With no diplomatic relations as well as a closed border stemming from a dispute over history and an unresolved conflict with another country, Armenia and Turkey can hardly be considered friendly neighbors, but a travelogue by Areg Harutyunyan, a young Armenian motorcyclist, might at least change some stereotypes.
Updating followers on Twitter, Harutyunyan is documenting his journey from Yerevan, the Armenian capital, across Turkey on his blog, One Hell of a Ride.
Spanning more than 4,500 kilometers, the journey is going to be huge. I will state with no ego, this is something no other motorcycle rider in Armenia has ever done before.
Over 4,500 kilometers on the road, exploring and experiencing Turkey entirely
Riding along the coasts of 3 major seas
Through more than 80 cities and towns
Including a week in the 3rd largest city proper in the world
25+ days on a motorcycle, alone!
In Turkey I am planning to be an Armenian from Armenia, traveling on my motorcycle and experiencing Turkey. The planned path is plotted out based solely on the input of many travelers who have experienced Turkey. It has no historic or personal significance to me and it is subject to spontaneously change depending on the circumstances I face during the ride.
Given the closed border, the only way into Turkey from Armenia is via Georgia. Yet, even if the two countries can be considered historical and contemporary foes, that reality wasn't evident at the Turkish border point.
After a some riding across Georgian towns with a lot of Armenian markings, captions and labels, I arrived at Posof border crossing. Huge Turkish flags, everyone acted extremely professional and there was this feeling after Georgia of somehow entering Europe. I approached the security official stamping the passports and used the only Turkish word that I know:
“Mehraba!” (Turkish: Hello!)
“…Hay es?” (Armenian: Are you Armenian?)
“Ayo!” (Armenian: Yes!)
“Bari galust Turqia, sireli yeghbayr!” (Armenian: Welcome to Turkey, dear brother!)
Yet, no sooner had the blogger arrived in Turkey than disaster struck.
I rode into some petrol station, refueled, and asked to pay with a Mastercard at the counter. My card was rejected. That gave me a sick feeling — I knew for a fact that my HSBC Mastercard was OK, and I didn’t have a lot of cash with me!
Riding out of the station, I dropped my speed to about 50 km/h, entered some tunnel that was curved inside, realized I was going too fast, pushed my brakes, locked the wheels, skid, hit the tunnel wall on the curve, fell down, the end.
Two police cars arrived in less than two minutes. One of them blocked the tunnel entrance, the other one drove in and 3 policemen started asking me questions and registering my accident. Their behavior was, again, extremely professional. All of them were very polite, helpful and sorry for my problem. Only one of them spoke English.
Lucky not to be hospitalized, Harutyunyan then set about the task of finding somewhere to have his motorcycle repaired. Changing his schedule, Istanbul looked to be the best option, but local help was necessary to arrange transporting his bike.
“You look like a turk, but you are not a turk!” he laughed. “That means you are Ermeni! [Note: Armenian] Similar face like brothers! Kurds more different face!”
“If you no have problem with me, I no have problem with you. Like brothers.”
After talking to many different mechanics about my motorcycle’s broken parts, Uğur and Ibrahim decided that it was best for me to go to Istanbul.
“Take a bus, bus cheap!”
“But I need to take my motorcycle with me! How will I fit it into a bus?”
“Motorcycle yes, bus yes, OK!”
“Dude, my motorcycle weighs 200 kilos and is pretty wide, it is no bicycle!”
“Kawasaki 1200cc in bus OK? Your motorcycle bigger than Kawasaki??”
I shut up.
“We take you bus station now.”
“How much?” I made a money gesture to the driver
He took a paper out of his shirt pocket and wrote on it — “350 dolar”
“OK,” I told the driver and gave him a thumbs up. “Do we leave now?” I asked Uğur. He looked annoyed.
“You don’t go to a turk, ask for the price and say “OK.”! You go to a turk, ask for the price, and then you say — “But why??””
I shut up.
“We now bargain the price. Give us time my friend.”
After about 10 minutes of talking really loud, Uğur turned to me.
“200 liras, or 130 dollar. Is OK?”
The journey to Istanbul might not have been what Harutyunyan had planned at this stage of the trip, but it did at least provide his readers the opportunity to hear his impressions of the city and one conversation with a local ethnic Armenian.
In Ortaköy I met a cool (really cool!) Armenian woman who currently lives in Istanbul. I asked her how safe it is to be an Armenian in Istanbul.
“Is Istanbul safe for an Armenian?”
“What shall I do if I have a problem with a bozkurt?” [Note: Ultra-nationalist]
“You will not!”
“But if I do, anyway?”
“Run to any police and say you are Armenian!”
“You are Armenian, and it means everyone will do everything to make sure that nothing happens to you here! The Police will protect you with their own bodies if they have to!”
That was kinda reassuring to hear.
Away from the politics, Harutyunyan was also impressed by the Hagia Sophia and Istanbul's main shopping area.
Taksim is gorgeous during the night. It is well lit and not any less lively than it is during the day. It also hosts a number of quite cool clubs, some of which play electronic and dance music. I think Taksim’s idea somehow resembles our very own Northern Avenue in Yerevan, except its architecture does not suck balls and people actually live and party there.
That was nothing, however, compared to his general impression of the city itself.
Istanbul is enchanted. It is a magical city, and the magic is so intense that you can almost hear it in the air. This cannot be explained, as it is a completely different dimension, but it is not any less real. Every stone, every trash can (there isn’t many of those) and every bench, every dirty beggar, every tree, every wave of Marmara, every train, bridge and the bolts on them, every boy selling water, every Vespa and every roof are magical, filled with strange energy — not negative or positive, not like anything that can be described. It is a very strange kind of extraordinarily attractive energy — it fills you and wraps you and floats you away, in this amazingly sweet slumber, chanting soothing melodies to your ear, touching the most special strings in your soul, and going so deep that it cracks your very essence open to you and the city. It is a city that makes you surrender instantly — and completely. Surrender to being happy, for you are real.
I am forever in love, and I need not pretend. I desperately, hopelessly and endlessly love Istanbul.
Back on two wheels, Harutyunyan then traveled to Eskişehir and Ankara. His journeys continue at http://www.onehellofaride.com and he can be followed on Twitter at @sssilver.