BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
Sometimes we don’t realize that the things we do might have an effect on other people’s lives. Decisions made and actions taken on a solely personal basis turn out to be more than personal and touch those surrounding us. This is what happened when a group of friend from different backgrounds and age groups: Vahe Aghabegians, Vahe Avakian, Hayk Petrossian, Arsineh Khanjian, Raffi Niziblian, Ktrij Devejian, Alex Sardar, Karen Elchian and Eric Sarksians and gathered, and decided to go mountain climbing. Not just any mountain, but the goddess of Armenian mountains: Mount Ararat.
On August 17, I learned that a group of people, some of whom I personally know and some who I don’t, were preparing to go on a long journey, with their final destination – Mount Ararat. The thought of it, and the idea of it, sounded a bit weird. I wondered why climbing any other mountain sounded normal to me, but not Ararat. I have climbed Mounts Ara and Aragats and many of my friends have too. Climbing these mountains somehow sounds perfectly normal. Is climbing Mount Ararat a taboo because we are Armenians and de facto Turkey has claimed and confiscated our “Armenianness” symbolizing mountain? Do we think just because the mountain is in Turkey’s lands they won’t allow us to step foot on it because of our nationality? Is all this true?
Since the members of this group of resolute people were amateurs, they needed to practice for the big day. The explorers began practicing on Mount Aragats whose peak, at 4095 meters above sea level, enabled their bodies to become accustomed to the high altitude of Mount Ararat -5137 meters. Being Facebook friends with some of the masterminds behind this exploit, I started following their actions though their posts and picture uploads and, just like a Brazilian soap opera, I got hooked. And so, for me the journey began with Uncle Vahe’s first post, “Ararat bound…”
All these years I have joined the renowned social website Facebook but I have never before experienced this thrill – I was with them throughout their journey. I read where they went, what they ate and even tried to read in-between the lines through their facial expressions in photos. On August 21, Raffi hinted, “We start the actual climb in the morning… J’aime ma vie … Merci au Bon Dieu pour les belles oportunitées !” and Uncle Vahe wrote, “Off we go. I’ll keep updating as long as cell phone’s batteries last” and I prayed for the batteries to last longer than they ever do and thanked the 21st century for the opportunity to be able to be with people hundreds of kilometers away, with the help of my mobile phone. Anxiously I waited for their next post…
In the past I have heard of people climbing Mount Ararat, but it never seemed intriguing. But now, today, one of us was climbing the beauty, and not just one of us, but to be more accurate, nine of us! If you ask me, Mount Ararat is not just a symbol. For an entire year, every single day on my way to work and back home, I explored the mountain from afar. Some days the mountain was shining in all her glory, some days it looked as if she was trying to hide her face behind a small white cloud and on other days, I simply couldn’t see her, hidden behind dark gray clouds.
For four seasons I observed the mountain every single working day and came to the conclusion that I don’t stare at the mountain because I’ve been raised hearing the slogan, “Even though Ararat is in the hands of the Turks it still belongs to us”. I realized that Ararat is a beautiful mountain and to me the most beautiful on this planet. As a matter of fact, it is a she, because she’s feminine and elegant and breathtakingly beautiful. I looked upon her as my good luck charm, I complimented her a million times in my mind and in a way I sometimes felt her beauty reflected on my face. And today, people I knew were going to sleep in her arms and observe her beauty beneath their feet.
On August 22, at 2700 meters the explorers had set up their tents and there was a picture of them sitting on her slopes. According to Raffi they got into their sleeping bags at 8pm and prepared for the next day. And for just one moment I paid attention to the posts of other people and realized that I was not alone. All of their friends and those of their spouses were attentively following their every action and reaction. And so, at that moment I realized that they had done what millions of other Armenians wanted to do, but never knew they could. They had taken their family and friends on a virtual journey to Mt. Ararat.
On the second day of the journey the hikers camped at 4200 meters and I began wondering if their bodies would adjust to the high altitude or not. Were they all feeling strong, as in high altitudes the lower levels of oxygen in the air can cause nausea or vomiting, inability to sleep, swelling of the face, hands and feet and disorientation, as your lungs try to intake enough oxygen necessary for the body. On August 23, Haik’s wife Vika updated us on the weather on the mountain, “Ararat: weather forecast at 4112 m altitude: 23/24 Aug: 3°C – 11°C” and Uncle Vahe wrote, “All is fine. So far so good:-)” and we all relaxed. Even though we had learned that one of the groups had decided not to continue the climb, we also knew that they were all in good health and spirits and smiling.
On the next day those who had resolved to go on with the climb decided to aim for the peak, but we were all devastated after Raffi posted, “Tried to go up the last 1000-meter at 1 am. Very harsh winds. Came back after 200-meter… Will try again tonight! Hope weather improves. Pray for us” and some of us crossed our fingers while others of us prayed. And when I read Ter Devejian’s post, “It’s 8 p.m. In our tents, listening to hail and thunder. Supposed to start 2nd attempt at summit at midnight – in only four hours. Not looking too good right now, but our spirits are high. After all, we are sleeping on Mount Ararat – who’s got it better than us?” I thought, “Yeah, who’s got it better than they do? After all, who gets to sleep on Mount Ararat even once?
But the question remained, “Would they reach the top, thus reaching both the peak of the mountain and the apex of the journey?” And then there was silence. I checked all profiles, but no one was updating anything. Even though at 5000 meters Raffi had joked that they were doing great because, after all, it was their mountain, everybody was posing questions and anticipating at least some sort of news. And then there was news. Raffi’s wife Lara posted, “Raffi Niziblian just called from the top of the Mountain Ararat. They made it!!!!! Hourraaaaa!!!” And we all knew that the batteries and the networks couldn’t keep up with our explorers and they had made it; they had stepped foot on the virgin snows of our mountain!
Once back in coverage, Raffi wrote, “24 hours ago, at this very moment, I was looking at Armenia – ALL of Armenia – from the top of OUR world, and I have to say, she looked MAGNIFICENT! Thanks to the beautiful group I was with, who made this Challenging trip an unforgettable experience. And uncle Vahe uploaded a colorful picture of those who reached the summit first titled, “On top of the world :D.”
It was those status updates and pictures and shared emotions that turned the climb of a group of friends and ordinary men into a Pan-Armenian event. We were all there in our thoughts and we learned that we can all also be there in reality!