Turkey & Armenia. Guess who won...
  • Towards the end of the exhibition you will see a feature about Aurora Mardiganian. She is the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide. But she miraculously survived, fled to America and wrote about her terrible experiences. She also starred herself in the silent movie Auction of Souls made in 1919 from her book.
  • Come here and you will learn much & despair greatly. Man is capable of inflicting such cruelty on fellow human beings. History is teaching us nothing, at least not those in power, and we seem to be repeating the same mistakes, generation after generation. We leave feeling very pessimistic about current world affairs.
  • Time for some respite and lunch.
  • Finally we flag down a taxi with a working meter. Surprise, surprise it is the cheapest ride of the day.
  • Late afternoon we walk around the Vernissage bric à brac market in the park opposite our hotel. There is much kitsch for sale - jewellery, woodwork, ceramics, amateur artwork, imported counterfeit designer clothing and souvenir merchandise - perhaps also the odd gem at a bargain price. On the periphery there are also many rugs & carpets for sale - astonishingly left out in the intense sun throughout the weekend. A very good reason not to buy here.
  • This evening we walk to an Armenian restaurant that has been recommended by several different sources - Dolmama. One of its many signature dishes is dolma stuffed with tender beef. Established in 1998 it is one of Yerevan's most famous local restaurants. Flying Ostrich in Dilijan is owned by the same Armenian American. ( See Thursday 29 June entry ). It's worth going to both!

Mother Armenia Statue

Mother Armenia Statue

Mother Armenia's View of Mt Ararat

Mother Armenia's View of Mt Ararat

Eternal Flame and Some of 12 Stone Khachars

Eternal Flame and Some of 12 Stone Khachars

Reborn Armenia Memorial - Note the Deep Crevice At the Top

Reborn Armenia Memorial - Note the Deep Crevice At the Top

AG in front of Reborn Armenia Memorial

AG in front of Reborn Armenia Memorial

Aurora Mardiganian - the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide

Aurora Mardiganian - the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide

Sultan Abdul Hamid 2, leader responsible for the Hamidian Massacres 1894-6 against the Armenian People Living in Turkey

Sultan Abdul Hamid 2, leader responsible for the Hamidian Massacres 1894-6 against the Armenian People Living in Turkey

Pomegranates Feature Much in Armenian Artwork & Cuisine

Pomegranates Feature Much in Armenian Artwork & Cuisine

Carpets for Sale in Vernissage, A Weekend Market in Yerevan

Carpets for Sale in Vernissage, A Weekend Market in Yerevan

An Obscure Entrance to the Famous Yerevan Restaurant of Dolmama

An Obscure Entrance to the Famous Yerevan Restaurant of Dolmama

Posted by sagbucks 04:47 Archived in Armenia

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint