{Armenia} Ravished Armenia

November 7, 2012

Armenia

Armenian Genocide Museum - Ravished Armenia

The most emotional visit during my trip to Armenia has to be to the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial. If, like me, you knew little of this rather grim episode of 20th century history, I will try and summarise it: The Armenian Genocide is defined as the atrocities committed against the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Although the government of the Ottoman Empire had already previously decided to deport all Armenians from what was Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey), it was not until 24th April 1915 that the massacres began in Constantinople, starting with the killing of intellectuals. There followed the conscription of thousands of Armenian men into the Ottoman army, who were then disarmed and killed by their fellow Turkish soldiers. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of women, children and elderly were sent on death marches into the Syrian deserts and were killed or died from famine, heat stroke or diseases. Thousands of women and children were also raped. In total, around one and a half million of the estimated two million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire died as a result of the Genocide between 1915 and 1923. Only half a million managed to escape and find refuge abroad.

Armenian Genocide Museum

The 24th April has become the Remembrance Day for all the victims of the Genocide, and the museum opened in 1995 to coincide with the 80th anniversary. The museum occupies a space of just over 1000 square metres, and is divided into three exhibit halls. The first hall presents the life of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire before the Genocide. There’s a large, stone engraved map illustrating the Armenian territory and settlements, and an overview of all the  churches and schools founded by Armenians in the region which were active at that time.  Photos, books and newspapers paint a picture of a peaceful, successful and developed people, which is thought to be one of the reasons they were perceived as a threat when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Armenian Genocide Museum - Map

The second hall focuses on the Genocide itself, largely through eyewitness reports and surviving documents relating to the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenians. As well as archival documents and newspapers, e.g. pertaining to the annihilation of Armenian intellectuals, there are original documents issued by the governments of other countries officially condemning the Genocide, as well as publications writing about the Genocide in many different foreign languages. The books also include the autobiographical story of survivor Aurora Mardiganian – “Ravished Armenia” or “The Auction of Souls” – about her experiences in the Genocide. The book was made into a film in 1919, starring the author herself, though all complete copies of the film have since been lost with only a partial reel surviving. Large photographs around the exhibition, taken in 1915-1917, show construction of railways for deportation, death marches, starving children, mass graves, destruction of cultural heritage and more. There are also some large scale paintings by a French-Armenian artist, which he painted from his mother’s impressions, who also survived the Genocide. What really got me though, were the two lumps of sugar taken by an Armenian woman when she was deported – on surviving the massacre she kept them as relics. Imagine having nothing more in life to your name than two lumps of sugar!

Armenian Genocide Museum

Armenian Genocide Museum

The last hall is a memorial hall, which compares the Armenian population before and after the Genocide, defines the numbers of people deported and killed, and introduces the recognition process and the opening ceremony of the Memorial. There are earth samples from the places that didn’t survive, and a grate tree sculpture symbolising life and that the Armenian people will survive.

Armenian Genocide Museum

The Memorial itself, located next to the museum, was completed already in 1967 and also has three parts. Firstly, there is a 100m long Memorial Wall with 40 names of cities and towns where deportations took place. On the back of the wall there are casings with soil taken from the tombs of public figures who raised or supported the protest agains the Armenian Genocide. Secondly, there is the 44 metre high Memorial Column which symbolises the rebirth of Armenia. Apparently there are various schools of thought on the symbolism, but our guide’s theory was that coulomb represents two blades of grass as a symbol of life, as when you cut grass it grows again. And, thirdly, there is the “Sanctuary of Eternity”, which consists of a rotunda of 12 inward leading basalt slabs, with the number twelve symbolising a clock and the passage of time, built around a central eternal flame.

Armenian Genocide Memorial

Armenian Genocide Memorial

Finally, there is also a grove of trees, which have been planted by officials from different country who have come to visit the Memorial Complex. A visit to the Amernian Genocide Memorial and Museum is a harrowing experience, but if you ever visit Yerevan you should definitely include this important museum in your itinerary.

Armenian Genocide Memorial

 

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