Along with the rest of Western Armenia, Kars was an important Armenian city until the Ottomans wiped Western Armenia off the map. Any visit to the ancient and spectacular ruins of the ancient Armenian capital of Ani, requires staying in Kars. The city of Ani is ruins and lies on a border, therefore there is nowhere to sleep or stay in the vicinity. This is great, because Kars has a lot to offer for those looking for a real eastern turkish life (as there aren’t any Armenians left here anymore).
Kars is quite high up in the mountains and requires a long road journey for visitors coming from the busy Black Sea (via Hopa). The journey was long and tiresome, as the bus navigated around canyons and massive rocks. The views are unbelievable as you eventually reach the relatively flat plateau that Kars sits on. You can avoid the journey by taking a flight, from the very small airport at Kars or the bigger city of Erzurum. Kars is very colorful and has many quaint small buildings in many different colors. The streets are clean and orderly, and everything just feels so normal.
Since we were there during Ramadan, we were warned that people would riot if we were eating. So many people in western Turkey had such a negative view of the east. Matter of fact, people were eating during the day…cafes and restaurants were open. Furthermore, people were quite nice and friendly. The city is topped with a giant fortress that can be climbed for free. Often during the night you can see small fires at the top. At the bottom is the
Armenian Church of the Holy Apostles Kumbet Mosque that ironically looks awfully like an Armenian church (just a coincidence they say, maybe Georgian argues the placard).
Kars & Ani are, unfortunately, living proofs of cultural genocide. Blatantly obvious Armenian heritage has been rebranded as Turkish or something generic. There was a war and the Armenian state lost terribly (1/2 of its land). While the modern Turkish state has shed its imperial past and looked at it in destain, the issue of Armenia has never changed. In this case, Armenia never existed beyond its border and that Western Armenia had been in Turkish hands from the start. Rewriting history has no place in such a peaceful city with such friendly and nice people.
This is the sad story of Kars & Ani. A history and people wiped out and forgotten. I truly hope that both sides can come to a peace and that history will prevail. Opening the border and making peace will help the very poor eastern Turkish economy and create strong regional and social stability. This aside, Kars is quaint and a visit to the unforgettable Ani can not be missed!