BY MATTHEW KARANIAN
Van is the heartland of historic Armenia, and the region of Van is paired with the plains of Ararat as two of the cradles of Armenian civilization.
For hundreds of years, and continuing through the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Armenians here often exceeded that of any other national group. Throughout the millennia these Armenians have contributed greatly to the political and cultural development of the Armenian nation.
The architectural relics of many of these contributions are still present in the region today. Indeed, they are present here in far greater numbers than in most other parts of historic Armenia. This multitude of sites is certainly one of the reasons that Van is a leading destination for pilgrims who are searching for their roots in the lost Armenian homeland—there’s just so much to see in this one region.
Despite this wealth of Armenian history, Van, and the rest of the historic Armenian homeland in present-day Turkey, has been largely ignored by pilgrims and by other visitors for most of the past century.
For decades, tourism to the historically Armenian areas of eastern Turkey, and particularly to the area around Van, was restricted. Turkey had declared the area to be a military zone, and traveling there was either subject to red tape and mandatory escorts, or it wasn’t allowed at all.
Turkey imposed travel restrictions partly because the region sits along the sensitive borders of Syria and Iraq. For most of the twentieth century, eastern Turkey also shared a long frontier with the Soviet Union—a front line for the Cold War. Foreign visitors weren’t welcome.
The demography of Van and of eastern Turkey also discouraged some travelers. After the elimination of the Armenians from historic Armenia, the surviving population of eastern Turkey was almost entirely Kurdish. A Kurdish separatist movement kept the region restive and inhospitable to all but the heartiest of travelers.
Today, however, the region is calm, military restrictions have been lifted, and Turkey has tentatively begun to encourage tourism to Van and to the entire Lake Van region. One century after the Armenian Genocide, a new generation of ethnic Armenians has, equally tentatively, begun to rediscover its lost homeland.
All stories and photos are adapted from ‘Historic Armenia After 100 Years,’ (Stone Garden Press, $39.95, Pub. Feb. 2015) by Matthew Karanian. Pre-order now for $35 postpaid in the US from: Stone Garden Productions; PO Box 7758; Northridge, CA 91327 or pay with credit card by requesting an invoice from [email protected]