Arapgir and Eskisehir.

It was at this point that a little confusion prevailed. The owners of the hotel thought I wanted to visit Arapgir’s oldest district rather than Eskisehir and, because of this, dropped me at an albeit interesting spot at the southerly extremity of the town beside a river in a valley with quite steep walls on both sides. The road crossed the river by means of an old stone bridge benefiting from the final touches of a substantial restoration project which, although over-zealous in the fashion I had observed elsewhere, nonetheless guarantees that the bridge will last for centuries to come. I walked up and down stone steps, along a footway below the road but above the river, and chatted with labourers installing railings that would soon be painted black. The side of the bridge devoid of the footway had been subjected to far less vigorous restoration and, although more difficult to see because it was now in late afternoon shade, gave an excellent impression of how the bridge must have looked until about a year earlier.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

Among the trees about 20 metres from the bridge and just above the river is a relatively slim but tall stone building with a square ground plan and damaged dome. The wall facing the bridge is pierced by an arched doorway partially framed by stonework carved with patterns more Muslim than Christian, and beside the doorway is a window rectangular in shape. The wall overlooking the river is pierced by a single window, in this case with a slightly pointed arch framing a second pointed arch within it. Inside the building are the piers and arches that support what remains of the dome and the walls have a few small cavities that may have been storage spaces. The structure resembles a one-time hamam, but it is just possible that it had been a church or chapel.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The couple who owned the hotel had told me that the scant remains of a church lie a little above the bridge, so I found a dirt road that led in the direction required. I soon found some courses of stone lurking among long grass and wild flowers not far from where two small houses overlook fields and gardens. Two families were at work in the fields and gardens and, when I began examining the courses of stone, they stopped to say hello. Chat followed, as did offers of tea, but I was very disciplined and explained that I needed to see the ruin and what remained of what I thought was Eskisehir.

It was at this point that Veysel introduced himself. Veysel lived in one of the houses just mentioned and worked for the Belediye driving dustcarts. He explained that I was not in Eskisehir at all. Esksehir was about 3 or 4 kilometres away on the far side of modern Arapgir, but he had time to spare and would take me there after I had examined what remained of the church.

What remains of the church is very little, but one stretch of stone suggests that it was a very substantial building when extant. The surviving stone reveals that the external walls had been unusually thick, which points toward a cathedral rather than a church. It was obviously Armenian because, after examining what survives of the external walls, Veysel led me to some nearby houses in which stone from the building and its immediate surroundings has been recycled. I saw stone with Armenian script and some it had dates such as 1890 and 1891. One attractively carved stone, no doubt from a grave, had had all its Armenian script obliterated by someone hacking at it with tools, but a cross could be made out and no damage had been done to two branches of leaves that overlapped at what would have been the top of the stone when marking someone’s final place of rest. Here was very obvious proof that, at some point in the past, the authorities did all they could to obscure the fact that Arapgir once had a substantial Armenian community.

The cathedral (?), Arapgir.

The Armenian cathedral (?), Arapgir.

Recycled stone from an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Recycled stone from the Armenian cathedral (?) or an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Back home I undertook research into the history of Arapgir and its immediate surroundings and found the following. Somewhere in Eskisehir or Arapgir there had once been the magnificent 13th century Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God, but in 1915 it was attacked, looted and set on fire. After the first world war, because only a few Armenians remained in the town and the surrounding area, what remained of the cathedral was repaired and used as a school. However, at some point in the 1950s, important figures at the Belediye decided to demolish the building and, in 1957, it was blown up with dynamite. The land on which it had stood was sold to someone living nearby and, today, only very small sections of stone survive. The cathedral is described as one of the largest Armenian churches that ever existed in what is now Turkey and a picture of it on the internet suggests that this was indeed the case.

There were six other Armenian Apostolic churches in the town in 1915, a Roman Catholic church and a Protestant church. It was mainly Armenians who attended the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, information confirming that Arapgir was a very important Armenian settlement at the beginning of world war one.

At home, the more I thought about the remains I have just described, the more it seemed that I had been directed toward what remains of the cathedral. I am by inclination cautious about reaching conclusions of this nature, but there was nothing I saw later that suggests my assessment is incorrect. This said, it was obvious that a lot more needs to be done in and around Arapgir to document and preserve what remains from the past. Arapgir stands at the centre of a remarkably interesting part of Turkey rich in the physical remains of many different people.

Veysel was keen to leave for Eskisehir, so off we went. I thought we were going to walk all the way and therefore suggested we hire a taxi, but Veysel had a much better and more cost effective plan. We walked through the town, passing on the way some large old houses spread over two or even three floors. A mixture of timber-frames, stone, plaster, corrugated iron, overhanging upper storeys and storage spaces immediately below the pitched roofs (most such storage spaces lacked walls) ensured there was much to admire. Every so often stone tablets set into walls had some carved decoration and, perhaps, a date revealing when a house was built or extended. A network of narrow canals carried water from springs into gardens and small fields.

An old house, Arapgir.

An old house, Arapgir.

Arapgir itself has some monuments confirming that it was a population centre by the 18th century, but it was in the 19th and early 20th century when its prosperity was most apparent. Its former wealth was dependent on trade and industry. Arapgir’s merchants were wholesalers for goods such as soap and olive oil from Gaziantep and Aleppo, and glass and iron from Beirut. They also bought goods from Europe such as cloth from Manchester and Marseilles. But Arapgir also had its own weaving industry and imported the yarn from Britain. However, with the end of the first world war, trading activities fell into rapid decline. Part of the reason for this was because of the loss of Armenian merchants during the genocide. Merchants who survived the war migrated to cities in the west where economic opportunities were superior. The town’s economic decline was reinforced by the expansion of the rail network and, later, the road system because goods that used to pass through Arapgir were taken directly to large urban centres where the majority of consumers lived. The weaving industry also fell into decline as other localities in Turkey invested in modern machinery to give them a competitive edge. Today little evidence for such economic prosperity exists other than in the town centre han, now a hotel, and the large old houses which confirm that many local families in the past had considerable wealth. Of course, some of the houses had belonged to Armenian families, but which ones it is difficult to say today.

Veysel’s cunning plan was that we would drive to and around Eskisehir in a Belediye dustcart! We arrived near the north-west extremity of Arapgir and Veysel fired up the engine of his motor vehicle. We first drove along a road that ascended over a hill and into a very pretty valley with trees, orchards, small fields, the occasional building and views of hills and mountains. The road, which soon degenerated into dirt, meandered along the valley wall, sometimes high up and sometimes quite close to the river. It was an enchanting drive, but I was very conscious of Veysel’s time and the cost of the petrol. When I offered to pay for some petrol and his time, he looked at me with an expression of anger that morphed into hurt feelings. We were friends. Friends pay for nothing because hospitality is a mark of friendship. I was in the company of yet another amazing Alevi who at one point said, “Really I am a Bektashi. Veysel is and always will be a Bektashi. Arapgir now has many Bektashis and Alevis and we cannot stand the Sunni Muslims.”

Veysel grew very animated as he tore into the Sunni Muslims and at one point tears stood in his eyes. He seemed to give expression to the persecution his people have suffered for centuries. The more the trip went on, the more often I encountered Alevis, Bektashis and Kizilbash who expressed anger and outrage similar to the anger and outrage felt by Veysel. The two or three times I met Armenians, they kept their feelings to themselves as if to share them would open wounds of such magnitude that the pain would never abate. In the face of crimes against humanity on the scale that have happened in Turkey in the past, silence is sometimes the only appropriate response.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir, which, as its name implies, is much older than Arapgir (‘eski” mean “old” and “sehir” means “town” or “city”), was also a trading settlement. Its site, just as large as that of Arapgir although not much survives today, is to the north-west of and at a higher level than its neighbour. It is hidden from the present town by the hill I referred to earlier. It extended for about 4 kilometres in a north-easterly direction until coming to the Arapgir Cayi. Evidence suggests that many of the houses of the town were spaced quite generously apart, perhaps with large gardens or orchards around them (many orchards survive to this day). The citadel is perched high above the tree-line to the north of Eskisehir overlooking the Arapgir Cayi. The bare slopes below the citadel once had houses on them, but today all that remains of the houses are piles of stone “gradually being forced downhill in spring floods”, as Sinclair says. It was in this area that Eskisehir had its commercial heart. Some buildings survive, albeit ruined, including mosques dating from the late Selcuk and the Ottoman periods. Some way from the ruined buildings is a restored mosque dating from as late as the early 19th century, by which time Arapgir was emerging as the more important and economically vibrant settlement.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

Around what was once the town are the Ulu Camii, at least three other mosques, a residence for Sufi dervishes called a hankah, a hamam and what would appear to be a bedesten, all in various stages of restoration or decay. However, we spent most time examining a structure Veysel thought was a church, although if it was a church there was nothing I could identify to confirm that this was so. It was certainly a large structure with what resembles a tower (a bell tower?) at one end. After it was abandoned, someone converted part of it into a house with a door and three windows set into the south-facing wall.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

We drove along the dirt road through the trees and came out beside the Arapgir Cayi, where I was surprised to find a large stone bridge crossing the river. The bridge, which is probably Ottoman in origin, had recently benefited from a very complete programme of restoration. It crosses the river with two arches of slightly different width and has a quite steep ramp at the south end. The road across the bridge has a kink in it near the middle. Motor vehicles as large as the dustcart can cross the bridge and people like to drive out to the bridge to swim in the river or eat picnics. When we stopped the vehicle to examine the bridge from the north bank, we met a family preparing to return home after relaxing in the pretty surroundings for the afternoon. The father of the family, who wore only his swimming shorts and a pair of shoes because he had just got out of the river (his wife and other family members were fully clothed, of course), tried to encourage us to drink raki with him, but we declined the kind invitation.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

A few of Eskisehir’s houses survive. They are large, timber-framed houses that spread over two or even three floors in a manner very similar to some of the old houses that survive in Arapgir. However, today Eskisehir is no more than a widely dispersed village and one with a very small population.

We drove away from Eskisehir by following a road east of the bridge. The road crossed the river, ascended the valley wall to the south and led to a road destined for the centre of Arapgir, so we managed to do a superb round trip. Once on the road leading to Arapgir we were high above the Arapgir Cayi and the views into and along the valley were sublime. However, by now the sky had filled with dark clouds and it began to rain. The rain persisted for the next half hour or so.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

We drove into the centre of Arapgir where we picked up two of Veysel’s work colleagues outside a bakery; the team of three were about to begin their evening shift collecting litter from large wheelie-bins. I stayed with the team for about half an hour, by which time we were close to the hotel. Because the men wanted a short break from work, we stopped for glasses of tea brought to us from a nearby tea house. It turned out that both Veysel’s colleagues were Alevis and all three had harsh things to say about the AKP and Sunni Muslims. If I understood what they were saying, the AKP was currently in control of Arapgir, but whether the party would still be in power following the general election was uncertain. Overhead, rumbles of thunder and flashes of fork and sheet lightning added drama to our conversation.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

What an amazing day it had been, although it was not quite finished. I said goodbye to Veysel and his colleagues, walked to the hotel and freshened up in my room, then went to the very centre of town, a roundabout with roads leading off in four or five different directions, and took photos of the bunting flapping against the rapidly darkening sky. I then met a young man who had a camera far superior to mine and, in his shop, he showed me some of the photos he had recently taken. We took photos of each other, then I walked a short distance further down the road, a road leading past a very large modern mosque in the mock-Ottoman style to the small bus station. I stopped at a small lokanta for koftes, salad and bread washed down with ayran. A woman not wearing a headscarf called in and ordered some food to take home. My meal over, I went almost next door for a large bowl of ice cream. Two children walked in and had small portions of ice cream at a nearby table.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

As I walked back to the hotel I was reminded that, when planning the trip in the UK, I had toyed with the idea of not visiting Arapgir because I had been once before and was not sure a second visit could be justified by what I would see. How wrong such an idea would have been. But my lack of sound judgement in relation to Arapgir convinced me that to go to Divrigi the following day was the right thing to do because, although I had also been there once before, it had been a very long time ago when me and my travelling companion had time to see only two major monuments, the Ulu Camii and the Hospital.

But what of the wine that I consumed with great pleasure in my room as I wrote up notes about the day’s many delights and sometimes sobering encounters? It had a pale colour not unlike a rosé and a delicate bouquet with the faintest hint of mint. It tasted dry with some crisp acidity and reminded me of fino-style wines found in pasts of southern Spain such as Montilla. Although not very sophisticated, it packed a punch! I drank the whole half litre with a growing sense of satisfaction, but I had no adverse effects the following morning. Being an organic wine, perhaps the detrimental after-effects really are much reduced!

What a day. The monuments, the birds, the flowers, the wild herbs such as mint and oregano, the hospitality, and the nagging sense that I had found somewhere I could almost call home despite the language barriers. My goodness: the wine was getting me quite emotional! Yes, the wine was dry like a good fino or amontillado from southern Spain. Perhaps it was even a bit like those amazing wines from Sanlucar de Barrameda (one of the strangest but most likeable of all Andalucian towns) with their salty smack. It might have passed muster in Jerez, the home of sherry, although in some ways it was more interesting than half the dry wines that derive from that source of intoxicating drink. And how different it was from the wine with which I had started the trip, a wine of dark ruby colour with a taste reminiscent of reds from some of Europe’s most reputable wine regions.

My last thoughts turned toward the Kurds with whom I had engaged during the day. It is obvious that many Kurds still have sympathy for the PKK and such sympathy may have increased in recent years because the AKP has become more obviously Turkish nationalist in its inclinations and has tried to push through a legislative programme appealing to the needs and aspirations of the country’s Sunni majority. I am fully aware that, in the past, the PKK was a dangerous and violent terrorist group which, in common with the Turkish armed forces, committed some terrible crimes against humanity and unforgivable human rights abuses. However, on every occasion I have engaged with its sympathisers and/or people alleging that they are past or present PKK members, I have never felt in any danger. Putting to one side that this may say more about me than them, such Kurds have posed a threat not to me but to many of the Sunni extremists who, for lack of a better political party to support, vote for the AKP. They also pose far more of a threat to extreme Turkish nationalists such as the Grey Wolves, some of the most dreadful people who have thrived and murdered in Turkey past and present.

P.S. Back home I found something on the internet referring to an Armenian cemetery in Arapgir, a cemetery with about thirty or so irregularly dispersed tombs. According to the article, a few hundred Armenians remained in Arapgir after world war one before most moved to Istanbul to improve their chances of economic well-being. Some survivors of the genocide migrated to Soviet Armenia and settled in Yerevan, the capital, where to this day a district has the name of Arabkir. Today, Arapgir has only two Armenians, brothers in their forties who spend their spare time caring for the cemetery. The cemetery has a small altar which is sometimes used for ritual purposes.

Another internet article suggests that the arrest of leading figures in Arapgir’s Armenian community began as early as 26th April 1915 and that the first large group of Armenians were expelled from the town on 19th June. The last large group were expelled on 5th July and a majority of all those expelled met their death as they marched ever further from home. Arapgir was one of the many towns and cities which, in 1895, witnessed massacres of Armenians on a much smaller scale than in 1915.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

P.P.S. The following provides some context for the information already shared about Alevis and Bektashis. It is an article on the internet that I have quite savagely edited to extract the most relevant points.

As well as grappling with the issue of growing Kurdish disenchantment with AKP rule in Ankara, Erdogan must face the problem of the Turkish and Kurdish Alevi minority, which, in common with the Kurds, represents about a quarter of the Turkish population, or twenty million people. Alevis are heterodox Muslims following a tradition that combines Shia Islam, metaphysical Sufism and pre-Islamic shamanism. Alevis do not pray in mosques and a cem evi is an Alevi meeting house.

In 1995 an Alevi leader, Izzettin Dogan, launched an officially-approved Alevi group called Cem Vakfi. The Turkish government used Cem Vakfi to split the Alevi opposition to the regime. The government, even when it was secular, favoured Sunni Islam and harassed Alevis. Politically, Dogan represented the extreme nationalist right and was linked to the MHP, or Nationalist Movement Party, which has links with the fascist Grey Wolves. The MHP supported the military in its campaign against the Kurdish PKK and the Grey Wolves have been charged with at least five thousand murders of Turkish and Kurdish leftists, Alevis included, in the 1980s. In 1997, Dogan formally constituted Cem Vakfi in four towns in the Netherlands under the auspices of the foreign branch of the MHP, the Federation of Turkish Democratic-Idealist Organisations in Europe, or ADUTDF. Today, veterans of the Grey Wolves are embedded in the state apparatus and responsible for countless abuses of human rights in both the Kurdish areas of south-east Turkey and in parts of the western regions where they hold political office.

In 1978 the Grey Wolves committed a massacre of Alevis by calling all “believers” to aggressive jihad against Alevis and other leftists. The Grey Wolves proclaimed, “One who kills an Alevi will enter Paradise, and the death of an Alevi is equal to five haj pilgrimages to Makkah.”

In 1980, after a military coup, the MHP was banned, along with all other political parties. Nonetheless, many supporters of the Grey Wolves had careers in the military and state bureaucracy. The ban on the MHP was eventually removed and in the late 1990s the party changed its public orientation in a religious direction.

Erdogan’s government has approached the Alevis in Turkey with ambitious plans for the construction of mosques in their communities, even though Alevis meet for their rituals in cem evis and only a few Alevis attend mosque services. Mosque-building in Alevi settlements is therefore a waste of public funds, but, since the 1980s, pressure for the Sunnification of all Turkey’s Muslims has been intense and, in response, has provoked political unrest among the Alevis. Today, Alevis increasingly refuse to conceal their identities, as they might have done in the past. Instead, they present themselves openly as Alevis and defend the Alevi faith. Alevi books and magazines are now issued prolifically and Alevism is offered as a counter to mainstream Sunni ideology.

Support for Cem Vakfi and Dogan by Turkey’s state institutions and mass media has failed. Alevis with democratic or leftist inclinations reject him and the situation is likely to remain as such for many years to come.

Nonetheless, the AKP government, through its apologists, has performed brilliantly in convincing politicians in Washington and elsewhere that the Alevis support the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. There is no serious corroboration of this claim, which has also been made by Erdogan himself. Its proponents assert falsely that the Alevi movement in Turkey is similar to the Shia Alawite cult ruling Syria, but this is not so. It is denied by Alevis themselves as well as by authoritative, objective academics in Europe and North America.

P.P.P.S. Arapgir is famous for having a craftsman who makes shoes with wooden nails, but no stitching or chemical glues. Only the wooden nails keep the shoes intact. It is said that he can make a pair of shoes in one day.

To Onar.

I went to my room, unpacked a few things, freshened up and returned to the lobby. Two minutes later I was in the family’s very new 4WD car and we sped off along the road toward Keban. A left turn took us to Onar, a journey from the junction of only 4 or 5 kilometres. In Onar we called at a house on the edge of the village where Ismael lived, an author of thirty books who, although older than me, remained mentally and physically very able. Ismael offered to show us around a village he clearly loved to bits. After spending about half an hour getting to know each other and eating a Thornton’s chocolate, a box of which were a gift from a friend who had recently returned from the UK, we got into the car again and drove the short distance to the centre of the village.

What followed was simply astounding and, although there are more pretty villages in Turkey than Onar, by the end of our grand tour the settlement had emerged as one of my favourite anywhere in the vast republic.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar nestles in gently undulating countryside which, in mid-May, is very green and enriched by masses of wild flowers. Distant mountains smudged with snow add to the visual delights, as does a valley to one side of the village which is where some of the tombs are found. The village has a quite densely packed core, but also some houses that are on their own not far from the centre. The great majority of houses, some of which are substantial properties, are old and made with stone, but some are made with mudbrick. While most stone houses are still lived in, some of the mudbrick houses have been abandoned and lie in ruins. Some unusual square windows exist with bars across them made with squared-off lengths of wood, iron door furniture has survived from the Ottoman era and a few plaster walls around front doors manifest painted decoration in the form of plant-life. Dry stone walls enclose small gardens. Corrugated iron covers many roofs and flat metal sheets patch crumbling walls. With paths rather than roads leading from house to house, and old roads within dry stone walls too narrow for motorised traffic leading to the pasture, the fields and the orchards surrounding the village, Onar is a delight to navigate. The narrow roads just mentioned also lead to the open countryside where more Roman remains are encountered among the wild flowers and herbs that prosper on gently inclined hillsides. The views from the hillsides are extensive. As we walked around we picked fresh almonds from the trees.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Ismael and the owners of the hotel knew many people in the village and we therefore stopped a number of times to chat, to have glasses of tea or, in one case overlooking the valley mentioned earlier, to consume glasses of excellent ayran described to me as organic. It quickly became apparent that almost everyone living in Onar is Alevi or Bektashi rather than Sunni Muslim. This meant that, among other things, women are as forthcoming with conversation as men, women shake the hands of unknown males and talk with them without attracting criticism or being thought to behave in a shameful manner, and, although some women wear a headscarf, they wear it most often to protect themselves from the sun and therefore are very careless about whether it covers their hair and ears or not. It was lovely to be among people who, in a predominantly Muslim environment, have a genuine commitment to gender equality and do not merely pretend that such equality exists. Near the end of our grand tour we met three elderly women sitting in the shade cast by an old house. All three were drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. But for their sex they could have been a small group of Turkish males doing what Turkish males do all the time, but such a scene involving Sunni Turkish women in full public view is almost unthinkable, even in 2015.

At one point during our grand tour, the daughter of the owner of the hotel disappeared for twenty minutes before returning with a half litre plastic bottle full of wine for me to consume later in the hotel. In common with the ayran, it was described to me as organic. I was told that Alevis and Bektashis in and around Onar consumed exactly this wine when engaging in some of their ritual practices.

Onar’s cemevi was one of the most unusual monuments I saw on the whole trip. Since buildings now enclose it on at least two sides, you can easily walk past it without knowing it is there. Moreover, to access the cemevi you go through an old wooden door that, at the present time, does not say what lies behind it. Behind the door you walk along a narrow passage with a low roof before reaching the cemevi itself. The cemevi is roughly square in shape, but the walls and floor are made of mud and are therefore smooth but somewhat uneven because of gentle undulations. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of all is the roof, which comprises of logs supported on wooden columns. The logs, many of which are blackened as if fire or soot has discoloured them, have been arranged in such a way as to create what is roughly a dome. A window exists where a wall transitions into the domed roof. Along two walls are some tall receptacle-like structures, some shaped like cans and others shaped like glasses tapering a little toward the floor. About 1.5 metres tall, they look as if they are made of mud.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

There are a few electric lights and rugs and carpets to cover the floor (the rugs and carpets lay on top of the receptacle-like structures just mentioned). In one corner is a platform raised about half a metre above the floor with a cupboard blocking the way into a small space divided from the rest of the room by three bulky wooden columns supporting the beams that hold up the roof. Ledges along two walls reminded me of sofas in an old Anatolian house and, in common with the sofas, are probably meant to be sat on. There is also a mud wall that does not rise the full height of the building but nonetheless creates a second, more secluded space than the one already mentioned, despite the absence of a door.

The cemevi, said to date from 1224 and have been built by Seyh, or Sheikh, Hasan Oner, is a seriously interesting survival from the past, one of the most interesting buildings for ritual purposes I have ever encountered anywhere on my travels. But neither it nor the Roman tombs are mentioned in Sinclair’s monumental work. In fact, Sinclair does not mention Onar once. His monumental study has revealed to me more about eastern Turkey and its architectural and archaeological treasures than any other scholar, but the absence of Onar from his four volume work confirms that a lot more remains to be discovered and/or discussed.

Alevis and Bektashis use cemevis for a variety of purposes because, in the strictest sense, the name means a house or place of gathering, meeting or assembly. As far as we can tell, such gatherings, meetings or assemblies used to be held exclusively outdoors after dark and people used candles and torches so they could see. Such outdoor gatherings still persist in some areas where Alevis and Bektashis live, but they are usually held during daylight hours. Worship in the sense that mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims understand and that is undertaken every day in every mosque around the globe, does not take place, partly because Alevis and Bektashis believe that the mere engagement in routines shaped meticulously by tradition will not secure for the believer the main purpose of rituals of any kind, some sort of contact with or insight into the divine, no matter how fleeting that contact or insight might be.

Alevis and Bektashis take their inspiration from the mystical side of Islam best exemplified in the many Sufi groups found across the Islamic world. Such Sufi groups have always experimented with different means to attain contact with or insight into the divine. Such means include music, song, poetry, dance, food and, in some instances, the consumption of alcohol, hashish and/or marijuana (for some Sufis, alcohol, hashish and/or marijuana are meant to inspire ecstasy or induce a trance-like condition. Such Sufis believe that during such ecstatic or trance-like states that contact with or insight into the divine will be achieved). Today, cemevis are used by Alevis and Bektashis to attain contact with or insight into the divine and in most cases use is made of music, song, food and alcohol (wine and/or raki will be consumed, but not in large quantities). Already is can be seen why mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims might regard Alevis and Bektashis with suspicion, but more orthodox Muslims also dislike how Alevis and Bektashis have been willing, in common with Sufi groups, to co-opt aspects of belief and practice that they deem worthwhile in expressions of religion that differ from theirs. Thus, Bektashis in particular refer to a “trinity” consisting of Allah, Muhammad and Ali, and during their ritual practices wine or raki is consumed with bread in what is an obvious imitation of the eucharist in many Christian denominations. Perhaps this inclination to co-opt beliefs and practices from different sources helps explain why, as a general rule, Alevis and Bektashis have been far more tolerant and respectful of those with beliefs and practices that differ from their own, while, as a general rule, Sunni and, in some instances, mainstream Shia Muslims have not only treated such people like, at best, second class citizens by according them fewer rights and opportunities, but also periodically subjected them to forcible conversion and/or murder and massacre.

There is another thing that causes mainstream Sunni Muslims to have doubts about Alevis and Bektashis and that is the fact that Alevis and Bektashis seem to manifest far greater affection for Ali than for Muhammad, so much so that one of the most obvious ways of telling you are in an Alevi or a Bektashi home is if you see hanging on the wall a picture of Ali looking not unlike Jesus, although his hair is always black.

I have always enjoyed time spent in the company of Alevis and Bektashis and have, in recent years, had increasing doubts about many of the Sunni Muslims with whom I have engaged. I am now far more clear in my mind why this is so. Most Sunni Muslims are preoccupied with Islamic orthodoxy and imposing on themselves and others what passes for such orthodoxy, while Alevis and Bektashis are much more committed to a philosophy shaped by live and let live, openness to new ideas and conforming to the golden rule. It is probably because of this philosophy that, nowadays, Alevi and Bektashi men and women engage in ritual practices together and as equals, and why even a confirmed atheist such as myself is welcomed into their company.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

The tombs at Onar have been cut from the rock itself usually in a valley wall. The chambers containing the tombs are shaped roughly like a cube or cuboid and smaller cavities to contain the dead usually exist in the three walls that do not include the entrance. The cavities for the dead have arches above them and the bodies lay on flat surfaces about a metre above the floor. Sometimes the floor itself has smaller cavities, no doubt also for the dead to lie in. The tombs would appear to be late Roman, perhaps 2nd, 3rd or even 4th century CE. Carved decoration, of stylised plant forms or repeated geometric shapes, is often encountered, the repeated geometric shapes sometimes drawing the eye to the edge of the arch above the individual resting places for the dead. Above a few arches are shallow recesses which may have contained a stone tablet inscribed with information about the dead person that lay below. There are also cavities in which wine was made and kept prior to consumption, and the occasional recess in a wall where lamps or candles could be lit or small possessions stored. Sometimes the stone at the entrance to a tomb chamber has been carved to resemble columns. Each column has flat faces, a base and a capital. As a general rule, the stonemasons who carved the tomb chamber entrances were not as skilled as those who carved the plant-life or the geometric shapes along the arches.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

I was reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Cappadocia and there were times when I thought some of the “tombs” may actually have been troglodyte homes. I also wondered if some of the structures had links with Christians, but I did not see anything that proved for definite that Christians might have been associated with some of what survives at Onar. This said, because Christians in the Roman Empire still suffered persecution into the early years of the 4th century (and persecution persisted beyond that date under certain rulers), they would have been unwise to advertise their existence too overtly.

Next to one recess in a wall is a carving resembling the Buddhist symbol for the eightfold path to enlightenment. In other words, it is a circle with what looks like eight spokes radiating from the centre. I am not for one moment suggesting that this carving has been left by Buddhists and it looks too perfect and clean to have been carved at the same time the tombs were used by people in the Roman Empire, but it did intrigue me. Had it had twelve “spokes” I would have associated it with Shia Muslims and/or Alevis due to their affection for the twelve imams, the last one of whom is “hidden” and will return at some point in the future in just the same way that Christians believe Jesus will return as the messiah. I could sense already that, once home, I would want to very quickly return to this remarkable place because, whenever I return to somewhere in Turkey, I find something new that is ample reward for the effort.

Entrances leading into the tomb chambers are themselves cut from the rock and are usually devoid of additional stonework to reinforce or ornament them. Rectangular in shape, they are sometimes a little wider at waist height as if people were obese at the time the tombs were used. Some entrances are framed externally by an arch, but in at least one case an entrance has an eye-catching triangular feature above the doorway. Additionally, the rock immediately below the triangle has been carved in such a way as to convert what would be the door’s lintel into a shape resembling a bell. Another doorway has a narrow vertical window above it, presumably to let additional light into the tomb chamber.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

The most remarkable tomb chamber is the one we looked at last in the village before walking into the countryside to examine yet more Roman ruins among the wild flowers and herbs. The tomb chamber has a wall with the sun, horses, triangles, squares and hook-like shapes resembling waves drawn by a child painted a dull red colour. All these except the sun, which features only once (although near the sun is what looks like the figure of someone who might be playing a musical instrument or hunting), are painted in continuous lines, the triangles and hook-like shapes being joined one to the other.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

The wall I have just described is to your left as you look in through the small entrance. Ahead, beside a square doorway leading to another section of the tomb chamber, are more examples of painting, in this case of at least one human figure and what looks like a deer and a camel. These have been painted with less care than the patterns, etc. on the left-hand wall and have also suffered more damage or deterioration, perhaps because they face the entrance and light has taken its toll. The human figure stands next to what looks like a small house with a pitched roof, but it might be a crude representation of one of the tomb chambers themselves. The right-hand wall also has things painted on it, but of these the only one that really stands out is a human figure riding a horse. The human figure appears to be holding at least one weapon and it looks as if a flag on a pole might be part of the portrait.

The walk into the countryside resulted in encounters with fresh almonds, flowers, herbs and sublime views of the village in its seductively beautiful setting, and chats with men and women working in their fields or gardens. As for the Roman ruins themselves, most seemed to be associated with the production of wine. A majority of the cavities and related channels required to make and store the wine had been cut from the rock itself in just the same way as the tomb chambers we had already examined.

More Roman ruins, Onar.

More Roman ruins, Onar.

But Onar has one last treat, an old cesme with arches, troughs, channels and pools of most unusual design and size. One pool is partially housed within a cube made of stone and one side of the cube has an opening with a shallow arch above it. Three sturdy lengths of wood have been positioned in front of the arch to provide additional support for the roof. A larger pool to one side of the cube of stone has a stone wall behind it and, the more I examined the cesme, the more I suspected that the whole thing was probably once covered with a roof.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

I have written at length about Onar because, even if the village did not possess the cemevi dating from 1224 and its much older Roman remains, it would be a destination worth visiting for anyone who wants to engage with a remarkable settlement and its very friendly inhabitants. Onar’s beautiful rural setting is, of course, an additional reason for making a detour. I was very grateful to my three new friends for showing me around a place that proved one of the most notable I was to visit on a trip that had many notable destinations.

Onar.

Onar.

We walked back to the car, spent a little more time in Ismael’s company (he told me he had a website, which, at home, I examined with great interest), then I was driven back to Arapgir through countryside that looked even more attractive than earlier in the day because the sun was lower in the sky.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

To Keban and Arapgir.

The Mayd Hotel in Elazig is at number 11 Horasan Sokak, but Horasan Sokak is better known locally as Kofteciler Sokak because of the large number of lokantas, many of which serve meatballs. Where I ate twice the day before is just off Horasan Sokak and other lokantas exist along that street as well as along half a dozen others nearby.

Keen to make an early start just in case getting from Keban to Arapgir proved a problem, I was eating breakfast by 7.00am and impressed with what the two-star hotel provided (I was correct. With a woman in the kitchen the food was better than normal). Beside all the usual items such as olives, cheese, sliced meat, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, butter, jam, honey, chocolate spread flavoured with hazelnuts and boiled eggs, there were lentil soup, yoghurt, simit, borek stuffed with egg and vegetables, cooked tomatoes and peppers, fried potatoes and as much tea and water as my body required. I went for broke and tried just about everything, enjoying in particular the borek, yoghurt, honey and sour cherry jam. If I were to have problems later in the day with transport, I knew I could get to the evening before needing to eat again.

I settled the bill and left for the minibus garaj I had arrived at the day before. By utilising a short cut through the side streets I got to my destination in under fifteen minutes. The next minibus for Keban was leaving at 8.30am; I had almost half an hour to wait. I chatted with a man bound for Keban and the nearby dam.

Two boys, one with a grubby improvised bandage on his hand, approached us and asked for money. Aged about eight and ten, the boys were Syrians displaced by the civil war that had raged for three years and was now further complicated by the emergence of the Islamic State. We did not learn much about their circumstances – were they alone? Had their parents died or were they alive but not with them in Elazig? – but I gave them some money. They thanked me and slowly walked away counting the coins in their hands.

I was reminded that Turkey is now caring for 1.8 million people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. 1.8 million people! This is a humanitarian exercise for which Turkey deserves international recognition and immense praise. Yet we in the UK refuse to take only a few thousand people who have fled poverty or conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa or sub-Saharan Africa who have crossed the Mediterranean to be cared for in Greece or Italy. The UK used to have an enviable reputation for providing people in need with a place of sanctuary. We are now, despite our relative wealth, increasingly inward-looking, xenophobic and intolerant of those seeking the same life chances as us. And you know what makes this so ridiculous? If every UK citizen looks back far enough into his or her family history, he or she will discover something we all have in common. We are all, yes all, foreign in origin. Even the people who have inhabited the islands of Britain the longest, people of Celtic descent in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, are foreign in origin. The point I am making is this. If we are all foreign in origin, how can we justify denying to other people the opportunity to migrate to the UK, especially if the other people are migrating for precisely the same reasons we migrated? The suggestion that we are full already is simply nonsense. Even our densely populated urban areas in south-east England have lots of plots of land that can be developed to good effect, and I am not including in this plots of land that are parks or green open spaces, which must remain so for the well-being of people locally.

Before the civil war, Syria was the Middle East’s most intriguing nation state because of the ethnic, cultural and linguistic mixture of its people, the considerable beauty of some of its landscapes and many of its urban centres, and because of the remarkable monuments that had survived from, in some cases, thousands of years ago. But now at least 150,000 people have been killed, millions of Syrians are refugees, vast swathes of urban Syria are in ruins that resemble Gaza after it is bombed by the Israelis, and the Islamic State is doing all it can to destroy monuments that it deems unIslamic (recent reports suggest that the wonderful desert city of Palmyra is the latest world heritage site to attract the Islamic State’s hatred of things not Muslim).

It is already obvious that, even if peace were to return to Iraq tomorrow, the great majority of non-Muslim Iraqis will never return because they believe that they can never again be certain of their safety and security in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation state. Unless the civil war ends soon in Syria, and the Islamic State is crushed forever, the great majority of non-Muslim Syrians will never return to Syria for precisely the same reason. And who, in the end, will be the biggest losers because of disrupting the delicate ethnic, cultural and linguistic balance that once existed in both nation states? The people who remain in Iraq and Syria, the vast majority of whom will be Muslims.

Already, too many Middle Eastern and north African nation states have suffered the loss of minority groups, thereby becoming far more monocultural than they have ever been. The question for the future therefore becomes this: Can those few overtly multi-ethnic nation states in the region such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel remain as diverse as they currently are? The indicators are not encouraging. Coptic Christians in Egypt live in constant fear that they will be subjected to massacres in their communities or bomb attacks in their churches; non-Christian minorities in Jordan know it is only a matter of time before Islamist inclinations gain greater popularity among the Sunni Muslim majority; the Lebanese fear that the war in Syria will once again ignite conflict among its ethnic and/or confessional communities, but that, on this occasion, non-Muslims will be less able to defend themselves; Turkey is far less multiethnic than it was even a generation ago; and Israel is increasingly blighted by Jewish religious fundamentalism of the most alarming kind, fundamentalism that often morphs into racism directed against the Arabs generally and the Palestinians more particularly. Such Jewish racism is sufficiently violent in its rhetoric and physical expression to have already driven some Palestinians from their homes. Moreover, such racism causes growing numbers of Jewish people in the diaspora, and many non-Jewish people who support the existence of the state of Israel, to despair that peace with the Palestinians will ever be achieved.

As my trip to Turkey was confirming, Turkey could emerge as an exception to the rule in this troubled part of the globe. Yes, Turkey has seen a most alarming decline in the extent to which it is an ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nation state since, say, the 1950s, but all sorts of substantive and symbolic indicators point toward a growing number of Turkish nationals, whether ethnic Turks or Kurds, anxious to celebrate the diversity of the country’s population, past and present. The Greek and the Jewish populations may now be only a few thousand strong each, but the Armenian population seems to have stabilised at around 70,000, although it is clear that some people who describe themselves as, say, Turks, Kurds or Laz are in actual fact Islamicised Armenians. Because a majority of them are Muslims, no one need worry too much about the long-term prospects for the Laz, the Arabs or the Georgians in Turkey, and it cannot be denied that, since the war with the PKK concluded a few years ago, prospects for Turkey’s Syriac Orthodox Christians have improved significantly. Instability in Syria and Iraq may actually increase the size of Turkey’s very small Yazidi and Chaldean communities – leaders in both communities in Syria and Iraq have said their people never want to live in Syria or Iraq again – but, for Yazidis and Chaldeans to remain in Turkey, they will need convincing guarantees from the Turkish government that sympathy for their dire plight is not merely a temporary phenomenon.

I am more confident about the prospects for multiethnicity in Turkey than for multiethnicity in any of the other nation states just identified, but I also realise how quickly things can change in the Middle East. Should conflict once again break out between the PKK and the Turkish government, all the good work of the last few years will be undone in months. It could also be undone in a few months if the AKP tries to impose a legislative programme more Islamist than it has proposed to date, or if Turkish nationalists of the more extreme kind allege that Turkey’s minorities pose threats to the integrity of the republic and/or idealised notions of what it means to be a Turk. There is a lot at stake in the forthcoming general election, believe me.

Although my love affair with Turkey began in 1978, there are still things about the country that bring tears to my eyes, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. Tears come to my eyes for good reasons because of the astounding hospitality and friendliness of most of the people; for the way that things rarely fail to fall into place if you need transport, accommodation or food and drink; for how the more you look and listen, the more you find places that very few people know about even though such places should be internationally renowned; and for how Turkey has provided sanctuary for so many refugees from recent and on-going Middle Eastern conflicts. Tears come to my eyes for bad reasons because of the barriers that still remain for the great majority of people with disabilities, special needs and learning difficulties; the discrimination that confronts all the country’s minority ethnic groups and its gay, lesbian and bisexual communities; the poverty that exists in many rural communities, especially in eastern Turkey; the gender inequality that penalises millions of girls and women in countless substantive and symbolic ways; and the boundless energy, enterprise and intelligence that lie untapped among a majority of the country’s female population because, other than in a few sectors of society in which secular principles have not given way to Islamic ones, girls and women cannot compete as equals with boys and men. Today turned out to be one of the days when I often found myself fighting back the tears, and sometimes for reasons just listed.

Because the 50 kilometre journey to Keban in a comfortable minibus cost 5TL, or about £1-30, I tried to work out how much a bus journey of a similar distance would have cost in the UK. £4-50 to £5 seemed about right. The fare to Keban was very small despite the fact that petrol in Turkey is almost the same price as in the UK, thereby making it very expensive in comparison to the average income, which is about a fifth or a sixth that of the average income in the UK.

The minibus went past the football ground, the incomplete park with the water features, the large dental hospital, lots of very new apartment blocks of crisp and clean design, the Ramada Hotel and a wall painting of Ataturk dressed in a soldier’s uniform as he puffed in a cigarette. Some progress has been made in recent years to convince Turkey’s citizens that smoking is a danger to their health, so much so that many people no longer smoke and far fewer smokers offer cigarettes to people they know, which are both in marked contrast with past decades. However, smoking remains more popular in Turkey than in the UK and in recent years seems to have been taken up by more women. It is still quite rare to see pious women in headscarves smoking, but those that do are usually earning a living in a full- or part-time job while still constrained by all the responsibilities of motherhood and home-maker. It was the start of day five of the trip and I had smoked only two cigarettes since arriving in Diyarbakir. I never smoke at home and have not done so for at least a decade, when I confined consumption of the evil weed to only the occasional cigar. But the flesh is weak.

Elazig has spread so far to the west that it was only when we arrived at the turning for Sahinkaya that we escaped the clutches of the city. I had never travelled the road to Keban before. The gently undulating terrain is dominated by fields, pasture, orchards and grapevines, and hills and mountains are always in view in the distance. Some of the orchards produce apricots and many of the apricots find their way to Malatya, the city in the centre of one of the world’s best regions for their production. As I was to soon find out, some of the grapes are turned into wine and quite a lot of the wine is consumed locally by Alevi and Bektashi Muslims. In fact, I was temporarily leaving the Sunni side of the street for an area dominated by Alevis. It was almost as if I was leaving one nation state for another.

For most of the way to Keban lots of wild flowers grew in the long grass. There were many places where beehives had been arranged in lines not far from sources of nectar and pollen. We passed a large modern mosque built where only four or five houses were in walking distance. I was reminded that Alevis and Bektashis do not, as a general rule, engage in ritual practices in mosques. I knew for certain that the mosque will have been recently built in the hope that Alevis and Bektashis will be persuaded to adopt mainstream Sunni Islam. Is there much chance that this will happen? No, and above all due to the discrimination that Alevis and Bektashis have suffered for centuries at the hands of Sunni Muslims.

Almost every village along the road to Keban has a new mosque and the mosque is always far larger than the size of each village justifies. The AKP has engaged in a massive mosque-building programme in recent years, but in all the parts of Turkey with substantial Alevi and Bektashi populations I suspect its efforts to reinforce the influence of Sunni Islam have been largely unsuccessful. How sad that such a lot of money and effort have been put to such pointless use.

We drove beside Poyraz, a widely dispersed village. Just beyond the settlement, a road veers off to the north and leads to the vast and elongated Keban Reservoir where a ferry carries vehicles and passengers to the north shore from where another road leads after a few kilometres to the town of Cemisgezek, which I hoped to visit in a few day’s time.

The road gradually ascended for quite a long way and every so often we passed very large, modern houses that had been carefully designed and brightly painted. The houses belonged to guestworkers who, on retiring from their jobs in countries such as Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, were rich enough to build exactly what they wanted in the area where they had been born.

We reached the highest point on the road and ahead of us mountains dominated the view. We began to gradually descend and drew to a halt at a road junction where a man wanted a lift to Keban. A sign beside the road indicated that the nearest village was 3 kilometres away and the furthest 11 kilometres. In Turkey, such signs tempt me to take a detour even if they seem to lead to nowhere of great importance. However, I knew that the chances of something interesting lying along the road are very high, so the risk of being disappointed is very small.

The baby in front of me dropped his dummy and I reached forward to pick it up. I handed the dummy to the young mother, but she did not acknowledge my existence in the slightest way. I was not surprised because she wore a headscarf and was dressed in a manner that confirmed she was a conventionally pious Sunni Muslim who should not have any contact with an unknown male.

The road entered a meandering valley, but remained above the river. A few minutes later we arrived at the edge of Keban and I got off the minibus at the point where a road to the left led downhill into the centre of the old town.

Keban.

Keban.

People confirmed that minibuses did not travel between Keban and Arapgir, but I was not unduly worried because it was just after 9.30am. Since Keban is small and situated in such pretty surroundings with hills pressing against it on all sides, I decided to walk into the town centre because the minibus driver had told me earlier that there is a pretty mosque and an old church.

Keban stands on a slope above a deep, narrow tributary of the Euphrates. It was a town of considerable importance until the mid-19th century because of nearby lead and silver mines, the abandonment of which caused the settlement’s population to decline. When the mines were open, smelting took place locally. The miners were mostly Greeks, but Sinclair suggests that “there was always a Turkish supervisor”.

In the 1830s Germans and Hungarians worked one of the lead mines, and in 1840 Austrian engineers arrived and improved production for a short period of time. The main problem that confronted the miners and engineers was the lack of wood for smelting, so in the 1840s attempts were made to force the people living in nearby villages to supply wood, but such coercive efforts resulted in people leaving the villages and the males becoming brigands or bandits. Production dwindled and the mines and furnaces were abandoned for good about 1871.

The very pretty mosque is Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii. It is part of a kulliye, or complex, and therefore proved an unexpected delight. Sinclair notes that the mosque and its related buildings date from 1795 or 1796:

The mosque lies at the s. side of a courtyard dug out of the hillside. The dome is taken on four slim, widely spaced pillars. Between the pillars and the walls are sprung high pointed vaults. The dome and space beneath it are broad, airy and light in relation to the thinner, darker vaults. Women’s gallery to the n. The mihrab is plain, but the stone mimber is excellently decorated… The son cemaat yeri is a portico on pillars whose pitched roof continues the slope of that covering the prayer hall. It has a single dome (in the middle). The minaret to the w. is clear of the prayer hall’s wall and was built two years later than the prayer hall. It has an octagonal base: the slender shaft is twelve-sided.

Library. This is to the w. of the courtyard. It is on two storeys and domed. The dome sits on an octagonal drum which is pierced with windows. Next to the library is the medrese. Turbe for Ziya Pasa’s daughter. It is square with two windows in each wall (except that one window is replaced by the door) and domed. By the turbe is a cesme whose shallow iwan has a keel-shaped vault… Of the caravansaray only the portal and parts of the walls stand. By the entrance there are animal reliefs and other decoration.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

I walked the short distance to the church, which Sinclair says is Armenian. It has a basilican layout and the faintest remains of frescoes on the walls. The roof is intact; the windows, whether still in existence or blocked with stone, are easily identified externally; and internally you are confronted with a pleasing combination of columns and rounded arches. The structure is in such good condition that the Belediye, or town council, uses it to shelter some of its motor vehicles, dustcarts included.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The doorway leading into the church faces the local police station where a few officers engaged me in conversation as they stood on the steps leading inside. One officer held a large automatic rifle which hung from a strap over one shoulder and the others had handguns in holsters around their waists. I was offered a large glass of tea, for which I was very grateful. After an officer received a message on his phone, he and two of his colleagues made their way to a police car and prepared to leave to sort out a problem. Amazingly, I was asked to join them, which must have meant it was a minor problem, but I had to leave for Arapgir just in case traffic on the road proved very light. I walked to the office of a bus company running minibuses to Elazig and elsewhere because, earlier, I had dropped off my large bag to save carrying it around. I thanked the young man for looking after it and walked up the hill to the main road from Keban to Arapgir, noting along the way that many old houses have survived in the town. In fact, Keban has much to commend it, although it appears to lack a hotel in which to stay.

I stood in the shade of some trees waiting for a lift, but the traffic was light and most drivers indicated that they were going only a short distance, most of them to the dam holding back the vast Keban Reservoir. The dam made quite an impressive sight. It is 1,125 metres long and 210 metres high at its greatest point. Below the dam is a fish farm and below the fish farm a bridge carries the road to Arapgir across the river.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

About half an hour after taking shelter under the trees, a man stopped his car and drove me into the quite wide valley below the dam. I was dropped at the south end of the bridge where a dirt road veered to the left to follow the river. The man was driving along the dirt road to inspect that everything was going well at a second fish farm. I walked across the bridge and, at the north end, bunting for one of the political parties flapped in the gentle breeze. Beside the river was a lokanta specialising in grilled fish from the nearby fish farm, but it did not look as if much dining would be going on the day I was passing through.

The fish farm, near Keban.

The fish farm, near Keban.

I had to wait about only fifteen minutes for the next lift and, on this occasion, was taken by a wonderfully friendly Alevi man and his son aged five all the way to the junction for the road to Malatya. The man farmed in a nearby village and one of his main crops was grapes. By now the road had ascended quite some height above the river valley and we were some distance onto the undulating plain. Snow-smudged mountains were shadowy presences in the distance. The mountains were the ones I hoped to get through the following day on my way to Divrigi.

I said goodbye to my hosts at the junction for Malatya and the man and his son waved as their motor vehicle turned around. The man had driven me some distance out of his way to ensure I would have a better chance of a lift to Arapgir. Amazing. Such kindness.

Ten minutes later I was in a large lorry delivering goods to the centre of Arapgir, so all my worries about travelling from Keban had proved unfounded. On this last section of the journey we passed some very large flocks of sheep and the first tented camps set up by nomadic families to care for such flocks during the summer months. Some of the tents were large bell tents. A few donkeys were tethered nearby. To the east another ridge of mountains was smudged with snow.

We turned off the road leading to Divrigi and began the descent to the centre of Arapgir, passing as we did so the pretty suburb and one-time separate village of Asagiulupinar. I had been to Arapgir once before, but only on a day trip from Malatya. I now intended to stay overnight to see what I had missed on the last occasion, Eskisehir, or old Arapgir, a few kilometres to the north of the modern town.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

I thanked the driver of the lorry very much for his kindness, then walked the short distance to the relatively new Arapgir Nazar Hotel, one of two hotels that have opened in Arapgir since my last visit a few years ago. I entered the very clean and attractively decorated lobby and was offered a room with en suite facilities and breakfast for 50TL for the night. The person at reception was a young female aged about twenty-two who did not wear a headscarf. The owner and his daughter appeared from along a corridor and I was invited into the man’s office where I was offered coffee. The three of us immediately got on well, above all because my companions were liberal Alevis with no time for the constraints of Sunni orthodoxy, and because I hoped, like them, that the forthcoming general election would confirm that the AKP can no longer dominate Turkish politics in the same way it has for over a decade. A picture of Ataturk hung on the wall above the large desk behind which the man sat, confirmation that the family would vote for one of the secular parties when the election took place.

I was asked why I had decided to stay overnight in Arapgir and whether I would travel the following day to Kemaliye, the small town on the Euphrates River about 30 kilometres to the north. I explained that Divrigi and not Kemaliye was my next destination, even though I knew that Kemaliye is said to have much to commend it, and I explained about Eskisehir, which I had not visited when last in Arapgir. My hosts could not understand the appeal of Eskisehir, but, as I found out later, this was due to the fact that they did not know much about it. But what they did know about was a village called Onar about 15 kilometres from Arapgir where there are no less than eighteen rock tombs dating from the Roman era and a 13th century cemevi, or meeting house, for Alevis and/or Bektashis to engage in ritual practices. They asked if I wanted to visit Onar. When I said I did, they replied, “Then we will leave in half an hour. Get ready and we will go in our car.” I could not believe my luck.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

To Harput and Elazig.

I got off the minibus when I recognised somewhere near the city centre, returned briefly to the hotel to freshen up, then went for something to eat. Many of the lokantas in the area around the hotel have flashing electric signs informing passersby what they specialise in, and a lot of the advertised food is very tempting. However, I did not want to eat too much just in case it slowed me down that afternoon, so opted for a tavuk doner sandwich stuffed with salad and mayonnaise at a small lokanta with a dining area upstairs with only enough room for five or six tables. I also ordered water and ayran. The young married couple who own the business were from near Antakya, a favourite city of mine in southern Turkey, but a city not visited for many years, so we had a lot to talk about. “Yes, I know Harbiye. Yes, it’s a wonderful place for lunch or dinner. Yes, the old city of Antakya is very beautiful. Yes, the churches, the museum, the mosaics, the local edible specialities…” Chats like this only increase my wanderlust.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I walked to the parking lot from where minibuses depart for Harput and it was not long before the driver took a full load of passengers through the northern suburbs as we ascended to our destination. Along the way we passed an enormous army camp and a very large military hospital.

It had been a few years since my last visit to Harput and I knew that, since then, many of the monuments, but not the Christian ones, had been restored; old houses had disappeared and some new ones been built; new businesses such as cafés, lokantas and shops had opened; parks and playgrounds had been created; and general tidying up had been undertaken, all of which meant that Harput has become a very popular destination for recreational purposes. There is nothing wrong with this, I suppose, although it is now much harder than in the past to connect with the tragic events that unfolded here in 1915 (the tragic events include the murder of thousands of Ottoman soldiers of Armenian origin stationed in the town and the expulsion on foot of about 3,000 Armenian civilians, mainly women, children and elderly men. Most of the 3,000 civilians never made it to their destination, the Syrian desert, due to hunger, thirst, murder by Turks and Kurds, local tribespeople kidnapping and enslaving women and children, and women and children dying or being killed after suffering repeated rape). Harput, a place that witnessed terrible crimes against humanity, is being sanitised and all physical reminders of the victims allowed to slowly disappear.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

The entrance to Harput used to be dignified by a terrace of very old timber-framed houses in a terminal state of decay, so I was not altogether surprised to see that they had disappeared. This said, the houses have been replaced by a butik hotel built with modern materials to superficially resemble what it replaces, but, as is so often the case with such reconstructions, the replacement engenders a sense of sadness mixed with anger because the original has not been not restored! Other recent developments disappointed and/or angered me in a similar manner, so much so that, for the first half hour or so, I thought I had made a mistake coming. But then Harput began to cast a spell. The spell began with the grandeur of the surrounding landscapes and the views that are a delight almost everywhere you walk. The spell continued with the fresh air, the wild flowers and the relative quiet (it was Monday and the start of the working week so not many people were paying a visit), all of which helped me to acquire an altogether deeper appreciation of the surviving monuments. In the end it was with some reluctance that I returned to the large modern city below, despite Harput being the scene of dreadful crimes against humanity only a hundred years ago.

Harput.

Harput.

In 1915 Harput was the area’s main centre of population. Elazig on the plain below had not been in existence for long and would only become the dominant population centre after large parts of Harput were destroyed in the first world war and then largely abandoned. What remains of Harput merely hints at its past grandeur and importance, but its magnificent hilltop castle, one of Turkey’s largest, its Ulu Camii with a crooked but patterned minaret, its three other mosques, its two hamams, and its Mansur Baba and Arap Baba turbes, both of which still attract pilgrims, are important and, in some instances, enchanting survivals from the past, although I side with those who think some of the restoration work has been over-zealous. This said, I would rather over-zealous restoration has assured the long-term future of the monuments than that the monuments should be lost to humankind. This is especially the case with the castle, the Ulu Camii, one of the hamams and the turbes.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

However, although a lot of labour and financial expense have been lavished on the restoration of Muslim, Selcuk and Ottoman monuments, and on the development of facilities for visitors to enjoy recreational and shopping opportunities, Harput’s Christian monuments are in a shameful state. The large Syriac Orthodox church, known locally as the Kizil, or Red, Kilise, although in good condition externally, cannot presently be entered, which makes me think that the interior must be in very poor condition, and the two ruins attributed to the Armenians, one a church and the other a chapel, are in a dire state of preservation, just as they have been for as long as I have known of their existence first-hand.

Just for the record, here is Sinclair’s description of the Syriac Orthodox church:

This is quite possibly a reconstruction of 1179, from which an over-modest repair inscription is known; if not, the church is 10th century and the inscription refers only to a repair.

The forbidding box-like form of the church is pressed against the s. side of a corner low down in the rapidly descending cliff of the citadel rock: the corner is cut into the ne. end of the rock spur projecting from the citadel rock’s e. corner. A platform still exists to the n. of the church, protected from earth slippage by a retaining wall…: at its s. end the wall distances itself gradually from the rock in order to allow for a small chamber accessible from the nave. The wall in fact conceals part of the nave…

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The interior is ill-lit but spacious: the light, coming lengthways down the church from windows at the e. end only, causes shadows on the deeply pitted floor (much dug by treasure hunters, starting in 1978 or 1979)… The nave is entered by a doorway much narrowed (in the late 19th or early 20th century) by additions from the side and from above: a ramp against the wall, protected by an L-shaped wall and a roof, leads to the doorway.

The wide nave has four wall piers, upholding arcades, on each side. The shallow vaults, although sprung from the top of the walls resting on the arches, rely just as much on the ribs sprung from the arches’ spandrels: the strictly vertical height of these ribs… increases greatly towards the wall as the slant of the rib’s soffit swiftly steepens.

E. end. Since 1979 much of this has become unwalkable owing to deep pits. An internal wall cut through by the chancel arch ends the nave, but two chambers either side of the short chancel can also be reached from the nave through doors in this wall. Off these again are the genuine pastophoria (side rooms for liturgical purposes). The sanctuary is a rectangle with rounded corners: low altar. The semi-dome is of brick. The southern of the two chambers reached from the chancel extends outside the line of the nave wall, and the s. pastophorion is shifted further s. in sympathy… Off the first chamber leads another: this is extremely dark and its floor much lower, mostly because of the digging…

 Not far from the Syriac Orthodox church is what is left of an Armenian church, which Sinclair thinks was the Church of the Apostles:

Only the e. wall and parts of the n. and s. walls adjacent to it remain. They stand at the end of a high artificial platform. The church no doubt belongs to the 19th century. It has three apses, the central one wider than the others. From these apses vaults or possibly rows of domes would have led westwards supported on pillars or piers. To n. and s. of the three juxtaposed aisles was a single aisle, narrower than the central three. The ends of these two narrower aisles can be seen to the n. and s. of the three apses.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

 From both the churches just described there are views into the bottom of a valley where the scant remains of a chapel exist. Sinclair describes the chapel as having a:

Single nave, probably with dome in front of apses. Probably Armenian. Perhaps medieval.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and castle, Harput.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

 In “Armenia: the survival of a nation”, Christopher Walker writes that Harput was once “one of the intellectual centres for Ottoman Armenians” and that, in the late 19th century, American missionaries established “a distinguished and progressive educational institution, Euphrates College”. Ottoman census figures confirm that Harput had a large Armenian population, but, today, at best only two ruins confirm that it was once a town benefiting from such a population. Considerable time, energy and expense have been expended to preserve what remains of the Islamic, Selcuk and Ottoman heritage at Harput, and even the Syriac Orthodox church, which once served a far smaller Christian community than did the Armenian churches, is in better condition than anything that can be attributed with certainty to what was once a substantial Armenian population. Are these realities depressing? They are very depressing.

This said, I did enjoy my visit to the castle where, unlike my last visit, I could walk around at will because restoration has been completed. The views from the castle walls are remarkable and were enhanced because it was mid-May when the grass is green, the wild flowers many and varied, and the visibility far superior than during the hottest months of the year. Some parts of the fortifications have been restored to a degree that must fill archaeologists and architects with a mixture of anger and despair, but what did impress me immensely is that excavations are currently taking place in and around an Urartian cistern. The day of my visit no one was working on the site, so I entered one or two of the fenced-off enclosures through unlocked wooden gates to examine the remains more closely. This relatively recent discovery made me wonder what else will be found at this remarkable place. Moreover, will some future discoveries help us to reconnect with the Armenians who once lived here?

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

As far as I could tell, the only foreigner at Harput the same time as me was a German national of Turkish origin who was visiting the area where his father and mother had come from before migrating to Germany for work purposes in the 1960s. Quite a lot of high school and university students had come to engage in self-conscious courtship rituals with someone they fancied in the opposite sex, and small groups of young males and females walked around hoping someone in the opposite sex might take an interest in them. Most of the young women wore headscarves and, being Turkish and Sunni, were reluctant to engage in conversation with an unknown male such as myself. Conversation with such a male would be shameful for a female, although if a male engages in chat with an unknown female no shame attaches to him. Hypocrisy? How else can it be described? And, if pious Sunni women are meant to cover their hair and ears at all times and dress modestly from head to toe, why do exactly the same rules not apply to Sunni males? Hypocrisy? What else?

I caught a minibus to the centre of Elazig to walk around the pazar and the surrounding streets as people bought food to take home for their evening meal and the following morning’s breakfast. For most people the working day was over. I noticed that, although many women were dressed in ways that would reassure the conventionally pious, some had the courage to dress just as they wished, even though, in so doing, they no doubt upset or shocked many of the Sunni majority in the city. Some high school students had paired off to test just how far they could go with public expressions of affection in a heterosexual relationship without older people with strong religious convictions berating them. But some things are resistant to change in Turkey, despite trends such as globalisation and most people being economically much better off than ever before. On all the minibus rides so far undertaken, males and females rearranged themselves on the seats so no males sat with unknown females. Also, as nightfall approached, girls and women made their way home thereby rendering the city centre streets almost completely male preserves. A few women remained in open business premises or begged on the streets, but that was about it. By 9.00pm there was no one to chat with but men and boys.

Elazig.

Elazig.

In cities such as Elazig where Turks and Sunnis seem to dominate, segregation of the sexes is often more apparent than in villages, even though in cities women can move around relatively freely, especially if they are employed, and women in villages can never go too far from home unless they are themselves involved in work such as caring for animals or toiling in the fields.

I have always liked Elazig’s pazar. It does not occupy pretty premises – the covered section is quite rundown and the surrounding streets are largely devoid of interesting architectural features – but the outlets for food (fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, honey, jam, olives, cheese, nuts, lokum, baklava, pestil, kome, etc.) are excellent. Many shops beyond the covered sections sell clothes, shoes, hardware, kitchen utensils, fabric, knives and furniture; a large shed stocks flour, dried beans and bars of bittim sabunu; and lots of shops specialise in very expensive clothes for devout Sunni women who want to make an impression even though they must cover all the body except their face and hands. Moreover, some shops selling clothes for weddings are outrageously over the top, so much so that I thought I had strayed into a documentary about how Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK like to spend big on matrimonial clothes, especially for women. Supermarkets, shopping malls and out-of-town retail opportunities are taking their toll on pazars in many parts of Turkey, but Elazig’s is surviving better than most. It had been my intention to spend the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir, but I was wondering whether it might be better to stay in Elazig instead because in Elazig I could buy most of what I wanted for home more conveniently than in Diyarbakir. I would see how things worked out as the last two days approached. I also fantasised about getting home some large wooden cooking utensils, cooking pots made with metal and an unglazed red clay pot for the oven, to say nothing of seeds to grow vegetables the following year! The only downside to the pazar is where men keep live fish in large tanks. Some fish had died through lack of oxygen and others were close to death.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Just to the east of the covered section of the pazar is a large square dominated on the far side by a substantial modern mosque. A large hemisphere of steel and glass or Perspex covers an entrance to an underground extension of the pazar and, next to the hemisphere, more stalls exist where most people sell fruit, vegetables and herbs. I peered into the window of a shop selling everything required to ensure that a young male never forgot the day he was circumcised.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

For my evening meal I returned to where I had eaten lunch and ordered exactly the same food and drink again. It proved exactly what my body craved, so much so that I went for a walk to help digest the meal. At one point I passed one of those slightly suspect modern places, in this case partly in the open air, pretending to be an antik nargile café, even though it looked as if it had been set up only a few weeks’ earlier. It had suffered a fire earlier in the day, perhaps due to some faulty electrical wiring running along wooden columns supporting a flat wooden roof of cheap and hasty construction. Staff were trying to salvage things from the wreckage.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Elazig and Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

As far as I could tell, only one other person spent the night in the pansiyon, so there was no competition for the facilities in the morning. I packed as many items into my bags as I could, then went downstairs for breakfast. I ordered lentil soup, which came with bread, salad, water and tea. Only two other men sat in the lokanta. One had soup but the other ordered only tea, which he drank with his first cigarettes of the day. According to the law, smoking is no longer allowed where food is served, but in simple lokantas in south-east Turkey reliant largely on local custom to make a profit, such rules are enforced erratically. The TV news updated us about the latest speeches and gaffes made by leading political figures over the weekend, then someone changed the channel so we could watch a programme about south-east Turkey, or Turkish Kurdistan. While males sang songs happy and sad about love and lust, iconic images of Mount Ararat, Dogubayazit, Isak Pasa Saray, Lake Van, Hasankeyf, Mardin, Midyat, Diyarbakir and the mountains around Hakkari filled the screen (if an Armenian instead of a Kurd had watched the same programme, he or she would have recognised some iconic images of Western Armenia instead of Turkish Kurdistan).

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

I paid my bill for the food and the room, collected my things and walked about 100 metres to an office from where minibuses left for Elazig, my destination for the day. I had to wait only twenty minutes before we set off. There was just time to chat briefly with a young woman wearing a headscarf.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

I knew the road from Ergani to Elazig from a number of trips in the past, but, because I was now travelling along it in mid-May when everything looked so green and fertile and the visibility was crystal clear, it felt as if I was doing the run for the first time. As soon as we left Ergani the road led to hills and mountains. We passed an old stone bridge over a river, trees with bright green leaves along the valley floors, orchards, wild flowers and an army camp as the comfortable minibus sped along the fast road. For many kilometres the railway meandered in sympathy with the rivers and every so often disappeared into a short tunnel or crossed a stone bridge, some of the latter with elegantly wide arches.

Around Maden (the name means “mine” or “mineral” in Turkish), a small town with many old houses ascending a steep hillside above the river, scars and slag on the slopes confirm that mining has been popular until very recently. Mining began in Maden in the 16th century when Greeks were brought from Gumushane to exploit the area’s mineral wealth. Today little mining continues, if it continues at all, but the railway has a presence in the town with a station, a few sidings and a water crane for use by the occasional steam locomotive.

Shortly after leaving Maden the valley widens. The road emerges on the right-hand wall of a wide bowl at the far end of which is the slope holding back the waters of Hazar Golu. Because Hazar Golu is surrounded by hills and mountains, some of the latter smudged with snow the day I passed them, and because the lake is such a large and attractive resource, the towns and villages along the north-east and north side of the lake have emerged in recent decades as destinations for people to escape the summer heat on the nearby plains. A few hotels and pansiyons exist, but villas, some of which are now twenty or thirty years old although others are much more recent in construction and designed to a higher standard, are considerably more numerous. This said, development remains just short of being overwhelming, although for how much longer I wonder. This means that at present it is not the built environment that dominates your attention, but the lake, the surrounding hills and mountains, the fields, the orchards and the wild flowers. The province of Elazig is lucky to have such a destination within its borders.

From the most westerly extremity of the lake the road veers north and descends onto a wide undulating plain with ridges of hills and mountains to the south and the north. Fields and orchards dominate the run into Elazig, which, from the south, appears a relatively small city, but only because it stretches so far from east to west and has also grown significantly in recent years toward Harput in the north.

The minibus terminated at the garaj to the south-west of the city centre and a servis bus carried passengers for free to destinations around Elazig. I and two other passengers got off where Hurriyet, Istasyon and Gazi caddesis meet and I left to find a small hotel for the night. On Horasan Sokak just off Gazi Caddesi the two-star Mayd had a room with en suite facilities, a balcony and breakfast for 60TL. It was so early in the day that breakfast was still available to late-rising guests. I knew it would be a good breakfast when I saw that a woman was responsible for preparing it.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig is a city with a very large population of conventionally pious Sunnis, both Turkish and Kurdish. I had already noted that a very large number of women wear headscarves, but some like the all-enveloping, loose-fitting black garments and cover their faces so that only their eyes and the top of their nose are visible. Large, modern mosques are not far from the hotel and in my room a sign pointed toward the kible, or the direction for prayer. A prayer mat of very recent pedigree was on the floor of the wardrobe. For most of the next twenty-four hours I was very much on the Sunni side of the street with all that this implies in terms of segregation of the sexes and infrequent chats with women. On the plus side dozens of lokantas, but all unlicensed, exist in the side streets around the hotel; the pazar is only a seven minute walk away; the minibuses to Harput depart from a car park a few blocks to the east; and, by utilising the side streets south of Gazi Caddesi, I could walk to the minibus garaj for Keban and Arapgir, the latter my destination for the following day, in about fifteen minutes.

But Harput was for later in the day because my first destination was the village of Sahinkaya, about 6 kilometres west and a little north of the city centre. Sahinkaya, until quite recently known as Hulvenk, is not far from the Armenian Monastery of St. George (the name “venk” or “vank” is Armenian for “monastery”).

I left the hotel, walked to the minibus garaj where I had arrived earlier to confirm that minibuses departed for Keban the following morning (they did depart, and on an hourly basis, but I was told minibuses from Keban to Arapgir did not exist), then I strode off in a westerly direction along the main road leading eventually to Malatya. It seemed to take a long time to reach the city’s football stadium and a new but incomplete park with water features, but eventually I arrived at the point where the roads to Malatya and Keban part company. I stood near the beginning of the road to Keban and flagged down the first minibus that came along. I said I was going to Sahinkaya and the driver confirmed that he could take me to within 3 kilometres from the village. We drove past a very large modern dental hospital and many apartment blocks that looked as if they had been built only a year or two earlier, but already some shops, cafés, lokantas and other businesses occupied ground floor premises to meet the needs of the growing population.

When the minibus reached its destination all the passengers got off, but the driver urged me to get aboard again and he very kindly drove me about a kilometre further along the road to Sahinkaya. By now I was beyond the clutches of the concrete jungle that is most of modern Elazig and surrounded by fields, pasture, orchards and houses with large gardens. I began walking toward the centre of the village, but a man stopped his tractor to offer me a lift to a tea house, where we sat in the shade as refreshments were summoned. We chatted about the village, the monastery and the local population. To my amazement the man said he was Armenian. Kurds sitting at the next table said, “Yes. And we are all friends in this village. Kurds, Zaza, Armenians: it does not matter. First we are friends.”

Inevitably, my offer to pay for the refreshments was refused and, after shaking hands with everyone, the owner of the tea house included, I left for the monastery. Sahinkaya is not a particularly pretty village, but there are enough old houses and sights characteristic of the Turkish countryside to make it worth spending some time in. Just about everyone I met, male or female, said good morning and made sure I was going in the right direction, but I took one wrong turn before being put right by a man in protective clothes checking his beehives. When he learned that, in a few days’ time, I was visiting Tunceli, he said I must try the honey from Ovacik because it was very good.

As I approached a cesme dispensing chilled water that hit the spot perfectly on a warm mid-morning, I came across a brand new taxi parked in the shade of some trees. The driver had a welcoming smile on his face and gave me a cucumber to eat. He explained that he had dropped off three people who had walked the last 200 metres to the monastery. I was intrigued that I was not the only person visiting remote and largely forgotten Armenian ruins a hundred years after the genocide against the Armenians had begun.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I passed polled trees arranged in two rows, a stone ruin that had probably been part of the monastic complex and pasture brightened by many wild flowers. To the west were the last houses of Sahinkaya and to the east the apartment blocks of Elazig most distant from the city centre. The apartment blocks were less than a kilometre away. Sahinkaya will eventually lose its separate identity and become a suburb of Elazig made up of housing far less characterful than that which currently exists.

The three people at the monastery were an Armenian American film-maker from Boston, his cameraman, also from Boston, and a younger man whom I assumed was a Turkish national taken on as a fixer. The film-maker and his cameraman had been visiting Turkey off and on for two or three years with the intention of making a documentary about the 1915 genocide and its aftermath. This would be their last year in the field, as it were, after which all effort would be directed toward putting the documentary together. The Armenian American had good reason to visit Sahinkaya because at least one of his grandparents had lived locally. He told a remarkable story about close encounters with local people who had heard of or known his grandparent, about tracking down the remains of his relative’s house and about the possibility of buying the land where the house had stood, thereby reclaiming for an Armenian a little bit of Western Armenia with close associations with his family. There was even talk of being able to identify precisely where the relative’s grave had been.

We talked for a while about the events that began in 1915, about the film-maker’s family associations with the area, about the places he and I had visited because of our mutual interest in the genocide, and about the Turkish Republic’s shameful neglect of most surviving Armenian monuments other than a handful that large numbers of tourists, foreign and indigenous, visit and are therefore kept in good condition. The fact that a few Armenian monuments such as the astounding church on the island of Akhdamar in Lake Van are looked after properly lulls the gullible into thinking that all Armenian monuments in Turkey are cared for, but the ruined, vandalised and graffiti-smeared monastery church near Sahinkaya typifies the dire condition of most such treasures of the past.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

I left the three in peace because they planned to hang from the damaged dome of the monastery church a makeshift Armenian flag that they were attaching to a pole they would lower into the nave with a rope. I asked permission to witness what promised to be a very moving event and was encouraged to stay, on the understanding I did not get in the way of the cameraman and his desire the film the event devoid of human distraction. I loitered in the background and, as the flag was lowered from the dome to flap gently in the badly vandalised nave, felt much more than a mere lump in my throat. An Armenian flag was, albeit briefly, hanging in an Armenian monastery church in eastern Turkey not far from Harput where some of the most thoroughly documented massacres and deportations, the latter themselves resulting in immense loss of life, took place in 1915.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

It would not surprise me if what the film-maker did with the flag constitutes a criminal act in Turkey, but I regard the act as a small moral victory on behalf of a people who simply want the Turkish Republic to admit that what happened in 1915 and immediately thereafter constitutes genocide. Geoffrey Robertson’s “An Inconvenient Genocide: who now remembers the Armenians?” provides, in my eyes at least, conclusive proof that it was a genocide, and even the Turkish Republic now concedes that 600,000 Armenians lost their lives during world war one. However, the Turkish Republic insists that genocide did not take place because not all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were murdered and because “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”.

Genocide involves “the extinction of a race or any part of a race”. In other words, total extinction of a people is NOT required for genocide to have occurred. The Turkish Republic significantly underestimates how many Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 by putting the figure at 1.1 million. However, even if “only” 600,000 Armenians were murdered in 1915 and thereafter, this constitutes over 50% of all Armenians said by the Turkish Republic to have been alive in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, which amounts to a very substantial “part” of the Armenian “race” in the eyes of anyone, surely. It was established a few years ago that genocide took place in Srebrinica in 1995 when just over 8,000 Bosniaks were murdered by Serbs, Ukrainians and Russians. If genocide can take place when “only” 8,000 are murdered, how can it not be the case that genocide takes place when at least 600,000 are murdered?

What of the argument that “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”? Robertson is unequivocal in his conclusion about the matter. Although it is difficult to pinpoint documentary evidence that extermination of the Armenians was planned:

Criminal law works authentically by inference from all the evidence: quite apart from the confessions by Turkish leaders (who, after world war one, said that the extermination of the Armenians was intended) and the verdicts of the Constantinople trails (of 1919, which led to convictions for “crimes against humanity and civilisation”), the deportations were certainly pre-planned, as were the laws providing for asset and home seizure by the state. Sending Armenians (and only Armenians) on long marches in the knowledge that most would be killed en route, by brigands and local vengeful Muslims, or by disease and starvation, necessarily entails pre-meditation, and government responsibility for the foreseeable consequences.

But what of the monastery church itself near Sahinkaya? What condition is it in? As I have indicated above, the ruin has been vandalised and suffers from the hands of graffiti “artists”. Because lots of mortar is crumbling away, further damage will be done to the remaining stonework, especially with the freezing and thawing of water that takes place during winter and spring. Blackened internal walls confirm that some disrespectful idiots have tried to burn the ruin down, and some of the soot suggests the fires are quite recent. Most of the floor has been dug over by treasure hunters convinced that Armenians buried gold, silver or other valuables in 1915 just before being murdered or, if women, children or elderly men, just before being sent elsewhere, the latter ostensibly to be relocated to a settlement less militarily sensitive in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. In other words, the monastery church is a most forlorn sight and confirms that such buildings are subject to intolerable official neglect. This said, most of the roof remains intact despite a hole in the dome and I have seen Armenian churches, whether once part of a monastic complex or not, in even worse condition than this. In fact, it would not take much money or labour to ensure that the ruin survive, more or less as it currently is, for many generations to come. But will such an investment in money and labour be made? Not, I fear, if the AKP secures a parliamentary majority in June 2015. Such an investment might be made if, by some miracle, a coalition is formed without either the AKP or the uncompromisingly Turkish nationalist MHP.

Here, for the record, is how Sinclair described the monastery in 1982:

A Syrian monastery was founded here in the early 6th century, but the present buildings are Armenian and the earliest part of the present church belongs to the 15th century, though this work was probably an extensive restoration of a church built in 1300/01. The rest, including the westerly addition to the church, is much later. The church now stands at the s. side of the enclosure, with two single buildings not far to the n.

Church. This is now a rectangle with a dome, now fallen, in front of the apse. The church was extended to the w. in an addition of 1882, and the nave now consists of two rows of four pillars upholding barrel-vaults above the narrow side aisles and a variety of vaults, beside the dome, above the central aisle. Low arches are sprung from the pillars to the n. and s. walls. To the e. the line of the arcades is continued by the walls separating the apse from its side chambers. The church’s earlier part (to the e.) is higher, and the drop in the height of the vaults is reflected outside in the height of the roof… E. end. Deep sanctuary, ending in semi-circle. S. side chamber reflects its shape in its n. wall; n. chamber has been enlarged… E. half of nave. Note polychrome masonry of pendatives, different patterns formed by the blocks in the pendatives. Simple painting (cavalier saint and dragon) on n. wall, second bay…

Monastic buildings, which probably date from 1882. E. wall of enclosure adjoins corner of church’s ne. chamber. The w. wall no doubt joined the church’s nw. corner, but is broken off at a good distance from it. Large room against n. wall… All walls in this enclosure are of mudbrick; the arches of the main room and the jambs of its n. door are stone.    

Sadly, a lot of the fine detail that Sinclair describes in relation to the church is now lost and, perhaps even more alarmingly, none of the structures mentioned after “Monastic buildings” remain. Compare my photos of the monastery near Sahinkaya with Sinclair’s photo in volume III of his monumental study and be shocked by what has disappeared in such a relatively short time. Anyone who values the products of human endeavour as the very things that have helped to shape us today, and that provide us with a glimpse of humankind’s amazing capacity for invention and creativity, cannot visit the monastery near Sahinkaya without feeling a profound sense of loss. Moreover, I feel compelled to ask the following. Is not such neglect and its consequences almost as unforgivable as the destruction by the Taliban in 2001 of the great Buddhist statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and is it not almost as unforgivable as the destruction currently being undertaken by the Islamic State at world heritage sites in Syria and Iraq? Furthermore, is there something in the nature of Islam that makes such destruction of non-Muslims’ cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, more likely than when other belief systems dominate a region of the globe, either temporarily or permanently? Of course, it is possible that this is a problem with Sunnis alone in so far as such Muslims have, in recent years, also engaged in the destruction of many Shia and Sufi cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, in countries as far apart as Mali and Iraq. Moreover, Ahmaddiya Muslim mosques have been attacked by Sunnis in almost every nation state where they have a statistically significant presence.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I could tell that more work had to be done before just the right shots were taken for the documentary, so we exchanged contact details and I began the walk back to Sahinkaya, chatting briefly with the taxi driver as I passed him. I also filled my bottle at the cesme wondering whether this was a source of water for the monks who once inhabited the monastery. The stonework gracing the cesme looked old enough to have been around at least as early as the late 19th century, despite the fact that a tablet of stone set into structure has a date of 1938. This said, the inscribed tablet of stone could easily have been a later addition.

I arrived at a house where a family were sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. We chatted briefly before one of the women said that, if I was quick, a minibus would leave for Elazig in five minutes from outside the modern mosque. I would have liked to look around the village a little longer (for many years now my favourite settlements in Turkey have been villages rather than towns or cities) but, if I missed the minibus, it would mean a much longer journey time to the city centre and less time at Harput, so I dashed off and caught the minibus with two minutes to spare. There were only seven other passengers and half were female. Only one woman wore a headscarf so the conversation flowed easily with females as well as males.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

To Eski Ergani and Ergani.

I walked north along the road to Elazig for about 400 metres, then followed a street going in a north-easterly direction, which was the way I had to go to find the road leading north to the summit of Makam Dagi, the mountain on which the ruins of Eski Ergani are located. I was soon beyond the commercially active parts of Ergani and in quiet residential streets instead, where, of course, women were far more evident than among the shops, offices, lokantas, tea houses and public buildings of the town’s elongated central business district. With the scenery steadily improving as the urban detritus lay behind me, a car stopped and the driver offered me a lift of about 4 kilometres. We climbed steadily and to the west saw the chimneys of perhaps the town’s largest employer, a vast cement factory beside the road to Elazig.

The man stopped the car under some trees beside the road. He was due to meet some friends to eat lunch in a house up an embankment and across an undulating field with sublime views of the mountain summit I was aiming for. I walked with him to the house to enjoy the views and meet his friends. Although invited to join the meal, I knew that if I did I would never do justice to Eski Ergani.

Makam Dagi, Ergani.

Makam Dagi.

I returned to where the man had parked his car. A family had stopped to drink tea before completing the descent to Ergani. They kindly gave me something to drink and we talked about the forthcoming election. A conventionally pious Sunni family, the women in particular admired Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but they took my expressions of concern about the president’s increasingly authoritarian, intolerant and power-hungry inclinations in good humour (there are also worries about corrupt practices, if not by the president himself, then by close family members instead). This said, it was telling that the women stayed some distance from where I stood and I knew that any physical contact between them and me would be impossible or cause considerable embarrassment. I was briefly on the Sunni side of the street, as the dress sense of the women betrayed only too obviously.

I walked up the road delighting in the views around me, then a van carrying a large family stopped and the driver kindly drove me all the way to the end of the road, which is beside a mosque with substantial buttresses of rock rising yet higher on either side. A lot of people had driven up to sightsee, walk, eat picnics, relax with relations or friends or engage in chaste but self-conscious courtship rituals. To protect the pasture, the wild flowers and the fragile rock, an extensive network of steps, paths and wooden ramps made it easy for visitors to circulate. Many people wanted to talk with me or show me around, including the young people in the van that had carried me to the summit, and at one point I was befriended by two female second year university students, one of whom wore a headscarf and the other who did not. The latter dressed in such a way that she would have blended in with a typical group of young female British university students devoid of obvious religious affiliation. In the photo I took of them and a young male friend, she held up her left hand to give the V-sign that has emerged as the sign confirming support for the HDP. Her friend with the headscarf was almost certainly a Sunni – she took great care to conceal her hair and ears – but she joined in the banter and had no objection to being photographed. They both had their photos taken standing next to me and I was told that the results would very soon appear on Facebook. In fact, by the end of the trip I was assured that many photos of me doing different things, including dancing with HDP supporters in Diyarbakir, would appear on Facebook. Thankfully I kept my clothes on, unlike many holidaymakers who find it necessary to strip off when they get to notable destinations.

Makam Dagi.

Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

The views from the summit of Makam Dagi are superb. Far below is Ergani, but from a distance it looks little better than a concrete jungle dominated by low-rise buildings. The town stands on the edge of a gently undulating plain, but hills and mountains surround it in the middle distance. To the east, a short way below the summit, are the ruins of a church that was part of an Armenian monastery and, below the ruins and just to the north, a small village stands on a gently inclined shelf (I did wonder if the village possessed some of the houses, albeit substantially rebuilt, that once made up Eski Ergani). Some of the houses have flat roofs made of mud, but others benefit from pitched roofs of corrugated iron (the latter, although not as ascetically pleasing as the flat roofs made of mud, are, due to their light weight, far safer if earthquakes strike). Most houses have only one storey and their ground plan is square or rectangular. South of the village are fields, pasture and patches of trees, but to the north are more hills and mountains. It felt like the ideal place to be on a Sunday afternoon and the friendly people with whom I mixed were delightful company. This said, I suspect I was the only foreigner on the summit.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The Armenian monastery is known locally as Meryem Ana Kilisesi. According to Sinclair it was built in 1433 “by an influential bishop” of Diyarbakir called Mgrditch Naghash. Of the church, only the base and part of the south side survive, but beneath the church is a cistern with a snow reservoir beside it and “elsewhere beneath the ruins associated with the church is another deep, vaulted cistern”.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

The mosque mentioned earlier contains the tomb of Dhul Kifl, who, according to Sinclair, is mentioned twice in the Qur’an. Local legend describes Dhul Kifl as someone who solved all sorts of difficulties confronting people, illness included. The structure containing the tomb is said to date from the 16th century. It is now integrated into a rectangular building with a corridor. The corridor leads to the chamber containing the grave of Abdullah, the standard bearer of Dhul Kifl, and Dhul Kifl’s tomb is reached from here by a door only a metre high.

As I left the mosque, I chatted with a group of women aged about eighteen to forty. All Kurds, a minority of the women wore headscarves, but the piety of the few did not stop the conversation flowing. Those without headscarves were more than happy to shake hands and joke about the forthcoming election. It was Sunday, normal routines were suspended, the sexual segregation that prevailed in the town below was briefly forgotten and it was therefore an occasion to relax by resisting the restrictions that so often inhibit discourse between males and females in predominantly Muslim nation states.

In some respects, Eski Ergani’s most interesting survival from the past is Zulkuful Suluklari, a large reservoir about 20 metres in length with four compartments positioned above a cliff. To this day it is protected by a vault on three rib arches. Stairs lead down from each of the two doors and water remains in the bottom of the compartments.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

I returned to the road leading to Ergani and, not long after setting off downhill, the driver of the van that had taken me to the summit stopped to give me a lift into town. Not far below the summit, Hikmet, the driver and father of the family, stopped the van so his two sons, aged fifteen and sixteen, could show me what looked like a cave. But the cave turned out to have been artificially enlarged (a wide “column” of rock had been left to help support the roof) and its mouth was the entrance to what looked like a tunnel. Yet more water was in the tunnel. Were we examining another reservoir? A reservoir or not, this feature, the mosque, the turbe, the church, Zulkuful Suluklari and traces of other masonry, the latter perhaps the remains of the castle, suggest that more of Eski Ergani has survived than I had been led to believe. This said, Sinclair refers to the ruins of old houses, but, unless they are in the village near the ruined church and have been rebuilt, they seem to have disappeared altogether.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Hikmet and his wife had two sons and two daughters. When we arrived in the centre of Ergani, Hikmet got out of the driver’s seat, asked his oldest son to drive the van with the other family members home and invited me to drink tea in his favourite tea garden. With nothing more of importance to see that day I could not refuse his kind invitation, so we entered the tea garden where every table was occupied by groups of men varying in size from two to almost a dozen. Many of the men were teachers. Tea, some of it with milk, was the most popular drink, but some customers ordered hot orange. Games of cards, okey and backgammon were popular at almost every table, but this did not stop some of the large group of men at a nearby table coming over to chat with Hikmet and me. All Kurds, in common with most other customers in the tea garden, the men at the next table were secular in outlook, either socialists or, in two cases, communists. One man alleged he was an anarchist and a few admitted to sympathy for the PKK. After confirming I was in sympathy with secularism and the HDP, we gave each other the V-sign and I said, more as a joke than in expectation that this would really be the case, “After the election in three weeks time, let’s say goodbye to Erdogan!” This went down well with more than merely those chatting with Hikmet and me, and it proved a useful thing to say in the days that followed, except in the company of AKP supporters, of course.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet was a quiet and very dignified man who, predictably, refused my offer to pay for the tea, but I was able to get away after the third glass. I meandered through the surprisingly busy streets of the commercial heart of Ergani, then went to the pansiyon to freshen up and change my clothes. Downstairs I ordered a late lunch of grilled chicken wings, salad (three small bowls of salad arrived with different combinations of things to eat), bread and very frothy but mild ayran for 10TL. I then went for a rest for an hour or so.

About 5.30pm I left to take a few photos of sights that appealed to my sense of the slightly ridiculous, then went for a haircut in one of the barber’s shops still open in the pazar. After a glass of tea and chats with staff and customers that lasted just long enough to see off an unexpected but brief rainstorm, I went to a pastane for a large bowl of ice cream (the three flavours included one of my favourites, lemon). There I engaged in more conversation, but only with males because females were conspicuous by virtue of their absence. I watched a man who, for half an hour, folded flat sheets of brightly coloured cardboard into boxes so they could be filled with orders of baklava. The owner of the pastane came in and, after we had confirmed that all Kurds were good people and the AKP was turning into a disaster for Turkey, I asked for the bill, but was not allowed to pay it. In fact, I could not go until having yet another tea with the owner.

Outside the barber's shop, Ergani.

Outside the barber’s shop, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastern, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastane, Ergani.

Back outside, the brightly coloured bunting of the different political parties flapped in the wind that had blown away the clouds. It was becoming very apparent to me that the vast majority of Kurds, whether religious or not, intend to vote for the HDP while the vast majority of pious Sunni Turks intend to vote for the AKP. Most secular Turks and Turks belonging to Muslim minorities will split their vote among the secular parties such as the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the mildly leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP), and most people of Greek, Laz, Jewish, Armenian, Georgian and Arab origin will cast their votes for secular parties that are not aggressively Turkish nationalist. Turkish supporters of the AKP probably distrust the HDP even more than the nominally Kemalist CHP because they fear that the HDP intends to break up the Turkish Republic by creating an independent Kurdistan, and suppporters of the HDP probably hate the MHP even more than the AKP because the MHP is the party that is most uncompromising in its expressions of Turkish nationalism. Demographics suggest that the AKP will emerge as the largest single party following the general election, despite Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, allegations of corruption in high places, an economy that is beginning to falter, indications that inflation may soon prove a burden, disquiet about environmental damage caused above all by the construction of yet more reservoirs and the Turkish government’s refusal to aid the Kurds of Syria and Iraq in their war against the Islamic State. But will Erdogan secure the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution so he can massively enhance the power and authority of the president? This looks impossible, and primarily because the HDP should secure sixty to eighty seats in parliament.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Ergani has little to commend it other than the pazar, the busy streets of its commercial heart, views of Makam Dagi, a small park with a very unusual water feature made to look like a waterfall, a roundabout with statues in the middle and, of course, the very friendly people, but I like the town, partly for the interesting places to visit nearby, and partly for its unpretentious character. But that evening, as the light began to fade and I stood on a footbridge crossing the road to Diyarbakir with shabby concrete buildings around me and a magnificent view of Makam Dagi to the north, the streets quickly emptied of females, who were already vastly outnumbered by males. The almost complete absence of females in the public domain compelled me to qualify my positive assessment of the town. Moroever, I knew instinctively that if unknown males and females engaged in conversation in Ergani’s town centre as had occurred earlier in the day at Eski Ergani, such an affront to acceptable interpersonal conduct would have attracted looks of disapproval and worse from the many pious males who appoint themselves as arbiters of what is right and wrong in terms of relations between the sexes.

Ergani.

Ergani.

I returned to the pansiyon about 8.00pm and noticed that quite a lot of new plastic doors and windows had recently been installed. Because the windows were double-glazed, when shut they kept the heat in and the noise out. A very fine mesh covered the windows so that, when open, mosquitoes and other insects could not enter. This was very impressive in many ways, but most of the frames of the doors and windows still had on them strips of protective plastic telling everyone that they were products of the “polimer kapi ve pencere sistemleri”. But those same strips of protective plastic told people in Turkish, English, Arabic and Russian that the protective plastic should be removed once the doors and windows had been installed!

A recently completed mosque designed in a simplified Ottoman style stood only 30 metres or so from my bedroom windows and, every so often, I was disturbed by the adhan. Until recently I have had great admiration for the adhan and never felt it was a sound I would tire of or object to. However, in recent years Muslims in many parts of the world have taken to screaming “Allahu akbar”, the opening words of the adhan which are repeated three times, whenever they engage in, or witness, acts of violence that lead to human death or the destruction of buildings. Those opening words of the adhan are now a constant reminder that many people who subscribe to Islam do not value human life and do not respect the products of human endeavour. They prefer burn, burn to build, build and have made life in the contemporary world more dangerous and demanding than we could ever have thought possible. And the adhan? I now find it oppresses my spirit because I associate “Allahu akbar” with the unnecessary and unjust taking of human life and the needless destruction of human resources. I also find it oppresses my spirit because it is never heard delivered by a female voice. I thought longingly of Muslim friends in the UK, male and female, seeking to overturn the ludicrous tradition that only male voices deliver the adhan. This tradition is as ludicrous as the tradition within the Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations that only males can be priests. And we all know where that tradition of male-only priests has led, don’t we? Yes, to the sexual and physical abuse of thousands, perhaps even millions, of young people, male and female.

Ergani, in common with most other places so far seen or passed through, had a lot of police, soldiers or jandarma, but for most of the time these guarantors of law and order remained in their highly fortified camps and compounds, most of which had signs prominently displayed warning that photography is forbidden. In the larger towns such as Cermik and Ergani, armoured vehicles patrolled the streets or positioned themselves at major road intersections, but the presence of police and others was far more apparent in Diyarbakir, still known throughout Turkey as the epicentre of the wild east. This said, in the centre of Ergani a large army camp had been abandoned. The barracks, the stores, the shelters for motorised vehicles, the officers’ apartments and the sentry posts, the latter protected by many sandbags, had a forlorn air about them. Wind-blown litter snagged on the razor wire that crowned the fencing cemented into the walls.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Back home, internet articles suggested the following about Ergani and Eski Ergani. Some of the oldest references to Eski Ergani, then known variously as Arkni, Argni, Argani, Arghni or Arghana, are in Armenian archives and, in the 19th century, the town had ten mosques, three Armenian churches (one of which belonged to the monastery, presumably) and a “Protestant chapel”. Modern Ergani’s population is described as 45% Kurdish, 45% Zaza and 10% Turkish. This must mean that 45% of the population speaks Kurmanji, 45% Zazaki and 10% Turkish.

To Ergani and Hilal.

Mehmet and Cemal had said we would have breakfast together, but, because I had put them to a lot of trouble and expense already, I half hoped they were not in their workshop and office (although I did want to thank them for their hospitality and say goodbye properly). The first visit I made the doors were locked and I therefore assumed they were sleeping in or had something better to do (a relative the night before had spoken about a hunting trip to kill rabbits. I wondered if they had decided to spend the day in the countryside). I walked to a lokanta where the road into the centre of Kaplica joins the Ergani to Cermik road and ordered a bowl of lentil soup, which came with bread, lemon and a small salad full of raw onion. I returned to the workshop and office and found Mehmet and Cemal rather drowsily preparing for yet another day’s work even though it was Sunday. I said I had eaten breakfast and must leave for Ergani, and thanked them for their generosity and friendship. We had already exchanged means to stay in touch.

I returned to the hotel, packed my last few things and spent some time on the balcony watching a small community slowly come to life on the day of the week that should be dominated by rest and recreation. A few adults and children walked slowly past and, if speaking at all, they did so very quietly as if they did not want to disrupt the tranquillity that enveloped everyone and everything. Cockerels crowed and birds sang. The blue sky was cloudless, the surrounding hills were green and the sunshine promised to raise the temperature to about 27 or 28 degrees centigrade. Although most of the buildings in view were devoid of architectural pretensions and wind-blown litter from fly-tipping reminded me of parts of urban County Durham, the morning had started in excellent fashion.

Cermik.

Cermik.

I settled the bill with the woman who owned the hotel with her husband, then walked to the Ergani road. I chatted with an overweight young man with some sort of special need, then a minibus pulled up on its way to Diyarbakir via Ergani. My large bag was consigned to the back of the vehicle and I sat among the men at the front (females occupied the seats at the back). A little banter helped pass the time, but I was keen to concentrate on the attractive scenery: hills, distant mountains, a meandering river, rich pasture full of wild flowers grazed by cattle, and less fertile pasture at higher altitudes grazed by sheep and goats.

The minibus arrived in Ergani and I began looking for a hotel for the night. After a little hesitation and some help from men working at an oto lastik, or tyre repair, garage I opted for a rather old pansiyon with a lokanta on the main road between Diyarbakir and Elazig that charged 30TL for the night without breakfast. I was given a room at the back of the building so it was quiet after nightfall. There were three beds in the room, all of which had come from a hospital. This meant that they were very solid and comfortable to sleep on. I had a TV, two small towels and a bar of soap, and the toilet and washing facilities were a short walk away, a walk taken in plastic sandals provided in each room for the guests. Amazingly, hot water existed all day and night. Water had to be thrown over you with the aid of a plastic jug, but, all things considered, the place was okay. The room was reasonably clean, as was the whole place, and the staff were very friendly.

Ergani.

Ergani.

It was not yet 10.00am and I had only two goals for the day, Hilar to the south-west of Ergani, and Eski, or Old, Ergani to the north. Because a visit to Eski Ergani required an ascent by road of the mountain overlooking modern Ergani and lots of people would drive along the road most of the day to enjoy the panoramic views and the fresh air at the summit, I decided to go to Hilar first. Getting to and from Hilar would probably confront me with more challenges than getting to and from Eski Ergani.

To get to Hilar I had first to walk through a commercially vibrant part of Ergani lying to the west of the Diyarbakir to Elazig road. I then entered one of those shabby and more marginal parts of Turkish towns where, although houses and apartment blocks outnumber business premises, they have been built in a dispersed manner with patches of rubble-strewn land between them. Thus, even relatively small Turkish towns spread far more than they ought to, not unlike small towns in the USA, in fact, but in ways usually far less visually appealing.

I had almost reached the very last buildings blighting the landscape when a car drew to a halt and two men offered me a lift of about 5 kilometres. We crossed the railway between Diyarbakir and Elazig where freight trucks lay along two sidings. A little further along, at a junction where the road to Hilar branches to the right, I was dropped off. I walked about 1.5 kilometres through gently undulating countryside dominated by fields, pasture, wild flowers and distant hills, then a man stopped to offer me a lift to Hilar. Once at my destination the citadel rock and tomb chambers lay to my right, as did a small car park, and to my left was a portacabin. The portacabin provided shelter and accommodation for the men employed by the museum in Diyarbakir to look after the site and show visitors around. When one of the men approached me I reached for my wallet to pay the admission fee. “No fee,” he said, “Admission free. Welcome. Would you like some tea?”

Citadel site, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

What followed the glasses of tea was remarkable. The man showed me around the citadel rock and tomb chambers nearby, then he assigned a younger companion to walk me along a delightful path that led past large rounded rocks and many wild flowers to a shallow river. We waded across the river before entering a large area of gently undulating grass with yet more flowers. Access to the undulating area is restricted by a rectangle of fencing, the gates of which are usually kept locked. Inside the fencing are many rectangles and squares made from rock indicating that an early village dependent on farming thrived on the site. Archaeologists believe the village was occupied from roughly 7250 to 6750 BCE.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

 

Sinclair describes the citadel rock and tombs in the following manner:

Citadel rock of small town. Classical to medieval periods. Rock-cut chambers, probably pagan Syriac (classical period)…

The town appears to have been s. of the citadel… Other knobs of rock stand up out of the alluvial silt. There are two groups of chambers. One is east of both the modern village (Cayonu) and citadel; the chambers are in a line which runs n.-s. as a general direction, and are entered at the bottom of a low cliff. The other group is sw. of the citadel.

Citadel rock. It consists of a ridge of upstanding rock perhaps 100 metres from n. to s. The s. end is broader and taller, and the rock slopes downwards to the n. where it ends in a smoothed platform. From the w. side of the ridge issues a narrow arm, which then curves round to the s. and broadens into a second knob similar to the s. end of the main ridge… At the s. sides of the two southerly knobs of rock we can see steps carved into the steep rock slope. These probably served to support walls: date perhaps Hellenistic. There are pear-shaped cisterns at the main rock’s s. end and about half way down its length. Against the main rock’s w. side, towards the n. end, stairs descend to a well: these would have needed to be protected by a cross-wall. There are also rock-cut cisterns just opposite the s. end of the westerly arm…

Easterly tombs. Those which are genuinely tomb chambers have low entrances and sockets and a latch-hole for a stone door… Reclining figure, probably a man. He leans on his left arm, which is supported by a piece of natural rock left uncarved. To right, a standing figure, probably a woman, wearing a tall pointed cap with long trailers either side of her head. Apparently wearing a skirt. Above man’s legs, Syriac inscription…

South-westerly tombs. Five pear-shaped rock-cut cisterns. Burial chamber, many panels carved in rock nearby…

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

Citadel rock, Hial.

Citadel rock, Hilal.

As for the large undulating area immediately north of the river, the site is far larger now than when Sinclair wrote about it in the 1980s, but much of his information is still relevant:

Almost the only occupation of the mound was that of an early village farming community. The limits of the occupation are not far outside 7250 and 6750 BCE. The community grew wheat from the very beginning; however, if did not breed animals until towards the end of the occupation. Before that it hunted: for the most part the evidence for hunted animals fades out where the domesticated animals’ remains begin to be found. Obsidian and stone tools have been unearthed… There were crude, probably unbaked plates of clay. Some necklaces (malachite, etc.). Raw copper fragments beaten into pins, hooks, etc.

The two central and most important phases were those of “grill-plan” and “cell-plan” buildings. The former was a long house, the northern end of which had a substructure of stone foundations in a close-set grill-plan (in other words, several parallel walls within the rectangle of walls bounding the room), on which a wooden floor would be laid. This was followed by a pebble pavement, and at the s. end were the foundations for two or three cell-like rooms. The cell-plan rooms were shorter. Within a rectangle of stone foundations the interior was divided by other stone foundation walls into cells, thought to be small to live in. Cell-plan houses are certainly later than grill-plan houses, but it is not certain that grill plans were abandoned when cell-plans were introduced, and in any case the latter look like simply a version of the former better calculated to hold up the floor. Some bodies were buried in the cells.

The earliest known occupation is repeated by several house types, including a round or ovoid plan. There were two “broad-pavement” non-domestic buildings. In them rooms surrounded a court: pilasters on the walls facing the court… In another building, the “skull-building”, there is a pit in the otherwise well-paved floor of each room, and various human bones or parts of skeletons piled up in the pits. Purpose unknown.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

To the early village farming community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

The early farming village community, Hilal.

 Only two other people, a married couple, bothered to walk to the fenced-off area north of the river, but a steady flow of men, women and children came to look around the citadel rock and tombs. Some visitors then drove along a dirt road between the river and the rocks to the north of the citadel to consume large family picnics in pasture sparkling with white, yellow and purple flowers.

I returned to the portacabin to chat with the man who had first shown me around. We walked once more around the citadel rock picking up litter as we went. I then said I had to leave for Eski Ergani and began walking along the road toward the junction where I had been dropped off earlier in the day. Less than 100 metres from the car park, a couple in a large air conditioned car (the husband was a helicopter engineer of Turkish origin. He and his wife lived in Diyarbakir, where he worked) stopped and drove me all the way to the edge of Ergani, from where I walked to the Diyarbakir to Elazig road.

The man with whom I picked up litter around the citadel rock, Hilal.

The man with whom I picked up litter around the citadel rock, Hilal.