Ani: Capital of an Ancient Armenian Kingdom

In 1989 when my twin sons graduated from high school, the 3 of us made a 4-week tour of Turkey.  We selected Turkey because of its rich and varied history.  Of particular interest to me were the ancient Armenian ruins in eastern Anatolia.  I especially wanted to visit the historical site of Ani, located on Turkey’s border with the USSR, the union had not yet split up.  Today, on the other side of the border is the independent country of Armenia.  But the border is still closed.

Ruins of Ancient Armenian Churches in Ani (Located in Present-day Turkey)

Ruins of Ancient Armenian Churches in Ani (Located in Present-day Turkey)

According to a recent article by Paul Salopek (NG Apr 2016):

Ani was the medieval capital of a powerful, ethnically Armenian kingdom centered in eastern Anatolia–the sprawling Asiatic peninsula that today makes up most of Turkey–and straddling the northern branches of the Silk Road.  It was a rich metropolis that hummed with 100,000 souls.  Its bazaars overflowed with furs, with spices, with precious metals.  A high wall of pale stone protected it.  Renowned as the “city of 1,001 churches,” Ani rivaled the glory of Constantinople.  It represented the flowering of Armenian culture.  Today it crumbles atop a remote, sun-hammered plateau–scattering of broken cathedrals and empty streets amid yellow grasses, a desolate and windblown ruin. . . . I have seen no place more beautiful or sadder than Ani.

“They don’t even mention the Armenians,” marvels Murat Yazar, my Kurdish walking guide.

And it is true:  On the Turkish government placards erected for tourists, the builders of Ani go unnamed.  This is intentional.

Eastern Turkey today has few Armenians.  In 1915, caught between the collapsing Russian and Ottoman Empires, the region lost nearly all of its Armenians.  Historians estimate that 500,000 to 1.5 million of them were killed or displaced in what Armenians call a genocide, a claim rejected by Turkish officials.

In addition to visiting Ani, Salopek visited an across-the-border overlook in present-day Armenia:

“I always keep by kitchen fire lit,” says Vahandukht Vardanyan, a rosy-cheeked Armenian woman whose farmhouse sits across the barbed wire from Ani.  “I want to show the Turks that we’re still here.

I climb an overlook by her home where Armenian pilgrims disembark from buses.  These tourists come to gaze longingly across a fence at their ancient capital in Anatolia.  I look too.  I see exactly where I stood months earlier in Turkey.  A ghost of my earlier self roams those ruins.  Nothing separates any of us except an immense gulf of loneliness.

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