Dark clouds over Yerevan

I took a Marshutka to Yerevan which meant going to some wasteland behind a pharmacy and saying Yerevan to various loiterers before lucking upon a driver, who pointed at this glorious vehicle.

The bus doesn't leave until full and so people enter, put a bag on a seat, and then get off for a cigarette, go shopping, or talk loudly into mobiles. How this doesn't result in the bus never leaving is a mystery to me but through some magical process passengers re-coagulated at a seemingly unappointed moment and we were off.

It's not the most comfortable mode of transport but as I watched Armenia's grey hills role by the lack of peddling made for a pleasant change. The barren hills serve to make this part of the country feel like you are looking at a topographical map with the frond-like patterns uncovered.

This was only the seventh capital I have visited of the 18 countries and the primary reason for my visit was to see Mount Ararat; the twin peaked stratovolcano massif where Noah's ark is claimed to have come to rest. Fictional vessel's beaching points aside it is also central to Armenian culture similar to Mount Olympus in the minds of ancient Greeks. Depictions of the mountain are found on bank notes, the countries coat of arms and festoon postcards. All this despite the fact that Ararat has been firmly inside Turkey since 1923 and so off limits to Armenians.

Staring out across the border from the capital at the Ararat is therefore a key to both the Armenian psyche and, if we allow ourselves to come over all Will Self, a profound piece of psycho-geography.

So it was that I hopped off the Marshutka, knees creaking, and set off in search of this unmissable view. With the sun waxing alarmingly I began the long walk into town from the bus station.

Passing Yerevan's many famous brandy factorys

Architecturally knocks the brewery in Burton-on-Trent that dad used to work at into a cocked hat.

Alas I choose to find my hostel first before seeking out a view of the mountain and by the time I had walked the 8k and found my modest hostel the sun was dipping. Still I had two days to see it and was advised that it was a much nicer view early in the morning so I set about wandering night time Yerevan; stopping occasionally for a coffee at one of her famous cafe's before scuttling back to the hostel for an early night.

Much to the joy of my bunk-mates my phone went off promptly at 05:30. Groggily I made my way along the circular strip of park which rings central Yerevan heading for the Cascades. The monument towering 991 feet up the hill side at the north of the city beckoned but with the dawning of day came drizzle. The first rain I had encountered in Armenia. Unperturbed I raced to the top and encountered a view so grey, damp and close that even London would have been impressed.

Out of breath and most unhappy I trudged back down and sought consolation at the Mandabaran.

One of the finest collections of medieval and ancient manuscripts might not be every bodies idea of a rock and roll morning but those people are wrong. From the moment I walked up the grand boulevard to be confronted by the imposing figure of Mesrop Mashtots inventor of the Armenian alphabet I knew it was in for a treat.

Inside was a wondrous treasure trove.

Top left 17th century history of Alexander the Great, top right 15th Century bible, bottom left gospel from 1357

First and foremost were case upon case of medieval manuscripts illustrated sometimes with a childlike quality sometimes with great realism sometimes like a hideous backlash from an acid trip.

In addition there were beautifully bound bibles including the knock out Gospel of Echmiiadzin in Ivory from the 6th century. (Not as beautiful as an elephant but still very nice.)

The majority of the manuscripts were naturally (greater) Armenian but there were also examples from Venice, Ulm, Mainz, Turkey, The Crimea, England and many more.

Some of the most beautiful were from the east.

Top Persian, bottom left Arabic and bottom right Indian (written on palm leaves) 

There was also a marvelous section containing medieval medicine and natural history books.

This magnificent horse is a great example of a medieval text trope where lines are written at tangents from the object being discussed. I'm a fan.

But the main event for me was the glorious selection of maps.

Just look at this magnificent bastard! I did for about half an hour. Orientated east as was the custom at the time (incidentally where the word comes from) and centered on Jerusalem its clearly earth but not as we know it. This Mediterranean has an Italy less boot more block and a suez canal-esque channel running from something akin to the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic through what we might speculate is the Sahara, the Congo or simply underneath what is simply a severely truncated Africa(Libya).

There were dozens of cartographic gems but two which stood out to me were a gorgeous medieval copy of the Geographia drawn by Ptomoly.

And this classic T-O map from the 12th century (15th century copy)

For which they provided a useful English translation below.

Eventually I dragged myself away and reemerged into a grey day and wandered Yerevan. I was struck by the near absolute absence of graffiti.

As close as I got in hours of wandering.

There was also an impressive selection of imposing doors.

Top left the Opera House, bottom left the Matenadaran right I can't remember.

A days wandering ended with an evenings eating out and another early night to allow yet another popular 05:30 start.

Despite forecasts to the contrary the morning gloom appeared worryingly cloudy but I gamely made my way back to The Cascades.

It really wasn't much of a chore. For example I got to renew my acquaintance with this portly gentlemen.

The Cascades has 572 steps all of which I renegotiated with ever decreasing optimisms but buoyed by the pleasingly well designed and occasionally enjoyably silly artistic flourishes.

Reaching the summit I looked out at the pea soup obscuring even the hint of the famous mountain view that I was here to see.

I sat, I smoked, I surveyed and I surveyed some more. In this manner I passed a good portion of the morning hoping to catch so much as a glimpse.

It wasn't to be.

I left forlornly having been foiled twice over in my efforts to see Ararat which I suppose, given the its there but not accessible reality for modern Armenians, wasn't the least appropriate result for this presumptuous tourist to encounter.

Scuffing my shoes as I walked through the streets of Yerevan for one last time heading the breadth of the city towards my last priority for my visit.

But before reaching it I had 12 kilometers to go and no wheels to assist but it did give me an opportunity to see FC Yerevan's ground looking like some alien flower sprouting on the gorge banks.

Despite being mostly lost most of the way I found my way along the highway out of town to the Armenian Genocide Museum.

Words do no justice to the simply presented human horror to be found there and it certainly wasn't the place for photos.

I will include an excerpt of the report sent by Leslie A Lewis American Consul to Henry Morgenthau the American Ambassador to Constantinople on July 24th 1915.

"It has been no secret that the plan was to destroy the Armenian race as a race, but the methods used have been more cold-blooded and barbarous, if not more effective, than i had first supposed... It seems to be fully established now that practically all who have been sent away from here have been deliberately shot...

I do not believe there has ever been a massacre in the history of the world so general or so thorough as that which is now being perpetrated in this region or that a more fiendish, diabolical scheme has been conceived by the mind of man."

As a twelve year old I visited Auschwitz and was too young too comprehend the inhumanity. It hit me here like a ton of bricks. The understated presentation of the evidence of the genocide had me in tears within minutes of entering not just because of the horrific realities but because of the need to do so at all. Here was a memorial that was forced to not only remember the millions of  people killed but to try and persuade people it happened at all.

Those millions of people brutally destroyed in the name of a dying empires political expediency are now having the reality of their demise and their memory sacrificed in the name of political expediency.

I looked up The UK's current position:

We condemn the massacres, but do not find them qualified enough under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide to call them a genocide.

"A 1999 Foreign Office briefing for ministers said that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide would provide no practical benefit to the UK and goes on to say that "The current line is the only feasible option" owing to "the importance of our relations (political, strategic and commercial) with Turkey"

No practical benefit.

I didn't feel in a very practical mood as I walked the long slow walk back to the bus station.

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