Jack Bournazian in Arapgir
At King Senekerim's Bridge near Sivas
At the Surp Arakelots Church of Kars
Sara Makashji of Malatya
Sarkis Tekian in Talas
Artin Gemerek in Amasya
Nuri Gungoren (Center) in Jibin
Surp Stepanos Church of Efkere near Gesaria
Fortress of Hromgla (Rumkale) near Antep
Dr. Armand Bedikian and Armen Aroyan at the entrance to Zeytun
NUDGING ANCESTRAL GHOSTS
IN HISTORIC ARMENIA
By Jack Bournazian
May 19 - June 2, 1994
Most of us pilgrims did what we should have done years ago: we packed up all of our feeble excuses in an old kit bag, beat it with an ugly stick ("sopa" Turkish style), and flew away to historic Armenia. It was a chance of living our dreams of visiting our ancestral villages, towns, and cities. It was a time to "fish or cut bait," to make the fantasy a reality, or continue playing make-believe with National Geographic maps. So, when we heard Armen Aroyan, the Pied Piper of the Armenian Heritage Society play his tune, we decided that it was time to go. We grabbed our tooth brushes, overfilled our dented suitcases, grabbed our passports, and headed for the land of our ancestors.
Our crew was feisty and good-looking, which were partial requirements for the tour. Armen Aroyan was the chief guide, film director, and Commander-in Chief...depending upon which hat he wore. Ani Tashjian, an Armenian Istanbul school teacher, was the official translator, traveling concierge, and den mother. Her yalanchi sarma-turshis were creative and delicious. Jemal, our Kurdish driver, doubled as #1 diplomat-negotiator, especially with the Turkish civil and military authorities. And, finally, the core of the expedition were the 16 pilgrims who became known throughout Anatolia as the "Steadfast Sixteen." They were a credit to their blood types, both red and blue, positive and negative.
Our adventurous pilgrims were aware of the armed conflict in Eastern Anatolia where the Kurdish PKK guerrilla forces were waging a liberation struggle against the Turkish army. They had also read about the recent bombs set off in the bazaars of Ankara and Istanbul which were meant to scare off the tourist trade. And, yes, they had thought of the possible risks of walking into villages, and of their "i-a-n/y-a-n" name endings. We didn't worry, for many of us were carrying Armenian insurance, little blue beads in our pockets.
As for geographic concerns, those of us searching for villages along the Euphrates River wondered about finding flooded communities. The Turkish government was in the process of building 21 dams on the Euphrates for irrigation and hydroelectric power. Some thought the Keban Dam in the Harput-Elazig area, and the huge Ataturk Dam near Urfa would threaten many of the former Armenian villages. Luckily, such was not the case concerning our pilgrim villages.
Our drive from the Ankara airport to the capital was along 17 miles of beautiful countryside. The view was breath-taking and caught me off guard. Admittedly, throughout my lifetime I had, consciously or unconsciously, focused mainly upon the social, political, military, and economic relationships between the Turkish and Armenian peoples. After all, like so many others, including those in our 25-seat mini-bus, my parents were also child survivors of the bloody genocide of 1915-23. I had not been thinking of nature's beauty, but when it hit me I sat up and took notice.
So, here was physical Anatolia, quietly confident, and flaunting her beauty without saying a word. It was springtime and the rains had brushed the Central Anatolian countryside with a lush green hue. The rolling hills, valleys, and distant mountains where changing colors from intense purity to various tones and shades according to the shifting degree of available light as our bus sped on to Ankara. What a special, visual welcome to Historic Armenia.
The political dictums which emanate from the Turkish government were unaffected by the physical and colorful splendor of nature. They had another agenda. Our visit to Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations would bear this out as display after display of artifacts from previous Anatolian civilizations were exhibited and recognized. Mentioned were the Hatti, Hittite, Mitanni, Phrygian, and Urartu peoples. No mentioned was made of the Armenians who succeeded the Urartu civilization. We experienced the exclusion of the Armenian name again, and again as we visited other historic sites including Aghtamar and Ani.
We headed toward Yozgat, knowing that Alice Margosian's ancestral family were from nearby Eglence. Jemel, our Kurdish pathfinder, brought us to the village where a gathering of local citizens surrounded our vehicle. At first we identified ourselves as Americans, but an elderly Turkish man merely smiled and said, "Ermeni, Ermeni." After 600 years neighbors will know neighbors.
The children of Eglence came running to see the strangers, and we were just as delighted to see them. They had blue eyes, green eyes, hazel eyes, as well as brown and black eyes. Readers of history were not surprised to see their resemblance to Eastern Europeans. After all, hadn't the Ottomans marched to the gates of Vienna? Hadn't massive migrations been forced upon many nations? And, weren't the harems of the Sultans stocked and restocked by the beauties of all nationalities? The so-called pure central Asian Turks are still a minority in their own country.
The Turkish calendar had an influence upon our visit. The day of our arrival was May 19, which happened to be a holiday double-header: Ataturk's birthday coincided with International Youth Sports Day. Pictures of the Turkish "George Washington" were seen from all government buildings and businesses. The nation's flag and assorted colorful bunting were draped across a variety of structures and were being waved by people of all ages. One particular Ataturk quotation which would be seen from Ankara to Diyarbakir was: "Ne mutlu Turkum diyene" (Happy is he who says he is a Turk).
As we approached Caesarea (Kayseri), near one of the ancient capitals of the Hittite Empire, we saw the extinct volcano, Mt. Erciyes, which had given birth to Cappadocia. I thought of Elia Kazan's book America America, and how the two young characters, Vartan and Stavros, had journeyed to Mt. Erciyes and cut ice to sell in their village. This very mountain behind our hotel brought thoughts of Armenians and Greeks, and how they had suffered and endured the Ottoman experience.
The next morning we observed a number of young Turkish men on street corners, sharpening their long knives. Customers in automobiles drove up to the boys and the bargaining began. The drivers handed over the money, opened their car trunks, and received a bleating, kicking, lamb or ram, which was unceremoniously tossed headfirst into the sedan. We were witnessing the beginning of Kurban Bayrami, a religious, festive 4-day holiday whereby rams/sheep were sacrificed to commemorate Prophet Abraham's offer to sacrifice his son Isaac as a supreme act of faith (Genesis: 22) . God praised Abraham for his faithfulness and accepted a ram instead.
The tradition for this special holiday called for gift-giving, feasts and sharing of food, especially for the needy. It also encouraged kind behavior toward one another. While the general courtesy and hospitality of the Turkish people was evident throughout our trip, especially in the villages, there was no harm in hoping that Allah reminded them to keep it up.
The voice of the muezzin was constantly being heard throughout the land. Five times each day, from sunrise to evening, the religious crier called the faithful to prayers from the many mosques throughout Anatolia. While I was seated alone in the lobby of Kayseri's Hotel Almer waiting for a friend, the hotel's Muzak system (elevator music) was temporarily interrupted by the muezzin's call to prayers. Then the Muzak continued and Whitney Houston countered with "Yes , Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me...." I asked the bellhop if he enjoyed the song. He just smiled and swayed to Whitney's singing. Did Whitney have a Baptist in Moslem Turkey...and during Kurban Bayrami?
In the old section of Kayseri we went to Surp Krikor Lusavorich Armenian Church which was built during Byzantine rule and renovated by the Armenians in 1883. Considering its years, it was in remarkable condition. When the key custodian arrived, he experienced difficulty in unlocking the huge door. With hundreds of years of accumulated rust, one must expect some problems. With Armenian perseverance, however, gasoline for lubrication, and a steel pipe for persuasion, the door lock surrendered and God's sanctuary was opened.
The church was special to Mary Toovalian and Nora Toovalian March because their parents had lived nearby and had worshiped there. We entered and observed, took photos of the splendid spiritual structure, and as a group, we sang the "Lord's Prayer."
The nearby town of Talas was also memorable to Mary and Nora because their father had lived there and worked for Calouste Gulbenkian, "Mr. Five Percent," of Shell Oil Company fame. We were shown the two Gulbenkian homes which had been splendidly maintained, and the remains of a secluded Armenian church with a Gulbenkian ancestral tombstone nearby.
Our local guide in Talas was the flamboyant and fortyish Sarkis Tekian, who, within five minutes of being introduced, rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal his tattoo: "SARKIS" was boldly printed on his biceps. Just another way of presenting one's business card, I thought.
Sarkis was sporting a natty, well-tailored casual wardrobe which featured a three-quarter length blue denim jacket with wide lapels which buttoned below his hips. His neatly-pressed pegged pants were resting comfortably upon his snowy-white oxfords. After sharing some preliminary information, he fingered his prayer beads, adjusted his sunglasses, and lit up a toothy smile which sparkled in contrast to his full black beard .
Just meeting Sarkis was well worth the stop. I wondered if he was really a business agent for a rock band and was between gigs. Regardless, as we prepared to leave for Efkere, we waived good-bye to the good-natured man and realized that there was, indeed, a touch of the Hollywood life style in far-away Talas.
The Surp Stepanos Armenian Church of Efkere was still standing, but it was basically being used for storage and a possible warehouse for its available stones. Nora recalled a picture of the church which was taken in 1917, and the difference was sadly striking. We saw the many pigeon cotes (shelters) which were in full occupancy. Armenian villagers used to raise pigeons/doves for personal consumption and to sell them for profit. Greater income was made from the sale of bird fertilizer which was always in demand. The cotes were made from tufa, a soft porous rock which originated 30 million years ago when Mt. Erciyes erupted (see Diana Darke's Discovery Guide to Eastern Turkey).
We motored on to Sivas, a Seljuk-styled city of 221,000 people and visited its oldest Turkish building, the Ulu Cami, which was constructed in 1192. I thought of my elderly Armenian friends from this area, and recalled their melancholy stories. Here is also where Ataturk convened his Sivas Congress in 1919 and unleashed his wars for Turkish independence. Whenever one enters this region of Anatolia the ghost of Hyes abound., for Sivas was also the area that the barbarian Tamarlane redefined the word "cruelty" by burying alive 4000 Armenian cavalrymen (see National Geographic map, "Lands of the Bible Today," 1967 edition).
It was late in the afternoon when we found the village of Govdun, the birthplace of Murad Krimian, better known as "Sebastatsi Murad." What made this occasion special was that not only were three of our pilgrims's families from this village, but one of them, Osky Vartanian Cascone, was the great-niece of the famous fedayee. Osky's maternal grandmother was the sister of Murad. Other Govduntsis were Mary Bedigian Versteeg and Starre Najarian.
The Turkish villagers were excited by our visit and came out en masse As usual, it was the men who greeted us. Except for a few elderly grandmothers, the women remained secluded behind curtained windows. Again, the elder natives did not accept our identity as Americans. It must have been the fresh yergir air, because we were looking more Armenian by the day. And, again, we heard the mumbling that the "Ermeni" had returned for the hidden gold which they left behind.
The Armenian church was in the center of the village, and part of it was being used as a home. The parents of Starre and Osky had been married in the church. Another find was that two of the ladies located the foundations and stone fence which surrounded the homes of their parents and grandparents. They had access to a map of the village drawn by a Mr. Andonian, a former Govduntsi from Paris. The ladies came prepared and they succeeded !
An elderly Turkish man was impressed that Osky's great-uncle was Murad, the fedayee. "Murad Agha, Murad Agha" he kept saying. Many of us kept wondering why Murad of Sebastia was being praised by Turkish villagers against whom he had fought and killed. We learned that following one of his campaigns, Murad had returned to the village with food and supplies for all inhabitants. He also had helped to build a school for all of the children. Of course, Murad was a man of arms from their own village, so perhaps that was cause enough to be honored in the Turkish warrior tradition.
The next morning we returned to search for the home of Murad, and the villagers came out in even greater numbers. The mumbling about "gold seekers" was heard again. Aside from the general suspicion, there was another explanation for the Turkish excitement: when we shouted "Osky" we were calling out a woman's name; when our ladies waved a hand-drawn map, they were seeking the location of family homes, not buried treasure. Obviously the natives were convinced that the Armenian capitalists had smelled pay dirt.
Meanwhile, it was springtime in Govdun and the young Turks were restless. They had locked their women in their homes and were looking at the Armenian damsels in our company. Of course all of our ladies did justice in representing the traditional beauties of our Hye tribe. The Turkish Hospitality Committee, however, targeted our youngest lass, Nicole, for the honor of marrying the Govdun Turk- of-the Month.
We shall call him "Omar" so there won't be any lawsuits faxed from Govdun. Anyway, he was a handsome lad in his late twenties or early thirties, and was adorned in a stylish brocaded vest fit for the festive occasion. Glasses of tahn (water and yoghurt drink) were carried to our group. "Omar" smiled and kindly asked to speak to the young lady's parents. Upon hearing the surprising news of her upcoming betrothal, Nicole sped off like a hummingbird with a sinus infection...only more gracefully.
A number of us dispersed in search of other missing members, including our tour leader, Armen, while Nicole's parents calmly discussed other issues with the young man. Our task was to round up all of our pilgrims, especially Nicole, and prepare for a speedy exit. With untypical Armenian luck, we succeeded. Really, the Govdun villagers were kind and courteous, but when the unknown factor of love was thrown into the equation, the outcome became unpredictable. We counted our full plate of Armenian pilgrims and headed for the open road . Good-bye spirit of Murad, you make things exciting wherever you are.
After leaving Govdun we stopped at a sturdy bridge which straddled the Alis or Halys River, now called the Kizil Irmak. We took a group picture and examined some of the Armenian lettering at the base of the bridge: "Zadigi Vorti Antreas" (Zadig's Son Andrew). The historic bridge was built by John Senekerim, the Armenian king of Vaspurakan. In 1021 he traded his Armenian kingdom in the Van region to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II for possessions in Sebastia. Four hundred thousand of Senekerim's Armenian subjects followed him to Cappadocia (see Vahan Kurkjian's, A History of Armenia).
En route to Malatya we made a stop at Gurun, the home of Charlotte Donabedian's mother. Daughter Nicole, still single and loving every moment of it, had possession of a hand-drawn town map. She found the location of the family house which now served as a school. The old walnut tree and swift-running spring served as guideposts. The local Armenian church, abandoned but still standing, was badly damaged. A unique sight which everyone also enjoyed seeing were the Hittite caves in a nearby mountain which overlooked the center of town.
We drove to scenic Darende where some Armenians still lived. A local man who was married to an Armenian, joined us and served us as a guide to Ashoti, an elevated, isolated resort with a mountain cascade as its centerpiece. Geographically speaking, no one would voluntarily leave this place, for the springs and the waterfall provide everlasting and free and sweet-tasting water, and the swift river water flowed to the fertile farm fields below. Keep your Sparkletts and Perrier !
After we drove our guide back home, he insisted that we stay for dinner - all 19 of us - Der Voghormia. He hadn't even asked his wife ! All of us thanked him for his generosity, explained our demanding schedule, and left for Malatya. Of course we were left speechless and ,again, amazed at the kindness of Turkish villagers.
Late Sunday we arrived in Malatya, a city of over 281,000 people, the apricot capital of the nation, and the home of former Turkish president Turgut Ozal. Due to our late arrival, we had to drive to a restaurant on the outskirts of the city where they could accommodate a large party of Armenians in search of nourishment.
We were not disappointed. Throughout the trip we were amazed at the eggplant dishes of various styles and preparations: the eggplant was baked, chopped and diced and sliced, fried grilled, roasted, stewed, and stuffed - and so were we. One order tasted better than the other, so we kept tasting and the platters kept coming: beoregs, salads, soups, tahn and jajukh (heavy on the garlic !); the kebabs of chicken, beef, and lamb, followed by the paklavas, cakes, puddings, coffee, tea and fresh, tasty dondurma (ice cream) which was Dr. Armand Bedikian's "piece de resistance".
At the better hotels and restaurants the appetizers alone would have satisfied many American diners. Many of us were so overwhelmed by the generous servings that at times , the main course offerings were bypassed. No room. After all, gluttony is still one of the seven cardinal sins, right?
Mrs. Sara Gostigian of Malatya, who sported a natural broad smile and pleasant demeanor, was expecting her visitors. She was the sole Armenian-language reader of some 20 households in the city. Although the venerable Surp Yerortutyun Armenian Church is in her neighborhood, the cementing of the doorways and windows by the Turks have rendered it useless. An Armenian priest, she told us, visits them every 2-3 months and holds religious services in private homes.
We enjoyed the company of Mrs. Gostigian, for she reminded everyone of the typical Armenian mother. Her braided white hair shone in the sun while she sang church hymns and read from the scriptures. If the Turks had been creative entrepreneurs, they would have placed Sara's picture on every box of candy- - or lokhum - - a la Fannie Farmer or Mary See.
Another Armenian woman in the neighborhood who heard us speaking our native language, quickly came over and introduced herself. Her name was Mayreni and she kept saying, "I'm Armenian, I'm Armenian." Ah, the joy of speaking one's native language, especially in Anatolia!
In nearby Arapgir, with a population of 10,400 people, there have remained but three Armenian families, one of whom we met, Sarkis "Aslan" Miranshahian and his diminutive and witty wife, Mayreni. We were welcomed to their shady garden and served walnuts and dried mulberries (tut). While munching, I thought of the Kharpertsis of Worcester arguing with Armenians from numerous other provinces about the size of their tut: "Aha, knuntsori bess."
Baron Sarkis commented on how his family had survived on dried tut and walnuts during the Genocide, and then led us up the stairs to his living room. He had decorated his home with the typical family pictures, oriental rugs hanging on the wall, saintly church pictures and the appropriate devotional religious relics, good enough for a layman-led Badarak which he held from time to time. Oh, yes, on the same wall hung a hunting rifle, as if to say, "never again."
Sarkis recited his Armenian prayers in a most forceful, pleading manner which led one to believe that these pilgrim visitors were in desperate need. He also voiced that popular Armenian-Turkish refrain, "If I knew you were coming I would have killed a lamb," but we had to hunt for an elusive Arapgir village and sincerely thanked him for his offer. Sarkis claimed to have been in that particular village years ago, so he and his wife, along with a young Turkish girl neighbor joined our expedition to the mountains.
The "lost" village was the birthplace of this writer's mother and grandparents, and was known as Dzak (sunrise), not to be confused with dzag (hole) as the Turks have erroneously done by renaming it " In " ). Reading the map was the easy part. The village should have been east of the city of Arapgir, across the Oski Kedag (Gold River), a tributary to the Euphrates River. Up and up the bus climbed, whining and coughing, reminding us of "The Little Train that Could." Our expert driver, Jemal, took one twisting goat trail after another, eliminating one avenue after another. The patience of our little band of Christians was being tested as their knuckles turned as white as their faces. One could almost hear their arthritic finger joints hollering for attention as they gripped the metal seat bars.
The Commander-in-Chief, Armen Aroyan, calmly cracked his pumpkin seeds and refused to abort the Dzak mission "until all avenues were exhausted." But lo and behold, the prayers of "Aslan of Arapgir" paid off as we motored into Dzak, which proved to be a very bushy "Garden of Eden."
I was unconcerned that the chickens, roosters, cows, sheep, and donkeys outnumbered the human population of Dzak.. Couldn't the same be said about Montana, USA? All I know is that I was in the right place, finally, and maybe good things would perhaps happen. Armen was always talking about serendipity, and we were about to bump into it. We met an elderly Turkish man and his two helpers who were in the process of repairing his house. When he came over to meet us, Armen introduced me and told the gentleman that my mother and grandparents used to live in Dzak.. The man then sent away his helpers, who were his sons, as he continued to speak with us. He smiled and told us that his name was Boghos, and his mother's name was Digin Anna. What joy...but it got better. I rattled off some names of the Watertown, MA Arapgirtsis, but he did not remember last names because he was so young. I responded with "I know a person that you must have known. My great-grandmother was a midwife/nurse and cared for the entire village...and she always had a young 6 year-old girl with her."
Old Boghos's smile expanded and he remembered the little girl and the nurse who helped everyone - even the gypsies who came from Eastern Europe. "That little girl was my mother, and the nurse was my great-grandmother, Heghine Pogharian Ananian" I told him. For me this was a blessing which brought great joy. It's what our journey was all about.
On to Kharpert (Harput)....
The bright red color of an occasional poppy along the roadside symbolized the more radiant days of Harput. As we stared out the bus windows, one couldn't help but reflect on the more honorable days of the region during the late 1800s. The Province of Mamouret-ul-Aziz, of which Harput was a major part, contained over 150,000 Armenians spread throughout 180 Armenian villages. Armenia College, which was forced to change its name to Euphrates College, was also the center of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Harput consular district also served Diyarbakir, Mardin, Van, Bitlis, and Sivas. Most of the students and teachers at Euphrates College were Armenians (see Leslie A. Davis, The Slaughterhouse Province).
The Armenian structures of Harput could be easily seen and numbered: the remains of St. Mary's Church and Surp Hagop Church; the remains of Surp Garabed Vank; and many stubby foundations of Harput's energetic past. The red poppies were, in a sense, paying their respect to a lost, but honorable past.
The village of Shentil, my father's birthplace, has been renamed Bahcekapi (Garden Door). It was easy to find near the Diyarbakir road, but it wasn't much of a garden spot. Other than the sporadic rock piles, the village had four to six rows of renovated apartment houses, a regular yergir housing project. The farmland for crops were not located within the village. Numerous riding animals such as horses and donkeys were readily available to the youngsters. The children who eagerly came to greet us were the obvious wealth of this community. They appeared well-nourished and wore trusting smiles. When asked to recite a poem or sing a song they readily complied and executed with confidence.
Seemingly, high marks were in order for the maintenance of old-fashioned family values where self-discipline and proper behavior were taught at home and within the community. One doubts whether the Shentil school had computers, VCRs, and television sets. The three Rs and proper etiquette must still have a high priority. Can you imagine a youngster telling his Turkish father, "Don't bug me, man!"
Following the winding roads, we left Elazig for Palu, the ancestral home of Alice Killerjian Norberg, and Zaven Donabedian. Their grandfathers, who were born there, had eventually moved to Lije, in the Diyarbakir area. The Rhode Island pilgrims would continue their lineal chase of family ghosts.
At Palu, on both sides of the Murad River, the rugged hill country rose sharply. Intersecting sheep trails were becoming plentiful, and many led into mountain passes. Young Kurdish men suddenly appeared to exchange greetings and make small talk, wondering who had come to visit their turf. We were in Kurd country.
The landscape became increasingly more rugged and picturesque. As the mountains became steeper and sharper, the road narrowed. Goats and sheep traffic increased. Jemal, #1 driver, slowed his vehicle, coaxed the animals with gentle words and staccato horn sounds, and wedged his way through the four-legged traffic. From our windows we saw soldiers, and at times civilians, standing high up on mountain passes carrying side arms and rifles. Now and then we saw burned-out buses and vans, belly-up, in the gullies along the roads. Our pilgrimage was becoming more adventurous as we drove deeper into the rugged terrain of Eastern Turkey.
An increasing number of Turkish army vehicles were sighted as we left the Murad River heading for Bingol and Karliova, and, hopefully our destination for the evening, the mile-high city of Erzurum (6078 feet). But it was not meant to be, for as military checkpoints increased, valuable daylight time was being eaten away.
The routine military checkpoint was the same: Turkish army personnel would stop the bus and ask our driver to identify himself, the riders within, and the purpose and destination of the trip. At times they requested the tourist roster, and inquired about passports. Of course, almost all of us had "ian/yan" name endings. Didn't they know that we were Armenians?
Throughout the pilgrimage, during eggplant appetizers and German beer breaks, we contemplated that same question. One common thought was that the Turkish soldiers were too young to know about the Armenian issue, especially when their government had treated the Armenians as non-entities by first ignoring them and then denying the Genocide.
We also felt that the Turkish officers knew that we were Armenians, especially now since Ankara was standing truth on its head by claiming that the Armenians of 1915 had massacred the Turks. We were also protected by our American citizenship and passports. We were aware that the Turkish economy was in shambles and that tourism had to be protected. Also, the prestige of the Turkish army was at stake, politically and militarily. For years they had been the "Kingmakers," protectors of Ataturk's republic, so they had to hold the line. Besides, personal military careers were at risk. Failure of any kind could end one's military rise through the ranks.
The army's mission was to protect the tourists, and with darkness approaching, we were ordered to return to Bingol for the evening. The following morning we left Bingol at 6:15 a.m. and picked up another Turkish army escort which remained with us all the way to Erzurum.
While we did not stop in this provincial capital, the so-called "Garrison City," we did see numerous young Turkish soldiers in oversized helmets standing at attention, and ready to carry out orders whenever called upon. Leaving the Spartan-like environs of Erzurum made one think of 1918 and General Andranik's impossible task of defending that city, especially after Russian-Armenian troops deserted the fortress to defend their own homes in the east.
We crossed the historic Arax River between Horasan and Sarikamis to admire the Shepherd's Bridge (Choban Kopru) which was built in the 16th century by the great Sinan. For all of us to see the artistic handiwork of Sinan, the Master Architect of Suleyman the Magnificent, was truly a special satisfaction. After almost 500 years this bridge was still in use, along with many of Sinan's 323 various structures (see Richard Stoneman, Traveler's History of Turkey).
We were entering Kars, which is another mile-high city. Travel guide author Diana Darke states that "Kars in wet weather is the armpit of Eastern Turkey." It was only preparing to drizzle when we arrived, so no comparison or reference to alternative body parts will be made. Ms. Darke should remember that the Russian and Turkish governments have governed Kars throughout the last century, and improving armpits was never high on their priority lists. Besides, as we traveled throughout Anatolia, we appreciated the difficulty of getting the Turkish good-old-boy network out of coffee houses.
Past Armenian presence in Kars was physically evident as we stopped at the Church of the Holy Apostles near the center of town, facing the Kars Citadel on the adjacent hill. High atop the Armenian church structure is the Turkish crescent and star which has replaced the Christian cross.
When one views the legendary Kars fortress in the walled city, the rock looks impregnable, yet in remembering the history of 1918 one is reminded that the city was given away, not taken away. With the losses of Erzurum and Kars, the dream of a free Turkish Armenia ended. One must assume that the ghosts not only weep, but gnash their teeth.
Twenty-six miles away was the holy ancient capital city of Ani. An intermittent rain fell, just like spirits weeping. The heavy clouds covered the sunlight, and it appeared that Armenian luck was again following us. But one good thing about clouds is that they can never find a parking spot - so off they went. We descended from our vehicle, and quietly moved toward the ghost-like walls. One moment we assumed that we were back in the 11th century, but when we turned, we stared at a Turkish original - - a blue sign with huge white letters: "The History of Ani." Never being one to ignore creative Turkish history, I began to read. "... 732 Bagrats... Ashot...Capital of Bagrat Kingdom..."The words "Armenia/Armenians" were not printed.
A nearby warning sign cautioned tourists not to "direct your camera at the territories of the USSR" even though the Communist adventure had ended three years ago. I felt that the sign also revealed a reluctance to admit that a free Armenia existed. True, Mr. Yeltsen and the Armenian Republic have a treaty allowing Russian soldiers to continue guarding the Armenian-Turkish borders, but Turkey still chokes on using the "A" word. Ankara has yet to diplomatically recognize the Republic of Armenia.
For hundreds of years following the destruction of Ani, architects, authors, artists, and poets have written of Ani as a sacred ghost town, a quiet "dead city," where artistic religious structures were so abundant "that a popular oath was by the thousand and one churches of Ani" (see Vahan Kurkjian's, A History of Armenia ). There were plenty of Armenian ghosts to nudge in this Armenian city- capital. In this late spring afternoon with dark clouds hovering above, and with armed Turkish soldiers following us, we pensive pilgrims were lost in our own thoughts of Armenian history.
It was easy to conjure up visions of king and nobles, of soldiers on horseback, of foot soldiers scampering for positions, of laboring peasants, men, women, and children scurrying to satisfy the demands of the nobles... of resisting the military forces of the Byzantines, Georgians. Arabs, Azeris, Persians, Kurds, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, and the Ottomans. "How has Armenia survived?" we kept asking ourselves.
We quietly walked on the tired grass of Ani and whispered and clicked cameras and kept walking. Four or five rifle shots broke the silence of the dark afternoon. It caught our attention and added the proper background to our thoughts... young Turkish soldiers, no doubt, bored with guarding "Hittite Temples" from those souvenir-seeking American tourists.
The Cathedral of Ani, build by Trdat with red and black stone, looked beautiful as the setting sun reflected upon yet another master's handiwork. Before us was the Marco Polo Bridge, worn, broken, and tired, a stone's throw away. It was built to cross the narrow, winding green-gorged Akhurian River ( Arpa Chay ). The scene momentarily captured memories of the China silk trade in which Armenian merchants participated..
We were drawn to the church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honentz ( 1215 ) because of its beauty and unbelievably, its colored murals which have endured 779 years. The American in me wondered. . . and Sears Roebuck has the audacity to brag about its "one coat paint guarantees?" Midst the "click, click," and "big smile, please," we mumbled praise and admiration for our hard-working Hye perfectionists, the ancient artisans who had such great spirit and pride in their work.
While rolling southward on Route 40, we checked our wrinkled maps and squinted out at the snow-capped mountains. We knew that we were approaching the "Sacred Mountain," our mountain. We received permission from a Turkish army officer to take a short-cut through a pasture which brought us closer to a stone fence barrier adjacent to Mt. Ararat. We now experienced a sense of awe being so close to the quiet giant, Massis.
Mother nature also knew that it was a photo-op moment. The sky was clear, clouds were pushed aside for us to see the mountaintop, and color abounded with the greens and yellows from the pasture vegetation. In contrast, nestled against the slopes of Ararat were volcanic rocks of gray, while blue and white patches of sky and clouds complemented the breathtaking natural canvas.
We took a group picture, and many individual photos as we tried to line up Great Ararat with Little Ararat in a one wide-angled shot. It was not easy, especially when one realized that Mother and daughter mountains are seven miles apart at their summits, with a difference of 4,076 feet in elevation (see H. F. B. Lynch, Armenia: Travels and Studies, vol. I ).
We American-Armenian pilgrims experienced the same special treat that Englishman Lynch wrote about ( 1893-98 ) when he traveled through the Armenian heartland of Van. He mentioned the village of Kalejik near the Bendimahi Chay which flow into Lake Van. Lynch agreed with the Armenian proverb: "Van in this world and paradise in the next." Lake Van, indeed, is in a category of its own for it extends 78 miles and covers 1300 square miles, six times the size of Lake Geneva. If Noah were to make a comeback, he could do no better than to launch his 450- foot Ark into Lake Van for a shake-down cruise.
The color of Lake Van is azure, a rich deep blue, which seemingly appears glazed. Historian Lynch, who took samples of the water to an English chemist for analysis, said that it contained "carbonates of potassium and sodium, with chlorides and sulfates." In other words, don't drink it. Lynch said that one fish did live in the water, but he did not identify it. Historian Vahan Kurkjian did identify the fish as a "Dareh." Whatever it is, do not use it for sushi.
To digress for a moment, Armen Aroyan, our guide and also a Turkish- language speaker, had an interesting conversation with Kurdish villagers from Kalejik. Once the natives learned that we were Armenians they invited us into their village and showed us an Armenian cemetery which revealed markings of crosses on headstones and boulders. Many of the Kurdish villagers admitted that they were part Armenian : parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. They spoke of Karabagh and wished the Armenians well. They added that Turkish troops had visited their village in search of Armenian volunteers serving with the PKK guerrillas.
In response to Armen's question whether Armenian volunteers were actually in Eastern Anatolia, they responded in the negative. Others said that they had seen Armenians from Beirut and Syria who were on their way to fight in Karabagh. Still, the Turkish government is eager to find or manufacture a tie between Armenians and the PKK to justify their own foreign policy needs.
We would learn more about that issue later. In the previous week the front page of one Turkish newspaper revealed a photograph of a so-called Armenian priest who was posing with a PKK soldier. With that false photo, the press had inferred that Armenians were linked with the guerrilla war in Eastern Turkey. The Turkish propaganda machine was oiled and rolling.
The ruins of Van were complete. Only the stubble of the stone foundations remained above the ground and underneath, the tell-tale mounds of the tragic past. Seeing the Rock of Van made one want to sing "Rock of Ages," especially the last line of the second verse, "In my hand no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling." And cling we Armenian Christians did, and still are clinging in Armenia and Artsakh. Our opponents never seem to change, and the playoff games never seem to end. And this is where it all started, in Van's Urartu Stadium.
We were motoring, again, but this time on a forty-footer, skimming along the glazed waters of Lake Van with our eyes on King Gagik's Holy Cross Church on the island of Aghtamar. Again, the Turkish government signs gave no acknowledgment that Armenians ever lived there.
Aghtamar was now a Turkish tourist attraction and picnic ground. A Kurdish family of five was also aboard the boat, so we did not have the island to ourselves. Once we landed it was an uphill climb to the church, but well worth the artistic and historic view. We gathered inside the Holy Cross Church and lined up for a group picture. We then sang the Lord's prayer. While we were singing and enjoying the acoustical vibrations, we noticed the Kurdish youngsters peeking at us inside the church. They remained silent, no doubt understanding the solemn moment experienced by fellow tourists.
The Holy Cross Church is a Christian gem. King Gagik's architect, Manuel, had decorated the outer walls with bar reliefs depicting such Old and New Testament figures as Adam and Eve, Isaac and Abraham, Jonah and the whale, and Madonna and Child, complete with Archangels Gabriel and Michael. Of course, King Gagik I, who looked quite regal in robe and crown, and St. Gregory the Illuminator were not forgotten. There is detail after ornamental detail of fruits, flowers, leaves, and animals with additional Biblical scenes within the church. It is understandable that the work took from 915-921 to complete. At one time the island was complete with a palace, shops, a school, warehouses, and administrative buildings, but now only the church remains.
Again, we left with great pride and appreciation of our ancestral workers and artisans who carried the tufa and other huge stones to the island to complete the artistic task. Mt. Sipan, Turkey's second highest peak at 14,000 feet, and Mt. Nemrut, 9,627 feet, stood guard at the opposite shore of glistening Lake Van as we drove by Tatvan and headed toward Bitlis.
Thoughts of Bitlis brought memories of William Saroyan... of his ashes...just one of his urns...being carried to Yerevan by Osheen Keshishian, editor of the Armenian Observer, of Alan Jendian, and Robert Demir...just 12 years ago....
It was daytime but Bitlis was dark and definitely gloomy. The main street was crushed into a narrow valley with hills and uncontrolled vegetation on both sides, while houses were stacked helter-skelter upon the hillsides. Could this have been the architectural forerunner to the triple-decker styled homes of Worcester, Massachusetts? Factories and businesses appeared devoid of any activity, and the town's population of 40,000citizens, quite literally, seemed to be out on the streets. With the obvious absence of building codes, one imaginative restauranteur had set up tables and chairs on the roof. Perhaps it was just another way to enjoy the ambiance of downtown Bitlis.
I, again, thought of the late author-playwright William Saroyan, and how he had insisted that the other half of his ashes be buried in Fresno. His will, however, had a provision that when Bitlis became free, the urn from Fresno would be taken to Bitlis for internment.
There was a bit of America in Bitlis, after all. I saw a corner office with a bright red sign in the window: DEMOKRAT PARTI BITLIS BASKLIGI.
There was a great deal of Bitlis in William Saroyan as is evident from his work, Bitlis: An Unpublished Play (1975), which was based on his visit to this Turkish city in 1965 (see Ararat, Spring 1984, AGBU).
In the play three Armenian characters, Ara, Bedros, and Bill (presumably Saroyan) are discussing Saroyan's visit to his beloved ancestral home while they sit in a Turkish restaurant. For Bill the visit is a bittersweet experience. He feels guilty for liking the Turkish owner. " I am drinking delicious sweet tea in a glass made by a sensitive Turk...I don't know what to make of it...And let's face it he doesn't look especially unlike an Armenian."
The character Bill is then reminded about the destruction of the town's Armenian churches and cemeteries for the building materials; of the only Armenian person left in Bitlis, a 90 year-old man who is abused and ridiculed daily, and who longs to go elsewhere to die among Armenians; of being watched when they go out for walks because "they think we have come to dig up the buried gold of our fathers."
Bill keeps contradicting himself, "I want to live and walk and eat and drink and sleep in Bitlis...I want to die here and be with my dead." He continues: "I had to come. I had to see it, I came, I saw it, I am glad to be leaving it, but there is more, there is something nagging at me and I don't know what it is...."
Bedros attempts to explain: "I am an Armenian and our story does not permit us anything like common simple gladness about our country. It has never been unmistakably ours long enough at one time, I suppose...."
As we left Bitlis, I thought of the Saroyan dilemma, which is our dilemma, and I gazed at the poplar, willow, walnut trees as the springtime wind blew the puffy balls of the catkin blossoms throughout the narrow valley.
"Hail to the Sassountsi mountaineers" to our right as we headed southeast. The road sign which recognized Silvan and Diyarbakir should have also included "King of Kings Highway" for we were in Tigran the Great country. Historians have named numerous locations for Tigran's capital, Tigranakert, but the best guess is Silvan, the old Mayafargin (see C. Burney and D. Lang, The People of the Hills ).
Diyarbakir, a busy, noisy, Kurdish city of over 381,000 people was just what we had expected: a city encircled by about 3 2 miles of high black basalt stone and four entrance gates in the directions of north, south, east, and west. Our hotel was closest to the Harput gate. We toured the bustling city and walked on both sides of the ancient walls. Most of the original 72 towers remain standing. The Tigris river flows outside the city walls, so we wandered and took photos of the Tigris Bridge which was built in 732 and is still in use.
In another part of town a large plastic watermelon was on display over an intersection offering artificial proof that Diyarbakir was the nation's watermelon capital. A festival brochure claimed that watermelons from this area used to weigh over 200 pounds, but due to shorter rainy seasons, watermelon champs have weighed in at 130 pounds (see Tom Brosnahan, Turkey, A Travel Survival Kit ).
The Donabedian-Norberg-Sprague families were eager to visit another of their ancestral villages, that of Lije. We left Diyarbakir on Rte. E99, and turned north of Rte. 71 which would lead to the Lije turnoff. The traffic increased as cars, trucks, ambulances , and Turkish military vehicles filled the two-lane road.
We were definitely in the heart of PKK country again, for road checks were more frequent and the sight of armored vehicles became routine observances. We were ordered to leave our bus and surrender our passports. Vehicles on both sides of the highway were being stopped, and native occupants were being questioned and searched. I thought of the WW II war movies when I saw a soldier checking a large hay truck by jabbing a long steel pole into the stacks. No screams were heard so the truck rolled on. Eventually, we were told that firefights had been taking place between government forces and the PKK guerrillas throughout the evening and the early morning hours. We were not allowed to proceed and were turned around. It was a great disappointment for the five pilgrims who had traveled thousands of miles, only to be turned away at the village doorstep. They took some photos at the Lije road sign, scooped up some native soil as a memento, and we returned to our Diyarbakir hotel. The Lije episode, however, had another unexpected chapter, which is not unusual for Aroyan Tours. Waiting in the lobby of our hotel were two gentlemen from Lije, the forbidden village. The Kurdish desk clerks, managers, and bell hops were all smiling as the Old Country met the New Country, and through interpreters learned that their families were related .After the newly-found Kurdish-Armenian had sung his song, the Armenian Rhode Island contingent cemented the alliance by playing a cassette tape of Zaven Donabedian's father singing a Lije village folk song in Kurdish.
Drinks all around..."and the tears flowed like wine...."
In the words of the Negro spiritual, "Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham," and lo and behold, we had entered the bosom of biblical Urfa, near the town of Harran where the Prophet Abraham had lived .We visited the sacred pool of Abraham where, according to legend, God saved Abraham from Nimrod's fire by throwing water on the flames. The wet smoldering coals were turned into fish, now hallowed carp which swim in a large nearby pool - much to the appreciation of local merchants.
Urfa, formerly Edessa, located in old Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, has more that seen its share of tragedy. A reading of one of its favorite sons will settle that issue (see The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa, editor Ara Dostourian ).
We then traveled to another neighborhood to visit the first Armenian Evangelical Church of Urfa which had been converted to a mosque. At one time this was the church of Reverend Ephraim K. Jernazian who wrote his memoirs which painfully reflect and coincide with the tragedy of the Armenian nation: Hamidian massacres of 1895-96; the 1909 Adana massacres; the 1915-17 Genocide; and the Kemalist revolution and killings of 1921-23. The pastor's manuscript was eventually translated into English by his most caring and dedicated daughter, Alice Jernazian Haig. The book was published as Judgment Unto Truth: Witnessing the Armenian Genocide (1990 ).
Travel Director Aroyan had tried to keep it a secret, but the word was out that a special side trip would be made before arriving at Antep... Jibin was the name of the village, and this would be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Thanks to Armen Aroyan's "Armenian Heritage Society" films which covered his earlier trips to Historic Armenia, some people had seen the amazing Nuri, the Armenian sightless poet and singer. He had lost his eyesight at age 4, and was sent to Beirut for medical attention . Because his medical reports for healing were negative, he remained for schooling in Braille, and received an Armenian education. He returned to Turkey as a teenager. Nuri's Armenian language skills had remained dormant until Aroyan's frequent visits tapped the man's innermost resources. Further motivation led to Nuri's acquisition of a short-wave radio to hear broadcasts from Yerevan and Monte Carlo via relay. That is how he regained his language skills.
Nuri, the freedom-loving bachelor, eventually made his entrance, smiled, charmed his visiters, and was seated. He welcomed his old friend Armen, and the happy pilgrims who were surrounded by Nuri's brother and two younger generations of the family. Nuri thanked Armen for the gift from a previous visit - a wristwatch. He told us that he became the envy of the Turkish neighborhood, but they could not understand why an American would give a wristwatch to a blind man. We were not sure if Nuri told them that the numerals were printed in Braille. There was more laughter when Nuri told the gathering that the watch was made in Hong Kong.
All of us had a chance to sit next to the "celebrity" to ask him questions on camera. Nuri was told that he had become a famous person not only in America, but also in Lebanon, Syria, and Australia where Armen had presented other programs...more laughter and applause.
Nuri sang Armenian patriotic songs from his Beirut repertoire with enough verve and panache that a number of us were ready to march on to reclaim our lost lands- - well, almost.
Long life to Nuri, a very special man.
The weather became warmer as we drove closer to the Syrian desert and crossed the great Euphrates at Birecik, a deportation route used by Armenian exiles in 1915. We eventually reached Aintep , a sophisticated western-styled city of over 600,000 inhabitants. This was evident by the scrambled egg breakfast buffet at the Otel Tugcan, far different from the regular fare of bread, cheese, olives, and honey which was served throughout Eastern Turkey.
Antep was the ancestral home of three of our travelers: Hagop Ishkanian, and brothers Adour and Zareh Adourian. The Adourian great-grandfather was an Armenian priest (Avak-Kahana) and a leading force in building the Armenian Cathedral of St. Mary. The structure, which is presently the largest Armenian church in existence in Turkey, took 21 years to build.
That evening our entire group was invited to be the dinner guests of a Turkish couple, Mazhar and Ayfer Unsal, old friends of Armen. The husband is a professor and Dean of the Engineering School at Gaziantep University, and his wife is a columnist for the local family-owned newspaper.
The host and I enjoyed talking about an article I had read concerning the popular resurgence of chi kufte (khayma) in Turkish society, especially in the nation's Parliament. Even in committee meetings, Turkish legislators call in cooks to knead the raw meat and cracked wheat to prepare their favorite dish. When is it ready to serve? Why, when the cook tosses a rolled ball of khayma to the ceiling...if it sticks, then it is ready to eat.
The hostess readily admitted that she had written a Turkish cookbook, and wanted to try her creations on guests who were familiar with Middle Eastern dishes. We did our best as the salads, vegetable appetizers, khayma, yalanchi sarmas, boeregs, and baklavas gradually disappeared. I was tempted to ask Ayfer how she was able to locate my Mother's recipe book- - but I didn't.
The Unsals were perfectly hospitable Turkish hosts, and we were perfectly courteous Armenian guests, which means that so many, many things were left unsaid. They knew who we were and we obviously knew where we were. I am sure that the U.S. Department of State would have been delighted with our politically correct protocol. Mashallah!
Our stay also included a visit to Gaziantep University, the former Aintab College. One of the pioneer construction supervisors of the school was the great-grandfather of Californian Paul Kalemkiarian. Across the street from the University was the home of the famous missionary surgeon, Dr. Fred Shepard. When we journeyed on to Marash we saw the American Girls' College, adjacent to the old Marash Theological Seminary which is now a Turkish army administrative building.
We left our bus, our "home away from home," in Antep and boarded a plane for Istanbul. We had been to Ankara, Turkey's capital, and ten other provincial capitals, but the Armenian population capital was now in cosmopolitan Istanbul where 60,000 Hyes reside. While the Armenian population in Historic Armenia is virtually non-existent, Istanbul thrives with "33 active Armenian churches, 20 schools, and a 600-bed hospital" ( see David Zenian, "The Armenian Community: What Makes it Tick," AGBU NEWS, Nov. 93
Istanbul also has two fine Armenian newspapers, The Jamanak ( Time) and The Marmara. Assistant editor Yervant Gobelian and editor Robert Haddejian were kind enough to share their precious time and stories with us. We were told of Turkish bureaucrats using picayune tactics to harass Armenians for personal profit. Armenian last names were Turkified by adding "oglu" (son of) to it without the person's knowledge. If the person wanted it corrected, then money was requested to cover official costs.
Editor Robert Haddejian discussed the article that we travelers saw in a Turkish newspaper a number of days before- - that of a supposedly Armenian priest posing with a PKK soldier. He had written editorials on the matter, and an Armenian group of concerned citizens had called upon Turkish officials and major newspapers to quash the false, inflammatory story which attempted to link Armenians to the guerrilla war in Southeast Turkey.
The Armenian community's fears are justified, for they know how easy it is for hate mongers to inflame the religious fanatics against minority Christians - - especially a professional and financially successful minority. As Saroyan said, "There is terrible cowardice in strength." An additional reminder to the Hyes are the recent political victories in the mayoral races in Ankara and Istanbul by the Moslem fundamentalists.
Armen and I caught a cab and were driven to Shishli Hill Moslem Cemetery. The object of our search was the Grand Mausoleum of Talaat Pasha, one of the infamous Ittihad Triumvirate and genocide plotters. In 1919 Talaat Pasha, the former Minister of the Interior, was tried in absentia and found guilty for his heinous crimes. Talaat, who was living in Berlin, was tracked down by Soghomon Tehlirian in May of 1921 and assassinated . Tehlirian was acquitted of the murder charge by a German jury. Years later the Turkish government claimed Talaat's body and returned it to Istanbul for a hero's burial at Shishli Hill. Today an impressive memorial tomb and column honor the grave of a mass murderer.
It staggers the imagination when one wonders what the world would say if Germany constructed a memorial tomb to honor Adolph Hitler. The world would not allow it! Not only did Turkey honor a mass killer, but during the 1980s both American and NATO military officials joined "loyal ally" Turkey at a grave side ceremony to honor Talaat's memory. I had to visit the Sisli Hill to remind myself that shame never interferes with a nation's foreign policy.
The Armenians of Istanbul have learned to become inconspicuous , which is a very effective defensive tactic. "Out of sight, out of mind," so to speak.. It was no different 40 years ago when I visited my cousins in Old Istanbul when I was asked not to speak Armenian in the streets. I"ll never forget the fear in their Armenian eyes. "We don't want any trouble," they kept saying. The following year, 1955, the Turkish thugs roamed the streets of Istanbul at will and attacked Armenian and Greek businesses and churches. No policemen interfered.
In 1994 the fear is still there. Both newspaper offices we visited displayed pictured or busts of Ataturk just like every Turkish store or office or school. Yes, he was the Father of the Turkish Republic, and patriotism is understandable, but Armenians know that they must exhibit more patriotism than their neighbors. Never mind what happened to them in 1921-23. Most newspaper offices usually have clear, attractive, easily recognizable signs at their place of business, but not Armenian newspapers. We had to walk up and down winding alleys, open and close gates, or walk around fences to finally find the office. Thankfully, a piece of paper in the corner of the dusty window identified the establishment.
Critics will counter that the Armenian newspaper offices are in the old part of town in an ancient city. That is true, but still no effort is made to clarify the address or the name of the business. I understand- - who wants to be an easy target. Also, the laws are against the Turkish-Armenians. Any physical improvement of property must have must have the government's approval. It seems that Armenian properties are doomed for collapse. The cunning Turks win again.
The pressure on Istanbul Hyes has increased since Armenia's independence and Karabagh's liberation struggle. When the military victories in Karabagh make world headlines, or when American Armenians seek genocide resolutions, or team up with the Greeks on the Cyprus issue, or march with Kurds in human rights demonstrations, or lobby against foreign aid to Turkey - - then the Istanbultsis feel the wrath of their government.
Turkey is a beautiful country. The villagers we met were courteous and hospitable. We did not experience any rudeness or violence - - which is more than we can say about life today in major American cities. But the undeniable, underlying current of fear among our people in Istanbul is always present. The congenial Turk can suddenly be turned into a dangerous, well-orchestrated tool for violence. Hundreds of years of Turkish occupation, and thousands of years of foreign oppression have conditioned our enduring people.
One thinks of a " smile" which is so well described by author Elia Kazan, a Greek Anatolian who understood the meaning of servile manners in the Ottoman Empire. In his America America he described the young Greek boy, Stavros, who was hiding behind a smile: "This smile... has a strong element of anxiety. It is so often an unhappy brand of the minority person... the only way he has found to face an oppressor, a mask to conceal the hostility he dares not show, and at the same time an escape for the shame he feels as he violates his true feelings." That is also another ghost that one nudges in Turkey.
Most dictionaries define proverb as a short popular saying which expresses an obvious truth. The following Turkish proverb which speaks volumes is found in author Diana Darke's guide book on Turkey: "God created serpents, rabbits, and Armenians."
We entered beautiful Constantinople ( my Greek friend insists ) and toured the usual Sultan Ahmet Jamii ( Blue Mosque ), museums, and even a harem for relaxation. I refer to the Dolma-bahche Palace where we had enjoyed pressuring the Turkish guide into admitting that Garabed Balian was its chief architect. However, the guide refused to use the "A" word.
My final thoughts on Armenians in Turkey were reverberating simultaneously with Lufthansa's jet engines as we sped down the runway. We were leaving the ghosts behind, and also our Armenian cousins who were " holding the fort," as the cliche goes. How easy for us to utter bravado talk and then leave, while they remain to maintain our cultural Armenian traditions... or to enjoy their comfortable lifestyle and material possessions? They should remember that the rules of the Turkish government are same as life- on-earth property guidelines: no one takes their wealth with them. They remain Turkish - Armenians by choice.
I couldn't help thinking of this matter even as the aircraft left Turkey. If we citizens of the USA have become Americanized, then Istanbul - Armenians have become Turkified . They are used to playing the servile survival game and have made trade-offs. Even the Turkish government plays the game, and plays it very well because they invented it. The Turkish government needs the Armenian, Greek, and Jewish communities not only for their resourceful enterprise, but for their use as bargaining chips in the international foreign policy poker game. Our Turkish-Armenian cousins have survived and prospered because they are talented, clever, and know how to play the game. Meanwhile, farewell Harput and Arapgir, and the rest of Historic Armenia.
Listed below are the names of the "Steadfast Sixteen," a plucky lot who have realized their dreams and have paid their respects to their progeny:
DR. ARMAND BEDIKIAN
OSKY VARTANIAN CASCONE
MARY TOOVALIAN MARCH
ASDGHIG STARRE NAJARIAN
ALICE KILLERJIAN NORBERG
LUCILLE ABRAHAMIAN SPRAGUE
MARY BEDIGIAN VERSTEEG