Thursday, 2 May 2019

Sad in Kars and Ani


People nowadays book holidays to provide pictures to post on Facebook. This is certainly a reason for coming to the ruined Armenian city of Ani. Actually, in some ways the pictures are better than the place.

When we reached them the walls of the old city look very recently restored. The day before I had been looking at a late Sakashvili era fake castle, circa 2012 in Georgia and feared at first that this was more of that kitsch.

Apart from the walls Ani isn't fake. There is not a very great amount to see - two or at most three hours is enough - but what there is is beautiful and very sad.

I was in a sad mood anyway. I came across a very professional Armenian travel agency that organised day trips to Ani from Yerevan for €50 and decided to meet them in a small town in Georgia. I went to the wrong town (the names were similar to an untutored philistine) and had to take a €50 taxi to meet them at the border. Worse I cost them half an hour. This made me berate myself.

But I was also in a bad mood because I was touched by their sweetness and sadness. Armenians, unlike Georgians but like Slavs, have a tendency to be sad, but they have every reason to be sad setting foot in what they accurately call Western Armenia and remembering their forgotten Holocaust.

'Who now speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?' supposedly asked Hitler, though the authenticity of this dictum is disputed. He was talking of the disappearance of over a million Armenians, mostly killed by the Turks, who as Hitler pointed out took advantage of war to eliminate their enemy. The Kurds eagerly assisted.

The picture is of the Church of St. Gregory, one of the ruined churches in Ani. Ani was once capital of Armenia and the city fell into decay after the 13th century, was forgotten and was discovered in the late 19th century, about the same time as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Ani was taken from the Armenians by the Roman Byzantine empire in the 11th century, is now in that part of Armenia that Lenin let Turkey have, exactly on the border between Turkey and modern Armenia which has been closed since 1991.

A Muslim girl in a headscarf was having her picture taken on what was once the altar of the cathedral and later the mihrab when it a mosque. One of my Armenian fellow travellers asked her repeatedly to stop as this was sacrilege and was ignored.

The land behind the church in the picture is Armenian territory.

I felt sad in Kars before Ani.

Lonely Planet says Kars has its charms in sunshine but not in rain and it was raining. But this was not it.

I always intended to come to Kars by train. It takes 24 hours from Ankara (Angora to us fogeys) and 24 hours from Bucharest to Ankara. And then to Persia. (From this autumn it will be possible to go on by rail to Tbilisi and Baku.) Instead I came with the minivan of Armenians.

At first I found Kars depressing. Grey skies. Commonplace, tacky shops.

Later I came to like its grey charm and pre 1914 Russian buildings. This might be my 1970s British adolescence, telling me not to be judgmental but to love everyone. But I think I do love every country with all my heart.

I do however mourn that this city is not in Armenia.

I wish Anatolia were still Greece, come to that. And am glad that Spain and Portugal threw off Muslim rule. I know this makes me sound like an American.

In the future, backward looking nostalgists may look at Europe and regret that it became Muslim.

Attaturk's Turkey morphs into Erdogan's especially in remote towns.

Most restaurants in Kars are dry and some have headscarved waitresses but finally I found this one that it serves raki semi sweet Georgian wine and passible Turkish red.

Finding it made me feel like an alcoholic.

Kars, like Ani and Van, was once the capital of Armenia. My Armenians wept to see their cathedral here turned into a mosque, which happened as recently as 1996, and the house of a famous Armenian writer that was demolished by the mayor in February.

How Armenians put my countrymen to shame.

My countrymen don't like talking about patriotism or about Christianity.  They find both things rather embarrassing. They are ashamed of the British Empire and only feel proud when talking about British values, which are identical with Norwegian or Belgian values.

I can't type on Turkish computers and typing with my thumbs on my telephone is purgatory so I cease here.


  1. You remain a snobbish antediluvian, like your idol Waugh,but this is ever so slightly different from your usual [boring]political dystopia. A hint of humanity and decency remains. I'm optimistic.

  2. A bit harsh. Yes I feel the change you discern.

  3. Evelyn Waugh was a thoroughly unpleasant but hilariously funny man. I agree with many of his ideas but I do not like class prejudice

  4. Top 10 best handwriting to text apps (android/iPhone) 2019

  5. I'd like to read more about your feelings, you mention being sad but how did you feel about the people and the places. I'd like more about you and less about the place. You're the main character. It reminds me of the travel book that inspired me to travel in 1986/87 when I ended up in Tibet for a year: Journey to Kars by Philip Glazebrook.

    1. Thank you Rupert. You always give good advice. Yes I read and loved Journey to Kars in 1985. It was written just before tourism came and spoilt Turkey. In 1979 if my memory serves me. How I envy your bike ride to China in the 1980s.

  6. Even better:

    Type with your voice

    Works like a charm!

  7. ‘I am a Christian’

    Martin Mosebach

    Grappling with the Meaning of Martyrdom

  8. @Paul
    Your blog above (and the link you sent) animated me to learn more about Ani:
    Troubling to think how such a highly populated city could almost completely disappear into the grass.
    As Peter Hitchens often reminds, how fortunate we British have been to have enjoyed the protection provided by the seas around our island.