Trip to Western Armenia (Part 6)

As Volodia had explained to Vazken, there were hardly any Armenian traces left in Erzurum (Garin). The site of the famous Sanasarian college had hardly any traces of his past fame.

The most distinctive characteristic of the city seems to be winter skiing. Signs of winter skiing were everywhere. The two most popular tourist attractions seem to be the historic “Chifta Minaret Jami” (Twin Minaret Mosque) which was packed with tourists, and the other, the castle, upon a hill.

From the parking area, we walked our way up the hill on a path to the castle. From our left side, you could see the panoramic view part of the city. Every one of us was busy taking pictures of the city and hardly noticed the very OLD two-story houses to our right.

The castle itself was no comparison to the castle of Kars, or to the rocky castle of Van. Even the lookouts on high walls/fences to view the city were blocked with concrete blocks that prevented any view of the city. Unlike the Twin Minaret Mosque, there were hardly any tourists other than our group. It was a total disappointment. But the surprise was just ahead of us.

On our way back to the minivans, we paid more attention to the OLD two-story houses to our left that seemed to be partially occupied. Vazken recalled his older aunt (his father’s older sister) saying that they lived close to the castle in a two-story house from where they could see the “Chifta Minaret Jami.

Just turning the bend here was the “Chifta Minaret Jami” in full view. We stopped and start to talk about the possibility of Vazken’s ancestors living in one of those two-story OLD houses, while Lucy, as if she was prepared for that moment, started filling a small plastic bag with soil to be sprayed on the grave of Vazken’ father, in Toronto. (Vazken’s father lost his parents, and many relatives, during the Armenian Genocide). Needless to say, this was the closest we got to identifying Armenian residences in their almost original condition.

On our way to Sareghamish Սարըղամիշ we passed the district of Passen “Բասեն Գաւառ”rich with revolutionary activities. (There are stories and revolutionary songs dedicated to Passen district).

Sarughamish was a big surprise for me. I never expected such a huge memorial dedicated to over 60.000 (yes sixty thousand) “Shahid” (Martyr) as was written on the memorial wall. The memorial wall had also the names of many commanding officers, including many German officer’s names on it as well.

The war happened in 1914 December, between Turkish and Russian armies that included Armenian soldiers. Russian army included also, many Armenian volunteer brigades (Կամաւորական գունդեր) made of exclusively Armenian volunteers. Standing at the monument, it was not hard to visualize the epic encounter on the barren field surrounded by small hills, as you see them in movies.

This war was the brainchild of Enver Pasha, one of the most ruthless and adventurous members of the three leaders of Turkey, who planned and executed, the Armenian Genocide. (The other two were Talat Pasha and Jemal Pasha). Enver wanted to occupy Caucuses for his quest to unite with Central Asian Muslim countries and form a new Islamic/Turkic empire. He almost succeeded, except, the harsh cold winter, helped the Russian army to annihilate the Turkish forces.

The battle of Sarughamish although a war between Turkey and Russia, that happened on Western Armenian territory, with the participation of Armenian Volunteer Brigades, at a crucial time in the Armenian recent history, does not seem to have its epic size emphasized by Armenian historians. (At least I have not read much about it).

Simon Vratsian has a short passage on the Sarughamish battle in his extensive and detailed book, Հայեաստանի Հանրապետութիւն (Republic of Armenia) that in part reads “Էնվէրի գնդերը հասել էին արդէն Սարըղամիշի բարձունքները.  Հրաշքը միայն,  ավելի ճիշտ, արտակարգ ձմեռը,  փրկեց Կովկասը թուրքական ներխուժումից.  Ջարդուած Սարըղամիշի տակ, Էնվէրն իր զայրոյթի բովանդակ թույնը թափեց թիւրքահայ ժողովրդի գլխին”. (Page 11)

After passing through Sarughamish we came to a junction where the other minivan separated from us and headed back to Yerevan via Kars. We drove more northeasterly to Akhaltskha Ախալցխա district of Georgia, populated mostly by Armenians. (On our way from Yerevan to Kars, we also visited Akhalkalak, Ախալքալաք, the other mostly Armenian populated district in Georgia).

The road to Akhaltskha was very beautiful. We crossed many pretty small towns and villages in hilly terrain and then crossed the border to Georgia for an overnight stay in Akhaltskha. The next day, we concluded the trip to Western Armenia by returning to Yerevan via Tibilisi (Թիֆլիս) capital city of Georgia.

This is the way I saw and remember (with my fading memory) some of the historical sites and events of Western Armenia. Although the trip was very tiresome, at the same time, it was very fulfilling, and enjoyable, thanks to the camaraderie of all the participants, and the cooperation of those who made the trip possible.

Special thanks to companions from Toronto. To Vazken and Lucy Terzian, that spared no effort to make the trip as comfortable as possible, to Sona Shahinian, who, with her knowledge of the Turkish language, was very helpful, to her husband Joseph, who watched almost the whole trip through the lens of his camcorder, to Aline Donabedian, whose curiosity and enthusiasm was pleasantly contagious, and to Yepradouhi  Stepanian, who, with her songs, and pleasant jocks, helped made the journey more pleasant. Thank you all.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.


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