Yeah, it sounds like Sci Fi, and it’s not the end of the world like planet explosions or plagues which kill us all. It’s Ani, a wonderful ruin on the very edge of the Turkish Russian border. In 1215 it was the end of the explored world; the gateway to The Uncharted East for Marco Polo. And in 1987 it was the end of The Western Free World and the beginnings of Soviet Sphere of Influence . . . . Whatever.
Marilyn and I arrived in this eastern area in late May. At the time 100 miles east of Istanbul or fifty north of the Southern Coast and it was 1200 again. Narrow half paved traffic empty roads. Lines of reapers swinging their scythes in unison. Storks roosting on high tension electric lines, and hospitality that shocked even us.
We took on Ani because it was there. We hadn’t a clue what it was. Our guide was a Turk soldier in civilian clothes, with an AK 47 tucked under his loose smock. He made us surrender all our cameras and passports. Then we had this brief lecture on what we could not do once we were there.
‘ Do not stop for more than five minutes at any site. So not sit any where within the zone. Above all, do not look at the guard towers on the Russian side of the border. They will be watching us the entire time we are there. If we break these rules they often fire at us. Marilyn gives me that look she reserves for me when I shove us into some life threatening event. But Ani’s tug is too much for her to end our tour. But I am warned I am not to flaunt the rules, “ Or else!’ I seldom get the Or Else!
Ani was the Capitol of the vast 12th century Armenian Empire. It held 200,000 inhabitants at its zenith and it’s Orthodox Churches are breath taking. Even in ruins. Come to think of it, some buildings do look better when they are in some state of decay. However, the domes and towers are all in good stead. The avenues are wide and the crumbled foundations outline the huge size of many building. This all ended when the Mongol hordes swept in. They were horsemen, mobile, there was no need for urban life. So they drove everyone they didn’t slaughter into the mountains.
Now, the USSR Traveler’s Aide Stations. Every 200 yards there’s this wooden tower, about forty feet high, with one side completely open. A low barb-wire fence keeps us back about a hundred feet from the Turk Border. And what a border! This shear 500 feet gorge with a nice green river slurping along at it’s bottom. It’s at least 500 or 600 feet across to an equally shear alabaster cliff; which is laced with strands of electrified barb-wire! And between the watch towers is a twenty feet high electrified fence topped off with more rolled razor wire. And there are guards armed with rifles and huge telescopes fixed on us. Oh, we’re the lone visitors. And how can you expect a bear to obey the rules? Especially a German Bear!
So, I took a seat after half an hour exploring and the Turk gave me a wink as he ordered me back on my feet. Then, I just stopped and stared over at one of the towers for a full minute. Marilyn actually laughed! Our guardian-guide shook his head and grunted. So, what the hell, I gave the Ruskeys a happy wave. And I could see two of them dropped their glasses and leaned on the railing.
Oh, there’s a red castle just inside the Iranian-Turkish border that you got to see! It’s 13th
Century and had central heat and indoor plumbing! Four full baths! It’s on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the gorge. Also, admire Mount Ararat. Speculate where Noah beached the Ark! Can’t climb its 14,000 feet. Packs of wild dogs’ll make short work of Gringos! Go! It’s the end of the world. I swear by all the gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s outrageously wonderful!!!!