So we went for a drive today, Jacob and me. We weren't going anywhere in particular. Drove out past the airport, in the direction of Echmiadzin. Leaving Yerevan that way? The first thing you pass is the US Embassy, which is a mile or so outside of town. It's huge -- three large buildings set on several acres of green campus, all surrounded by a wall. It's much bigger than the US Embassy in Romania. Why do we need such a big embassy? Well, one, the influence of the Armenian diaspora, and two, the fact that Armenia's a friendly country that borders Iran. It's a bit depressing that it's a walled compound, but that's SOP for US embassies these days. Anyway. A few miles past the Embassy is the turnoff to the airport (after first passing through a village full of garish casinos, the peculiar welcome for everyone flying into Armenia). And a mile or so past the airport is the village of Musa Ler. Musa Ler was originally the name of an Armenian region in Turkey, far to the south and west of here. It means "Mountain of Moses". It's much more widely known by its Turkish name: Musa Dagh.
You can't miss Musa Ler. The village is nothing special, but there's an enormous monument on the hill above it; you can see it from the main highway while you're still miles away. The monument is several stories high and -- there's no nice way to say this -- fugly. I'm sure the builders meant well, but it was built in the 1980s and combined two of the 20th century's most regrettable architectural trends: late period Soviet monumentalism, and in-your-face screaming-eagle nationalism. I mean, it literally has a huge eagle on it. Along with a bas-relief of Armenian warrior, done in the ancient Assyrian style, except carrying a rifle. The fact that it's made of bright orange brick is just gravy. (I note in passing that the erection of such a blatantly nationalistic monument should have been a flare-lit signal that something was Very Wrong in the 1980s USSR. But the growth of nationalism in the late Soviet period went strangely unnoticed at the time, and is poorly studied even today.) Where was I... oh, yes, the monument. Well, it was ugly, but I thought, what the hell -- if I don't go up there, I'll always wonder what that thing was. So I turned off the highway, drove through the village, parked on a slab of concrete over a drainage ditch, and put Jacob on my shoulders. Then we walked up about a hundred crumbling stone steps. Then, well, there we were at this big orange brick thing. It did have a pretty impressive view over the plain of the Araxes. I would say a spectacular view except, honestly, the plain of the Araxes is nothing much to look at... it's just a flat scrubby piece of steppe wedged in between Armenia and Turkey. The monument itself was in good condition, clean and very orange; it looked good to last for hundreds of years. The paving around it was slowly faling apart, though. Off to one side was an enormous fountain, which had obviously been dry for a very long time. There was nobody around. It was a hazy warm day, the sort that warns you spring in these parts is short and summer takes no prisoners. I could feel Jacob starting to droop on my shoulders -- it was around his nap time, and he didn't see anything interesting up here. There was a bit more to see. A hundred meters or so behind it was a graveyard. We went over and looked at it, and there were seven or eight graves, all with very handsome stones (and all engraved with images of the dead -- that's a Russian thing, but the Armenians do it too.) All but one of the dates were between 1992 and 1995, so I figured it was from the Karabakh war. Sure enough, I found out later -- they were dead fighters who were descended from the Musa Dagh survivors. While we were looking at the cemetary, three women appeared over the edge of the hill, walking slowly towards us. -- It's late here, so I'll continue this in another post.