Ankara Attempts to Turkify Ani's Past

11:35, 26 May, 2011

The ruins of Ani, the city of 1001 churches, continue to fascinate tourists from around the world.

On the day we arrived, despite the inclement weather, we bumped into Turkish students and tourists from the Czech Republic and Armenia. The Turkish government has latched on to the tourism draw and now longer restricts outsiders to the medieval Armenian city.

One Czech tourist, travelling by motorcycle, knew little of the city's history but was impressed with what he saw. Sadly, the information posted at the entrance and inside the area, told him nothing about the city's Armenian roots.

Loosely translated the official sign posts read that Ani "...is a medieval city where various cultures clashed."

The signs mention kings like Ashot (961-977 AD) and Smbat Bagratouni (977-989AD) must conveniently omit the fact that they were Armenian. Neither do they note that the city serves as the capital of the Armenian Kingdom.

Ani sat at the crossroads of trade routes as well – goods were brought from China, Persia, Byzantium and Egypt.

While the Tigran Honets Church has been partially renovated, its dome has been left unrepaired. While a sign affixed to the church states that it was built when Ani was under Georgian jurisdiction, Armenian historian Samvel Karapetyan is convinced that it belonged to the Armenian community.

Despite the efforts of the Turkish Cultural Ministry to the contrary, the locals know that Ani was an Armenian political and religious center.

We met up with Ali Ihsan Alunak, a Kurdish journalist, who heads the Caucasus Cultural Research Institute of Turkey.

Alnak says the lack of any mention of Ani's Armenian identity is a result of decades of Turkish rejectionist state policy when it comes to Armenians. Ankara, he states, wants to avoid any linkage of Turkey's history with that of the Armenians; especially the period related to the 1915 Genocide.

The architect says that Turkey has even seen fit to start calling Ani by the Turkified "Anu" name; thus further removing it from its Armenian legacy. In Turkish, the word means "memory" or "remembrance".

Alnak told me that Ankara's attempts to "Turkify" Ani are futile given that the whole world regards the city as Armenian.

Turkish Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ertugrul Günay, has declared that Ankara plans to renovate the Mother of God Cathedral and the Holy Saviour Church in cooperation with the World Monuments Fund.

The work is being coordinated by Anadolu Kültür, an NGO headed by Osman Kavala. He says that work will commence in 2012 and last for four years.

Ishan Karayaz, who heads the Millennium Development Goals Fund, is a bit more optimistic, despite the fact that Ani was a military off-limits zone till 2004. He says that things have changes today with specialists visiting the site; even Armenians.

"What this means is that we will have different studies of Ani. I also see more willingness on the part of the Turkish government to acknowledge Ani's Armenian identity," says Karayaz.

Ali Ishan believes that such official acknowledgement will be facilitated with the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. But he doesn't hold his breath regarding any such development.

He also doesn't put much faith in Ankara's pledges to renovate Ani's monuments and believes that Turkey is just going through the motions after having been pressured by the international community.