Today we visited three sites associated with ancient Urartu. The Urartuians were a highly creative early civilization that gave their name to mount Ararat, where the Ark was supposed to have hit ground . Interestingly, the Urartuians were wine drinkers, rare in the ancient Middle East, which may explain Noah's drunkenness. Scholars also suggest that the lush lands of Urartu was a source for the story of the the Garden of Eden. All over Eastern Turkey, hundreds of feet above well-watered farmlands they built castles on mountainous spines. Their ruined capital, perched on the edge of the modern city of Van is no different. My companions chose to stay at the bottom and I set off with our guide, Zafer. The climb was difficult but for me the anticipation of ancient ruins is always highly motivating. Ruined cities although often the sites of bloody sieges and destruction are stimulating places. Dry and barren, the ruins become archaeological exercises in analysis and guess work. Looking at them is a bit like studying a skeleton in anatomy class. One tries to figure out what went where and what was part of what.
When we reached the summit of this site, however, we were confronted by an unexpected experience. We looked down on the site of one of the twentieth century's countless little-remembered atrocities. At the time of the First World War, the old city of Van had a large and active Armenian population that was a thorn in the side of the Ottomans. Caught in the middle of a bloody campaign against the Russians, the Ottomans destroyed the city to keep it from falling into enemy hands. To use the anatomy metaphor again, this time the flesh was not off the bones yet. Where the city once stood, now a vast space of pock marked ruined streets scarred the earth. A number of mosques could be identified in the rubble but little else. Ninety six years had covered the battle ground with dry grass, scrub and dirt but one could still sense the suffering and sadness of the people who once lived here. The destruction of this place was too recent for an academic exercise.
~Post by Patrick Hotle