I enjoyed the journey from Tamdere to the pass as much as the journey from it. Before getting to the pass there is a shabby pansiyon probably quite popular during the hottest time of the year with hikers. The pansiyon did not look properly open, but it may have served passersby with tea.
Just below the highest point on the road we stopped at a cesme so everyone could get out to drink the very clean and pure water said to come from melt-water on the mountains. We were close to patches of snow so the explanation for the source of the water made perfect sense. A man had driven his van up to the cesme to sell cheese, honey and large plastic containers that could be used to take some of the water home. I filled my bottle and must confess: the water was perfectly chilled and tasted excellent.
Once over the pass the minibus picked up speed. About 12 or 13 kilometres from Sebinkarahisar, a sign beside the road pointed to Licese Kilise, which stands in a village along a dirt road an unspecified distance into a side valley. I was slow deciding I still had time to risk one more adventure before nightfall, but got the minibus to stop about 1.5 kilometres further down the road. I flagged a lift in a lorry half way back to the junction, then walked the rest of the way. A chat with a man outside a house partially hidden in trees near the junction established that the church is about 2.5 kilometres along the road, so I set off briskly. The dirt road does not rise very steeply, despite ascending the valley, so I arrived at the edge of the village in just over half an hour. The valley is pretty and polled trees are common along the riverbanks. Ahead are mountains with smudges of snow and the village itself nestles close to the river. But, perhaps best of all because it was now about 5.15pm, the ruined church stands near the middle of the village close to its west end, the end from which I was entering it. The church is Greek, of course, not Armenian, otherwise a sign would not exist at the road junction, but, after introducing myself to two women and some children near the church and confirming that I could enter the ruin despite a family using it for storage purposes, I was glad I had made the effort to visit it. The church has some unusual features and, although the nave lacks a roof and its dome, is in quite good condition, perhaps because it is used for storage purposes. Because of my perverse sense of what is picturesque and/or photogenic, I found that the clutter inside added to the monument’s interest.
This is another monument that Sinclair did not visit. However, information on the internet suggests that the church was built between 1874 and 1887. It has a rectangular ground plan and each wall is crowned externally with a triangular pediment. When you look at the west wall there are three arches at ground floor level and, above each arch, a rectangular window inside a stepped frame utilising semi-circles for added interest. This attractive example of framing a window is repeated around all the windows except those on the east wall letting light into the apses. The arches lead to either a porch or a narthex and then you encounter the door into the church proper. The two wooden doors, which look old enough to be original, are crowned with an arch, and some excellent carved stone with a mixture of patterns and stylised plant-life frames the doorway to quite dramatic effect. Internally the church has three aisles and three apses. Traces of a dome remain above four columns in the centre of the nave. Recesses in the walls of the apses manifest more carefully carved stone. Traces of blue decoration remain in at least one of the apses, on the columns in the nave and along the west wall. At the south-west and north-west corners of the nave, stone steps lead over the doorway to a women’s gallery or a bell tower (or both), but no evidence for a bell tower remains today. Externally at the north-west corner is a slim balcony, the roof of which is supported on three delicate columns. The balcony rests on a column of stone integral to the wall itself, a column that fans out to the full width of the base of the balcony. Of course, it is quite likely that the church never had a bell tower at all. Instead, a bell or bells could have hung from the roof of the balcony, but they would have had to be quite small. The important thing is that I have never seen a feature quite like this on a Greek Orthodox church in what is now the Turkish Republic. It is one of the elements of the monument that makes it possibly unique and unquestionably important, despite not being of great age.
A doorway in the north wall has Greek writing carved above it and a date of 1875. The door benefits from wrought-iron furniture to make it stronger. Wrought-iron grilles have survived in all the windows and may well be original. The wrought-iron furniture on the north door certainly is original.
I chatted with a woman wearing a headscarf, gumboots, baggy jeans and an anorak who was putting goats into a barn overnight. The barn was only a few metres from the church. The woman did not have problems shaking hands when I made to leave, there being no other men nearby.
The disappointment associated with the over-zealously restored but vandalised Kayadibi Manastir earlier in the day had, of course, dissipated, Tamdere seeing to that, but I acquired more pleasure from seeing Licese Kilise than the monastery even though the monastery is a far more important monument. But why had I acquired more pleasure? The unexpectedness of finding the church obviously played a part, but so did the relative ease of getting to it with such an interesting village and friendly people at my destination. But Licese Kilise got me thinking. How many other villages in the area have Greek churches? Because of research undertaken at home prior to leaving for eastern Turkey, I knew of at least two other nearby villages rumoured to have a church.
I would have liked to look around the village some more, partly because the women and children I had met were so friendly, and partly because it looked very attractive nestling on the valley walls close to the river with snow-smudged mountains in the background, but I was determined to get to Sebinkarahisar before dark. I had walked most of the way to the main road when a minibus caught me up and the driver offered me a lift to the junction with the main road. It was Friday and the minibus was dropping off pupils and students at home after five days spent in Sebinkarahisar’s schools.
Two cars went past me without stopping, so I began walking toward Sebinkarahisar. For the next half hour only two more motor vehicles drove by and, again, neither stopped. By now I was some distance from the junction for the church and enjoying the scenery very much. I also liked the vernacular architecture of the old buildings not far from the road. One such building seemed to be a house with storage space on the ground floor and at the east end of the building, but the storage space at the east end was on the floor above the ground. The storage space above the ground had a pitched corrugated iron roof which lacked a wall facing east. Here the roof was supported by six wooden columns. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the whole structure was that the barn-like storage space just described rested on a rubble stone wall that formed a semi-circle.
As I knew from earlier trips to the mountains further east, the mountains being the last physical barrier between the interior and access to the Black Sea, remarkable vernacular architecture has survived into the contemporary era. But how much such architecture will survive for another generation or two? Oddly, I am more optimistic about it surviving now than in the 1980s and 1990s when the headlong rush to modernise was undertaken with reckless disregard for survivals from the past. Reckless disregard for the past was most apparent in urban areas where whole districts of immense architectural and historical importance disappeared in only a few years. The destruction of the extensive area of stunning stone-built houses that once enclosed the Armenian church in Kayseri remains the officially-sanctioned act of vandalism that still fills me with the greatest amount of sorry and anger, but I have witnessed similar destructive tendencies, albeit usually on a smaller scale, in places as diverse as Istanbul, Erzurum and Kars. Today, Turks and Kurds are much more aware of the importance of preserving built environments that have survived from the past, with the people of Sanliurfa, Gaziantep and Mardin setting examples for others to follow. I am hopeful that such endeavours mark an obvious change of heart at perhaps the highest level in Turkey. This said, it will not come as a surprise that the built environments most often trashed were built environments intimately associated with ethnic groups other than the numerically dominant Turks.
Additionally, it is good to report that growing numbers of Turkish citizens are expressing misgivings about excessive exploitation of the natural environment. This is perhaps most apparent in the number of people protesting about the damage that reservoirs do to some of the country’s most remarkable landscapes. Reservoirs also displace people from their drowned settlements and lead to the loss of known and yet-to-be-discovered monuments.
Yes, a lot of Turkey’s remarkable vernacular architecture will survive for many decades to come because growing numbers of Turkish citizens are aware that they have in their possession such architecture of a very high quality. But, with Kayadibi Manastir in mind, how much will survive for future generations unless it is tarted up to such a degree that its original beauty and distinctiveness are compromised forever? Can those engaged in restoration and renovation strike just the right balance? Long-term I think they will. Some of what I have seen in recent times in Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Mardin and Midyat fills me with confidence, and it is likely that even better examples of restoration and renovation exist in the western regions of Turkey.
I had got about 2.5 kilometres from the junction for the church when I flagged a car whose driver kindly drew to a halt. I looked in the window to find a woman at the steering wheel. Aged about thirty, she was the first woman I had seen driving a motor vehicle for two or three days and certainly the only one rash enough to offer me a lift. She and her mother were driving from Trabzon to their home in Tokat, a long and demanding journey with a very long stretch of mountain road all the way from Giresun to Susehri.
So far I had seen only a dozen or so women driving cars, even though I had been in Turkey for a week. I am confident that a lot of women drive cars in western Turkey, but, even today, very few do so in eastern Turkey. Far more women now work in shops, offices, factories, lokantas, schools and universities than even twenty years ago, but, even in the civil service where they have found employment easier than in many sectors of the Turkish economy, they are vastly under-represented vis-à-vis men in positions of power and authority. It will come as no surprise that, in terms of gender equality, Turkey was ranked 120th out of 136 nation states surveyed in 2013 by the World Economic Forum. In common with the UK and the USA, Turkey has much to do to catch up with the Scandinavian countries where gender equality is most apparent. Saudi Arabia? It is, of course, even worse that Turkey in terms of gender equality. And, if my memory serves me correctly, Afghanistan is the worst country of all in which to be a woman. Do Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have anything in common? Hmmm.
We had a good chat about Tokat, a town I have always liked very much, not least for its vernacular architecture, after which I indicated the direction to get to Susehri.
I got out of the car in Sebinkarahisar’s town centre, went to the hotel to quickly wash some dirty clothes, freshened up and put on clean clothes. By now it was dark, but I knew exactly where I was going for a relatively light evening meal: Sevim Ana Ev Yemekleri. It was good to see some familiar faces again and conversation soon embraced a few of the customers. I ordered a chicken and vegetable stew, stuffed vine leaves and ayran and, inevitably, salad and a large basket of bread also arrived. After settling the bill and saying how much I had enjoyed the food the last two evenings, I walked to a supermarket to buy, for a change, a litre of peach juice. A young woman aged about nineteen with a headscarf made sure I had exactly what I wanted, then settled my bill. Two of her younger friends, also wearing headscarves, giggled self-consciously when I spoke with them.
Sebinkarahisar was much quieter on Friday than Thursday night, the reason being that so many pupils and students, the latter those at the university included, had gone home for the weekend. On Thursday night high school and university students had been out on the town spending time with friends whom they would not see again until Sunday evening or Monday morning. During the academic year in Sebinkarahisar, weekends start a day early.
I was in my room by 9.00pm feeling very tired but relaxed after a day that had involved a lot of walking, but walking in some outstandingly beautiful places. I was asleep by about 9.30pm, the streets outside far quieter than they had been the night before.