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1 March 2023

Ani: an Ancient Ghost City with 21st-Century Implications

Ani: an Ancient Ghost City with 21st-Century Implications

Ani: an Ancient Ghost City with 21st-Century Implications

Hot on the heels of Armenia’s highly symbolic dispatch of aid to Turkey, the Armenian Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, made a highly significant official visit to Ankara on February 15. Beyond the diplomatic dance lies the important goal of reopening the border between the two countries, which has been closed since 1993. That the border could reopen relatively easily was demonstrated earlier in the week when, on February 11, the Alican/Magara checkpoint (on the Echmiadzin-Dogubayazit route) was briefly sanctioned to expedite aid trucks taking supplies to the earthquake zone. One of the last times the border opened in the past 35 years was taking aid in the opposite direction after the 1988 earthquake that devastated northern Armenia.

Any timetable for the full opening of that and other border posts has yet to be fully confirmed. At a press conference, the one concrete announcement made was more symbolic: plans to rebuild a medieval bridge at Ani. On the face of it, doing up a historic monument is likely to strike many observers as a curiously meaningless cop-out. After all, politicians making a daring geopolitical step always need to have at least one or two easily achievable fall-backs up their sleeves in case the more substantive issues fail to be resolved.

However, from a regional perspective, the Ani Bridge is much more meaningful than just ‘any old’ medieval cultural reconstruction.

Ani’s Importance

The shattered 9th-century bridge in question – of which just the support stumps remain - carried one of the many branches of the classic ‘Silk Route’ across the Arpachai/Akhurian River, which nowadays forms the northwestern part of Armenia’s border with Turkey. Today it’s hard to imagine this site as a busy commercial hub – it’s a decidedly remote, barely populated spot some 45km from Kars along a long straight road which passes just a handful of tiny hamlets.