11 January 2009

2691) Hacking History: The Museum of Kars by Ara Sarafian

© Ara Sarafian Russian Era Building  Kars - This content Served From  http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com Ara Sarafian / © 2008 Gomidas Institute

Kars - I am always amazed when I see the desolation of Kars plain with its vast expanses of emptiness dotted by a few villages here and there. And then, there is the city of Kars, built at the base of a height, shadowed by a citadel on top. Like other parts of eastern Turkey, this area nurtured Armenian civilization, along the great trade routes between east and west, with the ancient city of Ani nearby.. .
Today Kars is being groomed as the future gateway to Armenia, with a border crossing nearby, as well as an old railway line to Gyumri, Armenia. There is every expectation that the opening of the border will bring prosperity to this poor backwater of Turkey. Now there are shops crammed with cheap goods: plastic pails, fishing rods, bars of soap, children's toys, plates, piles of clothes, all made in China or western Turkey.

As one enters the city of Kars, one cannot avoid seeing a new monument that is being built opposite the old fortress above the city. This is supposed to be a peace monument, symbolizing friendship among the people of this region, notably Turks and Armenians. At the base of the monument is a pool, in the shape of an eye, with a teardrop breaking away. Is this a tear of joy or sorrow? I ask myself. Perhaps it is both.

The Museum of Kars is within the city limits. It looks like a modest building from the outside, but inside it is quite something else: well lit, spacious, built of marble, covering two floors, I am impressed at first sight. It is not huge, but big enough and welcoming.

In the grounds of the museum, there are some 16th-century Turkish steles; so they have been marked, but I could not miss the tombstones with Armenian writing on them. They are probably from the turn of the 20th century, and they are also inscribed in modern Armenian.

A bullying message

Inside, once more, as in Erzurum and Van, there are exhibitions from the Urartian, Greek, and Roman periods to the Byzantine, Seljuk, Ottoman, and Turkish. There is the familiar absence of Armenians as well, though there are references to the Bagratids in Kars and Ani - without mentioning Armenians except twice, in passing, in Turkish. Yet Ani was the jewel of medieval Armenian art, architecture, and culture.

There is an exhibit that identifies 10-12 century "Christian coins" and a glass cage of crosses from the "Christian era". It is not clear what period that is. Some of these crosses are clearly Russian, and some are clearly Armenian, though no mention is made of either. Armenians remain invisible.

Then there is a rather bizarre exhibit, towering over onlookers. These are two huge church doors, with unmistakable Armenian crosses carved on them, plus a dedication in Armenian. The exhibit is simply identified as a church door from Kars. There is no additional explanation, such as the name or denomination of the church. Why would museum officials bother to put these doors on display, and purposefully say nothing of any substance about them? Surely the museum is aware of the message this display conveys. It is a bullying message to Armenians: your absence in this museum is on purpose.

Some of the walls also include pictures of nearby ruined churches, but there is no additional explanation, except their names in Turkish.

The upper floor of the museum has an ethnographic section, with the standard Turkish nationalist narrative of an Islamic-Turkish past, and no mention of other cultures, such as Armenians, Russians, Kurds, or Georgians - all distinct in their own right.

A paradox

As one leaves the museum, one is left with the paradox of reconciling the monument of peace towering above the town, and the silent, hostile message of the Museum of Kars. Should one simply accept Turkey as a land of contradictions that is going through a period of adjustment? Should one hope that these contradictions will be resolved for the better one day? Or are the contradictions more permanent? Perhaps they are not contradictions at all: perhaps the combined message of the museum and monument are complimentary, that the Turkish peace offered to Armenians today is contingent on Armenians accepting the dictates of Turkish power. Those dictates include accepting a Turkish narrative of history that denigrates or denies the existence of Armenians.

So, how should I summarize my visit to Turkish museums? When I planned my proposed trip to Turkish museums in October 2008, I expected an "Armenian-friendly" experience. After all, I knew that the Museum of Van had been closed down for a long time and I expected it to reopen without the "Armenian Genocide of Turks" section. I also knew that Aghtamar had been renovated. I even had an idea that a Turkish artist was building a peace monument in Kars. Because of these indicators, I expected to see complimentary changes in the content of the museums I planned to visit. Obviously I was being too optimistic. By no means has Turkey turned the corner as the museums, among many other examples, still represent some of the worst aspects of "old Turkey" in terms of intolerance, prejudice, and aggression.

Before I left Kars, I visited the construction workers at the peace monument. They were a jovial bunch of people, from different parts of Turkey. They asked me why I came to visit Kars. I told them I was Armenian and that I came to visit the museum as well as the old mosque that used to be an Armenian church (Holy Apostles Cathedral).

One of the workers, a simple man, interjected and raised his voice. "I am a Muslim! I am a Muslim! And I say as a Muslim that they should turn that mosque back into a church. It is shameful to keep it as a mosque!" As he spoke up, his fellow workers listened. I was surprised and moved by the sincerity of his words.

But why was I surprised? I shouldn't have been. This was a simple, honorable man speaking his mind. He was not asking for anything, and he did not expect anything in return. His words were the high point of my visit to Turkey.


Ara Sarafian / © 2008 Gomidas Institute
"This article was commissioned by the Armenian Reporter and appeared in the January 09, 2009 edition of the newspaper and on its website, www.reporter.am" Vincent Lima



Reader’s Comment

Much that I want to visualize Mr. Sarafian (who knows more than most diaspora Armenians the truths) on a more balanced mission to restore the Armeno-Turkish relations, I regret that he cannot become as objective and sharp as Ara Baliozian, and he “must exhibit his dedication to the Gomitas Institute” who pays him for his criticism, rather than his pacification efforts, which surfaces now and then. Turkish historians have some hope that he is a person “you can talk to”! Above essay of Ara Sarafian can be evaluated as another good intended effort.

However, my young friend, again tells only one side of the story and I have to point out how he has “gone around the tree”!

- Sarafian says in his paradox, that the relations between Turkey and Armenia do not improve because “dictates include a Turkish narrative of history that denigrades or denies existence of Armenians”.

Mr. Sarafian has my signed book “The Genocide of Truth”, which exclusively narrates history from anti-Turkish sources, mainly Armenian official documentation and the whereabouts of the Armenians in the area are well explained in too many excerpts. Mr. Sarafian knows by heart but fails to mention that the main road blocks are:

a- Armenia does not respect present borders and have a request of land and compensation from Turkey, disregarding existing treaties or the fact that all claims between USA and Turkey were settled back in 1934 and no indemnity claims can be made. As long as the young state of Armenia maintains these extravagant claims in their Constitution, normalization is not possible.

b- Armenia has occupied by force Nogorno Karabagh and about 20% of the Azeri land, exiling about a million souls now living in railway cars etc., after the Hodjali massacres.

Mr. Sarafian than complains that the Turkish Museum of Kars, does not include “sufficient Armenian” identities! Well my dear Sarafian, have you seen any museums of genocide or massacres in Turkey propagating the other page of the dirty history? (to reciprocate Armenia or diaspora)

Mr. Sarafian also gives an example about the feelings of a simple Turkish worker, who had disapproved that an Armenian church was converted into a mosque. Sentimentally, I share the same approach but it is an undeniable fact that: It was an old habit to convert pagan temples (or use the stones) into Churches and some of them into Mosques by the victors. Whether we like it or not, this is the past. Mr. Sarafian must also answer “why there is not a single mosque” (except a tiny Iranian one in Erivan) of Muslims in an area where they were 70% of the living population? Is there but ONE muslim family left? On the other hand, a multitude of Armenian churches (some restored with Turkish tax money) is fully active in Istanbul and other cities of Turkey. Next time Mr. Sarafian comes to Istanbul, I would like to take him to the “Surp Pirgic” hospital (which I frequently visit) and foster home!

Dear Sarafian is “hacking himself the history”, by “being selective in observations and reporting”. Dear Sir, since you are known to be a “scholar” and “historian”, let me remind you as an elderly man, that you do not have the liberty of reporting only one side of the story that suits you and scrap or “hack” the rest! This was done long time ago, in the Blue Book, Morgenthau’s Story etc. They brought illusion and devastations for not telling the truth.

Turkish philosopher Mevlana, in one of his poems says:

Yesterday is gone my dear, with all that was said! Let’s have something new and fresh for today! And I add, “Dear Sarafian, let’s get over the past and see what we can do for a better tomorrow! If you are truly concerned about the welfare of the State of Armenia and Armenians living in there and Turkey, you “must be constructive”. If you have to defend the “genocide fanfare of the diaspora” making an earning on a past drama, I am sorry to say that “by now you know that you are not rightful” and exerting such outside pressures on Turkey will keep in business only those who build monuments of hatred or museums showing the human bestiality! ANCA just sent another letter pointing out “Dangers of Forgetting” which means the true danger that they may have no cause left to collect money and milk their rich diaspora community!

Sukru S. Aya

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