This is a non-political article. The content simply reflects me, a Turkish traveler, sharing my experiences visiting the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. This article is not by any means a personal commentary or opinion piece on the Genocide or the events of 1915.
Disclaimer: some photos might be disturbing for some readers.
I visited Armenia back in January in 2019. Everywhere I went to, everyone I met and every meal I had were remarkable. Frankly, even before my trip, I never thought I would experience any negative attitudes just because I am Turkish. As I expected, everyone was very hospitable.
Visiting the Armenian Genocide Museum (commonly known as Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex) was a powerful experience for me. I got to learn a lot. It was so enlightening to learn from the account of the past presented by this museum. I spent 4 straight hours touring the museum, reading every single piece of information stated.
I went by taxi to the Armenian Genocide Museum on the second day of my trip, after touring around the famous Cascade Stairs in central Yerevan. The taxi driver asked me where I am from after hearing my non-native Russian accent. I said that I am Turkish. He asked me why was I going to the Armenian Genocide Museum and I told him that I am just curious and keen on learning about history more objectively. He was intrigued.
Briefly About The Museum
The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex was built in 1967 on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan. The Armenian Genocide Museum opened inside the complex in 1995.
The stone slabs surrounding The Memorial represent the 12 states in Medieval Armenia. At the center of the Memorial, there is a never ending fire dedicated to the victims of the genocide.
Every year on the 24th of April, people gather in Tsiternakaberd Memorial and lay fresh flowers out of respect for all the people who died.
Many politicians such as Vladimir Putin (2008), Hilary Clinton (2011), Emmanuel Macron (2018), Angela Merkel (2018), Justin Trudeu (2018); religious figures such as Pope John Paul II (2001), Pope Francis (2016); as well as celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (2015), Gérard Depardieu (2010) and George Clooney (2016) visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.
Arriving At The Museum
I got off the taxi and entered the museum and was delighted by the fact that the museum is free to visit. At the entrance desk, a young woman asked me where I am from for museum visitor records. Then she asked my ethnicity, which I suppose was because she could not believe that a Turk would visit the museum. “We don’t get many Turkish visitors,” she said.
Inside The Museum
First, I would like to touch upon the fact that the museum was designed in a very modern style. The information boards, visuals and artefacts were very informative. A lot of work had been put to in make this museum a place where you can really experience the past and get to know a lot about history. Everything was very elaboratively explained in English, Armenian and Russian.
The halls in the museum are like a timeline of the events relating to the genocide. The museum starts with an exhibition about the history of the Ottoman Armenians. Highly detailed information is given about their culture, religion, language and daily lives during the Ottoman era. The following halls of the museum are about the events of 1915, their background and aftermath (otherwise known as the 1915 genocide) caused by the chaotic athmopshere during World War I.
A wide section of the museum is set to give an account of the implicit and explicit discrimination that minorities, including the Armenians, faced during the Ottoman era.
One thing about the museum that I found very informative and rational is that a considrable amount of the evidence presented included journals, diaries and notes written by non-Armenians, German journalists, French travelers, European military officials and Scandinavan social workers. This way of presenting evidence of past events helps visitors get a more objective look at history.
Karen Jeppe: Danish Mother of Armenians
The final hall of the museum was the one that left the biggest impact on me. It was a plain but a very powerful exhibition. This section of the museum was about the stories of innocent Armenian women who were captured and enslaved by Arab tribes during the mass deportation of Armenians (Techir Law 1915 or Relocation and Resettlement Law).
The non-muslim minorities (mainly Armenians) were forced to leave their homes and resettle in Syria and Iraq. The chaotic environment was made worse with deseases, bandits and internal conflict which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands. Many Armenian women who had been enslaved by the Arab tribes were later saved by Christian missionaries and social workers, according to the museum.
In this exhibition, I learned about a very inspiring and unique personality who played a vital role in helping the enslaved Armenian women and dedicated her life to the victims of World War I and the 1915 events. This important person is Karen Jeppe, a Danish missionary and social worker, known for her work with Ottoman Armenian refugees and victims of 1915 events from 1903 until her death in Aleppo, Syria in 1935
Exchanging Stories With A Guard
As I was leaving the Memorial Complex, I was approched by one of the guards. He asked me where I am from and our one-hour conversation started. This old man’s name was Mayis. We talked about many things as we glanced at the mighty Mount Ararat. Mayis’s family was originally from Ardahan (a small city located in eastern Turkey). He told me that he really wants to visit Akdamar Church and the ancient Armenian city of Ani which are both situated in the eastern lands of Turkey.