On our way from Kars to Dogubayazet, we made a stop at Iqdir, the birthplace of the legendary Armenian hero, DRO. (Drastamad Ganayan). It was late afternoon and it was Ramadan time. (A Muslim daytime fasting season). That day’s fasting time was over, and all restaurants and eateries were open.
For curiosity I walked to a side street just off the main road, that was closed to traffic. The whole street was like an outdoor open food court, crowded with mostly young people socializing and enjoying the food, and the music, blasting from different temporary food kiosks. Volodia, ever concerned with our safety, cautioned/warned me not to stray again from the group. We enjoyed some local delicacies from a take-out restaurant on the main road, before heading to Dogubayazed.
Iqdir is the only Turkish city that Azerbaijan has direct land access to it, from its autonomous Nakhijevan region, which is a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The narrow corridor that links Nakhijevan with Iqdir, serves as an economic “lifeline” for many Nakhijevan Azeries who flood Iqdir for employment and supplies.
Iqdir, at the same time, is also considered to be a “curse” by Azerbaijan nationalists since it also serves as a gateway for out-migration of Azeries of Nakhijevan to Turkish cities, especially to Istanbul, and beyond, which has significantly depopulated Nakhijevan from its Azeri inhabitants.
Late that night, we reached Dogubayazet. The young baggage carrier led me to my room, opened the curtain of the window, and pointed to a small flashing beacon high and faraway in the dark, said Ararat, Ararat. He got more than the usual tip for his surprise information. After he left, I turned off the lights of the room hoping to see a profile of the sacred mountain, but it did not help.
Early morning before the sunrise, I opened the curtain of my room, and here was Ararat in revers. Small Ararat “Փոքր Մասիս” to the right and partly visible from the window. I rushed to the parking lot when the morning sun was just “illuminating” the snow-covered peak.
It was beautiful but hardly as beautiful as the majestic presence of the Mount Ararat you see from the Ararat plains (Արարատեան դաշտ) in Armenia, and always look/search for its majestic presence whenever you are in Armenia. But the surprise, and probably the highlight of the whole trip, was just ahead of us.
After the breakfast Volodia surprised us by managing to convince the two drivers (we were traveling with two small minivans, ours, and another one with passengers mostly from Armenia), to drive up on Mount Ararat on an unpaved “road” used mostly by cattle herds and some farm machinery.
After about 40 minutes of very slow uphill drive, we stopped at a treed and flat area with a water fountain. Perfect area for a picnic. Volodia had brought food and drinks, and the Armenian patriotic songs blasting from the van’s tape recorder, made us feel like we had conquered the sacred mountain, and start dancing the Armenian circle dance, the Շուրջ պար.
While the festivity was going on, I joined five younger travelers (four girls probably in their late twenties or early thirties, and a man, probably in his mid to late thirties ) from the other van, and climbed the sacred mountain for maybe about one and half hour, or so.
After “conquering” a few small hills, (at every stop, one of the young ladies, a nurse, worried about the health of the seventy-fife-year-old man, will take my pulse to make sure I was up to the challenge). When we reached a bigger hill from where we had to descend, before restarting the climb, we stopped. The time that Volodya allocated for us was already passed, and we decided to end the “expedition” and took pictures standing on the “peak”, as if we had conquered the real peak of the sacred mountain.
One of the girls who was the most enthusiastic, and “led” the climb, standing on the “peak” called with her cell phone to Yerevan and started yelling out loud, ARARADEETS YEM KHOSSOOM, ARARADEETS YEM KHOSSOM, (I AM SPEAKING FROM ARARAT) and started to recited a poem from Hovannes Shiras. It was very emotional and most appropriate.
The beautiful and emotional poem by Hovanness Shiraz, is addressed to his son. He writes that he himself could only climb the sacred mountain with his eyes, and wishes that his son, one day, will be able to climb the mountain with his feet, meaning freed from Turkish occupation. (I have heard that his son did climb the mountain to the real pick, but unfortunately not as his father wished. He climbed it from Turkey, and is still in captivity).
The descent was a lot easier and there was no need for pulse taking. Standing on that “peak”, I did not feel like a 75 year “old man”, rather, I felt like a seven and half year young child, imagining himself conquering the sacred mountain.
Needless to say, climbing Mount Ararat the way I used to climb the mountains in my birthplace Kessab in Syria, as a young boy, was the most emotional, and satisfying experience of the whole trip. At least for me.
The next overnight stop was the historic city Van, the capital city of Vasbooragan province.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.