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.
I will be using the terms of genocide and 1915 events interchangeably to stand by my stance of being non-political. Moreover, I will share my experiences and the things I saw in the museum as they were, unfiltered, unadulterated.
Disclaimer: some photos might be disturbing for some readers.
I visited Armenia for 12 days 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 had expected, everything went smoothly.
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 in this museum. I spent 4 straight hours touring the museum, reading every single piece of information stated.
I went to the Armenian Genocide Museum by taxi on the second day of my trip, after touring around the famous Cascade Stairs in central Yerevan. The trip costed 1000 Armenian drams (less than 2 USD). The taxi driver asked me where am I 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 a curious traveler who is keen on visiting different places in the world, and 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 at Tsiternakaberd Memorial and lay fresh flowers out of respect for all the victims.
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
When I entered the museum, it delighted me see that the complex is free to visit. At the entrance desk, a young woman asked me where am I from to add the info to the museum visitor records. When I said that I am from Turkey, she asked my ethnicity, which I suppose was because she could not believe that a Turk would visit the museum. “I am a Turk.” I said. “We don’t get many Turkish visitors,” replied she.
Inside The Museum
First, I would like to touch upon the fact that the museum is 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 complex a place where you can really experience the past and get to learn a lot about history. Everything was very elaborately 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 1915 genocide – also known as the events of 1915 -, their background and aftermath caused by the chaotic atmosphere during World War I.
A wide section of the museum is set to give an account of the implicit and explicit discrimination that the 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 historical account is presented included journals, diaries and notes written by non-Armenians, German journalists, French travelers, European military officials and Scandinavian social workers. This way of presenting historical account 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 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. Many Armenian women who had been enslaved were later saved by Christian missionaries and social workers.
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 person is Karen Jeppe, a Danish missionary and social worker, known for her work with Ottoman Armenian refugees and victims of the genocide 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.