High plains on the way to Kars

Modern street in Kars

New stores in an otherwise abandoned building

Main mosque

Apostle's Church, now a mosque

Kars Castle on the hilltop

Exterior wall of the ruins of Ani

Crumbling walls at Ani

The remainder of an archway at Ani

Redeemer's Church, Ani

Ruins of a bath house in front of the Redeemer's Church

Paintings inside Church of Tigran Honentz

Church of Tigran Honentz

Virgin's Chapel

Ruins of ancient bridge

Inside the main cathedral

Ruins of the bridge from the first mosque in Anatolia

Off-limits castle in a military zone

Apostle's Church ruins

Decorative carvings in a church

Ruins of a minaret

Church of Gagik

Main cathedral

The external walls from within

Ruins of Abugamrentz Church

Fallen pillar in Abugamrentz Church

Cave dwellings near Ani

More ruins

View of Kars from the castle

Kars Castle

Kars, Turkey

From the Turkish Point of View

July 1, 2012

These mist-covered mountains

Are a home now for me

But my home is the lowlands

And always will be

Some day you'll return to

Your valleys and your farms

And you'll no longer burn

To be brothers in arms

- Dire Straits

It is always good to see the perspectives from both sides and here in eastern Turkey I am doing just that. Historically most of this section of Turkey was at one time under the control of Armenia and was called Western Armenia. Today it is authoritatively controlled by Turkey with a distinct Turkish identity and a massive amount of Turkish soldiers. Having traveled through Armenia and heard so much about the Armenian Genocide from their point of view I was curious to see how people in Turkey viewed the issue, so on the way to visit the ruins of Ani I asked. The answers I got put the issues in a different light.

My tour guide told me that at that time this region was not under Turkish control but was under Russian administration. Therefore, how could Turkey be responsible for what happened? He also pointed to the Russian military bases on the other side of the river in Armenia and talked about how Armenia has essentially been a Russian puppet for most of its modern lifetime. When seen in that light, this contentious border has yet another layer of complexity to it: that of the front lines between NATO and Russia. My tour guide talked openly about how many Turkish people wanted to restore relations with Armenia but it was the politicians that were standing in the way. He put much more emphasis on the importance of an aggressive Russian presence being so close to Turkey’s border than in Armenia being any threat. But perhaps he might not be the most authoritative figure on the subject considering that he thinks Russia orchestrated the recent shooting of a Turkish plane in Syria.

Regardless of recent events on another border, the past is never forgotten here as attested by a statue commemorating the Armenia massacre of Turks in 1918. In fact the entire site of Ani has a very timeless feeling to it. The crumbling walls of this massive fortification were once at the crossroads of civilizations and now despite their remoteness are still caught between two civilizations. At the center of the site on a large hill sits the remains of a castle, which today is still used by the Turkish military for defense purposes. As to why the Turkish military feels the need to occupy an amazing historical site I am not sure as they have other bases in the nearby area. Just north of the site sits a Turkish military base while opposite it across the river gorge is an Armenian base.

Much of the site itself is un-restored ruins with a few grossly over-restored exceptions. Years of exposure to the elements, both natural and human, have left many of the buildings crumbling to pieces. The best example is the Redeemer’s Church, or exactly the half of it that remains. The weathering of the buildings has produced some amazing effects with grasses and weeds sprouting from the roofs and walls and ceilings caving in to let in the natural sunlight. An interesting thing about the site is the array of buildings, there is a mosque (the first one in Anatolia no less), there is a Georgian Church, there are Armenian Churches, and there is even a Zoroastrian Church. Thankfully there are no decaying Soviet buildings to lend an air of depression to the site. The most appropriate artifact in the site is an ancient bridge across the river, the only possible link across the deep river gorge, which lies in ruins, much like the current relationship between Armenia and Turkey.