About

What was the main purpose of my 2015 trip to eastern Turkey? To track down previously unvisited Armenian ruins so I could connect with the tragic events, no matter how vicariously, that began in April 1915 and resulted in the death of between one and 1.5 million Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire. This, the so-called “forgotten genocide”, is still not widely known about other than among Armenians, for obvious reasons, in scholarly circles and in the Turkish Republic itself, where it is still official policy to deny that a genocide took place.

Although the desire to somehow connect with an Armenia that has almost completely disappeared in eastern Turkey was the main reason for the trip, I also wanted to connect again with the region’s hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, flowers, small towns, villages and people. I hoped, of course, that I might encounter a few Armenians, whether living permanently in the region or merely visiting, the latter, perhaps, to see places associated with their family history, but for the first time ever I intended to spend time in Tunceli province, the only province in Turkey with an Alevi rather than a Sunni Muslim majority. I also wanted to spend time among the Kurds, whether they spoke Kurmanji or Zazaki, and hoped to meet some Kizilbash. As you will soon find out, I fulfilled all my aspirations, but also managed to see, do and encounter a lot more in a relatively short period of time. In fact, the trip turned out to be one of the best I have ever had to Turkey, perhaps because I confined travel to a relatively small area of this vast and rapidly transforming nation state.

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20 thoughts on “About

  1. Thank you so much for these photos and sharing your story. My Garoogian ancestors were from the village of Khulakiugh, which was later called Hulvenk and, most recently, Sahinkaya. Though it is a dream that may never be realised, I hope to go there someday myself. Thank you for sharing these pictures. If I never get to go, at least I’ll have these!

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  2. This is truly fascinating. I am working with the Alevi communities in the UK to produce educational materials for schools – this is non-profit. Please would you let me know asap if/how I can use some of your text and photos to do with Alevis and cemevis to help teachers explore Alevism with pupls in English schools?

    Many thanks and looking forward to hearing from you. Bill Moore.

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    • Hi, Bill. No problem: I’m involved in education myself, so like the idea that some of the text, etc. might be used in educational settings such as schools. I have no objection if you extract the text and photos and use them in resources you generate yourself, provided the source is acknowledged. Nor do I mind if you generate your own resources but quote from posts on the website (with the source of the quote/quotes acknowledged, of course). In other words, use the content of the posts in any way you wish (or simply provide links from your resources to my website). And there’s no charge.

      If, when the resources are complete, you can let me know where I can access them (either electronically or in hard copy), I would be very grateful. I think what you’re doing is excellent. Phil.

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      • Phil, you are a star! And thanks not just for being so generous, but also for getting back so quickly. We hope to have the school stuff ready in the next couple of months and I will certainly both reference your work/provide links and also let you have access to the materials when they come out. Where are you based?

        I found your blog so interesting – too much so, actually, as I got lost in it when I should have been doing the school materials! Armenia/Anatolia looks so fascinating and beautiful, and the people seem so friendly, open and welcoming. Going from one of the most ancient to one of the most modern cemevis must have been a wonderful experience. I find Alevism deeply interesting, not least because it defies categorisation. The communitiy with which I am working see it as a separate religion, whereas another community in London, just 12 miles away, sees itself as Muslim. Thanks again and I will keep in touch. Cheers, Bill.

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      • No problem, Bill – and thanks. And what you say is very interesting.

        I’ve encountered this difference of opinion among the Alevis about whether Alevism is a manifestation of Islam or a completely distinct religion (and I recently read a book about the Alevis in Germany, which, among many other things, explores whether this is so). Myself? Just as I’d say there could be no Christianity without the prior example of Judaism and there could be no Islam without the prior examples of Judaism and Christianity, I’d argue that there could be no Alevism without the prior example of Islam (and, additionally, that Alevism most emphatically traces its origins to Shia rather than Sunni Islam). This said, many/most of what might be termed mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims incline toward condemning Alevis as heretics/non-Muslims (and Alevis are thus subject to persecution, especially by Sunni Muslims). If looking at the world from the rather narrow and very rule-obsessed perspective of Sunni Islam, I can understand why Sunni Muslims might look upon Alevis with suspicion when at least some Alevis insist that they are Muslims (for example, Alevis have what I deem a refreshingly cavalier attitude toward the five pillars of Islam), but there are enough aspects of Alevism, especially in terms of belief if not practice, to confirm that the roots of the religion lie within Islam. But, given the persecution they have suffered at the hands of more mainstream Muslims, I can understand why some Alevis insist that they are not Muslims at all.

        If you detect in the tone of this reply a strong sympathy for the Alevis, you have weighed me up. Phil.

        P.S. I’m based in Darlington. As for Armenia and Anatolia: they do get under your skin, although this year I am travelling to neither, partly because a trip in 2016 to eastern Turkey involved two troubling encounters with the police. Normal service will resume next year, I hope, especially if travel to the Alevi heartland (Tunceli) is easier than at present.

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      • Hi Phil. I have just finished the final draft of the educational materials and put them on Drop Box. If you are interested, send me your email and I will add you to the access. I would welcome comments, suggestions and questions.

        Cheers, Bill.

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  3. Hi Phil. I’ve really enjoyed this blog. And I especially like the photos. I am writing for a Helsinki history students’ magazine (non-profit) a small piece about the Turkish state and the political left-wing in Turkey and I would like to ask: could I use some of the pictures in the magazine?

    Best regards, Onni.

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  4. Hello Phil. I would like to use some of your imagery in a project I’m doing. How can we contact one another offline? Thank you.

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  5. Wow. This is fascinating. It is very hard to wrap my arms around the magnitude of loss that followed the genocide. We focus on the loss of humanity and forget about the relics and the land. In our modern world they seem less important, but then you see them up close in stories and on travellers’ blogs and a sullen reality sets in. This was our monastery containing our history and our traditions. In the end it is a comfort to know that the remains have provided shelter for others. Thankful for your trip, your story and your photos.

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    • Hi, Linda. Thanks for your reflections and kind words. My interest in things Armenian dates back over forty years and was reinforced by a short visit to Soviet Armenia in 1977. However, as regular trips to Turkey led me to places once inhabited by Armenians in large numbers I became hooked, despite so little of their presence surviving. The ruins that are rapidly vanishing through wilful destruction or official neglect are often all that signifies a once-vibrant Armenian presence. For some years now, I have felt an urgent need to document at least some of the ruins that tourists are not encouraged to visit. In fact, in some parts of Turkey tourists are positively discouraged from visiting ruins associated with the Armenians.

      If interested, examine another blog of mine called “In Search of Unusual Destinations”. Scroll down to where I have uploaded posts in September and October 2013 and you will find some more information and photos about Armenian ruins.

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      • Are you going to publish a book of your findings? It is amazing that you travel into the areas that you do. I thought that those areas were considered dangerous, especially to Armenians, and especially to solo travelers. How do you manage this? I have considered traveling with a tour (ever since 9/11. I was supposed to go on a tour leaving on 9/11, but could not because it was cancelled) that is managed by a gentleman out of California – but lately I have heard that Turkey harbours ISIS fighters.

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      • I will leave to others far better qualified than me the task of publishing a book or books on the subject, but the blog has already inspired a lot of interest among Armenians as well as non-Armenians, which I am pleased about. In the fullness of time the blog will be followed up with one about a trip I made in 2016, which, if anything, is even more revealing.

        Armenians in growing numbers are travelling to at least some places featured in the blog, more often as part of a group than travelling alone, although there is no problem visiting the Hemsin area in Rize province in the north-east of the country or accessing world-renowned destinations such as Ani near Kars. In fact, just about everywhere north of Dogubayazit is secure and many sites important to Armenians can easily be visited, especially with the help of local taxi drivers – although the authorities rarely make it easy to locate destinations (thus, many Armenian ruins lack signs indicating the direction to them, although local people will make sure you get where you want to get).

        I will be honest: fear of ISIS is much exaggerated and, if ISIS has a presence at all, it is along the Syrian and Iraqi borders or in large urban centres such as Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir. Kurdish terrorism is a more likely problem, but, in fairness to the Kurds, they go out of their way not to harm foreign visitors.

        In recent years I’ve encountered Armenians on visits to many parts of eastern Turkey, both in groups or travelling alone or in pairs. In 2016 I even encountered an Armenian in Kars involved in the construction of a new park in the city centre: he was having a great time winding up his Turkish and Kurdish friends by calling them capitalists! As for the Hemsin area, every July and August a lot of diaspora Armenians visit the towns, villages and upland yaylas (pastures) to connect with local people of Armenian descent, who, for a variety of understandable reasons, disguise their background.

        Areas that are safe and dangerous change from year to year, but the main cause of risk lies with inept actions/changes of policy by the government in Ankara and local people reacting negatively to such actions/changes of policy, and sometimes reacting violently. Twice the last seven or eight years, such tranquility prevailed across eastern Turkey that I could go exactly where I wanted without rousing any suspicion. However, in 2016 I was stopped twice by the police, and in one small town that once had a large Armenian population was subject to a lengthy interrogation because they suspected I had sympathy for the Kurdistan Workers Party, a banned terrorist organisation.

        In summary, if you have a chance to go as part of a group led by someone with knowledge and understanding about eastern Turkey, go! You will have an extraordinary time and not be taken anywhere that might put you at risk.

        My goodness: did 9/11 derail plans for a trip in 2001? I am sorry to hear this was so.

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      • Believe it or not, I was booked on a flight with a gentleman out of LA – Armen Aroyan (his postings on FB are “Historic Armenia”) – at 6:30pm on 9/11, so the trip was cancelled. I never got back to it although he goes one or two times per year and I do have friends that have gone. I was excited about learning more about the villages and bringing back photos of the “unknown” and especially to tell my grandparents – since then it seems less of a mystery because the photos are all over the place, and my grandparents have passed. It kind of lost its lustre.

        I am getting ready to travel to Armenia for a second time (I was there in 2000). Do you know if it is possible to travel to Ani and parts beyond by road from Armenia? I see that there is a crossing but I don’t know the rules.

        I look forward to the photos of your 2016 trip. I appreciate your adventures.

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      • That’s terrible bad luck about 9/11 and the trip you had arranged to Turkey, but I understand why it had to be cancelled. However, returning to Armenia this year will be very enlightening, not least given the political turmoil earlier in the year (thankfully, peace, law and order prevail so you will have no problems).

        If we lived in a safe and sound world in which nation states neighbouring each other got on well, all you’d have to do is travel to Gyumri from where a train or a bus would take you across the border to Akyaka or Kars, from where a taxi can easily be arranged for Ani and, perhaps, some of the ruined churches in nearby villages (which my next blog will discuss once I find the time to begin it). But, as far as I can tell, all border crossings between Armenia and Turkey have been closed for years, so this short journey is not possible – and has not been possible since perhaps the early 1990s.

        The easiest way to enter Turkey overland from Armenia is via Georgia, which adds considerably to the length and time of travel required to access Ani. The conventional/most popular route from Armenia is via Tbilisi (a delightful city, if it remains as parts were in 1977) and Batumi. From Batumi, regular buses cross the border into Turkey, where it is necessary to travel only as far as Hopa. From Hopa, between two and four buses will get you all the way to Kars via Borcka, Artvin, Savsat and Ardahan (if departing Hopa early enough, it is possible to get to Kars in a day). Despite the route from Hopa being marred in recent years by the construction of reservoirs that are ruining the environment, for long stretches of the road the scenery is exceptional, with the most impressive lying between Savsat and Ardahan. From Kars, where many hotels of every quality exist, Ani is less than an hour’s drive in a taxi or minibus.

        For this route from Yerevan you would probably need five days to get to and from Ani on public transport, but it might be worth asking whether tour groups from the capital now undertake such journeys, which should reduce the time away to four or even three full days.

        But there is another possibility. Travel to Akhaltsikhe in Georgia, head south-west to Vale and cross the border into Turkey to Posof. From Posof it is easy to get to Ardahan, and from Ardahan it is an even easier journey to Kars. This will save a lot of time.
        I note that there have been occasions in recent years when buses have done the journey all the way from Tbilisi to Kars and back; the service may still exist.

        The least exploited border crossing is the one via Lake Aktas from Akhalkalaki and Kartsakhi in Georgia to Cildir in Turkey. Reports suggest the crossing reopened in 2015. This would be the shortest route because Cildir is nearer Ardahan than Posof. I visited Lake Aktas a few years ago; the surrounding scenery is impressive.

        The internet suggests that there are occasional direct flights from Yerevan to Istanbul, from where it’s possible to fly to Kars, but, although this might save a little time, the cost would be considerable.

        If you plan to enter Turkey, confirm what arrangements are required for visas for US citizens. Us Brits require visas and you may need one as well.

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      • Wow. You are making my head spin. I will check into any tours that might transpire out of Yerevan or Gyumri. I’m not sure I can manage the nitty gritty as a solo. Maybe I’ll check on Armen’s next trip. He is the guide premier. I look forward to reading more. Thank you! Btw – I am presuming you are of Armenian heritage. Are you?

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      • Sorry your head is spinning, Linda – but checking whether trips depart from Yerevan or Gyumri is certainly the best option, if only to ensure you save time and avoid possible harassments at border crossings, etc. Yes: do check when Armen is next visiting Turkey. September and early October are excellent times to visit, ditto May and June (although, if the amazing Hemsin area is on the itinerary, July and August are the best months).

        No, I’m not Armenian heritage – but my interest in things Armenian is long-standing and enduring. Only a prostate problem that required an operation stopped me returning to eastern Turkey or Armenia this year. I will make up for my indolence in 2019, no problem.

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