Friday, August 26, 2005

Approaching Ararat

When dawn broke over Yerevan last Friday morning, the city came into full view for the first time. The center of the city sits like a wide stage in a giant amphitheater—open towards the west where Mount Ararat rises. Mount Ararat, where Noah is said to have waited out the flood in Genesis, has a central place in the heart of the Armenian nation. It is the tallest mountain in the land where Armenians have lived for millennia, and it rises above the Anatolian plane of Asia Minor with a drama surpassed by few other mountains in the world. There is a year-round snowcap at the peak; the Armenians call it the bridal veil. The mountain's rise from the fields below is so sudden and steep that the veil looks like a cloud sitting above the summer haze.

That Ararat now sits across the Turkish border makes this mountain also a symbol for the lost culture of Western Armenia. With few exceptions, Turkey prohibits tourists from traveling to the mountain. Cut away from the nation's boundaries, the mountain is as unreachable and omnipresent as a phantom pain, standing in for the suffering of Armenia's last 120 years. The poetry, music, and culture of the past invoke its greatness, while the current situation reminds the Armenian nation of its lost glories.

We visit Ararat tomorrow.