Revue de presse - Le Collectif VAN évoqué sur le site Global Research
Publié le : 24-12-2011
Dans son article en anglais publié sur le site Global Research le 11 juillet 2011, Muriel Mirak-Weissbach, journaliste arméno-américaine, évoque la lettre ouverte de Séta Papazian, présidente du Collectif VAN, adressée à Irina Bokova, directrice générale de l'UNESCO.
By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
11 July 2011
“The Stones Will Cry Out”
A scandal erupted in mid-June and marred an exhibit in Paris at UNESCO which featured traditional stone crosses from Armenian church architecture known as Khachkars. These unique sculptures and reliefs had been included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2010.(1) The exhibit, co-sponsored by the Republic of Armenia’s Culture Ministry and inaugurated in the presence of numerous diplomats, artists, historians, and clergy, would have celebrated a magnificent tribute to the Khachkar tradition had it not been for the fact that at the last minute UNESCO erased all mention of where the stone crosses featured in photographs were to be found. The explanation for the elimination of the place names locating the pieces, as well as of a huge map of historic Armenia designating those locations, was that, since the Khachkars were not all on the territory of the Republic of Armenia , but could also be found in present-day Azerbaijan and Turkey , it would be better to maintain silence.
But, there is no way to maintain silence: “The stones will cry out.” And they did. Representatives of the Collectif VAN (Vigilance Armenienne contre le Negationnisme), present at the opening, protested with an open letter to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. (2) In the letter, they argued that not only does it violate academic practice to fail to mention the location of art works in such an exhibit, but, by ignoring their location, the exhibitors were rendering themselves complicit in a wild distortion of the historical record. To ignore the place names is to conceal the historical presence of the Armenian people and civilization in that vast region.
Travellers through eastern Anatolia and present-day Azerbaijan will find some Khachkars in their places of origin – although thousands have been deliberately destroyed — and will make the historical connection.(3) It is not only the beautiful stone crosses but the wealth of religious monuments — be they chapels, churches, cathedrals, or monasteries – populating that geographical region that bear testimony to the physical and cultural presence of Christian Armenians since the fourth century. As Italian art historian Arpago Novello identified, this religious art was an integral part of the Armenians’ identity. “The Armenians’ tenacious attachment to the Christian religion,” he wrote,” testified by the thousands of crosses erected or sculpted almost everywhere and for every occasion, and by the extraordinary wealth of sacred buildings, was not merely a spiritual matter but a prime feature of their very identity and a symbol of their physical survival.”(4)
Yet that very presence is subject to denial and distortion. My brother, my husband, and I experienced this during a journey through eastern Anatolia in May. In place of the historical record we encountered mythology, with its own personages, events, and causality. In this mythological landscape, we were not in historic Armenia, let alone Western Armenia, but in eastern Turkey, in one of the Anatolian provinces, and everything we might have expected to recognize from past historical accounts had disappeared or had been transformed into something else, often into its very opposite.
We were travelling as part of a small group of Armenian Americans who sought to retrace the steps of parents and ancestors, to visit their villages and towns where they were born and lived before the genocide. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. We had scattered pieces from our parents, like names of villages, descriptions of some localities, and we had read the accounts of eye-witnesses to the Genocide, like Johannes Lepsius, Jakob Künzler, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, and others. But when we looked at a present-day map of Turkey , we more often than not found nothing resembling the place names. Our German guide book did not offer much help.
Without Armen Aroyan, our tour guide who has 25 years’ experience in accompanying pilgrims through the region, and our driver, who spoke both Turkish and Kurdish, we would never have found our way.
By asking at various points along the way, we did find Mashgerd, my father’s village. We learned it is no longer Mashgerd but Chakirtash, as the sign indicating entry into the town indicated: Chakirtash Köyüne (community), it said, Hos Geldiniz (Welcome). My father spoke of the Old Country in rapturous terms, telling us that the mountains, rivers, rolling hills, and green pastures in Maine in northern New England where we had a summer home, reminded him of those childhood surroundings in Mashgerd. His aunt, Anna Mirakian, who found him after the war and took him to America , described the town’s rich landscape in her memoirs as a paradise on earth. “The people of Mashgerd,” she wrote, “having abandoned their homes, fields, farms, orchards, and gardens, were being deported with broken and inflicted hearts from their heaven-like birthplace with tears in their eyes.” (5)
The mountains, green hillsides, and rivers were still there, but the size of the village has shrunk considerably. As soon as we climbed down from our minibus, the local villagers streamed out of their modest homes to greet us, displaying the same warm hospitality we were to receive everywhere. They offered us Ayran, a yogurt drink which we knew as Tun, as well as tea. They asked if we had come to look for buried treasures, since many Armenians had buried their valuables before being deported, in hopes of recovering them at a later date. No, we assured them, we were not seeking buried treasures, but treasures of another sort.
Here in Mashgerd what we were looking for was the church in which, as my father had recounted, the townspeople had been locked for four days before being taken out to be killed. “There is no church here,” the villagers told us to our dismay. There was a church some kilometers away that we could reach on foot, they said, but none in the town. That church may have been the St. Sargis cathedral which my father’s aunt wrote about. In her memoirs, she referenced a magnificent church in what was called the Lower Village : “Located on the banks of the Euphrates , Van Gyugh was a beautiful, lush green village,” she wrote. “The magnificent and glorious St. Sargis cathedral, where Easter services were held every year, was located there.” (6). But that was not the church my father meant. No, he said it was in Mashgerd, near the center of the village. Although the villagers had no knowledge of such a church, we knew there must be one, first, because wherever there was a sizable Armenian community there was a church or at least a chapel; secondly, because my father had written about its being in Mashgerd. And, his aunt had also spoken of a church there right in the center of the village.
After a long while, a very, very old man then appeared and said, yes, in fact, there was a church – kilise – in the town. He led us down a dirt road, past a fountain, and pointed to a large structure which at first did not look at all like a church. It was not shaped like other Armenian churches we knew, with their round central structures mounted on dodecagons or other polygons, rounded arches, and conical domes, but was oblong and had a flat roof. Then the old man pointed to certain bricks cemented into the façade, which had undeniable Armenian characters inscribed on them: names, dates, and khachkars; they were stones, our guide Armen explained, which had perhaps been taken from the cemetery and used in building the church, according to a custom known throughout the area. Or, they were bricks with khachkars designed to be part of the façade. So this was indeed a church, and it must have been the one my father knew! The shape of the church turned out to be one of many traditional Armenian church designs, known as the “long church,” and was similar to those churches in Artsathi, north or Erzerum, or to the one in Dirarklar. (7) Both are unadorned, with no round apses and had wooden roofs.
Back in 1916, when the people were let out of the church after four days and taken to the center of the town, my father who was eight years old at the time had run for his life, and managed to reach his grandmother’s house about 100 yards away. Her house had a stable in the back where he hid. I walked that distance in several different directions from the church and the nearby central square looking for a dwelling that would fit that description, and I found several. Which one might have been his grandmother’s house? His aunt also referred in her memoirs to her “ancestral Kokats – hay and stable – located in the center of the town,” which might have been the same dwelling. Which one was it? There was no way of telling.
Locating Tzack, my mother’s village, was not so easy, also because it was no longer known by that name, but was called Inn in Turkish. How different it was from her descriptions! At that time, there were about 100-150 families in Tzack, now, the villagers told us, the only inhabitants were 3 brothers and their families. An old woman, well into her 70s, welcomed us warmly and, hearing that we were Armenian Americans, told us that she herself was half Armenian. Her mother had been saved as a child and been married off to a Turkish man. “I remember only,” the woman said, “that she always cried. She had lost everything, everyone, all her family.” She went on to tell her own story. “I too was married to a Turkish man,” she said wistfully, “and as a bride I also did nothing but cry.” Visibly shaken by the recollection, she excused herself: “I have high blood pressure and cannot speak much longer.”
My mother’s grandfather had been a well-to-do landowner with rich agricultural land including vineyards that covered the hillsides. All I saw was one lonely wine stock twisting up a stone wall over a gate supporting a thatched roof to the woman’s house, with some grapes hanging down. Two or three chickens trotted across the dirt path, looking for something to peck at. Peering behind the house with the grapevine, I saw a terrace with bee hives and bees swarming around. I remembered that a cousin of my mother’s, the son of the woman who had found her and taken her to America, always kept bees in Watertown, Massachusetts, and would bring us honey combs. This was apparently a family tradition that they had maintained from the Old Country.
As we walked down from her dwelling and reached the main dirt road, we saw on the other side of it a vast plain studded with ruins of buildings. Stones, two or three piled on top of one another in neat rows, stood there where houses had once been, all organized in blocks, with walkways or streets in between. The stones were the remnants of homes, shops, and businesses in a highly developed settlement. Walking along the grass was like picking one’s way through stone foundations of ancient Roman settlements.
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