Farewell, Diyarbakir.

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

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

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

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

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

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

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

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

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

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

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

Other Armenian churches, Diyarbakir.

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

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

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

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

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

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

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

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

The nursery, the Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The nursery, the Armenian Catholic church.

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

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

The Armenian Catholic church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Catholic church.

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

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

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

The Armenian Protestant church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Protestant church.

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

The Armenian Protestant church, Diyarbakir.

The Armenian Protestant church.

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

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

Elazig.

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

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

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

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

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

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

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

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

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

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

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

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Yukariyongali and Surp Karapet Monastery/Cengelli Kilisesi.

But why was I in Solhan at all? The explanation is simple. A few kilometres across the border in the neighbouring province of Mus are the scant and badly neglected ruins of Surp Karapet Armenian Monastery, which is known locally as Cengelli Kilisesi (Sinclair and many others call the monastery “Surb Karapet”, but, to be consistent with spellings I use elsewhere in the blog, I will call it “Surp Karapet”). Type “Surp Karapet Monastery near Mus, Turkey” into your search engine and you will find many images of how the complex once looked. The images will confirm how large, magnificent and unusual the complex was until 1915 when it was stripped of its valuables, burned, abandoned and plundered for stone to build or repair houses in the village that has grown on or close to the monastery site. Shame on the people who murdered the Armenians who once worked in, worshipped at or visited the monastery, and shame on the people who sought to remove, in the years that followed such senseless murders, all traces of Surp Karapet for future generations to admire. The unjustified hatred of one people for another has robbed humankind of an Armenian ecclesiastical complex of immense importance, beauty and majesty.

After settling into my room for twenty minutes, I went to the main road and tried to flag a lift as I walked east toward the border with Mus province. I had got about half a kilometre from the hotel when the driver of a minibus stopped to give me a lift of about 2 kilometres to where the vehicle turned north off the main road to take some passengers to their destination, presumably a village. I walked a short distance, then a van stopped and the driver and his companion offered me a lift to the village with the ruined monastery. The driver and his companion were going to a village a short way from the monastery to install a new, flat-screen TV.

The monastery was further along the road than I had been led to believe. From Solhan it is about 14 kilometres before you reach a turning to the left, a turning with a sign indicating that Cengelli Kilisesi is another 6 kilometres away. I was pleasantly surprised that an Armenian monument of now-modest appeal is identified with a road sign like the one for Ergen Kilisesi near Hozat. This was proving a trip with many surprises, some of which were very welcome. The explanation for the sign? Growing numbers of Armenians are visiting the monastery and people in Mus province want to encourage such tourism to boost the area’s prosperity. Mus is an economically deprived province in a region of Turkey full of economically deprived provinces.

The scenery from Solhan as far as the road junction for Cengelli Kilisesi is very similar to that from Bingol to Solhan, but something much more interesting enlivens the few kilometres to the monastery itself. The road leads across almost flat pasture grazed by many sheep and goats, then enters a village of about twenty or so houses, half of which are old. The village looked so interesting that I resolved to walk around it after visiting the monastery. The road then enters a valley and begins to ascend. Fields, pasture, fruit trees, wild flowers, woodland, rolling hills and distant mountains provide visual diversion of an enchanting character and a roadside cesme dispenses chilled water of excellent flavour. The road is soon high in the hills and ahead lies Yukariyongali, the village in which the ruins of Surp Karapet are found. The compact village lies on a gently inclined shelf that drops away quite steeply to the south-east. It is possible to see the next village along the road, the village where the TV had to be delivered and installed.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

We pulled up in the middle of the village. There were already quite a lot of men and boys milling around, partly because an open-topped lorry had driven into the village to sell fruit and vegetables, but my arrival brought out an even larger crowd of people to see who the visitor was. Some very young girls arrived with their brothers, but women and girls, the latter in their mid- to late-teens, stayed close to the safety of their homes. By the appearance of the people alone it was obvious that the village was home to very poor families. As I looked around for about the hour that followed, nothing I saw suggested that a local family was well-to-do. Many of the children walked around without shoes or in shoes that were scuffed hand-me-downs once belonging to older relatives whose feet were now too big for them.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

A man who looked a little more prosperous than all his neighbours came over and introduced himself as the muhtar, or village headman. I explained how grateful and privileged I felt to be in his village and he kindly led me on a tour of Yukariyongali, a settlement which, despite its economic problems, has many friendly people, male and female; lots of remarkable stone houses, most of which spread over only one storey and have flat roofs; the ruins of the monastery; and many a wall in which stone from the monastery has been recycled. Yukariyongali is a destination I would definitely like to visit again to examine in far more detail.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

Of Surp Karapet, Sinclair notes that:

The monastery… (the Holy Redeemer, St. John the Baptist) was in the early days of the church Armenia’s second most important monastery and retained a prominent position until the present (20th) century. The ruins of its churches stand on a bluff 2,000 feet (about 650 metres) above the plain. The long hillside in which it lies looks towards the plain over an intervening ridge of hills. Below and to the west is the long valley by which the monastery is reached, and to the south is the curving floor of the plain’s western end. Beside the ruins a small village has grown up, its houses decorated haphazardly with carved blocks taken from the churches.

Doorway leading into part of Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Doorway leading into part of Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

The monastery contained a church supposed to be the first foundation of St. Gregory the Illuminator. It was the seat of synods in the 4th and 5th centuries and the burial place of the Mamikonean princes of Taron. It was endowed with great estates and further enriched by the donations of pilgrims visiting the remains of St. John the Baptist. St. Gregory destroyed the great pagan temple of the three gods Vahagn, Anahit and Astghik at the nearby shrine of Ashtishat, brought the remains of St. John from Caesarea (Kayseri) and buried them here in the church that he built. The monastery was active until its destruction in the first world war.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

The outline of the main church and of some of the smaller churches at its e. end can be made out from among the fallen masonry. The smaller churches were older and the larger main church was built westwards from them. Its roof was supported in a square grid of sixteen pillars. The basic fabric of the present structures seems to be late 18th century, but preserves earlier ground plans. The now headless belfry at the w. end of the main church and the church’s nw. corner are clear; a modern house stands at the former sw. corner. Further e. on the n. side is a small building (door on s. side) and at the ne. corner three apses: these are respectively the chapel in the nw. corner and the apse and side chambers of the church of St. Stephen, built, probably in the 7th century, as a cross of apses in a square. Immediately s. is the e. end of the church of Surp Karapet, considered to be Gregory’s foundation. After a further narrow room built against the e. wall the originally long chapel of St. George, no doubt medieval, is reached: its e. end is discernible, and the s. wall, with internal blind arcade, stands above a man’s height. A refectory below the general ground level and apparently just s. of St. George can be reached by some steps. Still complete, but tunnel-like and gloomy, it has a ribbed vault. There is a further underground room, now, it seems, half demolished for building material, by the s. end of the e. wall of the main church… The monastery’s outer wall enclosed both the underground room on the e. end and the underground church on the s.

The long, well preserved building with a pilastered façade built against the slope to the w. of the main church looks to be a large stable and possibly dormitory for pilgrims: 1835 or 1836.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Sinclair’s description of Surp Karapet is in itself highly revealing. For example, how sad that Armenian Christians engaged in the destruction of the “pagan temple of the three gods Vahagn, Anahit and Astghik at the nearby shrine of Ashtishat”, which confirms that the problem of religious people using their power in irresponsible or destructive ways is not something new. Nonetheless, I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in this remarkable monument to access more information on the internet. Even in its current regrettable condition, Surp Karapet is an Armenian monument of immense interest. I am surprised that “Virtual Ani” does not devote a post to the monastery, but anyone interested in Armenian ruins in Turkey should at some point access this otherwise excellent website. The website’s posts examine in sometimes great detail many monuments a long way from Ani, the ruined medieval Armenian city not far from Kars that overlooks in such dramatic fashion the border with Armenia itself.

After we had examined the best surviving parts of the monastery, the muhtar walked me around some of the village. Some of the stone houses have verandas and many utilise metal sheeting to patch holes and/or provide additional protection from the wind, the rain and the snow. But what is most remarkable is how much carved and inscribed stone from the monastery has been recycled in the walls of the houses. The high quality of the carved and inscribed stone confirms that Surp Karapet was a monastic complex of immense importance. Interestingly, some stone is inscribed with Armenian script and some with Aramaic. The latter suggests that at one time Syriac Orthodox Christians had a presence in the locality.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

The man who had installed the TV in the next village along the road drove me the 5 kilometres to the village not far from the main road between Solhan and Mus and, after thanking him for his kindness, I had a look around. The houses have been built in a dispersed fashion so there is no centre as such. The new houses built with breeze blocks have pitched corrugated iron roofs, but the old houses made with stone have flat roofs composed of logs and mud. Some houses have small gardens behind stone walls or fences made of wire or branches in which people grow a few vegetables, but with so many sheep and goats in and around the village, I suspect that most families acquire an income from their livestock. Small structures made with stone, breeze block and flat metal sheets exist here and there and, while one may be an old toilet, the others probably shelter livestock or food, the latter for human or animal consumption. Two donkeys nibbled at the long grass and blocks of animal dung mixed with hay dried in the sun to provide fuel during the winter months. The only people I saw in the village itself were a few women, their husbands and sons no doubt caring for sheep and goats on pasture some distance away. Between the village and the main road were three children aged about five, seven and eight caring for a flock of sheep and goats. Three of the goats had long horns that would have made excellent shofars.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

Eski Palu.

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

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

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

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

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

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

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

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

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

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

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

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

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

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii.

Merkez Camii.

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

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small vestry n. of chancel.

Church of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could find only one internet article about Palu that seeks to establish how many Armenians were murdered in the town, but the figure of 1,580 may refer to the town as well as the villages closest to it. However, I found the following with a Palu link. It derives from “Al Monitor, the pulse of the Middle East”:

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

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

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

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

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 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 is 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. 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 the national assembly 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 the national assembly 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 Caglayangil, 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 Riza 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 articulated 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 national assembly 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 in Dersim 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 if they did not want to 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 believe that genocide took place, and many more will believe the same when scholars can access official documents in greater quantity.

By the way, note 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 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, extermination. However the soldier regarded the Dersimis at the time of the massacres, he lacked empathic understanding for people with whom he differed. Hmmm. Does a similar lack of empathic understanding prevail among members of some or all of today’s brutal Islamist groups, the vast majority or which are Sunni Muslim? I think it does. Such groups currently operate 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.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

Although it was Sunday, some of the shops in the pazar were open, so I bought a few things to eat 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 thought it was wonderful that a foreign male was daft enough to stay in 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, remembered 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 muffled human voices and the occasional car engine firing up.

Before going to sleep I thought about two women (neither wore a headscarf) in their late twenties or early thirties who sat in a posh pastane near the otogar and flirtatiously waved and smiled when I walked past them, of a 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 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 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 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 a few 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 Kayadibi Manastir.

Breakfast at the Basaran is served in the café next to the hotel because the hotel and the café are owned by the same people. During the day and the early evening the café is popular with high school and university students of both sexes because in appearance it is clean, modern and female-friendly, but early morning the only customers are guests in the hotel. The breakfast buffet is about as good as the one at the Belediye Hotel in Divrigi, which means there is nothing out of the ordinary to select from (bread, butter, jam, honey, pekmek, white cream cheese, black and green olives, boiled eggs and tea). This said, given how cheap the hotel is, there is no reason to complain, not least because I had three cups of very good tea.

The main purpose of the day was to visit Kayadibi Manastir about 9 or 10 kilometres south-east of Sebinkarahisar as the crow flies, although I knew the road to the monastery meandered all over the place to account for the lie of the land and the distribution of villages along the route. Although Sebinkarahisar used to have a large Armenian population, the area around the town had always had more Greeks than Armenians, so today I would connect, albeit only via a monument, with another Christian minority that suffered badly, in this case right at the end of the Ottoman era.

Once the war between the Ottoman Empire and Greece ended in 1922, a war that caused the death of thousands on both sides, an exchange of populations followed with a large number of Greek Turks leaving for Turkey and a much more substantial number of Turkish Greeks leaving for Greece. While today roughly 100,000 ethnic Turks live in Greece, despite the exchange of populations, the number of ethnic Greeks living in Turkey may be as low as three or four thousand. Why is the total number of Greeks in Turkey so much lower than the number of Turks in Greece? Because Greeks in Turkey have always been subjected to much more discrimination by the state and hostility from the general population than Turks in Greece. Moreover, a pogrom against the Greeks of Istanbul took place in September 1955 and the fatalities that resulted accelerated migration from Turkey, as was no doubt intended by the state that had organised it. It is worth pointing out that, since the Turkish Republic was created in 1923, no similar pogrom has ever been directed against the Turkish minority in Greece.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

Despite what I have just said about Greeks once outnumbering Armenians in the area, in 1915 Sebinkarahisar was one of the few places where Armenians resisted the genocide. As news of deportations and massacres in other parts of the Ottoman Empire reached the town, its Armenian population made preparations for self-defence. On 15th June 1915, about three hundred Armenians, mostly wealthy merchants, were arrested. On the following day, after further attempted arrests, fighting erupted and barricades were erected in the town’s Armenian districts. By 18th June most of the Armenian districts had fallen to Ottoman forces or been abandoned. Some five thousand Armenians from the town and nearby villages, 75% of them women and children, retreated into Sebinkarahisar’s citadel. The citadel was then surrounded by Ottoman troops who directed heavy artillery at its walls. On the night of 11th July, with food, water and ammunition almost exhausted, the Armenians decided to secretly evacuate the fortress. However, the attempt to evacuate was discovered and all those involved were killed. On 12th July those still inside the citadel surrendered. A massacre then followed in which all Armenian men were killed. Surviving women and children were held prisoner in the town before being deported like those of other towns. According to official Turkish records, during the revolt Armenian rebels killed just over four hundred civilian Turkish villagers.

I had done some research about Kayadibi Manastir and knew it had benefited from a substantial restoration programme in recent times, so much so that photos on the internet reveal that it looks in far too pristine a condition. On the other hand, at least the restoration has taken place, thereby giving the monastery a new lease of life, and its location in a large cave more than half way up a mountain is itself most unusual (aspects of Kayadibi Manastir are reminiscent of the far more famous and regularly visited Greek monastery at Sumela south of Trabzon). Also, I knew that getting to it would be half the fun and there was a chance that some of the villages along the road would be of interest. A delightful morning lay ahead, I was confident.

I had already been advised that, although the monastery lay to the south-east of Sebinkarahisar, the road to it split from the road leading eventually to Giresun, so I walked through the town centre in a northerly direction, confirmed where I was going with two men working at a tyre repair shop and, after about 1.5 kilometres, came to a junction to the right with a sign indicating that the monastery lay along it, but how far along it did not say. However, this in itself was interesting. All the Armenian monuments so far visited lacked signs indicating where they were or that they even existed, Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir excepted, but the first Greek monument I wanted to track down had a sign.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The walk from Sebinkarahisar in bright early morning sunshine had already provided sublime views of the citadel perched on its mountain, and all the way to the monastery views of equal splendour and delight were the norm. But getting to the monastery was not as straightforward as the sign at the road junction had promised because no more signs followed until I was within sight of my destination, and this despite the fact that a complex network of roads meandered through the undulating countryside linking together small villages dependent on the fields, pasture, orchards and woodland that made the area so green and welcoming. It took two short lifts, three walks totalling about 5 kilometres and at least two wrong turns until I got through the last village, crossed a river and entered open countryside dominated by pasture with the vast rock with the monastery in its large cave now clearly visible. Also, I was now walking along the only road that I could follow and it was ascending gently toward its destination.

View east toward Kayadibi Manastir.

View east toward Kayadibi Manastir.

Before getting this far, a young couple from Istanbul drove me 2 or 3 kilometres. They were visiting relatives who lived in a house in one of the villages closest to Sebinkarahisar, a village of about twenty houses surrounded by gardens and orchards. I then walked to a village large enough to support a small mosque, an elementary school and a tea house. At the latter the day’s first customers, all male of course, invited me to rest a while, but I politely declined the offer. About 400 metres outside the village I heard a minibus approach and flagged it down. I was given a lift of about 1.5 kilometres to a junction and told to go to the right while the minibus turned left. This looked incorrect because I would be taken away from the monastery, but I was wrong to doubt the advice given. The roads go every which way because of the lie of the land. As for the minibus, it was picking up pupils and students and taking them to Sebinkarahisar for lessons, but two women had flagged a lift to get to the fields where they would work for most of the day.

View east toward Kayadibi Manastir.

View east toward Kayadibi Manastir.

A little later I took a wrong turn and arrived in a village in a more exposed position than those I had been to already (the villages earlier existed among lots of trees providing shade that must be very welcome during the hottest part of the year). I met a man walking cattle from one pasture to another and he confirmed I had taken a left when I should have taken a right, but the good news was that a track, once the main road itself, left from the centre of the village and provided a short cut back to the correct road. I walked into the centre of the village where neither shops nor a tea house existed and found the track. The track meandered through the fields and the pasture, both of which had many wild flowers including irises and daisies with large heads, and, about ten minutes later, I was back on the correct road. This led to the river mentioned earlier and a small reservoir. Just beyond the concrete channel that allowed water to flow from the reservoir into the river below I met three men beside a car with an open bonnet. The men were fixing a fault with the electrics. Not long after we had met they were away again and waved enthusiastically as they passed me ascending the road.

The reservoir.

The reservoir.

By now I had seen rape growing wild, tall, blood-red poppies with large petals among the rape and, beside the road and among the trees, lots of flowers like dog rose that varied in colour from white to deep pink.

I could now see with greater clarity than ever that Sebinkarahisar’s citadel stands on a mountain at the western extremity of a bowl dominated at its eastern extremity by the mountain with the monastery in the large cave. From my increasingly elevated position it was possible to see the villages, often with houses dispersed rather than clustered together, that relied on the fertility of the bowl itself. It was still May and everything looked very green.

I walked on, then behind me heard the groan of a very heavy motor vehicle making its way up the road. On the trailer of the vehicle was an enormous earthmover bound for a location a few kilometres away to improve communications by road. I stood to one side to let the vehicle and its load get past me, then it drew to a halt about 50 metres ahead. The driver urged me to get in the cab: he would drive me to within a kilometre or so of the monastery. The monastery was still about 4 or 5 kilometres away so I welcomed the kind offer, even though I knew we would not get to a speed much about 10 kph. Moreover, it was fun sitting high above the road with wonderful views wherever I looked and I was saving energy for later in the day.

Ahead of the lorry and its trailer was a car which drove the same pace as us. I realised immediately that the car had something to do with the motor vehicle in which I sat, but, in my naivety, thought it might be preceding us to clear a path in the road should there be a build-up of traffic (on our quiet road such a build-up of traffic would not occur, of course, but the vehicle had started its journey the day before at Giresun on the Black Sea coast). Not far short of where I was dropped off, the purpose of the car became apparent. The motor vehicle in which I sat drew to a halt and the car backed up as close as it could get to the cab. The boot of the car was opened to reveal a very large plastic container full of petrol. The car carried the fuel that the motor vehicle required when the motor vehicle was some distance from a petrol station. The plastic container was lifted onto a resting place above the petrol tank and the caps on the container and the tank removed. A long tube was inserted into the plastic container and the man driving the car sucked on it to draw down some petrol, which flowed immediately into the tank once the lower end of the hose was inserted in the hole. Five minutes later we were off again.

Filling the petrol tank, near Kayadibi.

Filling the petrol tank near Kayadibi.

I was dropped at a cesme at the south end of the village. I filled my water bottle, then walked past a flock of sheep and goats looked after by a man aged about forty. The village of Kayadibi spreads across undulating ground immediately below the mountain with the monastery in the cave and, because it faces west, overlooks the fertile bowl through which I had just navigated with indifferent luck in relation to the most direct route. Higher than any other village so far visited since breakfast, trees do not obscure the views. Housing is a mixture of old and new with generous amounts of corrugated iron used to cover roofs and protect damaged walls. Lots of grass and wild flowers add to the visual interest. I saw only two or three people the whole time I was at the village and no one was at the monastery until I was just about to leave. As I began to descend the meandering path, a middle-aged man arrived with a woman aged about twenty.

The cesme near Kayadibi.

The cesme near Kayadibi.

Kayadibi.

Kayadibi.

From the village and the path leading to it, the monastery is in view almost all the time because it is built in the mouth of the cave rather than at its back. The monastic complex spreads over four levels with the church at the highest point. The levels below the church have many rooms, some appearing to be in their original or near original condition and others looking very much like reconstructions. Sometimes the stone walls are covered with plaster, but you also encounter the bare stone itself.

Kayadibi Manastir.

Kayadibi Manastir.

View over Kayadibi to Sebinkarahisar.

View over Kayadibi to Sebinkarahisar.

Some sources (Sinclair is silent about the monument) insist that the monastery dates from as early as about 490 CE, which is quite possible given how far Christianity had spread from its Palestinian homeland by that date, and given that Christianity was the official religion of the Byzantine Empire that ruled these parts during the 5th century. The monastery obviously began life much smaller than the building that exists today and some sources say that it benefited from a major renovation programme in the 19th century, a renovation programme that resulted in a much larger monastery than had been in the cave before. Some sources refer to the monastery being “burned” or “destroyed” prior to the start of the 19th century renovation programme.

Kayadibi Manastir.

Kayadibi Manastir.

The cesme, Kayadibi Manastir.

The cesme, Kayadibi Manastir.

Just below the monastery to the right-hand side as you look into the cave is a very pretty cesme enclosed within a pointed arch, and near the cesme are steps cut into the natural rock leading to the monastery’s small entrance. From the entrance you very soon access the ground floor of the complex from where you make your way level by level through what used to be rooms for visitors and guests, a kitchen, a refectory and monks’ cells. Eventually you reach the church itself with its triple apse.

I thought I would be depressed because this delightful complex in the mouth of a cave high above the village of Kayadibi (or Sariyer, in some sources. Many villages in Turkey have more than one name) has been restored to such a perfect but severe degree that it looks like a built-from-scratch edifice, but what depressed me the most (and inspired suppressed rage) was that people have engaged in vandalism and added graffiti to the walls even though the restoration had been completed only two or three years earlier. I was even more alarmed that vandalism and graffiti afflicted some parts of the monastery that were very obviously original. Perhaps the worst thing of all was when I examined vandalised stonework in the church that had been intricately carved a long time ago, at least as early as the 19th century and in all likelihood much earlier.

Kaydibi Manastir.

Kaydibi Manastir.

The church, Kayadibi Manastir.

The church, Kayadibi Manastir.

The church, Kayadibi Manastir.

The church, Kayadibi Manastir.

The graffiti indicated that those responsible for the vandalism were Turks and/or Kurds. Surely Turks and Kurds would have abstained from damaging the monastery as a mark of respect to the Turkish and the Kurdish craftspeople who had restored it with often enviable skill, but it would seem that their contempt for Christianity and/or the Greeks was so great that they could not resist giving it expression. I dislike saying it again, but was I confronted with more evidence that Muslim contempt for things non-Muslim is sometimes so great that it outweighs the duty we all have to care for the cultural artefacts left by those who precede us, no matter the background of the people now long dead?

If Muslim contempt for non-Muslim cultural artefacts in Turkey can be so great that Turks and Kurds vandalise non-Muslim monuments restored over a substantial period of time and at great cost to their national or provincial government, perhaps it is easier to understand why supporters of the Taliban and the Islamic State have such contempt for the cultural artefacts of people they despise, even people they despise who have long been dead and whose cultural artefacts are found at world heritage sites. Back home I read about Muslims in Egypt who, in the past, damaged the Sphinx and campaigned for destruction of the pyramids. However, I have yet to hear of a non-Muslim who wants to destroy the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Ulu Camii and the Hospital in Divrigi, although, if Muslims continue to destroy non-Muslim cultural artefacts of global importance at world heritage sites and elsewhere, an Islamophobe is bound to eventually argue for the destruction of cultural artefacts important to Muslims. Then again, Muslims are doing a good job destroying important Muslim cultural artefacts already. Think of the delightful Sufi monuments destroyed some years ago in Timbuktu in Mali by Sunni Muslims and the destruction of Shia pilgrimage sites in Iraq, also by Sunni Muslims. If the dust ever settles in Syria (the dust will eventually settle, but no one in that once-beautiful nation state shows any sign that they will come to their senses soon so that it can settle) we will find that Sunni Muslims have targeted hundreds of monuments important to Alawites and Alawites have targeted hundreds of monuments important to Sunni Muslims.

At present, Islam is the belief system that inspires the greatest number of its followers to engage in burn, burn rather than build, build. Is this destructive inclination, one so wasteful of human life as well as wasteful of things natural or made by humankind, reflective of how the religion has always been, or are Muslims going through an abnormal period that will end as suddenly as some believe it began? Or are Muslims trying to somehow bring forward the end-time that all three of the Abrahamic faiths suggest is a God-given inevitability? I am compelled to say, “Please protect us from all people who think they know the truth because those who think they know the truth have an insatiable appetite for death and destruction.” Nowadays, I instinctively back away from such peddlers of truth. Give me a man or a woman of science in preference to a man or a woman of religion any day (of course, if there were more women than men in positions of authority in religion, religion would not be the often dire phenomenon it so often currently is, but this is another matter altogether).

Although the vandalism and the graffiti at the monastery filled me with considerable disquiet, I was impressed with some of the restoration work that had obviously been costly and time-consuming. But, as I walked down the path to the village, I noticed that some light fittings on the wall had fallen over or broken (had they been vandalised or were they merely poorly installed or badly made?) and that grass and other plants grew in cracks in the cement between the stones laid to make access to the monastery easier. The grass and other plants were contributing to some of the cement coming away.

In the village I took a few last photos, then flagged a car for a lift toward Sebinkarahisar. I was in luck: the driver was going all the way to the town centre. The road meandered mostly the way I had come and confirmed what I already knew: no matter how you get from Sebinkarahisar to Kayadibi Manastir and vice-versa, the walk or drive is a very pretty one.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

I was in Sebinkarahisar at midday and decided to do what I had only dreamed I would be able to do from the town, travel part of the way to Giresun, which is said to be a scenically rewarding road. I looked at my map of eastern Turkey and decided that Tamdere, just over a third of the way to Giresun, would be the ideal destination, not least because I would have crossed the highest pass on the road, one at 2,200 metres above sea level. I hoped that Tamdere would be high enough in the mountains to have paths or dirt roads leading higher up and was confident there would be a bit of snow.

The otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

The otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

I walked to the otogar where I found that minibuses did the run roughly every hour from Sebinkarahisar to Giresun with the last service both ways not departing until about 7.00pm. This meant I could rely on public transport until nightfall if hitching let me down. Because the next minibus did not depart until 1.30pm, I rushed back to the hotel to quickly freshen up, called at a small supermarket for a litre of orange juice (orange juice, ayran and water were proving exactly what I craved the most for refreshment, unless it was the occasional ice cream) and returned to the otogar with half an hour to spare. I sat down inside with something to read, but the man responsible for a shop selling local sweets urged me to examine what he stocked. I was given an excellent piece of pestil, which confirmed what I had found the night before: people in Sebinkarahisar take their food seriously and a lot of their food is seriously good.

The citadel from the otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel from the otogar, Sebinkarahisar.

Arapgir and Eskisehir.

It was at this point that a little confusion prevailed. The owners of the hotel thought I wanted to visit Arapgir’s oldest district rather than Eskisehir and, because of this, dropped me at an albeit interesting spot at the southerly extremity of the town beside a river in a valley with quite steep walls on both sides. The road crossed the river by means of an old stone bridge benefiting from the final touches of a substantial restoration project which, although over-zealous in the fashion I had observed elsewhere, nonetheless guarantees that the bridge will last for centuries to come. I walked up and down stone steps, along a footway below the road but above the river, and chatted with labourers installing railings that would soon be painted black. The side of the bridge devoid of the footway had been subjected to far less vigorous restoration and, although more difficult to see because it was now in late afternoon shade, gave an excellent impression of how the bridge must have looked until about a year earlier.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

Among the trees about 20 metres from the bridge and just above the river is a relatively slim but tall stone building with a square ground plan and damaged dome. The wall facing the bridge is pierced by an arched doorway partially framed by stonework carved with patterns more Muslim than Christian, and beside the doorway is a window rectangular in shape. The wall overlooking the river is pierced by a single window, in this case with a slightly pointed arch framing a second pointed arch within it. Inside the building are the piers and arches that support what remains of the dome and the walls have a few small cavities that may have been storage spaces. The structure resembles a one-time hamam, but it is just possible that it had been a church or chapel.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The couple who owned the hotel had told me that the scant remains of a church lie a little above the bridge, so I found a dirt road that led in the direction required. I soon found some courses of stone lurking among long grass and wild flowers not far from where two small houses overlook fields and gardens. Two families were at work in the fields and gardens and, when I began examining the courses of stone, they stopped to say hello. Chat followed, as did offers of tea, but I was very disciplined and explained that I needed to see the ruin and what remained of what I thought was Eskisehir.

It was at this point that Veysel introduced himself. Veysel lived in one of the houses just mentioned and drove dustcarts for the Belediye. He explained that I was not in Eskisehir at all. Esksehir was about 3 or 4 kilometres away on the far side of modern Arapgir, but he had time to spare and would take me there after I had examined what remained of the church.

What remains of the church is very little, but one stretch of stone suggests that it was a very substantial building when extant. The surviving stone reveals that the external walls had been unusually thick, which points toward a cathedral rather than a church. It was obviously Armenian because, after examining what survives of the external walls, Veysel led me to some nearby houses in which stone from the building and its immediate surroundings has been recycled. I saw stone with Armenian script and some it had dates such as 1890 and 1891. One attractively carved stone, no doubt from a grave, had had its Armenian script obliterated by someone hacking at it with tools, but a cross could be made out and no damage had been done to two branches of leaves that overlapped at what would have been the top of the stone when marking someone’s final place of rest. Here was very obvious proof that, at some point in the past, the authorities did all they could to obscure the fact that Arapgir once had a substantial Armenian community.

The cathedral (?), Arapgir.

The Armenian cathedral (?), Arapgir.

Recycled stone from an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Recycled stone from the Armenian cathedral (?) or an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Back home I undertook research into the history of Arapgir and its immediate surroundings and found the following. Somewhere in Eskisehir or Arapgir there had once been the magnificent 13th century Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God, but in 1915 it was attacked, looted and set on fire. After the first world war, because only a few Armenians remained in the town and the surrounding area, what remained of the cathedral was repaired and used as a school. However, at some point in the 1950s, important figures at the Belediye decided to demolish the building and, in 1957, it was blown up with dynamite. The land on which it had stood was sold to someone living nearby and, today, only very small sections of stone survive. The cathedral is described as one of the largest Armenian churches that ever existed in what is now Turkey and a picture of it on the internet suggests that this was indeed the case.

There were six other Armenian Apostolic churches in the town in 1915, a Roman Catholic church and a Protestant church. It was mainly Armenians who attended the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, information confirming that Arapgir was a very important Armenian settlement at the beginning of world war one.

At home, the more I thought about the remains I have just described, the more it seemed that I had been directed toward what remains of the cathedral. I am by inclination cautious about reaching conclusions of this nature, but there was nothing I saw later that suggests my assessment is incorrect. This said, it was obvious that a lot more needs to be done in and around Arapgir to document and preserve what remains from the past. Arapgir stands at the centre of a remarkably interesting part of Turkey rich in the physical remains of many different people.

Veysel was keen to leave for Eskisehir, so off we went. I thought we were going to walk all the way and therefore suggested we hire a taxi, but Veysel had a much better and more cost effective plan. We walked through the town, passing on the way some large old houses spread over two or three floors. A mixture of timber-frames, stone, plaster, corrugated iron, overhanging upper storeys and storage spaces immediately below the pitched roofs (most such storage spaces lacked walls) ensured there was much to admire. Every so often stone tablets set into walls had some carved decoration and, perhaps, a date revealing when a house was built or extended. A network of narrow canals carried water from springs into gardens and small fields.

An old house, Arapgir.

An old house, Arapgir.

Arapgir itself has some monuments confirming that it was a population centre by the 18th century, but it was in the 19th and early 20th century when its prosperity was most apparent. Its former wealth was dependent on trade and industry. Arapgir’s merchants were wholesalers for goods such as soap and olive oil from Gaziantep and Aleppo, and glass and iron from Beirut. They also bought goods from Europe such as cloth from Manchester and Marseilles. But Arapgir also had its own weaving industry and imported the yarn from Britain. However, with the end of the first world war, trading activities fell into rapid decline. Part of the reason for this was because of the loss of Armenian merchants during the genocide. Merchants who survived the war migrated to cities in the west where economic opportunities were superior. The town’s economic decline was reinforced by the expansion of the rail network and, later, the road system because goods that used to pass through Arapgir were taken directly to large urban centres where the majority of consumers lived. The weaving industry also fell into decline as other localities in Turkey invested in modern machinery to give them a competitive edge. Today little evidence for such economic prosperity exists other than in the town centre han, now a hotel, and the large old houses which confirm that many local families in the past had considerable wealth. Of course, some of the houses had belonged to Armenian families, but which ones it is difficult to say today.

Veysel’s cunning plan was that we would drive to and around Eskisehir in a Belediye dustcart! We arrived near the north-west extremity of Arapgir and Veysel fired up the engine of his motor vehicle. We first drove along a road that ascended over a hill and into a very pretty valley with trees, orchards, small fields, the occasional building and views of hills and mountains. The road, which soon degenerated into dirt, meandered along the valley wall, sometimes high up and sometimes quite close to the river. It was an enchanting drive, but I was very conscious of Veysel’s time and the cost of the petrol. When I offered to pay for some petrol and his time, he looked at me with an expression of anger that morphed into hurt feelings. We were friends. Friends pay for nothing because hospitality is a mark of friendship. I was in the company of yet another amazing Alevi who at one point said, “Really I am a Bektashi. Veysel is and always will be a Bektashi. Arapgir now has many Bektashis and Alevis and we cannot stand the Sunni Muslims.”

Veysel grew very animated as he criticised the Sunni Muslims and at one point tears stood in his eyes. He seemed to give expression to the persecution his people have suffered for centuries. The more the trip went on, the more often I encountered Alevis, Bektashis and Kizilbash who expressed anger and outrage similar to the anger and outrage felt by Veysel. The two or three times I met Armenians, they kept their feelings to themselves as if to share them would open wounds of such magnitude that the pain would never abate. In the face of crimes against humanity on the scale that have happened in Turkey in the past, silence is sometimes the only appropriate response.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir, which, as its name implies, is much older than Arapgir (‘eski” mean “old” and “sehir” means “town” or “city”), was also a trading settlement. Its site, almost as large as that of Arapgir although not much survives today, is to the north-west of and at a higher level than its neighbour. It is hidden from the present town by the hill I referred to earlier. It extended for about 4 kilometres in a north-easterly direction until coming to the Arapgir Cayi. Evidence suggests that many of the houses of the town were spaced quite generously apart, perhaps with large gardens or orchards around them (many orchards survive to this day). The citadel is perched high above the tree-line to the north of Eskisehir overlooking the Arapgir Cayi. The bare slopes below the citadel once had houses on them, but today all that remains of the houses are piles of stone “gradually being forced downhill in spring floods”, as Sinclair says. It was in this area that Eskisehir had its commercial heart. Some buildings survive, albeit ruined, including mosques dating from the late Selcuk and the Ottoman periods. Some way from the ruined buildings is a restored mosque dating from as late as the early 19th century, by which time Arapgir was emerging as the more important and economically vibrant settlement.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

Around what was once the town are the Ulu Camii, at least three other mosques, a residence for Sufi dervishes called a hankah, a hamam and what would appear to be a bedesten, all in various stages of restoration or decay. However, we spent most time examining a structure Veysel thought was a church, although if it was a church there was nothing I could identify to confirm this was so. It was certainly a large structure with what resembles a tower (a bell tower?) at one end. After it was abandoned, someone converted part of it into a house with a door and three windows set into the south-facing wall.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

We drove along the dirt road through the trees and came out beside the Arapgir Cayi, where I was surprised to find a large stone bridge crossing the river. The bridge, which is probably Ottoman in origin, had recently benefited from a very complete programme of restoration. It crosses the river with two arches of slightly different width and has a steep approach at the south end. The road across the bridge has a kink in it near the middle. Motor vehicles as large as the dustcart can cross the bridge and people like to drive out to the bridge to swim in the river or eat picnics. When we stopped the vehicle to examine the bridge from the north bank, we met a family preparing to return home after relaxing in the pretty surroundings for the afternoon. The father of the family, who wore only his swimming shorts and a pair of shoes because he had just got out of the river (his wife and other family members were fully clothed, of course), tried to encourage us to drink raki with him, but we declined the kind invitation.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

A few of Eskisehir’s houses survive. They are large, timber-framed houses that spread over two or three floors in a manner very similar to some of the old houses that survive in Arapgir. However, today Eskisehir is no more than a widely dispersed village and one with a very small population.

We drove away from Eskisehir by following a road east of the bridge. The road crossed the river, ascended the valley wall to the south and led to a road destined for the centre of Arapgir, so we managed to do a superb round trip. Once on the road leading to Arapgir we were high above the Arapgir Cayi and the views into and along the valley were sublime. However, by now the sky had filled with dark clouds and it began to rain. The rain persisted for the next half hour or so.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

We drove into the centre of Arapgir where we picked up two of Veysel’s work colleagues outside a bakery; the team of three were about to begin their evening shift collecting litter from large wheelie-bins. I stayed with the team for about half an hour, by which time we were close to the hotel. Because the men wanted a short break from work, we stopped for glasses of tea brought to us from a nearby tea house. It turned out that both Veysel’s colleagues were Alevis and all three had harsh things to say about the AKP and Sunni Muslims. If I understood what they were saying, the AKP was currently in control of Arapgir, but whether the party would still be in power following the general election was uncertain. Overhead, rumbles of thunder and flashes of fork and sheet lightning added drama to our conversation.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

What an amazing day it had been, although it was not quite finished. I said goodbye to Veysel and his colleagues, walked to the hotel and freshened up in my room, then went to the very centre of town, a roundabout with roads leading off in four or five directions, and took photos of the bunting flapping against the rapidly darkening sky. I then met a young man who had a camera far superior to mine and, in his shop, he showed me some of the photos he had recently taken. We took photos of each other, then I walked a short distance further down the road, a road leading past a very large modern mosque in the mock-Ottoman style to the small bus station. I stopped at a small lokanta for koftes, salad and bread washed down with ayran. A woman not wearing a headscarf called in and ordered some food to take home. My meal over, I went almost next door for a large bowl of ice cream. Two children walked in and had small portions of ice cream at a nearby table.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

As I walked back to the hotel I was reminded that, when planning the trip in the UK, I had toyed with the idea of not visiting Arapgir because I had been once before and was not sure a second visit could be justified by what I would see. How wrong such an idea would have been. But my lack of sound judgement in relation to Arapgir convinced me that to go to Divrigi the following day was the right thing to do because, although I had also been there once before, it had been a very long time ago when me and my travelling companion had time to see only two major monuments, the Ulu Camii and the Hospital.

But what of the wine that I consumed with great pleasure in my room as I wrote up notes about the day’s many delights and sometimes sobering encounters? It had a pale colour not unlike a rosé and a delicate bouquet with the faintest hint of mint. It tasted dry with some crisp acidity and reminded me of fino-style wines found in parts of southern Spain such as Montilla. Although not very sophisticated, it packed a punch! I drank the whole half litre with a growing sense of satisfaction, but had no adverse effects the following morning. Being an organic wine, perhaps the detrimental after-effects are much reduced!

What a day. The monuments, the birds, the flowers, the wild herbs such as mint and oregano, the hospitality, and the nagging sense that I had found somewhere I could almost call home, despite the language barriers. My goodness: the wine was getting me quite emotional! Yes, the wine was dry like a good fino or amontillado from southern Spain. Perhaps it was even a bit like the amazing wines from Sanlucar de Barrameda (one of the strangest but most likeable of all Andalucian towns) with their salty smack. It might have passed muster in Jerez, the home of sherry, although in some ways it was more interesting than half the dry wines that derive from that source of intoxicating drink. But how different it was from the wine with which I had started the trip, a wine of dark ruby colour with a taste reminiscent of reds from some of Europe’s most reputable wine regions.

My last thoughts turned toward the Kurds with whom I had engaged during the day. It is obvious that many Kurds still have sympathy for the PKK, and such sympathy may have increased in recent years because the AKP has become more obviously Turkish nationalist in its inclinations and has tried to push through a legislative programme appealing to the needs and aspirations of the country’s Sunni majority. I am fully aware that, in the past, the PKK was a dangerous and violent terrorist group, which, in common with the Turkish armed forces, committed some terrible crimes against humanity and unforgivable human rights abuses. However, on every occasion I have met PKK sympathisers or people claiming past or present allegiance with the movement, I have never felt in any danger. Such Kurds have posed a threat not to me but to many of the Sunni extremists who, for lack of a better political party to support, vote for the AKP. They also pose far more of a threat to extreme Turkish nationalists such as the Grey Wolves, some of the most dreadful people who have thrived and murdered in Turkey past and present.

P.S. Back home I found something on the internet referring to an Armenian cemetery in Arapgir, a cemetery with about thirty or so irregularly dispersed tombs. According to the article, a few hundred Armenians remained in Arapgir after world war one before most moved to Istanbul to improve their chances of economic well-being. Some survivors of the genocide migrated to Soviet Armenia and settled in Yerevan, the capital, where to this day a district has the name of Arabkir. Today, Arapgir has only two Armenians, brothers in their forties who spend their spare time caring for the cemetery. The cemetery has a small altar which is sometimes used for ritual purposes.

Another internet article suggests that the arrest of leading figures in Arapgir’s Armenian community began as early as 26th April 1915 and that the first large group of Armenians were expelled from the town on 19th June. The last large group were expelled on 5th July and a majority of all those expelled met their death as they marched ever further from home. Arapgir was one of the many towns and cities which, in 1895, witnessed massacres of Armenians on a much smaller scale than in 1915.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

P.P.S. The following provides some context for the information already shared about Alevis and Bektashis. It is an article on the internet that I have quite savagely edited to extract the most relevant points:

As well as grappling with the issue of growing Kurdish disenchantment with AKP rule in Ankara, Erdogan must face the problem of the Turkish and Kurdish Alevi minority, which, in common with the Kurds, represents about a quarter of the Turkish population, or twenty million people. Alevis are heterodox Muslims following a tradition that combines Shia Islam, metaphysical Sufism and pre-Islamic shamanism. Alevis do not pray in mosques and a cemevi is an Alevi meeting house.

In 1995 an Alevi leader, Izzettin Dogan, launched an officially-approved Alevi group called Cem Vakfi. The Turkish government used Cem Vakfi to split the Alevi opposition to the regime. The government, even when it was secular, favoured Sunni Islam and harassed Alevis. Politically, Dogan represented the extreme nationalist right and was linked to the MHP, or Nationalist Movement Party, which has links with the fascist Grey Wolves. The MHP supported the military in its campaign against the Kurdish PKK and the Grey Wolves have been charged with at least five thousand murders of Turkish and Kurdish leftists, Alevis included, in the 1980s. In 1997, Dogan formally constituted Cem Vakfi in four towns in the Netherlands under the auspices of the foreign branch of the MHP, the Federation of Turkish Democratic-Idealist Organisations in Europe, or ADUTDF. Today, veterans of the Grey Wolves are embedded in the state apparatus and responsible for countless abuses of human rights in both the Kurdish areas of south-east Turkey and in parts of the western regions where they hold political office.

In 1978 the Grey Wolves committed a massacre of Alevis by calling all “believers” to aggressive jihad against Alevis and other leftists. The Grey Wolves proclaimed, “One who kills an Alevi will enter Paradise, and the death of an Alevi is equal to five haj pilgrimages to Makkah.”

In 1980, after a military coup, the MHP was banned, along with all other political parties. Nonetheless, many supporters of the Grey Wolves had careers in the military and state bureaucracy. The ban on the MHP was eventually removed and in the late 1990s the party changed its public orientation in a religious direction.

Erdogan’s government has approached the Alevis in Turkey with ambitious plans for the construction of mosques in their communities, even though Alevis meet for their rituals in cemevis and only a few Alevis attend mosque services. Mosque-building in Alevi settlements is therefore a waste of public funds, but, since the 1980s, pressure for the Sunnification of all Turkey’s Muslims has been intense and, in response, has provoked political unrest among the Alevis. Today, Alevis increasingly refuse to conceal their identities, as they might have done in the past. Instead, they present themselves openly as Alevis and defend the Alevi faith. Alevi books and magazines are now issued prolifically and Alevism is offered as a counter to mainstream Sunni ideology.

Support for Cem Vakfi and Dogan by Turkey’s state institutions and mass media has failed. Alevis with democratic or leftist inclinations reject him and the situation is likely to remain as such for many years to come.

Nonetheless, the AKP government, through its apologists, has performed brilliantly in convincing politicians in Washington and elsewhere that the Alevis support the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. There is no serious corroboration of this claim, which has also been made by Erdogan himself. Its proponents assert falsely that the Alevi movement in Turkey is similar to the Shia Alawite cult ruling Syria, but this is not so. It is denied by Alevis themselves as well as by authoritative, objective academics in Europe and North America.

P.P.P.S. Arapgir is famous for having a craftsman who makes shoes with wooden nails, but no stitching or chemical glues. Only the wooden nails keep the shoes intact. It is said that he can make a pair of shoes in one day.

To Harput and Elazig.

I got off the minibus when I recognised somewhere near the city centre, returned briefly to the hotel to freshen up, then went for something to eat. Many of the lokantas in the area around the hotel have flashing electric signs informing passersby what they specialise in, and a lot of the advertised food is very tempting. However, I did not want to eat too much just in case it slowed me down that afternoon, so opted for a tavuk doner sandwich stuffed with salad and mayonnaise at a small lokanta with a dining area upstairs with enough room for only five or six tables. I also ordered water and ayran. The young married couple who own the business were from near Antakya, a favourite city of mine in southern Turkey, but a city not visited for many years, so we had a lot to talk about. “Yes, I know Harbiye. Yes, it’s a wonderful place for lunch or dinner. Yes, the old city of Antakya is very beautiful. Yes, the churches, the museum, the mosaics, the local edible specialities…” Chats like this only increase my wanderlust.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I walked to the parking lot from where minibuses depart for Harput and it was not long before the driver took a full load of passengers through the northern suburbs as we ascended to our destination. Along the way we passed an enormous army camp and a very large military hospital.

It had been a few years since my last visit to Harput and I knew that, since then, many of the monuments, but not the Christian ones, had been restored; old houses had disappeared and some new ones been built; new businesses such as cafés, lokantas and shops had opened; parks and playgrounds had been created; and general tidying up had been undertaken, all of which meant that Harput has become a very popular destination for recreational purposes. There is nothing wrong with this, I suppose, although it is now much harder than in the past to connect with the tragic events that unfolded here in 1915 (the tragic events include the murder of thousands of Ottoman soldiers of Armenian origin stationed in the town and the expulsion on foot of about 3,000 Armenian civilians, mainly women, children and elderly men. Most of the 3,000 civilians never made it to their destination, the Syrian desert, due to hunger, thirst, murder by Turks and Kurds, local tribespeople kidnapping and enslaving women and children, and women and children dying or being killed after suffering repeated rape). Harput, a place that witnessed terrible crimes against humanity, is being sanitised and all physical reminders of the victims allowed to slowly disappear.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

The entrance to Harput used to be dignified by a terrace of very old timber-framed houses in a terminal state of decay, so I was not altogether surprised to see that they had disappeared. This said, the houses have been replaced by a butik hotel built with modern materials to superficially resemble what it replaces, but, as is so often the case with such reconstructions, the replacement engenders a sense of sadness mixed with anger because the original was not restored! Other recent developments disappointed and/or angered me in a similar manner, so much so that, for the first half hour or so, I thought I had made a mistake coming. But then Harput began to cast a spell. The spell began with the grandeur of the surrounding landscapes and the views that are a delight almost everywhere you walk. The spell continued with the fresh air, the wild flowers and the relative quiet (it was Monday and the start of the working week so not many people were paying a visit), all of which helped me to acquire an altogether deeper appreciation of the surviving monuments. In the end it was with some reluctance that I returned to the large modern city below, despite Harput being the scene of dreadful crimes against humanity only a hundred years ago.

Harput.

Harput.

In 1915 Harput was the area’s main centre of population. Elazig on the plain below had not been in existence for long and would only become the dominant population centre after large parts of Harput were destroyed in the first world war and then largely abandoned. What remains of Harput merely hints at its past grandeur and importance, but its magnificent hilltop castle, one of Turkey’s largest, its Ulu Camii with a crooked but patterned minaret, its three other mosques, its two hamams, and its Mansur Baba and Arap Baba turbes, both of which still attract pilgrims, are important and, in some instances, enchanting survivals from the past, although I side with those who think some of the restoration work has been over-zealous. This said, I would rather over-zealous restoration has assured the long-term future of the monuments than that the monuments should be lost to humankind. This is especially the case with the castle, the Ulu Camii, one of the hamams and the turbes.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

However, although a lot of labour and financial expense have been lavished on the restoration of Muslim, Selcuk and Ottoman monuments, and on the development of facilities for visitors to enjoy recreational and shopping opportunities, Harput’s Christian monuments are in a shameful state. Although in good condition externally, the large Syriac Orthodox church, known locally as Kizil Kilise (“kizil” is Turkish for “red”), cannot presently be entered, which makes me think that the interior must be in very poor condition, and the two ruins attributed to the Armenians, one a church and the other a chapel, are in a dire state of preservation, just as they have been for as long as I have known of their existence first-hand.

Just for the record, here is Sinclair’s description of the Syriac Orthodox church:

This is quite possibly a reconstruction of 1179, from which an over-modest repair inscription is known; if not, the church is 10th century and the inscription refers only to a repair.

The forbidding box-like form of the church is pressed against the s. side of a corner low down in the rapidly descending cliff of the citadel rock: the corner is cut into the ne. end of the rock spur projecting from the citadel rock’s e. corner. A platform still exists to the n. of the church, protected from earth slippage by a retaining wall…: at its s. end the wall distances itself gradually from the rock in order to allow for a small chamber accessible from the nave. The wall in fact conceals part of the nave…

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The interior is ill-lit but spacious: the light, coming lengthways down the church from windows at the e. end only, causes shadows on the deeply pitted floor (much dug by treasure hunters, starting in 1978 or 1979)… The nave is entered by a doorway much narrowed (in the late 19th or early 20th century) by additions from the side and from above: a ramp against the wall, protected by an L-shaped wall and a roof, leads to the doorway.

The wide nave has four wall piers, upholding arcades, on each side. The shallow vaults, although sprung from the top of the walls resting on the arches, rely just as much on the ribs sprung from the arches’ spandrels: the strictly vertical height of these ribs… increases greatly towards the wall as the slant of the rib’s soffit swiftly steepens.

E. end. Since 1979 much of this has become unwalkable owing to deep pits. An internal wall cut through by the chancel arch ends the nave, but two chambers either side of the short chancel can also be reached from the nave through doors in this wall. Off these again are the genuine pastophoria (side rooms for liturgical purposes). The sanctuary is a rectangle with rounded corners: low altar. The semi-dome is of brick. The southern of the two chambers reached from the chancel extends outside the line of the nave wall, and the s. pastophorion is shifted further s. in sympathy… Off the first chamber leads another: this is extremely dark and its floor much lower, mostly because of the digging.

Not far from the Syriac Orthodox church is what is left of an Armenian church, which Sinclair thinks was the Church of the Apostles:

Only the e. wall and parts of the n. and s. walls adjacent to it remain. They stand at the end of a high artificial platform. The church no doubt belongs to the 19th century. It has three apses, the central one wider than the others. From these apses vaults or possibly rows of domes would have led westwards supported on pillars or piers. To n. and s. of the three juxtaposed aisles was a single aisle, narrower than the central three. The ends of these two narrower aisles can be seen to the n. and s. of the three apses.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

From both the churches just described there are views into the bottom of a valley where the scant remains of a chapel exist. Sinclair describes the chapel as having a:

Single nave, probably with dome in front of apses. Probably Armenian. Perhaps medieval.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and castle, Harput.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

In “Armenia: the survival of a nation”, Christopher Walker writes that Harput was once “one of the intellectual centres for Ottoman Armenians” and that, in the late 19th century, American missionaries established “a distinguished and progressive educational institution, Euphrates College”. Ottoman census figures confirm that Harput had a large Armenian population, but, today, at best only two ruins confirm that it was once a town benefiting from such a population. Considerable time, energy and expense have been expended to preserve what remains of the Islamic, Selcuk and Ottoman heritage at Harput, and even the Syriac Orthodox church, which once served a far smaller Christian community than did the Armenian churches, is in better condition than anything that can be attributed with certainty to what was once a substantial Armenian population. Are these realities depressing? They are very depressing.

This said, I did enjoy my visit to the castle, where, unlike my last visit, I could walk around at will because restoration has been completed. The views from the castle walls are remarkable and were enhanced because it was mid-May when the grass is green, the wild flowers many and varied, and the visibility far superior than during the hottest months of the year. Some parts of the fortifications have been restored to a degree that must fill archaeologists and architects with a mixture of anger and despair, but what did impress me immensely is that excavations are currently taking place in and around an Urartian cistern. The day of my visit no one was working on the site, so I entered one or two of the fenced-off enclosures through unlocked wooden gates to examine the remains more closely. This relatively recent discovery made me wonder what else will be found at this remarkable place. Moreover, will some future discoveries help us to reconnect with the Armenians who once lived here?

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

As far as I could tell, the only foreigner at Harput the same time as me was a German national of Turkish origin who was visiting the area where his father and mother had come from before migrating to Germany for work purposes in the 1960s. Quite a lot of high school and university students had come to engage in self-conscious courtship rituals with someone they fancied in the opposite sex, and small groups of young males and females walked around hoping someone in the opposite sex might take an interest in them. Most of the young women wore headscarves and, being Turkish and Sunni, were reluctant to engage in conversation with an unknown male such as myself. Conversation with such a male would be shameful for a female, although if a male engages in chat with an unknown female no shame attaches to him. Hypocrisy? How else can it be described? And, if pious Sunni women are meant to cover their hair and ears at all times and dress modestly from head to toe, why do exactly the same rules not apply to Sunni males? Hypocrisy? What else?

I caught a minibus to the centre of Elazig to walk around the pazar and the surrounding streets as people bought food to take home for their evening meal and the following morning’s breakfast. For most people the working day was over. I noticed that, although many women were dressed in ways that would reassure the conventionally pious, some had the courage to dress just as they wished, even though, in so doing, they no doubt upset or shocked many of the Sunni majority in the city. Some high school students had paired off to test just how far they could go with public expressions of affection in a heterosexual relationship without older people with strong religious convictions berating them. But some things are resistant to change in Turkey, despite trends such as globalisation and most people being financially much better off than ever before. On all the minibus rides so far undertaken, males and females rearranged themselves on the seats so no males sat with unknown females. Also, as nightfall approached, girls and women made their way home thereby rendering the city centre streets almost completely male preserves. A few women remained in open business premises or begged on the streets, but that was about it. By 9.00pm there was no one to chat with but men and boys.

Elazig.

Elazig.

In cities such as Elazig where Turks and Sunnis seem to dominate, segregation of the sexes is often more apparent than in villages, even though in cities women can move around relatively freely, especially if they are employed, and women in villages can never go too far from home unless they are themselves involved in work such as caring for animals or toiling in the fields.

I have always liked Elazig’s pazar. It does not occupy pretty premises – the covered section is quite rundown and the surrounding streets are largely devoid of interesting architectural features – but the outlets for food (fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, honey, jam, olives, cheese, nuts, lokum, baklava, pestil, kome, etc.) are excellent. Many shops beyond the covered sections sell clothes, shoes, hardware, kitchen utensils, fabric, knives and furniture; a large shed stocks flour, dried beans and bars of bittim sabunu; and lots of shops specialise in very expensive clothes for devout Sunni women who want to make an impression even though they must cover all the body except their face and hands. Moreover, some shops selling clothes for weddings are outrageously over the top, so much so that I thought I had strayed into a documentary about how Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK like to spend big on matrimonial clothes, especially for women. Supermarkets, shopping malls and out-of-town retail opportunities are taking their toll on pazars in many parts of Turkey, but Elazig’s is surviving better than most. It had been my intention to spend the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir, but I was wondering whether it might be better to stay in Elazig instead because in Elazig I could buy most of what I wanted for home more conveniently than in Diyarbakir. I would see how things worked out as the last two days approached. I also fantasised about getting home some large wooden cooking utensils, cooking pots made with metal and an unglazed red clay pot for the oven, to say nothing of seeds to grow vegetables the following year! The only downside to the pazar is where men keep live fish in large tanks. Some fish had died through lack of oxygen and others were close to death.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Just to the east of the covered section of the pazar is a large square dominated on the far side by a substantial modern mosque. A large hemisphere of steel and glass or Perspex covers an entrance to an underground extension of the pazar and, next to the hemisphere, more stalls exist where most people sell fruit, vegetables and herbs. I peered into the window of a shop selling everything required to ensure that a young male never forgot the day he was circumcised.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

For my evening meal I returned to where I had eaten lunch and ordered exactly the same food and drink again. It proved just what my body craved, so much so that I went for a walk to help digest the meal. At one point I passed one of those slightly suspect modern places, in this case partly in the open air, pretending to be an antik nargile café, even though it looked as if it had been set up only a few weeks earlier. It had suffered a fire earlier in the day, perhaps due to faulty electrical wiring running along wooden columns supporting a flat wooden roof of cheap and hasty construction. Staff were trying to salvage things from the wreckage.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Elazig and Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

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

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

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

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

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

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

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

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

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

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

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

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.