For dark tourists in Yerevan, a trip to Tsitsernakaberd is a must. The Memorial and Armenian Genocide Museum provide a powerful insight into the country and its culture and of the darkest period in the nations’ relatively recent history.
The focus is on the atrocities that took place in the early 20th century. Over 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Turkish government in a region of what was then the Ottoman Empire.
It was ultimately an act of genocide that lead to the creation of the Republic of Armenia.
One cannot help be moved by Tsitsernakaberd, with its large memorial garden and wall, eternal flame, and stone columns symbolizing the “Reborn Armenia”.
It poignantly commemorates the innocent people that were systematically massacred by the Turks and has since become a place of pilgrimage for Armenians from all over the world.
History of Tsitsernakaberd
The memorial sits on a hill along the Hrazdan River. The name Tsitsernakaberd actually comes from the local term “swallow’s fortress”, for which the hills were known.
Interestingly, the idea for a genocide monument has its origins during the time Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. This was a period when the USSR generally forbade overt acknowledgment of any history outside of its own communist doctrine.
However, after Hakob Zarobian was designated First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia in 1962, he began fighting the cause with Moscow for a memorial effort of some kind.
A series of proposals to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the genocide were put forward.
The aim was for the Soviet authorities to officially recognize the atrocities as genocide, with the memorial erected to symbolize the rebirth of the Armenian people.
Typical bureaucratic stalling took place over a period of nearly 3 years.
It wasn’t until the people of Yerevan took to the streets in 1965 (a hundred thousand people were said to have demonstrated) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Genocide, that a definitive motion on a memorial finally took place.
In response, The Council of Ministers of Soviet Armenia adopted a resolution to “Building a Monument to Perpetuate the Memory of the Victims of the Yeghern of 1915.”
Designed by architects Arthur Tarkhanyan, and Sashur Kalashyan construction of the monument began in 1966. It was finally opened to the public a year later.
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Where is Tsitsernakaberd?
- Address: 8, 8 Ծիծեռնակաբերդի խճուղի, Yerevan 0028, Armenia
Visiting Tsitsernakaberd Today
When you arrive at Tsitsernakaberd you will first see an open-air plaza and memorial wall stating the names of the Armenian villages where the genocide took place. (On the rear side of the wall you will also find plates honoring the names of those that helped the survivors of the genocide).
In the center of the plaza is a 44m granite stele. This was constructed to symbolize Armenia’s rebirth from genocide.
Behind this are twelve stelae slabs arranged in a circle. These are designed to represent the twelve lost provinces that would have existed in present-day Turkey.
The eternal flame sits in the center of this circle. This is submerged into the earth at a depth of 1.5 meters, a number chosen to commemorate the 1.5 million people killed during the Armenian Genocide.
This is the focus point of the memorial and is where tributes are laid. No matter when in the year you visit, you will see commemorative items placed at the foot of the eternal flame.
Under the complex is the Armenian Genocide Museum. Opened in 1995, the museum contains artifacts and historical documents that educate visitors to the barbaric nature of the slaughter, and the lengths the Turkish authorities went to in their attempts to eradicate the Armenians. It is not for the faint-hearted.
The museum has hosted a great number of visitors over the years. Government protocol ensures that official delegations arriving in Armenia are escorted around the museum. This means important foreign dignitaries from around the world have experienced it.
For the traveler, guided tours in Armenian, Russian, English, and French are available.
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Good to know
Every year on 24 April, thousands of Armenians gather at the memorial for Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Fresh flowers are laid to commemorate those who died in the Armenian genocide. Politicians, artists, and local celebrities are all in attendance, along with members of the public.
Due to the atrocities taking place well over 100 years ago now, there are no living survivors of the genocide today.
Featured Image: User:Matthias Süßen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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