THE CITY OF ANI:
RECENT HISTORY
85 Years Of Destruction

After The First World War

From 1915 until the early 1920s a series of massacres and deportations resulted in the destruction of almost the entire Armenian population within Turkish controlled territory. An estimated 1½ million Armenians perished at the hands of the Turkish and Kurdish perpetrators of this genocide.

To this day the Turkish State disputes that anything which could be classified as "genocide" actually took place. An important part of this denial has taken the form of minimising or removing evidence of the long Armenian presence in what is now eastern Turkey. If the victims never existed then how could they be killed, and if (a few) were killed then why should it matter if they, as a people, were of no cultural significance? With this aim, official Turkish history has been rewritten to eliminate the importance of Armenia and invent or exaggerate Turkish influences, population statistics have been falsified, and most place names of Armenian origin have been changed to Turkish ones. None of this encourages the preservation of Armenian buildings, the most obvious reminder and legacy of a past that Turkey wishes to entirely eliminate.

Cultural Genocide

After the killing or removal by other means of a region's original population, the destruction of that population's cultural monuments invariably follows. The most recent example of this process occured in Kossovo.

"A people which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people than one which has been able to situate itself in history. This is why - and this is the only reason why - the entire art of the past has now become a political issue"

- John Berger, "Ways of Seeing"

In the years following the Armenian Genocide hundreds of Armenian churches in Turkey were deliberately destroyed because of their Armenian origin, a policy which continued at least into the 1970s. Hundreds, probably thousands, more have been allowed to fall into ruin, or to be plundered for building material, or to be demolished for redevelopment. The majority of these buildings had never been properly studied or even photographed. Since the 1930s there has been a conspiracy of silence amongst western archaeologists and art historians regarding Armenian sites in Turkey: they seem to turn unaccountably blind, deaf, and dumb whenever the word "Armenia" is mentioned. Even Armenian academics have participated in the cover-up. ¹

Today within Turkey, surviving Armenian buildings (especially those important for tourism) are often presented as being of Turkish or Byzantine origin, or they are presented as isolated examples that are unconnected to any larger Armenian culture, or the Armenian identities of the builders are disguised by calling them "Bagratid" or "Artzrouni" (the names of medieval Armenian princely families).

What Happened at Ani?

In May 1921 Riza Nur, a member of the Turkish Assembly, wrote to general Kazim Karabekir, commander of the Eastern Front, ordering that "the relics and the traces of the monuments of Ani be wiped off the face of the earth". He added "You will be rendering a great service to Turkey when you accomplish this goal" ². Karabekir recorded in his memoirs that he replied dismissively to Nur, saying that the Ani ruins were vast, like the walls of Istanbul, and that even if they were destroyed - which in itself would be a very difficult task - they would still remain as ruins on the same spot. He also warned that the destruction of Ani would be likely to stir up sentiment amongst the Armenian religious community.

Some destruction did take place. Most of what seems to have been destroyed were the visible results of Nikolai Marr's excavations, including most of his repairs and restorations. Certain structures that would have been seen as having symbolic importance to Armenians may also have been destroyed at this time (such as the tomb of King Ashot at Horomos, and the khatchkar monument of Catholicos Barsegh).

Many Armenian monuments in the vicinity of Ani have been destroyed since 1920. The dates of their destruction are not exactly known. See the pages on the Khtzkonk and Bagnayr monasteries, the Tekor basilica, and Magazberd for examples.

Even though the 1921 order for the total demolition of Ani was not carried out, the history of Ani since the 1920s has been one of continuous and increasing destruction. The reasons for this can be placed into several categories:

Damage Due To Natural Events

An earthquake in 1935 is said to have destroyed most of the Oğuzlu church. Half of the church of the Redeemer collapsed during a storm in 1957. The Russian excavators had repaired this building. The Georgian church had collapsed by the 1960s, this building had also been repaired by the Russians. The church of the Shepherd and the citadel church known as the "mausoleum of the child princes" were destroyed in another earthquake in 1966. The southern half of the "palace church" probably collapsed during the same earthquake. The earthquake that devastated northern Armenia on the 7th December 1988 was also felt at Ani. There was damage to the city walls, to the narthex of the Tigran Honents church, and, in particular, to the north-west corner of the cathedral, which collapsed.

The surviving half of the church of the Redeemer has now reached a state of imminent collapse, as have the southwest corner of the Cathedral, the surviving parts of the narthex of the church of Tigran Honents, and the hall of the church of the Apostles.

1.   This information for tourists is placed at the entrance to Ani. The "history" that it tells is mostly fantasy, and Armenia is not even mentioned once!


2.   Khtzkonk monastery, near Ani, a pre-1920 photo


3.   The condition of Khtzkonk monastery today.


4.   Damage to the cathedral by the 1988 earthquake


5.   This crack has recently appeared in the
surviving half of the church of the Redeemer


6.   Half of the church of the Redeemer
collapsed in 1955 during a storm

7.   The church of the Shepherd
- destroyed in the 1966 earthquake

8.   One of the citadel churches
- destroyed in the 1966 earthquake

Damage Caused by Vandalism

Digging amongst the ruins by local villagers hunting for treasure used to be common. Fortunately, the damage caused by this activity was mostly small in scale - an exception being the 1998 breaking open of the graves in the burial chapels next to the church of Saint Gregory of the Abughamir's.

Visitors to Ani, both Turkish and foreign, seem to think that there is nothing wrong in writing their names onto the walls of the churches. The church of Tigran Honents, because of its frescoes, has been particularly susceptible to this sort of damage. Since the removal of travel restrictions to Ani in 2004, many Turkish visitors now come to Ani to picnic amongst the ruins. In total ignorance about how to behave at an archaeological site, they start fires, leave lots of rubbish behind, and use the churches as urinals. Visitors from Armenia are just as ignorant - as proof, one need only to note the number of discarded empty bottles of "Noy" mineral water that now litter the site.

Officially Sanctioned Damage

Because the cathedral is the most prominent Armenian building in Ani it is the most likely candidate to suffer from state censorship. The interior walls of the cathedral are covered with crudely applied daubs of modern white paint. This paint has been put there to hide Armenian inscriptions. In other locations the paint has been carefully applied in blocks and has been chosen to blend in with the colour of the stone. The application of this paint occured not later than 1983. Probably, many of the inscriptions dated from after the fall of Ani and they have been hidden to remove the visible evidence of a continuing Armenian population in the Kars region especially during the Russian period.

When the amount of tourist graffiti covering the frescoes inside the Tigran Honents church became too great, the supposed custodians of Ani simply covered over the damaged parts with white paint. The frescoes on the northern wall of this church were particularly badly damaged by graffiti (including a large CND symbol carved into the plaster). To 'tidy' this section up the entire lower registry of paintings was chipped off! This destruction occurred during the early 1990s. It must have taken a considerable amount of time and effort to accomplish, and could not have been done without the use of scaffolding or ladders.

The Stone Quarry Opposite Ani

In 1999 a quarry was opened on the Armenian side of the border to extract stone for a new cathedral that was being built in Yerevan to mark the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's conversion to Christianity. It was decided to use "Ani stone" as a gimmick to attract the rich foreign donors needed to pay for its construction. The quarry was not closed when the cathedral was finished and it grows bigger with each passing year.

In addition to the obvious environmental damage to the landscape, and the noise pollution from the constant sound of heavy machinery, explosions within this quarry caused the fragile buildings at Ani to literally shake. Click here to view a page about the quarry and the issues related to it.


9.   Graves beside the church of Saint Gregory of
the Abughamir's - desecrated by treasure hunters


10.   Armenian inscriptions hidden by modern paint


11.   The stone quarry located directly opposite Ani


12.   Got vandalism on your frescoes?

13.   Then paint over it with whitewash

14.   Or just chip the damaged bits off

The Damage Caused by the
Activities of Archaeologists

In 1965, 1966, and 1967 there were archaeological excavations at Ani undertaken by Professor Kemal Balkan. Two bathhouses were uncovered: Marr had previously excavated one of them, the other was a new discovery. These excavations seem to have been done to a reasonably high standard, the results were properly published, and some of the pottery artefacts discovered are still on display in the Kars archaeological museum.

Starting in 1991 new excavations began on various structures at Ani. These excavations are still continuing and are under the direction of Professor Beyhan Karamağaralı of Hacittepe University, Ankara.

Critics have said that Karamağaralı has no understanding of Armenian art and architecture. What is without doubt is that she does not understand even the most basic techniques needed to undertake a modern archaeological excavation. She is often not on-site, and is happy to allow her excavations to be left to the shovels and pickaxes of unskilled and unsupervised labourers. Materials that modern archaeologists would seek to carefully record and study are either destroyed during the excavation process or are simply discarded. In an age where the goal of archaeology is now "total recovery" Karamağaralı instead excels at "zero recovery".

Normal procedures to remove the archaeological spoil (the soil and debris that results from an excavation) are never followed. The spoil is simply dumped elsewhere within Ani and is spread out over unexcavated areas, contaminating that ground for future archaeologists. She interprets finds in a simplistic and amateurish way: for example, if a fragment of pottery bearing Arabic lettering is found then the building in which it was found is automatically assumed to have been inhabited by Muslims. Nikolai Marr wrote against such "backward methodology" over 70 years ago ³. She fails to properly consolidate or maintain any foundations she uncovers - within a few years her excavated buildings become just piles of rubble overgrown with vegetation. She also has an inordinate fondness for covering the tops of any walls she uncovers with a thin layer of poor quality cement that quickly crumbles to dust.

Karamağaralı has published almost nothing about her excavations, and her survey drawings are so simplistic that they border on being useless. Even after over twelve years of excavations, not a single artefact found by Karamağaralı has been put on public display or catalogued - everything is locked away in a warehouse in Kars (to which only she has access to) and there are rumours of the widespread theft of artifacts. Anyway, most artifacts are not even removed by the archaeologists but are simply discarded to be lost, destroyed, or stolen.

The truth is that Karamağaralı's activities at Ani have little to do with proper archaeology. At best they consist mainly of clearing the debris and fallen masonry that has accumulated over a building in order to expose any surviving foundations. At worst it is simply cultural vandalism.

It is unfortunate that French archaeologists and art historians from the Sorbonne have been actively involved with Karamağaralı at Ani since 1998. They are headed by Professor Jean-Pierre Mahé. The French archaeologists are, in private, extremely contemptuous of all of Karamağaralı's work and they have intentionally worked separately from their Turkish partners. However, in public they have said nothing to either improve or limit her activities at Ani. Neither have they publicly protested against the Turkish Ministry of Culture's restorations. Some of their representatives in Paris have actually been engaged in silencing protests from fellow French academics about the state of affairs at Ani. Click here to see an example of this. Karamağaralı uses the presence of these foreign archaeologists to add prestige to, and deflect criticism from, her own work at Ani. Funding from the Sorbonne partly pays for her distructive excavations.

Damage Caused By
The "Security Fence"

Throughout the year 2002 work progressed to entirely encircle Ani with a wire-mesh fence. This fence is about three metres tall, is topped with barbed wire, and is supported by concrete posts that are embedded into a concrete strip foundation. It is difficult to know what motive lay behind the construction of this expensive eyesore. In Turkey it often seems that an archaeological site is classed as an "official" site not because of its intrinsic cultural importance but whether it is enclosed by a fence and charges an admission fee.

The construction of this fence inflicted considerable damage throughout Ani. Creating the concrete foundation involved cutting through and destroying many layers of archaeology. To reach the more remote corners of the site a road was bulldozed up the eastern side of the citadel, where no track had previously existed. Without any thought of the damage, for months heavy trucks, excavators, and tractors were allowed to repeatedly cross and re-cross the city at high speeds, crushing anything on the surface under their wheels and, by compacting the earth, damaging any fragile archaeological remains under the surface. The Turkish and French archaeologists use their large minibus to create the same effect.

After the construction of the fence, the local villagers were forbidden to graze their livestock within Ani. This has led to the ground become rapidly overgrown with vegetation. As well as making it impossible for visitors to walk to (or even see) many of the minor monuments, the extremely dense plant growth is now damaging the walls of many of the buildings.

Damage Caused by the
So-Called Restorations

Since 1995, large sections of Ani have been subjected to massive "restorations" organised and paid for by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The destruction that has been caused is so extensive that a separate page, "The Rape of Ani", is needed to adequately describe it.

NOTES:
1. Here is a disgraceful example, written by Armenian hands: "We would like to see the Armenian monuments in eastern Turkey better cared for, although we would warn any Western government (or UNESCO) from pressing the Turks on this matter, a course of action which would only hasten the destruction of the monuments that remain." Armenia, Minority Rights Report No. 32, London, 1976.
2. Riza Nur (1879-1943) was initially a member of Turkey's wartime ruling CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) regime, he later joined the opposition Liberal Union. He became a Deputy of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi) in Ankara, then Minister of Health (1920), and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1921). In 1921 he was the deputy-head of the Turkish delegation sent to the Lausanne peace conference.
The English translation of Riza Nur's command is taken from footnote 82, page 192, in Vahan Dadrian's The role of Turkish physicians in the World War 1 genocide of Ottoman Armenians published in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, volume 1, 1986. Dadrian's reference is "Istiklal Harbimiz, Istanbul, 1969, page 905". The same material is found between pages 960 and 970 of the 1960 edition.
General Kazim Karabekir died in 1948, and his memoirs were published posthumously in 1951 under the title Istiklal Harbimizin Esaslari. They were written by Karabekir during his forced retirement between 1928 and 1938, and were based on copies of his official and private correspondence and field diaries. An earlier version of his memoirs was published in 1933, but all copies of it were confiscated and burned by persons acting on behalf of the Turkish government of that time. Later editions, now with the title Istiklal Harbimiz, were published in Istanbul in 1960 and 1969.
Karabekir's memoirs also mention his receipt of a letter about Ani from an Armenian commander, telling him of the significance of the ruins to Armenians and asking that the site should be ceded to Armenia on those grounds, a request which Karabekir refuses.
3. "At this time, researchers are not aware of the danger arising from the way that they are systematically committed to attributing to Muslims, Arabs, or Seljuks, all artistic work or industrial manufacture carrying an Arabic inscription or used by people subject to their political domination. This backward methodology resembles one that would seek to establish on the basis of dynastic names alone the religion, the origin, and sometimes even the ethnic composition of the people led by those dynasties". N. Y. Marr, Ani, a History of the City and the Excavations, part 2, chapter 8. Leningrad and Moscow, 1934.


15.   Labourers "excavating" the fire temple during 1999, while Karamağaralı was relaxing back in Ankara


16.   Part of the security fence that encircles Ani


17.   During the construction of this fence heavy vehicles were allowed to be driven throughout Ani


18.   Labourers at work on the
"restoration" of the city walls


... forward to "The Rape of Ani: the Turkish Restorations".

... back to the previous history page "Ani: The Rediscovery of the Ruins".

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This page was first published in 1999. It was last modified on the 5th February 2005.