“The Crossing Place: a journey among the Armenians” – Philip Marsden

“The Crossing Place: a journey among the Armenians” – Philip MarsdenWe offer you a fragment from the book “The Crossing Place: a journey among the Armenians” by Philip Marsden. This book was awarded the Somerset Maugham Award in 1994.

Marsden was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1996. He also was one of the founders of the company “Travel Intelligence” specializing in the publication of travel books. The works of Marsden have been translated into 9 languages.

Everything said about Ararat was true: all the clichés regarding it had made me smile, but they turned out to be true. I tried to resist Ararat for a couple of days. I was seeing the contours of the mount from everywhere: they were looming at the end of the quarters, filling the sky between the Stalinka houses.

I observed the same contours more in-depth during the orange sunset. However, the grandeur of the mount itself was leaking something ambitious and unobtrusive, so I transferred my admiration towards the more modest but more complete neighbor Little Ararat. But once in the morning, I first witnessed the entirety of the mountain from the staircase of Matenadaran.

It was gorgeous. It was rising above the swarming anthill of the city. It was dominating over the banal, abraded images in the possession of the diaspora. It presented itself unbelievably, unnaturally tall. Though I was standing 40 miles away from it, I for some reason felt that should I take a step forward, I would take a walk on its plicate slope.

In the light of the early morning, the snowy peak shined like a crown. I no longer could ignore its presence. In less than a week, it possessed me fully, forcing me to furtively look back at it, search for it in the streets directed at the west, and mourn when its outlines got concealed.

Like every Armenian, I have been already feeling passion for this mount. Having lived for several months in Armenia, Osip Mandelstam also started to feel the specific attractiveness of the nearness of Ararat.

“I have developed the sixth sense, the name of which is Ararat: it is the feeling of connection with the mount. Now, wherever my destiny throws me into, this feeling will live within me and will remain with me forever.”

In Armenians, the second place after the love for Ararat is occupied by the passion towards their mother tongue. “This is a nation,” wrote Mandelstam, “that enjoys the keys of its native language even when it isn’t going to open the door of the treasury.”

Matenadaran is the altar of this cult. Located in the upper layers of Yerevan from where Ararat is fully visible, it serves as a repository of ten thousand manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of historical documents. Mesrop Mashtots, the man who created a regiment of letters with 36 soldiers, now resides next to its entrance.

Maybe the heart is in Etchmiadzin? “The light of the Lord descended on earth”, the throne residence of the Catholicos of all Armenians, the greatest shrine that is visited by each Armenian to light up a candle, a place where chrism is consecrated for the baptism of each Armenian child?

It is precisely here where the fragmented consciousness of the Armenian nation connects with its symbol, Armenian Christianity. Not a single time during the Soviet years a Catholicos or his vardapets abandoned the Eucharist, just like during the previous sixteen centuries.

Under the arch of the central apse is located the gilded dome, a little bit below is the assembly of saints, even lower is the velvet cover of the altar. This is the unshakable and unchangeable shrine for Armenians from all over the world, their Kaaba.

But in the depths of the earth under the altar in the very center of Armenia has once been lying a temple of fire, much older than everything above it, more ancient than the most of the shrines in the world.

A fragment of a human bone accidentally found by the author during his journey in Turkey urged him to cross twelve borders to find an answer to a question: who are the Armenians and how have they managed to resurge from fire and ashes like the Phoenix?

 Translation of a fragment from the Russian version of the book

Mount Ararat and the Araratian plain, seen early morning from near the city of Artashat in Armenia. On the center left can be seen the historic Khor Virap monastery.
Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat

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