To Elazig.

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

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

Solhan.

Solhan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

The bazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

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

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

Borek and lemon, Elazig.

Borek and limon, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Diyarbakir.

There were two nearly new single beds in my room, an electric fire on one of the walls, a rail with a few hangers for clothes and a mirror with a frame painted gold. Two windows overlooked the street outside and another window the courtyard below. The walls were bare brick from which plaster had been removed. A rather cheap rectangle of carpet imperfectly covered the floor. The door led to a small enclosed area with a sofa shared by the next bedroom along. I was in the room closest to the toilet, wash basin and shower, and hot water seemed to exist all the time. A double door led from the courtyard to the street outside and stone steps led from one floor to the next and onto the flat roof itself.

The first thing I did after washing and dressing was to ascend the steps to the roof from where I could see the surrounding buildings, Surp Giragos Church and its restored bell tower included. Most of the surrounding buildings, whether old or new, were in a shabby state, but small patches of garden had somehow survived and a few women engaged in chores on nearby roofs. The roofs were convenient places on which to hang washing lines to dry clothes. I was in Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant on Seftali Sokak and enjoying every moment of my visit.

Two members of staff at the Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

Two members of staff, Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

By about 7.45am there were a few people in and around the courtyard getting things ready for the day ahead (in the mornings, most customers visit the Aslihan to enjoy a notably generous breakfast), but I was advised that breakfast would not be served until just before 9.00am. This did not worry me because my next destination was not far from Diyarbakir and, before moving on, I wanted to walk the short distance though the narrow streets to Surp Giragos Church. This I did, with a few short detours to remind me of this fascinating part of the old city (I passed the nearby Chaldean Church, Seyh Mutahhar Camii, Dortayakli Minare and some old but rundown houses, all of which are located along narrow cobbled streets where businesses were opening for what their owners hoped would be a busy Saturday). When I pointed my camera to take a few photos of the buildings, Sunni women averted their eyes or hid their faces with a headscarf, even if they were aged over fifty, but men spoke a few words by way of extending a welcome.

Diyarbakir's old city.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir's old city.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Dortayakli Minare

Dortayakli Minare.

Chaldean Church.

The Chaldean Church.

The doors leading to the compound around Surp Giragos Church were open and, inside, two Armenians were preparing the café and lokanta to welcome lots of visitors later in the day. Some visitors would be Armenians from western Turkey or abroad, but there would also be many Islamicised Armenians and Muslims of Kurdish origin from in and around Diyarbakir, all of whom wanted to engage with the church and its grounds so attractively restored a few years ago. Things looked very encouraging. The church has become a valued addition to Diyarbakir’s many tourist attractions, but, so far, has been subjected to vandalism no more serious than some fading graffiti on the wall enclosing the compound.

The courtyard of Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

The courtyard, Surp Giragos Armenian Church.

I returned to the pansiyon, was given a freshly fried borek to nibble before breakfast proper, chatted with some of the staff, and quickly became aware that the driving force behind the business was a young Kurdish woman with hair dyed a fetching shade of red with a hint of blonde. I sat at a table in the shade and breakfast was brought on two wooden platters with a basket containing two types of bread. One platter had borek, fried potatoes in their skins, tomatoes, cucumber and different salad leaves, and the other had four types of cheese, three types of olive, more tomatoes and salad leaves, and no fewer than eleven small dishes containing butter, kaymak, pekmek, honey, hazelnut spread, a spread I could not identify (but it tasted very good) and five excellent jams. The food was so good that I needed three large glasses of tea to do it justice. Just as I was thanking staff for providing perhaps the best breakfast I have ever had in Turkey, two men walked into the pansiyon to order the same meal for themselves. My meal had been made all the more pleasurable because, instead of one or two members of staff joining me to ensure everything was okay, they prepared things for customers coming later in the day or devoted their spare time to their mobile phones.

Four members of staff at the Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

Four members of staff, Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

Breakfast at the Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

Breakfast, the pansiyon.

I gathered up my belongings, thanked staff for making my stay so enjoyable and settled the bill, then walked through part of the increasingly lively pazar before entering the courtyard of the Ulu Camii for old time’s sake. The exit was closed that leads from the courtyard to the Ziya Gokalp Museum, gutted by an arson attack in late 2014 when Kurds in the city found Turkish government inaction in relation to the Islamic State’s seizure of Kobani in Syrian Kurdistan inexplicable (Ziya Gokalp is a highly contentious figure among Turkey’s Kurds because, although Kurdish himself, he declared himself committed to Turkish nationalism). This meant I could not see what damage had been done without a detour. I called at an information office near the Ulu Camii for a map of Diyarbakir, then walked to Urfa Kapi from where I caught a minibus to the garaj from where minibuses leave for destinations north and north-west of Diyarbakir. I was spending the night in Cermik, the birthplace of Ziya Gokalp, because Cermik and the nearby town of Cungus have some important monuments I wanted to see for the first time. Within fifteen minutes of arriving at the minibus garaj I was on my way, but the first half hour was spent trawling the suburbs of north-west and north Diyarbakir until almost all the seats were occupied. One place where we picked up passengers was outside the Ninovar Park shopping centre, which was in far better condition than Ninevah itself, so recently the subject of as-yet unquantified destruction by the Islamic State.

Diyarbakir's old city.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Manchester (the United Kingdom) to Diyarbakir (the Turkish Republic).

Demand for seats on planes to Turkey in mid-May must have been quite low because I secured return flights with highly regarded THY from Manchester to Diyarbakir via Istanbul Ataturk Airport for only £214. Moreover, I got to my destination on the evening of 15th May generously fed and watered and only twenty minutes late.

The flight from Manchester carried plenty of British people, some quite elderly and of diverse ethnic origin, destined for a city break of a few nights in Istanbul. I wondered what they would make of the now-vast city on the Bosphorus that spreads like a virus every which way into the surrounding undulating countryside, and in a manner rendering the once distinctive city increasingly like any other, particularly in the suburbs where houses and apartment blocks of similar design, and shopping malls, office blocks, hospitals, schools and industrial estates, could be deposited in a hundred other nation states and not look out of place. I have heard worrying stories about how, in recent years, much effort has been devoted to smartening up even the imperial heart of Istanbul so that the hordes of tourists who now descend on the city will feel more at home. It really was time I returned to the city for a few days to see for myself what remained of the things that first sparked my love affair with Turkey. Would I be reassured or repelled by what I found? A bit of both, in all likelihood.

The view from gate 105, the domestic terminal, Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

About a third of the passengers on the flight from Manchester were Turkish nationals, or Turks and Kurds of British nationality, travelling to destinations in the republic further south or east. After getting through passport control and having my visa confirmed (visas for the Turkish Republic can now be downloaded electronically in advance of arrival), I collected my large bag from one of the many luggage carousels and followed them to the domestic terminal. Once I arrived at gate 105 from where the Diyarbakir flight was due to leave in about an hour’s time I was the only person, other than two or three women married to Turks or Kurds, who was not a Turk, a Kurd or an Arab. Although some of the women around me dressed in a manner that Erdogan, the economically liberal but socially conservative Sunni president, would have approved of (they wore headscarves, loose-fitting lightweight coats that reached to the ground, two or three layers of clothing under their coats, socks or dark tights and flat shoes of simple design but shabby appearance), most women wore what might be called conventional European or American clothes (trousers such as jeans, t-shirts or blouses, and trainers or leather shoes with heels) and definitely no headscarves.

Matters associated with the second flight were so informal that it almost felt as if we were catching a bus rather than a plane. At Diyarbakir itself, and in contrast with a visit I had made a few years ago, I was not taken to one side so the contents of my luggage could be checked by uniformed representatives of the state.

One of the best things about Diyarbakir is that the airport is relatively close to the city centre, so much so that I could walk about 500 metres to a busy intersection, where I had a chat with a woman aged about thirty in trousers and a t-shirt who had flown from Istanbul on the same plane as me. We chatted as if in a European city where it is normal for people of the opposite sex to talk with one another. The Muslim Middle East, which so frequently requires rigid segregation of the sexes, seemed far away. I asked if she was a writer – she had been reading a diary of her own composition on the plane – and she said, “Sort of.”

I waited beside the road for a minibus to take me to the edge of the old city. I stood beside an elderly couple also destined for the same area and we began to talk. They said they knew of a recently opened pansiyon in which I would like to stay. Because it was not yet 10.00pm, if the pansiyon turned out to be no good I could easily identify somewhere else to stay, so I let the couple lead the way.

As the minibus drove into the old city via Mardin Kapisi, we passed a lot of police vehicles, some of which were armoured, parked at important intersections. We also passed large, heavily fortified compounds in which army personnel were installed. Diyarbakir felt and looked like an occupied city where unrest might break out at any moment.

We got off the minibus almost as soon as we crossed the point at which the two main roads in the old city, the ones running north to south and east to west that subdivide the area into four sections of almost equal size, meet and, facing north, took a turn to the right away from the Ulu Camii and the main section of the pazar. We nonetheless remained in a section of the pazar itself, although most businesses had shut for the night (a bakery, a tea house and two shops selling food other than bread remained open and, it being Friday and the start of the weekend, a few people were walking around). About 100 metres down the road we turned right onto an even narrower road, one wide enough only for a donkey or motorbike, and, about 40 metres along, arrived at the entrance to the pansiyon. I met four young people, male and female Kurds, who, collectively, ran the place and, after shaking hands with them and having a short chat, was ushered into the courtyard around which the pansiyon is arranged.

Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

Aslihan Antik Pansiyon, Café ve Restorant.

The flat-roofed pansiyon, an old stone house that spreads over two floors, was described to me as a one-time Armenian home. If it had once been Armenian I could detect nothing that obviously rendered it such, but it was a delightful place not far from Surp Giragos Church, the only Armenian Apostolic church that still functions in Diyarbakir. I was told that a room for the night cost 60TL, but it came with a breakfast that I was told I would enjoy very much. I had to share washing and toilet facilities with others, but the room I was allocated was next door to what Americans would call the bathroom. Moreover, the large room was simple but spacious and windows overlooked the courtyard and the street outside.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church from the roof of the pansiyon.

Surp Giragos Armenian Church from the roof of the pansiyon.

I had glasses of tea with the man in charge of the pansiyon for the night and the couple who had led me to it, then the couple left for home, which was nearby because they said they could see from their house the bell tower of Surp Giragos Church. After the couple had gone I was offered a glass of red wine made by Syriac Christians in the vineyards around Mardin or Midyat. It had been my intention before leaving the UK not to have any alcohol when away, but when offered such wine by someone so grateful that I was staying the night, I succumbed to temptation immediately. The glass was a generous one and the wine very good. I was having a delightful start to the trip.

The courtyard of the pansiyon.

The courtyard, the pansiyon.

I had a brief chat with a Turkish couple from the west of the country who had just finished a meal with wine in the large dining room overlooking the courtyard from the side furthest from the door leading to the street, then I prepared for bed. I had a very good night’s sleep. From midnight, the only sounds I heard until about 5.30am were the occasional raised voice, the bark of a dog and the day’s first adhan, or call to prayer.

The courtyard of the pansiyon.

The courtyard, the pansiyon.