To Licese Kilise.

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.

The cesme between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

The cesme between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

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.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

Licese Kilise.

Licese Kilise.

A house beside the church.

A house beside the church.

The west wall, Licese Kilise.

The west wall, Licese Kilise.

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.

Part of the doorway leading into the nave, Licese Kilise.

Part of the doorway leading into the nave, Licese Kilise.

The nave looking toward the three apses, Licese Kilise.

The nave looking toward the three apses, Licese Kilise.

The steps leading to the women's gallery or bell tower (or both), Licese Kilise.

The steps leading to the women’s gallery or bell tower (or both), Licese Kilise.

View through the arches in front of the apses, Licese Kilise.

View through the arches in front of the apses, Licese Kilise.

The middle apse, Licese Kilise.

The middle apse, Licese Kilise.

The apse along the south wall, Licese Kilise.

The apse along the south wall, Licese Kilise.

The columns which supported to dome, Licese Kilise.

The columns which supported to dome, Licese Kilise.

The north and the west walls, Licese Kilise.

The north and the west walls, Licese Kilise.

The east and the north walls, Licese Kilise.

The east and the north walls, Licese Kilise.

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.

The doorway in the north wall, Licese Kilise.

The doorway in the north wall, Licese Kilise.

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 east wall, Licese Kilise.

The east wall, Licese Kilise.

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.

Outside the west wall, Licese Kilise.

Outside the west wall, Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

Near where the road to the village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise joins the road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

Near where the road to the village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise joins the road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

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.

The house and barn along the road from Tamdere to Sebinkarahisar.

The house and barn along the road from Tamdere to Sebinkarahisar.

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.

The road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

The road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

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.

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2 thoughts on “To Licese Kilise.

  1. I explored this church in 2014, having taken a much longer dirt road from Sebinkarahisar. At first I thought it was Armenian, but then I found the Greek inscription on one side.

    Overall you have taken the journey I had planned to take in 2016, especially through Dersim, but felt obliged to abandon, for obvious reasons.

    I am interested in exploring your thoughts on ethnic mixing in Sebinkarahisar and Dersim. At the upstairs lokanta in Sebinkarahisar, I felt completely surrounded by Armenians who either didn’t know their background, or who knew but kept quiet. An eerie feeling.

    I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and would appreciate hearing from you.

    AC

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    • Good morning, Armen. Good to hear from you. And thanks for your comment on the blog: much appreciated.

      For good or ill, I pressed ahead with a planned trip to eastern Turkey in 2016, once again primarily to track down Armenian ruins, but had to adapt my itinerary because of the war in the south-east of the country. I was “interviewed” twice by the police in remote towns where the Armenian population had once been significant. I could understand the unease of the police because the police stations in both towns were heavily fortified to discourage suicide bombers. I hope to start a blog about the trip in 2017, when work allows.

      I must confess: I did not pick up on the fact that some of Sebinkarahisar’s population might be Armenian, but this may be because my radar for picking up such things is not so well-tuned as yours. My understanding is that, following the resistance Armenians put up in Sebinkarahisar in 1915, almost every known Armenian was massacred. This said, it is possible that a few brave Turks and Greeks, especially in villages around Sebinkarahisar, sheltered some Armenians, who then merged back into “mainstream” society when hatred among a majority of Turks shifted from the Armenians to the Greeks. Some of the villages around Sebinkarahisar are, even to this day, quite isolated (as you know) and I can imagine Armenians remaining hidden from official scrutiny for many, many years. Thus, it is possible that some Armenians remain in the area – but, if they do, I failed to pick up on the evidence (although I have been lucky to encounter Armenians surviving against the odds, albeit in very small numbers, in places such as Trabzon, Sason, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Kayseri and a village near Elazig). I also suspect that, if some Armenians survive in Sebinkarahisar, they are probably only part-Armenian insofar as only one of their parents was/is Armenian. This said, from Sebinkarahisar I undertook a side trip through the mountains to Tamdere (on the main road to Giresun and the Black Sea) and there encountered two/three men who looked very different from the Turks who now monopolise the area. I did wonder whether they had Armenian origins (of course, they may have had Greek origins instead. In the past, Greeks were more numerous than Armenians in the Tamdere area).

      See my post on “Among Armenian Ruins” called “To Kayadibi Manastir” – there is brief reflection on what happened in Sebinkarahisar in 1915 and thereafter.

      Dersim is very different to Sebinkarahisar insofar as it is well documented that the local population sheltered Armenians from the genocide and that many Armenians who survived the genocide remained in the region. Even when the Turkish authorities engaged in massacres of local Alevis, etc. in 1937 and 1938, Armenians were still in the region – and they remain there to this day, although in significantly reduced numbers. Here I think it possible that there are Armenians who have survived through marriage with fellow Armenians – and in 2015, in a sublime little village in the mountains about 25/30 kms from the town of Tunceli, I was introduced to a shepherd who convinced me he was “pure” Armenian. The thing I like best about Dersim (modern-day Tunceli province) is the rich ethnic diversity of the population, plus the fact that intermarriage takes place – which confirms tolerance of/respect for diversity is genuine. In Dersim in 2015 I encountered Kurds (both Zaza and Kurmanci), Turks, Qizilbash and Armenians, and the main expression of faith was Alevism. Also, large numbers of Dersim’s inhabitants today have no faith commitment at all – they are passionately secular in outlook. The region also has many people who sympathise with left-wing political groups. Socialist and communist sympathies thrive in the region. Bernie Sanders should stand for election in the province.

      Have you visited the Hemsin region yet, which is east of Rize and south and south-east of the smaller town of Pazar? It is widely understood that a majority of the surviving population is Armenian, even though it remains necessary for the Hemsinli to disguise the fact/deny the fact depending with whom they mix/associate/converse (in fact, many Hemsinli are unaware of their Armenian origins, despite aspects of the local language, many place names and some festivities/celebrations being overtly Armenian). I have visited the region on three occasions and cannot get enough of the landscapes, the astounding vernacular architecture and the resilience of the local people (although a Laz presence is increasing in some settlements). But the Hemsinli way of life is now under intense pressure, because of a relentless process of assimilation to “mainstream” Turkish norms, because of tourism to a region of outstanding natural beauty, and because the Hemsinli themselves are abandoning aspects of their unique identity in return for a more comfortable and/or materially rewarding life. An astounding academic (but easy-to-read) study of the region called “The Hemshin” was edited a few years ago by Hovann H. Simonian (Routledge, 2007). Sadly, some of the studies of contemporary Hemsinli life already read a bit like ancient history. Get to the region as soon as you can – and, if travelling in July and August, make for the very highest yaylas where you will be amazed to find that simple but clean accommodation exists in about half a dozen settlements.

      Oh yes: for the whole week I spent in the Hemsin region you would not have thought a coup had recently taken place! I encountered fewer armed representatives of the state in the Hemsin region than in the UK travelling from home to the airport from where I flew to Trabzon via Istanbul. It was a week that utterly failed to prepare me for the more tense times I spent closer to the war zone.

      A blog of mine called “In search of unusual destinations” has a few posts about things Armenian in Turkey (St. Argelan Monastery, churches at Albayrak and Yanal Koyu, the Monastery of St. Thomas, the Monastery of the Holy Cross, Aprank, the Hemsin region, etc.). They may be of interest (see the posts about Aprank and the Hemsin region in particular).

      I hope this provides some food for thought. Have an excellent holiday season, Phil.

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