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 parliamentary majority, but remained the largest party in parliament 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 ongoing Solution Process between the government and Kurdish rebels, the ongoing political conflict with the Gulen Movement and Turkish involvement (or, until July 2015 at least, the apparent lack of such 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 some of the issues raised during the opposition campaigns. The vote was seen by some 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 President 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, so 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; 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 including 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. However, the AKP believes (and I think the AKP is correct in its belief) that most ethnic Turks are not yet prepared to see Kurds in government, given that Kurds are still viewed by a majority of ethnic Turks as second class citizens who want to create from within the Turkish Republic a nation state of their own. There was also the legacy of the civil war and the fact that most ethnic 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 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 parliamentarians, 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 parliamentarians 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.

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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 off communion from the Chalcedonies 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 believed to be Catholics. Most such Armenians live in Istanbul. The church’s official website 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 five thousand Protestants are indigenous Turkish citizens, of whom about four thousand 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 café and lokanta (it was very similar in design and layout to the Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant) opposite intent on climbing 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 could see much more clearly the dome and the bell tower.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Eski Palu.

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

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

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

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

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

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

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

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

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

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

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

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

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

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii.

Merkez Camii.

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

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small vestry n. of chancel…

Church of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Mazgirt.

During what was to be roughly forty-eight hours in and around Tunceli, I heard the adhan only once. There is a very ordinary, modern, Ottoman-style mosque in the town centre, but it was never very busy. I suspect that most people who use it are not indigenous, but outsiders who had settled in the town permanently or temporarily, perhaps for work purposes.

And it was most definitely NOT the adhan that woke me at about 4.00am. I was startled awake by a far more interesting and rhythmic sound, that of an unaccompanied male voice repeating the same or a very similar phrase many times, with other voices, which sounded male but may have included those of a few women, repeating the phrase after the soloist. At one point I thought I heard drums emphasising the rhythm, but it could have been human voices creating the effect. The chanting, because this was the best way of describing what I heard, went on for about twenty minutes and I assumed it came from a nearby cemevi. Because I did not hear the same thing the following morning at the same time, I assumed it must be something peculiar to the Monday concerned. Alternatively, were Alevis and/or Bektashis marking an important day in their cycle of festivals and commemorations, a cycle that differs significantly from the cycle of festivals and commemorations important to mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims? Back home, because I found nothing significant about 25th May 2015 for Alevis or Bektashis, I concluded that what I heard was a routine practice confined to Mondays.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I knew that a minibus left for Mazgirt, my main destination for the day, at 7.00am, but, if I left that early, I would miss breakfast. As it is, Mazgirt is not a great distance from Tunceli, so an early start was not essential. I ate breakfast, which was not as good as the best nor as bad as the worst so far. I enjoyed in particular the views south, east and north from the L-shaped room in which the food was served. This said, a woman prepared the meal and the food included loose butter as white as Lurpak, a local cream cheese, boiled eggs and flat-bread still warm from the baker’s oven. The woman wore casual clothes of European character and no headscarf, as you might expect in a hotel run by two men who appeared to be socialists or communists.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

Because overnight I had an upset stomach, I returned to my room for a fourth and last shit to clear the system (as I knew from past experience, with an upset stomach regular shits are the best medicine and not medicine itself) and instantly felt a lot better.

At about 7.45 I left the hotel, walked to the bridge over the river carrying the road from Elazig to Pulumur and Erzincan, and made my way south toward Elazig and what I hoped would soon be the edge of town. But development persists for a long way, so much so that I flagged a minibus to Tunceli University’s campus, which I knew was about 7 kilometres from the town centre. The minibus went past many new buildings, most of which could not be more than ten years old. Some of the buildings coalesce into a quite attractive residential area with apartment blocks rising about eight to a dozen storeys. The blocks are painted bright colours and the apartments look comfortable. Every apartment has at least one balcony. Shops, offices, lokantas, bakeries and interior design and furniture stores occupy the ground floors, so the locality is a relatively self-sufficient suburb. This said, vacant plots exist among the apartment blocks and they are covered with litter and building waste.

None of the female students in the minibus or on their way to the university by walking or using other transport wore a headscarf. They and their male companions could have been conveyed to almost any campus in the UK and looked very much at home.

I got off the minibus when it turned off the road to Elazig to ascend the hillside to access the campus. I walked a short distance along the Elazig road to where an elderly couple were waiting for a minibus to Elazig via Pertek and the ferry that crosses the Keban Reservoir. The Elazig minibus arrived and, because it had the space, I went as far as the point where the road to Pertek branches from the much longer road to Elazig that I needed to follow to access Mazgirt. Once again, the driver would not take any money for the fare.

I was now about 8 kilometres from the junction for Mazgirt and confident that the next lift would get me at least that far. Five minutes later a van stopped and the driver and his companion said they were going to Mazgirt. The 11 kilometres from the junction to Mazgirt is through remarkably pretty undulating scenery dominated for most of the way by fields, orchards and pasture. In the distance are mountains and one of the mountains is the vast eruption of rock on which stands Mazgirt’s citadel. Mazgirt itself, a small and compact town, clings to the gently sloping wall of the mountain facing south. From the town there are wide views down the Munzur Cayi valley and over that of the lower Euphrates.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

On the way to Mazgirt a car on the other side of the road ran over a puppy, but the driver did not stop to see if it had survived (nor did we stop, in fairness, but all three of us expressed anger and dismay that the driver running over the puppy could be so reckless and indifferent). The driver of the car in front of the one that ran over the puppy had applied its brakes so as not to do it any harm. Returning to Tunceli later in the day I saw that the puppy had not survived. Its body remained in the road where it had died.

I was dropped in the middle of Mazgirt, a town with an official population of just less than 2,000. A small square of irregular shape has the Hukumet Konagi on one side and, before leaving for Tunceli, I was invited inside by a police officer with whom I had some tea. Bunting of the different political parties hung from lamp posts and buildings, and the vans of the CHP pulled into town with the usual music blaring from loudspeakers (at one point in the Hukumet Konagi I had a conversation about Erdogan with a CHP bigwig or fixer. I was surprised that I had a far more negative impression of the president than he did).

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Part of the square and a nearby street constitutes the commercial heart of the town and most premises are occupied by shops, small supermarkets, tea houses, lokantas, barbers, a butcher and a tailor. The dress of the women suggested Mazgirt has a largely Alevi population, so conversation was frequent and relaxed with everyone I met.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Although Mazgirt’s most important survival from the past is the citadel, I also examined two very ruined churches, the Ulu Camii, a turbe in excellent condition and some attractive old houses utilising stone, timber, plaster and, to fix holes in the walls or render roofs lightweight but watertight, corrugated iron or flat metal sheets. By the end of my short visit I liked the town a lot. I also liked the walk up and partly around the citadel majestically constructed on the mountain high above the town. During the walk I encountered beehives and wild flowers, the latter of enviable variety. Back in the town centre I alarmed a police officer when taking a photo of the landscaping that had rendered the small square a building site. He asked if I had taken a photo of an armoured vehicle parked outside the Hukumet Konagi. When I showed him the photos on my memory stick to confirm I had not, he relaxed and we shook hands. Mazgirt and its immediate surroundings had a much larger police and jandarma presence than I would have thought necessary, but, in fairness, some of the jandarma posts had been abandoned.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The police officer worried about my photographs was from Istanbul and had to serve in the small town of Mazgirt for two years. He was half way through his tour of duty and admitted that Mazgirt had come as quite a culture shock after living his whole life until twelve months before in Istanbul where secular and Sunni dispositions are vastly more apparent than Alevi.

Before leaving for Tunceli, I consumed two chilled ayrans in a small supermarket on the main square. By then I was very thirsty and in need of the refreshment.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

By way of introducing Mazgirt to his readers, Sinclair notes that:

From the line of mountains extends a rocky arm pointing roughly south-west; from this again the delicate but formidable citadel rock breaks off towards the south-east; a remarkable detached tower of rock outlies it to the south-west. A bowl, where until the first world war most of the settlement lay, is thus enclosed on three sides by dark, broken cliffs: previously, part of the town had lain on the beginning of the descent towards the Munzur Cayi. The town has now moved.

Of the citadel, Sinclair writes that:

In its basic shape this is a long platform with a rock rising out of the middle…

Lower platform. There are walls upstanding only at a few points. At the sharp nw. corner they survive to a good height… The facing material of what survives is a reddish and purple block, and the walls that we see are probably near in date to the Elte Hatun Camii (1252/53). Approaching up the e. skirt one finds a small complex of walls…: to the r. is a rather crude but gently rising rock-hewn staircase…

Upper platform… Circular rock-hewn pit (original purpose unknown): the rectangular block of masonry built partly over its w. edge is said to have belonged to a windmill. Just n. of the inner angle starts a rectangular floor created by hollowing out the rock slope, so that the inner rock wall, against which some medieval (?) masonry has been added, is of a substantial height. Perhaps originally a platform connected with a temple elsewhere on the terrace?

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

What I call the Ulu Camii, because this is how Mazgirt’s inhabitants designate it today, Sinclair identifies as the Elte Hatun Camii. The mosque:

in which a dark, purplish composite stone was used, was built in 1252/53 by a princess called Elte Hatun… The prayer hall is a rectangle of limited size. The entrance vestibule is against the e. half of the n. wall… Since it is a single-vaulted chamber whereas the vaults of the prayer hall are taken on piers, it had to be built higher than the prayer hall…

Portal. The muqarnas canopy is cut into the back wall of a deep and tall arched recess… Cesme… Simple muqarnas canopy.

The entrance hall has a domical vault and lantern above… The prayer hall’s vaults rest on four solid, fairly low piers. From the piers are sprung thick n.-s. arches, and the vaults, interrupted by wide ribs, rest on arches. There is a lantern dead in the middle of the roof. The mihrab niche is a rectangle inset into the wall, on whose face runs a plain concave moulding.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

 Sinclair calls the turbe the Elte Hatun Turbesi, but:

The low quality of the carving makes this almost inconceivable. Perhaps 15th century. Eight-sided, pyramidal cap. Door to n., three windows placed at the other points of the compass… Door frame: roughly executed plain mouldings. Either side, two vertical bands of an extraordinary incised decoration.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

 The church in a better state of preservation is the Armenian Church of Surp Hakop. According to Sinclair:

Its ne. and e. sides, apparently lying against the hill, are in reality banked up with gradually accumulating loose earth. The church is a strangely short rectangle. The apse and the side chambers are conceived of as openings dug into a mass of masonry filling the e. end and faced in a clean wall. The nave, not much longer than it is wide, is roofed by a broad barrel-vault steadied by a powerful rib. From the springing-line upwards, the w. wall has disappeared, leaving only the bases of the three windows in this wall. Large cut blocks are used on the sw. corner. Thus the doorway and its relieving arch are executed in this masonry. Note muqarnas-style decoration of capitals of rib and at base of arch leading to apse.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Perhaps 16th or 17th century; however, the church has the appearance of being reconstructed from the ruins of a predecessor whose e. end was of a similar design, but whose nave would have been longer and thus better proportioned.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Not all that Sinclair describes above survives today, but even less remains of the second church, which is also likely to be Armenian. Nonetheless, I provide in full Sinclair’s brief description so we acquire an insight into what has been lost:

That of the Mother of God. N. side chamber; beginning of apse and apse arch; arch now blocked, which once separated n. aisle from nave, part of vault over nave are left. Probably a basilican church. Date extremely hard (to estimate); possibly medieval. Arches in brick.

Church of the Mother of God.

Church of the Mother of God.

Although too small to support of hotel, even a very simple one, Mazgirt is a delightful place in remarkably attractive surroundings and well worth visiting for at least a few hours.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

I walked out of the town past a modern school and a driver stopped his car to ask where I was going. He drove me all the way to the centre of Tunceli where he had business to conduct and shopping to do. Until we arrived among the kipple cluttering the south end of Tunceli, the journey was scenically a delight.

Divrigi (part two).

I left the Ulu Camii and the Hospital to walk through the pretty residential areas to the south. Although demolition of some old buildings has taken place and modern houses and small apartment blocks have filled a few of the gaps, a lot of old houses survive. Most old houses are timber-framed and some have overhanging upper storeys supported on wooden corbels. There are also some houses made with stone, but these are fewer in number and more likely to be abandoned by their owners. Most old houses have gardens beside them. Near where the market had set up for the day is a large cemetery containing many old graves and small tombs. Many of the graves had irises in or beside them and they were in full bloom. Where the irises clustered together en masse they made a very impressive sight.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

I saw three turbes as I walked around, those of Sitte Melik, Kamareddin and Kemankes. All three turbes have octagonal ground plans and pyramid roofs and are austere in appearance externally. On the western edge of the commercial heart of Divrigi is a very large hamam still in daily use. The hamam has an impressive roof broken up by domes. Holes have been pierced into the domes and filled with glass to allow natural light to access the interior. Immediately beside the hamam is a carefully restored bridge that in the old days would have been one of the two or three main routes into the centre of Divrigi. The bridge crosses a narrow river, which in the past no doubt supplied the hamam with its water.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

Right at the end of my walk I had a look around the excellent and very extensive market. There were at least a hundred stalls on an irregularly shaped open space not far from the town’s small but attractive pazar, which is really no more than a few streets running at right angles to one another lined by shops, offices, tea houses, lokantas and workshops for craftsmen. The market was dominated by stalls selling food such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives, honey, sweets and bread, but other stalls specialised in clothes, shoes, items for the kitchen, hardware, tools, goods made from plastic, cheap electrical gizmos, live hens and plants for the garden. It was very crowded and remained so for most of the day. Many minibuses had brought people from villages and small towns in the surrounding area and most would not return until about four or five o’clock. Adding to the spectacle and the noise were members of the political parties out in force to persuade people to vote for them. Vans with loudspeakers toured the streets playing music, speeches or irritating jingles and men loitered around the offices of local party headquarters giving out leaflets or verbal information about their policies. It was the perfect day to be in Divrigi. Wednesdays must knock spots off all other days of the week, especially if a general election is soon taking place.

One small thing I like about Divrigi is that quite a lot of cesmes survive and they still dispense water. As I walked around I filled my bottle three times thinking what an asset they must be when the temperatures are at their highest from the beginning of July to the middle of September.

In the market I bought a half kilo of sweet, juicy and ready-to-eat strawberries of dark red colour for only 2TL, then walked back to the hotel. Not far from the Belediye was a bufe that sold beer for 5.1TL, not a bad price, all things considered, especially given the good exchange rate working in favour of those with pounds sterling. I thought of how enjoyable the walk had just been, not least because of the cesmes just mentioned from which chilled water never failed to pour. But I had also enjoyed the chats with people I had met: a young professional photographer, female, at the Ulu Camii; student teachers training to work in religious schools; couples, some with children, visiting Divrigi from cities such as Bursa, Izmir or Istanbul; a bus driver very tired during a long day’s shift; and a tour guide from Ankara visiting new places on his own to offer unusual destinations to his tour groups. Divrigi seemed to have a large Turkish and Sunni population, the latter because most women walked around with headscarves arranged to completely cover their hair and ears, but whether this is actually so I could not confirm at home. This said, the presence of so many headscarves in an urban environment meant that chats with women were infrequent and very brief, the photographer excepted. Because the photographer came from Istanbul and was a thoroughly modern woman, chat with an unknown male was of no consequence to her. And, because I am old enough to be her grandfather…

The market, Divrigi.

The market, Divrigi.

At 3.00pm I sat on my balcony writing up notes about the day so far. I ate the strawberries with the last of some chocolate, a parting gift from Hilary, and the remains of a packet of Lidl’s crisps, which had survived the train journey from Darlington to Manchester Airport at the start of the trip. Swifts in large numbers circled just to the south of the hotel and, later that evening, I discovered why. They had built nests in many of the balconies on the top floor of the hotel, the floor above mine. However, one swift flew too close to the ground. A cat scuttled across the patio with the bird struggling in its mouth.

About an hour later I left the hotel and turned right to examine a nearby park run by the Belediye. From the park excellent views exist of the citadel, the railway station, the hills and mountains to the north and the river far below. A few children enjoyed the facilities in a large playground. Young couples had come to flirt on benches and drink tea or soft drinks in a quiet tea garden. Suddenly the horn of a diesel locomotive sounded from the railway track beside the river and a freight train rattled toward Divrigi station from Kemah and Ilic. Dark clouds gathered in the sky and a rumble of thunder suggested there might be some rain, just as in Arapgir the evening before.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

I walked into the centre of town to look around the market, watch two men in their workshops in the pazar repair metal cooking utensils, examine the large hamam with its many domes and the restored bridge beside it, photograph some old houses and chat with some men outside the regional headquarters of the MHP. I spoke in particular with Mustafa, a doctor aged about forty with long hair who was campaigning on behalf of the party. Most noise was generated at the AKP headquarters, however, but whether such noise was attracting or repelling voters I could not say. A picture of Erdogan looking statesmanlike had been transferred to a rectangle of material larger than a bed sheet and it flapped in the gentle breeze. The AKP would probably secure a high vote in Divrigi, but I based this assessment only on the appearance of many of the local people. Conventional Sunni piety seemed to prevail among a majority of men and women of voting age. Hajis’ beards and headscarves were very common.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

I called at a branch of the BIM supermarket chain for a refreshing ayran that was mild and creamy with a hint of salt and sourness, then stopped at a bakery in the pazar for a flat loaf of bread just out of the wood-fired oven. The bread had a brown but soft crust with parallel ridges just like a ploughed field. I ate some of the bread as I walked along and, while so doing, decided not to have a sit-down meal to end the day. Instead, I would finish off the last strawberries with what remained of the bread. I was mixing things nicely with food and this evening’s option would simply sustain the habit.

From the park beside the hotel, the railway station and its associated clutter looked so interesting that I went to look around the area more closely. Only two passenger trains pass through Divrigi each way every day, but the station is kept in very good condition (one of the trains was due in about an hour’s time and two passengers were waiting for it). There is a rarely used bufe on the platform and, some distance from there, a small locomotive works where repairs can be undertaken. A few sidings were occupied by freight trucks, abandoned carriages and old and new locomotives, and near the locomotive works is a turntable. A few of the locomotives and carriages looked worthy of sending to a museum. Small apartment blocks between the station and the locomotive works had been built a few decades ago to house families with at least one adult working on the railway, but whether all the apartments nowadays are lived in by such families I could not say. Although some lines in the west of the country are now high speed and enjoy a lot of passenger traffic carried in modern trains, most lines east of Ankara, the capital, are starved of resources and cannot compete with transport on the rapidly improving road network, although there are indications that some lines in the east will benefit from up-grading in the years to come. I hope such up-grading occurs. I have enjoyed every encounter I have had with Turkey’s railways and promise myself that, one year, I will travel some of the lines again.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

I walked along a siding where grass and wild flowers grew between the wooden sleepers. A few low wagons had been parked on the siding and each wagon carried lots of new concrete sleepers. Here was evidence that some up-grading would soon take place in the region.

I returned to the hotel and on my balcony ate the last of the strawberries, the bread and an apricot, the latter a gift provided by someone in the market. It was now about 6.45pm and on the patio about eight of the tables were occupied, some by groups of men, some by groups of young women and some by couples. One large table was taken by a Turkish family and another by a French family. Most people had ordered drinks, beer proving popular with males and females, but food was available from the kitchen. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I went downstairs, sat at one of the free tables, ordered the first of two beers and wrote a few notes as I enjoyed the excellent views of the citadel, the ruined church, one of the town’s octagonal turbes, the nearby hills and mountains, a short stretch of railway track, the swifts flying overhead and the views toward the centre of Divrigi. It proved a very pleasant end to a very enjoyable day.

The citadel and ruined church, Divrigi.

The citadel and Armenian church, Divrigi.

I chatted with the French family. The mother and father were in their late thirties, their daughter was thirteen and their son was eleven. The children had been taken out of school to have an adventure they were unlikely to ever forget; they were touring eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia on their bikes. The family had flown to Ankara and, after one night in the capital, had caught a train to Sivas. They spent three days touring the surrounding area on their bikes, then returned to Sivas and travelled by train to Divrigi where they will stay for another three nights. Their next destination is Kars from where they intend to cycle to and from the ruined medieval Armenian city of Ani.

“How will you get to Armenia,” I asked, “because my understanding is that all border crossings between Turkey and Armenia are closed, to foreigners at least.”

“Yes, that is also our information,” said the mother. “We will go by road from Turkey to Georgia and enter Armenia from Georgia. After seeing some of Armenia we will return to Turkey via Georgia. It is sad we cannot go directly from Turkey to Armenia, but history and politics are so often problems for many countries and their relations with their neighbours.”

The problem of transit arrangements between Turkey and Armenia is rendered even more insane because growing numbers of Armenia’s citizens are travelling to Turkey to make sense of their family history. Moreover, it is said by some analysts that no fewer than 100,000 Armenian guestworkers now live and work in Turkey because the Turkish economy is so much more vibrant than the economy in Armenia (however, some sources put the actual figure for such guestworkers as low as 10,000. A figure of 50,000 may be close to the reality).

The Belediye Hotel is very much a reminder of the days before economic liberalisation, the dismantling of the state monopolies and the rise of the AKP. A lot of the 1970s and early 1980s persist in the appearance of the building and the facilities it provides. With its overwhelmingly male-friendly character and complete indifference to religion, the hotel encourages the idea that Ataturk’s commitments to Turkish nationalism, secularism and state funding for and management of economic development remain uncompromised. But uncompromised they no longer are because, in the late 1980s in particular, what had come to be known as Kemalism was subjected to long-overdue critical appraisal. This said, not everything associated with Kemalism was misguided and, at Divrigi’s Belediye Hotel, you are brought face-to-face with some of its benefits (although the hotel’s male-friendly character cries out for the civilising effect of a female-friendly makeover).

Even the hotel manager looked a left-over from that increasingly remote and discredited era when the secular forces in Turkey ruled the roost. He was overweight, wore a denim shirt and trousers, had thick black hair that looked like a wig and boasted a moustache resembling a large black slug. He lacked a beard, of course, because a beard would have implied sympathy with Islam. His somewhat raffish and dissolute appearance reminded me of those very popular 1970s and 1980s male singers of Kurdish origin who could not say they were Kurds because, at that time at least, Kurds did not officially exist in Turkey. True, the Kurdish male singers of old took more care with their appearance than the hotel manager did, but they could afford to do so because they were rolling in money.

The westbound evening passenger train went by with eight carriages about five minutes ahead of schedule.

Every time I come to Turkey in general and eastern Turkey in particular I think the bubble will burst and I will have no further desire to return, other than to see a few select people who have been far more generous with their hospitality than I ever deserved. The Turkey that first got me so excited has, to a large degree, disappeared due to growing prosperity, improved communications and humankind’s inclination to slowly erode the things that makes us different, but, especially in the villages and small towns where, for good or ill, traditional ways of doing things persist the longest, I still get a thrill when I encounter something unexpected or that challenges my preconceived notions of the country or its people. Also, I now realise that differences will always exist because the process of assimilation can never be total or complete, which is something that fills me with delight because, in Turkey as in so many other nation states, I am drawn to minorities that bravely sustain their distinctive identity in often hostile environments. It always puzzles me why majority populations feel so threatened by minorities that simply seek to preserve from the past some of the things that mark them out as different. Provided such things do not conflict with fundamental human rights, what is the problem? Celebrate diversity, do not suppress it.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

P.S. Back home on the internet I accessed “Chronological Index: the extermination of Ottoman Armenians by the Young Turk regime (1915-1916)” on the “Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence”. The index includes this brief entry about Divrigi:

May 1915, kaza of Divrigi (province of Sıvas). After the arrest of the local Armenian elite, a second wave of arrests is organised on the merchants and artisans of Divrigi, upon which underage adolescents, comprising some two hundred individuals, are mobilised. Submitted to torture for several days, these men are finally brought to the outskirts of the town, shackled and forced to march to the gorges of Deren Dere, where they are assassinated with axes (Kevorkian, “The Armenian Genocide”, 2006: 551-2).

Reading more of the index, I was shocked that many other settlements I visited or passed through on the trip were where massacres or deportations took place: Cemisgezek, Cungus, Diyarbakir, Ergani, Erzincan, Harput, Palu, Pulumur and Sebinkarahisar. The index also identifies many places I have visited on past trips where massacres and deportations took place: Adana, Afyon, Aksehir, Amasya, Ankara, Bayburt, Birecik, Bitlis, Bolu, Burdur, Bursa, Edirne, Egil, Erzurum, Eskisehir (the large city in the west of modern Turkey, not the small settlement near Arapgir)), Gaziantep, Istanbul, Izmir, Izmit, Kangal, Karaman, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Konya, Malatya, Manisa, Mardin, Mus, Nigde, Odemis, Samsun, Sason, Siirt, Silvan, Sivas, Talas, Tercan, Tokat, Trabzon and Yozgat, I am also shocked to see how often the small town of Kigi features, a place not far from Bingol that I did not have the time to visit. And buried away in the index are passing references to the massacre of Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Christians in places such as Cizre, Midyat and Nusaybin, yet more settlements I have visited in the past. The full enormity of the genocide directed against the Armenians, and the crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Christians, impressed themselves in a manner more obvious than ever before.

Divrigi (part one).

After unpacking a few things and freshening up, I left the hotel for what amounted to a walk of four hours around Divrigi. My first destination was a ruined church, which I could see from my balcony, below the citadel.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the church as Armenian and dates it to the late 19th century. It has:

Three aisles and three apses, of which the central one is wider. Along the n. and s. walls, shallow blind arcades of three wide arches each. From the triple engaged pillars supporting these rise ribs… The arcades running westward from the walls between the apses would have mirrored these arcades.

There is a door in the first arch from the e. on the n. side. Opposite it in the s. wall is the entrance to what seems to be a large chamber. Windows in the other two southerly blind arches: beneath the windows are tall brackets. No light is let into the chamber behind the s. wall except from the church’s interior: but this may be because the hillside has slipped and covers any windows there are. Slippage has also obscured the window of the s. apse.

The church, Divrigi.

The Armenian church, Divrigi.

The day of my visit the grass around and in the church was long and dotted with wild flowers. The church looked pretty, despite being in such a ruined state, but it was only when I visited some of Divrigi’s other survivals from the past and noticed that they had benefited from past or recent restoration that it dawned on me again that monuments of Armenian derivation are subject to neglect of a criminal kind.

The church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

The Armenian church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

I next ascended the hill above the church to examine the citadel, which, taken as a whole, is excellent, even though some parts of the fortifications have suffered from over-zealous restoration in recent years. No one else was on the summit the same time as me. Many patches of ground near or within the fortifications were covered with long grass and many wild flowers, which only enhanced my pleasure, although some of the paths leading across the site were therefore hard to follow.

The citadel, Divrigi.

The citadel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the citadel in great detail, but I will quote only a paragraph so that something of its majesty is conveyed:

The citadel has two lines of wall to the w., where the slope was gradual and parts of the medieval town must have lain. To the n., where the site comes to a point, it is delimited by cliffs, and the cliffs of the e. side drop to the river. To the s. a trough crosses the ridge from e. to w. The wall here was built above the n. side of the trough, on the low cliffs descending to its floor.

 At one of the highest points within the citadel is the 12th century Citadel Camii. Although the mosque externally is plain, internally there is much to admire. Sadly, however, the doors leading inside were locked. I had to content myself with sublime views of the meandering river far below and of the railway leading to Erzincan via Ilic and Kemah. The river is a tributary of the Euphrates.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

One of the most surprising things about the citadel was that many sandbags had been arranged to provide soldiers protection from in-coming fire. Here were fortifications that had recently seen military action, just as they would have seen military action on many occasions in the past. The sandbags had to be in place to help repel attacks by members of the PKK, so they must have been assembled some years earlier before the ceasefire was declared. I was surprised to see evidence of the civil war in Divrigi because I had not realised that PKK activity had been as far north as this. Then I remembered that a few years ago I had been warned about PKK activity in and around Kemah, east and just a little north of Divrigi. Suddenly the sandbags made perfect sense.

The Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

I walked down to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital to admire two of the most remarkable buildings of Muslim origin anywhere in Turkey, so much so that they now constitute a world heritage site and deservedly so. I will not describe them in detail because of their international fame and because information about both can easily be acquired electronically and in book form, but will say that, after well over twenty years since last seeing them, they took my breath away all over again.

In many respects the Ulu Camii and the Hospital are quite plain internally and externally, but, once your eyes closely examine the portals, you are confronted with intricately carved stonework of such interest and eccentricity that you linger in admiration for far longer than would normally be the case, even when engaging with architecture of the highest quality.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The mosque and hospital are designed as a single long rectangle on a platform in a hillside overlooking the town. Work began on both in 1228. From the middle of the roof rise the spire-like pyramid that covers the mihrab dome and, near it, the cap of the tomb in the hospital. In the hospital in particular there is a simple monumentality to everything that survives, so much so that, although almost eight hundred years old, it feels somehow very modern.

But it is the portals, of which there are three, that are the main reason why the mosque and the hospital have been declared a world heritage site. As Sinclair indicates, the hospital portal consists:

Of two pointed arches of rotund cross-section… many parallel torus mouldings follow the curve of each arch and the vertical drop to the base. The supports for the two arches merge with buttresses coming forward from the walls… Of the two arches only the outer is carved in a comprehensive manner, and that only on the three outer courses of the curve.

Look closely and you will identify many different decorative elements including squares, octagons, medallions, leaves and tendril tracery. Flamboyance is the order of the day.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Of the west portal of the mosque, Sinclair writes that:

The nature of its decorative patterns, their disposition and some features of the basic design such as the use of free-standing pillars beneath the inner arch are unique within the world of Selcuk and contemporary Syrian architecture. They are not only unique, but far distanced from anything else within that world. They belong instead in the world of Armenian manuscript decoration.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

 And of the north portal of the mosque, Sinclair notes that:

The front face is designed as a rectangle into which is put a splayed arch of Gothic shape… The carving… imitates stucco. The large elements in the thickest of the decorative lines give the whole portal a fleshy, prolix and jungle-like appearance. Each band or course is carved with great originality and skill, but the successive parts were not thought of in concert with one another. The lack of harmony is accentuated by the circumstance that almost the whole of the portal’s front face is covered, that is to say practically no blank space is left which might have relieved the crush of juxtaposed and discordant elements.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

If the summary description of the north portal above suggests that Sinclair is not altogether happy with the final outcome of much labour over an extended period of time, may I say that I think it is, in common with the two other portals, simply astonishing. It does, in many ways, look quite bizarre and is intentionally extravagant and over-the-top, but no one can accuse it of not having ambition or lacking a playful sense of imagination. I love the mosque and the hospital even more on my second than my first encounter with them, even though on close inspection you notice some damage to the stonework, some of it inflicted by idiots who have left behind their names carved into the portals. Moreover, although far more people now visit Divrigi than twenty or so years ago to see the world heritage site, they come to admire buildings that express humankind’s capacity to build, build rather than burn, burn, so it was enjoyable to mix with the small number of foreign and the much larger number of Turkish tourists, the latter who had travelled hundreds of miles from large urban centres, most of which lack monuments of similar quality.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all? As with the citadel, admission to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital was free. In fact, by the end of the trip, after having seen scores of important monuments, an admission fee was required at only one site, the Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir. However, when I went to the church in Diyarbakir, one of my companions at the time paid for me. Now think how different things are in most European nation states, the UK included, when notable monuments are visited. This is another aspect of Turkey that often brings tears to my eyes.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

To Keban and Arapgir.

The Mayd Hotel in Elazig is at number 11 Horasan Sokak, but Horasan Sokak is better known locally as Kofteciler Sokak because of the large number of lokantas, many of which serve meatballs. Where I ate twice the day before is just off Horasan Sokak and other lokantas exist along that street as well as along half a dozen others nearby.

Keen to make an early start just in case getting from Keban to Arapgir proved a problem, I was eating breakfast by 7.00am and impressed with what the two-star hotel provided (I was correct. With a woman in the kitchen the food was better than normal). Beside all the usual items such as olives, cheese, sliced meat, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, butter, jam, honey, chocolate spread flavoured with hazelnuts and boiled eggs, there were lentil soup, yoghurt, simit, borek stuffed with egg and vegetables, cooked tomatoes and peppers, fried potatoes and as much tea and water as my body required. I went for broke and tried just about everything, enjoying in particular the borek, yoghurt, honey and sour cherry jam. If I were to have problems later in the day with transport, I knew I could get to the evening before needing to eat again.

I settled the bill and left for the minibus garaj I had arrived at the day before. By utilising a short cut through the side streets I got to my destination in under fifteen minutes. The next minibus for Keban was leaving at 8.30am; I had almost half an hour to wait. I chatted with a man bound for Keban and the nearby dam.

Two boys, one with a grubby improvised bandage on his hand, approached us and asked for money. Aged about eight and ten, the boys were Syrians displaced by the civil war that had raged for three years and was now further complicated by the emergence of the Islamic State. We did not learn much about their circumstances – were they alone? Had their parents died or were they alive but not with them in Elazig? – but I gave them some money. They thanked me and slowly walked away counting the coins in their hands.

I was reminded that Turkey is now caring for 1.8 million people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. 1.8 million people! This is a humanitarian exercise for which Turkey deserves international recognition and immense praise. Yet we in the UK refuse to take only a few thousand people who have fled poverty or conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa or sub-Saharan Africa and who have crossed the Mediterranean to be cared for in Greece or Italy. The UK used to have an enviable reputation for providing people in need with a place of sanctuary. We are now, despite our relative wealth, increasingly inward-looking, xenophobic and intolerant of those seeking the same life chances as us. And you know what makes this so ridiculous? If every UK citizen looks back far enough into his or her family history, he or she will discover something we all have in common. We are all, yes all, foreign in origin. Even the people who have inhabited the islands of Britain the longest, people of Celtic descent in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, are foreign in origin. The point I am making is this. If we are all foreign in origin, how can we justify denying to other people the opportunity to migrate to the UK, especially if the other people are migrating for precisely the same reasons we migrated? The suggestion that we are full already is simply nonsense. Even our densely populated urban areas in south-east England have lots of plots of land that can be developed to good effect, and I am not including in this plots of land that are parks or green open spaces, which must remain so for the well-being of people locally.

Before the civil war, Syria was the Middle East’s most intriguing nation state because of the ethnic, cultural and linguistic mixture of its people, the considerable beauty of some of its landscapes and many of its urban centres, and because of the remarkable monuments that had survived from, in some cases, thousands of years ago. But now at least 150,000 people have been killed, millions of Syrians are refugees, vast swathes of urban Syria are in ruins that resemble Gaza after it has been bombed by the Israelis, and the Islamic State is doing all it can to destroy monuments that it deems unIslamic (recent reports suggest that the wonderful desert city of Palmyra is the latest world heritage site to attract the Islamic State’s hatred of things not Muslim).

It is already obvious that, even if peace were to return to Iraq tomorrow, the great majority of non-Muslim Iraqis will never return because they believe that they can never again be certain of their safety and security in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation state. Unless the civil war ends soon in Syria, and the Islamic State is crushed forever, the great majority of non-Muslim Syrians will never return to Syria for precisely the same reason. And who, in the end, will be the biggest losers because of disrupting the delicate ethnic, cultural and linguistic balance that once existed in both nation states? The people who remain in Iraq and Syria, the vast majority of whom will be Muslims.

Already, too many Middle Eastern and north African nation states have suffered the loss of minority groups, thereby becoming far more monocultural than they have ever been. The question for the future therefore becomes this: Can those few overtly multiethnic nation states in the region such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel remain as diverse as they currently are? The indicators are not encouraging. Coptic Christians in Egypt live in constant fear that they will be subjected to massacres in their residential districts or bomb attacks in their churches; non-Christian minorities in Jordan know it is only a matter of time before Islamist inclinations gain greater popularity among the Sunni Muslim majority; the Lebanese fear that the war in Syria will once again ignite conflict among its ethnic and/or confessional communities, but that, on this occasion, non-Muslims will be able to defend themselves less effectively; Turkey is far less multiethnic than it was even a generation ago; and Israel is increasingly blighted by Jewish religious fundamentalism of the most alarming kind, fundamentalism that often morphs into racism directed against the Arabs generally and the Palestinians more particularly. Such Jewish racism is sufficiently violent in its rhetoric and physical expression to have already driven some Palestinians from their homes. Moreover, such racism causes growing numbers of Jewish people in the diaspora, and many non-Jewish people who support the existence of the state of Israel, to despair that peace with the Palestinians will ever be achieved.

As my trip to Turkey was confirming, Turkey could emerge as an exception to the rule in this troubled part of the globe. Yes, Turkey has seen a most alarming decline in the extent to which it is an ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nation state since, say, the 1950s, but all sorts of substantive and symbolic indicators point toward a growing number of Turkish nationals, whether ethnic Turks or Kurds, anxious to celebrate the diversity of the country’s population, past and present. The Greek and the Jewish populations may now be only a few thousand strong each, but the Armenian population seems to have stabilised at around 70,000, although it is clear that some people who describe themselves as, say, Turks, Kurds or Laz are in actual fact Islamicised Armenians. Because a majority of them are Muslims, no one need worry too much about the long-term prospects for the Laz, the Arabs or the Georgians in Turkey, and it cannot be denied that, since the war with the PKK concluded a few years ago, prospects for Turkey’s Syriac Orthodox Christians have improved significantly. Instability in Syria and Iraq may actually increase the size of Turkey’s very small Yazidi and Chaldean communities – leaders in both communities in Syria and Iraq have said their people never want to live in Syria or Iraq again – but, for Yazidis and Chaldeans to remain in Turkey, they will need convincing guarantees from the Turkish government that sympathy for their dire plight is not merely a temporary phenomenon.

I am more confident about the prospects for multiethnicity in Turkey than for multiethnicity in any of the other nation states just identified, but I also realise how quickly things can change in the Middle East. Should conflict once again break out between the PKK and the Turkish government, all the good work of the last few years will be undone in months. It could also be undone in a few months if the AKP tries to impose a legislative programme more Islamist than it has proposed to date, or if Turkish nationalists of the more extreme kind allege that Turkey’s minorities pose threats to the integrity of the republic and/or idealised notions of what it means to be a Turk. There is a lot at stake in the forthcoming general election, believe me.

Although my love affair with Turkey began in 1978, there are still things about the country that bring tears to my eyes, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. Tears come to my eyes for good reasons because of the astounding hospitality and friendliness of most of the people; for the way that things rarely fail to fall into place if you need transport, accommodation or food and drink; for how the more you look and listen, the more you find places that very few people know about even though such places should be internationally renowned; and for how Turkey has provided sanctuary for so many refugees from recent and on-going Middle Eastern conflicts. Tears come to my eyes for bad reasons because of the barriers that still remain for the great majority of people with disabilities, special needs and learning difficulties; the discrimination that confronts all the country’s minority ethnic groups and its gay, lesbian and bisexual communities; the poverty that exists in many rural communities, especially in eastern Turkey; the gender inequality that penalises millions of girls and women in countless substantive and symbolic ways; and the boundless energy, enterprise and intelligence that lie untapped among a majority of the country’s female population because, other than in a few sectors of society in which secular principles have not given way to Islamic ones, girls and women cannot compete as equals with boys and men. Today turned out to be one of the days when I often found myself fighting back the tears, and sometimes for reasons just listed.

Because the 50 kilometre journey to Keban in a comfortable minibus cost 5TL, or about £1-30, I tried to work out how much a bus journey of a similar distance would have cost in the UK. £4-50 to £5 seemed about right. The fare to Keban was very small despite the fact that petrol in Turkey is almost the same price as in the UK, thereby making it very expensive in comparison to the average income, which is about a fifth or a sixth that of the average income in the UK.

The minibus went past the football ground, the incomplete park with the water features, the large dental hospital, lots of very new apartment blocks of crisp and clean design, the Ramada Hotel and a wall painting of Ataturk dressed in a soldier’s uniform as he puffed in a cigarette. Some progress has been made in recent years to convince Turkey’s citizens that smoking is a danger to their health, so much so that many people no longer smoke and far fewer smokers offer cigarettes to people they know, which are both in marked contrast with past decades. However, smoking remains more popular in Turkey than in the UK and in recent years seems to have been taken up by more women. It is still quite rare to see pious women in headscarves smoking, but those that do are usually earning a living in a full- or part-time job while still constrained by all the responsibilities of motherhood and home-maker. It was the start of day five of the trip and I had smoked only two cigarettes since arriving in Diyarbakir. I never smoke at home and have not done so for at least a decade, when I confined consumption of the evil weed to only the occasional cigar. But the flesh is weak.

Elazig has spread so far to the west that it was only when we arrived at the turning for Sahinkaya that we escaped the clutches of the city. I had never travelled the road to Keban before. The gently undulating terrain is dominated by fields, pasture, orchards and grapevines, and hills and mountains are always in view in the distance. Some of the orchards produce apricots and many of the apricots find their way to Malatya, the city in the centre of one of the world’s best regions for their production. As I was to soon find out, some of the grapes are turned into wine and quite a lot of the wine is consumed locally by Alevi and Bektashi Muslims. In fact, I was temporarily leaving the Sunni side of the street for an area dominated by Alevis. It was almost as if I was leaving one nation state for another.

For most of the way to Keban lots of wild flowers grew in the long grass. There were many places where beehives had been arranged in lines not far from sources of nectar and pollen. We passed a large modern mosque built where only four or five houses were in walking distance. I was reminded that Alevis and Bektashis do not, as a general rule, engage in ritual practices in mosques. I knew for certain that the mosque will have been recently built in the hope that Alevis and Bektashis will be persuaded to adopt mainstream Sunni Islam. Is there much chance that this will happen? No, and above all due to the discrimination that Alevis and Bektashis have suffered for centuries at the hands of Sunni Muslims.

Almost every village along the road to Keban has a new mosque and the mosque is always far larger than the size of each village justifies. The AKP has engaged in a massive mosque-building programme in recent years, but in all the parts of Turkey with substantial Alevi and Bektashi populations I suspect its efforts to reinforce the influence of Sunni Islam have been largely unsuccessful. How sad that such a lot of money and effort have been put to such pointless use.

We drove beside Poyraz, a widely dispersed village. Just beyond the settlement, a road veers off to the north and leads to the vast and elongated Keban Reservoir where a ferry carries vehicles and passengers to the north shore from where another road leads after a few kilometres to the town of Cemisgezek, which I hoped to visit in a few day’s time.

The road gradually ascended for quite a long way and every so often we passed very large, modern houses that had been carefully designed and brightly painted. The houses belonged to guestworkers who, on retiring from their jobs in countries such as Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, were rich enough to build exactly what they wanted in the area where they had been born.

We reached the highest point on the road and ahead of us mountains dominated the view. We began to gradually descend and drew to a halt at a road junction where a man wanted a lift to Keban. A sign beside the road indicated that the nearest village was 3 kilometres away and the furthest 11 kilometres. In Turkey, such signs tempt me to take a detour even if they seem to lead to nowhere of great importance. However, I knew that the chances of something interesting lying along the road are very high, so the risk of being disappointed is very small.

The baby in front of me dropped his dummy and I reached forward to pick it up. I handed the dummy to the young mother, but she did not acknowledge my existence in the slightest way. I was not surprised because she wore a headscarf and was dressed in a manner that confirmed she was a conventionally pious Sunni Muslim who should not have any contact with an unknown male.

The road entered a meandering valley, but remained above the river. A few minutes later we arrived at the edge of Keban and I got off the minibus at the point where a road to the left led downhill into the centre of the old town.

Keban.

Keban.

People confirmed that minibuses did not travel between Keban and Arapgir, but I was not unduly worried because it was just after 9.30am. Since Keban is small and situated in such pretty surroundings with hills pressing against it on all sides, I decided to walk into the town centre because the minibus driver had told me earlier that there is a pretty mosque and an old church.

Keban stands on a slope above a deep, narrow tributary of the Euphrates. It was a town of considerable importance until the mid-19th century because of nearby lead and silver mines, the abandonment of which caused the settlement’s population to decline. When the mines were open, smelting took place locally. The miners were mostly Greeks, but Sinclair suggests that “there was always a Turkish supervisor”.

In the 1830s Germans and Hungarians worked one of the lead mines, and in 1840 Austrian engineers arrived and improved production for a short period of time. The main problem that confronted the miners and engineers was the lack of wood for smelting, so in the 1840s attempts were made to force the people living in nearby villages to supply wood, but such coercive efforts resulted in people leaving the villages and the males becoming brigands or bandits. Production dwindled and the mines and furnaces were abandoned for good about 1871.

The very pretty mosque is Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii. It is part of a kulliye, or complex, and therefore proved an unexpected delight. Sinclair notes that the mosque and its related buildings date from 1795 or 1796:

The mosque lies at the s. side of a courtyard dug out of the hillside. The dome is taken on four slim, widely spaced pillars. Between the pillars and the walls are sprung high pointed vaults. The dome and space beneath it are broad, airy and light in relation to the thinner, darker vaults. Women’s gallery to the n. The mihrab is plain, but the stone mimber is excellently decorated… The son cemaat yeri is a portico on pillars whose pitched roof continues the slope of that covering the prayer hall. It has a single dome (in the middle). The minaret to the w. is clear of the prayer hall’s wall and was built two years later than the prayer hall. It has an octagonal base: the slender shaft is twelve-sided.

Library. This is to the w. of the courtyard. It is on two storeys and domed. The dome sits on an octagonal drum which is pierced with windows. Next to the library is the medrese. Turbe for Ziya Pasa’s daughter. It is square with two windows in each wall (except that one window is replaced by the door) and domed. By the turbe is a cesme whose shallow iwan has a keel-shaped vault… Of the caravansaray only the portal and parts of the walls stand. By the entrance there are animal reliefs and other decoration.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

I walked the short distance to the church, which Sinclair says is Armenian. It has a basilican layout and the faintest remains of frescoes on the walls. The roof is intact; the windows, whether still in existence or blocked with stone, are easily identified externally; and internally you are confronted with a pleasing combination of columns and rounded arches. The structure is in such good condition that the Belediye, or town council, uses it to shelter some of its motor vehicles, dustcarts included.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The doorway leading into the church faces the local police station where a few officers engaged me in conversation as they stood on the steps leading inside. One officer held a large automatic rifle which hung from a strap over one shoulder and the others had handguns in holsters around their waists. I was offered a large glass of tea, for which I was very grateful. After an officer received a message on his phone, he and two of his colleagues made their way to a police car and prepared to leave to sort out a problem. Amazingly, I was asked to join them, which must have meant it was a minor problem, but I had to leave for Arapgir just in case traffic on the road proved very light. I walked to the office of a bus company running minibuses to Elazig and elsewhere because, earlier, I had dropped off my large bag to save carrying it around. I thanked the young man for looking after it and walked up the hill to the main road from Keban to Arapgir, noting along the way that many old houses have survived in the town. In fact, Keban has much to commend it, although it appears to lack a hotel in which to stay.

I stood in the shade of some trees waiting for a lift, but the traffic was light and most drivers indicated that they were going only a short distance, most of them to the dam holding back the vast Keban Reservoir. The dam made quite an impressive sight. It is 1,125 metres long and 210 metres high at its greatest point. Below the dam is a fish farm and below the fish farm a bridge carries the road to Arapgir across the river.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

About half an hour after taking shelter under the trees, a man stopped his car and drove me into the quite wide valley below the dam. I was dropped at the south end of the bridge where a dirt road veered to the left to follow the river. The man was driving along the dirt road to inspect that everything was going well at a second fish farm. I walked across the bridge and, at the north end, bunting for one of the political parties flapped in the gentle breeze. Beside the river was a lokanta specialising in grilled fish from the nearby fish farm, but it did not look as if much dining would be going on the day I was passing through.

The fish farm, near Keban.

The fish farm, near Keban.

I had to wait about only fifteen minutes for the next lift and, on this occasion, was taken by a wonderfully friendly Alevi man and his son aged five all the way to the junction for the road to Malatya. The man farmed in a nearby village and one of his main crops was grapes. By now the road had ascended quite some height above the river valley and we were some distance onto the undulating plain. Snow-smudged mountains were shadowy presences in the distance. The mountains were the ones I hoped to get through the following day on my way to Divrigi.

I said goodbye to my hosts at the junction for Malatya and the man and his son waved as their motor vehicle turned around. The man had driven me some distance out of his way to ensure I would have a better chance of a lift to Arapgir. Amazing. Such kindness.

Ten minutes later I was in a large lorry delivering goods to the centre of Arapgir, so all my worries about travelling from Keban had proved unfounded. On this last section of the journey we passed some very large flocks of sheep and the first tented camps set up by nomadic families to care for such flocks during the summer months. Some of the tents were large bell tents. A few donkeys were tethered nearby. To the east another ridge of mountains was smudged with snow.

We turned off the road leading to Divrigi and began the descent to the centre of Arapgir, passing as we did so the pretty suburb and one-time separate village of Asagiulupinar. I had been to Arapgir once before, but only on a day trip from Malatya. I now intended to stay overnight to see what I had missed on the last occasion, Eskisehir, or old Arapgir, a few kilometres to the north of the modern town.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

I thanked the driver of the lorry very much for his kindness, then walked the short distance to the relatively new Arapgir Nazar Hotel, one of two hotels that have opened in Arapgir since my last visit a few years ago. I entered the very clean and attractively decorated lobby and was offered a room with en suite facilities and breakfast for 50TL for the night. The person at reception was a young female aged about twenty-two who did not wear a headscarf. The owner and his daughter appeared from along a corridor and I was invited into the man’s office where I was offered coffee. The three of us immediately got on well, above all because my companions were liberal Alevis with no time for the constraints of Sunni orthodoxy, and because I hoped, like them, that the forthcoming general election would confirm that the AKP can no longer dominate Turkish politics in the same way it has for over a decade. A picture of Ataturk hung on the wall above the large desk behind which the man sat, confirmation that the family would vote for one of the secular parties when the election took place.

I was asked why I had decided to stay overnight in Arapgir and whether I would travel the following day to Kemaliye, the small town on the Euphrates River about 30 kilometres to the north. I explained that Divrigi and not Kemaliye was my next destination, even though I knew that Kemaliye is said to have much to commend it, and I explained about Eskisehir, which I had not visited when last in Arapgir. My hosts could not understand the appeal of Eskisehir, but, as I found out later, this was due to the fact that they did not know much about it. But what they did know about was a village called Onar about 15 kilometres from Arapgir where there are no less than eighteen rock tombs dating from the Roman era and a 13th century cemevi, or meeting house, for Alevis and/or Bektashis to engage in ritual practices. They asked if I wanted to visit Onar. When I said I did, they replied, “Then we will leave in half an hour. Get ready and we will go in our car.” I could not believe my luck.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.