Monday, September 15, 2008

Without doubt the most talked about subject in Yerevan, and elsewhere, is the visit of Turkish president Gul to Yerevan and statements that followed about the beginning of a new friendship and possible opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, and about Armenia being ready to withdraw from Azeri land. This conversation also ruled in nearby Byurakan, where I traveled for Khachverats (Exaltation of the Holy Cross) commemorations. Walking through the now-deserted garden area of the house we were visiting, a local in his fifties stated, “The weak always suffer. We do the will of Moscow, now of Turkey. Don’t Armenians have a memory? Don”t they know what would happen if the border was open? Turks would take over Armenia without firing a shot. Turkish businessmen would open factories in Armenia, and bring Turks to work in them. It’s only been 15-20 years since we cleaned Armenia of Turks, during the Karabagh war. And now this? We want to invite them back? They’ll fill our country, swallow us up. And, with an open border, more of our people will go there to work. I can’t say what might happen to our culture, or what’s left of it. The work Komitas, Hayrik Mouradian, and others have done will all be wasted.”

Another Byurakantsi, known for his opposing views on such matters, said he had just returned from Trebizond on business. “The best people on earth are the Turks,” he said. “I would much rather do business with a Turk than an Armenian. Didn’t you hear how Djemal’s (member of Young Turk triumvirate) grandson, I think it was, went into shock when he viewed the displays at the Genocide Museum? I think there’s hope with the Turks.”

Later, having dinner inside the large living room, I was reminded of the issue of sects and how they’ve made inroads into this picturesque mountain village. A woman with a strange sort of twisted, peaceful, and falsely contented look on her face came in the room and began talking in an unnaturally soft voice. After several minutes of being thoroughly disgusted, I left the room and walked with a relative to his home near the old church in the center of the village. Near his home, we ate grapes and pears, the latter, according to locals, is the original pear, with no breeding whatsoever, and almost no tie to the modern pear. A few yards from his home is a holy place, a small, stone structure with an altar and an ancient, simple khachkar. When I asked him how old this holy place was, he smiled and said, “Shat hin.” This I knew — I asked only in anticipation of his colorful reaction. He then told of a cousin whose funeral we had both attended about three months ago in Aparan. “My cousin died of fright,” he said. "“At his mechanic shop in Moscow, a little over a year ago, criminals came in and mowed everybody down with machine guns. My cousin was working under a car, below ground, and wasn’t noticed by the criminals, so he wasn’t killed like the others. Soon after this event, he began having trouble with nerves, trouble swallowing, that sort of thing. Nobody could help him. He would have been better off it he had been killed alongside his workers, who were both Armenian and Russian.”

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