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South Caucasus


Nursun Erel with Armenian students
Nursun Erel with students of Yerevan State University,
until strange telephone calls.


An Armenian non-governmental group, the Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiatives, invited me there; their aim for this project was discussing stereotypes in both societies. The British Embassy in Yerevan was among the supporters of the project.

So how did it go?

Well, it was perfect for proving the existence of certain stereotypes in Armenia (also in Turkey I believe), so it really reached its goal.

One example came on the second day of my program in Yerevan. I was supposed to meet with the journalism school students at Yerevan State University. But the long planned meeting was surprisingly cancelled at the last moment by the university rector, Aram Simonyan. Sources told me that the rector gave a strange reason for the cancellation: “The Turkish journalist could spread some virus to the students.”

But somehow the students of the Yerevan State University didn’t share their rector’s view, so they came to my hotel. We had a lot to say to each other, but while we were talking, all of a sudden they started to get strange telephone calls, and one by one they had to leave, apologizing and saying, “We have a problem at the university.”

Later I was told that the strange calls came from their professors asking them to leave the meeting and return to the university.

But if I could have talked to them more on that day, in fact I’d have been critical of the Turkish press. I would have given some examples of stereotypes trafficked in even by well-known columnists. How they make errors, and how they apologized later. I’d tell them about my peculiar experience investigating Ataturk’s old speeches in the archives of the Turkish Parliament too.

I can hear you asking, “Why don’t you tell those stories here?”


First, because I don’t want to infect your beautiful minds with my infectious opinions, with a virus called “tactlessness.”

Secondly, I’m sorry that right now I’m very preoccupied desperately struggling to correct how my words were twisted by an Armenian weekly called Pan Armenian.

And thirdly, isn’t it easier to have such prejudices towards each other?

So we don’t have to remove any of our stereotypes.

Let’s keep them in our heads.

I promise that I also won’t say anything to my Turkish friends about Orhan Pamuk’s image in Armenia, that none of his books has been translated into Armenian. I won’t tell them that during my first three days in Yerevan, no one so much as mentioned the name of Pamuk, our recent Nobel winner. So let the Turks believe that he’s a hero in Armenia because of his controversial remarks words about the Armenian “genocide.”

Yup, it’s very easy to live like a virus, with all our stereotypes, don’t you agree?
The inscription near the Akhtamar Church
The inscription near the Akhtamar Church


Our northeastern neighbor Armenia, which Turkey has consistently refused to establish diplomatic relations with, was a real mystery for many of us. It was my second visit there, but I was sure that I'd find many answers to hundreds of still-burning questions in my mind.

So at 5:00 a.m., at Yerevan Airport I met with the program coordinators, Georgi Vanyan and Luiza Poghosyan. We took a taxi and headed to Yerevan. It was still dark outside, and seeing many buildings gaudily lit, I was surprised and asked if they were casinos.

"Yes they're all casinos," said Luiza. "They're open 24 hours, but under the new law they have to operate far from city centers."

So our program started. We had many appointments with various people, including government officials, university students, reporters and editors, and even clergymen.
After all those years they now seem to be hurrying to catch up.


On a beautiful Sunday morning, we went to Echmiadzin (*) and attended a ceremony in the beautiful ancient Echmiadzin Cathedral (built in 480). The cathedral was believed to be built at the order of Jesus Christ; I was told Echmiadzin means "the coming of the only begotten" because it was built where Jesus himself descended from Heaven to show where he wanted a church.

The cathedral was incredibly crowded with Sunday churchgoers, and a large group of army officers was even there. During the Soviet era, as part of the Kremlin's deliberate policy, Armenians were discouraged from practicing religion, so after all those years they now seem to be hurrying to catch up. Many babies and small children were also in church with their parents.

(*) Echmiadzin (known as Vagarshapat before 1945) was founded by King Vagarshak (117-140) in the place of Vardkesavan. An ancient settlement of the third to second centuries B.C. In view of the might of the town's fortifications -- fortress walls, ramparts and moats -- the Romans, upon the second destruction of Artashat in 163, transferred the capital of Armenia to Vagarshapat which, after Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 301, became the country's religious center as well.
Nursun Erel, Akhtamar
I had difficulty convincing people that Akhtamar Church in Van had been renovated and has a historical sign identifying it as Armenian.


That's why it was easy to understand importance Armenians pay to historical Armenian sites, especially the churches in Akhtamar and Ani. I had difficulty convincing people that Akhtamar Church in Van had been beautifully renovated and even has a historical sign identifying it as Armenian. I spoke at length about it with a fellow Armenian reporter, Gegham Manukyan.

"I'd never believe this without seeing it with my own eyes," he said. "I was told that there won't be any sign saying that it's an Armenian church. I'm also sure that Turks will never put a cross on it."

So I had to ask some friends to email me the pictures I took there four months ago. But even after seeing the pictures, Manukyan wasn't satisfied, and then he complained about the opening date of the church. I couldn't convince him that the delay was due to the cold winter, because it was impossible to complete the paintings inside the church.

But then Manukyan spoke a bit about himself. I realized that he had become something of a local hero after he recently attended the press conference of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul and held up a banner saying, "Recognize the genocide." But then it was a surprise for me to see his business card because Manukyan wasn't only a journalist, as he had told me, but also secretary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or Dashnaktsutyun) party.


It was quite apparent that the 1915 events have become a real obsession for almost all Armenians. All the school textbooks and mass media were designed to promote such an atmosphere. It was hard to find anyone broke with this mindset. One of them was Ashot Bleyan, formerly education minister under then Premier Ter Petrossian.

"We couldn't manage to create a positive atmosphere between Turkey and Armenia," he told me. "Ter Petrossian was a chance also for Turkey, but Turkish politicians didn't see this, so we lost the chance. I hope future generations will be able to do this."

He was also critical of the education system. When I asked him about the hostility in school textbooks, he said:

"Certainly education is everything for a society. All the textbooks and curriculums are prepared under the auspices of the Education Ministry. But as long as they keep their authoritarian stance on that, I don't think there will be any radical changes. But I believe that Armenian society is one step ahead of their rulers. I believe our past, our bitter memory is as an obstacle in front of us, and it holds us back ..."


I spoke with many people on the streets or during meetings; they were obsessed with saying almost the same thing:

"We can't forget the past. The genocide is a fact, so it should also be recognized by the Turkish government. We don't blame the Turkish people, but the burden is on the government."

But there seemed to be more suspicions about Turks. One young university student told me:

"I think Turks can't forget the past either. They believe they committed the genocide but don't want to admit this officially. But during our talks in different forums, we keep hearing many young Turkish people warning that Turkey committed the genocide and if necessary they wouldn't hesitate to kill Armenians today too."

I tried to tell him that such a stand was nothing but hooliganism and no one in Turkey would believe such ridiculous words.


I listened to the stunning impressions of our Program Director Luiza Poghosyan, 36, who recently visited Kars for a few days. She said it was her first time in Turkey and added:

"I was very excited. I was also raised and educated with the official ideology of genocide. So I was wondering, 'When I'm in Turkey, when the people know that I'm an Armenian, will they still smile at me? Or feeling the guilt of the past, will they choose not to greet me?' But almost all the Turks were such warm hosts, so when I got back to Yerevan, I was sharing my impressions with my son, who is a middle school student. He asked me, 'Mother, can it be true that the genocide is a lie?' You see, we're trying to fight our obsessions and stereotypes too."
Grandma, Yerevan


After talking to many officials I began to ask myself:

"Why can't we normalize our relations with Armenia? All other issues can be discussed, but can't we at least open the border?"

On the streets of Yerevan it was clear that life is quite difficult for the majority of Armenians.

But also it's not easy for the government, trying to stand with only the help of the diaspora.

Otherwise who could explain that five years ago the minimum retirement age for women was 50 and 55 for men, but all of a sudden this year they were changed to 60 for women and 65 for men?


While wandering the streets of Yerevan, if the weather is clear you can be lucky enough to have the magnificent sight of Mt. Ararat right in front of you. I haven't yet been to Agri Dag, as Turks call this peak, but from Yerevan, Ararat really looks incredibly beautiful and I can understand the feelings of Armenians.

"My maternal and paternal forebears are all from Ararat, and every day we see it towering so beautifully quite close to us," one Yerevan native told me. "It's a wonderful feeling to have it there, like a marvelous picture. But what about really being there? It must be very different, touching the Ararat snow with your own hands, smelling the unique scents and listening to the birds singing. Why can't I go there?"

Certainly I couldn't answer this question, but in Yerevan vistas of Ararat are very valuable. I heard that rents are sometimes 20 percent higher for apartments which have a better view of Ararat.

But I was disappointed to see that many of the old buildings in the heart of the city had been demolished to be replaced by modern buildings paid for by the diaspora. So I wondered if the view of Mt. Ararat would stay the unique and ancient symbol in Yerevan.

They told me that old residents of these buildings were very angry with the Yerevan Municipality because while they were forced to leave their homes and now live on very little money. So they mounted some demonstrations against the municipality and once even carried signs saying, "Should we seek political asylum in Turkey?"


Though some recent human rights group reports drew a dark picture of freedom of the press and expression in Armenia, I noticed a very energetic media.

During our round table discussion at the press club, Armenian colleagues raised interesting questions.

"Our ancestors are from Van, and we know that our family once had large land holdings there," said one. "Do you think we can get it back?"

So I had to show him a front-page story in Hurriyet five years ago, when Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told me this:

"You see, an Armenian citizen won a court case in Van. He had all the documents to prove he owned some properties there, so the judge ruled in his favor. But then how can we evaluate what a Cabinet minister of the time said: 'As long as we have such judges, we don't need any other enemies'? "

I cited this article to show the objectivity of the Turkish judiciary. But then my colleague said they knew they used to own property in Van, but had no papers left to prove it.

But according to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or Dashnatstutyun), a government coalition party, this is just a small detail, because they believe once Turkey recognizes the "genocide," the next steps will be on territorial issues.

Maybe this was because most Armenians still call eastern Anatolia "western Armenia."

You see the words "Ararat" "western Armenia" and "Greater Armenia" on product labels everywhere in Yerevan, on the walls, cognac bottles, and on famous Armenian vodka.

I bought one bottle of "Greater Armenia" vodka and put it into my suitcase. Then when I realized it was leaking, I tried to wrap it snugly in tape and my Armenian colleague teased me: "Let's see, when you get back home, how much will be left of Greater Armenia?"


So we keep on walking down Yerevan's streets. Most of the embassies moved out recently but I can still remember the big crowds waiting for visas in front of the American Embassy. I asked if it's still crowded there, and somebody joked:

"No, no more crowds. Because almost everyone left Armenia years ago. That's why no one knows the real population of Armenia anymore."

We felt tired and hungry, so it was time to eat. We wanted to find a good restaurant where we could have a good taste of Armenian cuisine.

Than we found a restaurant whose name and symbol are like Armenia's historical symbol, the pomegranate, so we sat there talking with famous Armenian author Vahram Martirosyan, 47.

The small restaurant is run by a family. We were advised to order kufta there, because this traditional Armenian dish is the restaurant's specialty. We waited for a while and then the dish was brought to our table. The moment I saw the slices of meat, I remembered the summers I spent during my childhood in Sivas. I recalled the generously prepared dinner tables at my grandfather's house, their Armenian neighbors around the table and my aunt's words about the Aptigor Kufta: "Finish your food! Don't forget that the more meat you eat, the longer your hair will be."

Then I learned it's the same dish but simply called kufta in Armenian. My friends told me how to make it:

"First you buy a veal rump, take it home, take the bones and skin out and on a wooden surface, with a wooden weight you keep on hammering it maybe four hours until it's softened. While you hammer the meat you add some chopped onions and herbs, then you shape the meat as a ball. It has to put into boiling water to be cooked. Once it's done, you slice the ball into thin pieces and serve with fried vegetables. "

In fact, Turkey and Armenia's 1,000-year-plus shared history makes our cuisines very similar. For example Armenians like to have gatnasor (a kind of a fresh cheese) for breakfast, and they serve it with titvaser as topping. It was a wonderfully refreshing taste in the morning.
Vahram Martirosyan
Vahram Martirosyan


While having our kufta, we heard a poem written long ago before by a Turkish young man pining for a beautiful Armenian girl:

Purple violets in the gardens, Ahchek, you've made me crazy for you, May you become Muslim, Or shall I became Armenian?

Certainly this was long ago; nowadays the atmosphere isn't that rosy between Turks and Armenians. We discussed the possible reasons behind this.

TNA: I was very surprised not to see any Orhan Pamuk novels on the shelves of bookstores. Why are all the books in Russian?

Martirosyan: Because we have a slowly progressing system. During the Soviet era things were different even for the literature sector. Too much money was spent on publishing. Since the Soviet ideology sunk, also reading habits have been deteriorating among the people. So if Pamuk wants to publish his books here in Armenia, then he will pay at least $5,000 to the publisher, and the publisher will find an Armenian translator first and than at most 2,000 copies will be published. I'm also a well-known author but my books don't sell more than 1,000 copies.

TNA: Why does Armenian society have such an obsessive stand against Turkey and the Turks? I noticed that they don't even care what Hovhannes Katchaznouni, the first Armenian prime minister, said in 1923, criticizing Armenian insurrection for spurring the Turkish deportation.

Martirosyan: Well the books written about his speeches are read by quite a few Armenians. But there are some Armenian historians who criticize the taboos and stereotypes of Armenians too. For example some of them blame the Armenians for causing the genocide.

TNA: I was disappointed to see such an obsessive common stand here against Turkey and Turks. I wonder if even one day the genocide were recognized and Turkish politicians apologized for it, would it be any easier to establish a better atmosphere between the two peoples?

Martirosyan: I'm sure the Armenian people would look more positively after that, but I can't guarantee the politicians' actions.

TNA: Do you personally believe a genocide took place?

Martirosyan: Yes, it was the political verdict and order of the Turkish rulers of that time. But I don't believe that Turks supported this. The majority of the Turkish people protected their Armenian friends and neighbors despite the difficult conditions of the war years.

TNA: How can we explain these two peoples living peacefully almost for 1,000 years and suddenly this happens? Back then there were even many Armenian diplomats, high-ranking bureaucrats, and even top military officers serving Turkey.

Martirosyan: Right after they (the Ottomans) decided to do this, they removed all these Armenians from their posts at once. In Istanbul 800 authors and composers among Armenian intellectuals were executed. Even some close Armenian friends of Talat Pasha and Enver Pasha were also killed. I don't share your optimistic view that we shared a peaceful and equal era for 900 years. Maybe there wasn't much bloodshed during all those years but there was always discrimination against Armenians. We've never been equals, we were always suppressed. Armenians weren't allowed even to ride horses. The Zeytun (Armenian revolt in 1862) was an example. But even the Ottoman sultan believed the Armenians were right to revolt at that time, and he rewarded their leaders. But later in the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was sinking, and it was losing most of its territories one by one. Armenians were a great majority in those years so it sounded like a headache for the Ottomans, and we were so alone ourselves. We couldn't decide who we should support.

TNA: If the genocide is such a solid reality, why does Turkish society deny it so strenuously?

Martirosyan:In fact you should ask the Turks this. But I'll try to be honest with you, as I believe, I mean if I were a Turk, probably I wouldn't like to have such a shameful stain in my past.

TNA: But many Turks believe the tragedy resulted from the unforeseen consequences of deportation.

Martirosyan: So at least you Turks admit the deportation as a reality. But all the documents are very clear there. Let's think about the aftermath of the deportation. Okay, there were the victims during the deportation but anyway some managed to stay alive. So why couldn't they go back to their homeland afterwards?

TNA: Don't you think the psychological scars held them back?

Martirosyan: No, that doesn't make any sense. Turks kept the small minority of Armenians living in Istanbul as propaganda material. None of the deported Armenians could ever go back to their homelands even after five years, for example. If they could have gone back, maybe we wouldn't be facing this problem today.
Cascade, Yerevan


Nursun Erel, Yerevan
We kept on wandering the streets of Yerevan. There's a new focal point in the heart of the city called "Gasgad" (cascade). The hill is trimmed and reshaped by interesting architecture, beautifully decorated with modern statues. The huge white stairwell with water fountains running down them is all reminiscent of a natural waterfall in a river or stream. The project was started all the way back in the '70s and isn't finished yet, and the cost must be enormous.

"This is the dream of wealthy American Armenian," a friend told me. "He invested billions of dollars here. Do you see that fat cat? He teases that it's a million dollar cat. But he believes that once whole complex (with shopping malls, cafes and restaurants) is finished, he will get piles of money. At the top of the Cascade, the Cafesjian Museum of Contemporary Art is under construction. You see, it's a popular place especially for foreigners to jog."

The huge black cat figure just in front of the Gasgad was really cute and it was our starting point. Looking at the hundreds of stairs to climb, I must have looked worried, so my friend told me we could take an elevator. But even with elevators it took us more than 15 minutes to get to the top.

In fact Yerevan seems to be an easy city without much traffic or pollution. Razdan River adds a unique beauty to Yerevan by cutting through the city and adding water cascades.

But more Yerevan hills remained to be climbed. There's another one, the one where you can find the genocide museum. We took a taxi to get there.
Nursun Erel, Genoside Museum


The most difficult thing in the world for a journalist must be visiting the genocide museum in Yerevan, especially if she's Turkish. I recall the words of an Armenian friend: "Don't tell people in the museum that you're from Turkey."

First we went through the entrance hall; the walls are all covered with pictures taken before 1915. You see the pictures of "western Armenian" cities. The Armenian population, schools, and churches of those years are given in detail.

The main hall is fuller. Thousands of pictures, documents, films and objects (skulls, for example) are exhibited. They're all focusing on the 1915 tragedy. One Armenian civil group member told me how the April 24 "genocide" commemoration ceremonies are held:

"Every year on April 24, the genocide commemoration starts in Yerevan and ends here in this museum. Thousands of students and people walk here. At the end of the commemoration ceremony the Turkish flag is set on fire. The commemoration lasts almost all day. Some years ago there wasn't any habit of burning the Turkish flag but recently they've done this."

Actually this is my second time visiting the museum, as I was here five years ago. But back then we were filming for the TV station I worked for, so we were guided there by the museum director, Lavrenti Baghrsegyan. He told us we were free to film anything we wanted, but this time museum officials told us not to take any pictures.


The documents in the museum are mainly based on these allegations:

1. Turks occupied Armenia and deported the Armenians.

2. The Turks systematically massacred Armenians starting after the 1877-78 Russo-Ottoman War.

3. From the beginning of 1915, the Turks methodically annihilated Armenians.

4. Talat Pasha (interior minister) gave secret commands for the annihilation of the Armenians.

5. 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the genocide.

What about the Turkish stance towards these allegations? Let's check what Turkish school textbooks say:

1. When the Turks came to Anatolia, no independent Armenia existed; thus, it's impossible to say that Turks occupied Armenian lands.

2. The Armenian riots following the Russo-Ottoman War in 1877-78 are important. Armenians revolted to attract the attention of the European Powers.

3. The events of 1915 were just a measure taken by the Ottoman government to provide security in its territories against the Armenians who stabbed the Ottoman Army in the back. Besides, the United Nations describes genocide as a government's intention to annihilate a race. There's no evidence to prove such an intention of the Ottoman government. The Ottoman archives are open to the historians, and any further investigation would reveal the facts.

4. Armenian historian Aram Andonian claimed that he found the confidential documents of Talat Pasha, and for many years these documents were cited as evidence of the so-called genocide. However, two Turkish historians studied those documents and proved them to be fakes.

5. The number of the Armenian casualties lacks any valid basis. It's said that 1.5 million Armenians were killed, but according to the Ottoman records, there were only 1.3 million Armenian inhabitants. If the total Armenian population was 1.3 million, it's impossible to kill 1.5 million. However, there's neither a method nor a record to count the Armenian casualties. For example, the head of the Armenian delegate at the 1920 Lausanne Conference, Bogos Nubar, stated that, at that time, 700,000 Armenians migrated to other countries and there were only 280,000 Armenians in Turkey."


On the way back to Yerevan I tried to judge what I saw seen there and the responses to it. I asked myself: "How can history be so abstract? How can historians, even the most distinguished and well-respected ones, be so relative?"

I honestly wished that a joint commission or dozens of joint commissions were formed to study the issue, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested. I think this is the only way the issue can be discussed openly.

Thank God in the afternoon I met a small group of academics and we talked about the issue. I'm certainly no expert, but as a journalist, I have an idea how things are in Turkey.

They told me about the difficulties they faced when they tried to do research in the Turkish archives, but their experience was long ago, back in 1990. So I suggest they should try it again, maybe even in cooperation with their Turkish or Turkish-Armenian counterparts.

Certainly they have their own hesitations. Maybe they think because they're Armenian, they won't be allowed to freely work in the Turkish archives.

But I can't believe such an obstacle could still exist in this globalized world.

"How could we trust Turkish and Turkish-Armenian scholars?" one asked.

So this question clearly indicates the reason behind the deadlock, namely a lack of trust.

I also asked their response to some well-known historians who reject the Armenian thesis (such as Justin McCarthy). They simply said, "They're paid by the Turkish government."


So once again I was on the streets of Yerevan. This time I was accompanied with two young students - Movses and Melisa, both Armenians, but one is from Syria, the other from Istanbul. Melisa told me about her own experience in Yerevan as a second year university student. "I have my own difficulties here too," she said. "When we discuss issues, they don't believe that these are my freely developed opinions, but that I act this way because I'm under pressure."

Movses is a skilled photographer who takes marvelous pictures. So walking the streets, by chance we came across a crowd in front of a cathedral. It was a wedding ceremony but it had just ended, so we rushed to the stairs, because at the end of the ceremony the young couple releases a pigeon. We took dozens of pictures.

The next day when I shared my impressions about the wedding with a young Armenian girl.

"It's a very embarrassing custom, but the next day the groom's mother comes and visits the couple," she told me. "Her aim is to see the sign of the bride's virginity. Once she's confident of this, she sends a red apple to her family. In turn, the bride's parents share the apple with their relatives. This is still an important custom, but we young people really hate this."
Nursun Erel, Armenian TV


Nursun Erel
I was very surprised to get such attention from the Armenian media.
On our last days in Yerevan, we had another appointment at Hracya Acharyan University. I was supposed to be meeting with journalism students in a workshop but there were many others from other faculties too. Another surprise was the presence of several students from Yerevan State University. They seem to be upset with the way their Rector Aram Simonyan cancelled an earlier meeting, as after that they were at almost every program I had scheduled.

When we discussed how the media covers things. I gave some examples from the Turkish media. Actually I'm critical on our own media, as I believe especially reporters should steer clear of stereotypes. I told them about the Armenian church recently being renovated at Akhtamar Island in Van. A professor told the students that even if the church is renovated there won't be any sign saying it was an Armenian church. Then I told them what I saw there with my own eyes. One student stood up and asked me:

"Our great-grandparents were all deported or massacred by Turks. All the students you see here can tell you this. So why don't you believe in the genocide yet?"

I tried to tell her that I understand their feelings.

"I believe that this was a great tragedy," I said, "but many people in Turkey believe the tragedy happened faced because of the unforeseen results of the deportation order. I'm not an expert on history, but I believe things should be openly discussed."

I give the example of last year's Armenian conference in Turkey, which was first cancelled but later with public pressure was moved to another venue. So I asked them what would be wrong if Turkish and Armenian historians got together and discussed the issues together, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested. Would it be the end of the world?

Just then someone stood up and said: "Be correct." Then an argument started between that person and the program organizers.

"It was the dean of the international relations faculty who waned you to be correct," my translator told me. "Caucasus Center head Georgi Vanyan asked him, 'Why are you acting so rudely to a foreign guest? Is this the style of diplomacy you're teaching your international relations students?"

In fact it hadn't bothered me, but all those reactions told me how conditioned most Armenians are. We then left the meeting room, when the university rector offered us Ararat cognac, Armenian coffee and chocolates in his room. We tried to leave the controversy behind us.


Yerevan is an interesting city with many different faces. One of them is the open bazaars, for example, and all the things they sell.

At one stand, you can see many leather products, jackets and so on. If you take a closer look you notice that most of these products are from Turkey, my Armenian Turkish friend Melisa told me.

"One day I really needed a jacket so I had to come here to shop," she said. "But the shopkeepers knew I wasn't Armenian, so they asked me: 'Where are you from?' When I told them I'm from Turkey, they all got mad and said to me, 'You must be crazy to buy things here. You see they're all from Turkey. Don't you see they're much more expensive?' "

Yes, the Turkish-Armenian border has been closed since 1993, since the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, and no Turkish government has wanted to open it without at least a partial Armenian withdrawal.

In other stands you can find all kinds of spare parts for just about anything you could need. Seeing all that variety I remembered the flea markets in Ankara when I was a girl.


We kept on wandering the streets of Yerevan and reached the heart of the city, right on Liberty Square in front of the National Gallery.

I saw a huge poster of Andranik Pasha (*) in front of the gallery and remembered how also during this visit, I was interviewed on TV for a half-hour and the anchor asked me about him.

It's clear that Andranik Pasha is a great hero in the eyes of every Armenian, but they seem they don't care much about Hovhannes Katchaznouni, their first prime minister, who in 1923 gave a speech blaming his own people and country for creating the conditions for deportation through insurrection and provocation.

Actually I was very surprised to get such attention from the Armenian media during my 10-day stay in Yerevan. Especially after the TV show, many times people stopped me on the streets and shared their views with me.

(*) Andranik Toros Ozanian was born in historic Shabin-Karahisar (80 miles northeast of Erzurum). He was destined to join the revolt against the Ottomans. At the age of 22, having lost his wife and two children, Andranik joined a partisan group formed in his hometown. Inspired by the group's ideas, Andranik went to Istanbul to meet those who had already been deeply involved in the movement. He readily accepted tasks assigned to him.

When Serob Aghbiur, the leader of a fighting group which Andranik had joined, was killed, Andranik was named leader. It was in 1901 when his fighting group held out in the Arakelots Vank against an overwhelmingly superior force that Andranik's name became famous for his effectiveness as a leader. There were many more similar occurrences to come. Andranik, at first, joined the Hunchak party; it was through party organization that he could be effective in securing men and materiel with which to carry on. But disagreement with party policies led Andranik to leave the Hunchak ranks and join the Dashnak party.

There too, when that party engaged in practices judged to be wrong in principle, Andranik resigned. During the period 1907-13, Andranik committed his energies to helping the Bulgarian revolt. In it he created an Armenian division, which brought distinction to itself by its effective participation. For his efforts Andranik was decorated and commissioned an officer. With World War I under way (1914-1918) Andranik went to the Caucasus and assisted in organizing Armenian battle units to fight the Turks alongside the Russian army units. In 1915 Andranik was named commander of all Armenian volunteer units within the Russian army.


Wandering the Yerevan streets we passed by the Opera Building with a statue of famous Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian out in front. In every restaurant and cafe we heard the popular songs from Armenian singers, and I liked them a lot, because they had many elements in common with Turkish folkloric music.

I was lucky enough to meet a young Armenian pianist-composer, Artur Avanesov, and asked him why Armenia was seeking a new national anthem. He told me that he doesn't like the current anthem's words and music, so he's glad that for the change. He says, the new anthem will be based on a Khatchaturian composition but the lyrics haven't been settled because there are a number of different alternatives.

The existing national anthem's lyrics seem to allude to the tragic past. I wonder: What will be the next one be like?


Our fatherland, free and independent,
That lived from century to century
His children are calling
Free independent Armenia.
Here brother, for you a flag,
That I made with my hands
Nights I didn't sleep,
With tears I washed it.

* * *

During our final hours in Yerevan, my last meeting was organized by the British Embassy in Yerevan. Listening to the British diplomat's words -- "Hatred doesn't help to create a new future, and both sides should at least be in contact" - I wondered how long we will stay apart like this. Can't we digest each other's existence? Shall we keep on endlessly living in our virtual realities?

But I had no answer, so I said "tstesootyun" (goodbye) to Yerevan.

Nursun Erel
Ankara - Yerevan - Ankara
December 13-16, 2006
The New Anatolian