He is like the landscape, ancient, fissured, desiccated. He is the last one left who saw it with his own eyes.
His voice scrapes like wind through dry branches as he tells the story he repeated all his life.
“When the Turks came, all of us ran to the mountain. We rolled stones down the hill onto them while the smoke from our burning houses followed us like a curse. I was small and hid in the rocks. They made my mother and sisters kneel as they cut off the men’s heads.”
His brown eyes cloud and he does not tell the rest.
Instead he speaks of the Capital City of Ani and its thousand churches, the silk road wealth that flowed like a river.
“My grandfather’s fig trees were ten meters high, each fig as large as your hand. Oh, how I would love to taste one again.”
In 1915, the world descended into war. Ottoman leaders decided to resolve their “Armenian problem” through extermination and deportation. Soldiers and local Kurdish militias shot Armenian men. There were mass rapes of women. Armenian villages and city neighborhoods were looted, appropriated. The dead clogged the rivers and wells.
By the end of 1915, the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire fell from about two million to fewer than 500,000. Most historians consider this the to be the modern world’s first genocide.
Ani was the medieval capital of a powerful, ethnically Armenian kingdom centered in eastern Anatolia, the sprawling Asiatic peninsula that today makes up most of Turkey. A rich metropolis, its bazaars overflowed with furs, with spices, with precious metals.
Today it is a scattering of shattered cathedrals and rubble atop a desolate plateau. The Turkish government has erected no markers explaining what happened there, or why.