It took only ninety minutes to get to Cermik. The run as far as Ergani has little to commend it, although good memories were revived when we passed the turning for Egil, one of the many small towns in the region with important survivals from the past. However, from Ergani west the scenery is much more attractive. We meandered along a river among hills and mountains passing small villages and pasture full of wild flowers. It being mid-May, everything looked enchantingly green and fertile. The oppressive heat of August felt a long way off, despite the bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20s centigrade.
There are really two parts to the small town of Cermik, Cermik proper, which lies below the citadel and has a pazar larger than you would expect, and, about 2 kms to the east, the suburb of Kaplica. Only one or two very modest hotels exist in Cermik proper; better accommodation is in Kaplica, but I made the mistake of staying on the minibus until arriving in Cermik. I was kindly given a lift, free of charge, in a minibus to the junction for Siverek, a walk of only about 300 metres to where the hotels are in Kaplica. The first hotel I came to that looked good was the Mevsim, where I was shown a room for 40TL with en suite facilities, a squatty toilet, no towel and a very large balcony with views of the surrounding hills.
As I settled into my room, a knock on the door revealed a large man who had spent the morning in the hotel fixing cupboards into the ground floor apartment of the couple who owned the building. The man asked if I would like to join him and his brother, Mehmet and Cemal respectively, at their place of work in Cermik where I was welcome to have lunch with them. I was not hungry because of the very large breakfast earlier in the day, but Mehmet was very insistent that I join him. I picked up my rucksack hoping lunch would be small and quick because I had a lot to see that afternoon. I wanted to see the major monuments in Cungus and Cermik so that, the following morning, I could relocate to Ergani.
Mehmet and Cemal’s place of work, an office and workshop of generous proportions on the main road leading to the centre of Cermik, was where the brothers made many different items of furniture, some they designed themselves, for the families in the local region who have in recent years benefited from an end to the civil war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey’s rapidly growing economy. I was introduced to Cemal and three other males of diverse age, the latter who had dropped in to see who the stranger was. I tried to confine lunch to a few lahmacun with salad and ayran, but, after we had done justice to the meal just described that came from a nearby lokanta, Mehmet disappeared and, fifteen minutes later, returned with portions of excellent cig kofte, which we ate as if in Sanliurfa by pressing small portions of the raw meat, in this case beef, into a lettuce leaf and adding lemon and a hot pepper sauce. By now we were all on excellent terms and, as we drank tea and Fanta, I took a few photos while the two brothers asked what I was doing that afternoon. After I had explained about visiting Cungus and looking around Cermik, they insisted that I join them later that evening, if for nothing more than a chat and an ice cream. I said I would definitely see them later. All I was doing for such generosity was providing some of the town’s males with a break from their usual routines, routines which required that the sexes be rigidly segregated in the public domain because Cermik lies in the centre of a predominantly Sunni area. In return for their remarkable hospitality I was relieving the boredom, albeit briefly.
By now I knew that, in only three weeks’ time, a general election would take place. In Cermik, as in Diyarbakir and everywhere else I was to visit or pass through for the next fortnight, bunting hung by the different political parties added lots of colour to the town centre streets, and white vans drove around with recorded music or short speeches blasting from loudspeakers urging people to vote for a particular party. Because I was in an overwhelmingly Kurdish area, most of the bunting and vans seemed to belong to the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the socialist and anti-nationalist Kurdish party that aspires to end gender, ethnic and religious discrimination. The HDP has many female parliamentary candidates, but it is also fielding some males who are openly gay. Although most of its candidates are secular left-wing Kurds, the candidate list includes devout Sunnis, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, Circassians, Laz and Romany. By Turkish standards this is an enviably inclusive political party, even though most of those who will vote for it will be Kurdish.
It was about 2.15pm when I left the workshop and meandered my way into the centre of Cermik where I noticed that a minibus had stopped at the point where the road leads to Cungus. The minibus had stopped so that luggage could be tied to the roof. I ran to the minibus and found it was going all the way to Cungus. It was already very crowded, primarily with high school students who had spent Saturday morning in school preparing for or taking exams, but people shuffled around and I squeezed into a small space near the door leading to the seats at the back. I was asked all sorts of questions, but assured that Cungus was very historic and pretty. By craning my neck I caught glimpses of the scenery as we drove the 25 or so kilometres to Cungus. The scenery was even more enchanting than from Ergani to Cermik, not least because the hills soon grew into mountains.
Cungus is a delight. It is surrounded by hills and mountains and divided in two by the narrow, meandering Cungus Cayi. It is just large enough to have a small commercial heart, but very few businesses remain in the pazar. I got off the minibus in the small main square and was immediately the centre of attention, but, after a few brief chats and a couple of photos, was allowed to begin my look around.
I could not believe how much there is to enjoy in Cungus. It has a small castle perched on a buttress of rock accessed by a short footbridge crossing a deep chasm; an old hamam probably dating from the 17th century; the modest Ulu Camii, which is said to have parts that date from the 13th century; the Ali Bey Camii, probably another 17th century structure; an old stone bridge over the Cungus Cayi recently restored to good effect; many old houses, some of which are timber-framed and spread over two storeys; a large church at the western extremity of the town close to a deep valley with a stream feeding into the Cungus Cayi; and, at the eastern extremity of the town, the remains of a monastery once called the Holy Mother of God. The church and the monastery were described to me as Armenian and Armenian they undoubtedly are.
T. A. Sinclair in “Eastern Turkey: an architectural and archaeological survey” has the following to say about the church:
The tall, box-like building’s apparent height is increased by the masonry plinth which supports it on the e. The room, a vestry or hall, which originally communicated with the w. end, was contrived by digging out the soil, and earth is banked up against it on all sides except where it adjoins the church. The body of the church has two rows of tall piers supporting cross-vaults. The central aisle is wider than the other two, and the height of its vault thus emphasised. A low wall was added at the w. end, taking in the two westerly piers, so that the high archway at the w. end of the s. wall and the entrance to the w. room were cut off from the body of the church. Two rooms in boxes lean against each of the church’s n. and s. sides, a door between each pair. They are linked to the nave by windows inside blind arches, and cross-vaults on consoles. The church is perhaps mid-19th century. The w. room, and in the winter probably the church, are used as hay stores.
Sinclair describes the monastery in the following manner:
The bishops of Cungus and Cermik sometimes resided here, particularly if they were vardapets, or abbots, of the monastery. The first known abbot reigned from 1561 to 1593.
The church was built in 1841. It is a conspicuous rectangular building designed in a similar fashion to the church just described. It is, however, shorter, and at the e. end, instead of two piers, each line of piers is ended by a continuous wall. The compartments defined by these walls are barrel-vaulted, their floors a little raised. By the church’s e. wall, low and narrow archways pass through the dividing walls. A staircase starts at the middle of the n. side, turns at the ne. corner and, running over the end compartments, ends in a small platform at the se. corner. A vestry (trapezium-shaped) on the n. could be reached by a door beneath the staircase. The church’s windows are small apart from the three wide openings in the w. wall above the height of the door, which stare at the town over the intervening fields (the intervening fields have now largely disappeared because Cungus has expanded in an easterly direction along the road to Cermik).
The school (?) is a shed-like building to the church’s s., separated from it by a short interval and lying more or less n.-s. A line of piers towards the w. wall. On the e., a stone-lined trench, part of which is made of two tombstones (1807 and 1909).
A short wall connects the e. sides of the church and school: the monastery’s wall then takes off again from the nw. corner of the vestry, parallel to and near the church’s n. wall. It turns and runs past the church’s w. face.
The two buildings just described are in much better condition than the great majority of Armenian monuments in eastern Turkey. I like to think this is because the local people value survivals from the past, no matter who conceived them, but their good condition may owe just as much to Cungus being so small and relatively isolated.
After looking around the church, the castle and the old houses, all to the south or the west of the town centre, I had a short break near the small main square where I was soon introduced to Kenan, a man with a 4WD car who sometimes shows around foreign visitors with an interest in Cungus and towns as far away as Hani, Elazig and Siverek (his fees are very reasonable). Kenan kindly drove me across the restored bridge over the Cungus Cayi, from where there are excellent views of the older parts of the town standing on a steep slope. We then drove about a kilometre along a dirt road above but parallel to the Cungus Cayi, a road that leads into the mountains to the south-west. From where we stopped the views of Cungus were even more spectacular because we were high up. Local people had already told me that a pretty reservoir was not many kilometres away, and before leaving home I read about the nearby village of Degirmensuyu which is said have a ruined church. There is obviously a lot more to see in the area, but the last demand I made on Kenan was that we visit the monastery itself.
Kenan was worried that I would find it difficult to get back to Cermik, but a lift in a car to the pretty village of Yenikoy with two men who shared my wait for transport, a walk of about 2 kilometres and then a second lift, the latter in the car of a young Kurd who lives and works in Germany, got me to my destination not long after 5.00pm, which gave me almost three hours of daylight to look around Cermik.