Varakavank, 15 minutes away from the center of Van, is found in the village of Venk (Turkish name: Yedi Kilise or Yukarı Bakraçlı). Epress.am’s Turkey correspondent, upon visiting Varakavank (“vank” means monastery in Armenian), noticed that the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey’s eastern region over a week ago had damaged the 8th century Armenian monastery.
Being one of the spiritual-cultural centers of Armenians in Western Armenia, Varakavank (pictured below, before 1915) was deserted after 1915 and damaged in the earthquake which struck Van in the 70s. The most recent earthquake delivered a further blow to the already dilapidated church.
Mehmet Çoban, who maintains the church and its grounds, told Epress.am that for the first two days after the Oct. 23 earthquake they couldn’t get any help from Van.
“We have 65 families [living in the village] and a population of over 500. They sent us 15 tents and 10 [temporary housing] containers from Van. We don’t have enough heaters. The children are afraid: they keep looking up at the ceiling to see if the light [fixtures] are moving or not,” said Çoban.
Earthquake survivor and village resident Barış described how he was having tea with others in the village hall when they heard a big noise and saw parts of Varakavank falling down on the newly built mosque adjacent to it.
“We were always saying that the mosque shouldn’t be built [right] next to the church, but they never listened,” he said.
Large numbers of Armenian tourists and pilgrims visited Varakavank this summer, noted Epress.am’s Turkey correspondent. Not as many as those who went to the Holy Cross Armenian Church on Lake Van’s Akhtamar Island, but enough that it prompted villagers to approach the government with a request to restore the monastery. The flow of tourists and pilgrims to the village was economically advantageous for the village.
Meanwhile, for several years, Mehmet Çoban and a few villagers have been writing letters to state agencies saying the monastery needs more care. The columns of the church were deteriorating because the church doesn’t have a ceiling and rain was falling inside the structure. During the earthquake, one of the two of the more damaged columns fell on the road. A person was injured as a result, but not badly.
Furthermore, big pieces of the partly demolished roof have broken off and fallen inside the church and immediately next to the entrance, effectively blocking it. The eastern wall of the monastery complex has collapsed and debris has fallen on it.
Varakavank (pictured below, in 2010) is now in even more ruins than last year.