"Trebizond And Beyond"

The 1960s marked the return of visitors to Ani, a mere trickle to start with. A chapter in the book "Trebizond and Beyond", published in London in 1969, describes a visit to Ani that took place in 1967.

Little that is original is said or observed by Marriner. It is clear that he had no knowledge of the Russian excavations at Ani - it is as if they had never happened: the Gagikashen church is still the "synod house", the existence of the carved stone fragments that "littered the floors" inside the mosque (the former museum) go without further comment, the mythical "great earthquake" of 1391 is given as the reason for the city's abandonment, and the Soviet Armenian republic is referred to simply as "Russia".

Interestingly, he writes that inside the Church of Tigran Honents "the high altar was enclosed by a stone screen". What does he mean by this? No screen survived in the church at the end of the 19th century. However, photographs taken just before the First World War show that a tall, elaborate, and rather ugly, altar-screen with icons had been erected inside the apse. Nothing now survives of this screen. It is surprising that it survived as late as 1977 - maybe Marriner was simply referring to the raised chancel of the apse. As well as still photographs, film of the ruins was shot, perhaps for the first time, (but, alas, too late to capture for posterity structures such as the Church of the Redeemer and the Mausoleum of Princely Children in their intact state).

From Pages 128 to 130

The sixty-five miles from Ardahan to Kars melted away in the afternoon sun; fields, villages, Kurds and cattle succeeding each other in a long kaleidoscope of change. By six o'clock we were entering Kars. First to greet us was the Kars River. It stayed with us all along the gorge that marked the approach to the town, past some uncompromisingly ugly modem barracks, not leaving us until we crossed a bridge between two spectacular Hammami or Turkish baths and entered the main street where stood our hotel.

The hotel was called the Bal Palace, and at first we thought it must be a scene of resplendent local receptions and balls, or at least that a ball would be had by all. This was not so. The Palace took its name from the Turkish word "bal", which means "honey". This is a great beekeeping part of the world. Nevertheless, we used to know the hospitable owner as Mr Bal, though I suppose it wasn't his real name. By the sort of miracle which seems always to happen in these parts, Çoskun had a friend waiting for him, ready to be our man in Kars. Search me why this always happens in the Near East, but it does. One imagines oneself to be quite isolated and helpless and there suddenly is someone at one's elbow to guide one through the local hazards.

"The Governor is waiting for you," said Çoskun. Why the Governor should have been waiting for us or where was a mystery. But it was good to know that he was. I got back into the car, ready to wait on His Excellency in some marble palace. I was a little surprised when we were deposited at a tailor's shop. "Is the Governor here?" "Yes. He's inside. Go in." Colin and I looked a little unsuitably dressed for the occasion and the sartorial magnificence of the tailor's premises made us appear even sillier in our pullovers and blue jeans, but in we went. The Governor, a distinguished middle-aged man, was sitting at a table in the midst of his henchmen. Three of them were obviously high-ranking officers, resplendent in uniform and glittering with medals. "Bonjour, Messieurs," said the Governor, extending a hand. Conversation was in French. "We have come," I began, plunging bravely in, "to make a film." This is never a very good beginning, as it puts officials automatically on their guard, but at least it gets the worst over first. One can then go on to explain and modify. "We would also like to see what material there is for a book." "But what exactly do you think you would like to photograph?" said the puzzled governor. The locals always think that there is nothing of possible interest to anyone in their own territories. The grass is always greener elsewhere.

"We have heard about your train. I mean the train to Russia. Does it not go once a week?"
"Yes. It happens to be leaving tomorrow morning at nine o'clock. But surely that does not interest you?"
We could have hugged the old boy.
"But Your Excellency, that is just what we want to see!"
"Well, I'm sure there's no harm in your taking the train. You just book a ticket. And you can take all the photographs you like." - "There's one more thing, Your Excellency. We would like to go to Ani."
The Governor's brow furrowed. "That is more difficult." He looked around at his military advisers. There were a few exchanges in Turkish.
"They say," he explained, "that you can go. We will see about the permit."
"We are much obliged. And the photographs?"
There were more exchanges, this time a little longer.
"You see, the Russians do not like us to take photographs. They are very - er - sensitive. And they are just the other side of the river."
"But we do not want to photograph the Russians."
"I know. But they might think you did. And we are sick of their complaints."
"Perhaps if we looked the other way?"
A new train of thought had been started.
"Well, yes. Perhaps if you only look towards Turkey. But be sure, now. No photographs of Russia. Do you understand?"
We understood.
"And film?"
"Well, film... I really do not know what to say."
There were more discussions.
"No film, at least not officially. But that is not so important. Ordinary photographs, yes. Perhaps film too. But the really important thing is: no photographs of the Russians, films or not films." I had hoisted it all in.
"And another thing," continued His Excellency, "you cannot go alone. I will send my Chief of Police with you. We want to be quite sure."

The audience was at an end. Shaking hands all round, we retired, well pleased, to the Bal Palace.

From page 151

Both Yavuz and I were under the impression that a taxi had been booked for us to go to Ani next day. I had routed out the taxi-driver that Dr Budak had recommended and agreed a fee. It was therefore more than annoying when the man came around early next morning and told us he was no longer interested in going. Çoskun had already said that he could not take us there in his car, as the roughness of the track was liable to do it damage. Things looked black. But Ani was only thirty miles away and I was determined to get there somehow.

From pages 152 to 160
Journey to the Soul of a City

"How much will you take to go to Ani for the day?"
"Two hundred and fifty lire. You like?"
"Absurd. I will pay you one hundred and fifty."
"Impossible. Two hundred and fifty."

A good deal of this sort of thing went on in the early hours of next morning. Yavuz said that a Land Rover was the best sort of thing to get, as the road was impassable for an ordinary car; but I had my doubts. Eventually, urged on by the nagging thought that the Chief of Police was waiting with his permits, I settled for two hundred with the owner of a most opulent-looking taxi. With such a luxurious means of transport, I reckoned we could all fit in quite comfortably.

We sent Udo shopping for some fruit, bread and cakes and as soon as he had got them we bundled into the taxi, the Chief of Police and I wedged in front with the driver and the rest of us four deep behind. I had spotted the Governor in the street earlier on and given him a detailed account of our train journey. Mr Bal from the hotel had told us he would keep our rooms for us, however long we were away.

The car glided off down the road. At first we could see that we were Russia-bound, as the road followed the railway tracks that we already knew so well. Then it branched off to the right, impetuously taking the bit between its teeth across the broad brown-yellow uplands. Not a tree was in sight across the level plains. We careered along the ever-worsening tracks, with a cloud of dust following us like the wake of a jet aircraft.

The roadside was dotted with Kurd villages. They seemed to be better cared for and more prosperous than those I had seen on the other side of Kars and very often we saw small shops and even medical centres. At one of them, I decided to stop and try to get some photographs of the villagers.

I was quite prepared for a snub, or even an attack on my camera, but to my surprise the inhabitants took my proposals calmly. This may have been due to the presence of the Chief of Police, who was possibly known to them. They grouped themselves docilely as I asked, the women showing no concern at this invention of the devil, and I was able to perpetuate them in several positions before pressing on. The yards were full of stored-up peat against the winter months and the insides of their houses, although the Kurds did not invite me in to have a look, seemed primitive in the extreme.

The sky darkened, thunderclouds rolling in from the east. Over towards the frontier, mountains began to emerge, the foothills, I thought, of Ararat. Here the Lord of Hosts had brought the great rains, Noah and his wife had built the ark, the animals had come in two by two and the whole microcosm of Life had floated off on its forty-day cruise to nowhere. It landed on the slopes of Ararat, 17,000 feet into the skies. Though today we could not see Ararat sixty miles to our east, we were conscious of its presence all the time. The Turks call it Buyuk Agri Dagi and it stands just inside their sovereign territory, lord of Turkey, Iran and Soviet Armenia. Not everyone realises that it was an active volcano until quite recently, having last erupted on 20th June, 1840. It is a cold and desolate mountain, full of ancient stories in which a traveller delights. Many expeditions have been organised to get to the summit and en route find just one piece of Noah's ark. None have succeeded and I very much doubt if more will ever try. On its lower slopes, at the beginning of the valley they call "of the Ahira", there is a group of five crosses carved in the rock and a bit higher up you can see caves, where early Christian hermits used to live, forebears of their colleagues of Mount Athos. You climb on, the thin air tearing at your lungs, and you come to a trickle of water, This is Jacob's Spring, which the patriarch smote from the living rock to refresh his men on their pilgrimage to the spot where the ark came to rest. Gather some, for this is the last. At nearly 10,000 feet, there is a glacier, filled with dangerous crevasses. Small lakes dot the land around the foot of the glacier, bubbles of sulphurous gas winking at their polluted brims, for here the volcano lies dormant, ready again to burst into life when the spirit moves. On the western slopes of the mount lies a stretch of water known as Lake Kop and on a terrace below it is the Koran Kalesi, a small fort. Here, by the ruins of an Armenian church, the Kurds bring their flocks to graze. The quiet of the place pierces you, more eloquent than the noise of Piccadilly. These mountain lands seem to know all there is to know. They have existed since time began. They despise the men that crawl over them, ever seeking a knowledge the hills have always had.

Not so very far from Ararat, and very close to the Soviet frontier near a Turkish town called Tuzluca, are the ruins of the former Armenian city of Bagaran, once the residence of King Ashot the Great in the ninth century. Though less important archaeologically than the ruins of Ani, they could be rewarding to a visitor, always provided that a permit to visit them could be obtained. Lying on the right bank of the Çildir river, they are so close to the frontier that I doubt whether a touristic visit would be encouraged.

Low ridges of cloud cloaked the foothills and the earlier sunshine gave way to a still, menacing atmosphere. It was like an eclipse of the sun. The same strange stillness struck terror into the birds, who wheeled around in the thin air uttering shrill cries. We trundled and thumped our way across the dusty tracks. A settlement of some kind came into sight, nestling against a dried-up river. It looked like some kind of army outpost, with barrack-like buildings and a semi-official aura. We pressed on. Soon we were at the village of Aniköy, on the threshold of Ani itself. Our driver stopped at the edge of a military camp. We all got out. The sentry looked at our papers, the Chief of Police explained who we were and the man went off to get them stamped. A soldier brought us a jug of water and we washed our grapes in it.

We got back into the car, the papers in order, and jogged away east. In the village, men were threshing corn with cows tethered to a central wheel, as they do in Egypt. The winds came and great clouds of dust enveloped everything, riding before us like the Lord, in a pillar of cloud, leading the way.

"Ani," said the Chief of Police, And there it was. The great red brown double-walls of the ancient city lay before us, jealously encircling what still remained of their treasures. We stopped and got out, reverently, as in a church. It seemed somehow sacrilegious to undo the paper bags and have lunch. I sat on a great boulder, where the Bagratid masons had certainly once also sat for their lunch, and surveyed the first Armenian city I had ever seen.

A few yards away across the River Arpa we could see Russia. You could tell it was Russia by the barbed wire, the watchtowers and the river that thundered in the chasm below, dividing one world from another. There was, however, no wide section of raked earth here. There was no need for any, since the whole area was a wide exposed bit of our planet, across which any escaper could have been seen moving for miles. A mile or so to the north, on the other side of the frontier, lay a largish modern-looking settlement, a kind of clinical barracks.

"That," said the Chief Officer of Police, "is where the Russian guards live." "It looks very clean and modern." "Remember," he went on, "no photographing. Absolutely no photographing the Russians. And no waving at the sentries, either. They do not like it. Besides, they do not wave back."

The picnic over, some Turkish soldiers joined us. They were to escort us on our tour around the ruins. I was beginning to wonder whether, in this extremely military atmosphere, we were going to be able to appreciate any of the artistic qualities of the ruins at all, and whether Colin in particular, as our cameraman, was going to get any worthwhile shots of the ancient civilisation that surrounded us. I think Colin must have shared my misgivings, for he turned to me as our little procession formed up and asked, "What's the score? Am I going to be allowed to film or not?" I could only answer, "Wait and see. But I think they're going to be reasonable, on the whole." In fact, I was not at all sure.

We trudged in single file, the Chief of Police leading and the soldiers bringing up the rear, through the great gateways. Inscriptions in Armenian on the turrets testified to bygone greatness. Although the double walls were the work of the Armenian King Smbat II in the decade following 975, the towers, more impressive than those of ancient Trebizond, were built by the Armenian noble families (or nakhararq, as they were known) as memorials to themselves. Armenians vied with Kurds in family feelings and the idea of birth and nobility was always very strong amongst them. The walls enclosed the whole of the northern aspect of the city and joined the two ravines at the head of which, on a sort of cape to the south, a dried-up river bed joined the ravine along which flowed the river Arpa, enclosing the southern end of the city in a natural rampart. Small wonder that this site had been the haunt of man for generations. The earliest vestiges of civilisation discovered at Ani indicate settlements here as far back as 2000 BC, embracing the stone, copper and bronze ages. Finds from these epochs have been removed to the museum of Kars, housed in the former Armenian cathedral. The Urartu, forebears of the Armenian and Kurdish peoples, lived here before the foundation of the city proper by the Bagratid kings of Armenia in the tenth century A.D.

The most generally accepted date for the foundation as it is known today is 806, when a Bagratid Armenian king known as Ashot Msaker laid the first stones, though it was not actually until the reign of Ashot II Olormadz that the city became the capital of the Bagratid Kingdom. At all events, it is known that Ashot III ("The Merciful") was crowned in 961 by the Patriarch Ananias and three years later the town was fortified in a small way. I do not know in which of the many churches the coronation may have taken place. It was certainly not in the great cathedral, which was not completed until forty years later.

After the king, the Patriarch of Ani was probably the most important figure locally. Ananias duly died and was succeeded by a bishop called Vahan. Vahan was in favour of a reconciliation with Byzantium but the Bagratid rulers, ever fearful of what a unification of Armenia with the west might involve, refused this and Vahan was given the sack, to be replaced by the more moderate Patriarch Stephanos III of Sevan, who was prepared to let things continue as they were. In the reign of Ani's most famous ruler, Simbat II, 977-89, the famous double walls and towers were thrown up around the city and many fine buildings were added. The best known of these is undoubtedly the great cathedral, whose shell, minus the central dome, still stands. The building was completed in 1001 in the reign of King Gagik I and was the masterpiece of the architect Trdat, whose success was such that the emperor invited him to Constantinople to repair the dome of Saint Sophia. At this time, the seat of the "Catholicos", or supreme Pontiff, of Armenia was finally established at Ani, after almost one hundred years of nomadic existence.

Closely following on the tragic history of the city described earlier, the gradual depopulation of the place was finally sealed by a great earthquake in 1391, since when its desolation has been complete. The earthquake would indeed have accounted for much of the rubble we saw everywhere as we walked towards the river Arpa over towards the frontier. Pieces of brick and masonry lay everywhere. Only the churches seemed to have survived, though I imagine that archaeologists, were they ever to be given the money and permission to dig here, could easily reconstruct a picture of daily life in the city which would be entirely accurate.

We plodded in line ahead through the ruins all around us across the brow of a hill and the frontier came dramatically into view. The Arpa flowed at the bottom of a two-hundred-foot-deep gorge southwards to join the Aras (the Araxes of Armenian times) on its way to the Caspian. Beneath us, halfway down to the river, stood a superb red-stone Armenian church, about the same size as the average English parish church of today. From where we stood, it seemed perfectly preserved and we ran down the slope towards it, bubbling with excitement. There were paintings on its outer walls. I went inside and in the gloom we could see that not only the walls but the roof as well were a mass of the most glorious works of art. Tragically, the eyes were everywhere removed. I turned to the Chief of Police, who was sitting gloomily on a stone seat. "Do tell us. What place is this?" "I don't really know." It was obvious that he didn't care either. His only object was to get the trip over and get back to Kars. I felt suddenly angry at this utter disregard of history and the arts. The possession of these things should also imply a responsibility for their care. All this seemed to be lacking. Surely there was more to life than just filling one's belly and lying in bed? But perhaps not everyone felt this way.

It came on to rain. Frustratedly we sat on in the church, the pigeons wheeling around the vaulted roofs. The high altar was enclosed by a stone screen and there was a chapel on either side. Daylight came eerily through the narrow slits of windows. I felt excessively gloomy. Suddenly, I heard footsteps approaching. Here was someone, I supposed, come to see what we were doing and to tell us to stop it.

A tall fellow wearing Turkish colonel's uniform came through the west door. "Good afternoon," he said in faultless American, "having a look at some of our treasures?" The arrival of Colonel Hakki Akyol, officer commanding the Turkish frontier battalion in the frontier district, was the luckiest thing that could have happened to us. Madame Akyol, the colonel's charming wife, was with him.

"My husband and I have only recently come here. We were in Washington until the other day. We both love antiquities and we are glad to have Ani so close."

I remarked that we felt the same.

"This is the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator," Colonel Akyol explained. "We Turks know it as the Sirli Kilise. Kilise means church. It had a convent attached to it at one time and was built in about 1215."

I reflected that in 1215, towards the end of Ani's career, the Georgians were already in possession, although they had by then appointed an Armenian governor, thought to be of the same family as the Zacharides who governed it under the first Georgian occupation in 1124. The Zacharides who built the church, the Colonel explained to me, hoped that this pious act would bring long life to him and his sons. It must have been a sad day for the Zacharides, therefore, when the Mongols arrived in the next century and put an end to these hopes. Ani had but a short time to live. Its grasses were already withering and its flowers fading.

Together we walked up the hill, St Gregory the Illuminator behind us with the river, the barbed wire, the searchlights and the frontier towers. There were some old baths close to the church, dating doubtless from the time of the great Sultan Alp Arslan in 1064 and All That. By then, Colin was already filming. The Colonel said it was all right "so long, of course, as you don't disturb those goddam Russians!"

"What's that?" I asked, pointing at a tall ruin standing in the midst of a heap of rubble. "Don't know. Let's go and see," said Colonel Akyol. The ruin, again twelve-sided like the cathedral in Kars, turned out to be the Chapel of the Redeemer. In 1034, the Armenian Prince Apulgharib made a journey to Constantinople, where he obtained "a piece of the cross." With it he returned to Ani and built this church, where he laid his sacred relic and ordered that services be held each night until the Second Coming of Christ. Poor Apulgharib - and poor Zacharides from St Gregory's - how saddened they would be if they could see their churches today!

It was obvious which building now lay before us. The cathedral of Ani was unmistakable. I walked around first to the west door, the better to conceive the emotions of entry from the direction most used by the people of Ani in the great days. Inscriptions in Armenian decorated the outer walls, which were pierced by the traditional long narrow windows, now staring sightless over the plains. I put a foot inside and at once the world receded behind me. Urartu, Turks, Sassanids, Persians, Kurds and Assyrians all melted away. Even the Armenians and Georgians and their eternal bickerings with Rome and Byzantium meant very little. Thy mercy endureth for ever. Time stood still in the great building. The peace of eternity descended from the ruined roofs and the gaping hole where once the cupola had stood poured its benediction on me from where the picture of Christ Pantocrator had looked down on the people come to pray. I turned around to see if Colin or the Colonel was there, or Udo or Heiner or the guards. But there was no one in earshot. I was quite alone. I remembered the time when the two English schoolteachers had strayed through the gardens of the Petit Trianon in Versailles and suddenly seen a crowd of terrified eighteenth-century court ladies, crying a warning of the revolutionaries that shook the gates of the palace. Time had rolled back without their knowing and the vibrant chords of a former century had mingled with the tumultuous traffic of today.

Here, too, the past and the present had become one. As I advanced up the nave towards the wrecked high altar, mounting the sanctuary steps through the dust of centuries at my feet, the music of the spheres sounded from the walls and a great echo of chanting filled the cathedral, now resplendent with vestments and paintings. The candles glittered from every alcove and the sound of warrior voices mingled with the intonings of the monks as the patriarch, high at the apex of the ceremony, lifted the jewelled crown to the head of the young King Gagik. A great shout went up and the trumpets sounded. But it was not the shout of thanksgiving, nor the trumpets of triumph. The splendour faded, the painted cathedral darkened, and from the city walls came the mingled battle sounds of Byzantine and Arab, of Georgians and Mongols. The turrets stood out against the flames and armed men streamed into the city. Then the cannon were silent and a strange stillness settled over the cathedral, the silence of utter abandonment. The candles went out one by one, the few priests crept cowering from the sanctuary. There was a rumbling and a trembling and the whole edifice shook, as outside terrified screams sounded through the near-deserted city. The sun darkened and, to the music of the tempest that rose, the dome of the cathedral of Ani crashed to the ground, the dust of many ikons rising suffocatingly to the night sky that peered, inquisitively, through the gaping roof. There was a sound of terror-crazed wailing in the city, as the ghosts of the Zacharides, Artsrunis, Bagratids, Mamikonians, Pahlavides, Artaxiads and Arsacids fled before the dawn of barbarism and the mourners went about the streets.

I looked around from the sanctuary steps. There was no one there; just the pigeons flitting about the pillars up near the roof. It had stopped raining and I went outside. The Turkish guard was waiting for me, smiling, and we went together across to join the others. The Colonel was explaining a building on the edge of the ravine to Heiner and Udo and telling them not to take photographs because of Russia. "The tower is really a Moslem tower. It was used as a minaret when this church was turned into a mosque." The first Moslem Prince of Ani, Manuchar, transformed it to a mosque in the eleventh century and for years the cry of the imam was heard over the valley of the Arpa. Inside, the place was a storehouse of history. Stone tablets littered the floors with Greek, Armenian and Arabic inscriptions on them: an archaeologist would have gone out of his mind with excitement.

"You cannot go up to the castle." The Colonel's warning was enough. Built by the Seljuk Turks a good deal later than the original city, the fortress dominating the cape where the two ravines met, so like the inland extremity of the tableland of Trebizond, was the setting for a rambling set of fortifications out of bounds to visitors. One can only imagine its modem purpose. I would have liked to visit it, if only to inspect the original tenth-century Armenian palace-church said to be contained within its walls.

We crossed to the other side of the plateau, overlooking the inland gorge. A small stream trickled along its bottom, which was broad and covered with vegetation. A fierce wind whistled up it, carrying the dust of the crevasse along with its breath. Here the great Armenian family of the Pahlavides lay buried, their mortal remains gazing steadfastly over the lands they once controlled. There is nothing to mark their resting place except the polygonal Chapel of St Gregory, its twelve sides conforming to the plan of Kars cathedral and many other buildings of this epoch. King Gagik built this church in 1001, the year the cathedral was completed. It was getting cold and dark. Slowly, taking care to avoid the myriad potholes, we picked our way past the ruins of the Church of the Apostles, the ruined synod house, where great argument had certainly been held, back to the city walls. The wind was rising and thunderclouds were rolling down on us from Ararat. I said goodbye to the Colonel and his wife and we got into the car. As we jolted away from Ani, "the city of a thousand and one churches," a fork of lightning joined heaven and earth. The years were claiming their own. Nobody spoke a word; we all felt we had been intruding.