To Sagman and the Termal Hotel.

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

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

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

View south-east from Sagman.

View south-east from Sagman.

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

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

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

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

The cesme, Sagman.

The cesme, Sagman.

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

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

Sagman.

Sagman.

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

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

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

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

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

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Pertek.

Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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To Erzincan.

I had assumed the day’s journey would be straightforward: a minibus from Sebinkarahisar to Susehri, from where frequent buses, long distance if not more regional in scope, would get me to Erzincan along the big west to east highway without a long delay. The first part of the journey was simple, the second not so.

I was eating breakfast by 7.00am. I packed the last few things into my bags, paid the hotel bill and was on the street by about 7.40am. I walked to the otogar from where a minibus departed for Susehri at 8.00am. I arrived with five minutes to spare. The minibus drove into the centre of town and through a nearby suburb collecting passengers who had arranged to be picked up from home. The journey to Susehri was as stunning as it had been the other direction two days before.

The otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

The otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

The minibus dropped its passengers at the otogar on the edge of Susehri, but when I and another man went inside to find a service to Erzincan, none existed! We were very surprised and knew that such a situation would not have prevailed even five years ago. We walked along the road toward distant Erzincan. The man asked two resting lorry drivers if they were going to Erzincan, but both said no. I continued along the road as the man went to ask for a lift among lorry drivers filling their tanks at a petrol station. About twenty minutes later he passed me in the cab of a lorry no doubt going all the way that he wanted.

The otogar, Susehri.

The otogar, Susehri.

I got a lift of about a kilometre standing on the footplate of a tractor, then a second lift with two men in a white van who took me about 3 kilometres to where a boy aged about fourteen had arranged a few tables and chairs beside a roadside cesme to serve passersby with tea. I joined the men and the boy for two rounds of tea, payment for which was refused, of course, because I was the guest of the men in the van. I filled my water bottle from the cesme (the name “Susehri” means “city of water”) and set off along the road. After walking about half a kilometre I started flagging a lift. Half an hour later a car drew to a halt and the man inside offered me a lift all the way to Erzincan University on the western edge of the city. Sitting next to the man was his son aged seven. We stopped just once so the man could buy his son a carton of milk and he and I cartons of fruit juice.

Tea beside the cesme, Sushi.

Tea beside the cesme, Susehri.

Rarely have I been so glad when a trip in a car has concluded. The man drove with alarming recklessness, despite having his son beside him. We hit a top speed of 160 kph on more than one occasion, the man used his phone about six times while still driving faster than he should have, and when the traffic was non-existent the other way he drove on the wrong side of the road. On one occasion he would have driven into the back of a much slower lorry had he not slammed on the brakes with such severity that I bumped my head on the seat in front of me. This said, we arrived at the university only a few minutes after 11.00am.

The journey to Erzincan is scenically very attractive. The road hugs the floor of a valley almost all the way to a pass at 2,160 metres above sea level, after which it enters another valley leading to Erzincan. In both valleys the floor is quite wide, but hills and mountains lie to the north and the south. Fields and pasture rather than trees dominate the valley floors, and villages that look quite interesting cling to the slopes. The pasture supports cattle rather than sheep and goats and wild flowers are plentiful. Storks build nests on electricity pylons and other slim structures and large chicks stood in them waiting for their parents to return with food.

The mountains had more snow on them than any so far seen. At one point it began to rain and everything turned grey. It briefly looked like late autumn or winter.

I was dropped off where the entrance to Erzincan University campus stands opposite the entrance to a large police training facility. Beside the entrance to the police training facility were two minibuses where a group of police cadets waited patiently for the first one to leave for the city centre. I walked over to the cadets and we were soon engaged in conversation. On the way into the city centre, a distance of almost 5 kilometres costing about 40p in British money, I was informed that cadets straight from high school train for two years, but cadets with a university degree train for only six months. I was asked how much newly trained police officers earn in the UK and, when I said, they all agreed that migrating to the UK was what they had to do to be millionaires. I tempered their enthusiasm for migrating by pointing out that, in return for high salaries, you had to put up with very high costs. “Low taxes, but high costs. In the UK, everyone on low or average salaries is a loser, not a winner. Go somewhere civilised instead, such as Denmark or Norway.” Did I agree that Erdogan needed to improve police pay? Of course I agreed. I added, “Erdogan is a big problem.” I was surprised how many in the minibus nodded their heads in recognition of what was obvious to all but his most ardent fans.

There were about fifteen cadets in the minibus and most wanted to know if I had visited their home town, city or province. They were amazed when, in almost every case, I could identify something unusual about the town, city or province, or a famous building or district within or near it. Izmir, Manisa, Bolu, Kayseri, Sivas: I had been to or through them all.

After the minibus had pulled into a small parking lot on the edge of the pazar, I shook hands with some of the cadets and went to find a hotel for the night. I took a room in the older of the two Gulistan hotels in the city centre, 50TL securing a quiet but clean room with en suite facilities and breakfast. Because fake wooden panelling covered the walls and a rather grubby brown carpet the floor, the room had a sombre appearance, but the air conditioner was very efficient (although Erzincan was the coolest place I stayed the whole time away).

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

By now it was midday and the sun was shining brightly. I spent a little time in the city centre admiring the bunting that brightened up the main square. I also noted that lots of women wore headscarves, some had all-enveloping, loose-fitting black garments that covered them from head to toe and some covered all their face except the eyes. A lot of men, especially the older ones, had grown a beard to confirm they were hajis. I was firmly back on the Sunni side of the street!

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

I had been to Erzincan once before to use it as a base to visit beautiful Kemah on the Euphrates River. I was in the city again primarily for two reasons: to have a big city experience before going to Tunceli and Pertek, a small city and a small town respectively, and to visit Eski Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

To Licese Kilise.

I enjoyed the journey from Tamdere to the pass as much as the journey from it. Before arriving at the pass there is a shabby pansiyon probably quite popular during the hottest time of the year with hikers. The pansiyon did not look properly open, but it may have served passersby with tea.

Just below the highest point on the road we stopped at a cesme so everyone could get out to drink the very clean and pure water said to come from melt-water on the mountains. We were close to patches of snow so the explanation for the source of the water made perfect sense. A man had driven his van up to the cesme to sell cheese, honey and large plastic containers that could be used to take some of the water home. I filled my bottle and must confess: the water was perfectly chilled and tasted excellent.

The cesme between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

The cesme between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

Once over the pass the minibus picked up speed. About 12 or 13 kilometres from Sebinkarahisar, a sign beside the road pointed to Licese Kilise, which stands in a village along a dirt road an unspecified distance into a side valley. I was slow deciding I still had time to risk one more adventure before nightfall, but got the minibus to stop about 1.5 kilometres further along the road. I flagged a lift in a lorry half way back to the junction, then walked the rest of the way. A chat with a man outside a house partially hidden in trees established that the church was about 2.5 kilometres along the road, so I set off briskly. The dirt road did not rise very steeply, despite ascending the valley, so I arrived at the edge of the village in just over half an hour. The valley is pretty and polled trees are common along the riverbanks. Mountains with smudges of snow lay ahead and the village itself nestles close to the river. But, perhaps best of all because it was now about 5.15pm, the ruined church stands near the middle of the village close to its west end, the end from which I was entering it. The church is Greek, of course, not Armenian, otherwise a sign would not exist at the road junction, but, after introducing myself to two women and some children near the church and confirming I could enter the ruin despite a family using it for storage purposes, I was glad I had made the effort to visit. The church has some unusual features and, although the nave lacks a roof and its dome, is in quite good condition, perhaps because it is used for storage purposes. Because of my perverse sense of what is picturesque and/or photogenic, I found that the clutter inside added to the monument’s interest.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

Licese Kilise.

Licese Kilise.

A house beside the church.

A house beside the church.

The west wall, Licese Kilise.

The west wall, Licese Kilise.

This is another monument that Sinclair did not visit. However, information on the internet suggests that the church was built between 1874 and 1887. It has a rectangular ground plan and each wall is crowned externally with a triangular pediment. When you look at the west wall there are three arches at ground floor level and, above each arch, a rectangular window inside a stepped frame utilising semi-circles for added interest. This attractive example of framing a window is repeated around all the windows except those on the east wall letting light into the apses. The arches lead to either a porch or a narthex and then you encounter the door into the church proper. The two wooden doors, which look old enough to be original, are crowned with an arch, and some excellent carved stone with a mixture of patterns and stylised plant-life frames the doorway in quite dramatic fashion. Internally the church has three aisles and three apses. Traces of a dome remain above four columns in the centre of the nave. Recesses in the walls of the apses display additional carved stone. Traces of blue decoration remain in at least one of the apses, on the columns in the nave and along the west wall. At the south-west and north-west corners of the nave, stone steps lead over the doorway to a women’s gallery or a bell tower (or both), but no evidence for a bell tower remains today. Externally at the north-west corner is a slim balcony, the roof of which is supported on three delicate columns. The balcony rests on a column of stone integral to the wall itself, a column that fans out to the full width of the base of the balcony. Of course, it is possible that the church never had a bell tower at all. Instead, a bell or bells could have hung from the roof of the balcony, but they would have had to be quite small. The important thing is that I have never seen a feature quite like this on a Greek Orthodox church in what is now the Turkish Republic. It is one of the elements of the monument that makes it possibly unique and unquestionably important, despite not being of great age.

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

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

The nave looking toward the three apses, Licese Kilise.

The nave looking toward the three apses, Licese Kilise.

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

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

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

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

The middle apse, Licese Kilise.

The middle apse, Licese Kilise.

The apse along the south wall, Licese Kilise.

The apse next to the south wall, Licese Kilise.

The columns which supported to dome, Licese Kilise.

The columns which supported the dome, Licese Kilise.

The north and the west walls, Licese Kilise.

The north and the west walls, Licese Kilise.

The east and the north walls, Licese Kilise.

The east and the north walls, Licese Kilise.

A doorway in the north wall has Greek writing carved above it and a date of 1875. The door benefits from wrought-iron furniture to make it stronger. Wrought-iron grilles have survived in all the windows and may well be original. The wrought-iron furniture on the north door certainly is original.

The doorway in the north wall, Licese Kilise.

The doorway in the north wall, Licese Kilise.

I chatted with a woman wearing a headscarf, gumboots, baggy jeans and an anorak who was putting goats into a barn overnight. The barn was only a few metres from the church. The woman did not have problems shaking hands when I made to leave, there being no other men nearby.

The east wall, Licese Kilise.

The east wall, Licese Kilise.

The disappointment associated with the over-zealously restored but vandalised Kayadibi Manastir earlier in the day had, of course, dissipated, Tamdere seeing to that, but I acquired more pleasure from seeing Licese Kilise than the monastery even though the monastery is a far more important monument. But why had I acquired more pleasure? The unexpectedness of finding the church obviously played a part, but so did the relative ease of getting to it and being in such an interesting village with very friendly people. But Licese Kilise got me thinking. How many other villages in the area have Greek churches? Because of research undertaken at home prior to leaving for eastern Turkey, I knew of at least two other nearby villages rumoured to have a church.

I would have liked to look around the village some more, partly because the women and children I had met were so friendly, and partly because it looked very attractive nestling on the valley walls close to the river with snow-smudged mountains in the background, but I was determined to get to Sebinkarahisar before dark. I had walked most of the way to the main road when a minibus caught me up and the driver offered me a lift to the junction. It was Friday and the minibus was dropping off pupils and students at home after five days spent in Sebinkarahisar’s schools.

Outside the west wall, Licese Kilise.

Outside the west wall, Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

The village (Licese?) with Licese Kilise.

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

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

Two cars went past me without stopping, so I began walking toward Sebinkarahisar. For the next half hour only two more motor vehicles drove by and, again, neither stopped. By now I was some distance from the junction for the church and enjoying the scenery very much. I also liked the vernacular architecture of the old buildings not far from the road. One such building seemed to be a house with storage space on the ground floor and at the east end of the building, but the storage space at the east end was on the floor above the ground. The storage space above the ground had a pitched corrugated iron roof but lacked a wall facing east. Here the roof was supported by six wooden columns spaced evenly between the north and the south walls. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the whole structure was that the barn-like storage space just described rested on a rubble stone wall that formed a semi-circle at its east end.

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

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

As I knew from earlier trips to the mountains further east, the mountains being the last physical barrier between the interior and access to the Black Sea, remarkable vernacular architecture has survived into the contemporary era. But how much such architecture will survive for another generation or two? Oddly, I am more optimistic about it surviving now than in the 1980s and 1990s when the headlong rush to modernise was undertaken with reckless disregard for survivals from the past. Reckless disregard for the past was most apparent in urban areas where whole districts of immense architectural and historical importance disappeared in only a few years. The destruction of the extensive area of stunning stone-built houses that once enclosed the Armenian church in Kayseri remains the officially-sanctioned act of vandalism that still fills me with the greatest sorrow and anger, but I have witnessed similar destructive tendencies, albeit usually on a smaller scale, in places as diverse as Istanbul, Erzurum and Kars. Today, Turks and Kurds are much more aware of the importance of preserving built environments that have survived from the past, with the people of Sanliurfa, Gaziantep and Mardin setting examples for others to follow. I am hopeful that such endeavours mark an obvious change of heart at perhaps the highest level in Turkey. This said, it will not come as a surprise that the built environments most often trashed were built environments intimately associated with ethnic groups other than the numerically dominant Turks.

Additionally, it is good to report that growing numbers of Turkish citizens are expressing misgivings about excessive exploitation of the natural environment. This is perhaps most apparent in the number of people protesting about the damage that reservoirs do to some of the country’s most remarkable landscapes. Reservoirs also displace people from their drowned settlements and lead to the loss of known and yet-to-be-discovered monuments.

Yes, a lot of Turkey’s remarkable vernacular architecture will survive for many decades to come because growing numbers of Turkish citizens are aware that they have in their possession such architecture of a very high quality. But, with Kayadibi Manastir in mind, how much will survive for future generations unless it is tarted up to such a degree that its original beauty and distinctiveness are compromised forever? Can those engaged in restoration and renovation strike just the right balance? Long-term I think they will. Some of what I have seen in recent times in Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Mardin and Midyat fills me with confidence, and it is likely that even better examples of restoration and renovation exist in the more prosperous western regions of Turkey.

I had got about 2.5 kilometres from the junction for the church when I flagged a car whose driver kindly drew to a halt. I looked in the window to find a woman at the steering wheel. Aged about thirty, she was the first woman I had seen driving a motor vehicle for two or three days and certainly the only one rash enough to offer me a lift. She and her mother were driving from Trabzon to their home in Tokat, a long and demanding journey with a very long stretch of mountain road all the way from Giresun to Susehri.

So far I had seen only a dozen or so women driving cars, even though I had been in Turkey for a week. I am confident that a lot of women drive cars in western Turkey, but, even today, very few do so in eastern Turkey. Far more women now work in shops, offices, factories, lokantas, schools and universities than even twenty years ago, but, even in the civil service where they have found employment easier than in many sectors of the Turkish economy, they are vastly under-represented vis-à-vis men in positions of power and authority. It will come as no surprise that, in terms of gender equality, Turkey was ranked 120th out of 136 nation states surveyed in 2013 by the World Economic Forum. In common with the UK and the USA, Turkey has much to do to catch up with the Scandinavian countries where gender equality is most apparent. Saudi Arabia? It is, of course, even worse than Turkey in terms of gender equality. And, if my memory serves me correctly, Afghanistan is the worst country of all in which to be a woman. Do Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have anything in common? Hmmm.

The road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

The road between Tamdere and Sebinkarahisar.

We had a good chat about Tokat, a town I have always liked very much, not least for its vernacular architecture, after which I indicated the direction to Susehri.

I got out of the car in Sebinkarahisar’s town centre, went to the hotel to quickly do some washing, freshened up and put on clean clothes. By now it was dark, but I knew exactly where I was going for a relatively light evening meal: Sevim Ana Ev Yemekleri. It was good to see some familiar faces again and conversation soon embraced a few of the customers. I ordered a chicken and vegetable stew, stuffed vine leaves and ayran and, inevitably, salad and a large basket of bread also arrived. After settling the bill and saying how much I had enjoyed the food the last two evenings, I walked to a supermarket to buy, for a change, a litre of peach juice. A young woman aged about nineteen with a headscarf made sure I had exactly what I wanted, then settled my bill. Two of her younger friends, also wearing headscarves, giggled self-consciously when I spoke with them.

Sebinkarahisar was much quieter on Friday than Thursday night, the reason being that so many pupils and students, the latter those at the university included, had gone home for the weekend. On Thursday night high school and university students had been out on the town spending time with friends whom they would not see again until Sunday evening or Monday morning. During the academic year in Sebinkarahisar, weekends start a day early.

I was in my room by 9.00pm feeling very tired but relaxed after a day that had involved a lot of walking, but walking in some outstandingly beautiful places. I was asleep by about 9.30pm, partly because the streets outside were so quiet.

To Sebinkarahisar.

It was the day I had the most concern about because I hoped to get to Sebinkarahisar in Giresun province. This would be by far the trip’s longest single journey and one that, if done the most direct way, would be for quite some distance along roads with light traffic and no minibuses. However, if things went to plan I would travel via Sincan, Bolucan, Zara and Susehri. Minibuses should exist from Zara, half way to Sebinkarahisar, but I had first to negotiate a long section of road with no minibuses. But the roads went through mountains, so, if nothing else, the scenery would be enjoyable.

The Belediye Hotel provides guests with a buffet breakfast, but, as I had expected, it is a very conventional one with not one item that lifts the spirit by being unanticipated. However, the tea was very good and I ate two boiled eggs and lots of bread just in case I was stuck in the middle of nowhere without a source of food. I also had a boiled egg in my rucksack for emergency purposes liberated from a breakfast a day or two earlier.

I walked to the road for Sincan and Zara and started flagging lifts not far from the railway station. A few cars passed but their drivers indicated that they were turning off to the left to the large steel works just north of Divrigi. After waiting twenty or so minutes a car drew to a halt and the driver, who worked at the steel works, gave me a lift as far as he was going, a distance of about 4 or 5 kilometres. I walked about a kilometre with the railway and the steel works to my left, the latter belching out noxious fumes from chimneys rising high above large mounds of grey-black spoil, then a tractor stopped and its driver gave me a lift to where the road to Ilic and Erzincan heads into a pretty valley to the east. Again I had to wait about twenty minutes, then a small lorry stopped and the driver and his companion gave me a lift to where a road goes to the west to Kizbeli and Kangal. The driver and his companion, both Alevis, were going to a market in a settlement west of Sincan where they would set up their stall for the day, one selling all sorts of processed foodstuffs. At one point during our time together, the driver asked his companion to confirm they had packed some raki for the night. They had, two bottles in fact. When I was dropped at the road junction, the driver pressed on me a big bag of crisps, which, as will soon become apparent, proved most helpful, but not for me. Once I could no longer hear the lorry, I realised my only obvious companions were cuckoos. Their rhythmic calls filled the silence.

The steel works, Divrigi.

The steel works, Divrigi.

The steel works, Divrigi.

The steel works, Divrigi.

The journey as far as the road junction, which was just beyond the small settlement of Sincan with its jandarma post, was only 30 kilometres, but, once past the steel works, the mountainous scenery through which we drove was delightful. The road meandered as it ascended and descended. The land at low levels was green and fertile, the rivers were full of water and, quite unexpectedly, we passed a coal mine.

The point at which I was dropped turned out to have very little traffic going my way, so I walked about a kilometre before a car stopped. The driver gave me a lift of about 3 kilometres to where, in a meadow close to a river lined by mature trees, he and a friend had set up camp for the summer to tend their many beehives which had been arranged in lines in the long grass. I declined the offer of glasses of tea because I could tell that getting to Zara was going to prove a bit of a challenge. On the dashboard of the car was a box that once contained Romeo y Julieta cigars from Cuba. Honey, cigars, a love for the fresh air in upland locations: the man had taste. And he was another Alevi.

Beehives, a few kilometres north-west of Sincan.

Beehives, a few kilometres north-west of Sincan.

I walked another kilometre or so, then sought shelter from the sun among some trees beside the road. Big gaps in time now existed between each passing car so I walked another 4 or 5 kilometres, stopping every twenty minutes of so to rest. The good thing was that it was only 10.30am, but the bad thing was that I still had about 65 kilometres to go to Zara. This said, I was high in some beautiful mountains, my water bottle was full, I had some food in my rucksack, many wild flowers prospered in the long grass, lots of trees grew along the banks of a meandering stream, and bees and butterflies provided added visual interest.

North-west of Sincan.

North-west of Sincan.

North-west of Sincan.

North-west of Sincan.

At last a car drew to a halt and a large man with a male companion gave me a lift even higher into the mountains, a journey of about 12 kilometres. We drew to a halt where a cesme in a wonderfully exposed situation with magnificent views in every direction stood just below the road. While the stone and plaster surround of the cesme had suffered the attention of graffiti artists, the hills, the snow-smudged mountains, the pasture and the wild flowers looked sublime. We were just south of a pass through the mountains at 1,810 metres above sea level and the driver’s companion walked across the gently inclined meadow to the east to look for mushrooms. He had been away for about ten minutes when he shouted, “I have found some. They are very big.”

The cesme between Sincan and Zara.

The cesme between Sincan and Zara.

Demir Aydogan, muhtar,

Demir Aydogan, the muhtar of Curek.

By now I was low on water so I filled the bottle at the cesme, drank over half the contents and filled it again for later in the day. The water tasted very good and was naturally chilled.

The driver of the car was Demir Aydogan, the muhtar, or headman, of Curek, a village on the road between Divrigi and Sincan. He said that he and his friend had come to the cesme knowing that mushrooms grew near it at this time of year.

View from the cesme between Sincan and Zara.

View from the cesme between Sincan and Zara.

Demir said he would stay with me until he was sure that I had a lift, and his way of getting a lift was very direct: he waved down passing drivers to ask them where they were going. The third vehicle, a very large lorry struggling slowly up the hill to the pass, stopped, as the two previous ones had, and the driver said he was going to Giresun via Sebinkarahisar. I could not believe my luck. Although the mountainous roads to Sebinkarahisar meant that the journey would be a slow one, I knew I would eventually get to my destination.

I thanked Demir, shook hands with the lorry driver and off we went. But off we went very slowly because the road was steeply inclined to the pass and the lorry, although a new one with automatic gears, was heavily laden. Until we arrived at the summit we did not once get above walking pace. I was in for quite a slow ride, but, where the road was level or gently inclined downwards, the lorry could rattle along at about 70 kph with little difficulty.

Because Turkey is such a mountainous country, and because most of its large rivers run roughly from east to west, it has always been easier and faster to travel from west to east and vice versa than north to south and vice versa. It is no accident that a majority of Turkey’s most important roads and its few railway lines incline toward the horizontal rather than the vertical, as it were. Despite massive investment in recent decades, roads from north to south are still, as a general rule, narrower than those running west to east and, of course, the mountain ranges that lie between the easier west to east routes have not gone away. Although travelling only as far as Sebinkarahisar and therefore missing out on yet another mighty ascent and descent between that settlement and the Black Sea at Giresun, I was now in for a remarkable journey in the cab of a lorry high above the road. The journey confirmed just how challenging it can be to navigate a route south to north in Turkey, even in 2015 when the country’s road network has never been so good.

The scenery was not as spectacular north of the pass as south of it, but hills and mountains, even if somewhat in the distance, are always a pleasure to the eye. Moreover, because we descended almost all the way to Zara the journey was relatively quick. The driver, Cengiz Sahin from Samsun, was a quiet man, which made a nice change from the almost constant babble of chatter that breaks out if a foreigner is given a lift in Turkey. Of course, I wanted to give Cengiz something for kindly helping me out and saving me quite a bit of money by Turkish standards, but knew an offer of cash would be rejected, perhaps with a hint of anger because I was manifesting disregard for his hospitality. Then I remembered the big bag of crisps given to me earlier in the day. I pulled it out of my rucksack, opened it and placed it between us. Cengiz began eating the crisps immediately and, although I had some, he was still nibbling them as we drove into Sebinkarahisar a few hours later.

Just before entering Zara we drove briefly along the very wide west to east road connecting Ankara with Yozgat, Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum and beyond. The road looked as if it had been subject to a substantial up-grade only quite recently. We then drove through the centre of Zara to connect with the road to Susehri. Zara looked overwhelmingly modern, but it nestles against the next ridge of mountains through which we had to drive. Beside the road were a succession of large, modern schools painted in bright colours. Zara must meet the middle and high school needs of lots of the surrounding settlements (most villages in Turkey have an elementary school nowadays so children can receive their first few years of education in a safe and secure environment in which they are familiar). Most pupils and students probably board in Zara during the week and are taken home on Friday afternoon for the weekend. I imagine most pupils and students are driven to Zara in the same minibuses early on Monday morning.

I had travelled along the Zara to Susehri road once before and knew it to be scenically rewarding for most of the way. The hills, the mountains, the rivers, the trees and the wild flowers in the long grass all contributed to my pleasure (some of the grass had the first hints of yellow because the ground was drying out as summer approached), as did the blue sky smudged with puffs of white cloud. Beside the rivers were trees and some of the trees had been polled.

The lorry struggled to reach the pass at 2,010 metres above sea level and, when I looked across at Cengiz, he wore a very bored expression. Driving lorries long distance in Turkey can be extremely tedious because you are invariably alone and very often make very slow progress. To some degree, automatic gears, although they make your job easier, increase the boredom. Cengiz, who had set off from Divrigi that morning about 7.30am, did not expect to get to Giresun before 8.00pm at the earliest. Despite the often breathtaking scenery through which he drove, tedium characterised his very long working day.

We eventually reached the summit, turned a corner and were confronted by snow-smudged mountains to the north. We began to descend into a beautiful valley, one that reminded me of the one you drive along north of the Zigana Pass on the way to Trabzon. This said, the valley we now entered was much less populated, which only enhanced its appeal. About 25 kilometres from Susehri we were surrounded by forest and snow-smudged mountains. We entered the small roadside village of Aydinlar where old stone houses have large corrugated iron roofs. The houses had been enlarged as the families within them grew in size. Although somewhat neglected, the houses looked very interesting, not least for being located directly below steep rock cliffs from which rocks must fall every so often. Briefly, the lorry reaches 80 kph.

We were now in a meandering canyon for a few kilometres and at one point entered a tunnel to avoid a vast barrier of rock. A fish farm beside the road had attracted some customers who had stopped in their cars.

A few kilometres before Susehri we stopped for the first time since leaving the cesme. We pulled into a roadside tea garden with a water feature and wooden kiosks where people could relax. Cengiz needed a rest for about half an hour and also wanted to recharge his phone. We had three teas each and, when he went to the loo, I settled the bill, which is most unusual if you are someone’s “guest”. Cengiz was not best pleased.

Cengiz relaxing at the tea garden.

Cengiz relaxing at the tea garden.

Before we sat down to consume the teas, Cengiz opened a storage compartment between the lorry’s wheels. Inside was a large butane gas cylinder and a puppy. The puppy had been asleep and came around slowly. Cengiz reached into a second storage compartment and poured milk into a plastic bottle he had cut a section from so that, although the mouth remained intact and could still be secured with the screw cap, the puppy could drink from what was in effect an improvised bowl. After the puppy had drunk two portions of milk, Cengiz attached a string to its neck and tied the other end to a bar on the lorry. The puppy played in the dust and ran around as best it could while we relaxed in one of the nearby kiosks. Before we set off again, Cengiz fed the puppy another portion of milk. The puppy provided Cengiz with a diversion from the boring work routines that afflict him.

Cengiz and puppy.

Cengiz and puppy.

Back in the lorry’s cab, Cengiz produced a packet of sunflower seeds which we shared as we made our way to Sebinkarahisar. Cengiz told me that he would eat nothing but the crisps and the sunflower seeds until arriving in Giresun much later that night.

We resumed the journey and arrived at the next really large road running roughly west to east, on this occasion one from Amasya to the large road already mentioned from Ankara to Erzurum and beyond. We by-passed Susehri and drove north-west along the road to Amasya for about 10 kilometres, then took a right turn for Sebinkarahisar. The journey was only about 35 kilometres from the junction, but so steep and winding was the road for most of the way that it took almost two hours to get to our destination. This said, the first few kilometres were beside a reservoir that has been in existence long enough to look in parts like a natural lake, and very pretty it is. However, as we ascended into the mountains the scenery became even more beautiful and spectacular, so much so that I thought that the section of the journey from Susehri to Sebinkarahisar was probably the day’s best. But no section of the journey was other than attractive or interesting, even when in the vicinity of the steel works near Divrigi or crossing the gently undulating farmland leading to Zara.

One of the most interesting parts of the journey from Susehri to Sebinkarahisar is where the road enters rounded hills composed of red soil which the rains easily wash into the nearby streams. The streams feed into the river at Susehri, by which time the water is very silty. Also near Susehri is a flooded area where dead trees rise from the water. I assume the flooding has been quite recent and in all likelihood due to the creation of yet another reservoir.

Protected by a shepherd and at least one large dog, flocks of sheep and goats grazed the pasture around the reservoir, and someone local had utilised the reservoir to open a large fish farm. Later on snow-smudged mountains lay in the distance, but hills and undulating farmland dominated the views closer to the road. Fields mingled with pasture, the latter generously littered with wild flowers, and birds both large and small prospered in the fertile conditions where food of many kinds must be plentiful. There were lots of trees, streams carrying red silt and villages in very pretty surroundings.

Between Susehri and Sebinkarahisar.

Between Susehri and Sebinkarahisar.

It was about 4.00pm as we approached the outskirts of Sebinkarahisar and I could not believe what I saw ahead. The relatively small town is surrounded by hills and mountains and two of the most prominent peaks overlook it from the west and the east. The mountain to the east is crowned with the extensive remains of the citadel, a citadel which, when intact, must have been very large. Part of the old town nestles directly below the citadel on the slope facing to the west and, even from a distance, looks very attractive. The modern town, which unites with the old town with what is largely a mixture of houses and small apartment blocks, lies along the road between Susehri and Giresun and spreads every which way in the manner typical of Turkish settlements subject to rapid population growth. But, from the more open south end of the town in particular, you can easily escape from Sebinkarahisar to enter undulating countryside with small settlements surrounded by fertile farmland. I was in for a treat and decided immediately to stay for two nights.

Cengiz stopped the lorry on the main street near the town centre. We shook hands and I offered to get him some more crisps, but he laughed and said he still had some left in the packet in the cab. Rarely have I felt more grateful for a lift through Turkey’s mountains, so I asked for his address so I could send a few photos to remind him of our time together. I might have got to Sebinkarahisar more quickly by trying to flag lifts in cars from Zara onwards, but, by going so slowly along the roads, my affection for the mountains was enhanced. Once home examining the photos taken when away, those of the day’s road trip inspired in my mind a desire to return, particularly to spend more time between Susehri and Sebinkarahisar.

To Onar.

I went to my room, unpacked a few things, freshened up and returned to the lobby. Two minutes later I was in the family’s very new 4WD car and we sped off along the road toward Keban. A left turn took us to Onar, a journey from the junction of only 4 or 5 kilometres. In Onar we called at a house on the edge of the village where Ismael lived, an author of thirty books who, although older than me, remained mentally and physically very able. Ismael offered to show us around a village he clearly loved to bits. After spending about half an hour getting to know each other and eating a Thornton’s chocolate, a box of which were a gift from a friend who had recently returned from the UK, we got into the car again and drove the short distance to the centre of the village.

What followed was simply astounding and, although there are more pretty villages in Turkey than Onar, by the end of our grand tour the settlement had emerged as one of my favourites anywhere in the vast republic.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar nestles in gently undulating countryside which, in mid-May, is very green and enriched by masses of wild flowers. Distant mountains smudged with snow add to the visual delights, as does a valley to one side of the village which is where some of the tombs are found. The village has a quite densely packed core, but also some houses that are on their own not far from the centre. The great majority of houses, some of which are substantial properties, are old and made with stone, but some are made with mudbrick. While most stone houses are still lived in, some of the mudbrick houses have been abandoned and lie in ruins. Some unusual square and rectangular windows exist with vertical bars made with squared-off lengths of wood, iron door furniture has survived from the Ottoman era and a few plaster walls around front doors manifest painted decoration in the form of plant-life. Dry stone walls enclose small gardens. Corrugated iron covers many roofs and flat metal sheets patch crumbling walls. With paths rather than roads leading from house to house, and old roads within dry stone walls too narrow for motorised traffic leading to the pasture, the fields and the orchards surrounding the village, Onar is a delight to navigate. The narrow roads just mentioned also lead to the open countryside where more Roman remains are encountered among the wild flowers and herbs that prosper on gently inclined hillsides. The views from the hillsides are extensive. As we walked around we picked fresh almonds from the trees.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Onar.

Ismael and the owners of the hotel knew many people in the village and we therefore stopped a number of times to chat, to have glasses of tea or, in one case overlooking the valley mentioned earlier, to consume glasses of excellent ayran described to me as organic. It quickly became apparent that almost everyone living in Onar is Alevi or Bektashi rather than Sunni Muslim. This meant that, among other things, women are as forthcoming with conversation as men, women shake the hands of unknown males and talk with them without attracting criticism or being thought to behave in a shameful manner, and, although some women wear a headscarf, they wear it most often to protect themselves from the sun and therefore are very careless about whether it covers their hair and ears. It was lovely to be among people who, in a predominantly Muslim environment, have a genuine commitment to gender equality and do not merely pretend that such equality exists. Near the end of our grand tour we met three elderly women sitting in the shade cast by an old house. All three were drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. But for their sex, they could have been a small group of Turkish males doing what Turkish males do all the time, but such a scene involving Sunni Turkish women in full public view is almost unthinkable, even in 2015.

At one point during our grand tour, the daughter of the owner of the hotel disappeared for twenty minutes before returning with a half litre plastic bottle full of wine for me to consume later in the hotel. In common with the ayran, it was described to me as organic. I was told that Alevis and Bektashis in and around Onar consumed exactly this wine when engaging in some of their ritual practices.

Onar’s cemevi was one of the most unusual monuments I saw on the whole trip. Since buildings now enclose it on at least two sides, you can easily walk past it without knowing it is there. Moreover, to access the cemevi you go through an old wooden door that, at the present time, does not say what lies behind it. Behind the door you walk along a narrow passage with a low roof before reaching the cemevi itself. The cemevi is roughly square in shape, but the walls and floor are made of mud and are therefore smooth but somewhat uneven because of gentle undulations. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of all is the roof, which comprises of logs supported on wooden columns. The logs, many of which are blackened as if fire or soot has discoloured them, have been arranged in such a way as to create what is roughly a dome. A window exists where a wall transitions into the domed roof. Along two walls are some tall receptacle-like structures, some shaped like cans and others shaped like glasses tapering a little toward the floor. About 1.5 metres tall, they look as if they are made of mud.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

The cem evi, Onar.

The cemevi, Onar.

There are a few electric lights and rugs and carpets to cover the floor (the rugs and carpets lay on top of the receptacle-like structures just mentioned). In one corner is a platform raised about half a metre above the floor with a cupboard blocking the way into a small space divided from the rest of the room by three bulky wooden columns supporting the beams that hold up the roof. Ledges along two walls reminded me of sofas in an old Anatolian house and, in common with the sofas, are probably meant to be sat on. There is also a mud wall that does not rise the full height of the building but nonetheless creates a second, more secluded space than the one already mentioned, despite the absence of a door.

The cemevi, said to date from 1224 and have been built by Seyh, or Sheikh, Hasan Oner, is a seriously interesting survival from the past, one of the most interesting buildings for ritual purposes I have ever encountered anywhere on my travels. But neither it nor the Roman tombs are mentioned in Sinclair’s monumental work. In fact, Sinclair does not mention Onar once. His monumental study has revealed to me more about eastern Turkey and its architectural and archaeological treasures than any other scholar, but the absence of Onar from his four volume work confirms that a lot more remains to be discovered and/or discussed.

Alevis and Bektashis use cemevis for a variety of purposes because, in the strictest sense, the name means a house or place of gathering, meeting or assembly. As far as we can tell, such gatherings, meetings or assemblies used to be held exclusively outdoors after dark and people used candles and torches so they could see. Such outdoor gatherings still persist in some areas where Alevis and Bektashis live, but they are usually held during daylight hours. Worship in the sense that mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims understand and that is undertaken every day in every mosque around the globe, does not take place, partly because Alevis and Bektashis believe that the mere engagement in routines shaped meticulously by tradition will not secure for the believer the main purpose of religious rituals of any kind, some sort of contact with or insight into the divine, no matter how fleeting that contact or insight might be.

Alevis and Bektashis take their inspiration from the mystical side of Islam best exemplified in the many Sufi groups found throughout the Islamic world. Such Sufi groups have always experimented with different means to attain contact with or insight into the divine. Such means include music, song, poetry, dance, food and, in some instances, the consumption of alcohol, hashish and/or marijuana (for some Sufis, alcohol, hashish and/or marijuana are meant to inspire ecstasy or induce a trance-like condition. Such Sufis believe that during such ecstatic or trance-like states contact with or insight into the divine will be achieved). Today, cemevis are used by Alevis and Bektashis to attain contact with or insight into the divine and in most cases use is made of music, song, food and alcohol (wine and/or raki will be consumed, but not in large quantities). Already it can be seen why mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims might regard Alevis and Bektashis with suspicion, but more orthodox Muslims also dislike how Alevis and Bektashis have been willing, in common with Sufi groups, to co-opt aspects of belief and practice they deem worthwhile in expressions of religion that differ from theirs. Thus, Bektashis in particular refer to a “trinity” consisting of Allah, Muhammad and Ali, and during their ritual practices wine or raki is consumed with bread in what is an obvious imitation of the eucharist in many Christian denominations. Perhaps the inclination to co-opt beliefs and practices from different sources helps explain why, as a general rule, Alevis and Bektashis have been far more tolerant and respectful of people who subscribe to beliefs and practices that differ from their own, while, as a general rule, Sunni and, in some instances, mainstream Shia Muslims have not only treated such people like, at best, second class citizens by according them fewer rights and opportunities, but also periodically subjected them to forcible conversion and/or murder and massacre.

There is another thing that causes mainstream Sunni Muslims to have doubts about Alevis and Bektashis and this is the fact that Alevis and Bektashis seem to manifest far greater affection for Ali than for Muhammad, so much so that one of the most obvious ways of telling you are in an Alevi or a Bektashi home is if you see hanging on the wall a picture of Ali looking not unlike Jesus, although his hair is always black.

I have always enjoyed time spent in the company of Alevis and Bektashis and, in recent years, have had increasing doubts about many of the Sunni Muslims with whom I have engaged. I am now far more clear in my mind why this is so. Most Sunni Muslims are preoccupied with Islamic orthodoxy and imposing on themselves and others what passes for such orthodoxy, while Alevis and Bektashis are much more committed to a philosophy shaped by live and let live, openness to new ideas and conforming to the golden rule. It is probably because of this philosophy that, nowadays, Alevi and Bektashi men and women engage in ritual practices together and as equals, and why even a confirmed atheist such as myself is welcomed into their company.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

The tombs at Onar have been cut from the rock itself, usually in a valley wall. The chambers containing the tombs are shaped roughly like a cube or cuboid and smaller cavities to contain the dead usually exist in the three walls that do not include the entrance. The cavities for the dead have arches above them and the bodies lay on flat surfaces about a metre above the floor. Sometimes the floor itself has smaller cavities, no doubt also for the dead to lie in. The tombs would appear to be late Roman, perhaps 2nd, 3rd or even 4th century CE. Carved decoration, of stylised plant forms or repeated geometric shapes, is often encountered, the repeated geometric shapes sometimes drawing the eye to the edge of the arch above the individual resting places for the dead. Above a few arches are shallow recesses which may have contained a stone tablet inscribed with information about the dead person that lay below. There are also cavities in which wine was made and stored prior to consumption, and the occasional recess in a wall where lamps or candles could be lit or small possessions displayed. Sometimes the stone at the entrance to a tomb chamber has been carved to resemble columns. Each column has flat faces, a base and a capital. As a general rule, the stonemasons who carved the tomb chamber entrances were not as skilled as those who carved the plant-life or the geometric shapes along the arches.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

I was reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Cappadocia and there were times when I thought some of the “tombs” may actually have been troglodyte homes. I also wondered if some of the structures had links with Christians, but I did not see anything that proved for definite that Christians might have been associated with some of what survives at Onar. This said, because Christians in the Roman Empire still suffered persecution into the early years of the 4th century (and persecution persisted beyond that date under certain rulers), they would have been unwise to advertise their existence too overtly.

Next to one recess in a wall is a carving resembling the Buddhist symbol for the eightfold path to enlightenment. In other words, it is a circle with what looks like eight spokes radiating from the centre. I am not for one moment suggesting that this carving has been left by Buddhists and it looks too perfect and clean to have been carved at the same time the tombs were used by people in the Roman Empire, but it did intrigue me. Had it had twelve “spokes” I would have associated it with Shia Muslims and/or Alevis due to their affection for the twelve imams, the last one of whom is “hidden” and will return at some point in the future in just the same way that Christians believe Jesus will return as the messiah. I could sense already that, once home, I would want to very quickly return to this remarkable place because, when I return to somewhere in Turkey, I find something new that is ample reward for the effort.

Entrances leading into the tomb chambers are themselves cut from the rock and are usually devoid of additional stonework to reinforce or ornament them. Rectangular in shape, they are sometimes a little wider at waist height as if people were obese at the time the tombs were used. Some entrances are framed externally by an arch, but in at least one case an entrance has an eye-catching triangular feature above the doorway. Additionally, the rock immediately below the triangle has been carved in such a way as to convert what would be the door’s lintel into a shape resembling a bell. Another doorway has a narrow vertical window above it, presumably to let additional light into the tomb chamber.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

The most remarkable tomb chamber is the one we looked at last before walking into the countryside to examine yet more Roman ruins among the wild flowers and herbs. The tomb chamber has a wall with the sun, horses, triangles, squares and hook-like shapes resembling waves that look as if they have been drawn by a child using a dull red paint. All these except the sun, which features only once (although near the sun is what looks like the figure of someone who might be playing a musical instrument or hunting), are painted in continuous lines, the triangles and hook-like shapes being joined one to the other.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

A Roman tomb, Onar.

The wall I have just described is to your left as you look in through the small entrance. Ahead, beside a square doorway leading to another section of the tomb chamber, are more examples of painting, in this case of at least one human figure and what looks like a deer and a camel. These have been painted with less care than the patterns, etc. on the left-hand wall and have also suffered more damage or deterioration, perhaps because they face the entrance and light has taken its toll. The human figure stands next to what looks like a small house with a pitched roof, but it might be a crude representation of one of the tomb chambers themselves. The right-hand wall also has things painted on it, but of these the only one that really stands out is a human figure riding a horse. The human figure appears to be holding at least one weapon and it looks as if a flag on a pole might be part of the portrait.

The walk into the countryside resulted in encounters with fresh almonds, flowers, herbs and sublime views of the village in its seductively beautiful setting, and chats with men and women working in their fields or gardens. As for the Roman ruins themselves, most seemed to be associated with the production of wine. A majority of the cavities and related channels required to make and store the wine had been cut from the rock itself in just the same way as the tomb chambers we had already examined.

More Roman ruins, Onar.

More Roman ruins, Onar.

But Onar has one last treat, an old cesme with arches, troughs, channels and pools of most unusual design and size. One pool is partially housed within a cube made of stone and one side of the cube has an opening with a shallow arch above it. Three sturdy lengths of wood have been positioned in front of the arch to provide additional support for the roof. A larger pool to one side of the cube of stone has a stone wall behind it. The more I examined the cesme, the more I suspected that the larger pool was once covered with a roof.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

The cesme, Onar.

I have written at length about Onar because, even if the village did not possess the cemevi dating from 1224 and its much older Roman remains, it would be a destination worth visiting for anyone who wants to engage with a remarkable settlement and its very friendly inhabitants. Onar’s beautiful rural setting is, of course, an additional reason for making a detour. I was very grateful to my three new friends for showing me around a place that proved one of the most notable I was to visit on a trip that had many notable destinations.

Onar.

Onar.

We walked back to the car, spent a little more time in Ismael’s company (he told me he had a website, which, at home, I examined with great interest), then I was driven back to Arapgir through countryside that looked even more attractive than earlier in the day because the sun was lower in the sky.

Onar and new friends.

Onar and new friends.

To Elazig and Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

As far as I could tell, only one other person spent the night in the pansiyon, so there was no competition for the facilities in the morning. I packed as many items into my bags as I could, then went downstairs for breakfast. I ordered lentil soup, which came with bread, salad, water and tea. Only two other men sat in the lokanta. One had soup but the other ordered only tea, which he drank with his first cigarettes of the day. According to the law, smoking is no longer allowed where food is served, but in simple lokantas in south-east Turkey reliant largely on local custom to make a profit, such rules are enforced erratically. The TV news updated us about the latest speeches and gaffes made by leading political figures over the weekend, then someone changed the channel so we could watch a programme about south-east Turkey, or Turkish Kurdistan. While males sang songs happy and sad about love and lust, iconic images of Mount Ararat, Dogubayazit, Isak Pasa Saray, Lake Van, Hasankeyf, Mardin, Midyat, Diyarbakir and the mountains around Hakkari filled the screen (if an Armenian instead of a Kurd had watched the same programme, he or she would have recognised some iconic images of Western Armenia instead of Turkish Kurdistan).

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

I paid my bill for the food and the room, collected my things and walked about 100 metres to an office from where minibuses left for Elazig, my destination for the day. I had to wait only twenty minutes before we set off. There was just time to chat briefly with a young woman wearing a headscarf.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

I knew the road from Ergani to Elazig from a number of trips in the past, but, because I was now travelling along it in mid-May when everything looked very green and fertile and the visibility was crystal clear, it felt as if I was doing the run for the first time. As soon as we left Ergani we entered hills and mountains. As the comfortable minibus sped along the fast road, we passed an old stone bridge over a river, trees with bright green leaves, orchards, wild flowers and an army camp. For many kilometres the railway meandered in sympathy with the rivers and every so often disappeared into a short tunnel or crossed a stone bridge, some of the latter with elegantly wide arches.

Around Maden (the name means “mine” or “mineral” in Turkish), a small town with many old houses ascending a steep hillside above the river, scars and slag on the slopes confirm that mining has been popular until very recently. Mining began in Maden in the 16th century when Greeks were brought from Gumushane to exploit the area’s mineral wealth. Today, very little mining continues, if it continues at all, but the railway has a presence in the town with a station, a few sidings and a water crane for use by the occasional steam locomotive.

Shortly after leaving Maden the valley widens. The road emerges on the right-hand wall of a wide bowl at the far end of which is the slope holding back the waters of Hazar Golu. Because Hazar Golu is surrounded by hills and mountains, some of the latter smudged with snow the day I passed them, and because the lake is such a large and attractive resource, the towns and villages along the north-east and north side of the lake have emerged in recent decades as destinations for people to escape the summer heat on the nearby plains. A few hotels and pansiyons exist, but villas, some of which are now twenty or thirty years old although others are more recent in construction and designed to a higher standard, are considerably more numerous. This said, development remains just short of being overwhelming, although for how much longer is questionable. This means that at present it is not the built environment that dominates your attention, but the lake, the surrounding hills and mountains, the fields, the orchards and the wild flowers. The province of Elazig is lucky to have such a destination within its borders.

From the most westerly extremity of the lake the road veers north and descends onto a wide undulating plain with ridges of hills and mountains to the south and the north. Fields and orchards dominate the run into Elazig, which, from the south, appears a relatively small city. However, it stretches a considerable distance from east to west and in recent years has grown significantly toward Harput in the north.

The minibus terminated at the garaj to the south-west of the city centre and a servis bus carried passengers for free to destinations around Elazig. I and two other passengers got off where Hurriyet, Istasyon and Gazi caddesis meet and I left to find a small hotel for the night. On Horasan Sokak just off Gazi Caddesi the two-star Mayd had a room with en suite facilities, a balcony and breakfast for 60TL. It was so early in the day that breakfast was still available to late-rising guests. I knew it would be a good breakfast when I saw that a woman was responsible for preparing it.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig is a city with a very large population of conventionally pious Sunnis, both Turkish and Kurdish. I had already noted that a very large number of women wore headscarves, but some liked the all-enveloping, loose-fitting black garments and covered their face so that only their eyes and the top of their nose were visible. Large, modern mosques were not far from the hotel and in my room a sign pointed toward the kible, or the direction for prayer. A prayer mat of very recent pedigree was on the floor of the wardrobe. For most of the next twenty-four hours I was very much on the Sunni side of the street with all that this implied in terms of segregation of the sexes and infrequent chats with women. On the plus side dozens of lokantas, but all unlicensed, existed in the side streets around the hotel; the pazar was only a seven minute walk away; the minibuses to Harput departed from a car park a few blocks to the east; and, by utilising the side streets south of Gazi Caddesi, I could walk to the minibus garaj for Keban and Arapgir, the latter my destination for the following day, in about fifteen minutes.

But Harput was for later in the day because my first destination was the village of Sahinkaya, about 6 kilometres west and a little north of the city centre. Sahinkaya, until quite recently known as Hulvenk, is not far from the Armenian Monastery of St. George (“venk” or “vank” is Armenian for “monastery”).

I left the hotel, walked to the minibus garaj where I had arrived earlier to confirm that minibuses departed for Keban the following morning (they did depart, and on an hourly basis, but I was told minibuses from Keban to Arapgir did not exist), then I strode off in a westerly direction along the main road leading eventually to Malatya. It seemed to take a long time to reach the city’s football stadium and a new but incomplete park with water features, but eventually I arrived at the point where the roads to Malatya and Keban part company. I stood near the beginning of the road to Keban and flagged down the first minibus that came along. I said I was going to Sahinkaya and the driver confirmed that he could take me to within 3 kilometres of the village. We drove past a very large modern dental hospital and many apartment blocks that looked as if they had been built only a year or two earlier, but already some shops, cafés, lokantas and other businesses occupied ground floor premises to meet the needs of the growing population.

When the minibus reached its destination all the passengers got off, but the driver urged me to get aboard again and very kindly drove me about a kilometre further along the road to Sahinkaya. By now I was beyond the clutches of the concrete jungle that is most of modern Elazig and surrounded by fields, pasture, orchards and houses with large gardens. I began walking toward the centre of the village, but a man stopped his tractor to offer me a lift to a tea house, where we sat in the shade as refreshments were summoned. We chatted about the village, the monastery and the local population. To my amazement the man said he was Armenian. Kurds sitting at the next table said, “Yes. And we are all friends in this village. Kurds, Zaza, Armenians: it does not matter. First we are friends.”

Inevitably, my offer to pay for the refreshments was refused and, after shaking hands with everyone, the owner of the tea house included, I left for the monastery. Sahinkaya is not a particularly pretty village, but there are enough old houses and sights characteristic of the Turkish countryside to make it worth spending some time in. Just about everyone I met, male or female, said good morning and made sure I was going in the right direction, but I took one wrong turn before being put right by a man in protective clothes checking his beehives. When he learned that, in a few days’ time, I was visiting Tunceli, he said I must try the honey from Ovacik because it was very good.

As I approached a cesme dispensing chilled water that hit the spot perfectly on a warm mid-morning, I came across a new taxi parked in the shade of some trees. The driver had a welcoming smile on his face and gave me a cucumber to eat. He explained that he had dropped off three people who had walked the last 200 metres to the monastery. I was intrigued that I was not the only person visiting remote and largely forgotten Armenian ruins a hundred years after the genocide against the Armenians had begun.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I passed polled trees arranged in two rows, a stone ruin that had probably been part of the monastic complex and pasture enlivened by many wild flowers. To the west were the last houses of Sahinkaya and to the east the apartment blocks of Elazig most distant from the city centre. The apartment blocks were less than a kilometre away. Sahinkaya will eventually lose its separate identity and become a suburb of Elazig made up of housing far less characterful than that which currently exists.

The three people at the monastery were an Armenian American film-maker from Boston, his cameraman, also from Boston, and a younger man whom I assumed was a Turkish national taken on as a fixer. The film-maker and his cameraman had been visiting Turkey off and on for two or three years with the intention of making a documentary about the 1915 genocide and its aftermath. This would be their last year in the field, as it were, after which all effort would be directed toward preparing the documentary for viewing by the public. The Armenian American had good reason to visit Sahinkaya because at least one of his grandparents had lived locally. He told a remarkable story about close encounters with local people who had heard of or known his grandparent, about tracking down the remains of his relative’s house and about the possibility of buying the land where the house had stood, thereby reclaiming for an Armenian a little bit of Western Armenia with close associations with his family. There was even talk of being able to identify precisely where his relative was buried.

We talked for a while about the events that began in 1915, about the film-maker’s family associations with the area, about the places he and I had visited because of our mutual interest in the genocide, and about the Turkish Republic’s shameful neglect of surviving Armenian monuments other than the few visited by a large number of tourists, foreign and indigenous. The fact that a few Armenian monuments such as the astounding church on the island of Akhdamar in Lake Van are looked after properly lulls the gullible into thinking that all Armenian monuments in Turkey are cared for, but the ruined, vandalised and graffiti-smeared monastery church near Sahinkaya typifies the dire condition of most such treasures of the past.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

I left the three in peace because they were about to hang from the damaged dome of the monastery church a makeshift Armenian flag they were attaching to a pole that they would lower into the nave with a rope. I asked permission to witness what promised to be a very moving event and was encouraged to stay, on the understanding I did not get in the way of the cameraman and his desire the film the event devoid of human distraction. I loitered in the background and, as the flag was lowered from the dome to flap gently in the badly vandalised nave, felt much more than a mere lump in my throat. An Armenian flag was, albeit briefly, hanging in an Armenian monastery church in eastern Turkey not far from Harput where some of the most thoroughly documented massacres and deportations, the latter themselves resulting in immense loss of life, took place in 1915.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

It would not surprise me if what the film-maker did with the flag constitutes a criminal act in Turkey, but I regard the act as a small moral victory on behalf of a people who simply want the Turkish Republic to admit that what happened in 1915 and immediately thereafter constitutes genocide. Geoffrey Robertson’s “An Inconvenient Genocide: who now remembers the Armenians?” provides, in my eyes at least, conclusive proof that it was genocide, and even the Turkish Republic now concedes that 600,000 Armenians lost their lives during world war one. However, the Turkish Republic insists that genocide did not take place because not all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were murdered and because “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”.

Genocide involves “the extinction of a race or any part of a race”. In other words, total extinction of a people is NOT required for genocide to have occurred. The Turkish Republic significantly underestimates how many Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 by putting the figure at 1.1 million. However, even if “only” 600,000 Armenians were murdered in 1915 and thereafter, this constitutes over 50% of all Armenians said by the Turkish Republic to have been alive in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, which amounts to a very substantial “part” of the Armenian “race” in the eyes of anyone, surely. It was established a few years ago that genocide took place in Srebrinica in 1995 when just over 8,000 Bosniaks were murdered by Serbs, Ukrainians and Russians. If genocide can take place when “only” 8,000 are murdered, how can it not be the case that genocide takes place when at least 600,000 are murdered?

What of the argument that “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”? Robertson is unequivocal in his conclusion about the matter. Although it is difficult to pinpoint documentary evidence that extermination of the Armenians was planned:

Criminal law works authentically by inference from all the evidence: quite apart from the confessions by Turkish leaders (who, after world war one, said that the extermination of the Armenians was intended) and the verdicts of the Constantinople trails (of 1919, which led to convictions for “crimes against humanity and civilisation”), the deportations were certainly pre-planned, as were the laws providing for asset and home seizure by the state. Sending Armenians (and only Armenians) on long marches in the knowledge that most would be killed en route, by brigands and local vengeful Muslims, or by disease and starvation, necessarily entails pre-meditation, and government responsibility for the foreseeable consequences.

But what of the monastery church itself near Sahinkaya? What condition is it in? As I have indicated above, the ruin has been vandalised and suffers from the hands of graffiti “artists”. Because lots of mortar is crumbling away, further damage will be done to the remaining stonework, especially with the freezing and thawing of water that takes place during winter and spring. Blackened internal walls confirm that some disrespectful idiots have tried to burn the ruin down, and some of the soot suggests the fires are quite recent. Most of the floor has been dug over by treasure hunters convinced that Armenians buried gold, silver and other valuables in 1915 just before being murdered or, if women, children and elderly men, just before being sent elsewhere, the latter ostensibly to be relocated in a settlement less militarily sensitive in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. In other words, the monastery church is a most forlorn sight and confirms that such buildings are subject to intolerable official neglect. This said, most of the roof remains intact, despite a hole in the dome, and I have seen Armenian churches, whether once part of a monastic complex or not, in even worse condition than this. In fact, it would not take much money or labour to ensure that the ruin survives, more or less as it currently is, for many generations to come. But will such an investment in money and labour be made? Not, I fear, if the AKP secures a parliamentary majority in June 2015. Such an investment might be made if, by some miracle, a coalition is formed without either the AKP or the uncompromisingly Turkish nationalist MHP.

Here, for the record, is how Sinclair described the monastery in 1982:

A Syrian monastery was founded here in the early 6th century, but the present buildings are Armenian and the earliest part of the present church belongs to the 15th century, though this work was probably an extensive restoration of a church built in 1300/01. The rest, including the westerly addition to the church, is much later. The church now stands at the s. side of the enclosure, with two single buildings not far to the n.

Church. This is now a rectangle with a dome, now fallen, in front of the apse. The church was extended to the w. in an addition of 1882, and the nave now consists of two rows of four pillars upholding barrel-vaults above the narrow side aisles and a variety of vaults, beside the dome, above the central aisle. Low arches are sprung from the pillars to the n. and s. walls. To the e. the line of the arcades is continued by the walls separating the apse from its side chambers. The church’s earlier part (to the e.) is higher, and the drop in the height of the vaults is reflected outside in the height of the roof… E. end. Deep sanctuary, ending in semi-circle. S. side chamber reflects its shape in its n. wall; n. chamber has been enlarged… E. half of nave. Note polychrome masonry of pendatives, different patterns formed by the blocks in the pendatives. Simple painting (cavalier saint and dragon) on n. wall, second bay…

Monastic buildings, which probably date from 1882. E. wall of enclosure adjoins corner of church’s ne. chamber. The w. wall no doubt joined the church’s nw. corner, but is broken off at a good distance from it. Large room against n. wall… All walls in this enclosure are of mudbrick; the arches of the main room and the jambs of its n. door are stone.    

Sadly, a lot of the fine detail that Sinclair describes in relation to the church is now lost and, perhaps even more alarmingly, none of the structures mentioned from “Monastic buildings” remain. Compare my photos of the monastery near Sahinkaya with Sinclair’s photo in volume 3 of his monumental study and be shocked by what has disappeared in such a relatively short time. Anyone who values the products of human endeavour from the past that have helped to shape us today, and anyone who values things from the past that reflect humankind’s remarkable capacity for invention and creativity, cannot visit the monastery near Sahinkaya without feeling a profound sense of loss. Moreover, I feel compelled to ask the following. Is not such neglect and its consequences almost as unforgivable as the destruction by the Taliban in 2001 of the great Buddhist statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and is it not almost as unforgivable as the destruction currently undertaken by the Islamic State at world heritage sites in Syria and Iraq? Furthermore, is there something in the nature of Islam that makes such destruction of non-Muslims’ cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, more likely than when other belief systems dominate a region of the globe, either temporarily or permanently? Of course, it is possible that this is a problem afflicting Sunnis alone in so far as such Muslims have, in recent years, also engaged in the destruction of many Shia and Sufi cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, in countries as far apart as Mali and Iraq. Moreover, Ahmaddiya Muslim mosques have been attacked by Sunnis in almost every nation state where they have a statistically significant presence.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I could tell that more work had to be done before just the right shots were taken for the documentary, so we exchanged contact details and I began the walk back to Sahinkaya, chatting briefly with the taxi driver as I passed him. I also filled my bottle at the cesme wondering whether this was a source of water for the monks who once inhabited the monastery. The stonework gracing the cesme looked old enough to have been around at least as early as the late 19th century, despite the fact that a tablet of stone set into structure has a date of 1938. This said, the inscribed tablet of stone could easily have been a later addition.

I arrived at a house where a family were sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. We chatted briefly before one of the women said that, if I was quick, a minibus would leave for Elazig in five minutes from outside the modern mosque. I would have liked to look around the village a little longer (for many years now my favourite settlements in Turkey have been villages rather than towns or cities), but, if I missed the minibus, it would mean a much longer journey time to the city centre and less time at Harput, so I dashed off and caught the minibus with two minutes to spare. There were only seven other passengers and half were female. Only one woman wore a headscarf so the conversation flowed easily with females as well as males.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.