Traces

My first adventure, so to say was Armenia. I have always been proud of being Armenian. Though I never spoke the language, I knew many Armenians. But I felt the pain many did and still do. The pain of not being heard. Of denial.

No one could imagine a world where Hitler surged with his plan of killing the Jews and getting away with it. But the Armenians do. Turkey still denies the fact of a genocide in 1915. Which is basically like putting someone in front of a car and then saying, that’s not a car, it’s a bicycle. Its stupid.

 

A full century has passed. In one of which Hitler decided to kill Jews with his excuse.

Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?
— Adolf Hitler

And although our weird bearded man was a monster, he was and still is absolutely right.

Yerevan does not let its people forget what happened. With posters and banners all over town.

I set out to find ruins of that genocide, in everything. May it be people, monuments. I was not going to be stopped.

Being half Armenian, it almost felt like a duty.

But I would not let my emotional Armenian side take over.

I was wrong as I entered the Armenian genocide museum. With its haunting music playing off in the distant, sounding like ghosts calling after their loved ones left behind. On my left a wall stretches towards the memorial. Filled with cities lost in the Armenian genocide.

Including the city of Van. The origin of my family. It’s unsettling seeing it carved into that wall. Still wet from the rain.Untouched by the rain was the fire burning in the middle of the memorial. The everlasting flame.

The fire that burns for all the people that had died and for everyone else who shares the loss. I have never been superstitious but this place felt like it was ominous. As if the people killed, still remained in that circle.

Underneath the memorial is a museum free to enter with original documents. I swore to read through all of it. Although I knew every single detail by heart. Maybe a little too close to heart. Which after the poems and pictures left from the genocide could not take any longer.

Anger. Rage. Sadness. Retribution. Remember and Demand.After that I didn't stay long in Yerevan. I needed to get moving, needed stories, pictures.

My first place I wanted to visit was the alphabet park.

The Armenians are proud of lots of things. One of those being the alphabet. With 36 letters. It is unique to every other language. There are plenty of monuments honored to it. But there is one outside of Yerevan up north towards Artashavan. Why the hell would you want to put it out here?

Surrounded by deserted land, with stray dogs scavenging food. Then my taxi driver told me this:

„In the genocide people were sent on death marches. Walking hundreds of miles through the desert after many of them starting to die of starvation, they knew what fate was to come. So, they wrote prayers into the sand, stones anything they were able to leave a print behind. In case the people of Armenia were to die , at least their language would survive this hell. “

Various statues of holy spirits and people from the history surround the alphabet park, like guardian angels.

After I heard that story it became clear to me. This was not a memorial for the alphabet. Out in this cold land, with just a single road connecting one village to another. The true definition of loneliness.

Back in Yerevan I crawled up the many steps to the top of the cascade. Completely out of breath and apparently out of shape I took a glance at Mount Ararat.

If not the best sight you can have in whole Yerevan. But that day was not for that beautiful sight nor for Yerevan. It was destined for the city Anipemza. A city reminding me of one of the names found on the long wall at Tsikernaberd, Ani.

Anipemza is a border town to turkey where the old city of Ani can be found. Or what is left of it. A city left to die. Churches only remain as ruins. Houses completely destroyed. A ghost town would be the wrong name for it. Here and there I hear rumors of this place and of this hill on the other side with a message in turkey, as a taunt for the Armenians on the other side. My fingers tingle. My mind rambles. This is it. Anipemza might be the ticket! I asked the taxi driver and a good friend who drove us to the alphabet park if he can get us to Anipemza. “Sure!”

We leave for Anipemza. As we drive out of Yerevan a hill is speaking to us.

We can see you. And most of all , we remember.

In the back of my head I am thinking of the town of Anipemza, scared I might hit a wall there. As we were getting closer and closer I came to realize that my good friend and the driver don’t know shit where Anipemza is. So, at the next intersection we see a white Lada waiting its turn to merge into the traffic. The driver’s window is down and elderly man is sitting in the car. After a small chat with the stranger we thank him and he replies:

Farewell and I shall take away your pain.

A saying that has not yet reached the white paper of an official encyclopedia just the minds of the people in

Armenia. The roads are getting bumpier by the mile. The landscape is changing its color. Surprisingly, it is getting even more isolated. And there it is. Anipemza.

1 hour and 30 minutes later.

We slowly drive over the potholes that are the size of canyons. Children cheer at the car as we pass. I felt like Angelina Jolie in a third world country picking up another kid I could adopt In the middle of the town. Well, when I say town, some houses put next to one another in a bright manner. On the left hand side the flag of Armenia on the right the Russian flag. The border to turkey has been closed since 1996 and the patrolmen and women are Russian and not Turkish. I guess that says enough about their unsettled friendship already. We stopped at a random house. This felt like a ghost town. The border fence was right next to it. I remember people saying, don't go too near as it is an electric fence. So I scoped out the area behind the fence with most subtle lens in the world, a big white telephoto lens. I think you were able to spot me from space. There was nothing behind that fence except from numerous control towers which seemed unoccupied. So I snapped a few pictures anyways. I mean, hell, who would be sitting there? We knocked at somebody’s door to acquire some information on good viewing points of the border. They were already pointing us in some directions up north. 

As the lady was explaining to us, there was something getting closer. All of a sudden an old Opel Vectra was trashing down the broken road coming to a halt right next to us. Two big guys dressed in military green walk up quickly to me. I didn't understand a word they were saying but then again, I knew what they were saying. 

They wanted me to delete the pictures. Damn, I didn't even get a good look. 

So I try to explain this one guy that “löschen” means delete a picture in Armenian, with me unable to speak Armenian and him not the best guy to understand German. So, he says maybe you should drink more Armenian coffee. After that you can speak Armenian. After that all I wanted was Armenian cognac. Lots of it! They drove off waving and smiling and another guy comes along offering to tell about the genocide in exchange of money. No thank you.

The way back felt like I returned with nothing in my hands. Thinking I'd see El Dorado of this story only to find the treasure was blocked off by Russians. I felt defeated walking around the next few days. As if this was a failure.

My phone rang. Hey, it’s my buddy the taxi driver that I still don't understand and neither does he. But he wanted to help me out. He was sad he wasn't much of a help at the border so he organized a little meeting with an elderly woman whose father lived through the Armenian genocide.

We meet up and I greet her in Armenian:

“Barev dzez“and she responds with „Guten Tag“. Excuse me? „I lived in Germany for a short time. “„My father lived through the genocide. “

„Even back when we were children we used to draw the Mount Ararat when asked we should draw anything we want“. „You knew the Ararat wasn’t part of Armenia? “ „Of course not, how could we have known? We were only small kids“

I couldn't believe it. I needed the proof. I need to see it with my own eyes.

I asked one of the teachers at the kindergarten: „name here“ to tell the children to draw anything they like. Absolutely anything. And they started drawing. Little heads hovering just inches above the table, doodling stuff while I slowly walk around the room and observe them. Might this be the thing I came to Armenia for? Some children look up scared like they just saw the boogieman. I don't know how the Armenian bogyman looks like, maybe I looked like him. That would explain their scared looks. But I didn't care. They drew. And I was astonished.

They drew.

They drew Mount Ararat. They drew the most iconic Armenian thing.

Local businesses like the cognac/wine factory or restaurants or banks carry the name Ararat. The Armenians lost a lot of land and treasures to the Turks one of them being Ararat.

 

Even after all this time Ararat is still in the hearts and minds of the people of Armenia.

Ranging from young to old and even arching over to other parts of the world where no Armenian has forgotten: 

Mount Ararat is still Armenian