It’s April 22 today. April 24 marks the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Robert Fisk calls it the first Holocaust of the 20th century. He writes:
“Encouraged by their victory over the Allies at the Dardanelles, the Turks fell upon the Armenians with the same fury as the Nazis were to turn upon the Jews of Europe two decades later.”
The story of my grandparents and parents is so tragic and sad that it hurts to even remember. But right now I just want to present the readers with a different story about Armenia and the Armenians written by Simone de Beauvoir in 1972.
“We drove on, taking the very beautiful road from Tibilisi to Erivan, the capital of Armenia. It ran through the fields of cotton and then through green pastures fringed with dark pines. We reached a pass, and all at once the landscape changed entirely: before us stretched a pinkish, chaotic desert with a bright blue lake in the middle of it. While we were gazing at it in admiration we saw a black car coming towards us: it was the Armenian writers who were to welcome us. We got into their car and they took us to a hotel on the shores of Lake Sevan. It was a very fine day, and really hot although we were at over six thousand feet. They had ordered trout; fish as long as one’s arm, pink as salmon so delicious that I could hardly manage to eat any of the dishes that followed. The Armenians told us about the archeological discoveries that have been made on the shores of the lake- many remains going back to a very ancient civilization. And about the birth of the Armenian alphabet: until the fifth century it did not exist, and they used Greek and Persian characters. Then, in order to encourage the spread of Christianity, Saint Mesrop invented an alphabet that made it possible to transcribe the Bible. Many works appeared in the course of the century.
Our Armenians said that the following year would see the publication of the French version of David of Sassoun, the great epic poem about the legendary hero: it had been handed down by word of mouth since ancient times, growing richer in the course of ages, and it had been committed to writing in the nineteenth century. And indeed a year later I was able to see the Armenians were right in being so proud of it; the poem holds its own in comparison with the very greatest works.
Erivan is built in the form of an amphitheatre upon a plateau facing Mount Ararat: the upper town lies a thousand feet above the lower. The houses are made of the local stone whose colors range from salmon-pink to copper, rust and bull’s blood: the façades look like slices of gelatine, and the effect is more remarkable than charming.
One morning we were taken to Echmiadzin, the Vatican of Armenia, the residence of the Catholicos. The road runs along the frontier with Turkey for miles and miles and for a long while it gave us a view of majestic Ararat, upon which Noah’s ark was stranded: its snowy peak stood out brilliantly against the blue of the sky.
The people seemed full of life- black-mustachioed men with velvety eyes; dark haired, olive-skinned and often beautiful women.
The monastery of Echmiadzin contains the oldest church in the world, built in the fourth century: it was being restored, and it was surrounded with scaffolding; but even so we could see its beautiful, faceted cupolas, so often imitated. The Armenians (Georgian Christians) were converted in 302, and in 374 they broke with Rome, thus bringing about the first schism in history.
The mountains are still very wild, however. A road carried us through vast bare landscapes to a monastery that used to be the Christians’ place of refuge from the Turks.”