The sky parts and pours sunlight over the mountain range beside the coast of Lake Van, as seen from the island of Akhtamar.   Lake Van was the center of the capital of the Urartu Kingdom (1000 BC).  Later, King Gagik I Artsruni (908-944 AD) of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan chose the island of Aghtamar as one of his residences, founding a settlement there.   It is famous for its cathedral, and an old Armenian legend about a princess named Tamar, who fell in love with a commoner who would swim to the island every night to see her.  She would light a torch for him so he could find his way, one night she was found and her torch extinguished, leaving the boy to drown.  It is said you can hear him calling her name.  "Drop down, heavens, from above, and let clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it."

The sky parts and pours sunlight over the mountain range beside the coast of Lake Van, as seen from the island of Akhtamar. 

Lake Van was the center of the capital of the Urartu Kingdom (1000 BC).  Later, King Gagik I Artsruni (908-944 AD) of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan chose the island of Aghtamar as one of his residences, founding a settlement there. 

It is famous for its cathedral, and an old Armenian legend about a princess named Tamar, who fell in love with a commoner who would swim to the island every night to see her.  She would light a torch for him so he could find his way, one night she was found and her torch extinguished, leaving the boy to drown.  It is said you can hear him calling her name.

"Drop down, heavens, from above, and let clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it."

 Ani, the City of 1001 Churches, was the capital of the Armenian Bagratid Kingdom that covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey.  The city takes its name from the fortress city and pagan center of Ani-Kamakh in Daranaghi, Upper Armenia.  Its previous name, Khnamk, may have come from the verb "khnamel", meaning "to take care of".  Ani is also the diminutive name of the ancient Armenian goddess Anahit, who was seen as its mother-protector.  After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, the new Turkish government minister Riza Nur ordered the commander of the Eastern Front, Kazim Karabekir, for the monuments of Ani to "be wiped off the face of the earth."  At least ten monuments remain.  A few dot the landscape in this valley over the Akhurian River.

Ani, the City of 1001 Churches, was the capital of the Armenian Bagratid Kingdom that covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey.  The city takes its name from the fortress city and pagan center of Ani-Kamakh in Daranaghi, Upper Armenia.  Its previous name, Khnamk, may have come from the verb "khnamel", meaning "to take care of".  Ani is also the diminutive name of the ancient Armenian goddess Anahit, who was seen as its mother-protector.

After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, the new Turkish government minister Riza Nur ordered the commander of the Eastern Front, Kazim Karabekir, for the monuments of Ani to "be wiped off the face of the earth."  At least ten monuments remain.  A few dot the landscape in this valley over the Akhurian River.

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  Surp Amenap’rkitch,  Church of the Holy Redeemer, was built by Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid to be a reliquary for a fragment of the True Cross.

Surp Amenap’rkitch, Church of the Holy Redeemer, was built by Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid to be a reliquary for a fragment of the True Cross.

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 Standing on what should be the altar of Arakelots Monastery's main church, the large void in its back wall gives way to a view of the ruins of Saint Thaddeus Church, and the vast landscape Armenians had called home since the time of Menua - the king of Urartu in 800 BC - whose cuneiform inscriptions were found in the vicinity.  The monastery itself was founded in the early 4th century, became a major center of learning during the 12th-13th centuries, and remained one of the prominent monasteries of Western Armenia until the genocide in 1915. The indigenous Armenian population of the Taron (Muş) region - approximately 140,000 men, women, and children - were murdered. The whole of the structure remained standing until the 1960's, when it was blown up by the Turkish government.  The innately carved double doors of Arakelots Church date back to 1134 and are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Medieval Armenian art. The Mush Homiliarium, handwritten in 1200, is the largest surviving Armenian illuminated manuscript known - weighing over 60 pounds, with over 600 pages. In order to save the manuscript during the genocide, the book was divided in half and carried from the monastery to safety by two Armenian women fleeing their homelands. They are now both housed in Yerevan; at the History Museum of Armenia and Matenadaran - the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts.  Armenians are still known to make the pilgrimage to the ruins of Arakelots over a steep mile that climbs from a village at the base of the mountain, on their hands and knees.

Standing on what should be the altar of Arakelots Monastery's main church, the large void in its back wall gives way to a view of the ruins of Saint Thaddeus Church, and the vast landscape Armenians had called home since the time of Menua - the king of Urartu in 800 BC - whose cuneiform inscriptions were found in the vicinity.

The monastery itself was founded in the early 4th century, became a major center of learning during the 12th-13th centuries, and remained one of the prominent monasteries of Western Armenia until the genocide in 1915. The indigenous Armenian population of the Taron (Muş) region - approximately 140,000 men, women, and children - were murdered. The whole of the structure remained standing until the 1960's, when it was blown up by the Turkish government.

The innately carved double doors of Arakelots Church date back to 1134 and are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Medieval Armenian art. The Mush Homiliarium, handwritten in 1200, is the largest surviving Armenian illuminated manuscript known - weighing over 60 pounds, with over 600 pages. In order to save the manuscript during the genocide, the book was divided in half and carried from the monastery to safety by two Armenian women fleeing their homelands. They are now both housed in Yerevan; at the History Museum of Armenia and Matenadaran - the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts.

Armenians are still known to make the pilgrimage to the ruins of Arakelots over a steep mile that climbs from a village at the base of the mountain, on their hands and knees.

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 The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, built in 921 AD, on the small island of Akhtamar.  This cathedral served as a palatine church for the kings of Vaspurakan, and later, the seat of the Catholicosate of Vaspurakan.   It is the only structure that remains from that time.  The monastic complex was destroyed and the cathedral was looted during the Armenian Genocide in 1915 - its demolition prevented by Yaşar Kemal, a Kurdish journalist and candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  In the 1950's the island was used as a military training ground.  Controversial restorations were made in 2007 and it was reopened as a museum instead of as a place of worship, at that time without its cross or bell, and the name of the island was changed to Akdamar, translated as "white vein" in Turkish.  "A real comedy... A real tragedy... The government still hasn't been able to formulate a correct approach to the 'Armenian Question'.  Its real aim is not to solve the problem, but to gain points like a wrestler in a contest. How and when it will make the right move and defeat its opponent. That's the only concern. This is not earnestness. The state calls on Armenian historians to discuss history, but does not shy from trying its own intellectuals who have an unorthodox rhetoric on the Armenian Genocide.  It restores an Armenian church in the Southeast, but only thinks, “How can I use this for political gains in the world? How can I sell it?” - Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated for his beliefs in 2007.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, built in 921 AD, on the small island of Akhtamar.  This cathedral served as a palatine church for the kings of Vaspurakan, and later, the seat of the Catholicosate of Vaspurakan. 

It is the only structure that remains from that time.  The monastic complex was destroyed and the cathedral was looted during the Armenian Genocide in 1915 - its demolition prevented by Yaşar Kemal, a Kurdish journalist and candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  In the 1950's the island was used as a military training ground.  Controversial restorations were made in 2007 and it was reopened as a museum instead of as a place of worship, at that time without its cross or bell, and the name of the island was changed to Akdamar, translated as "white vein" in Turkish.

"A real comedy... A real tragedy... The government still hasn't been able to formulate a correct approach to the 'Armenian Question'.  Its real aim is not to solve the problem, but to gain points like a wrestler in a contest. How and when it will make the right move and defeat its opponent. That's the only concern. This is not earnestness. The state calls on Armenian historians to discuss history, but does not shy from trying its own intellectuals who have an unorthodox rhetoric on the Armenian Genocide.  It restores an Armenian church in the Southeast, but only thinks, “How can I use this for political gains in the world? How can I sell it?” - Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated for his beliefs in 2007.

 David and Goliath, among other stories, depicted on the facade of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

David and Goliath, among other stories, depicted on the facade of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

 Cathedral of the Holy Cross Altar Murals

Cathedral of the Holy Cross Altar Murals

 Akhtamar Island

Akhtamar Island

 The Vana Gadou, also known as "the swimming cat", is a distinctive landrace of domestic cat found in the Lake Van region that, "apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim."  Their most notable genetic characteristic is their almond-shaped eyes that often are mismatched color.  The most valued members of the type have one amber-green eye and one blue eye.  Authors and artists have associated the cat with the Armenian people, who have been said to have revered the cat. 

The Vana Gadou, also known as "the swimming cat", is a distinctive landrace of domestic cat found in the Lake Van region that, "apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim."  Their most notable genetic characteristic is their almond-shaped eyes that often are mismatched color.  The most valued members of the type have one amber-green eye and one blue eye.  Authors and artists have associated the cat with the Armenian people, who have been said to have revered the cat. 

 The shores of Lake Van.  The capital of the Urartu Kingdom (a cognate with the biblical "Ararat") in 13th century BC (also known as the Kingdom of Van) was located near the shores of Lake Van on the site of what became Van's Castle.  The ruins of the medieval city of Van are still visible below the southern slopes of the rock on which Van Castle is located. The lake was the center of Urartu from ~1000 BC, afterwards of the Satrapy of Armina, the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, and then the Kingdom of Vaspurakan.  Van was one of the three great lakes of the Armenian Kingdom, referred to as  the seas of Armenia.  

The shores of Lake Van.  The capital of the Urartu Kingdom (a cognate with the biblical "Ararat") in 13th century BC (also known as the Kingdom of Van) was located near the shores of Lake Van on the site of what became Van's Castle.  The ruins of the medieval city of Van are still visible below the southern slopes of the rock on which Van Castle is located. The lake was the center of Urartu from ~1000 BC, afterwards of the Satrapy of Armina, the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, and then the Kingdom of Vaspurakan.  Van was one of the three great lakes of the Armenian Kingdom, referred to as the seas of Armenia.  

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 Members of the "Grey Wolves" - a Turkish ultra-nationalist neo-fascist terrorist group which serves as the Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP) paramilitary or militant wing - celebrating the decision of the April 2017 referendum held under a state of emergency declared following a "failed military coup", most likely staged by the government in order to purge political dissidents in July 2016.  The referendum - in which the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) made the unprecedented move to allow non-stamped ballots (1.5 million) to be accepted as valid - was condemned by the OSCE and PACE as illegal and sparked large-scale pro-democracy protests, but will nonetheless allow Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stay in power until 2029.  This photograph, taken the night of the referendum win in Mush, shows one of several cars full of Grey Wolves members flashing their wolf-head hand signs at a group of Armenians visiting their ancestral homeland.  The group had formed death squads and were responsible for several massacres, as well as the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.  During the 1970's they killed 700 activists, intellectuals, labor organizers, journalists, and officials - and nearly 6,000 people in total  They are openly hostile to all Armenians, Kurds, and Greeks in Turkey, Christians overall, and Jews; and are also credited with the distribution of Adolf Hitler's  Mein Kampf  in Turkish.  Their motto is, "Your doctor will be a Turk and your medicine will be Islam".  The context for the "referendum" was made possible by the 2016 coup attempt, which resulted in over 300 people killed and more than 2,100 injured.  Mass arrests followed with at least 40,000 detained, including at least 10,000 soldiers and, for reasons that remain unclear, 2,745 judges.  15,000 education staff were also suspended and the licenses of 21,000 teachers working at private institutions were revoked - with over 100,000 arrested or fired from their jobs.  The government also released roughly 38,000 prison inmates, to "make more space in the penal system" for detainees who were arrested or detained after being involved in or suspected of association with the coup.   Erdogan had said, "This uprising is a gift from God to us".

Members of the "Grey Wolves" - a Turkish ultra-nationalist neo-fascist terrorist group which serves as the Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP) paramilitary or militant wing - celebrating the decision of the April 2017 referendum held under a state of emergency declared following a "failed military coup", most likely staged by the government in order to purge political dissidents in July 2016.  The referendum - in which the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) made the unprecedented move to allow non-stamped ballots (1.5 million) to be accepted as valid - was condemned by the OSCE and PACE as illegal and sparked large-scale pro-democracy protests, but will nonetheless allow Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stay in power until 2029.

This photograph, taken the night of the referendum win in Mush, shows one of several cars full of Grey Wolves members flashing their wolf-head hand signs at a group of Armenians visiting their ancestral homeland.  The group had formed death squads and were responsible for several massacres, as well as the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.  During the 1970's they killed 700 activists, intellectuals, labor organizers, journalists, and officials - and nearly 6,000 people in total  They are openly hostile to all Armenians, Kurds, and Greeks in Turkey, Christians overall, and Jews; and are also credited with the distribution of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in Turkish.  Their motto is, "Your doctor will be a Turk and your medicine will be Islam".

The context for the "referendum" was made possible by the 2016 coup attempt, which resulted in over 300 people killed and more than 2,100 injured.  Mass arrests followed with at least 40,000 detained, including at least 10,000 soldiers and, for reasons that remain unclear, 2,745 judges.  15,000 education staff were also suspended and the licenses of 21,000 teachers working at private institutions were revoked - with over 100,000 arrested or fired from their jobs.  The government also released roughly 38,000 prison inmates, to "make more space in the penal system" for detainees who were arrested or detained after being involved in or suspected of association with the coup. 

Erdogan had said, "This uprising is a gift from God to us".

 Mher’s Door

Mher’s Door

 Khachkars, listed for their symbolism and craftsmanship in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, taken from the ruins of Surb Karapet Monastery and unceremoniously used in the construction of a home in the nearby village.   Historically, Surb Karapet was the religious center of the Taron region, the seat of the diocese, and the largest and most eminent shrine in all of Western Armenia.  According to two French travelers in 1890, the monastery possessed large areas of land and took several hours to get from one end to another.  The estate was covered by forests, arable fields and had three farms with around a thousand goats and sheep, a hundred oxen and cattle, sixty horses, twenty donkeys, four mules, and 156 caretakers.  In 1896, an orphanage was founded next to the monastery.  It housed a school for 45 children and a library.  During the genocide in 1915, the monastery housed a large number of Armenians escaping the deportations and massacres.  Turkish forces and Kurdish irregulars sieged it, but they resisted for more than two months.  Eventually they were overrun and nearly five thousand Armenians were massacred near the wall of the monastery, while the monastery itself was robbed.  Now only fragments of khachkars and the traces of two chambers of the chapel of Surb Stepanos remain, while the rest of the monastery's remains consist of foundations and ruined walls used as barns.

Khachkars, listed for their symbolism and craftsmanship in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, taken from the ruins of Surb Karapet Monastery and unceremoniously used in the construction of a home in the nearby village. 

Historically, Surb Karapet was the religious center of the Taron region, the seat of the diocese, and the largest and most eminent shrine in all of Western Armenia.  According to two French travelers in 1890, the monastery possessed large areas of land and took several hours to get from one end to another.  The estate was covered by forests, arable fields and had three farms with around a thousand goats and sheep, a hundred oxen and cattle, sixty horses, twenty donkeys, four mules, and 156 caretakers.  In 1896, an orphanage was founded next to the monastery.  It housed a school for 45 children and a library.

During the genocide in 1915, the monastery housed a large number of Armenians escaping the deportations and massacres.  Turkish forces and Kurdish irregulars sieged it, but they resisted for more than two months.  Eventually they were overrun and nearly five thousand Armenians were massacred near the wall of the monastery, while the monastery itself was robbed.

Now only fragments of khachkars and the traces of two chambers of the chapel of Surb Stepanos remain, while the rest of the monastery's remains consist of foundations and ruined walls used as barns.

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 A woman adjusts her burqa - the full face veil typically found in more conservative Muslim countries, and banned in Turkey until 2013 - as she passes in front of a building that before the Armenian Genocide in 1915, was the Sanasarian College.  Isabella Bird, an explorer, historian, and the first woman to be elected Fellow in the Royal Geographical Society, made note that "one of the most interesting sights in Erzurum is the Sanassarian College, founded and handsomely endowed by the liberality of an Armenian merchant. The fine buildings are of the best construction, and are admirably suited for educational purposes, and the equipments are of the latest and most complete description. The education and the moral and intellectual training are of a very high type, and the personal influence of the three directors, who were educated in Germany and England, altogether "makes for righteousness." The graduation course is nine years. The students, numbering 120, wear a uniform, and there is no distinction of class among them. They are, almost without exception, manly, earnest, and studious, and are full of enthusiasm and esprit de corps. Much may be hoped for in the future from the admirable moral training and thorough education given in this college, which is one of the few bright spots in Armenia."   Most of the teachers were killed and the building was ruined.  Now, it is the "Museum of Erzurum Congress and Turkish War of National Independence".  As is genocidal policy, the Armenian name for the city of Karin, was also replaced with the Turkish, Erzurum.

A woman adjusts her burqa - the full face veil typically found in more conservative Muslim countries, and banned in Turkey until 2013 - as she passes in front of a building that before the Armenian Genocide in 1915, was the Sanasarian College.

Isabella Bird, an explorer, historian, and the first woman to be elected Fellow in the Royal Geographical Society, made note that "one of the most interesting sights in Erzurum is the Sanassarian College, founded and handsomely endowed by the liberality of an Armenian merchant. The fine buildings are of the best construction, and are admirably suited for educational purposes, and the equipments are of the latest and most complete description. The education and the moral and intellectual training are of a very high type, and the personal influence of the three directors, who were educated in Germany and England, altogether "makes for righteousness." The graduation course is nine years. The students, numbering 120, wear a uniform, and there is no distinction of class among them. They are, almost without exception, manly, earnest, and studious, and are full of enthusiasm and esprit de corps. Much may be hoped for in the future from the admirable moral training and thorough education given in this college, which is one of the few bright spots in Armenia." 

Most of the teachers were killed and the building was ruined.  Now, it is the "Museum of Erzurum Congress and Turkish War of National Independence".  As is genocidal policy, the Armenian name for the city of Karin, was also replaced with the Turkish, Erzurum.

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 The Bridge of Sulukh near Mush, where the body of Gevorg Chavush was found.  Gevorg Chavush was a legendary  fedayi -  freedom fighter - whose main goal was to ameliorate the plight of the Armenian peasantry in the face of harassment by marauding Turkish and Kurdish bands. He was referred to as “the man with the dagger who was always ready to punish those who molested the defenseless people” and “The Lion of the Mountains”. Born to a family of hunters in Sasun, he went on to receive his education in the Arakelots Monastery school. He joined the fedayi Arabo and later assassinated the traitor who had him imprisoned. For three years he found residence in Aleppo working to raise enough money to buy a rifle and return to Taron to defend Armenian villages from Hamidian Massacres in 1894 (Upwards of 200,000 Armenians killed, 50,000 orphaned, 2,400 villages destroyed, and leaving more than 546,000 destitute). Chavush was captured and sentenced to jail for 15 years. He escaped after 2 years and fled to the mountains of his childhood Sasun, participating in various battles such as the Second Sasun Resistance in 1904. When his uncle was charged with kidnapping a woman from a different Armenian village, fedayi leadership decided Gevorg should be tasked with deciding his uncle’s fate. Gevorg executed his uncle and suffered from a severe depression afterwards, isolating himself in order to grieve the loss. He died in 1907 after being critically wounded in the Battle of Sulukh.

The Bridge of Sulukh near Mush, where the body of Gevorg Chavush was found.

Gevorg Chavush was a legendary fedayi - freedom fighter - whose main goal was to ameliorate the plight of the Armenian peasantry in the face of harassment by marauding Turkish and Kurdish bands. He was referred to as “the man with the dagger who was always ready to punish those who molested the defenseless people” and “The Lion of the Mountains”. Born to a family of hunters in Sasun, he went on to receive his education in the Arakelots Monastery school. He joined the fedayi Arabo and later assassinated the traitor who had him imprisoned. For three years he found residence in Aleppo working to raise enough money to buy a rifle and return to Taron to defend Armenian villages from Hamidian Massacres in 1894 (Upwards of 200,000 Armenians killed, 50,000 orphaned, 2,400 villages destroyed, and leaving more than 546,000 destitute). Chavush was captured and sentenced to jail for 15 years. He escaped after 2 years and fled to the mountains of his childhood Sasun, participating in various battles such as the Second Sasun Resistance in 1904. When his uncle was charged with kidnapping a woman from a different Armenian village, fedayi leadership decided Gevorg should be tasked with deciding his uncle’s fate. Gevorg executed his uncle and suffered from a severe depression afterwards, isolating himself in order to grieve the loss. He died in 1907 after being critically wounded in the Battle of Sulukh.