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Hrant Gadarigian

Yerevan to Diyarbekir and Back: Part 2

Part 1

I was introduced to Zakaria Mildanoglu, the Armenian architect who worked on the restoration of the Holy Cross Church at Akhtamar. He told me that St. Kirakos now legally belongs to the Foundation set up by Istanbul-Armenians who spearheaded the restoration.

In addition, given that the Patriarchate in Istanbul has no legal status per-say, it is the Foundation that must assume the court battle to receive compensation for former church properties that have been used to build stores and other commercial enterprises.

Given that St. Kirakos belongs to the Armenian community, unlike Akhtamar, it can hold religious services and cultural events whenever it wants. I assume that the Foundation, probably with the consent of the Patriarchate (read Locum Tenens Archbishop Aram Ateshyan), will set the agenda.

Archbishop Ateshyan’s Words Anger Many

But given the conservative nature of the Patriarchate, a complaint I heard by many in attendance, including a fair number of Istanbul-Armenians, it remains questionable whether St. Kirakos will grow into something more than a religious site for periodic worship.

I heard of plans to hold concerts and other cultural events – even organizing Armenian language classes. Let’s hope the visionaries win out.

In fact, many found Ateshyan's words at the event a bit too condescending to Turkish sensibilities. His homily began with a rhetorical homage regarding the tragic death of Turkish soldiers at the hands of “terrorism” – a referral to a recent PKK attack in the south. Many saw it as yet more proof of the Archbishop’s “raya” mentality of the Ottoman past.

In contrast, Diyarbakir Mayor Baydemir spoke of the need to pay respects to all “victims” of terror and hate – a veiled reference to the innocents slaughtered in 1915.

In short, the entire affair was a nuanced dance around an issue - the 1915 Armenian Genocide, Kurdish participation and Turkish state policy – that needs to be critically dealt with before any real talk of dialog amongst the sides involved takes place.

The reopening of St. Kirakos in the heart of Kurdish Turkey is just the beginning, albeit an important one.

As Raffi Hovannisian aptly put it - “It is exceedingly important for the two peoples to engage in dialogue, but without forgetting that great, dark disaster of history, like genocide.”

We left Diyarbekir after the Sunday service at St. Kirakos. There was a long road ahead of us back to Yerevan.

Taking the north-eastern route, we passed through Silvan and Bitlis - William Saroyan country.

Van: Tremors at Night

We hit Tatvan as night descended, unaware of the tragic scene awaiting us at Van.

Max got a phone call from his wife telling us about the massive quake that had hit the area. But it was too late for us to turn back.

Pulling into Van that evening, we immediately saw the effects of the quake. Much of the city was without power. Traffic lights weren’t working and cars ferrying frightened folks out of the city had created impassable jams.

A maze of confusion and despair.

Everywhere, people wrapped in blankets, were wandering the darkened streets, seeking refuge from the freezing night air. Hundreds of people were camped out in the main square, huddling around fires of whatever fuel could be found.

Max finally found his way to a hotel he had stayed during a prior trip. The young Kurdish clerks told us that there were plenty of vacant rooms - no one wanted to stay inside due to the ongoing tremors.

With more than a bit of trepidation, we decided to book a room. The alternative was to freeze outside. The clerk told us to keep the room door open if we needed to make a mad dash outside during the night.

Khachik said he remembered reading somewhere that usually a major earthquake’s subsequent tremors diminish in strength. We hesitatingly took this bit of unverified fact as comfort and went to sleep fully dressed.

Soon after, a powerful tremor shook the hotel room. We made in out and downstairs in record time. But we were exhausted and sleep got the better of us. Early the next morning we were back in the jeep and heading north around the shoreline of Lake Van.

The next morning, we took a walk around our hotel. To our surprise we noticed that just two blocks away a corner building had collapsed. Work crews were digging through the rubble.

Earthquake Epicentre

Max wanted to go to the epicentre in Արճեշ - Artchesh (now called Erciş). More photo opportunities were in store. 

On the main road leading to this town of some 70,000, we saw Turkish military trucks carrying troops and equipment. Ambulances quickly passed by.

We entered the city, parked the car, and headed off on foot.

Building flattened like pancakes greeted us. Heavy construction equipment – bulldozers and excavators – made their way down the narrow two lane main street now full of people.

Turkish police, automatic rifles at the ready, were helpless at maintain any semblance of organization. Large crowds had gathered at each collapsed building, watching frantic emergency crews trying to remove the tons of concrete and rubble.

It was a weird scene of destruction. Most of the houses that collapsed from the earthquake’s might appeared to be structures of four or more stories. Many of those remaining standing bore large cracks in the walls and would probably have to be razed.

It seemed like the main fault line ran right down the main street – destroying some buildings while others remained intact. After visiting the area by helicopter, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan lashed out at those builders who cut corners and built such death-traps.

I and Khachik walked the streets while Max went off on his own.

The Turkish press had descended on the town in full force; news cameras and reporters were scurrying here and there.

We saw victims of the quake being carried out in body bags from the local hospital as frantic friends and relatives of those unaccounted for waited for news of their fate.

In the midst of the unfolding melee, local and state politicians soon arrived to survey the destruction and pay their respects. I witnessed Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, being mobbed by residents as made his way to the center of the town.

Huge white tents, trucked in by the army, were being carried away by those left homeless and those who were too afraid to go back to their homes. Back in Yerevan, I read reports that many of the incoming military trucks had been looted of their tents, many of which were being sold on the black-market.

Even Erdoğan was forced to admit on Turkish TV that the initial phase of the search and rescue effort had been lacking in organization and efficiency...little comfort for those in the disaster zone.

We finally regrouped at the jeep and left Ercis heading north and the border.

Back to the Border

More scenes of the quake’s wrath dotted the road as we made our way to Horasan, the Erzeroum highlands, and the Georgian border beyond.

Hours later and under the cover of nightfall, we pulled into the tiny hamlet of Posof, high in the pine forested mountains.

Another detailed search of the jeep awaited us at the Turkish border crossing early the following morning.

From there it was another hour or two through Georgia till we reached the border with Armenia at Bavra.

We had travelled some 3,000 kilometers all told.

It was a journey to remember and one I hope to repeat soon. Just another attempt to reconnect with a fading past.

Comments (1)

George Kevork Gulluian
Exelant job,Thank you for all informations,

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