To Sagman and the Termal Hotel.

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

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

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

View south-east from Sagman.

View south-east from Sagman.

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

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

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

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

The cesme, Sagman.

The cesme, Sagman.

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

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

Sagman.

Sagman.

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

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

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

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

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

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Pertek.

Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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To Cemisgezek and the Termal Hotel.

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

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

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

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

Cemisgezek.

Suleymaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

View south from Cemisgezek.

View south from Cemisgezek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

To Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

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

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

The roundabout, Pertek.

The roundabout, Pertek.

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

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

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

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

Hozat.

Hozat.

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

Hozat.

Hozat.

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

To Ergen Armenian Church.

To Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Gecimli.

Gecimli.

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

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

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

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

Near Gecimli.

Near Gecimli.

To Pertek and the Termal Hotel.

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

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

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

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

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

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

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

To Cicekli.

I was back at the hotel by 1.00pm and washed a few items of clothing before sitting on the balcony to write up some notes about the morning. I felt a little tired, perhaps because of being in the sun for a long time and walking to and from Mazgirt’s citadel, but when I had some honey and yoghurt with the last of a simit from Tamdere, I felt the fatigue evaporate. I decided to have one last adventure to the village of Cicekli south of Tunceli. On the way to Mazgirt I had past the road junction for Cicekli and, because the name of the village contains the Turkish word for flower or blossom (“cicek”), I was curious to see what it looked like.

With cloud building up in the sky, I walked to the road bridge over the river and flagged a minibus to the university. I got off at the campus entrance and started walking south. When a heavy rainstorm began I sheltered under trees overhanging the fence surrounding the garden of a large modern house. When the worst of the rain had eased, I tried flagging a lift to the road junction for Cicekli, but had no luck. The junction was further from the campus than I remembered, but I eventually got to it and began to ascend quite steadily but gently into the hills. Cicekli lay 9 kilometres away, but the undulating hill country through which I walked was very attractive. Every so often I got excellent views of the large campus now below me. Not all the university’s buildings were complete, but those that were looked enviably attractive, albeit in an institutional manner, which confirmed that generous amounts of money were being directed toward higher education, even in a province such as Dersim so often starved of resources in the past. In the distance were the mountains through which I had travelled the day before to Ovacik, but nearby were fields, pasture with wild flowers, patches of woodland and isolated farms and houses.

The university campus, Tunceli.

The university campus, Tunceli.

The road led to more villages than Cicekli alone, but traffic was very light. Eventually, however, an elderly man, a retired guestworker who had spent most of his life in Germany, stopped his car and made a short detour to drop me in the middle of Cicekli. Just before entering the village we passed a very large, rectangular jandarma post with high walls, towers at each corner, a fortified entrance, lots of razor wire, large dogs and many armed jandarma who closely scrutinised the infrequent movements on the nearby road. The fact the jandarma post was occupied confirmed that worries about security remained in Dersim, but why in an area with a relatively small population was a mystery to me. Given the substantial presence of uniformed representatives of the state in Tunceli, the armoured vehicles parked in the town’s streets and what I saw now, Dersim suddenly felt like an occupied territory controlled by a colonial power. If this feeling afflicted me, and I had been in the locality less than thirty-six hours, how must the local people feel, be they Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Alevis or Kizilbash?

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli did not have any more flowers than is typical of rural Dersim, but the mixture of old and new housing, and the friendliness of the people I spoke with, meant I had chosen a suitable destination for the latter half of the day. The sky remained overcast, which meant it was pleasantly cool as I walked around.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli is not a large village and does not support a tea house or a shop. The buildings are dispersed over a gently inclined hillside overlooking a pretty valley wider than many in the area. Small fields, pasture and orchards surround the buildings. Most families earn a living from the land and quite a lot of buildings are therefore used for agricultural purposes. Many of the old buildings, some of which spread over two storeys, have been constructed with a very attractive stone, no doubt quarried locally, which, although dominated by a light brown colour, also has white and orange smudges. Some of the barns and other buildings used for storage purposes utilise corrugated iron and flat metal sheets to good effect, and a few brightly coloured trailers and motor vehicles add visual interest. Many of the old houses are quite large, which suggests that the village used to be quite wealthy by local standards.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

The road to Cicekli had carried very little traffic on it, so, after about an hour in the village, I left for Tunceli concerned about how long it would take to get back to town. As I walked past the jandarma post a few of the jandarma waved, but the large dogs barked in a very threatening manner. Two women stood in pasture about a hundred metres from the road; they were responsible for a small herd of cattle. I walked past a gulley where, despite the attractive surroundings in which it lay, people had tipped large amounts of litter. Two cars drove by, but the drivers ignored my requests for a lift. However, after walking about 3 kilometres, a car stopped and the driver took me all the way to the main Tunceli to Elazig road. He explained that he lived in a village about 15 kilometres to the north and west of Cicekli, which made me realise that the road network locally must be more extensive than I had imagined (and it has no doubt improved significantly in recent years, primarily to make it easier for the police, the jandarma and/or the army to move around more rapidly).

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Between Cicekli and the main road to Tunceli.

Between Cicekli and the main road to Tunceli.

On the main road I began walking toward Tunceli, but a minibus serving the campus and the next settlement south of the campus offered me a lift to the campus itself, which gave me the chance to confirm that the university’s buildings have been designed and built in ways that cannot fail to engender admiration. My short time on the campus confirmed what I had observed the day before, that only a small number of female students wear headscarves.

The university campus, Tunceli (from inside a minibus about to leave for the town centre).

The university campus, Tunceli (from inside a minibus about to leave for the town centre).

I was ushered onto a second minibus, but, instead of going to Tunceli, it was driven south toward Elazig to drop off two members of staff at a small settlement beside the river (the river was very wide near the settlement due to a dam lower down its course), then it returned to the campus! I was now taken to the point from where minibuses departed for Tunceli and, with every seat but mine occupied by students, we soon left for our destination. Kindly, I was given the best seat on the minibus, the one next the driver, so the views were excellent. Despite all my worries about getting back to Tunceli in good time, I was in the town centre not long after 5.00pm.

I had a good look around the small pazar where all the businesses were open and many benefited from people shopping at the end of the working day. I also noticed that it was from the edge of the pazar where minibuses left for my next destination, Pertek, so I confirmed with staff in a small office about departures early the following morning.

I sorted a few things in my room, then walked to the river intent on having a good meal in a pleasant lokanta, preferably one overlooking the river itself that served beer (I could hardly go without alcohol in Tunceli on my last night given how many local places sold alcohol). Almost facing each other across the river are two large lokantas and between them a footbridge makes it easier to examine both quickly.

The Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

I decided to eat in the Celal Dogan Restaurant on the side of the river closest to the town centre, partly because it was still in the early evening sunshine, and partly because it had many more customers (although young women seemed to prefer the relative quiet of the lokanta furthest from the town centre and now completely in the shade). I could have eaten indoors, but a table was free beside the river where I could watch fish rise to the surface to catch insects and birds feed on the wing. Although offered a menu as I sat down, I knew exactly what I wanted from a list of food displayed on a large board in the small car park: a lamb sac kavurma, a dish I have grown to love in recent years, and one that Alevis in Dersim claim as their own. I ordered a Tuborg and, about fifteen minutes later, a sublime, melt-in-the-mouth sac kavurma arrived with a basket containing warm flat-bread similar to lavash. Just for the record, the sac kavurma comprised of very tender, perfectly fried cubes of lamb, a generous portion of bulgar pilaf and an equally generous amount of onions, peppers and tomatoes fried together so the flavours of the individual ingredients exchanged with each other to good effect. Sliced raw onion decorated the top of the food to provide a contrast in taste and texture.

At the end of the meal I chatted with a young man from Mazgirt who was aged about seventeen and training to be a waiter. After handing over 27TL for the meal (the sum of money included a generous tip for the high quality of the food and the service), I walked through the park to the town centre, once again encountering many snails on the footpath. Cloud was building up again and the dull and humid conditions had tempted the snails to search for food.

A view of the river from the Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

View of the river from Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

Snails on the move seeking food: I was suddenly reminded that Hilary and Pippa were leaving the next day for a city break in Amsterdam and our garden would be left unattended for five whole days. Would the peas, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, basil and sage survive? Kindly, our next door neighbours had said they would water the plants if a dry spell prevailed.

I bought a second beer in the pazar and retired to my balcony from where I watched the night descend. The streets below remained very lively, but a few large drops of rain began to fall and thunder rumbled in the distance. Lightning, sometimes in forks and sometimes in sheets, filled the sky to the south and the southwest and the rain got steadily heavier. By 9.15pm the rain was so persistent that the streets were almost deserted, many businesses had closed and only a few men sat at low tables outside two nearby tea houses playing cards. By 10.00pm all the nearby businesses were shut and even the stray dogs sought shelter under roofs in the pazar. I had the last of the yoghurt, which, like the honey, had been locally made, and went to bed knowing Tunceli in particular and Dersim more generally had found a special place in my heart. Although I was leaving Tunceli the following morning, Pertek, where I would stay for two nights, is in Dersim, so I still had lots to enjoy.

Tunceli (and the Dersim massacres of 1937-1938).

Back in Tunceli I quickly freshened up at the hotel, then went for a walk through the town centre, along the river and to the otogar to check on whether minibuses left the following morning to Mazgirt (they did, but not at a time convenient for me). After ascending from the river through a park where many large snails crossed a stone footpath, thereby risking death under shoes worn by careless or vindictive humans, I came across two large plaques set into a stone wall reminding people about “Dersim 1938”. On both plaques males wore loosely tied turbans.

Perhaps the best of the easily accessed accounts of the Dersim massacres that began in 1937 and ended in 1938 can be found in the “Online Encyclopaedia of Mass Violence” which has a case study entitled “Dersim Massacre, 1937-1938” last modified in 2012. Because so little is known about the massacre outside Turkey, I quote at length from the case study. As you will see, it has very obvious links with the Armenian genocide and its aftermath:

In 1937 and 1938, a military campaign took place in parts of the Turkish province of Tunceli, formerly Dersim, that had not been brought under the control of the state. It lasted from March 1937 to September 1938 and resulted in a particularly high death toll: many thousands of civilian victims. Contemporary officers called it a “disciplinary campaign”, politicians and the press, a “Kemalist civilising mission”. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, however, in a November 2009 speech, referred to it as a “massacre”, which can be considered an historically appropriate term. It took place when the Republic of Turkey was consolidated – in contrast with the repression of the Kurdish Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925 or the Kocgiri uprising in 1921. The campaign in Dersim was prepared well in advance and therefore was not a short-term reaction to a specific uprising. President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stood personally behind it and died shortly after its end.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

After the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne had recognised the Turkish nationalist movement as the sole legitimate representative of Turkey and admitted its victory in Asia Minor, the Republic of Turkey was founded. The nationalist movement implemented revolutionary changes from above, such as the abolition of the caliphate in 1924, and the introduction of the Swiss civil code in 1926 and the Latin alphabet in 1928. Broadly acclaimed as a successful modern nation state, the Turkish Republic rebuilt its international relations in the 1930s and succeeded, in a deal with France and the League of Nations (of which it became a member in 1932), in incorporating the Syrian region of Alexandretta into its national territory in 1938 and 1939. However, radical Turkism (Turkish ethno-nationalism) with racist undertones marked the ideological climate of the 1930s, while cosmopolitan Ottomanism and Islam were radically evacuated from the political sphere and intellectual life. Kemalist Turkism – the ideology of the new political elite tied to the one-party regime – albeit triumphalist, expressed the need for a connection to deeper roots and made a huge effort to legitimise Anatolia as the national home of the Turks by means of historical physical anthropology.

The region of Dersim, renamed Tunceli in 1935, stood markedly at odds with the politico-cultural landscape of 1930s Turkey. In a 1926 report, Hamdi Bey, a senior official, called the area an abscess that needed an urgent surgeon from the republic. In 1932, the journalist and deputy Nasit Ulug published a booklet with the title “The Feudal Lords and Dersim”; it asked at the end how a “Dersim system” marked by feudalism and banditry could be destroyed. After Hamdi Bey, General Inspector Ibrahim Tali, Marshal Fevzi Cakmak and Minister of the Interior Sukru Kaya collected information on the ground and wrote reports concluding the necessity of introducing “reforms” in the region. The need for reforms for Dersim, together with military campaigns to effect them, had been a postulate since the Ottoman reforms, the Tanzimat, of the 19th century. Several military campaigns had taken place, but had brought only limited successes. In parts of Dersim and other eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire, in which Kurdish lords had reigned autonomously since the 16th century, the state had established its direct rule only in the second third of the 19th century, though it depended still in the republican era on the co-option of local lords to maintain its rule. The central parts of Dersim, by contrast, resisted both co-option and direct rule until the 1930s. Nevertheless, Dersim had been represented by a few deputies in the Ottoman parliament in Istanbul and, since 1920, in the national assembly in Ankara.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

Dersim is a mountainous region between Sivas, Erzincan and Elazig (renamed from Elaziz in 1937. Turkification of local names began during world war one). It covers an area of 90 kilometres from east to west and 70 kilometres from north to south, and had, according to official estimates in the 1930s, a population of nearly 80,000, of which one-fifth were considered men able to bear arms. Dersim’s topography allowed cattle breeding, but only little agriculture. It offered many places for refuge and hiding: valleys, caves, forests and mountains. These had been vital for the survival of Dersim’s Alevi population. The Alevis venerated Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law. They refused to conform with sharia and remained attached to unorthodox Sufi beliefs and practices widespread in Anatolia before the 16th century, when the Ottoman state embraced Sunni orthodoxy. Their beliefs were mostly linked to Anatolian saint Haci Bektash (13th century). Since many Alevis had sympathises with Safavid (and Shia) Persia in the 16th century, they were lastingly stigmatised as heretics and traitors.

The first language of the Dersim Kurds, as they were called by contemporary observers, was not Turkish but Zazaki (the main language) or Kurmanji. Kurdish nationalism had had an impact on a few Dersim leaders and intellectuals since the early 20th century. They supported President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination after world war one and linked an articulated ideology to Kurdish activism, as General Fevzi Cakmak complained in his 1930 report. Cakmak therefore demanded the removal of functionaries of “Kurdish race” in Erzincan. The Kocgiri uprising in 1921 had been the first rebellion marked by overt Kurdish nationalism; it, too, had taken place in an Alevi region at the western boundary of Dersim.

Though the declaration of a secular republic and the abolition of the caliphate in early 1924 won over many Anatolian Alevis, most Alevis in eastern Anatolia remained distrustful. This divide coincided by and large with that of Turkish- and/or Kurdish-speaking “eastern Alevis” outside the organisation of the Bektashis on the one hand, and “western Alevis” reached by the reformed Bektashi order of the 16th century and thus domesticated by the Ottoman state on the other. Dersim had important places of religious pilgrimage, some of which were shared with local Armenians. Its seyyids claimed descent from Ali and entertained a network of dependent communities in and outside Dersim. The Young Turks and the leaders of the Turkish national movement after 1918 had co-opted the Bektashis, of which a leader had in vain tried to win over the chiefs of Dersim to fight alongside the Ottoman army against the invading Russians in 1916. Two limited rebellions then broke out and armed groups harassed the Ottoman army. Dersim was the only place more or less safe for Armenian refugees during and after the genocide of 1915, which mainly took place in the eastern provinces.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

After the establishment of the new state in Ankara and the repression of the Kurdish uprisings of the 1920s, the attention of the government turned more and more to Dersim, described as a place of reactionary evil forces, of interior and exterior intrigues, and hostage to tribal chiefs and religious leaders. Dersim could, in fact, be described as a pre-modern, tribally split society; it became increasingly isolated after 1920. At the same time, according to Hamdi Bey who visited Dersim in 1926, it was growing more politicised  to the point of adopting openly anti-Kemalist Kurdish positions. Sustained contacts with Hoybun, the Kurdish and Armenian organisation founded in Syria in 1927, were not, however, possible.

Economic problems and banditry had a long history in Dersim; they became more acute due to the region’s isolation and the bad economic conditions after world war one. Yet, in the late Ottoman era, new currents had begun to permeate Dersim and the areas adjacent to it. These included labour migration, emulation of quickly modernising Armenian neighbours, the desire for education and attendance at new – Armenian, missionary, or state – schools, as well as the spread of medical services. Compared with the situation in the early republic, late Ottoman eastern Anatolia had been pluralist and culturally and economically much more dynamic.

The 1934 Law of Settlement legitimised in general terms the depopulation of regions in Turkey for cultural, political or military reasons, with the intent to create, as Minister of the Interior Kaya stated, “a country with one language, one mentality, and unity of feelings”. The law was conceived in order to complete the Turkification of Anatolia in the context of the new focus on Dersim in interior politics.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

In October 1935, Italy began a brutal invasion of Ethiopia during which it used chemical weapons and killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. For the prominent theorist of Kemalism at the time, deputy and former minister Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, Mussolini’s fascism was nothing other than a version of Kemalism, even though Turkey’s and Italy’s foreign policies contrasted. In 1930 Bozkurt had spoken of a war between two races, the Kurds and the Turks, and had gone so far as to say, “All, friends, enemies and the mountains, shall know that the Turk is the master of this country. All those who are not pure Turks have only one right in the Turkish homeland: the right to be servants, the right to be slaves”.

These elements formed the context when, in December 1935, Minister of the Interior Kaya presented a draft law, commonly known as the Tunceli Law, that once more labelled the region a zone of illness that needed surgery. In terms of national security there was no urgency; non-military officials of the state were not molested on entering Dersim, e.g., for the population census of every village in 1935. The law passed without opposition in parliament or the press, both being controlled by the Kemalist People’s Republican Party. Dersim, formerly part of the province of Elazig, was established as a separate province, renamed Tunceli and ruled in a state of emergency by the military governor, Abdullah Alpdogan, the head of the Fourth General Inspectorate…

Hamdi Bey’s 1926 report had already called for strong measures and labelled the attempt at a peaceful penetration of Dersim by schools, infrastructure and industry an illusion. Against this background, actors on both sides were separated by a rift and unable to find a common language, albeit in an unbalanced dialogue. Seyyid Riza, perhaps the most important tribal chief, in addition to being a religious figure, insisted on autonomy and the revocation of the 1935 Tunceli Law. He seemed to have believed initially that Dersim could not be subdued militarily. He had worked for years, partly successfully, to unite the tribes.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

After several incidents in March 1937 which included attacks by tribal groups against the new infrastructure in Pah and a police station in Sin, the military campaign was launched. With 8,623 men, artillery and an air force at its disposal, Ankara possessed superiority in numbers and materiel. On 4th May 1937, the Council of Ministers, including Ataturk and Fevzi Cakmak, the Chief of General Staff, decided secretly on a forceful attack against western central Dersim, an attack to kill all who used or had used arms and to remove the population settled between Nazimiye and Sin. The same day, planes dropped pamphlets saying that, in the case of surrender, “no harm at all would be done to you, dear compatriots. If not, entirely against our will, the [military] forces will act and destroy you. One must obey the state”.

In the following months, the army successfully advanced against fierce resistance and changing tribal coalitions led by Riza, allied tribal chiefs and Aliser, a talented poet and activist. Unity among the rebels was far from achieved; only a few tribes formed the hard core of the resistance. On 9th July, Aliser and his wife were killed by their own people and their heads sent to Alpdogan. Also in July, Riza sent a letter to the Prime Minister in which he vividly described what he saw as anti-Kurdish policies of assimilation, removal and a war of destruction. Via his friend Nuri Dersimi, who had gone into exile in Syria in September 1937, he also sent a despairing letter to the League of Nations and the foreign ministries of the United Kingdom, France and the United States, none of which answered. On 10th September he surrendered to the army in Erzincan. Messages of congratulation were sent to Alpdogan by Ataturk, Minister of the Interior Sukru Kaya and Prime Minister Inonu, who had visited Elazig in June. Shortly before Ataturk visited Elazig, Riza was executed in the city together with his son, Resik Huseyin, tribal leader Seyit Haso and a few sons of tribal chiefs. The executions were hastily organised by Ihsan Sabri Çaglayangil, later the Foreign Minister.

Despite the setbacks of 1937, Dersimi groups resumed attacks against the security forces in early 1938, saying that they would all perish if they did not resist. The military campaign took on a new and comprehensive character as the government embarked on a general cleansing in order “to eradicate once and for all this (Dersim) problem”, in the words of Prime Minister Celal Bayar in parliament on 29th June 1938. Also in June 1938, military units began to penetrate those parts of Dersim that did not surrender between Pulur (Ovacik), Danzik and Pah. On 10th August, a large campaign of “cleansing and scouring” started. It ended in early September and cost the lives of many thousands of men, women and children, even of tribes that co-operated with the government.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

According to official statements, the military campaign of 1937 targeted bandits and reactionary tribal and religious leaders who misled innocent people. On a secret level, however, right from the beginning – in particular, with the decision of the Council of Ministers of 4th May 1937 – groups of the people of Dersim as a whole were targeted, at least for relocation as allowed for by the 1934 Law of Settlement. Those targeted feared, as in Kocgiri in 1921, that they would perish like the Armenians if they did not resist. The campaign in spring 1937 concerned the regions in which most clashes occurred, between Pah and Hozat. Villages were to be disarmed and people removed, but the main violence targeted armed groups.

Halli, who amply cites military documents, scarcely uses the word “imha” (annihilation, destruction or obliteration) for this period. This changed with the summer 1938 campaign, which employed massive violence against the whole population, even beyond the parts of Dersim that did not surrender and that had been declared prohibited zones under the Law of Settlement. The Council of Ministers decided on 6th August 1938 that 5,000 to 7,000 Dersimis had to be removed from the prohibited zones to the west. “Thousands of persons, whose names the Fourth General Inspectorate (under Alpdogan) had listed, were arrested and sent in convoys to the regions where they were ordered to go”, wrote Halli in 1972.

Also targeted for relocation were numerous families living outside these zones or in areas neighbouring Dersim, if they were considered members of Dersimi tribes. Notables living outside Dersim were killed in summer 1938, as were some young Dersimis doing service in the army. For the killing of surviving “bandits”, an order by the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defence and the Military Inspectorate proposed to use the Special Organisation, known for its role in the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 and 1916 and the murder of targeted individuals.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

According to Halli, “thousands of bandits” were killed in the first week of “cleansing and scouring” from 10th to 17th August 1938, but he mentions no comprehensive number for all those killed during the whole campaign. From his detailed narrative, however, which gives precise numbers or mentions a “big number” of killed persons for dozens of incidents, deaths likely totalled considerably higher than 10,000. An unpublished report by Alpdogan’s Inspectorate, recently quoted in Turkish newspapers, mentions 13,160 civilian dead and 11,818 deportees. The high number of deaths and ample written evidence prove that the killings were not limited to the insurgent tribes alone. A comparison of the censuses for 1935 and 1940 shows that the district of Hozat, with a loss of more than 10,000 people, was the most seriously affected part of Dersim. A proposed number of 40,000 victims seems, however, implausibly high.

According to Çaglayangil, the army used poison gas to kill people who hid in caves. Many others were burned alive, whether in houses or by spraying individuals with fuel. Even if people surrendered they were killed. In order “not to fall into the hands of the Turks”, girls and women jumped into abysses, as many Armenians had in 1915. The suspicion of having lodged “bandits” or, according to witness accounts by soldiers, military units’ desire for vengeance, sufficed as justification to kill whole villages. Soldiers confirm that they were ordered to kill women and children. One has to bear in mind that the Dersimis were seen – and declared so by officers – as Alevi heretics, sometimes as crypto-Armenians. When jandarma posts were established in the 1930s, jandarma even investigated whether local young men were circumcised. Uncircumcised men were thought to be Armenians.

“It is understood from various sources that, in clearing the area occupied by the Kurds, the military authorities have used methods similar to those used against the Armenians during the Great War: thousands of Kurds including women and children were slain; others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates; while thousands of others in less hostile areas, who had first been deprived of their cattle and other belongings, were deported to vilayets in Central Anatolia”, reported the British Vice-Consul in Trabzon on 27th September 1938. His report is the exception to the rule that there exist no reports by foreign observers in or near the theatre of events because Dersim and the whole of eastern Turkey was generally closed to foreigners.

Documents and testimonies relating to the massacres do exist… They all agree that systematic massacres took place. Soldiers and survivors add that targets included civilians, women and children.

Accustomed to looking up to the state and army as omnipotent entities, most soldiers feared even decades afterwards to speak about their experiences. However, in 1991 Halil Colat, an ex-soldier, said, “When we came to the headquarters, we learned that discussions had taken place between the officers. A few said that these people (women and children in Hozat who had not given information on the whereabouts of the men) had to be annihilated, but others said that this was a sin… They (finally) ordered us: ‘Annihilate all you can apprehend…’ And that day we soldiers, in a horrific savageness and craziness, gathered the women, girls and children in a mosque – it was in fact not like a mosque, but rather like a church – closed it, sprayed kerosene and easily burnt them alive”.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

Dersimis themselves have collected an important number of private documents, conducted interviews and built up internet sites. Recent work has added important material. A scholarly “1937 to 1938 Dersim Oral History Project” was launched in 2010. However, a main archive or centre of documentation for the Dersim massacre does not yet exist. The only nearly contemporary Kurdish history of the event is a chapter in Nuri Dersimi’s book of 1952, which includes testimonies. The author himself had left Dersim before the campaign.

Documentary novels and memoirs of the period have been written since the 1980s, e.g., by Sukru Lacin, a founder of the Turkish Workers’ Party in 1963 and not a sympathiser with Rıza or Kurdish nationalism… Lacin confirms that the campaign of 1938, and the forced removal of populations, covered parts of Dersim such as Mazgirt, Pertek and Nazimiye that did not refuse to pay taxes or enlist people in the army. He confirms that villages in Erzincan province in the districts of Refahiye, Cayirli, Uzumlu, Kemah and Tercan, where relatives of Lacin lived, were also targeted because their inhabitants were Alevi Kurds and were said to have relations with Dersim.

In the years after 1938, the one-party state and its press continued to maintain the image and memory of a necessary and fully successful campaign of pacification followed by sustained efforts at reconstruction. This is also the content of the book entitled “Tunceli is made accessible to civilisation” published in 1939 by Nasit Ulug, then the director of “Ulus”, a daily newspaper. Ulug described the punishment of “bandits”, but made no reference to mass killings. He provided a panegyric to the Turkish army, to which the Turkish nation had once again to be infinitely thankful… The Western and the Soviet press largely followed the Kemalist narrative of a civilising mission against reactionary conservatives. Only the press in the USA seemed to voice criticism of both the violent campaign and its undemocratic political framework. Like the European press, however, it lacked independent sources of information.

Heroic reports that recounted Kurdish exploits, resistance and the foundation of an independent Kurdish government appeared in the Armenian press in 1937. A simultaneously tragic and heroic memory of Dersim in 1937 to 1938 is to be found in the 1952 book and the memoirs of the Kurdish nationalist Nuri Dersimi, who was in contact with Armenians since the beginning of his exile. Dersimi’s texts, which underlined the barbaric aspects of the campaign, were seminal for the memory of the Kurdish nationalists, but he was also criticised by Dersimis as an instigator who left the country when it became dangerous.

The one-party regime met its end in the years after 1945. In 1947 the government repealed the Tunceli Law and relocated people were allowed to return to their villages. The state of emergency was lifted in 1948. Henceforth, memories dissenting from those promoted by the former one-party regime as well as on-going realities in Tunceli – poverty, the absence of schools and health services, etc. – could be acknowledged, though not freely. The army, the main actor on the ground, as well as the state and its founder, Ataturk, who had stood behind the Tunceli campaign, could never be openly criticised. The memory of the Dersim campaign as at least partly ruthless and misguided can also be found in letters of pious soldiers to the spiritual father of the Nurculuk, Said-i Nursi.

After 1945, Turkey stood under the shadow of the Cold War. Right and left claimed Ataturk’s heritage and did not question dark sides of the Kemalist “civilising mission”… The memory of the Dersim campaign as mass violence by the state and its army was nevertheless articulate in leftist circles, in particular among leftists from Tunceli, but also more generally among those with Alevi and Kurdish backgrounds.

The military putsch of 1980 crushed the Turkish left. After this experience, leftist circles critical of the state began to be more open to the Kurdish perspective that the Turkish state had always reacted with mass violence and denial against even moderate Kurdish claims. More detailed memories, detached from the Kemalist state and ideologies of progress and civilisation, have been recounted since the late 20th century. A “renaissance” of long-suppressed ethnic and religious identities and histories took place at the dawn of the post-Cold War era. Turkey’s EU candidature in 1999 and the AKP government since 2002 contributed to a more liberal context in which the military, the main actor of the campaign of 1937 to 1938, partly lost for the first time its hitherto sacrosanct, unchecked position at the top of the state.

During the so-called Kurdish or democratic opening of autumn 2009, on 17th November Prime Minister Erdogan called the events of 1937 to 1938 a massacre. For the first time, the memory of the Tunceli campaign as one of pacification and a mission of civilisation was publicly challenged at the governmental level, whereas the Republican People’s Party, that ruled Turkey when only one political party existed, had trouble in defending what for seventy years had been the official version of history. The latter version is nowadays widely seen as unacceptable, as is evident in media discussions from autumn 2009 onwards. It appears today as the position only of Turkish ultra-nationalists.

In contrast with the aftermath of the Kocgiri revolt in 1921, there were neither critical discussions in the Turkish parliament nor legal claims that officers responsible for brutality and mass killing of civilians should be put on trial. This is even less the case for Dersim because the Law of Settlement and the Tunceli Law had prepared the legal framework for the campaign and the removal of the Dersimis in advance… Legalism disguised the breach of law against citizens, as in other authoritarian or fascist regimes of the 1930s…

Historical sociologist Ismail Besikci was the first scholar to research the Dersim campaign; to emphasise the legalist but illegitimate, anti-constitutional framework in which it took place; and to call it, in a book of 1990, a genocide. Anthropologist Martin van Bruinessen proposed, in an article of 1994, the label “ethnocide”, arguing that the destruction of Dersim’s autonomous ethnic culture, not of its population, had been the campaign’s main intention. Though declared as a Turkifying mission of civilisation, the intent “to destroy, in whole or in part” – according to article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – the Dersimis, as a distinct ethno-religious group, then labelled as Alevi Kurd and partly as crypto-Armenian, and of “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” is manifest. This is well documented. In a comparative legal perspective, Besikci’s position may be supported by later jurisdiction based on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

A restrictive historiographical use may, however, reserve the term genocide for mass killings of the 20th century in which a higher proportion of a larger ethno-religious group was killed and the future of the whole group in its habitat was destroyed, as in the case of the Ottoman Armenians or the European Jews. In both latter cases, those responsible considered the targeted groups to be inassimilable to the nation. The Dersim massacre concerned parts of the Dersim population, whereas other parts were removed and the main part could remain in place. As a result, the area’s informal autonomy and, in part, its ethno-religious habitat were suppressed. Extermination in 1938 had targeted first those whose tribes and families were involved in the resistance. But it also included others, among them relatives who were not in the resistance, and even people living outside Dersim. Principally, however, the Kemalists who were responsible for the campaign considered that the Dersimis could be assimilated into the nation state.

In studies on Turkey across all disciplines, the Dersim campaign remained under-researched until the late 20th century. One scarcely finds mention of it in the major university textbooks on Turkish history. To this day there still do not exist monographs or detailed research articles in Western languages, except the translation of Besikci’s book and a few articles or book chapters. The dark sides of Turkey’s foundation and early history, from the Young Turks’ one-party regime to the Dersim campaign and later pogroms against non-Muslims, have long been under-researched both inside and outside Turkey for political reasons and because of simplistic notions of progress versus religious reaction in Western scholarship on Turkey.

In recent years, a fresh look at these topics and the Dersim campaign has finally emerged. The fresh look includes the particularly silenced Armenian aspects of Dersim – a dimension that Western scholarship long failed to grasp. The lack of access to the military archives, however, said to be in the process of classification, seriously hampers comprehensive research on the Dersim campaign. The military archives could answer questions such as the hierarchical level at which the order was given to massacre people, women and children included; to what extent poison gas was used against people in caves; and whether there were, as it seems, absolutely no orders against or punishments for widespread brutalities such as burning alive, slashing open pregnant women and stabbing babies.

In contrast to state-centred rightist or leftist traditions – which explained the high number of civilian dead to be collateral damage of a necessary campaign against reactionary rebels – recent scholarship elaborates on the problematic aspects and the victims of the Dersim campaign. It puts it in the context of the Republican People’s Party’s suppression of any opposition. It frames it as an ethnocide, the “deliberate destruction of Kurdish ethnic identity by forced assimilation”. It also sees it as a genocide committed against the backdrop of a colonialist enterprise, bearing in mind that the Turkish political elite did not know “Kurdistan” any better than 19th century European elites had known their overseas colonies. Another interpretation stresses the logical and chronological coincidence with the Turkish History thesis that claimed Anatolia to have been for thousands of years the home of the Turks (utter nonsense, of course) – a racial speculation that revealed an aporia of legitimacy and a dead-end of ultra-Turkist Kemalism. It implied the wish to make disappear all remaining vestiges of non-Turkish presence and heterogeneous Ottoman co-existence. These vestiges reminded state-centred elites of a period for which they felt distress and shame; a period marked by the tedious Oriental Question, in particular the Armenian Question, and by the lack of governmental sovereignty. It involved a deep-seated fear of de-legitimisation.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

Once back home and in possession of the information above, a lot of what I saw and heard in Dersim made more sense. I understood far better why so many Kurds, whether Alevis or not, call Ataturk a dictator and/or a fascist; why Alevis in particular have such strong distrust for Sunni Muslims, Turkish nationalists and uniformed representatives of the state; and why almost all Dersimis lack confidence in the government in Ankara, which only in the last decade or so has sought to provide the people of Dersim with the services, facilities and opportunities accessible to Turkish citizens almost everywhere else in the vast republic. But I also understood far better why the expressions of friendship between Armenians and non-Armenians have a sincerity about them in Dersim that is greater and more convincing than in any other region of Turkey I have visited in recent years. Note that Armenians and Alevis shared some sites of religious pilgrimage; that “Dersim was the only place more or less safe for Armenian refugees during and after the genocide of 1915”; that “crypto-Armenians” lived in Dersim in the 1930s (and still do, but in reduced numbers); that Armenians and Kurds worked together to further matters of mutual concern and/or interest; that Dersimis felt they had to resist state oppression in the 1930s otherwise they would perish in the same way as the Armenians had perished in 1915 and thereafter; and that, in order “not to fall into the hands of the Turks”, Kurdish girls and women “jumped into abysses, as many Armenians had in 1915”.

But the above also begs the following question: Did the people of Dersim in 1937 and 1938 suffer an act of genocide just as the Armenians had in 1915 and thereafter? Despite far fewer Dersimis being massacred in 1937 and 1938 than Armenians in 1915 and thereafter, the evidence above is, I would suggest, extremely persuasive. If events in Srebrinica in 1995 can be declared (correctly) an act of genocide, those in Dersim and elsewhere in 1937 and 1938 must also be genocide. What is interesting is that a growing number of Turkish nationals who are not Kurdish or Alevi incline this way already, and many more will do the same as official documents are accessed by scholars.

By the way, note above the intriguing reference above to “a mosque – it was in fact not like a mosque but rather like a church” in the quote attributed to a soldier involved in a particularly brutal, upsetting and wholly unjustifiable massacre. I think we can safely assume that the soldier refers to a cemevi. If he is referring to a cemevi, his ignorance about Alevis is telling. Perhaps he was a conventionally pious Sunni Muslim who had never shown the least interest in Alevis because they were regarded as heretical in the extreme, or perhaps he was so imbued with the radical atheism of the Turkish Republic of the 1930s that he distrusted anyone with religious convictions. Alternatively, he may have bought completely into the Turkish nationalism of the time which, while admitting that Kurds existed, regarded Kurds as an inferior race of people who needed “civilising” by assimilation or, if averse to assimilation, subjected to massacre. However the soldier regarded the Dersimis at the time of the massacres, he lacked empathic understanding for people with whom who differed. Hmmm. Does a similar lack of empathic understanding prevail among some or all of the brutal Islamist groups, the vast majority of which are Sunni Muslim, currently operating around the globe with a blood-lust that cannot fail to shock the vast majority or people whether they have a religious commitment or not? I think it does.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

Although it was a Sunday, some of the shops in the pazar were open, so I bought a few things to eat a light meal on my balcony (I did not feel like a full meal, despite not eating much during the day, but resolved that I would have a treat in a lokanta the following evening to bring to an end my brief stay in Tunceli, a town that by now I was slightly in love with, not least for the wonderfully forthright and friendly women who clearly think it is wonderful that a foreign male is daft enough to visit their infrequently visited home town). I bought a small pot of honey from Ovacik still in its comb, a large pot of yoghurt (which I could keep chilled in the fridge in my room if it remained unfinished) and a bottle of Efes Malt, the latter for the very reasonable price of 4.5TL. I sat on the balcony and, as I ate and wrote, tried to remember all the things I had done in the day. Not long before nightfall the wind picked up, dark clouds hung over the mountains to the south-west and thunder and lightning added a sense of drama before rain fell with heavy droplets. Businesses that had opened for the day shut and the streets began to empty. By 9.00pm I could hear only the rain, a few human voices and the occasional car engine firing up.

Before going to sleep I thought briefly about two women (neither wore a headscarf) in their late twenties or early thirties who sat in a posh pastane near the otogar and rather flirtatiously waved and smiled when I walked past them that evening, of the woman (with a headscarf) who played backgammon with a male friend in one of the tea houses in the pazar, and of the encounter I had had earlier in the day with the two female high school students on the minibus that dropped me at Asagitorunoba. I also thought of the women in Asagitorunoba who smoked cigarettes and chatted with me with exactly the same relaxed informality as their male companions.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

What is it that so many Sunni Muslims find threatening about such interactions between males and females? Moreover, segregation of the sexes does not mean that girls and women are less prone to violent assault, sexual included, than in nation states where segregation of the sexes is absent. In fact, evidence from many nation states around the globe where de jure or de facto segregation of the sexes exists suggests that women suffer more violence at the hands of males, not less. There are also indications that the sexual abuse of boys and young males is much higher in nation states where segregation of the sexes prevails. A dreadful case of large-scale child sexual abuse in Pervari some years ago led to revelations that such abuse is widespread in Turkey. Indeed, statistics suggest that child sexual abuse in Turkey is far greater than child sexual abuse in the UK.

To Tunceli.

The hotel bed was extremely comfortable, so, although I was awake by 5.30am, I felt very rested. I packed everything I could, showered, dressed and was downstairs by 6.15 because I had been led to believe that breakfast was served from 6.00am, even though it was a Sunday. The buffet had, indeed, been spread out so I began to eat. I had already paid my bill on arrival the day before and thought that, with luck, I might catch the 7.30am departure for Tunceli. I had two cheeses, black and green olives, tomatoes, sliced meat, bread, jam (cherry and strawberry), chocolate and hazelnut spread, honey, a boiled egg, helva and lots of tea.

The breakfast room in the Gulistan Hotel, Erzincan.

The breakfast room in the Gulistan Hotel, Erzincan.

I rushed upstairs and was on the street just after 7.00am. Roadworks had forced all traffic to take a detour, but with the help of an elderly man I found the correct stop for buses to the otogar. I needed the number one and the timetable suggested that, even on a Sunday, services began just before 7.00am and ran every ten to fifteen minutes. A number one arrived on time, set off and got me to the otogar by 7.25. I ran to the office of the company operating buses to Tunceli to find I was not the last passenger buying a ticket. The bus was going as far as Diyarbakir.

The day had started in perfect fashion and, to add to my pleasure, the sun shone brightly from a sky with very few clouds. The mountains enclosing Erzincan to the south and the north looked all the better for the patches of snow on their slopes.

For the first 50 kilometres of the journey we went east along the valley of the Euphrates as if destined for Erzurum. The valley floor for most of the way is flat and quite wide with some trees, fields and pasture, the latter supporting herds of cattle. The mountains, albeit mostly rounded rather than with rock faces and peaks, remained north and south of the road, those to the south having extensive patches of snow on their north-facing slopes. Any sense of sadness or solemnity I may have had at times the day before (because of the poverty, the rundown streets not far from the pazar, the many building sites and road improvement projects designed to enhance an economically challenged city, the ill-equipped zoo where the welfare of the animals came second to entertaining human visitors, the large number of dogs roaming freely, the oppressive air of Sunni piety that encouraged many women to dress completely in black and cover their whole body except for their eyes and the top of their nose, and the almost complete lack of opportunity to interact with women) had completely gone. Turkey was working its magic yet again.

For part of the way east the railway was in view from the road, but no trains passed us. As we approached Tanyeri the valley began to narrow and the river, the road and the railway became close companions. However, the valley floor was still flat enough for the Euphrates to be quite wide and at one point it had burst its banks flooding nearby pasture. We passed beside a pretty railway station with a water crane in very good condition, a water crane similar to one I had seen the day before at Erzincan station (steam locomotives must occasionally travel the line, perhaps pulling trains for railway enthusiasts). A little later we turned right off the main road and headed south to Tunceli via Pulumur. We crossed the Euphrates and went under an admirably built stone bridge that carries the railway further on its journey. A sign beside the road informed people that they were entering Tunceli province and, very close to the sign, we drove beside an old jandarma post. I was reminded that, when last travelling along the road, Tunceli province in general and Tunceli town in particular felt like occupied territory. The fact no jandarma occupied the post near the road sign suggested that things were now more relaxed. Thankfully, the next few days confirmed that they were.

The bus boy walked along the aisle providing passengers with tea, coffee, fruit juice, water and a squirt of kolonya.

As soon as we entered Tunceli province we began to ascend a gorge-like valley with rugged rock walls which soon had us at the highest point on the road from where very pretty views of rounded hills, pasture, wild flowers and trees with their new leaves led the eye toward villages and snow-smudged mountains, the latter in the distance. Cattle gave way to sheep. At one point it looked as if we were almost as high as the highest mountains to the south, but this was not, obviously, the case. Why? Because one of the mountains was almost completely covered in snow.

We reached the pass where a large, shabby building is used to store motor vehicles and other equipment so that maintenance workers can keep the road open during heavy snowfalls. The views from the pass of forest, snow-capped mountains and pasture with wild flowers on rounded hills were sublime and small villages nestled in the folds of the undulating terrain. The road was far more beautiful than I recall it from trips in the middle of summer when the high temperatures have melted all the snow and the absence of rain has bleached from the land the strong colours that persist until very early June.

We began to descend and some cattle grazed on the pasture. Not long after we arrived in Pulumur, an overwhelmingly modern town with houses and small apartment blocks dispersed along the valley and over the surrounding slopes in a few distinct mahalles. Pulumur’s commercial heart, decorated that day and for at least another week with lots of bunting for the different political parties, is very small, so much so that, for many people, trips to Tunceli, Erzincan or even Tercan will be necessary to conduct certain types of business or secure supplies, food items included if they are a little out of the ordinary. This said, Pulumur’s situation cannot not be faulted and I suspect that roads to nearby villages in the hills and mountains lead to interesting destinations.

As soon as we left the centre of Pulumur the road enters a meandering valley with a river that tumbles over rocks little and large. Small orchards existed where the land flattens, but for most of the time the road is enclosed by rock walls, small patches of pasture on the slopes and trees that grow wild. We drove beside an old stone bridge with a single high arch, but it is in poor condition, and a large but abandoned army or jandarma camp. Some of the buildings in the camp had been trashed, no doubt by local Alevi males who regard the camp as a symbol of the government in Ankara that has always discriminated against them, but perhaps most obviously during the period when the AKP has dominated Turkish politics. This said, even worse oppression than that of the AKP prevailed in the 1930s. More about this later.

Gradually the valley widened and, in the process, so did the river as it flowed less vigorously. The road could now take a straighter and more level course. Isolated houses existed near the road with a few fields and an orchard nearby, and the trees looked a delight as their new crop of pale green leaves seemed to flutter in the gentle breeze like the wings of small birds. But still in the distance were the snow-smudged mountains and, with luck, I would be among them later in the day. What an entry to Tunceli province, still better known locally by its old name of Dersim, the only province in Turkey with an Alevi majority. I was more excited with each kilometre that lay behind us.

About 40 or so kilometres from the town of Tunceli we drove through a small village in a beautiful situation, but in the centre of the village was a large apartment block within a compound heavily protected with walls, barbed wire and razor wire. This was another army or jandarma camp. Although unoccupied, it could very quickly be brought back into use should unrest among the local people recur. It felt almost like the good old, bad old days.

By now the road to the town of Tunceli (which, from now on, I shall call Tunceli. When referring to the province of Tunceli, I shall use instead the preferred local name of Dersim. There will be times when I use Dersim to describe more than merely the province of Tunceli. In this case I will include areas of provinces that share borders with Tunceli province that have large or majority Alevi populations and are therefore thought by local people to be part of Tunceli province/Dersim even though they are not formally recognised as such by the government in Ankara) was excellent. However, every so often the road entered short tunnels not driven through the rock, but built from concrete to protect it from avalanches or rock falling from the slopes of the surrounding hills and mountains. There were also a few short tunnels driven through the rock and, because one such tunnel had neither a concrete lining nor an archway at each end, it looked like a natural feature. Some trees were in blossom and many beehives had been arranged in lines along the edge of pasture full of wild flowers.

It was 9.15am and the digital clock in the bus suggested the temperature outside was 18 degrees centigrade. Passengers bored with the scenery (?!?!) could operate screens attached to the back of the seat in front them to access free films, TV channels or radio stations. Hmmm. I thought about many of the buses we have in the UK that cost so much more to travel on, but do not have services comparable to those in the bus in which I was travelling through eastern Turkey from Erzincan to Tunceli. Such services included free liquid refreshments and the occasional small snack as well as the entertainment just listed.

Water tumbled down a rock face creating a cascade about 25 metres long, but the stream and the waterfall would dry up completely in a few weeks when all the snow had melted from the surrounding slopes. Because the valley remained quite narrow villages were rarely encountered, but isolated houses with fields and orchards persisted. This said, a lot of houses had been abandoned and/or trashed. It was quite likely that such vandalism is directly attributable to the army or the jandarma who destroyed the houses of people suspected of, or known to be in, sympathy with political or terrorist groups that sought an end to discrimination against minority groups such as the Alevis and the Kurds.

A road led to the east for about 12 kilometres to Nazimiye. The road ascended a side valley along which a river flowed before adding more water to the Pulumur Cayi that we had been following for many kilometres. Near the point at which the two rivers met the Pulumur Cayi spread quite wide and a few small but low-lying islands broke the surface with scrub and patches of grass. The river then narrowed once more so it was about 20 metres wide and, not long after, we passed a spot where local people liked to come for picnics at the weekend or during public holidays. High above the road the army had built low, turret-like gun emplacements from where soldiers could survey the surrounding countryside from positions of relative safety and security. The gun emplacements looked abandoned. Because the bus had not stopped once for the police, the army or the jandarma to check passengers’ ID suggested that the gun emplacements were empty.

About 20 kilometres from Tunceli the valley widened to an extent greater than since we had left Pulumur. The river was about 30 metres wide, rounded hills lay along both valley walls and, although the land looked a little drier and hotter than further north, there were lots of fields, meadows, orchards, beehives, cattle, horses and mules. A man cut long grass with a scythe attached to a long wooden handle. A rock wall above the river was slowly eroding into pinnacles that reminded me of some of the landscapes in Cappadocia.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

We arrived in Tunceli, a relatively small provincial capital in terms of population, the centre of which lies on the slopes where the Munzur and the Pulumur rivers join. True, the suburbs seem to stretch for many kilometres, especially to the south leading to the rapidly expanding campus of the provincial university, but the town centre is compact and clearly defined and the otogar centrally located. At first sight Tunceli looks overwhelmingly modern and nothing you find or see will lead to that first impression being radically altered. However, because of the two rivers just mentioned, the surrounding hills and mountains, the good road links with nearby towns and villages, the unusually attractive apartment blocks painted bright colours, a small but lively pazar and, as I would soon find out, remarkably friendly people with a refreshingly liberal outlook on life, there is much to admire. In fact, by the time I had to leave Tunceli less than forty-eight hours after arriving, the town had emerged as one of my all-time favourite Turkish provincial capitals despite the absence of major monuments. The two most important reasons for this? The people and the surrounding area. Even the substantial town centre presence of the police and the army did not compromise my enjoyment of the place because, although armoured vehicles were parked on or sometimes patrolled the streets, for most of the time the police and the soldiers remained in their heavily fortified compounds.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I walked from the otogar to an open space overlooking the Munzur Cayi below. A small park, some benches and the statue of a turbaned male who must have lived some time ago create a very attractive setting for views up the Munzur Cayi and the mountains to the north. A very large hotel that appears quite expensive overlooks the Munzur Cayi to the south of the park, but I wanted somewhere not so posh. I asked a woman without a headscarf and her male companion about other hotels and they directed me to one in the town’s nearby pazar. I arrived at the hotel to find a man reading a book about Che Guevara who seemed to share ownership of the business with a friend. The man put down his book and said the room with en suite facilities and breakfast cost 50TL a night. This seemed a good price, especially for somewhere so centrally located, so I agreed to stay two nights (I had a lot to see around Tunceli). The room had a balcony providing views over part of the pazar, which enhanced the benefits of staying.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I unpacked a few things, but was out very quickly. I had a walk around the central business district noting immediately that only a very few women wore a headscarf, none covered their faces and none dressed in black from head to toe. Most women dressed in clothes similar to those that women might wear in Europe or North America and they walked around on their own or with friends or relations and shopped or called at cafes or pastanes with the same freedom enjoyed by men. They chatted with me, an unknown male, without embarrassment or fear that they were contravening unnecessarily restrictive codes of social convention, and it was obvious that a majority of local men were supportive of the more relaxed and integrated relations that existed between the sexes. Moreover, by the end of the day I saw more women driving cars than the whole of the week that had just ended. Add to this that bunting and posters around the town revealed that left-wing political sentiments were very much to the fore and support for the AKP almost non-existent and my admiration for Tunceli rose another half dozen notches. Tunceli is a town largely shaped by a very liberal and progressive outlook by Turkish standards, a liberal and progressive outlook that only prevails elsewhere in large urban centres in the west such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bursa (but a liberal and progressive outlook does not prevail in all districts in the cities just listed, of course. Some districts suffer from a very oppressive Sunni Muslim outlook that has a particularly detrimental effect on gender equality and relations between the sexes).

View east from Tunceli.

View east from Tunceli.

Oh yes: alcohol was on sale in many shops and lokantas, and one small shop in the pazar (where about only half the businesses bothered to open because it was Sunday) sold large bottles of Efes Malt for a very reasonable 4.5TL. Tunceli was very much my kinda town!

One tea garden beside the town’s main square had been taken over as the local headquarters for the HDP and groups associated with it, and its display of bunting was so spectacular that I spent quite a lot of time taking photos and chatting with HDP members and supporters. A large statue of Ataturk stands on a stone plinth in the middle of the square. If the great dictator were alive today and saw that a party such as the HDP, representing in particular the interests of the Kurds whose existence he would not even acknowledge, was so popular in the east of the country, he would have gone apoplectic. Moreover, only a few glasses of raki would have calmed him down.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

Ataturk's statue, Tunceli.

Ataturk’s statue, Tunceli.

It was in Tunceli where I first saw posters with a picture of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, “Partizan”, wearing a cloth cap and resembling a working class hero of the Soviet Union, circa the 1930s. In the picture Kaypakkaya looked like a young Robert de Niro around the time he starred in “Taxi Driver”.

Ibrahim Kaypakkaya lived from 1949 to 1973. He was an important figure in the

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

communist movement in Turkey. He was the founder of the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) and its armed wing carried out fatal attacks in Tunceli, Malatya and Gaziantep. At least one such attack led to the murder of a village muhtar whose information to the security forces had resulted in a gunfight during which some of Kaypakkaya’s allies had met their deaths.

On 24th January 1973, Turkish military forces attacked Kaypakkaya and some of his supporters in the mountains near Tunceli. Kaypakkaya was badly wounded and left for dead, but he managed to shelter in a cave before making his way to a village where he asked a teacher to shelter him. The teacher provided him with a room to recuperate in, but he then locked the door and reported Kaypakkaya’s whereabouts to the army. Kaypakkaya was taken to the prison in Diyarbakir, notorious at the time for the brutal treatment of its inmates, interrogated and tortured. On 18th May he died from gunshot wounds and, so it is said, his body was mutilated and cut into many pieces.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

After his death Kaypakkaya became a martyr for the Turkish communist movement because he “chose to die rather than give information”. Leftists in Turkey more generally remember him as a symbol of resistance to tyranny in all its forms. He left behind him some writings that offer a critique of kemalism, the political ideology that Ataturk developed and which shaped Turkish political thinking until at least the end of the 1980s, and that reflect on Kurdish identity in a nation state which, in the 1960s and early 1970s, preferred to pretend that the Kurds did not exist.

As I took photos of the posters, three or four men walked past and gave me the thumbs-up sign to show their solidarity with what Kaypakkaya represents.