Matthew Karanian:

"Historical Armenia: 100 years later". Defending historical heritage

PanARMENIAN.Net - Matthew Karanian, a representative of the second generation of Armenian-Americans, is readying for publication his book "Historical Armenia: 100 years later", a guide to Ani, Van, and other six provinces of Western Armenia, with photos, maps and other information on how and where to go based on author's own travel experience. Karanian told PanARMENIAN.Net about the difficulties of his first visit, the motivation for writing the book, the Turkish vandalism and the necessity of standing up for historical heritage. The book will be released on February 15.

I hope that my book will make it possible for we Armenians to preserve the history that we still have left, in Western Armenia. There is so much that we don't know about our own homeland-- about what life was like before 1915, and about the churches and monuments that still exist today. My book sheds a light on all that is still there, so that we Armenians can prevent our remaining artifacts from being destroyed.

Before I could even think about publishing this book, I first had to accept that it was OK to travel to places such as Van and Ani. This was a huge obstacle for me to overcome. Most of the people who I knew said they would never set foot there until it was free. I felt the same way.

But then in 1997 an Armenian American friend decided to get married (to another Armenian American) at the ruins of an Armenian Monastery in Cilicia. So I had to put aside my personal feelings, and just go. I had been working in Yerevan at the time, and we all took a charter flight from Yerevan to Istanbul, and then to Cilicia.

After the wedding, I got on a plane to Van. The eastern provinces were dangerous back then. They were a military zone. No one else from the wedding group would go, so I had to make the trip from Cilicia to Van alone.

This was a watershed journey for me. But it would several more years before I could seriously think that I (or anyone) should write a book and actually encourage anyone else to visit. Conditions then were just too dangerous for pilgrims or casual visitors. And I was conflicted, myself, about encouraging any Armenian to travel there.

Some people, just a few, are reluctant to travel to Western Armenia, and some feel that no Armenian should go there.

I'm Armenian. Why shouldn't I visit the ancient capitals of my own people? I suppose staying away is a political statement. But the value of that political statement, for me, seemed to be insignificant compared with the personal value I derived from celebrating my heritage in my homeland.

I have been to Western Armenia several times.

I was able to track the deterioration and vandalism of Armenian cultural monuments, mostly churches, over these years. I concluded that we Armenians were harming our homeland by staying away. We were sending the message that we didn't care about our own heritage. It was as if we were saying, go ahead and destroy our churches. No Armenian is ever going to visit them and find out what you've done, anyway.

So, I have concluded that we Armenians should visit our homeland, and I believe that by visiting, we may contribute to the survival of our remaining monuments and churches. Some may question whether this is true. But whether it is true or not, I am convinced that staying away is not the answer, either.

Ani Avetyan / PanARMENIAN.Net