News > Pan-Armenian News > A pilgrimage to Armenian Cilicia
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Adana Massacres.
A pilgrimage to the Medieval Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and the surrounding areas.
Years, decades and a centuries may pass, but Armenian wounds will not be healed, unless justice is done.
In the summer of 2009 and on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Adana Massacres (1909) a group of pilgrims headed to Cilicia and the surrounding areas. The pilgrimage was organized by Father Karekin Bedourian and administered by Vartan Sarmazian.
We passed the Armenian town of Kessab on the present day Syrian - Turkish border and headed towards Greater Cilicia, the vast lands where once an Armenian kingdom in the Medieval ages thrived. We were overwhelmed with mixed feelings and could not realize where the roads could lead us.
At the beginning of the tour, we stopped at Saint Mary Church (Sourp Asdvadzadzin) in Vakef, the only remaining Armenian village in Mousa Ler (Musa Dag) and in entire historical Cilicia. We prayed to God and asked him to protect us throughout the pilgrimage.
In one of Mousa Ler villages (named Khederbey) we stopped at the historical plane tree. Great musician Parsegh Ganachian had composed his famous “Sosi” (plane tree) song under the shadows of this same tree.
We continued our trip to the port city of Alexandretta, where we visited the Forty Martyrs' Church.
Back to our track, we ascended to a fortress called Otsapert (the Fortress of Snakes), fortified against the invading forces by Levon the Magnificent, the first king of Armenian Cilicia (Roupenid Dynasty) in the beginning of the 13th century.
We continued our trip to Adana. It was difficult to describe our feelings and emotions in this city. Exactly one hundred years have passed since the horrible days of the Adana Massacres in 1909. While walking in the streets of Adana, we felt the suffering of our ancestors and heard their desperate cries.
We entered a building in Adana labeled "Culture House", which has been in the past Apkarian Armenian School. We tried to find a church in Adana to lit candles for the soul of our victims. Eventually, we found remnants of a church, currently transformed to a public bath (See upper left photo). We noticed a clock tower with Armenian design in front of it.
This year has been celebrated as 2000 years since Saint Paul's birth. We stopped at Tarsus (Darson in Armenian) where the Apostle was born and explored the sacred locations associated with him. The stones conveyed us the history of the place.
We had energy to see one place after another in all our beautiful Cilicia. After Mersin we went to Korikos (Corycus) Fortress, built in the sea. There we saw an inscription in Ancient Armenian on one of the gates, dating from the era of Queen Zabel (below photo 1). It was a great joy to see our lovely language, our link with the heritage of our forbearers.
The zenith of our trip was the town of Sis, the old location of the Catholicosate of Cilicia (now operating in Antelias, Lebanon). The word SIS in itself says a lot. It can tell the whole story of the Armenians in Cilicia from past to modern times. We stopped in front of the deserted remnants of the old Catholicosate structure and imagined how active this place had been in the past and what pivotal role it had played in the life of our people. The glory of the place is vivid in our souls. We went uphill and tried to locate the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church. We found ruined dome and traces of an altar. We prayed and performed requiem ceremony for the soul of our many thousands victims. We were face to face with our past. Sis is a name that cannot be erased from our memory. A past with a strong and symbolic continuity in our present times. The stronghold of Sis inspired us to understand more about our identity and mission in life (below photo 2).
Anarzapa Castle (Anavarza in other sources) was the bastion of Armenian armies. It was silent when we visited it. The ruined columns seemed as if they were begging for our strong fighters to return.
We went to Hajen. Beautiful, but heartrending Hajen. The church is demolished, only the stones in the altar remain as last witness of our presence. The fortress on the opposite side is dominating the scene and guarding our orphan Hajen (below photo 3).
Caesarea (Kayseri). We visited this city which has been a seat of an Armenian Diocese in the past and has a newly renovated Armenian church with beautiful ornaments and wall paintings depicting the four Evangelists, in the inner side of the dome. We prayed beneath the impressive arches and wished that the church remains strong.
Sebastia (Sivas) was waiting for us in silence. The church was barricaded and transformed to a military center. We met an Armenian in Sebastia, an optician, who told us about the past and presence of the Armenians in this city.
Malatya was feeling the lose of one of its sons Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist who was killed two years ago in Istanbul and became the most recent Armenian victim in this country. We met a relative of Dink who was happy to hear Armenian language, but preferred not to discus with us about current issues. Hrant Dink’s paternal house was under protection. Saint Resurrection (Haroutyoun) Church of Malatya was closed, the dome had collapsed. We could notice some Armenian writings and crosses even from outside. We visited also the Armenian cemetery in Malatya and performed prayers for the soul of the deceased (below photo 4)
Hromgla (Romkale) in the northeast of Urfa, was an important military and religious Armenian center in the 13th century. It is a fortress on the river Euphrates, a sacred place where each rock carries a piece of story. We saw the destroyed Armenian crosses on the walls. The Church, inside the fortress, is completely ruined with an obvious attempt to erase our traces (below photo 5).
At the end of our pilgrimage we passed by the city of Ainteb, where Saint Mary’s Church (Sourp Asdvadzadzin) has been transformed to a mosque and a newly found ancient Armenian church was designated as a cultural house. The place of baptism and the inscriptions around it are still in a good shape. The engraved crosses also witness the importance of the place.
We passed through the cities of Cilicia with overwhelming sadness. At every step, the bright pages of the Armenian kingdom were parading in front of our eyes and were trumpeting in our songs and prayers, dedicated to the ancient and glorious past.
We will embrace you again immortal and great Cilicia.
From the notes of a pilgrim
Provided by the author. English text by Azad-Hye.
Song of Cilicia
by Nahabed Rousinian
When the doors of hope are opened wide
And winter departs from our land,
Our beautiful land of Armenia,
When its balmy days shimmer and shine
When the swallow returns to its nest,
When all the trees put on their leaves,
I long to see my Cilicia,
The world that gave me life.
I have seen the plains of Syria,
The mountains of Lebanon and its cedars,
I have seen the land of Italy, Venice and its gondolas,
There is no island like our Cyprus,
And truly no place is
As beautiful as my Cilicia,
The world that gave me life.
There is an age in our lives,
When all desires cease;
An age when the spirit yearning
Longs for its memories;
When my harp becomes cold,
Giving its last greeting to love,
May I repose in my Cilicia,
The world that gave me life.
1) Inscription in Ancient Armenian on one of the gates on Korikos Fortress
2) The town of Sis as seen today from the hill where the Catholicosate of Sis existed in the past
3) The demolished Armenian church of Hajen
4) Saint Haroutyoun Church in Malatya
5) Hromgla on the Euphrates in the northeast of Urfa