Dispatches from Turkey: Kars, Kars, Kars


KARS, Turkey—I arrived in Kars this afternoon and checked in to my hotel room. This was my fourth day in Turkey and I had already seen and heard a lifetime’s worth of outrageous things (and, to be fair, I also had many great moments). But nothing had shaken me—yet.

I looked at Kars through my hotel window. The entire city was looking back at me. A bare tree nearby with several crows perched on it caught my attention.

And there and then, I broke down in tears. A bare tree and a few crows had done what no one and nothing else had been able to do over the past few days.

My first stop after leaving the hotel was the 10th-century Armenian Church, Sourp Arakelots (St. Apostles Church) in the Kale Ici neighborhood. The church was turned into a mosque, now called the Kumbet Mosque.

I removed my shoes at the entrance (as required when entering mosques) and went in. A local was praying. After an initial hesitation, I silently said my Hayr Mer (the Lord’s Prayer).

It felt like I had never prayed before.


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  1. Araxi said:

    Ղարս, Ղարս, Ղարս, Երևվանի հարս,
    Երբ պիտի դու նորից տուն վերադառնաս՞ ……..

    We await your return OUR DEAR KARS.

  2. Steve said:

    The Arakhelots church stands isolated in windswept desolation. The historical heart of Kars has been clear-felled in a swath of demolitions planned by the Global Heritage Fund. (It will be a series of plazas “like what we have in California” boasted its founder, Jeff Morgan, to me.)
    The church has been newly scrubbed using jets of pressurised water, scrubbed clean of any traces of inconvenient history. “Kumbet Mosque, Built 937, Opened 1064″ the plaque above its main entrance blandly states. Inside, the cleaning was sandblasting. All the old surfaces have gone, including the gold-coloured Cyrillic inscription once that framed its apse. There is little left in the Kars Apostles church to touch the heart of the average visitor.
    Leave, walk away. Go back 20 years, and turn around. Gone are the kitsch street lighting, gone is the ugly stone paving. The trees that now surround the church rustle gently in the wind, underfoot is the soft crunch of gravel. Ahead, the massive solidity of the church contrasts beautifully with the softness of the wild flowers and grasses that line its foundations and cover its roofs. Its three entrances are sealed tight with ugly metal doors – the original wooden doors vanished in the late 1980s. There is a small aperture at the top of the north door. Pile some boulders (from the demolished bell tower?) against that door. Make the pile high enough to be able stand on your tip toes to see inside. In the dim light, make out the rubble-strewn interior, the half-demolished iconostasis. Walk behind the church, to the extension built by the Russians. See the window with metal bars and the space created by a missing bar. Through that narrow gap the slimmer and more daring would squeeze. For a while, candles from Yerevan would cover the iconostasis and illuminate that dimly lit interior.
    Go forward 20 years. The gap is now sealed with a crudely welded patchwork of metal strips. But only those who knew its former purpose would notice it. Only those who know what was can shed tears about what is.

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