Krikor Balakian Translated and with an introduction by Peter Balakian and Aram Arkun Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, New Jersey and London, December, 2018. 174 pages
The Ruins of Ani, published in 1910 in Constantinople, has just been published for the first time in an English edition. Translated by Peter Balakian and Aram Arkun, the edition includes the 33 original black and white photographs taken by Balakian in 1909 and a dozen color images from the past decade.
The Ruins of Ani is a unique memoir and a combination of history, art criticism and travel. Balakian’s book charts the historic pilgrimage made in 1909 with a clerical retinue led by Catholicos Mateo II. He carefully documents the Armenian founding, building and decline of Ani.
From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, the city of Ani was the capital of the Armenian Bagratuni kingdom and a leading city of trade on the silk road, renowned for its architecture and arts and crafts. Balakian argues the cathedral at Ani is the forerunner of the European Gothic style, and that the dozens of other Armenian churches and buildings there were landmarks in Armenian and world civilization. From the eleventh century on, Ani was conquered by Seljuks, Mongols, Georgians and Kurds. By the 15th century, Ani had been ruined by pillagers and earthquakes and abandoned until the excavations of the archaeologist Wilhelm Marr in the 1890s. Its ruins have remained a symbol of cultural accomplishment that looms large in the Armenian imagination.
Today, Ani is a popular tourist site in Turkey with many of the Armenian churches partially restored and supported by the World Monument Fund. But the city has been falsified in its presentation by the Turkish government in order to erase Armenian history in the wake of the Armenian Genocide. This timely publication raises questions about the preservation of major historic monuments in the face of post-atrocity campaigns of cultural erasure and the ethical ownership of Ani in the post-Armenian Genocide impasse. The book has already received critical praise from major scholars. Robert Jay Lifton calls it “a remarkable and invaluable study.” Christina Maranci says it “breathes new life into a crucial yet neglected source.” “His eye on the ancient capital is mournful and creates new depth post genocide,” writes Donna-Lee Frieze. It “underscores forcefully how central cultural destruction was and is in the unfolding of that crime against humanity,” comments Jay Winter.
The young vartabed Krikor Balakian published his first book just a few years before his arrest on April 24 in Constantinople at the outset of the Armenian Genocide, after which he wrote his epic survivor memoir Armenian Golgotha. This new translation by Aram Arkun and the author’s great-nephew, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Balakian, eloquently renders the book’s vivid descriptions and lyrical prose into English. The new introduction explores Ani’s continued relevance in the twenty-first century.