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Confessions of an Angry Armenian

By George Aghjayan
There it was again… The destruction, the desecration, the humiliation at the treatment of our sacred sites. And for what? A search for mythical gold? Gold that is not there and never was. 

The remains of the church or chapelThe remains of the church or chapel On the beautiful shores of Lake Van, my frustration had reached the boiling point of extreme anger. So now I write again as the Angry Armenian.

On this fourth trip in the last year to Western Armenia (my eighth overall), there were positive experiences to offset the negative. This is part and parcel of making such a trip: The emotional peaks are high and the lows deep. But on this day, I was experiencing both in a way that heightened my sense of utter frustration.
While most of our group was climbing to the heights of the Surp Tovmas monastery, my wife and I, along with Nora Hovsepian, chose to go further, to a cemetery I had only previously seen from a distance.
Varents was a small, entirely Armenian, village on the shores of Lake Van in a cove not far from Akhtamar. At the time of the genocide, it had grown to 176 Armenians in 31 households. The church with an adjacent school was possibly named Surp Sdepanos. No village remains today, and has not existed since the genocide. However, I could find very little written about the village. My usual sources were surprisingly silent and any additional comments would be pure speculation.

Image of the sailboatImage of the sailboat
What I did find was a church in ruins and a cemetery with well over 100 tombstones. Amongst the destruction, though, a few stones caught my attention and raised my level of excitement. Within the church or chapel, a stone clearly had “Arakel” written upon it. More names were on other stones.
Nearby, I found a stone with “HS” and “KS” embedded within the finely carved cross: Hisus Kristos. The name on the stone was Der Simon, and thus would seem to have been for a priest of the village. Another rare find.
Finally, there was the stone for a large family, which contained many names: Vartan, Markar, Ghazar, Sarkis, etc. With difficulty, some years could be made out: 1896, 1897… I found it unusual that a sailboat was carved on it. While Lake Van only has one type of fish, it seems that this family might have been fisherman or at least associated with sailing on the lake. It could even be that those listed on the stone were lost in a single boating accident.
The gravesite of Der SimonThe gravesite of Der Simon
While I was excited about these extraordinary finds, I was equally appalled that the local shepherds or farmers had taken the opportunity to completely ruin the church, while also digging up a number of the graves. It was clear that the accessibility of the site had lent itself to such violation. And this sacred site, with its extraordinary khatchkars, had been violated and violated and violated.
On this trip, more than any other, I heard from local Kurds about the shame they felt at the condition of the Armenian churches and the desire to restore them.
I will soon write about one particularly moving encounter of hope, but at the same time my anger at the violation of this cemetery must be allowed its release. The best I can say is that most of the destruction seems to have occurred many years ago, and none of the graves had been freshly dug up. But that does not mean the site is secure and that the remaining khatchkars are safe.
Some of the stones contained pleas from the deceased to be remembered. After 100 years and very few respectful visitors, my friends and I are attempting to fulfill the last wishes of these people… Our People.

The family gravestoneThe family gravestone
Whether it is an old man urinating in the cathedral at Mren (which I also witnessed on this trip) or the ruin of cemeteries, Armenian cultural sites deserve respect equal to that which would be shown any other religious or cultural structure (e.g., a mosque or Muslim cemetery). If even that is not possible, then how can we expect respect for the rights of Armenians as a people? The proof is in action, not words alone, and the time is now!
I would like to thank my good friend, George Leylegian, for his indispensable insights of the photographs I had taken, and his continued encouragement in documenting our precious heritage.


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