Noah’s children | Inquirer Opinion
Second Opinion

Noah’s children

/ 05:13 AM August 26, 2022

Mount Ararat, Turkey—I did not come to seek the ark, but to climb the mountain. The highest peak in Turkey at 5,137 meters above sea level, the snow-capped summit of Mount Ararat required five days of hiking and four nights of camping, representing a worthy challenge while allowing me to travel to a part of the world that I haven’t previously visited.


More than as a mountaineering destination, of course, the mountain is famous for its association with Noah’s Ark, which according to the Book of Genesis “came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”

Bible scholars aver that the “Ararat” in the Bible was a general term for the mountains of the ancient kingdom of Urartu, and that it was only associated with the mountain known in Turkish as Ağrı Dağı from the 11th century onward. Regardless, the association has drawn people from all over the world. “Every year, there’s an expedition in search of the Ark,” one of our guides told me, reminding of those sensational documentaries, in equal parts dismissed as “pseudo-archeology” and taken as proof of the Great Flood. The mountain also draws people who consider a hike a kind of pilgrimage—and local tour operators are happy to cater to them, buttressing their itineraries with visits to Durupınar—supposedly the petrified ruins of Noah’s Ark—near the Iranian border, as well as some other places that legend relates to Noah.


As I said, my goals were different, but being in Ararat nonetheless reminds me of my childhood growing up in the literal truth of Noah’s flood—and my adulthood trying to hold on to the spiritual truths of divine sovereignty and providence.

The landscape lends itself to Biblical imagination. As we drove to the mountain, we passed by shepherds with their flocks of sheep. In the campsites, we mostly ate unleavened flatbread (yufka), olives, cheeses, figs, dates, and some meat. Dry, rocky, and dusty, the mountain’s barren landscape reminded me of Elijah’s drought. Blue, crystal clear, and offering expansive views of Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and perhaps even Azerbaijan, the skies remind me of when Abraham and Lot were choosing where to settle—or when Moses stood atop Mount Nebo to see the Promised Land.

This sense of timelessness notwithstanding, the passing of the centuries has also made its mark, if not in the mountain, then in the lands that surround it. Once belonging to the Kingdom of Armenia, the territory has changed hands between various empires—Ottoman, Persian, Russian—before eventually being part of Turkish territory since 1921. Until recently, the mountain was off-limits to climbers given lingering tensions, and even today, the mountain is used as a symbol by Armenia, as well as of the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere.

With the advent of globalization, change has accelerated in the past years. In the town of Doğubayazıt where we stayed before the hike, “PlayStation cafés” cater to young people, and I found a coffee shop that sells used books, plays jazz music, serves siphon coffee, and offers decent internet. Tourism has brought locals in contact with people around the world, and my hiking companions came from all over: two German families, two brothers from Poland, a Norwegian backpacker, an Egyptian doctor, a group of friends from Turkey. Our conversations ranged from cancel culture to the war on Ukraine—and we exchanged stories of how the pandemic has affected us.

Whether we are all Noah’s children, or those of mitochondrial Eve, our diversity of languages, cultures, appearances, and backgrounds is fascinating.

And yet, despite this diversity, our belongingness to an indivisible humanity was also made clear to me, from simple joys like eating good food, taking nice pictures, uploading them on Instagram—to shared desires like seeing the world, and, in the words of my Egyptian tentmate Amin, “being a universal citizen.”

Our shared vulnerability, too, was palpable as we climbed the mountain. Whether in our high camp surrounded by erosion-prone rocks or one final ascent surrounded by glaciers, we were at the mercy of the elements—and our fragile bodies. And of course, in the larger scheme of things, we are at the mercy of what comes next in our human journey. Will another lockdown prevent such a gathering of people in the coming years? Will war—which has plagued this part of the world—interrupt the fragile peace that allowed visitors to climb the mountain? And will climate change and rising sea levels bring upon a global flood as a punishment for human wastefulness and arrogance?


In these slopes of Mount Ararat, I neither sought nor found Noah’s Ark, but I was nonetheless reminded of how, in many ways, we are on the same boat.


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