Debatable Destiny: “Charents” house up for sale in Kars

Recent information from Turkish media that a great Armenian writer’s ancestral house in Kars (modern Turkey) was for sale for about $180,000 gave rise to more debate in Armenia about Yeghishe Charents’ house.

Some doubt that it is his real house, others call for a fundraising to buy the house that belonged to the writer’s father. Charents (1897-1937) is held as one of the most outstanding Armenian poets of the 20th century, with his works covering a wide range of topics, but most importantly Armenia and Armenians. An early champion of communism, Charents later grew disillusioned with the Bolshevik regime and was executed during the Stalinist purges.

On November 6, the Turkish daily Hurriyet wrote that Charents’ house had been put up for sale, and the Dogan News Agency said that “the decrepit house was taken up by drug addicts.”

“Drug addicts have turned the space of about 100 square meters, including three rooms and a small garden into their den. And the neighborhood residents demand that it be either demolished or reconstructed,” it said.

Any Armenian who visits Kars in what is now eastern Turkey goes to this house first.

A recent visit found the house in a much more decrepit condition than it was only a few months earlier.

The old wooden gate was broken, there was a sofa and clothes in one room, as well as fresh packs of cigarettes and bottles. Some of the neighbors said two homeless men had used the house as shelter.

Two written signs “For Sale” with an indicated telephone number, old and outdated, are posted on the site.

“We also heard that it was an Armenian writer’s home, but it should be restored, now it has become a dump,” Yunos Sengul, a 68-year-old Kars resident, told ArmeniaNow. Sengul’s parents used to live in Yerevan and after the establishment of the Soviet regime in eastern Armenia moved to Kars.

“My mother spoke a little Armenian, knew some Armenian songs,” he says.

Very few people in Kars actually know about Charents’ house. When those who actually know its location want to give directions to visitors they’d usually call it “a ruined house under a big tree.”

The wall of the entrance to the ruined house nestling under a tall poplar tree where the writer was supposedly born has an inscription in Armenian: “Charents lived here”, and next to this there is an inscription in Turkish: “God created everyone equal.”

The author of the Turkish note is Yilmaz Akkaya, a 26-year-old student at Kars University, who is a participant in the Beraber (translated Together) project jointly held in Kars and Gyumri in Armenia. As part of the project jointly with Armenian participants he shot a film about Charents and says he had discovered not only Armenians, but also the Armenian writer.

“I learned about Charents during our program and tried to find his works, which were only in English translation and I read it with difficulties, but understood that he is a truly great writer and the house where he lived should be preserved, it is particularly important for us, Turks,” Yilmaz told ArmeniaNow.

State authorities in Turkey are silent about the sale or demolition of the Charents home.

The head of the Kars municipality public relations department says that it is outside their reach, because the house is privately owned.

An agreement was reached about the restoration of Charents’ house between director of the Charents museum in Yerevan Lilit Hakobyan and the former mayor of Kars, who is known as a vocal supporter of Armenian-Turkish normalization and installed in Kars a big monument called “Friendship” and dedicated to Armenian-Turkish friendships.

“We had a preliminary agreement to repair it and turn into a culture house, we suggested also building a small hotel next to the house, where Armenians who arrive from different parts of the world can stay,” says Hakobyan, adding that the former mayor received the idea warmly, however the negotiations were frozen after the assassination of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist and minority rights champion, in Istanbul in January 2007.

Meanwhile, there are still lingering doubts about whether what is presented as Charents’ ancestral home is actually his father’s house.

Charents expert David Gasparyan says there are two houses that are ascribed to Charents and a research should be conducted to establish which one was the real family home.

“Still in 2005 when I was visiting [Kars] as part of a group of intellectuals we placed wreaths near two houses, because we did not know which one was the real [Charents] home. This matter needs a serious research,” says Gasparyan.