Eski Palu.

At Eski Palu Sinclair identifies the citadel, the Ulu Camii, the Kucuk Camii, Merkez Camii, Alacali Mescit, Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, a hamam, a church, a bridge and a second turbe. The bridge, which crosses the river, and the citadel are some distance from the other structures, half of which are in what was the old town centre and the rest a short walk to the north, along the road leading to the path that goes to the citadel itself.

My tour of Eski Palu began in the old town centre where I looked at the Ulu Camii, the Kucuk Camii and the hamam, but I left till later the church because, although not far from the structures just listed, it is on the way to the bridge, which I saved more or less for last. As I walked around I also saw two cesmes and some old houses in need of tender loving care. The cesmes will probably be restored, but the old houses are likely to be ignored. Wherever you walk during May, Eski Palu is awash with wild flowers.

The Ulu Camii dates from the 15th or the 16th century. A small courtyard exists at the west end of the prayer hall, which had a low roof of logs and mud. The roof was supported by five piers carrying five arcades running north to south. The mihrab, which appears to date from the 18th century, has four flower-like stars on the wall immediately either side. The minaret has a square base that transitions to eight blind arches by bevelling the corners. Thereafter the minaret is cylindrical in shape.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

The hamam is better preserved. It has a very large disrobing chamber preceded by a small vestibule. As Sinclair, notes:

The vestibule is partly in a tower-like projection from the s. wall and partly in a box-like construction inside the disrobing chamber… From the vestibule one turns left into a separate room lighted by one of two trilobed windows either side of the southerly projection. The disrobing chamber’s dome is supported by a squinch and blind arch construction: the beginnings of the dome above and in the spandrels of the arches are in brick… The long cool room stretches all the way from the n. to the s. wall.

Hot room. The central dome rises from arches at the entrance to the axial domed spaces and from the cut stone diagonal wall above the entrances to the corner rooms. Above the latter the wall is taken up vertically in brick inside a rounded blind arch, which forms the angle between the vertical brickwork and that of the brick skirt sent down from the dome’s base…

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The Kucuk Camii really is small (“kucuk” means “small”) in that each wall of its square prayer hall measured only 10 metres internally. Parts of the walls still survive, as does part of the unusually wide cylindrical minaret. The dome, which no longer exists, rested on a brick skirt brought down to squinches. The door leading to the steps within the minaret is beneath the south-east squinch.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

The citadel provides remarkable views over the surrounding countryside, the river, the bridge, the ruins of Eski Palu and the new town to the west. It has a top platform, the main enclosure, remnants of wall, the scant remains of what appears to be a church (probably Armenian), a rock with an Urartian inscription and various rock chambers, some of the latter connected by a tunnel. Sinclair refers to local people who believed that one set of rock chambers “was the retreat where the Armenian monk Mesrop (Mashtots) invented the Armenian alphabet” in 405CE. This would appear to be a legend of very doubtful reliability because scholarly research suggests the alphabet was conceived while Mesrop Mashtots undertook study in Alexandria, then one of the world’s most important cultural, scholarly and scientific centres.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

Between the citadel and the old town centre are the other important survivals from the past. Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe was subject to restoration and, most unusually, one of the workmen refused me permission to examine the complex up close (he wanted to assert his authority, I suspect). However, I could see that the mescit is a box-like square with a thin round drum from which rises a dome. The turbe was added to the north-east corner of the mescit. The turbe would have had a hexagonal ground plan, but two sides have been lost due to the join with the mescit.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit is partly dug into the hill and its small prayer hall is crowned with a six-sided pyramidal cap. Extending the basic square west are two iwans separated by an arch rather than a wall. The iwans and arch were designed as the portico.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii dates from only 1874, but, although merely a rectangle running east to west and now devoid of a roof, is quite an unusual structure. Windows exist along the south-facing wall but not along that to the north (because of the sloping land), and internally the roof was supported on four north to south arcades of three arches each. The south wall, with the stump of the minaret at its east end, is particularly pleasing to the eye because of the five arched windows and the suggestion that the mescit originally had alternating courses of light- and dark-coloured stone. A courtyard existed along the east wall, but not much evidence for this survives.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii.

Merkez Camii.

I now walked past the church in the old town centre to the bridge, which has recently benefited from a massive restoration programme. Although the stone still looks very new, I could not in any way fault the reconstruction. The bridge has nine arches of differing height and width and the surface of the road slightly meanders as it gently rises and falls. The bridge, which looks as if it dates from quite early Ottoman times, is near a railway bridge and, at one point during my visit to Eski Palu, a passenger train made its way from east to west.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The church, which commands views east along the river and its valley, belonged to the Armenian Monastery of the Mother of God. Sinclair refers to a:

Large, cavernous structure, perhaps built in the early 19th century,… placed near the e. rim of the platform… Seen from the w., it appears to consist of a high dome bay and an apse, but in reality the church was hall-like. The apse is wide but shallow: short faces bring the e. end to the n. and s. wall of the chancel. Then the dome bay, about one and a half times the length of the chancel. Here, apart from the collapsing of the dome, part of the n. wall and the whole of the s. wall have fallen. The octagonal drum, however, remains: this begins precisely at the base of the dome. Eight windows. The dome’s pendentives rest on four arches, two against the walls, all on four wall piers: thus the n. and s. walls were a shell which bore little stress from the dome. However, they let in much light, by means of three large windows each in their upper halves.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The chancel is roofed by a single vault with e.-w. apex. The remaining bay, w. of the dome, seems to have been similarly vaulted, and to have had the same dimensions as the chancel, but practically nothing is left… Brick is used on the arches, jambs, reveals, vaults, dome, etc.

Décor. Inside, pilasters rise to a thick moulding at the springing line of the chancel vault. Niches in each face either side of the apse. Blind arches echoing the windows in the lower half of the dome’s bay walls. The remains of crude paintings of angels in the e. wall of the chancel, one to each side of the apse. Biblical inscription on apse arch.

Small vestry n. of chancel…

Church of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

Although some of the Muslim buildings in Eski Palu are being restored, the church is not, and I could detect nothing that suggested it would so benefit in the immediate future. Moreover, some of what Sinclair describes above no longer survives.

What is now Eski Palu once had a substantial Armenian population, as did some of the villages surrounding the town, and Sinclair refers to Havav, a village “a few kilometres north”, that has the ruins of three churches in or near it.

Palu is one of the numerous places in what is now eastern Turkey where the massacre and expulsion of Armenians took place in 1915. Here is part of an article that first appeared in the “Boston Globe” in April 1998:

Katherine Magarian saw her father and dozens of other family members slain by invading Turks in the Armenian massacres that began 83 years ago this Friday. In all, the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Armenians lasted nearly eight years and claimed the lives of more than a million people. Twenty years earlier, the Turks had also slaughtered thousands of Armenians.

Magarian, who turned ninety-two on 10th April, survived the murderous rampage by escaping her village with her mother and sister. Separated from her mother, Magarian eventually emigrated, first to Cuba and then to the United States in 1927. She settled in Rhode Island, where she has lived ever since. Magarian spoke recently with “Boston Globe” correspondent Paul E. Kandarian at her daughter’s home. The following are edited excerpts of her remarks.

“I saw my father killed when I was nine years old. We lived in Palou in the mountains. My father was a businessman. He’d go into the country selling pots and pans, butter, dairy products. The Turks, they ride in one day and get all the men together, bring them to a church. Every man came back out, hands tied behind them. Then they slaughter them, like sheep, with long knives.

“They all die, twenty-five people in my family die. You can’t walk, they kill you. You walk, they kill you. They did not care who they kill. My husband, who was a boy in my village but I did not know him then, he saw his mother’s head cut off. The Turks, they see a pregnant woman. They cut the baby out of her and hold it up on their knife to show.

“My mother and I, we run. They get one of my other sisters, and one of my other sisters, she was four, she ran away. My mother was hit by the Turks; she was bleeding as we go. We walk and walk. I say, ‘Ma, wait, I want to look for my little sister,’ but my mother slap me, say ‘No! Too dangerous. We keep walking.’ It gets darker and darker, but we walk. Still, I don’t know where. The Turks had taken over our city.

Two, three days we walk, little to eat. Finally, we find my sister, who had run away. Then we walk to Harput and I see Turks and want to run, but they are friendly Turks, my mother tells me. She say, ‘You go live with them now, you’ll be safe,’ and I was. I worked there, waiting on them, cleaning, but I was alive and safe. But I don’t see my mother for five years. She was taken to the mountains to live and she saw hundreds of dead Armenians, hundreds of them, who had been killed by the Turks, bodies all over.

Years later, my mother say to the Turks, ‘I want to see my child,’ and they let her come back. She came to the house at night. She did not know me, but I know it was her. Her voice was the same as I remember it. I tell her who I am, she say, ‘You are my daughter!’ and we kiss, hug and cry and cry.

“My mother later heard of an orphanage in Beirut for Armenians and we go there after the Turks kick us out of our country. I spend four years there and, again, I don’t see my mother until a priest gets us together. In 1924, she comes to this country to meet family who left before the genocide. Three times now, I have lost my mother.”

I could find only one internet article about Palu that seeks to establish how many Armenians were murdered in the town, but the figure of 1580 may refer to the town as well as the villages closest to it. However, I found the following with a Palu link. It derives from “Al Monitor, the pulse of the Middle East”:

The presence of “secret” Armenians in Anatolia has become the subject of a news report in the Argentine press. In an article entitled “The Footprints of Secret Armenians in Turkey”, Argentine journalist Avedis Hadjian writes that people of Armenian origin, estimated to number hundreds of thousands, continue to live in Anatolia and Istanbul under false identities. Hadjian’s research begins in Istanbul’s Kurtulus neighbourhood and then takes him to Amasya, Diyarbakir, Batman, Tunceli and Mus.

According to the report, those who have been hiding their real identity for almost a century reside mostly in Turkey’s eastern regions. They have embraced the Sunni or Alevi sects of Islam and live with Turkish or Kurdish identities.

Still, a tiny community living in villages in the Sason district of Batman province preserves their Christianity. Stressing that no one really knows the exact number of crypto-Armenians, Hadjian says he has seen that many of them are scared to acknowledge their Armenian identity. He quotes a crypto-Armenian in Palu: “Turkey is still a dangerous place for Armenians.” 

The crypto-Armenians who live under various guises do not socialise with those who live openly as Armenians and evade contact with strangers. According to Hadjian, some reject their identities, even though they accept their parents or grandparents were Armenian, and their Turkish and Kurdish neighbours still call them “Armenians” or “infidels”. Others acknowledge their real identity, but say they keep it secret from their offspring.

To Palu and Eski Palu.

Before breakfast I walked to the ferry terminal to put the previous night’s empty beer bottles into litter bins, then went to eat in the garden of the hotel overlooking the reservoir. The sun was shining. As I waited for the food and tea to arrive, I looked at the roses in the flowerbeds. A man arrived in the garden and sat a few tables away. Three friends soon joined him for breakfast. Borek replaced the chips of the morning before and there was an excellent jam made from what looked like blackberries, but the fruit was karadut, or black mulberry. Once again, honey was in the comb.

I packed the last few things into my bags, paid the bill, thanked staff for what had proved a delightful stay and walked to the ferry terminal knowing I could find a seat in one of the five or six minibuses for Elazig that had arrived for the next crossing. However, as we waited for a ferry to arrive (two ferries make the crossing all day long timing their departure so they set off at almost exactly the same time, but from opposites sides of the reservoir), I chatted with a man driving an almost new Volvo. An Alevi with the usual misgivings about Erdogan, the AKP and Sunni Muslims, he kindly offered me a lift to Elazig where he was undertaking a day’s business. Because Elazig was from where minibuses would take me to my destination for the night, Palu, I agreed without hesitation to join him.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

Once all the motor vehicles had been driven aboard, the ferry set off. Passengers could walk around the deck, which meant that the views of the castle and the reservoir were very good. I was not allowed to pay either my fare or for the car. The crossing took about only fifteen minutes and it did not take long to disembark. The drive thereafter was pretty rather than spectacular, but, as the car began to descend into Elazig, we passed a very large but incomplete hotel commanding extensive views over the city and the wide valley beyond.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

The man who had given me the lift left his Volvo in a car park next to where minibuses depart for the minibus garaj serving towns and villages to the east. Because Palu lay to the east of Elazig, this was the garaj required for the next leg of my journey, so I got into the right minibus and, ten minutes later, was asking from where I could find a service to Palu. In the fashion characteristic of the trip so far, a minibus for Palu was leaving in about ten minutes. Perfection.

Most of the journey to Palu was of moderate interest scenically, especially as we drove beside another reservoir with rounded hills to either side, but as we made our way into Palu itself, which lies beside the Murat Nehri with high mountains nearby, my spirits lifted. A steep, meandering descent from a plain into the town itself confirmed that I would enjoy what remained of the day. Some unattractive urban areas lay between Elazig and my destination, most obviously in Kovancilar where we turned off the main road to Bingol and Mus, but, although Palu is now overwhelmingly modern, its situation is stunning and it is small enough not to be much of a blot on the landscape. Moreover, because Palu lies beside the railway from Elazig to Mus and Tatvan, the small town is worth a detour even without the dramatic scenery and Eski Palu, the latter being the main reason why I was staying overnight.

A search on the internet before leaving home suggested that Palu did not have a hotel, and this was confirmed by men at the garaj in Elazig from where the Palu minibuses depart. However, in Turkey even small towns have accommodation of some sort for visitors expected or otherwise, and the men at the garaj had assured me that staff at the ogretmen evi would put me up. Palu’s town centre is so small that the minibus terminated almost opposite the ogretmen evi, so I walked across the road to enquire about a room. A room was available because most teachers had departed for home. The term was almost over and exams dominated the working day, but only a few teachers were needed to supervise them. The manager of the ogretmen evi, who was summoned from the nearby large and very new Hukumet Konagi, showed me around the facilities (the facilities included rooms where games such as pool were played and a kitchen where breakfast was prepared), then he offered me a room with three beds near a smaller room with a sink and toilet (showers and more sinks and toilets were upstairs and easily accessed). I said how grateful I was for the room, which had lots of storage space, especially for one person, but was even more amazed when I was told that the room cost only 15TL a night. I said that the cost was very low and was happy to pay more, but more could not be accepted. I was in the middle of the town with the pazar, shops, businesses and lokantas nearby; the railway station was a few blocks to the south-west; and a road leading toward Eski Palu began near the Hukumet Konagi less than 300 metres away. I could not believe my luck. We drank tea, my passport was photocopied and a few personal details were committed to a ledger.

I paid for the room in advance, then the manager led me to a small courtyard where the teachers could sit in the evenings drinking tea or soft drinks as they chatted with friends. From a tree the manager picked a green fruit not unlike a very small apple, but the fruit had a stone rather than pips inside. I bit into the sour but refreshing flesh, itself firm like an immature apple, and the manager gave me about twenty to take for my walk to, around and from Eski Palu.

The best way from Palu to Eski Palu on foot (there is a way by car, but it is much greater in length and requires crossing the river twice) is to follow as closely as you can the railway going east, then, with some of the ruins now in sight, you ascend a rounded hill aiming for one of the minarets. The centre of Eski Palu, which has long been abandoned and replaced by the town in which I was staying overnight, lay among and close to the ruins just mentioned, but the ruins of a citadel are found on the massive eruption of rock behind them. Eski Palu is a destination that deserves to be far better known and, as I was soon to find out, its ruins are more extensive and rewarding than those at similar but more famous places.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

For most of the way to Eski Palu there are footpaths. Some of the footpaths are directly above the river with the railway to your left, and some are a little to the north with the railway to your right. However, all the paths eventually disappeared among new grass and late spring’s wild flowers. I had to ascend a hillside using for directions one of the minarets to keep me roughly on course. When I arrived on the more level ground that must have once been the centre of Eski Palu, there were the ruins of two mosques, a hamam and a cesme in close proximity and, some way to the east, a ruined church. High above me to the north were the ruins of the citadel. The ruins of the hamam were the most impressive and they were the ones most obviously benefiting from a lengthy restoration project.

View west to Palu.

View west to Palu.

I had been looking around the ruins for about fifteen minutes when I met five or six workmen who had been resting nearby before resuming their task of restoring the hamam. One of the workmen kindly encouraged me to enter parts of the ruins not previously examined, then he invited me to join two of his colleagues for glasses of tea in a large portacabin that was where they slept at night. The portacabin was also their daytime retreat when the heat became oppressive or they wanted to eat a meal. They explained that, although it was a rather long walk to the citadel via a gently inclined road encircling the mountain on which it stands before turning into a path with stone steps, I should make the effort to see it. I would enjoy the views, some Urartian remains and a tunnel of unknown origin. I took their advice, but did not realise at the time that the walk would also lead to other ruins associated with Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

To Sagman and the Termal Hotel.

Because the road to Sagman begins beside the reservoir and Sagman itself is high in the hills and mountains, the ascent is quite a demanding one for someone aged over sixty, and it is made a little more challenging because the village is 10 kilometres away. Moreover, at only one point can you get fresh water, at an improvised cesme dependent on a hose to bring liquid refreshment to people on the road itself. On the positive side, the views over the reservoir and the surrounding hills and mountains are never less than excellent and two men kindly gave me a lift for the last 3 kilometres. Sagman itself is a predominantly modern village that clusters quite tightly around a recently built mosque, but, because it lies on a gently inclined slope dominated by pasture with stunning views in all directions, I found it most attractive, the pitched corrugated iron roofs included. By now there was, albeit briefly, bright sunshine and I felt elated.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

I was dropped in what passes as the centre of the village, a small open space enclosed by a few buildings, two shops included. There were also some parked motor vehicles, three of which were minibuses that carried people to school, Tunceli or Elazig. After admiring the extensive views over the pasture toward hills, mountains and the reservoir, I set off along a dirt road that led after about 2 kilometres to the mosque and the castle that are Sagman’s main claims to fame (the old town of Sagman, which has now almost completely disappeared, was located close to the castle and around the mosque. The present village cannot be more than fifty or sixty years old). For most of the way the road was level or gently inclined in my favour, which made the walk an easy one. Mules and horses in a quantity not witnessed previously on the trip ate the pasture and looked in good health. At the easternmost extremity of the village a jandarma post was still occupied by men in uniforms.

View south-east from Sagman.

View south-east from Sagman.

I turned a corner and saw ahead the mosque in front of the castle. Both had been built at more or less the same height above sea level, but a distance of about 250 metres lies between them. The castle is on a rock a little higher than all those near it and the mosque is above a slope descending to a river far below to the south. Both structures are surrounded by stunning upland scenery of mountains and deep valleys. I was thrilled by the prospect of looking around for about an hour or so.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque is currently subject to a substantial restoration programme, but the day of my visit no workmen were present. This meant I could walk wherever I wished. Sinclair notes that:

The domed prayer hall, executed in black basalt, and the portico in front were built probably about 1555… The wings either side, including the turbe reached from the s. side of the w. wing, must have been added about 1570. To all appearances these wings are a tekke, a lodge for dervishes of a particular (Sufi) order. The use of the mosque as part of a tekke would not have prevented members of the town’s population from worshipping in the prayer hall…

Prayer hall. The n. wall is distanced from the dome so as to contrive an arched entrance space almost covering the length of the prayer hall’s n. side… The comparatively simple mihrab has a frame of muqarnas as well as a muqarnas vault. The small stone member has five niches with pointed arches at the base on each side. These are pabucluks (cubby-holes for shoes). In the tower-like part beneath the pulpit are further cubby-holes…

The prayer hall is entered through a portal in whose muqarnas vault genuine stalactites are formed. Apart from this and the decoration of the engaged pillars on the corners between the bay and the outside face, the portal is plain: however, it is executed in a remarkable conglomerate stone white and pink in colour…

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

E. and w. wings. To e. and w. of the portico, there is a row of rooms consisting of a vaulted rectangular chamber, a second, narrow, vaulted room and a third, domed one at the end…

To the w. the octagonal turbe is bonded with the complex of rooms: its north face is formed by part of the back wall. Its low sides are executed in an alternation of black and white courses.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

 I was left with an impression that, on completion of the restoration project, the mosque will look very much as it did when originally constructed. Without question, this proved to be the day’s most remarkable survival from the past, although the nearby castle has its rewards as well. As Sinclair reveals:

What survives is the walls fortifying the westerly arm of the castle rock, i.e. that pointing towards the mosque… The corner of the n. and sw. faces is of cut stone, and so is the polygonal, but slight, tower in the middle of the sw. face. Otherwise the masonry is of uncut or roughly hacked blocks. It is reminiscent of that of the castle of Pertek. The two walls are built above vertical cliffs. The extent and configuration of the rest of the castle has not been investigated. ? 16th century, but certainly the reconstruction of a previous castle.

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

 Just north of the mosque is a cesme with two vaulted bays. The cesme was built in 1555 by a local Kurdish ruler called Bey Keykusrav, who may have also built the mosque itself. Bey Keykusrav was the father of Salih, the prince who is buried in the turbe.

The cesme, Sagman.

The cesme, Sagman.

It was on land between the castle and the mosque, but a little to the north of the former, that, until the 1980s, a cluster of houses marked where at least part of the old town of Sagman stood. Today, however, only traces of the foundations of the houses remain among trees and undergrowth of recent pedigree.

Half way through my look around, I met two elderly couples who had driven to this quite but exceedingly beautiful spot to eat a picnic and walk along paths disappearing as the grass and flowers took over. Both couples appeared to be Sunni Muslim, but I could not fault their friendliness. I was asked to eat some food, but declined the invitation because it was now about 4.00pm and I was not sure how long it would take to get back to Pertek.

Sagman.

Sagman.

With the two men I continued our conversation as I drank water from the cesme. I had seen on arrival an old dirt road leading from beside the mosque into the valley to the south and asked the men where it went. They explained that it was the old road from Pertek which, for the last 5 or 6 kilometres, is no longer used by motor vehicles destined for Sagman because it has not been maintained for many years. Nonetheless, it could be walked and, from where the road is still accessible to motor vehicles, that is, from a very small, largely deserted, village one of the men identified as a mahalle, I might be lucky and find a private car going to Pertek. When it was suggested that Pertek lay about 12 to 14 kilometres from the mosque, I thought the walk would be worth the gamble. To return the way I had come might involve a walk just as long, but still leave me about 8 to 10 kilometres from the hotel. I was told to take a left just before the mahalle, the first settlement after leaving the mosque, and warned that I would have to first descend to the river before ascending the other valley wall and taking a right to Pertek. By now, a little rested and with a bottle full of water from the cesme, I was keen to press on. If nothing else I would see yet more of the uplands of Dersim that had so captivated my imagination. I shook hands with the two men who said I should arrive at an inhabited village about 2 or 3 kilometres from Pertek in about two hours.

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

By now the cloud had built up again and I set off at a brisk pace knowing the cooler conditions would militate against getting overheated. I kept turning back because the views of the castle were particularly good, but there were also moments when the mosque was silhouetted against the grey sky. The valley into which I rapidly descended could not be faulted either and, the lower I got, the more I encountered trees and undergrowth. Whenever I looked up mountains enclosed me. I felt elated all over again.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

I arrived at a left turn but, to confirm it was the correct one, walked a little further to ensure the village lay nearby. It did lie nearby and, at the point where the road came to an end, someone had parked a very old car. This implied that at least one house in the village must still be lived in, but, when I looked around, most of the narrow paths leading from one house to another were overgrown or breaking up. The houses had been built on the steep, south-facing slope in such a way that no house obscured the view of another. The houses utilised a light brown stone and had flat roofs, but I did not find one still inhabited. Some roofs had been covered with large blue tarpaulin sheets weighed down with stones. The tarpaulin sheets were no doubt intended to keep the rain from penetrating inside, which made me think the owners of the houses might have plans to rebuild them, perhaps so they could use them during the summer months. I looked around and could not think of many more pretty places to have a house. Moreover, it was from the village that the road could be driven along, albeit with care in places.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

By now the wind was building up and, about half a kilometre from the village, rain began to fall from a sky full of grey cloud, thunder and lightning. Luckily I had my anorak with me so I put it on and zipped it up. The rain persisted for about half an hour, but I pushed on because shelter beside the road did not exist. During that half hour I passed two very large flocks of sheep being brought down from the pasture on the mountain slopes and chatted with two young shepherds smoking cigarettes under an umbrella who alarmed me when they said that Pertek was still 10 kilometres away (luckily, they were wrong). I then arrived at the point where a bridge crosses the river. A steep ascent out of the valley lay ahead, which I knew would test my increasingly tired legs, but I was now about half the way to my destination. As the rain eased and then stopped altogether, I saw that nomads had set up a camp not far from the bridge on a patch of level ground that was wider than anywhere else nearby. The shepherds I had spoken with earlier would no doubt spend the night in one of the tents. Their sheep would be put into pens assembled from wooden fencing. An open-topped lorry had been parked nearby. The lorry had been used to bring the tents and other camp equipment a few days or weeks before.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

The clouds began to break up and the sun shone in a sky that grew steadily more blue with every minute that passed. Although I had to walk all the way to the inhabited village the old men had mentioned, the scenery was so astounding that I could not help smiling, my tiredness notwithstanding. I was now very high on the north-facing valley wall and could see for considerable distances in every direction except south where the reservoir was. However, east, north and west there were hills, mountains, deep valleys, a meandering river, large flocks of sheep and goats, trees on the steep slopes and, an indicator that the village was nearby, lots of beehives on a relatively flat shelf high above the river. Moreover, ahead was a break in the ridge immediately to the south that would allow a road to turn right for Pertek. I had just about done it.

As I approached the gap in the ridge, I saw a woman aged about thirty-five sitting on a rock as she smoked a cigarette. She was not wearing a headscarf. She looked north toward the highest mountains of Dersim. With the ascent over I needed a break, so I said hello and, when the woman replied in a friendly manner and patted the rock on which she sat, I knew she would not object if I rested beside her. We shook hands and I declined a cigarette, but I drank lots of the water in my bottle. The water had remained almost as cool as when I had taken it from the cesme at old Sagman.

It turned out that one of the old men at Sagman had rung someone in the village to look out for my arrival and the young woman with whom I was chatting had decided to assume the role of welcoming committee. She was a jandarma enjoying a few day’s leave and had returned to her home village to spend time with family and friends. A female jandarma? This was most unusual in itself, but when she said she was Alevi and unmarried (very few women in Turkey remain unmarried by the time they are thirty), my surprise was compounded. However, she had a great sense of humour and was determined that I would meet her mother and a few other people in the village.

I was led to the mother’s house, an old place spread over a single storey, and encouraged to sit in the small garden in shade created by vegetation trained overhead. After the mother had been introduced to me and before she sat down to join in the conversation, she brought me some stuffed vine leaves, a stuffed pepper and two large glasses of fruit juice, all of which I consumed gratefully because I had had nothing since breakfast except water. The mother and daughter confessed to finding Sunni Muslims “a problem”, and the daughter confessed to enjoying alcohol when she was off-duty. I explained about the organic wine I had been given at Onar and the daughter laughed heartily, just as she had laughed earlier when, after I had peeled off my anorak to reveal a damp shirt unfit for human wear, I tried to make myself look more presentable by combing my hair! Her laugh said it all: my effort was a total waste of time.

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

My meal over, I explained that I had to get to Pertek before nightfall, something I was told would be no problem because it was only 2 or 3 kilometres away. The daughter took me for a short walk through the village where I met a few more people, then we kissed on the cheeks and I set off for Pertek. The road soon provided excellent views over the town and the reservoir. Because I was descending all the time, less effort was required, and, once on the edge of Pertek itself, I took a shot cut across some derelict land on which the occasional house or small apartment block had been built. I emerged on the main road leading to Cemisgezek and Hozat, but the roundabout with the peace sign still lay about 3 kilometres away. So near yet so far from my destination. It was now that the fatigue really kicked in because there was nothing new to enjoy (although later, walking toward the hotel, there was another dramatic sunset).

Pertek.

Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

I called at the same bufe as the night before to buy two beers and a packet of crisps, which was all my body craved because of the excellent food so recently consumed, then I took a few photos of the sunset. I lingered a while to chat with the hotel staff on reception because they looked bored, but was in my room by 7.45pm, just as the last light was draining from the sky. I stripped off, showered, put on the heavy towel dressing gown provided to every guest for the duration of their stay and washed a few items of clothing. Next, I sat at the table in front of the window, opened the first of the two beers and began jotting down a summary of what had happened since waking that morning. Not all today’s monuments had lived up to expectation, and many houses I had hoped to see no longer existed, but the scenery had been memorable from start to finish. I had walked 25 to 30 kilometres through some of Turkey’s most enchanting upland scenery and been driven through even more and, as a consequence, felt confident I would return quite soon to delve a little deeper into what Dersim has to offer.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

To Ulu Kale.

I had an excellent night’s sleep because of the comfortable bed and the quite room, so was rested enough by 6.30am to walk to the ferry terminal to take more photos of the ferries themselves and the castle. Because breakfast at the hotel was not served until 8.00am, I walked toward the roundabout with the peace sign, but, before getting that far, took a right turn along a dirt road that led toward the centre of Pertek past small apartment blocks, houses in large gardens and farms where families kept sheep and a few cattle. As the road ascended, the views of the reservoir and the castle steadily improved. Every so often I passed children waiting to be picked up in a minibus and taken to school.

Before the reservoir was filled, two mosques were dismantled from the slopes on which old Pertek lay and were reassembled in the modern town of Pertek (in other words, the mosques lay on the slopes below the castle. The slopes are now below the level of the water, as are ruins including a church and a hamam). I caught glimpses of both the mosques, Baysungur Camii and Celebi Ali Camii, both of which have their origins in the 16th century. Baysungur Camii is a domed cube with a three-domed portico and a minaret. The portico’s walls and the minaret’s shaft are constructed with bands of chocolate-coloured and cream-coloured stone, but the walls of the prayer hall comprise of rubble stone. Celebi Ali Camii has some similarities with Baysungur Camii, but an iwan and a cesme help to make it distinctive.

For breakfast I was directed to the café and lokanta that has been built in the large garden overlooking the reservoir the other side of the road from the hotel itself. I sat at a table facing the reservoir, the castle and the hills to the south-west and, about fifteen minutes later, was given tea and a tray of food. For a hotel expensive by Turkish standards the food was not very imaginative, but, with a generous portion of bread to go with the tomatoes, cucumber, olives, three types of cheese, chips, boiled egg, honey in the comb, cherry jam, tea and water, I had no reason to complain. This said, I was disappointed to see that cloud was building up and turning the sun a little hazy. However, I expected the day to involve a lot of walking, so perhaps the cloud would prove a blessing in disguise.

My destinations for the day were Ulu Kale, about 10 to 15 kilometres from Cemisgezek, and Sagman, about 15 kilometres from Pertek. Both destinations lay off the main road to Cemisgezek, but the previous day’s travels had given me the opportunity to identify precisely where both roads to my destinations diverged. I had resolved to visit Ulu Kale first because it was the destination furthest from Pertek.

Just before 9.00am I left the hotel for the roundabout with the peace sign and, ten minutes after arriving there, a quietly spoken man driving an old Tofas offered me a lift to the junction for Dere. When I got out of the car I was almost as far as the small supermarket where, the day before, I had bought the ice cream. I walked a short distance, then a car stopped with four men inside. The men were going to Cemisgezek to undertake a day’s work and they each had a small briefcase to confirm that they were civil servants or professionals of some importance. Because the junction for Ulu Kale was only 3 or 4 kilometres from Akcapinar near where I had been the day before, I was taken most of the way to Cemisgezek, which confirmed for me that the road from Pertek to Cemisgezek is one of exceptional beauty and interest.

Between Pertek and Cemisgezek.

Between Pertek and Cemisgezek.

Because the car in which we travelled was very new and the driver wanted to show off his skills at the wheel, it was about 10.20am when I arrived at the junction for Ulu Kale. The sign at the bottom of the road suggested that the village was only 4 kilometres away, but by the time I arrived in its centre it felt as if I had walked 5 or even 5.5 kilometres. For most of the way the ascent was merely steady and a lot of time was spent at or near the highest point of a ridge. I therefore secured excellent views of Payamduzu on the way to Akcapinar and Cemisgezek, and north toward snow-smudged mountains in the milli parki. Sadly the cloud cover remained quite thick, which imbued many a view with a grey tinge, but at least it was cool and the views extensive, not least over the reservoir. Every so often I encountered a large flock of sheep and goats. At one point I was worried that large dogs that protected a flock might make their way in my direction – they had seen me and began barking in a threatening way – but they decided to stay close to their shepherd instead.

Ulu Kale.

Ulu Kale.

Ulu Kale.

Ulu Kale.

I rounded a corner and was on the westernmost edge of the village, which has, in recent decades, shifted from its original position immediately below the basalt cliffs crowned by the scant remains of the castle to a more accessible and gently sloping shelf looking south. However, the remains of the original village and the much larger new one lie in a bowl with cliffs and steep slopes rising to the west, the north and the east. Once the houses and other facilities of the village somewhat abruptly conclude, fields, orchards and pasture lead toward a river to the south. At the entrance to the village on the west side is a most unusual sight in a Turkish village, identical modern houses arranged in a regular fashion along new roads that really belong in a new suburb in one of the large conurbations far to the west. The pitched roofs, brightly painted plaster walls, satellite dishes and small gardens behind wire fences would look perfectly at home in parts of Bursa or Eskisehir. Or, with some minor tweaking, Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

View south from Ulu Kale.

View south from Ulu Kale.

Ulu Kale.

Ulu Kale.

Although immediately to the north of Ulu Kale you are enclosed by cliffs and slopes, more open views exist south-east and south-west, and the hills to the south are far enough away to create a welcome sense of spaciousness. While the most interesting houses are inevitably those in the original village – they are built of stone and substantial in size, but look abandoned and are very few in number – the houses in the new village are of interest because a mixture of stone, mudbrick, concrete, plaster, wood, corrugated iron and flat sheets of metal have been used to good visual effect. Most houses have a patch of garden surrounding them where trees, flowers and a few vegetables prosper.

Part of the old village, Ulu Kale.

Part of the old village, Ulu Kale.

Part of the old village below the castle, Ulu Kale.

Part of the old village below the castle, Ulu Kale.

Between the original village and the new one is a turbe with an octagonal ground plan. Sinclair says it was built in 1550 for someone called Ferruhsad Bey:

Three courses of a rich red stone run round the trunk. Two large windows in arched recesses to e. and w. Beside the mihrab, which is partly lost, there are niches in the se. and sw. walls of the interior. The brick interior dome is revealed by the loss of the exterior pyramidal cap. There is a small crypt.

The turbe, Ulu Kale.

The turbe, Ulu Kale.

Not far from the turbe is a ruin described to me as a church. I could find nothing to confirm that the ruin had been a church, but Sinclair describes a church at Ulu Kale more or less where the ruin is. He writes that it was:

Single nave, one rib. Semi-circular apse, ruined. Entrance wall mostly fallen. Large blocks used. Probably 17th or 18th century.

The ruined church (?), Ulu Kale.

The ruined church (?), Ulu Kale.

The ruined church (?), Ulu Kale.

The ruined church (?), Ulu Kale.

Photos on the internet of Ulu Kale taken a few years ago confirm that many old houses, even then in a very neglected state, have disappeared altogether, and it is obvious from Sinclair’s monumental study of eastern Turkey that very little of the castle survives. This said, I was glad I had made the effort to visit the village, not least for its dramatic natural surroundings. I noticed that a road meandered along the river in an easterly direction leading after a few kilometres to Bozagac and, if nothing else, the scenery must be very rewarding. From Bozagac a road leads back to the Pertek to Cemisgezek road. A round walk for a future visit? Perhaps.

View east from Ulu Kale.

View east from Ulu Kale.

Local wildlife, Ulu Kale.

Local wildlife, Ulu Kale.

So little traffic goes from Ulu Kale to the Pertek to Cemisgezek road during the day that I had to walk all the way to the junction, but at least I was going downhill most of the time and could enjoy extensive views of the Keban Reservoir. Once at the junction I had to wait only a short time for a lift all the way to the junction for Sagman. I was travelling with a man of local importance (he toured the region to confirm that road works were completed to a satisfactory standard) because he was in a new and very comfortable car with a chauffeur. The chauffeur said that he played professional football for a club in a league one or two levels below the top-flight clubs and that his job as a chauffeur terminated once the football season began. Both men were Alevis. They combined friendliness with a reflective frame of mind, but warned me that most people in Sagman were Sunni Muslims.

Between Ulu Kale and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

Between Ulu Kale and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

To Cemisgezek and the Termal Hotel.

Being dropped off where hills, a river, trees, pasture with wild flowers and lots of beehives presented an image of rural bliss, I decided to wait until a lift arrived and, after only twenty minutes, a small open-topped lorry drew to a halt. The driver already had two men in the cab and on the back of the lorry were two cows. I was lucky: the men and their cattle were going to Cemisgezek. The two passengers shuffled along to make room for me and, just over an hour later, we arrived at our destination. While the driver said almost nothing the whole journey other than to reassure me that my presence was not a problem, the two passengers chattered incessantly in Zazaki, a language that I understand even less well than Kurmanji. I got the feeling they were gossiping about people they knew and about whether such people could be trusted when transacting business, because every so often sums of money were mentioned.

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

The journeys to and from Hozat and to and from the Armenian church had been remarkable, not least because the roads along which I travelled were usually high up so the views were extensive, but I think I enjoyed even more the journey to and from the junction where the lorry picked me up. When meandering along the valley floor, not once were we confined by a narrow gorge. Along the rivers the trees and small fields provided intimate counterpoint to the grandeur of the upland surroundings. However, a lot of time was spent high among rounded hills. The views were uninterrupted and took in distant mountains and the Keban Reservoir. Along the road and in the middle distance pasture was everywhere, in some instances covering the summits of the hills and mountains themselves, but the pasture was not quite as good as further north and east in Dersim. Consequently, sheep and goats were much more numerous than cattle and the flocks were in some instances enormous.

After about 40 kilometres of stunning upland scenery we arrived in the centre of Cemisgezek, which itself lies above a river in a deep gorge with cliffs and mountains around it. By now it was 3.00pm and, when I explained that I had to return to Pertek that evening, the driver and his two companions expressed some alarm because minibuses did not travel the whole distance, only to the ferry a few kilometres to the south-east to take a short cut to Elazig. I felt confident I could hitch to my destination, however, but, to increase the chances of getting to Pertek before nightfall, decided that I would try to confine a look around the town to just over an hour.

Cemisgezek.

Suleymaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek is large enough to have a vibrant commercial heart and a small pazar, the latter largely confined to a narrow street devoid of motorised traffic. Although modern structures of limited architectural merit outnumber old buildings, enough old buildings, houses in particular, survive to make it a detour well worth undertaking (day trips from Elazig should be considered, given that minibuses run most of the day. Cemisgezek does not seem to have a hotel worth staying in). Although some tooth-like rocks and a few traces of masonry reveal where the castle used to be high above the river in its gorge, other monuments from the past are of greater interest. Yelmaniye Camii dates from 1400 (it has a portal with interesting carved ornamentation and a bright and attractive interior with a mihrab with a deep niche) and Suleymaniye Camii has a very impressive minaret from the Selcuk period. The town centre also has two hamams and, some distance outside, a turbe and a bridge with a single pointed arch.

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Overlooking the town from the west are some caves in a cliff. One of the caves has some Armenian graffiti which Sinclair dates to the late 19th century. Sinclair also says that the caves were lived in until 1938 by Alevi Kurds who took part in “the Dersim revolt”. After a general pardon for prisoners, the Alevi Kurds that remained alive were given yaylas behind Yilan Dagi (“further up the valley of the Cemisgezek Su”) and “enough money to buy flocks, even to build houses”.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

While it would be fair to say that all the monuments just listed make it worth a detour to Cemisgezek, the old houses are the town’s most remarkable feature (this said, the town seems to be predominantly Alevi and everyone is very friendly, so this is another reason to visit a settlement a little off the beaten track). Many of the old houses survive as two-storey terraces along cobbled streets. The houses are timber-framed and the mudbrick walls encased in plaster. People like to paint the walls a rich variety of colours, some of which have attractive shades reminiscent of pastel crayons and ice cream. The narrower streets are overhung by the balconies of the upper storeys and in some streets the ground floors are a little below the level of the road.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

I asked someone where the cemevi was located and was directed through the commercial heart of the town and onto a road leading to the north, which ascended into an area that quickly becomes overwhelmingly residential. In this area some old stone houses survive, some of which spread over only one storey. I asked a woman for further directions and was urged to look down into a depression more or less constituting the northern extremity of the town. I looked over a wall and there lay a modern cemevi among some of the town’s newest houses. I was told it is called Kirklar Cemevi, or Forty Cemevi. For Alevis and Bektashis, the number forty has special meaning. For some Alevis and Bektashis it refers to the forty “saints” Muhammad is said to have encountered during his nocturnal ascent to heaven/paradise, and for others it refers to the forty levels that constitute in far greater detail the four gates, or major life stages, that make up the Alevi and the Bektashi spiritual path (this path is usually identified by the Turkish word “yol”, a word commonly translated to mean “road”).

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Because Cemisgezek has so much to enjoy I stayed considerably longer than an hour. Just as I set off to walk out of town to find somewhere from where to hitch a lift, I was stopped by three young women, all second year university students. We chatted a while and, although two of the women wore headscarves, photos had to be taken before I could resume my walk. Here were yet more friendly people, in this case female, and two were conventionally pious Sunni women willing to risk criticism for chatting with an unknown male. Mind you: Sunni women could get away with such unconventional behaviour in Dersim where gender equality and the empowerment of women are the norm. Such behaviour would be much less likely to manifest itself in Elazig or Erzincan.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

I had walked about a half kilometre out of town when a tractor stopped and the driver let me climb aboard for a lift of about 3 kilometres, which not only took me far beyond the last buildings of Cemisgezek, but also well into the delightful countryside to the south. I stood beside the road and five minutes later a man drove me to the northern edge of Akcapinar, the first village from Cemisgezek. By now, of course, the sun was beginning its descent to the horizon so visibility was improving all the time. At the point I was dropped off I looked down toward Akcapinar across gently undulating fields and pasture, and beyond the fields and pasture was the Keban Reservoir with water a deeper blue than at any point during the day. Hills and mountains dominated the distance.

View south from Cemisgezek.

View south from Cemisgezek.

No more than ten minutes later a lorry drew to a halt and who should be in the cab but exactly the same three men who had driven me to Cemisgezek earlier in the day! I was surprised to see that both cows were still on the back of the lorry, but it turned out they had simply been to Cemisgezek to undertake business that did not involve the livestock. Both cows were destined for one of the men’s small farms near Hozat.

Because the sun was behind us and the visibility so good, the journey to the junction for Hozat was even more enchanting than it had been when we drove to Cemisgezek. I identified about a dozen places where I wanted to stop, sometimes to photograph the scenery alone and sometimes to photograph shepherds and their large flocks of sheep and goats in their natural surroundings. Some unusual farm buildings existed beside and not far from the road. When we finally arrived at the junction for Hozat, I wanted to give the driver some money for helping me fulfil most of the second part of the day’s programme with little difficulty, but he would not accept the notes in my hand. We were now friends even though we would probably never see each other again.

I walked a short way along the road toward Pertek, then saw to my right a small, ill-stocked supermarket occupying the ground floor of what was a large house or small apartment block. The building stood alone, but I could tell that the supermarket sold ice cream and beer. I called in for an ice cream and a chat with an Alevi male, the owner of the supermarket, who was a retired guestworker who had made his money in Germany. He told me he owned the building that contained the supermarket.

I walked a little further along the road, then a lorry stopped and the driver and his companion offered me a lift all the way to the ferry that departs from near the Termal Hotel. Once again the scenery through which we passed looked delightful, especially as it was now about 6.00pm and the shadows were lengthening.

The two men in the cab were Kurdish Bektashis. It did not take long before discussion about the forthcoming election shifted to criticism of the Sunni majority in Turkey that has always oppressed Alevis and Bektashis. One of the men grew unusually animated as he described past injustices. His anger subsided only when we passed the turning for Dorutay where I was told that some turbes are pilgrimage sites for Alevis and Bektashis.

The Kurdish Bektashis who gave me a lift to the ferry terminal, Pertek.

The Kurdish Bektashis who gave me a lift to the ferry terminal, Pertek.

I stayed with the men until we arrived at the terminal because I wanted to take some photos of the castle and the ferry in the excellent early evening light, then I went to the hotel, showered and changed my clothes. I walked toward the roundabout with the large peace sign in the middle knowing that, before I got there, I would arrive at a small roadside bufe selling beer and snacks. I bought a beer and a packet of crisps, which, along with a boiled egg saved from a breakfast in Tunceli two days earlier, and a packet of salt left over from a THY meal at the start of the trip, was all I could consume given the excellent lunch and the ice cream earlier in the day. On the way back from the bufe the setting sun filled the sky with vibrant colours. I lined up some trees so they stood in silhouette in front of the reservoir and the multi-coloured sky and clicked away. A little later I walked beside the large jandarma post near the hotel so I could take photos of the castle from beside a small jetty. One of the men on guard duty in a tower overlooking the reservoir reminded me not to point the camera toward the jandarma post.

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

I examined the photographic results of a brilliant day’s adventures as I consumed my evening meal in my very comfortable bedroom. One thing I noticed was that there were not as many wild flowers – in total number or in variety – as in the parts of Dersim visited the two previous days, but there were certainly enough to make it worthwhile to arrange beehives on the hillsides and along the valley floors. In fact, at one point I had seen what was to prove the largest single collection of beehives in one place, a number far exceeding a hundred, and the beehives belonged to the same two or three men.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

To Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

Due to the early start in Tunceli I was in my room by 9.45am. However, I was out again by 10.15am with my bottle full of water taken from a tap in the spacious bathroom (today I would fill the bottle on many occasions, but was impressed that many places existed to allow me to do so). My destinations for the day, provided everything went to plan? Hozat, from where I wanted to visit the ruined Armenian church in or near the village of Gecimli (in some sources the church is misleadingly said to be in In, but In is about 3 kilometres before the church. Ergen is another name used to identify where the church is. I assume Ergen is the old name for Gecimli), and Cemisgezek, a town with a number of important monuments surviving from the past. Cemisgezek is also rumoured to have interesting old houses, but how many have survived to the present day I could not establish from afar.

Knowing that to get to the ruined Armenian church from Hozat would probably involve a time-consuming walk along a road devoid of traffic, I hoped to access Hozat first, but I would allow the destination of the first lift to determine precisely the day’s programme. I walked north from the hotel for about 1.5 kilometres to a roundabout where a right takes you to modern Pertek and a left to Hozat and Cemisgezek. The roundabout has at its centre that widely known sign of peace inside a circle first popularised by the anti-nuclear weapons’ movement, and on the sign the word “peace” is written in many different languages.

The roundabout, Pertek.

The roundabout, Pertek.

I had been at the roundabout for only five minutes when a minibus came down the gently inclined hill from modern Pertek. I flagged down the minibus and was told it was going to Hozat. Perfection.

At first the road clung close to the shore of the reservoir, but, once we had got past the turning for Sagman, a village I would visit the next day, it almost immediately began to ascend into the rounded hills from where there were extensive views over the reservoir and toward distant mountains. For the rest of the day I spent almost every moment in glorious upland scenery, sometimes surrounded by mountains and sometimes with the vast reservoir in view. From the scenic point of view, this was to prove perhaps the most rewarding of all days on the trip. It is true that the scenery in Munzur Vadisi Milli Parki is more spectacular and enchanting, but what I encountered today was more extensive. Moreover, there were times when the scenery assumed quite an austere, even forbidding, character because trees were sometimes absent from view and rainfall in the region less frequent than further north and east. Suffice it to say that I was in remarkably beautiful upland scenery different in character from that in the milli parki, and in many places I encountered fields, orchards, pasture with wild flowers, large herds of cattle, very large herds of sheep and goats, many small settlements in which I would have liked to spend some time (some such settlements lie along the roads, but more often they are some distance from them and situated above the road) and, yet again, astoundingly friendly and helpful people. Moreover, later in the day, as the sun began its descent toward the horizon in the west, the visibility assumed a clarity of exceptional quality. What more could anyone ask for?

The road to Hozat splits from the one to Cemisgezek at a hamlet between Dorutay and Akdemir and very soon enters a valley narrower than many in the area. The ascent to Hozat is gradual but consistent and the mountains of the milli parki lie to the north. The closer we got to our destination, the more the scenery recalled that of the milli parki and that around Ovacik

We arrived in Hozat, a small town on a gently inclined shelf above the valley the road has ascended. With mountains around it no one can fault its attractive surroundings, but Hozat itself is overwhelmingly modern and virtually indistinguishable from a thousand towns in Turkey of similar size.

Hozat.

Hozat.

By now I had been befriended by an Alevi couple with a remarkably liberal disposition who had been on the minibus since it left Pertek. The couple not only explained that Hozat was overwhelmingly Alevi, but helped me get to the ruined Armenian church. They had to visit some people in a village near the church. We retired to a tea house for glasses of tea and a cup of coffee each, and a few phone calls were made. A few people came and, after a short chat, left, then about half an hour later, we climbed into a minibus driven by a man aged about twenty-five. The Alevi couple stopped the minibus not long after it had set off to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese and bread, supplies for the people they wanted to see in what had to be a village near the church devoid of shops.

Hozat.

Hozat.

We drove about 2 kilometres along the road toward Pertek, then took a left along a road that crossed the river and meandered along the east wall of the valley. Most unusually, a sign beside the road junction indicated that Ergen Kilisesi lay 9 kilometres away. In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, minor Armenian ruins of this nature in Turkey are not flagged for walkers or passing motorists. The only explanation I can give for this exception to the rule is that I was in Dersim where all minority communities have been brought together in a spirit of comradeship by decades of secular and Sunni Turkish oppression.

To Ergen Armenian Church.

To Ergen Armenian Church.

At times the road ascended to a considerable height and the views were outstanding. After driving perhaps 7 kilometres we took a left and ascended into a very small settlement on an exposed hillside. The minibus drew to a halt outside an old stone house with a flat roof with rooms arranged on only one storey. We had arrived at the house of the friends the Alevi couple wanted to see. Their male friend, a tall and hyperactive individual aged about forty, lived with his partner aged about thirty-two. The couple were unmarried, which is most unusual in Turkey, even in urban centres such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bursa which think of themselves as being very liberal and progressive.

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

Although the couple in the house had installed in recent times some kitchen units and a new fridge and cooker, they lived a very simple life in the hills and, but for a TV and a few electronic gizmos, had little more than any family might have that depended on agriculture to make a living (although there was an impressive collection of bottles with alcoholic drinks on a cupboard in the hall). In fact, their main source of income seemed to be sheep and goats, many of which were temporarily confined to a rectangular enclosure of dry stone walls on the hillside covered with a large blue sheet made of artificial material no doubt designed to protect the flock from the sun. But what really confirmed I was in the company of a couple living an unconventional lifestyle by Turkish standards was a poster of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya hanging on the dark-coloured plaster wall of one of their rooms. In fact, I was in the company of communist sympathisers who have chosen to live their lives, for now at least, far from the madding crowd, and, in the process, far from the prying eyes of the police and other uniformed representatives of the Turkish state. Little things during the hour or so that followed suggested to me that both had strong sympathies for the PKK and that the male half of the couple may have fought on behalf of the PKK (the woman may have done so as well, for all I know). As for the young woman, after she had prepared for us a wonderful lunch of mild, white cheese, olives in a herb and oil dressing, tomatoes, cucumber, helva, butter, bread and tea (the tomatoes, cucumber and bread had just arrived from Hozat, of course, but the cheese and butter, both of which were of remarkable quality, were locally sourced), she pecked at her food, rolled her own cigarettes with tobacco grown in the Adiyaman area and discussed things as an equal with everyone else. However, not once did she smile. She looked all the time as if the problems of a blatantly unjust world, a world in which the oppression of those least equipped to care for themselves was almost universal, were always at the forefront of her mind. Wearing shalwar, a grubby top and no headscarf or make-up, her slim frame and diminutive height were apparent to everyone present. Handsome rather than pretty, it was nonetheless difficult to take your eyes off her. If her hands were not engaged in movement, she would prop first one foot and then the other onto the seat of the chair she was sitting on and exhale smoke by lifting her face to the ceiling, thereby allowing some of her long hair to fall from her shoulders down her back.

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

Suddenly it was time to go. I managed to take photos of the couple, although it was obvious that neither he nor she were at ease with me doing so (which confirmed for me that they were keen to be as inconspicuous as possible. It was obvious they were radically opposed to religion in any shape or form, so a Sunni Muslim suspicion about photographing a female was not the explanation for their concern about immortalising one half of the couple), and the farewells were warm and heartfelt (they could detect that my sympathies lay with the left, but I did not express sympathy with communism, which all too often simply replaces one tyrannical regime with another). The young man got ready to drive off and the Alevi couple who had befriended me in the minibus from Pertek climbed aboard, as did I. We drove to the road leading to the Armenian church and, after about 3 kilometres, arrived in the village of Gecimli. The minibus was driven into the large garden attached to a house in the centre of the village and the man who had done the driving explained that the house belonged to his family. I met the man’s mother and father and was then told that the church lay only 200 metres further along the road. After I had looked at the ruin I was to return to the house from where I would be driven back to Hozat. As I walked toward the church through yet another village in which I would have liked to spend more time, I had to fight back a few tears. Hospitality among the people of Dersim is of a quality I have never encountered before, even here in Turkey where, in my experience, hospitality exceeds that encountered in any other nation state I have visited.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

The ruined Armenian church at Gecimli is, of course, in a very sorry state, but what survives hints at a structure which, when complete, must have been a remarkable building, and something of its remarkable qualities are most apparent on the carved stone decoration of the exterior. Sinclair notes that the church is actually part of a monastery, but today nothing but parts of the church survive:

The church, which was dedicated to the Holy Virgin, and probably the whole monastery (that of Surp Karapet, in other words, John the Baptist), was founded in 975/6. This was about forty years after the Byzantine conquest of the Dersim and the Lower Euphrates valley. The monastery came into prominence in the early 15th century, when the Armenian and monastic church revival in Amid (Diyarbakir) and its district seems to have affected this area. It was probably in the 1420s that the church was overhauled: it was certainly refaced on the exterior, and the roof and vaults were probably rebuilt. The monastery was active during the whole of the 16th century. It is not clear when it was abandoned, but it was certainly empty by 1865 and the final abandonment may have taken place in the 18th century. Local tradition suggests some serious robbing of the stone in 1944, possibly in order to build a school – but this point needs clearing up by looking at the school.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

The church was basilican in layout. Although almost the whole of the s. wall and most of the w. wall have been lost, and although nothing can now be seen of the piers which supported the arcades, the high, elaborately articulated w. façade and the longer n. façade retain their nobility and impact…

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

There is an apsed chamber, n. of the apse, at the e. end of the northerly aisle. The chamber’s entrance is rather darkened and partly hidden, as if at the end of a corridor, by a short wall extending westward from the end of the apse wall. The wall consists of a short blind arch and the pier from which the first arch is sprung.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

The fine decorated portal in the n. wall is placed in the centre of the wall as a whole but e. of the middle point of the wall as seen from inside. The portal is brought forward on two buttresses either side of the doorway; to either side again are two buttresses. Otherwise the n. wall is plain. High in the faces of the two inner buttresses, above the level of the lintel, are panels consisting of a rectangle covered with interlace adjoining a rectangle of contiguous arches joined to one another by knots. Above the door is a heavily decorated lintel, now broken, and a semi-circular relieving arch. Plain engaged pillars run up either side of the doorway and flare outwards in the long, heavily overhanging leaves of the capitals beneath the lintel. Along the outer border of the relieving arch, across the top edge of the lintel’s face and down the lintel’s two ends runs an undulating branch with leaves of an odd, simplified, less supple form than are found in standard Selcuk decoration… At either end (of the lintel) we can see a panel decorated with a plant whose stem divides, is reunited and curves to fill the whole rectangle with its tendrils. At the l.-h. end of the lintel much of the next panel can be seen; the remainder is damaged…

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

E. façade. Here the triangle of masonry between the apse and the two side-chambers is partly carved out in two wide V-shaped niches. The apse was lighted by a double window whose sills were at head height: however, the windows’ frames have been lost, apart from the outer vertical member of the r.-h. window. Here we can see a line of rosettes and other designs inside circles joined by knots… The composition centring on the window in the apse of the northerly chamber is reasonably complete. The window is flanked by tall panels. Engaged pillars rise between the panels and the window, and provide the support for the arches covering each of the three. Each pillar rises out of a sculptured element resembling a stepped base, which is probably modelled on a stele base. These bases bear very shallow decoration. One of the bases for the two engaged pillars which rose between the apse’s windows is left. Here five arches are deeply carved in the face of the base.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

I have quoted extensively from Sinclair because, although not everything he saw in the 1980s survives, the church is still such a notable survival from the past that people should know what has already been lost, and what could very well be lost in the future if the ruin is neglected for much longer.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

I returned to the house where the minibus had been parked and, after brief chats with everyone present, said goodbye with particular regret to the couple that had befriended me on the minibus from Pertek to Hozat. The young man ushered me into the front of the minibus, picked up a friend who wanted a lift to Hozat, and, after exchanging the V-sign with a few males gathered around an electricity pylon, we left for the main Hozat to Pertek road. The scenery along the dirt and gravel road all the way to the junction looked even more enchanting (especially because we were looking north toward the mountains around Ovacik), not least because I had attained the day’s first goal and it was only just after 1.00pm. I decided to risk a visit to Cemisgezek, even though I would probably have to rely on hitched lifts both ways.

Gecimli.

Gecimli.

We arrived at the main road and I thanked the driver for everything he had done on my behalf. I offered to pay for at least some of the petrol he had used, but the money was waved away with an expression of mock anger. Not for the first time on the trip I could feel a tear or two forming.

I began walking south and was soon ascending to a rounded summit with pasture and wild flowers from where I could see many kilometres in all directions. With the views changing very slowly, I could appreciate the landscape even more than in a car or a minibus, not least because nothing created an obstruction between me and the scenery. I was in a stunningly beautiful part of eastern Turkey and thought longingly about how magical the road between Hozat and Ovacik must be. Another year, with luck.

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

After walking about 3 kilometres, two off-duty jandarma kindly gave me a lift to where the road from Hozat joins the road from Pertek to Cemisgezek. Before arriving at the junction, we stopped at a roadside cesme to fill our bottles with chilled water from a pure source in the nearby hills.

Near Gecimli.

Near Gecimli.

To Pertek and the Termal Hotel.

There was more song this morning that sounded devotional, but at 6.30am instead of 4.00am, and the chanting had a different quality to it. I was going to miss Tunceli, of that there was no doubt.

I consumed my breakfast, packed the last few things into my bags, settled the hotel bill and walked the 30 or so metres to where the minibuses left for Pertek. I caught the 8.00am departure with five minutes to spare. When we left from the Cagdas bus company office there were only four passengers aboard, but by the time we were among Tunceli’s most distant southerly suburbs only five seats were free.

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

As we made our way toward the entrance to the university campus, I reflected for the last time about Tunceli’s population. Taken collectively, the town has the most secular-minded population I had encountered so far, and would encounter for the remaining few days of the trip. People with a faith commitment seemed to express their commitment in a pragmatic, tolerant and live-and-let-live manner, so much so that in forty-eight hours I did not once see a woman dressed from head to foot in black, or a woman covering her face except the eyes and the top of her nose, or a woman walking two or three paces behind a male family member, elsewhere on the trip usually her husband. Women wearing headscarves constituted 15% of the female population at the most. Women drove cars, played a significant role in the local economy similar to that of men and earned a living in many town centre offices and businesses in the more affluent suburbs. Tunceli does not have any buildings of architectural importance, but its situation among the hills and mountains beside the Munzur Cayi, the liberal outlook of its citizens and the many interesting destinations in the surrounding region, make it for me one of Turkey’s most appealing provincial capitals. Moreover, with Erzincan and Elazig not far away, those deprived of walks on the Sunni side of the street have only a short distance to travel.

The cloud of the evening and night before had completely disappeared. Bright sunshine, a few puffs of white cloud and a gentle breeze made everything look enchanting once we were beyond the entrance to the university campus. A road to the right had a sign beside it indicating that Rabat Kale lay 20 kilometres away. Someone the day before had said that Rabat Kale was an interesting destination and that the full extent of its interest has yet to be established (Rabat Kale is said to have Urartian and Hellenistic connections, among others). Was this further confirmation that a return to the area was required? Most definitely.

The minibus left the main road to Elazig because, although destined for this large city in which I had stayed a few days earlier, it was going via the town of Pertek to connect with the ferry that crosses the Keban Reservoir, thereby saving many kilometres and, more often than not, some time as well.

Pertek is 36 kilometres from the road junction and, with a few twists and turns as we made an ascent, we were soon among hills, stunted trees, wild flowers, beehives and pasture grazed by cattle, sheep and goats. As we enjoyed a last view of the Munzur Cayi, now part of the Keban Reservoir which is so large in the region it is encountered along many roads, we arrived in the dispersed village of Yolkonak where mostly modern houses enjoy extensive views south and east. Each house seems to have around it a large garden with many trees. Beydami, the next settlement along the road, stands in undulating countryside surrounded by rounded hills. Beydami marks the point where the road begins to cross an upland plain with fields and orchards. After passing a quarry we started to descend, but hills and mountains still dominated the distant views. We were about 13 kilometres from Pertek and, ahead, the Keban Reservoir came into view again, this time to the south-west rather than the east. I thought I detected in the grass and the fields a hint of paleness that suggested conditions were a little drier and hotter than in and immediately around Tunceli, despite Tunceli being so close. In what I think was Mercimek, a village about 3 kilometres from the centre of Pertek, there are some large timber-framed and mudbrick houses with flat roofs that it would have been worth examining more closely, but I suspected that other delights lay ahead without undertaking what might be a time-consuming detour.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

I unwisely got off the minibus in Pertek, which looked overwhelmingly modern on first inspection, only to find that the only hotel locally is the Termal about 5 or 6 kilometres outside the town centre not far from where the ferry arrives and departs. Very kindly, an off-duty police officer directed me to his car and drove me to the hotel, a large modern hotel with a swimming pool and sauna utilising a local source of hot water. The hot water provides guests or visitors for the day with an opportunity to engage in recreation or access unproven cures for ill-health. I would not usually stay in a Turkish hotel with such facilities charging guests a lot by local standards, but the locality lacked accommodation alternatives; its situation beside the reservoir was a delight; the surrounding area promised many pleasant surprises to add to those already acquired in Dersim (everywhere I would visit for the next two days was in Dersim); the ferry terminal was nearby allowing me to access my next destination with ease; and I was asked to pay only 100TL (about £27) for a night in a double room similar in size to a hotel room in the USA. The room came with en suite facilities and breakfast. I immediately agreed to stay two nights and must confess that I enjoyed every moment of the self-indulgence. Oh yes. Because the Keban Reservoir drowned old Pertek, all that remains of the town where it originally stood is the castle, which now rises from the reservoir on an island. The hotel and its extensive grounds provide excellent views of the island and the castle. Moreover, both evenings at the hotel I witnessed attractive sunsets. Is everyone a winner at the Termel Hotel near the modern town of Pertek? You bet.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.