The Genocide Memorial and Museum
The Genocide Memorial and Museum at Tsitsernakaberd ('Swallow Castle') are among the few points of interest on the west side of the Hrazdan River. Visiting them is strongly recommended for anyone wishing to understand Armenia and its people.
In 1965, Armenians throughout the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1915 genocide, and the lack of any tangible symbol in Armenia itself was conspicuous to the extent that the Genocide Memorial was created and completed in 1967. The memorial was built after unprecedented demonstrations on 24 April 1965, the 50th anniversary of the genocide. In a rare acknowledgement of public discontent, the Soviets deposed the local Communist Party boss in response and gave permission for the memorial to be built. The architects Kalashian and Mkrtchian have succeeded in creating a striking and appropriate monument. Although the ideal approach is to mount the flight of steps leading up to it, most visitors are likely to approach instead from the car park, in which case the first thing they will notice is the collection of trees, each of which has been planted by a distinguished visitor.
Separating the museum from the monument is a 100m-long memorial wall of basalt carved with the names of villages and towns where massacres of Armenians by Turks are known to have taken place. The monument itself has two parts. There is a 44m-tall stele reaching to the sky symbolising the survival and spiritual rebirth of the Armenian people. It is riven, however, by a deep cleft which symbolises the separation of the peoples of western and eastern Armenia while at the same time emphasising the unity of all Armenian people.
Adjoining the stele is a ring of 12 large inward-leaning basalt slabs whose shape is reminiscent of traditional Armenian khachkars. The 12 slabs represent the 12 lost provinces of western Armenia and their inward-leaning form suggests figures in mourning. At the centre of the circle, but 1.5m below, burns the eternal flame. The steps leading down are deliberately steep, thus requiring visitors approaching to bow their heads in reverence as they descend. Some surmise other layers of meanings – the 12 slabs huddle like refugees around a fire on a deportation march, and the spires might be a highly stylised monument to Mt Ararat and its smaller peak, or blades of newborn grass.
The museum (www.genocide-museum.am; 11.00-16.00 Tue-Sun; free guided tour in Armenian, English, French or Russian; entrance free, there is a container for donations) was added in 1995 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the massacres. The museum is a circular subterranean building and was designed by the same architects as the memorial. The museum is well labelled in Armenian, English, French and Russian. Much information is given on the number of victims in different parts of western Armenia and there are many photographs taken by German army photographers who were accompanying their allies the Turks during World War I.
Large photographs (many, but not all, with English explanations) tell the story of the genocide simply and baldly. There’s no effort to demonise the Ottoman authorities; the facts are allowed to speak for themselves. It starts with the massacres of 1896 and 1909 and the lack of an international response, and then moves on to the murder of Armenian labour conscripts in the Ottoman army in late 1914 and early 1915. The arrest and subsequent murder of community leaders and intellectuals on 24 April 1915 marks the beginning of that nightmare summer. All over Anatolia men were arrested, marched out of their towns and murdered at the nearest lonely spot; then came the forced deportations of the remaining women and children and forced marches into the Syrian desert.
A permanent exhibition of paintings of half-dead, naked survivors stands in the hall. The final image is a huge blown-up photograph of an orphanage in Syria after the genocide. Outside there’s a magnificent view of Mountain Ararat, the symbol of Armenia 40km inside modern Turkish territory. Nearby there is a khatchkar in remembrance of the 1988 Sumqayit massacre in Azerbaijan, and the graves of early victims of the Karabakh War.
There are also examples of foreign publications about various aspects of the genocide including reports by British, American and German officials on the maltreatment of the Armenians by the Turks. One typical exhibit reproduces the letter sent by Leslie A Davis, the American consul at Harput (west of Lake Van) to his boss, the American ambassador at Constantinople on 24 July 1915. It reads:
I do not believe that there has ever been a massacre in the history of the world so
general and thorough as that which is now being perpetrated in this region, or that a
more fiendish, diabolical scheme has ever been conceived in the mind of man.
There is a row of trees planted by foreign leaders who recognise the genocide, despite the Turkish government’s determination to punish any foreign power that does so. The Turkish denial works on many levels – it never happened, the documents are fake, it wasn’t deliberate, the deportations were for their own safety, not that many people died, Turkish people suffered too, it was the fault of the Dashnaks. Considered in full it falls over with inconsistencies, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.
A taxi is the easiest way to reach Tsitsernakaberd. If you feel up it you can walk to and from town over the Haghtanak Bridge and past the Hrazdan Stadium.
If you have any questions about travel to Armenia (visa, hotels, guide services, transportation), please feel free to contact us at any time and we will gladly answer your questions.