THE RU­INS OF ANI

A Jour­ney to Ar­me­nia’s Me­dieval Cap­i­tal and Its Legacy

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight | History -

Krikor Balakian, Peter Balakian (Trans­la­tor), Aram Arkun (Trans­la­tor), Rutgers Univer­sity Press (DE­CEM­BER) Hard­cover $24.95 (174pp) 978-1-978802-91-9

Fa­ther Krikor Balakian’s me­moir of his 1909 visit to the me­dieval Ar­me­nian city of Ani is newly avail­able in English as The Ru­ins of Ani. Trans­la­tor Peter Balakian high­lights the his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance of this text, which doc­u­ments ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural de­tails of struc­tures that were largely de­mol­ished in the Ar­me­nian geno­cide.

Ar­me­nia’s com­plex, trau­matic his­tory is co­gently sum­ma­rized in Peter Balakian’s in­tro­duc­tion. Ani was a walled city founded in 950 CE as the seat of the Ba­gratuni dy­nasty and housed many re­splen­dent churches. How­ever, it was shortly con­quered by a se­ries of in­vaders and by the six­teenth cen­tury was aban­doned. When Krikor Balakian vis­ited, Ani’s ru­ins were part of the Rus­sian Em­pire and served as an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site, mu­seum, and pil­grim­age site. Sev­eral years later, the mu­seum and site were rav­aged by war­fare, so his mono­graph records ar­ti­facts which are no longer there.

The in­tro­duc­tion notes how im­por­tant Ani is as an Ar­me­nian sym­bol of au­ton­omy and cul­tural re­nais­sance—a bright spot in a his­tory of per­se­cu­tion and mas­sacres. Ani is now on Turk­ish soil, just over the closed bor­der with the Repub­lic of Ar­me­nia, and is a UNESCO World Her­itage site with lim­ited sta­bi­liza­tion and restora­tion ef­forts. Peter Balakian con­demns the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment for elim­i­nat­ing Ar­me­nian iden­tity in sig­nage and maps and ig­nor­ing its po­ten­tial as a “place of cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Krikor Balakian’s rhap­sodic nar­ra­tive is a schol­arly, flow­ery mix of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory and a trav­el­ogue of his much-an­tic­i­pated pil­grim­age. He writes lov­ingly about church or­na­men­ta­tion and holy day ser­vices held among the ar­chi­tec­tural ru­ins; he also thun­ders against blood­thirsty ma­raud­ers and un­wor­thy, greedy priests in Ar­me­nia’s past. The text is ac­com­pa­nied by nu­mer­ous richly toned pho­to­graphs of Ani’s dra­matic ru­ins, which are crit­i­cal ev­i­dence of lost his­tory.

In 1910, the book beck­oned the Ar­me­nian di­as­pora to be­come aware of and help fi­nance restora­tion of its cul­tural her­itage. With this trans­la­tion, it should not only reach a much larger au­di­ence but point the way to­ward a more truth­ful ac­count of Ani’s his­tory.

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