Postscript two: events between the two 2015 general elections and the November election result.

But things changed very quickly and the changes were for the worse, as the article below in “The Guardian” newspaper (25.7.15), confirms. Turkey at last decided to take action against the Islamic State (good), but, for reasons difficult to understand, it at the same time attacked PKK positions in northern Iraq (bad), even though the PKK had done nothing substantive to threaten the ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK:

Turkey launched overnight air strikes against several positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq for the first time in four years, the country’s government has said.

The air raids put an end to a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK, severely endangering the already fragile peace process started in 2012 in an attempt to end a bloody conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people over thirty years.

According to the office of the acting prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the bombs hit several PKK targets in northern Iraq including shelters, bunkers, storage facilities and the Qandil Mountains, where the PKK’s high command is based. Turkish fighter jets also targeted Islamic State positions in Syria for the second night in a row, the statement said. In addition to the air raids, the Turkish military carried out artillery attacks against the Islamic State in Syria and the PKK in northern Iraq.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist group in Syria and the PKK terrorist group in northern Iraq,” the prime minister’s office said, adding that all anti-terrorism operations were “carried out indiscriminately against all terrorist groups”.

In a major tactical shift this week, Turkey decided to take a more active role in the US-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State, agreeing to open its air bases to allied forces as well as carrying out its own air raids. It is the first time Turkish fighter jets have entered Syrian airspace to attack Islamic State militants on Syrian soil. Previous air raids were conducted from the Turkish side of the border, according to the Turkish government.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Davutoglu said almost six hundred terrorism suspects had been detained in co-ordinated raids on Friday and Saturday, including people with alleged links to the Islamic State and the PKK. “I say it one more time: when it comes to public order, Turkey is a democratic state of law and everyone who breaks that law will be punished,” he said.

In a first reaction to the attacks on their camps, the PKK leadership said that the ceasefire with Ankara had lost all meaning. “The ceasefire has been unilaterally ended by the Turkish state and the Turkish military,” said a statement on the PKK website on Saturday. “The truce has no meaning any more after these intense air strikes by the occupant Turkish army.” The group said the fallout and consequences of the overnight attacks would be disclosed later.

Mesut Yegen, a historian on the Kurdish issue, said that it was too early to say that the peace process was over. “So far the PKK has not given the order to fighters on the ground to launch a counterattack, but it is clear that the peace process has been weakened substantially,” he said.

It was unlikely that either the Turkish military or the PKK wanted an all-out confrontation. “As long as the attacks remain limited to the air strikes, there is hope that the peace process will continue,” Yegen said.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The raids on both the PKK and the Islamic State came after a wave of violence swept across the country last week. On Monday, a suicide bomber killed thirty-one Kurdish and Turkish activists in the southern border town of Suruc in an attack that Turkish officials blamed on the Islamic State.

After the bombing, tension has risen to dangerous levels in the predominantly Kurdish south-east, where many have long accused the Turkish government of directly supporting the Islamic State against the Kurdish struggle in Syria, a charge Ankara vehemently denies.

Later in the week, the People’s Defence Force (HPG) – the armed wing of the PKK – claimed responsibility for the killing of two police officers in Ceylanpinar, a town on the Syrian border, in retaliation for the Suruc bomb. A policeman was killed in Diyarbakır on Thursday, while another officer was kidnapped there on Friday night. Violent protests against the ruling AKP’s failed Syria policies and their stalling of the Kurdish peace process have erupted in several cities across Turkey.

In two subsequent anti-terror raids across Turkey, hundreds were detained on Friday and Saturday, including people with suspected links to the Islamic State and to the outlawed PKK.

Ahmet Yildiz, a farmer and shepherd in Semdinli, a small town nestling between the Iranian and the Iraqi borders, said the sound of fighter jets kept his family up most of Friday night. Late on Friday, PKK fighters attacked a local police station wounding three officers.

“The planes are all around in the mountains,” Yildiz said. “I bought a flock of sheep because I believed that peace was finally going to come. But now I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know if I can take the sheep up to the pastures. I am very sad; we all are.”

The leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said it was time to stabilise the peace process. “We underline again how very much Turkey needs peace and a solution [to the Kurdish issue]. It is possible to solve our societal, historical and political problems through mutual dialogue, negotiations and through the development of democracy,” a statement said on Saturday. “The increase and perpetuation of violence will not bring a lasting, democratic and egalitarian solution for any side, or any part of society.”

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The update below summarises matters at the end of August 2015. It suggests to me that Turkey is entering a period of uncertainty that will be detrimental to most of its citizens:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved the make-up of the provisional government that will run the country until the 1st November elections, including for the first time pro-Kurdish MPs.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was tasked with forming a caretaker government earlier this week after he failed to form a coalition government following an inconclusive vote on 7th June.

The two pro-Kurdish legislators are from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which for the first time managed to pass a 10% minimum vote threshold required for it to be represented in parliament in the June election. Davutoglu said HDP legislators Muslum Dogan and Ali Haydar Konca will become ministers in charge of development and of relations with the European Union.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years in the June polls. Erdogan appointed Davutoglu to form an interim “election government”, which, according to the constitution, must be made up of all parties represented in parliament.

The cabinet spots are divided up according to the parties’ share of seats in parliament with eleven going to the AKP, five to the second-placed Republican People’s Party (CHP) and three a piece to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish HDP. Opposition parties have refused to take part in the interim government, making the HDP – which the government accuses of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – and the AKP major partners in the new cabinet.

Speaking to his party’s provincial heads earlier on Friday, Davutoglu said: “We will work just like a four-year government as we are heading toward 1st November.”

In a deviation from the party line, MHP legislator Tugrul Turkes, son of the MHP’s founder, Alparslan Turkes, accepted an invitation to serve as a deputy prime minister in a move denounced by the party’s leadership.

Davutoglu had to appoint non-partisan figures to fill the seats snubbed by the opposition parties. Selami Altinok, former Istanbul police chief, was appointed interior minister and foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu was named as the new foreign minister.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The 1st November general election was a success for Erdogan and the AKP. It has been judged by European Union observers to be free but not fair because it took place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation against a backdrop of escalating violence and the detention of government opponents, members of the media included.

The AKP won an overall majority of 317 seats with 49.5% of the vote (in fact, the AKP secured about four million more votes in November than in June). The AKP won the election on a pledge to bring stability and security out of chaos, but a majority of voters conveniently ignored that Erdogan and the AKP were themselves the cause of the chaos in that they broke the ceasefire with the PKK, and directed more military might against the Kurds in Iraq and Syria than against the Islamic State.

In my estimation, the election result is a disaster for Turkey. Why? Because it will unleash dangerously high levels of Turkish nationalism and give to the Islamists, whether moderate or otherwise, the power to push through reforms that make the state far more sympathetic to mainstream Sunni Islam than is already the case. All non-Turks and non-Sunni Muslims have reason to regret that the AKP’s decision not to negotiate seriously to create a coalition government following the June election has paid off, for the AKP at least, if not for anyone else.

One of the few positive outcomes of the election was that the HDP won more than 10% of the vote (10.7%) and is therefore still represented in parliament, but its share of the vote declined from June and now it has only 59 MPs. Perhaps inevitably, unrest in Diyarbakir followed. In Silvan, where some of the local Kurds had declared independence from the Turkish Republic, the result was greeted with considerable worry. In fact, across all of Turkish Kurdistan and in Tunceli province, majorities were deeply troubled that the AKP once again ruled alone. By the time we get to the next general election (unless one is called earlier than required), Turkey will have been ruled by one party, the AKP, for no less than seventeen years, despite the few months this year (late August to the end of October) when the provisional government was in power, a government that included non-AKP MPs (see above).

Another positive outcome was that the AKP did not secure the 330 MPs required to call a referendum to amend the country’s constitution.

Just for the record, the CHP secured 25.3% of the vote and 134 MPs and the MHP 11.9% of the vote and 40 MPs. A small number of people voted for parties that did not reach the 10% threshold required for representation in parliament. The percentage of women MPs declined from 18% to 14.7%.

The “Today’s Zaman” website has an excellent chart revealing how many people voted for each party in every province.

P.S. I recently read that Turkey would like the deserted medieval Armenian city of Ani, which overlooks the border with the Republic of Armenia east of the city of Kars, declared a world heritage site. Neglect and much worse mean that very little of this once-magnificent city remains, but here is further evidence that at least some Turkish citizens in positions of political authority recognise the importance of a few Armenian monuments, albeit primarily in the hope that, by preserving what remains, tourist revenues in a remote region will increase.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

Postscript one: the June 2015 general election and its aftermath.

What eventually proved to be Turkey’s first of two general elections in 2015 took place on 7th June. At stake were the 550 seats of the Grand National Assembly. It was the twenty-fourth general election in the history of the Turkish Republic. Amid speculation that no party would win enough seats to govern alone, the result created the first hung parliament since the 1999 general election.

The Justice and Development Party  (AKP), which has governed Turkey since the 2002 election, lost its majority, but remained the largest party in the assembly with 258 seats and 40.9% of the vote. The AKP failed to win the 330 seats it needed to submit constitutional changes to a referendum and fell well short of President Erdogan’s personal target of 400 MPs. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) also fared worse than in the previous, 2011, general election winning 132 seats with 25.0% of the vote. Having been projected to win over many disaffected AKP supporters, the Nationalist Movement Party  (MHP) improved on its 2011 performance by winning 80 seats with 16.3% of the vote. The new People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose candidates had contested past elections as independents in order to bypass the 10% election threshold, fought the election as a party despite concerns that it might fall below the threshold and lose all its parliamentary representation. The HDP fared better than expected by winning 80 seats, the same as the MHP, with 13.1% of the vote. The indecisive result raised the prospect of an early snap general election.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

Campaigning before the election focused mainly on the declining economy, the on-going Solution Process between the government and Kurdish rebels, the on-going political conflict with the Gulenist Movement and Turkish involvement (or, until July 2015 at least, the apparent lack of involvement) in the Syrian civil war. Allegations of government corruption and authoritarianism, mainly originating from a 2013 scandal and the 2013 Gezi Park protests respectively, were also issues raised during the opposition campaigns. The vote was seen by some people as a referendum on Erdogan’s call for an executive presidency.

Accusations of electoral fraud and political violence also caused controversy during the election process. Candidates, activists, offices and motor vehicles were subject to politically motivated acts of violence and vandalism, culminating in the death of five HDP supporters after two bombs exploded during a rally in Diyarbakir on 5th June. The interference of Erdogan, who was accused of covertly campaigning for the AKP under the guise of “public opening” rallies, was also controversial because the president is constitutionally required to exercise political neutrality. Despite fraud claims dating back to the hugely controversial 2014 local elections and numerous claims of misconduct in many provinces on polling day, the election was largely praised by the OSCE for being carefully organised, and was declared free and fair by the European Parliament.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The uplifting article below (sadly, the next post will reveal that the optimism was misplaced) appeared recently in “The Guardian” newspaper along with a photo saying that Feleknas Uca could be the first HDP member of parliament from the Yazidi community. Feleknas Uca is a woman:

The election result brought forth an embryonic new Turkey, but not the one the president wanted. It produced what is tantamount to a cultural revolution in Turkish political life. Women will pour (?!?) into parliament in Ankara in unprecedented numbers, 98 up from 79. Openly gay candidates won seats for the HDP. Most of all, the long-repressed Kurdish minority (one in five citizens) will be properly represented in the parliament for the first time with 80 seats.

“This is the first time that feminists in Turkey actively supported a political party,” said feminist activist Mehtap Dogan. “Up until now we have always done politics on our own, away from parliament. But this time we ran a campaign supporting the HDP because we believed in their sincerity when it comes to defending the rights of women, LGBTs and ethnic minorities.”

The HDP is the first party to introduce a quota of 50% female politicians, and all party offices and HDP-run municipalities are chaired by both a man and a woman. The party’s successful attempt to break out of ethnic identity politics and broaden its appeal well beyond the Kurdish issue owes much to leader Selahattin Demirtas’ magnetism and his message of outreach. But the mass protest movement, born in a central Istanbul park two years ago and which mushroomed into national protests that Erdogan crushed mercilessly, also fed into the HDP’s support.

“During the Gezi Park protests, many got an idea of what Kurds had to go through for years: the violence, the repression, the unjust arrests. It opened our eyes to the Kurdish suffering,” said Dogan. “At the same time, we saw how the pro-government press tried to turn our legitimate, peaceful protests into acts of terrorism.”

Just as Erdogan branded the protesters two years ago “riff-raff”, “terrorists” and “foreign agents”, in the election campaign he stoked division and malice by repeatedly smearing his HDP opponents as “terrorists, marginals, gays and atheists”. He asked religiously conservative voters not to cast their ballots for “such people who have nothing to do with Islam”. The tactic backfired as many religiously conservative Kurds shifted their votes from the AKP to a party that promised to represent everyone’s interests.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

A chart on the “Hurriyet Daily News” website about the June election result revealed the following about provinces in eastern Turkey. The HDP was the largest single party in Agri (79% of the vote), Ardahan (31%), Batman (73%), Bitlis (61%), Diyarbakir (80%), Hakkari (88%), Igdir (57%), Kars (45%), Mardin (74%), Mus (71%), Siirt (66%), Sirnak (85%), Tunceli (61%) and Van (78%). Of the provinces in which I spent time not already mentioned, the AKP was the largest party with 47% of the votes in Bingol, 54% in Elazig, 49% in Erzincan, 54% in Giresun and 59% in Sivas (Divrigi is in Sivas province). I was surprised to see that the AKP was the most popular party in Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, but not surprised that it was in Malatya, given how Sunni Islam has impacted so detrimentally on the provincial capital in recent years. Our many friends in Balikesir must have been livid that the AKP was the most popular party in that province in the west, and I was shocked to see that Rize had a higher percentage voting AKP (67%) than profoundly conservative and pious Konya (65%). In only one province, Osmaniye, did the MHP emerge as the most popular party, with the result that Osmaniye is somewhere I shall avoid for a while. The AKP remained the most popular party in all three of Istanbul’s electoral districts and both of Ankara’s, but the CHP was the most popular party in Izmir’s two electoral districts.

By common consent, the AKP was seen as the most obvious loser and the HDP the most obvious winner. However, as the largest party in parliament, the AKP had the opportunity to form a coalition with one of the other parties, but it was doubtful it would wish to do so. The AKP had forty-five days following the declaration of the election result in which to form a government. If it could not form a government, or if the coalition collapsed sometime thereafter, the president could call another election.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The difficulties the AKP had in forming a coalition government were as follows (although we now know that the AKP never seriously wanted to form such a government). The CHP was reluctant to enter a coalition with the AKP because the CHP remains Kemalist in outlook; in other words, its uncompromisingly secular inclinations render it almost impossible to contemplate collaboration with a religious party. The MHP would have loved to form a coalition with the AKP, but such a coalition, one embracing a Turkish nationalist party with links to shadowy extremist groups of a very violent nature, would definitely have derailed the AKP’s progress in recent years to woo the Kurds, a process which has made it very unlikely that civil war will begin again. The AKP would have found it impossible to work with the HDP because the HDP is as uncompromising in its commitment to secularism as the CHP and far more supportive of minority rights (ethnic, religious, sexual, etc.) than any mainstream party. Moreover, the HDP was now the leading representative of Kurdish interests in the Turkish Republic.

The AKP believes (and I think the AKP is correct in its belief) that most Turks are not yet prepared to see Kurds in government, given that Kurds are still viewed by a majority of Turks as second class citizens who want to create from within the Turkish Republic a nation state of their own. There is also the legacy of the civil war and the fact that most Turks believe that blame for the war lies with the Kurds alone, and not with the decades of repression, discrimination and blatant denial of human rights predicated on government policies shaped by Turkish nationalism, Turkish nationalism dating from the birth of the republic itself.

A remarkable thirty-two HDP members of parliament were women. The only party that did little to ensure women entered parliament in significant numbers was the MHP, which now had four women MPs. This said, women now made up 18% of members of parliament, up from 14% before the election.

Filiz Kerestecioglu, who entered parliament for the HDP, is a lawyer and a women’s rights’ activist. Twenty-five years ago, she helped set up Turkey’s first shelter for women suffering domestic violence. The shelter soon emerged as the home of Turkey’s feminist movement. Filiz Kerestecioglu is reported to have said to the BBC that the increase in the overall number of women in parliament was “not satisfactory, but still, it is important”.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

Farewell, Diyarbakir.

My four companions had an appointment with friends in a distant suburb, so we went our separate ways. I spent more time in the narrow streets around the church, then went to examine the fortifications along the west side of the old city.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I had just finished walking along some of the wall, when I heard people playing drums and a wind instrument that may have been a qernete. I walked toward the music where a group of Kurdish men and women had linked fingers to dance in a circle. They were supporters of the HDP and it was not long before I was added to the circle and photos were taken. About fifty people had gathered to look on. The pious Sunni women wore solemn expressions betraying contempt for what was going on or regret that they could not join in. Most or all of those taking part in the dance were secular in inclination. Dancing proved a delightful thing to do as the shadows lengthened with the approach of evening.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I waved goodbye to everyone and went quickly to Gazi Caddesi to buy some lokum, then, returning to the hotel, called at a supermarket to buy a large piece of kasar cheese and orange juice. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I left for my last proper meal in Turkey itself, an Adana kebap at somewhere in which I had eaten during an earlier trip, Nasir Usta Lokanta just outside the old city on Ali Emiri Caddesi.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I ordered a one and a half portion of Adana kebap and ayran knowing that water and salads would be brought as free extras. In fact, six free dishes arrived, one with slices of lemon and coriander, one with pulped tomatoes, one with tomatoes and lettuce, one with fresh onion, pepper and coriander, one with yoghurt and bulgar, and one with three portions of cig kofte. The lokanta was busy inside and out with many customers decidedly middle class in appearance. Based on the appearance of the children and women alone, most customers were secular in outlook or very relaxed about their commitment to Islam. With time to spare I delayed departure, not least because I was given a glass of tea to end the meal.

Nasir Usta Lokanta proved a fitting place to end the trip, given the quality of the food and the crisp and clean, female-friendly surroundings. It was not quite the trip’s best meal – my first meal in Sebinkarahisar and the late lunch in Solhan were better, partly because of the novelty of some of the food available – but I was delighted with what I had.

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

I went for one last walk around the old city concentrating on the area near the Ulu Camii and Nebi Camii, the latter mosque being where, even on a Sunday evening, about a dozen men sat among their boxes, tins and other necessities to polish or repair shoes.

It would soon be dark, but quite a lot of young women still walked around, albeit in the company of male relatives or friends. A more liberal air prevails in Diyarbakir than in cities such as Elazig and Erzincan, even though Sunni Islam is the dominant expression of religious faith. This said, especially in the parts of the old city where some of Diyarbakir’s poorest families live, women are often dressed from head to toe in loose-fitting black garments and they often cover their faces. Older women who do not routinely cover their faces pull their headscarf over their mouth and nose when unknown men come into view.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I was reluctant to extract myself from the streets where lots of businesses remained open, people were milling around and there was much to enjoy (however, a lot of police were walking around and armoured motor vehicles had been parked at street corners). I would miss the lifestyle, the opportunities to engage with friendly people, the unusual destinations and the rarely visited monuments, but, in particular, I would miss engaging with some intelligent, forthright and assertive women who confound the stereotypes of women in overwhelmingly Muslim nation states.

It was now dark so I returned to the hotel. I arranged everything for the last time in my bags to spread the weight as best I could; read some of Gerard Russell’s “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East”, the ideal book for the sort of trip that was about to conclude; showered again; finished the orange juice; and went to reception to pay my bill. I then walked the short distance to the taxi rank where I noted that it cost 20TL to get to the otogar because the otogar is further from the city centre than the airport! The insanity of it all.

A growing number of police and armoured motor vehicles had been coming onto the streets as nightfall approached. By 8.00pm helicopters were flying overhead. On the way to the airport armed police officers in cars and armoured vehicles had blocked some roads to traffic or were guarding important intersections. Diyarbakir felt like an occupied city. And the reason for the massive police presence? Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, was in the city attending a pre-election rally on behalf of the AKP. Because the AKP had become so unpopular in Diyarbakir, an extremely expensive and disruptive police operation had to be undertaken to guarantee his safety. Other than confirming that the AKP was the political party of government and could therefore demand that such a police operation be mounted, it was difficult to imagine what use the rally would serve because the vast majority of Diyarbakir’s population will vote HDP. Still, a few shots of Davutoglu in newspapers the following morning speaking to supports of the AKP in the HDP heartland will be good for AKP morale.

The taxi driver could not take me all the way to the terminal. I paid my fare before walking through a temporary barrier staffed by police officers who confirmed that people had a right to access the airport. It was obvious that disruption to normal routines would persist until Davutoglu returned to Ankara by plane later that night.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

After getting my boarding ticket for the flight to Istanbul and confirming that my big bag would not be seen again until I arrived in Manchester, I settled down in the departure area. My flight was delayed for about an hour because Davutoglu’s movements took priority. I read some more of Russell’s book concentrating on the Yazidis, a community I would have liked very much to have encountered, but would probably have encountered only if allowed access to a refugee camp. A refugee camp 10 to 15 kilometres south of Diyarbakir is said to contain many Yazidis, but, even if I had gone to the camp, I doubt the Turkish authorities would have let me in. During a visit to Midyat two or three ago, I was refused access to a nearby village because the road leading to it went beside a refugee camp.

I examined my wallet and found about 60TL. The Turkish lira was slowly dropping in value against major world currencies and the trend was likely to persist for at least a few months, so keeping the liras was unwise. Turkish and Kurdish passengers were enthusiastically buying boxes of baklava from the airport’s branch of Saim, one of Diyarbakir’s best sweet manufacturers, so baklava seemed the obvious thing to buy. I asked for half kilos of two varieties to fill a kilo box, but was not given the sweets until I had had one to eat. It tasted excellent and, back home, Hilary and I agreed that it was some of the best baklava we had ever consumed.

I looked around at my fellow passengers and noticed something that had been confirmed earlier during the trip: more Turks and Kurds are overweight now than ever before. A product of growing prosperity and a more sedentary lifestyle, excessive weight has led to an interest among the better-off in jogging, gyms, organic food and experiments with celebrity-endorsed diets. Men are more prone to being overweight than women, and young women, whether pious or not, are the people least likely to have weight problems. In fact, some young women are painfully thin. I, in common with many others, blame this problem on the adverts and photos of actors, models and other celebrities with ludicrously slim bodies which inspire in young women wholly unrealistic images of what constitutes desirability in appearance.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

P.S. Partly because Diyarbakir had such a large Armenian population at the time, and partly because even more Armenians lived in the surrounding towns and villages, Diyarbakir became one of the cities where the number of Armenians murdered in 1915 and thereafter was the largest during the genocide. Christopher Walker describes Diyarbakir at the time as “an inferno of torture and murder”. In 2006, David Gaunt estimated that almost 70,000 Armenians met their deaths in Diyarbakir province and only 3,000 of the province’s Armenians remained alive after world war one. Some scholars put the figure for Armenians murdered in Diyarbakir province even higher than this.

P.P.S. On 23rd April 2015, the Armenian Apostolic Church canonised all the victims of the Armenian genocide in what is believed to be the largest canonisation service in history. It was the first canonisation conducted by the Armenian Apostolic Church in four hundred years.‪

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin, Diyarbakir.

I resumed my walk through the neglected streets of the old city before coming across a cultural centre arranged around a large courtyard. The cultural centre had once been a large house and must have been built by a wealthy family. An elderly man with a large salt and pepper moustache invited me into the courtyard.

About forty males and females sat on chairs facing six elderly men, and one of the elderly men recited from memory what I soon understood to be an epic from the distant past important to the Kurdish people. The story was told in Kurmanji, which, until a few years ago, would have been an unlawful act. It is only for the last few years that Kurds have been allowed to give public expression to their cultural identity through the use of Kurmanji.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I stayed until the end of the recital, which concluded with rhythmic clapping by everyone present. After I had thanked the man who had invited me into the courtyard and the man responsible for the recital itself – the latter was delighted that the audience had responded so positively to his admirable efforts – I chatted with four young women, at least three of whom were Kurdish. All four were university students. Three of the women, all from Diyarbakir itself, did not wear headscarves. Two wore jeans and casual tops and the third a long skirt and a t-shirt. One of the three women without a headscarf – she was training to be a teacher – had a top that revealed her arms and more of her chest than most women in Turkey would risk doing. She was the most extrovert and self-confident of the four and, when I said I was a teacher and part-time university lecturer, she interrogated me about educational matters. The fourth woman in the group was from Adiyaman and was spending a few days with her friends in Diyarbakir. She dressed as a conventionally pious young Sunni woman revealing nothing of her body except her hands and face. She may have been Turkish rather than Kurdish.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I was asked what I intended to do and said, “I will walk to the Syriac Orthodox church to see how things are. I have not visited the church for a few years.” The young women had some spare time and, to my amazement, decided to come as well. It turned out that none of them had been to the church before. As we meandered toward the church, we chatted about the forthcoming election. The women living in Diyarbakir intended to vote for the HDP. She did not say how she would vote, but I suspected that the woman from Adiyaman would vote for the AKP.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

We arrived at the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin where coin-operated barriers now lead to the entrance. Although the entry fee is very small, I was not allowed to pay the 2TL),

In some respects the barriers are indicators of optimism now that peace prevails in Diyarbakir and the rest of south-east Turkey. The Belediye now helps to look after the church (hence the barriers and a uniformed attendant) and the church is firmly on the city’s rapidly expanding tourist trail. Inside were some tourists, Turkish and as well as foreign, and about thirty Syriac Christians. The Syriac Christians had stayed following the end of mass earlier in the day. Among the milling people was Abouna (Father) Yusuf Akbulut, whom I had first met in 2009. Yusuf was very busy, but we managed to briefly chat. I was amazed that he recalled the visit I had made with Hilary one rainy day in October almost six years earlier.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

Sinclair says that the church:

Originally built in the 6th century, was a large construction most of which has been lost. The main body had three lobes to n., w. and s. From the would-be lobe in the e. extended the chancel, which survives, as does the apse in which it ends. Chancel and apse have been converted into the present church. The lost part… lay on the site of the present ample courtyard to the w. of the church… The house to the n. is the former bishop’s residence…

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

From the portico the church is now entered beneath a gallery, and the rest of the former chancel is covered by a shallow dome. The apse is now decorated crowdedly… but if one looks high up on the e. walls to either side of the apse, two excellent wall capitals with garlanded acanthus from the original church can be made out…

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The nave is now domed: the eight supporting piers, two set against each of the n. and s. walls, shoulder arches and pendentives. Beneath the original capitals in the e. wall doors lead to chambers either side of the apse, but these chambers are late. The n. door’s heavy, rectangular external frame was probably part of the original church. 

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

At the end of our tour of the church (we were shown around by a young Syriac male studying at one of Ankara’s universities), the young woman exposing more of her flesh than is conventional in Turkey said that she had Muslim parents, but she did not practice Islam “because religion causes so many problems”. To confirm that what she said might be true, I told her about the problems Yusuf had encountered in 2000 and 2001 when he spoke out about the massacres Syriac Orthodox Christians suffered at the hands of Turks and Kurds at the same time Armenians were subjected to genocide. She nodded her head slowly and said, “Yes, the Turks and the Kurds were Muslims. The Syriac Christians were killed because they were Christians. It is wrong. It is sad.”

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Other Armenian churches, Diyarbakir.

I was returning to Gazi Caddesi when, along Muallak Sokak in the south of the old city, I came across two more churches very close to one another. The entrance to the first of the two churches was open and an elderly Kurdish man kindly took the time to show me around. We very quickly established that it had been Armenian (a lot of stone has Armenian script carved into it) and that it has survived, albeit in a state crying out for tender loving care, because one of the buildings around the courtyard is used as a nursery. I could not enter the church itself because the doors were locked, but it and the other buildings comprising the complex are in far better condition than Surp Giragos was in the late 1980s. In other words, it would be far easier and less costly to restore the Armenian church on Muallak Sokak than Surp Giragos itself.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Back home, the only information I could find about the church is that it had once belonged to the Armenian Catholics.

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

The Armenian Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic churches of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church accepts the leadership of the pope in Rome and is therefore in full communion with the other Eastern Rite, Oriental Rite and Latin Rite Catholics. The Armenian Catholic Church is regulated by Eastern canon law.

The head of the Armenian Catholic Church is the patriarch of Cilicia and the Church’s main cathedral is that of St. Elie and St. Gregory the Illuminator in Beirut in Lebanon. After the Armenian Apostolic Church formally broke from the Chalcedonian churches in the 5th century, some Armenian bishops and congregations attempted to restore communion with the Roman Catholic Church. During the crusades, the church of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia entered into a union with the Roman Catholic Church, but this proved a union that did not last. The union was later re-established during the Council of Florence in 1439, but did not have any real effects for centuries.

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

In 1740, Abraham-Pierre I Ardzivian, who had earlier become a Roman Catholic, was elected as the patriarch of Sis. Two years later Pope Benedict XIV formally established the Armenian Catholic Church. In 1749, the Armenian Catholic Church built a convent in Bzoummar in Lebanon. During the genocide, the Church in Anatolia almost completely disappeared, but it survived in Lebanon and Syria.

An Armenian Catholic community was also formed by Armenians living in Poland in the 1630s. The community, which had been most numerous in Galicia and the pre-1939 Polish borderlands to the east, was expelled after world war two to present-day Poland and now has three parishes in Gdansk, Gliwice and Warsaw.

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

The Church uses the Armenian rite and the Armenian language in its liturgy. The Armenian rite is also used by the Armenian Apostolic Church and a significant number of Eastern Catholic Christians in Georgia. The rite is shaped by the directives of St. Gregory the Illuminator, founder and patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Unlike the Byzantine Church,  churches using the Armenian rite are usually devoid of icons and have a curtain concealing the priest and the altar from the people during parts of the liturgy. The use of a bishop’s mitre and unleavened bread are reminiscent of the influence Western missionaries once had on both the miaphysite Apostolic Armenians and the Armenian rite Roman Catholics.

The nursery, the Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The nursery, the Armenian Catholic church.

Although members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are far more numerous than Armenian Catholics, it is alleged that about one million Armenians belong to the Catholic Church. In 2008, about 3,500 Turkish Armenians were thought to be Catholics. Most such Armenians live in Istanbul. The official website of the Armenian Catholics mentions twelve churches in Istanbul and one in Mardin, but, sadly, nothing about the abandoned church in Diyarbakir.

There has been a strong movement in recent and not-so-recent times among the Eastern Catholic churches favouring conformity with Roman Catholicism in the matter of celibacy. For example, the Armenian Catholic Church dependent upon the patriarch of Cilicia, even as far back as July 1869, passed a resolution that celibacy should be required of all the higher orders of the clergy. Similarly, the 1888 Synod of Scharfa in Syria decreed that “the celibate life, which is already observed by the great majority of the priests of our Church, should henceforth be common to all”, although the deacons and priests who were already married were allowed to continue as before, and a certain power of dispensation in cases of necessity remained with the patriarch.

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

Google Maps reveals that the second church on Muallak Sokak was a Protestant church; it is also in unusually good condition for an abandoned church in Turkey. On this occasion information about the church exists on the internet and the information confirms it was Armenian:

Surrounded by a high wall and barbed wire, the church is the Armenian Protestant Church of Surp Pirgic (Holy Saviour). It was built in 1870 (the Armenian Protestant Church is a relatively recent offshoot of the Armenian Apostolic Church) and was probably in use until the terrible events of world war one which led to the expulsion and murder of the local Armenian population. It remained derelict thereafter, but in 1983 was seized by the authorities. In 2010 it was restored and turned into a carpet weaving training centre, but the Armenian Protestant diaspora has begun the legal process of reclaiming it and returning it to a functioning place of worship.

What can be said is that a relatively new Protestant church opened a few years ago opposite the city’s Syriac Orthodox church, thereby confirming that Diyarbakir has a Protestant community, although not one that currently uses the city’s older Armenian Protestant church. Both churches along Muallak Sokak looked to me as if what survives today largely dates from the 19th century, but it would not surprise me if the Armenian Catholic church has parts that are considerably older.

The Armenian Protestant church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Protestant church.

An article on the internet about Turkey’s Protestant community suggests that there may be 50,000 altogether, but most Protestants are expatriates from Europe and North America living in Turkey permanently or temporarily. Only about 5,000 Protestants are indigenous Turkish citizens, of whom about 4,000 are converts from Islam and a thousand are converts from Christian churches including the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Armenian Protestant church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Protestant church.

To get a better view of the Protestant church, I entered the courtyard of a nearby café and lokanta (it was very similar in design and layout to the Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant) to climb steps to look over the wall topped with barbed wire. I found myself surrounded by a large group of Kurds celebrating the marriage of a young couple. A majority of the Kurds present, whether young or old, were secular in inclination, which meant that the atmosphere was delightfully boisterous and the sexes could mix. After brief chats with a few of the people present, the owner of the café and lokanta ushered me up some stone steps to a sort of kiosk at first floor level from where I had an uninterrupted view of the dome and the bell tower of the church.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos was very busy, as you might expect because it was Sunday, but, because the morning service had concluded an hour or two before my arrival, it was primarily busy with people eating large meals in the courtyard (although every now and again small groups of Armenians or Kurds entered the still-open church to look around). Most of those eating appeared to be Kurds, but in a smaller courtyard to the north of the church about forty Armenians (foreign-born? A bus group from Istanbul?) were finishing a meal with two or three priests of the Apostolic Church. The joyful atmosphere was enhanced because the adults had consumed at least a dozen bottles of red wine made by the Syriac Orthodox Christians of Tur Abdin.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

I chatted with a few Armenians who had finished their meal, and with a young Armenian woman responsible for some of the informative displays that enlighten visitors about the church in particular and Diyarbakir’s once-substantial Armenian population in general. It was wonderful to be back and to see the church so popular with Armenians and local Kurds.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

The church that has been so carefully restored (it was badly damaged in the 1915 genocide, but restored in the 1960s when about a thousand Armenians still lived in the city and its immediate surroundings. However, as Armenians left the city in the years that followed, the church had to close. It was a ruin once again by the mid-1980s) dates from the first half of the 19th century, but Armenian sources suggest an Armenian church has been on the site of Surp Giragos since the 15th century. The complex is unusual in that it has no fewer than seven altars (five are in the church alone). Enclosing the church are buildings that once accommodated a school, chapels, storage space and living quarters for priests. Sinclair refers to a baptistery, and says that the raised gallery at the west end of the church’s nave is where women used to worship separately from men, but nowadays men and women worship together in the nave among the columns supporting the roof.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

One of the altars is in a room separate from the church itself and is dominated by a picture of Mary with the infant Jesus. An attractive rug covers the stone floor in front of the altar. Nearby is an ornately carved wooden chair painted gold; the upholstery is ruby-coloured. The chair looks very much like a throne for a bishop or the Patriarch of Constantinople/ Istanbul himself.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

One of the most notable features of the church is the slim bell tower that rises above the entrance. Pictures of the church dating from the 19th century suggest that the church once had a bell tower taller than the one today, and the taller bell tower appears to be what existed at the time of the genocide itself.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church from the roof of the pansiyon.

View of the bell tower, Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

Next, I walked east of the church to part of the old city where some of Diyarbakir’s poorest families live. Most men were at work, despite it being a Sunday, or with friends in tea houses or barber’s shops, so the residential streets were dominated by women and children. In many parts of the old city buildings private, religious or civil have been constructed with the same dark-coloured stone found in the walls and gates that encircle the district, but along the streets where I walked most old structures have been replaced by houses and small apartment blocks made with breeze blocks covered with plaster. As a consequence, the walls are painted many eye-catching colours that look their best in the late afternoon sunshine. It proved a wonderful time to be walking around.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

To Diyarbakir.

The Mayd Hotel has two female staff, one who cleans the rooms and gets them ready for guests, and one who prepares breakfast and light snacks during the day. Both women, one of whom wears a headscarf, like to smoke and are occasionally encountered sucking on cigarettes on balconies or in empty bedrooms. They work harder than the males in the hotel, the owner himself and his four other employees. The latter share duties on reception, carry guests’ bags to their rooms, assume responsibility for the laundry and undertake odd jobs to ensure the smooth running of the hotel.

It was the last breakfast of the trip so I went for broke. I had honey with yoghurt, borek, fried potatoes, grilled peppers, four types of olive, two types of cheese, tomatoes, boiled egg, simit, cherry jam, strawberry jam, melon, tea and water. I wanted to delay leaving the hotel for as long as I could so I had less time to spend in Diyarbakir, from where my flight was not scheduled to depart until just after midnight.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I went for a walk, calling first at the main square to examine for the last time the brightly painted buildings surrounding it and the bunting hung by the different political parties. A block south of Gazi Caddesi is the street emerging as the place for up-market consumer goods including clothes, so I went there next to confirm that it aspires to be Elazig’s miniature version of Kensington or Knightsbridge in London. It does have aspirations to emulate Kensington or Knightsbridge, and every so often I passed a new or yet-to-be-completed office or apartment block manifesting enviable attention to detail to make it look attractive. The more I walked around, the more the area looked as if it would emerge as an inner city middle class enclave where the devout and the secular live together, but still somehow exist in parallel universes that never quite connect or interact.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

After walking past a small park sheltered by mature trees, I arrived at a sterile open space where buses arrive and depart for destinations around the city. I then entered what is overwhelmingly a residential area north of Gazi Caddesi, but small business premises exist in most of the apartment blocks at street level. I zig-zagged north and east until arriving at a wide street running north to south where a narrow ribbon of greenery and a dry water feature turned the road into a dual carriageway. An attractive modern mosque overlooks the road from the west. In a shop window on the east side of the street two women were making gozleme. The older woman had used a scarf to cover her face except her eyes and the top of her nose, but the younger woman used her scarf to cover only her hair and ears. I wanted to take a photo of the two of them sitting on the floor as they rolled out the dough before cooking the gozleme on convex circles of sheet metal over a wooden fire, but could tell that they were reluctant to be thus immortalised, even though a man in the shop urged them to let me do so. I was on the Sunni side of the street and did not want to cause the women any embarrassment.

Elazig.

Elazig.

But here, once again, is hypocrisy writ large. Females from about the age of fourteen or fifteen are discouraged from having photos taken of them by anyone other than relatives or close family friends, but males of all ages urge you to take photos of them all the time, even if you have only just met them. When photography first became popular in Muslim societies, males and females were reluctant to be photographed because the rumour spread that the photograph somehow captured part of a person’s soul and that the part of the soul thus captured would never return to the body which once possessed it. In time, however, males overcame their fear that part of their soul would be lost for all eternity and allowed themselves to be photographed with ever greater enthusiasm. But females were still discouraged from being photographed, partly because of the ludicrous idea about the “theft” of part of the soul, but also because males did not want female family members to be looked at in photos by people who might have lustful inclinations toward them! That photos might be taken of Muslim males by photographers who had lustful inclinations toward them did not seem to count, of course. As ever, therefore, females were required to inhabit the background while males got to strut their stuff.

I returned to the hotel to arrange things in my bags in such a way as to ensure the weight was as evenly distributed as possible, then showered, ate a peach given to me in Solhan, drank lots of water chilled in the bedroom fridge and went to reception to settle the bill. It was about 10.40am when I left the hotel and I arrived at the minibus garaj just in time to catch the 11.00am departure for Diyarbakir.

I could not recall the hills and mountains south of Elazig ever looking so pretty or so tempting to walk through. The visibility was excellent, so much so that my last day in Turkey was very good for photography, even though I was going south into less elevated surroundings on the last day of May when temperatures were definitely warmer than when I started the trip. There were just enough white clouds to render the sky interesting and the clouds cast shadows over the fields, pasture, orchards, forests, hills and mountains. The mountains north and south of Hazar Golu still had smudges of snow on them, but they were smaller and fewer in number than two weeks earlier.

In Elazig, the railway station is conveniently located just a few blocks south of the main square, the otogar is not as far from the centre as in many cities of comparable size and even the airport is only 7 or 8 kilometres south-east of Gazi Caddesi.

At first we followed the railway to Palu, Mus and Tatvan, then that line veered off to the east as we went south to Hazar Golu. The Elazig to Diyarbakir railway leaves Elazig from the south-west, then swings to the south-east to take a route along the very sparsely populated south side of the lake. It is only when the road reaches the east end of the lake and swings south-east for Maden that the railway and the road embrace each other so they can negotiate the direct but meandering route to Maden and Ergani.

The small town of Gezin is the last settlement the road passes through before leaving Hazar Golu. Most of Gezin comprises of villas that are the second homes for city slickers who love the lake and its surroundings. A few businesses line the main road and they are overlooked by a large modern mosque in the mock-Ottoman style with lots of domes and semi-domes of different sizes.

A short distance beyond Gezin, the hills and mountains embrace the road and the railway and the very pretty run to Maden begins. Forest, pasture, beehives and villages on the valley walls add to the pleasure gleaned from watching the railway make progress south via short tunnels, bridges and cuttings. Lots of yellow flowers still grew, but for how much longer? The deep red poppies of Dersim came to mind and I wondered how many were still in flower. So delicate did they look that the poppies’ petals reminded me of butterflies’ wings.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Just before Maden station, the minibus stopped at a roadside lokanta and small market where people were preparing gozleme and meat dishes such as patlican kebaps. A large pile of melons from Adana, some of the first such fruit of the year, were examined by families who had stopped in their cars. A white van hired by the HDP pulled into the car park and I chatted with its occupants. One of the occupants was a woman aged about forty dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes. She was the same person who featured in a picture on the exterior of the van itself. She was going to Diyarbakir to take part in an HDP rally during which she would sing and dance. She was ready to go on stage as soon as she arrived at her destination.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

As always, Maden’s location in a deep valley with houses stacked on the hillside above the railway and the river made me want to get out to look around, but I could not do so now with bags heavy with booty for home. Flights of stone and concrete steps meandered among the buildings to provide pedestrians with short cuts from one group of houses to the next. Shadows fell across the heaps of spoil that confirmed how important mining had once been. For a town with an official population of not much more than 5,000, Maden appeared to have a lot to offer its visitors.

Between Maden and Ergani the bus boy brought everyone something to drink so I had a fruit juice.

Makam Dagi and the large cement works confirmed that we were approaching the northern edge of Ergani, from where the scenery took on a more worn-out appearance with rounded hills in the distance and the plain assuming the first shades of brown redolent of the long, hot summer ahead. The road, a dual carriageway from Ergani almost all the way to Diyarbakir, allowed us to get to the northern suburbs of our destination very quickly, but it was then that we meandered through the extensive new suburbs to the main otogar dropping people off as we did so.

The meandering drive through the northern and western suburbs of Diyarbakir was other-worldly. Most of the buildings (the first few are encountered in ones and twos, but further into the city they are clustered together en masse) are very new, very tall (blocks with at least ten storeys are many in number), carefully designed (balconies of generous proportions are common-place) and brightly painted. Where such buildings cluster together they are invariably clones of one another, but there is something compelling about the views they create, even though they are the opposite of all that I like best about architecture in the Middle East (it is this alien character of the new suburbs that makes them other-worldly, of course). The buildings lie along new roads, some of which are wide and dominated by curves and roundabouts, the latter at intersections. Families wealthy by local standards occupy some of the apartments. The ground floors of many of the apartment blocks have businesses in them and, in time, the suburbs will emerge as places where local people can meet most of their routine needs without having to visit the city centre. Some of the most impressive businesses are large lokantas and cafés with ultra-modern air conditioned interiors and outdoor patios raised above the level of the pavement. Family groups sat on the patios enjoying a very late breakfast or very early lunch (in fact, some such groups may have been eating brunch. The suburbs are not without their American characteristics). Blink, and the suburbs of Diyarbakir could have been in parts of Mediterranean Europe. Moreover, it was obvious that some of Diyarbakir’s best dining experiences are now in the suburbs and not in the old city or the streets immediately enclosing it.

The benefits of the peace that has prevailed in the south-east for some years impressed themselves in a manner as substantial as that of the Syriac Orthodox Christians who have returned to the Tur Abdin region around Mardin and Midyat.

Inevitably, not everywhere surrounding the apartment blocks and other large structures such as offices and shopping malls has been landscaped, with the result that many families and office workers overlook patches of open space marred with litter and the debris of construction work. In time, of course, such open spaces will be built over or turned into parkland and/or playgrounds, and very large billboards had helpful artists’ impressions of what the brave new world will eventually look like. My heart inclines toward the old city, inevitably, despite its considerable challenges in terms of overcrowding and economic decline, but I can see the appeal of Diyarbakir’s new suburbs, especially for Kurds in the region who, for the first time ever in many families, are encountering economic security and well-being.

We arrived at the newish otogar, itself increasingly enclosed by the brave new world of wide boulevards and large structures with brightly painted walls, and some of us transferred to a servis bus that took us to the edge of the old city through streets busy with pedestrians and motorised traffic.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

I had a cunning plan. I would identify a small hotel where rooms came with en suite facilities where I could leave my bags and wash and rest when I wanted, then check out at about 9.45pm. With the temperature about 30 degrees centigrade and likely to rise another degree of two by 4.00pm, I knew I could not get to the airport feeling and looking presentable without at least one shower. I also wanted to have a good look around the old city, which would inevitably mean I would get a bit grubby. I found just what I wanted between Kibris Caddesi and Inonu Boulevard. Moreover, the hotel was about 150 metres from where taxis left for the airport for a very reasonable flat fare.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

I showered and changed into grubby but still presentable clothes to keep clean the clothes I had travelled in from Elazig (the clothes worn in Elazig and to Diyarbakir I would put back on for the journey home), then set off for the trip’s final good look around. Surp Giragos Church was my first destination. I made my way via the narrow streets of the old city east of Gazi Caddesi and south of Biyikli Mehmet Sokak.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

Elazig.

I left about 2.30pm to confirm that minibuses departed for Diyarbakir the following morning, a Sunday, from the same garaj from where minibuses departed for Keban. Not far from the garaj the stalls of a large market had taken over some of the streets and many people had come to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives, honey, clothes, shoes, bedding, tools, toys, kitchen utensils, plastic bowls and buckets, and many other things for the house and the garden. The atmosphere was delightful, so much so that I decided to look around more slowly after visiting the garaj.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

As I continued on my way I became aware that a woman was following me. She was aged about thirty-five, did not have a headscarf and wore a blouse that revealed most of her arms. As I entered the garaj she asked what I was up to, so I explained. It was soon confirmed that minibuses left for Diyarbakir roughly every hour the following day, then the woman asked if I had some spare time. I said I had plenty of spare time so she said, “Good. I would like to show you around this,” and she pointed toward a large, incomplete hotel beside the garaj. “I am the general manager of the hotel and we plan for it to be the very best in Elazig.”

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

I am not used to attractive women much younger than me asking to spend time with them, so the hour or so that followed was great fun.

The hotel’s general manager is called **** and **** is, by the standards of almost any nation state, a remarkable woman, but to achieve what she has achieved in Turkey is astounding. Despite decades of the Turkish Republic being dominated by secular aspirations before the rise of the AKP, secular aspirations that included commitment to gender equality, Turkey has never provided girls and women with the same opportunities as boys and men, so the fact that **** has bubbled up to assume such a high status role in an industry still dominated by men is itself a rare achievement. But ****, who is married to a Turkish academic teaching at Elazig University, is Armenian. Yes, **** belongs to the very ethnic group, the Armenians, that suffered genocide during the first world war.

****’s career path has been an interesting one. She used to be a tour guide before entering hotel management in Bodrum, which she said she missed because of her affection for the sea. It was her experience of hotel management at that popular Mediterranean resort which opened up the opportunity that has arisen in Elazig.

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

**** showed me around the hotel and introduced me to some of her colleagues, including two of the men whose money has made the whole project possible. I could not believe the ambitions **** and her colleagues have for the hotel. I was shown the basement where the car park will be and the rooms nearby that have all the equipment required to provide gas, electricity and water, the latter both hot and cold. I also saw the spacious lobby, the offices, the restaurants, the kitchens, the outdoor café, the function and conference rooms, some of the bedrooms and suites, the hamam, the sauna and the salt room. I hope that their immense investment in money, planning, labour, high quality construction materials, luxury facilities and recruitment of staff meets everyone’s expectations and long-term aspirations for a healthy profit.

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

It was only gradually that **** revealed things about her Armenian background. Home is really Istanbul, but her husband is from Elazig and he wanted to return to the city of his birth when a teaching post arose at the university. **** came with him, obviously, and managed to secure the role of general manager at the soon-to-be-opened hotel (which overlooks the wide ring road, so views from the upper floors are very good in all directions, even to Harput in the north over the concrete jungle that comprises the city centre). She misses Istanbul very much, partly because its lifestyle is far more secular in character than that in Sunni-dominated Elazig, partly because she loves fish and Istanbul has many excellent fish lokantas, and partly because she is a long way from her Armenian family and friends (she did not know of a single Armenian in Elazig other than herself, so I told her about the Armenian I had met in Sahinkaya almost a fortnight earlier).

**** and her husband had recently entertained an Armenian film-maker in their home on the west side of the city, so this led me to wonder if they and I had encountered the same person, but, the more **** spoke about him, the more it was obvious we had met different people. I told the story about “my” film-maker hanging the Armenian flag from the damaged dome of the church near Sahinkaya and **** was visibly moved. The focus of our discussions shifted from the hotel and its final appearance toward the plight of the Armenian people past and present.

It took a while before I convinced **** that my interest in things Armenian was sincere and long-standing (a quick look at my blog entitled “In Search of Unusual Destinations” proved decisive), but once I had done so she shared some interesting information. A relative of hers had recently bought a house in Arapgir to re-establish a family link with the town severed by the mass murder of Armenians in 1915, and the film-maker she and her husband had met had been in the area because of family links with Harput.

It turned out that **** is forty-four years old. Despite all the pressures that exist if you wish to succeed as an Armenian woman with strong secular inclinations in overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey in a sector of the economy still dominated by men, **** is thriving and remains far more youthful in appearance than I would have imagined possible.

At one point in our discussions **** asked what I was doing the following day (she wanted to invite me to her home, Sunday being the one day of the week she had off work). When I said that I had to go to Diyarbakir to catch my flight home late Sunday evening and would therefore be leaving Elazig in the morning, she said, “Okay. Never mind. That gives me a chance to buy some new shoes. I love shoes, but they get ruined at the hotel. Just look at these,” and she pointed to a pair of once-smart, flat but expensive shoes that had many scuffs on them. “I will replace them with four new pairs tomorrow.” A woman with strong secular values who thrives in a man’s world dominated by Sunni Muslims? An economically successful Armenian living among people who may be the descendants of Turks and Kurds who engaged in genocide against her forebears a hundred years ago? As if all this is not remarkable enough, **** has not compromised her femininity to get on in life.

How exciting to find an Armenian thriving in Turkey, even though the number of Armenians in the country is now so small, and even though so many Armenian monuments have disappeared, lie in ruins or suffer from such outrageous official neglect that their very survival for even a generation is very much in doubt.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I eventually got away about 4.15pm and went directly to the market to take some photos. The market was still very busy, but everyone seemed relaxed rather than boisterous. A chat with a very vivacious woman aged about thirty (she did not cover her head, but walked around with two female friends who had scarves) led to a nice photo as she gave the HDP’s V-sign. We parted company, but met again further into the market. On this occasion the woman pressed into my hand a boiled corn-on-the-cob that made an excellent snack.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

By now I was thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere, so went to the lower end of the pazar to take more photos. I also walked to the main square where a group of men who sat on a bench engaged me in conversation as we consumed glasses of tea, then I had a last look at the covered pazar and spent time in a shop specialising in honey and all the equipment required to produce it. The man in the shop tried to give me a jar of honey to take home, but I explained about the problem of getting it through customs (it remains unlawful to bring Turkish honey through UK customs, not that the law had stopped me doing so in the past. My excuse for breaking the law in the past? In this respect, it is an ass).

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

I returned to the hotel to freshen up, then went out to find somewhere serving a pide. I had not yet had a pide, despite it being a favourite of mine. I did not have far to walk from the hotel to find a suitably clean and bright lokanta. Once inside I ordered an ayran and a pide with meat and cheese. The excellent pide arrived with a refreshing salad, but I could not get away until I had consumed two teas on the house.

I had a chat with one of the waiters. He was Iranian. He said that he had had to flee from Iran because the authorities regarded him as a dissident. He did not sympathise with the religious character of the constitution. He said, “I don’t like Muslims.” I said, “Are you Christian, Zoroastrian or Bahai?” He replied, “No. I have Muslim parents. I am Muslim. But Muslims treat Muslims badly. I have lost my belief in Islam because Muslims cannot treat even their brothers and sisters like brothers and sisters.”

Of course, Iran is an Islamic state predicated on a mainstream Shia understanding of how such a state should function. My encounter with the waiter was a reminder that, in the Islamic world, tyranny and oppression are not confined to Sunni Muslims alone.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I went for a last walk around central Elazig concentrating on the streets east of the main square. It was now almost completely dark and girls and women were very rarely seen. I passed four of the city’s older hotels, one of which I had stayed in a few years ago. The hotel had had a face-lift that included plastic double-glazed windows (I recall that sleep had been very difficult because of the noise from the traffic in the street below). In fact, all the hotels had been up-graded to such an extent that I did not recognise them except for their names.

Elazig.

Elazig.

When I stopped to admire some over-the-top wedding dresses in a shop window, the owner invited me inside to take a few photos. The owner had no customers, but his shop would remain open until about 9.00pm in the futile hope some might arrive. However, with dresses far outnumbering suits, the chance that anyone would pop in was very small because women, his most likely client group, were deserting the city centre streets as quickly as they could. This said, it was great fun examining the clothes (many dresses cost at least £400, a lot of money by Turkish standards, and they came in many colours and styles), so much so that I stopped at a second shop specialising in wedding garments before walking to the west side of the city centre. Here, only two or three blocks south of the Mayd Hotel, a street is attracting some very exclusive shops. Some of the shops meet the needs of rich pious Sunni women who want clothes which, although they ensure everything but the face and hands are covered (some young women might also reveal their toes if wearing shoes without socks or tights), will nonetheless guarantee that people admire their appearance. The headscarves, tops, trousers, coats and other garments had been carefully made and styled (on some fabrics were leaves, flowers and intricate patterns), but by Turkish standards they were extremely expensive. I also saw a shop with a vast selection of expensive and brightly coloured handbags, some of which were enormous (pious young Sunni women liked large handbags almost as much as eye-catching headscarves, tight-fitting jeans, make-up and, sometimes, shoes with high heels), but a shop selling chocolates detained me the longest.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

What did my walk around the shops reveal? Pious Sunni women are still required to cover up to a wholly inappropriate degree, especially given how hot most of Turkey gets in summer, but if the Sunni women are young and rich they know how to make an impression. You are young, female, Sunni and rolling in liras? Do not hesitate to flaunt what you have by splashing out on clothes, shoes and accessories of unquestioned quality, but do not dare show off more than your face, hands and an occasional toe, because, if you reveal too much, you have only yourself to blame if men want to sexually assault you.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Just before turning in I witnessed an alarming incident at a street corner not far from a large, city centre mosque. Two police officers drove up on their motorbikes and began interrogating a male aged about sixteen or seventeen. The young male looked frightened as one of the officers unleashed a torrent of words in a raised voice. The second officer began rummaging among some litter carelessly pushed into plastic bags and cardboard boxes, thereby spilling the contents onto the pavement. He was looking for something, but his search proved unsuccessful. He walked over to a plastic chair, presumably the property of the young male, and stamped on it with his heavy boots. The chair very quickly broke into many pieces, thereby rendering it of use to no one. A few last stern words were directed toward the young male, then the officers rode off in a hurry sounding their sirens, the latter perhaps for extra effect. Were they going to deal with another incident or were they getting away quickly before members of the public could establish their identity?

Elazig.

Elazig.

As for the young male, he melted away among the pedestrians along a dark side street, his self-respect and street credibility severely dented. The many onlookers, all male, briefly chatted among themselves before resuming whatever they were engaged with. Their lack of emotion suggested that the incident they had witnessed was not abnormal and one that had to be put up with, even though some of them must have felt the police had over-reacted. Their apparent indifference about the plight of the young male suggested that they were grateful they themselves had done nothing to incur the wrath of the police officers. But their indifference also suggested that ordinary Turkish citizens still feel powerless in the face of state institutions and/or when confronted by uniformed representatives of the state. Even in 2015 it looks as if the police have power and authority that remains undiminished from earlier, more deferential and dictatorial times. Or is it the case that in recent years Erdogan has encouraged the police to be more assertive in how they exercise their power and authority?

All I can assume is that the young man had been selling things on the street, perhaps without permission to do so (I imagine that people trading on the streets need a licence), but the police officers had acted in a manner both inappropriate and disproportionate. The incident brought back memories of how uniformed representatives of the Turkish Republic had acted in inappropriate and disproportionate ways in the past. I wondered if enough had been done to bring the police and other uniformed personnel under control. Such servants of the state were meant to protect members of the public, not oppress them.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Elazig.

I ate breakfast with five men who had arrived overnight, three of whom were responsible for the large, open-topped truck destined to deliver a heavy load in Ankara. The best elements of the meal? The honey in its comb and glass after glass of tea.

I settled the bill, then walked to the office of VIP Taksi from where transport departed for Elazig. After a short wait, I and six other passengers got aboard a small but comfortable minibus and, for 25TL each, were driven to our destination with only one break of about fifteen minutes. One man was destined for Elazig Airport from where he was catching a flight to Istanbul and, when we arrived at the edge of the city, the driver let him out at a major intersection from where a minibus or taxi would take him to the terminal.

Solhan.

Solhan.

There were two women on the minibus. The older of the two – she was aged about fifty-five – wore loose-fitting clothes that she had layered over the top half of her body. Shalwar completely covered her legs and a large headscarf covered her hair and ears. All the items of clothing had flowery patterns on them, but, because the pattern on each item was different in design and colour and burst forth from dark backgrounds, her clothes looked shabby and did not complement one another. On her feet were dark-coloured socks with a bold geometric pattern that probably came from her husband’s chest of drawers, and old, flat leather shoes black in colour. The number of items she wore on the top half of her body was inappropriate on a day when the temperature promised to reach about 30 degrees centigrade, but this is how women in Turkey are expected to dress on the Sunni side of the street, especially once they enter their mature years.

The other female passenger was aged about twenty-five. She wore jeans, a tight-fitting blouse and no headscarf, and knew she was being watched closely with lustful intent, both before getting into the minibus and while in transit. She was that rarest of things in Solhan, a woman defying the dress conventions encouraged by orthodox Sunni piety.

Of course, there is no expectation that males conform to a particular dress code, provided they dress in such a way as to keep most of their body covered. Heads can be uncovered at all times, even when visiting mosques, and younger males are very keen on baseball caps, some of which confirm an affection for the USA. Tight-fitting clothes are the norm for men until a majority attain middle-age, after which tops and trousers sag and flap a bit as portliness sets in. Only the very oldest Kurdish males wear shalwar nowadays, but the number who do declines with every visit I make to eastern Turkey. Sad.

Needless to say, the vast majority of Sunni Muslim males seem happy for such inequality in terms of the dress code to persist because it confers on them advantages of a somewhat dubious nature vis-à-vis girls and women. Do the Sunni males who enjoy such advantages ever stop to consider how unfair this is on girls and women, and how uncomfortable it must be for girls and women to comply with the dress code, particularly in the hot summer months? Of course not, otherwise the dress code would have been modified ages ago to remove the inequality that prevails.

Perhaps because it was the last time I would be in such green and pleasant upland surroundings, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive through the hills, the mountains and the forests as far as Bingol. There were many places where we passed beehives arranged in lines on hillsides and in pasture full of wild flowers. There were also about six tented camps where nomads lived during the summer to look after the beehives or their large flocks of sheep. Cattle grazed on some of the pasture.

Bingol is about 1,000 metres above sea level and has an official population of just over 100,000. As the day before it looked overwhelmingly modern and, with so much construction taking place, it would look even more modern two or three years ahead. Despite the attempt to make the modern buildings attractive with a few post-modern embellishments and brightly painted walls in more than one colour, large areas of Bingol appear somewhat sterile and impersonal. This is due partly to the sheer size of many of the structures, which were designed in a similar style and built at more or less the same time. Because wide boulevards with a lot of traffic are overlooked by many of the largest structures, the feeling that contemporary Bingol is more dystopian than utopian is increased. This said, I imagine the central business district has some redeeming qualities such as narrow and winding streets lined by thriving businesses, and the city as a whole is enclosed by seductively attractive landscapes. One of Bingol’s up-market hotels would make a very comfortable base for two or three nights to visit some of the surrounding towns and villages, few of which are known by people other than those who live in Bingol province itself.

The young woman began coughing, but everyone ignored her. I reached over to give her my water bottle and she accepted it gratefully.

The delightful upland scenery persisted west of Bingol, but, gradually, the mountains became rounded hills and the valley widened until it became in effect gently undulating but verdant upland plain. Pasture mingled with fields and orchards. Sheep continued to outnumber cattle.

We stopped so the driver could have a rest at the point where the road leads north to Kigi. I regretted that I did not have another one or two nights in Turkey to travel to Kigi to spend longer among Armenian ruins in the mountains.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

At Kovancilar a road leads north to Mazgirt and Tunceli, and a sign at the junction points toward Ekinozu Kilisesi. Back home I found that Ekinozu Kilisesi is that rarest of things, an Armenian church that enjoys official recognition by the provincial Turkish authorities. Photos of the church on the internet suggest it remains in quite good condition and that other ruins, a cesme included, exist nearby. The ruins suggest that the church was once a monastic complex.

The church and its associated ruins are in the village of Ekinozu, which used to be called Habab, Hebap or Khabab. Armenians know the village better as Havav. An article I accessed on the internet suggests that the cesme has been restored and that, during Ottoman times, the village had a population of about five hundred. The same article suggests that the village once had two cesmes, three Armenian churches and an Armenian monastery. However, I am confident that one of the three churches was part of the monastic complex itself.

Sinclair has a short description of Havav which appears to confirm that my speculation about the ruins is correct. He refers to “the village church of Surp Lusavorich (the Illuminator)”, Surp Astvatsatsin (Mother of God), the church of the “monastery of Kaghtsrahayats Vank, probably medieval”, and Surp Kataoghike, a “partly ruined church”.

I recognised the very pretty mountains south of Kovancilar that overlook Palu and the Murat Nehri, and the extension of the Keban Reservoir that the road runs beside for about 30 kilometres to Elazig. The scenery was now merely pretty because gardens, orchards and fields of wheat dominated the gently undulating valley floor and pasture the rounded hills to the north and the south. I detected a hint of yellow among the shades of green, which, along with the visibility marred by a slight haze, suggested that the hottest months of the year were not far off.

The journey from Solhan to Elazig is about 180 kilometres, but I had been charged less than £7. I had travelled in a motor vehicle not dissimilar to some taxis or minicabs in the UK. Even if I had travelled a distance of 180 kilometres in a bus in the UK I would have been charged far, far more than £7, but it would have taken much longer to complete the journey and the seat would have been far less comfortable than in the Turkish minibus.

The minibus dropped me very close to the city centre and less than ten minutes later I was in a room in the Mayd Hotel. I had decided to stay overnight in Elazig rather than Diyarbakir knowing I could do my shopping more easily in the former than the latter city. The price for the room was the same as before. I was given a slightly better room than when I had stayed almost two weeks earlier, but the balcony was at the back of the hotel overlooking a small, litter- and rubble-strewn open space enclosed by ugly buildings. The upside? The room was very quite at night.

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

I was out of my room not long after 1.00pm and spent a pleasant hour or so in the pazar buying black olives, green olives, dried apricots, fruit leather and a kitchen knife. I bought the kitchen knife in a small shop not far from the covered section of the pazar and one of the two men working behind the counter sharpened the blade while I waited. Both men were aged about fifty and had beards that suggested they had undertaken the haj to Makkah. I then went to the large shed where men sold flour and dried beans to buy four bars of bittim sabunu. The bars cost only 1TL each. I toyed with the idea of buying many other things, pistachios included, but so many Turkish food items are easily found in the UK now, albeit at prices higher than in Turkey itself. I confined my avaricious inclinations to essentials.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I returned to the hotel to drop off my purchases, then went to the pazar a second time to buy a pair of black leather shoes and smart but casual trousers. The trousers were significantly discounted and the length of the legs adjusted in a tailor’s shop so they fitted perfectly. As I waited for the trousers to be returned, I chatted with some very friendly men who owned the nearby shops, including the ones from where I bought the shoes and the trousers, and tea and coffee were generously provided. Business was slow and I provided some much-needed diversion.

The bazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

My walk around the pazar confirmed that most shops selling clothes, shoes and scarves for older girls and women stocked items that would appeal only to conventionally pious Sunni women. Shops selling fashionable clothes that might appeal to non-Muslims in Europe or North America were for males only. Such shops sought to target local males aged about fifteen or sixteen to their late thirties.

Between my two visits to the pazar, I called at a small café for a portion of borek washed down with limon. This proved exactly what I needed to sustain me until the evening, when I intended to eat a proper meal.

Borek and lemon, Elazig.

Borek and limon, Elazig.

As I finished the borek, I gave some thought to the money that remained. The trip had proved so inexpensive that, even with over a day to go and the possibility that I might buy a few more things for home, I would probably get by without accessing an ATM. This would mean that I would get through the whole trip with only the money I had brought from the UK. Remarkable. Moreover, despite having a significant sum of money with me at the start of the trip, not once had I felt vulnerable to theft, even in Diyarbakir which has a reputation for tourists falling victim to thieves. This said, I have always found theft far more of a problem in Istanbul than Diyarbakir.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Yuzen Ada and Solhan.

After waiting fifteen minutes at the main road, a man from Istanbul stopped his car and drove me into the centre of Solhan. The man had been on the road for fifteen days taking orders for kitchen electrical goods in Bolu, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya, Elazig, Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van. He was now returning home and hoped to arrive in Istanbul about 1.00am or 2.00am. He picked me up at about 1.00pm, so was suggesting he would get home in twelve or thirteen hours. I thought this unlikely, even though he drove to Solhan at great pace. For most of the way the car exceeded 120 kph.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

I returned to my hotel room briefly, then went to take a few photos around the town. The streets were top-heavy with men and boys, but everyone was very friendly. It looked as if I was in an overwhelmingly Sunni area where segregation of the sexes was the norm. Opportunities to talk with women were non-existent other than if they were encountered as employees in the hotel or some of the town centre shops. But few women benefited from such roles and the conversations had to be brief and business-like. Lots of women wore loose-fitting black garments from head to toe and some covered their faces. Girls aged fourteen or more wore headscarves that covered their hair and ears. Only a very few women defied Sunni conventions about what would be called appropriate female dress. Depressing? Very depressing.

I walked around the small pazar, identified where minibuses left for Elazig, located the small otogar serving towns and villages in the surrounding hills and mountains, visited a shop selling locally-produced honey, watched a man ride a horse bareback along a road leading over the river and out of town, met four supporters of the HDP and admired the bunting along the town centre’s main thoroughfares. I then took someone’s advice for a good meal and walked up the stairs leading to the Saray Restaurant which overlooks the main street.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I liked the Saray as soon as I entered its clean, spacious and female-friendly surroundings. Food is prepared in two different areas, one being devoted to grilled meats, salad and bread and the other to hot plates. Because I had had a few grilled meat dishes already and knew I would probably have more in Elazig and/or Diyarbakir, I went to the hot plate counter and ordered tas kebap, bulgar pilaf and a warm yoghurt dish with a mild pepper sauce and vegetables, the latter cooked so well that they melted in the mouth. I knew that bread and a salad would probably arrive free of charge, but when the waiter came to serve me I was also given a small bowl of lentil soup, a stuffed pepper, macaroni smothered in yoghurt, ayran and four different salads. I took my time and managed to eat almost everything I was given, partly because the quality of the food was so good that the meal was the trip’s very best so far (indeed, not even an Adana kebap the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir could quite exceed in quality what I ate at the Saray in Solhan, a town most Turkish citizens would regard as in the middle of nowhere). But the most remarkable thing of all? For a meal worthy of a bill of at least 30TL I was charged only 10TL. Yes, less than £3.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

At the end of the meal I shook hands with almost every member of staff as well as that of the owner and promised that the Saray would get a rave review on the internet, then continued my walk around town. In a back street I came across a Belediye dustcart with a picture on the side of a small lake with some floating islands about 8 to 10 kilometres from Solhan. I had forgotten about the lake and its islands, known locally as Yuzen Ada, but, because it was just after 3.00pm, knew I had a good chance of getting there and back before nightfall.

I walked west along the main road, then came across a minibus with a few passengers. I did not expect the minibus to go all the way to the lake, but asked the driver if I could be dropped at the appropriate junction. Amazingly, the minibus was going to the lake, but it had first to pick up more passengers around the town. We drove to a large school to collect some middle and high school students (it was Friday and pupils and students who had been boarding in Solhan during the week were being driven home to nearby towns and villages in lots of minibuses), then stopped at an apartment block to collect an elderly couple and their sacks of food. The sacks were so full that the food would last well over a week.

We drove out of town and, after about 4 or 5 kilometres, turned right onto gently inclined pasture with a small, seemingly deserted village inhabited only during the hottest months of the year. The road entered a valley and began to ascend more steeply. There were cliffs, rocky outcrops, wild flowers in the meadows and mountains in the distance. At the highest point the road crossed undulating upland reminiscent of the North Pennines in England, then the road descended a short distance into a small village. The minibus dropped off a few passengers in the village, then drove another 1.5 kilometres to the lake itself, which has attracted a few facilities such as small wooden chalets to stay in overnight and a café and lokanta.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

Meadows with wild flowers and rounded hills and mountains enclose the lake and its facilities, as does a footpath covered with a wooden roof. The lake itself is very small, but three flat patches of grassy land, roughly oval in shape, float on the surface of the water (it would appear that the roots of grass, flowers and trees hold the soil of the islands together. The islands were once attached to the land enclosing the lake, but erosion eventually detached them and gradually reduced them to the shape they currently have. A fourth island appears to be forming). The best view of all can be acquired from a path that leads to a viewing platform on a hillside about 20 metres above the lake’s surface. From here you can also see almost all the facilities that the lake has spawned, but I did not find them in the least oppressive because they are dwarfed by the grandeur of their upland surroundings. A few families were eating large picnics in the fresh air beside chalets they had probably hired for the weekend. Two powerful motorbikes had been parked by a couple who were drinking tea in the café. The couple looked as if they were Turkish.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

I was very glad I had visited the lake, not least because it got me for one last time into the mountains. I walked back to the nearby village and chatted with some men and women before making my way onto the upland area that resembles the North Pennines (there are some dry stone walls that make the comparison with England even more convincing). The road began to gradually descend and I entered the valley with the cliffs and rocky outcrops. A meandering stream tumbled over rocks and, briefly, I could have been walking beside the Wear or the Tees in remote parts of County Durham. By now it was almost 5.00pm and the visibility was excellent.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

I made no attempt to flag a lift because I was enjoying the walk and wanted to look at the village not far from the main road. The village has a few houses to the west of the road overlooking the river, but most are a little higher on the hillside to the east. I was almost correct; all the houses but one or two were empty (two donkeys tethered near one of the houses to the east of the road confirmed that a few people were around, but I saw no one the half hour I was in the village). The rest of the houses awaited the families that would live in them from early June until about mid-September.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Some of the houses are made with stone, some with breeze block and some with what appears to be breeze block covered with a thin layer of plaster. All the houses have a square or a rectangular ground plan and spread over only one storey. Liberal use is made of corrugated iron and flat sheets of metal to patch holes or improve insulation, especially on buildings for livestock or the storage of food. Every roof is pitched and covered with corrugated iron. Such roofs looked quite new and on the houses made with stone probably replaced flat roofs of log and mud. The pitched corrugated iron roofs are much lighter than log and mud roofs and are therefore popular in areas prone to earthquakes. The walls of some of the stone houses have courses of wood designed to absorb the shocks when earthquakes occur. Yes, Solhan is in an area prone to earthquakes.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Many of the houses have storage space immediately below the corrugated iron roofs and, nearby, penfolds in which they can put their livestock at night. Most of the penfolds have dry stone walls and are square or rectangular in shape. They are usually located next to a house so family members can quickly respond should a problem arise.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The houses of the village lie on undulating pasture with many wild flowers. To the south, a ridge of mountains had patches of snow where the sun could not easily reach. To the north-west, lots of beehives had been arranged on a gently inclined slope leading to the river. I was having quality time in the mountains, so much so that, even though it would be the last time I would be in such surroundings, I did not mind. All good things must come to an end.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

I walked to the main road and it was not long before a young Kurdish couple stopped their car to offer me a lift to Solhan. The driver was the male, of course, but the woman did not wear a headscarf, which suggested that she and her partner were not devout. The man drove to town very fast, no doubt keen to impress his partner with his motoring skills. We drove past two or three camps for nomads in which the tents were made of felt, as in the old days.

It was now almost 6.00pm and the visibility excellent. I walked around the town centre streets stopping every so often to chat with friendly men. The very last pupils and students in Solhan’s schools were making their way home in minibuses and, although some women walked around in small groups, they did all they could not to draw attention to themselves.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I returned to the hotel, washed a few items of clothing and left for one last walk around the town. After looking at the river south of the centre where it is confined within stone walls and banks of rubble, I walked around a small but attractive cemetery close to a large playground where children were engaged in noisy games. A little later, not long before meeting some men outside a tea house in the pazar playing a game that looked like a cross between chess and draughts, I was stopped by a police officer in plain clothes. The police officer asked what I was up to and examined my passport. I was briefly worried that I might have some difficulties with him, but, although suspicious at first, he soon came to realise I did not pose a threat to anyone. He invited me to have a glass of tea, but I explained I wanted to take some photos before the light faded altogether.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I would have liked to return to the Saray Restaurant for an evening meal, but the late lunch had been so substantial that I could not justify the extravagance. I fancied something to eat and drink, however, so called at a small supermarket to buy a chocolate pudding, a bar of dark chocolate, a packet of Ruffles Original Crisps and a litre of apple juice. Back in my room I had some crisps, the pudding and the apple juice and soon felt full but refreshed.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.