Eski Palu.

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

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

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

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

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

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

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

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

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

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

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

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

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

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii.

Merkez Camii.

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

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small vestry n. of chancel…

Church of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eski Erzincan.

Following a devastating earthquake in 1939 that claimed many lives, what is now Eski Erzincan was almost completely abandoned. Most of modern Erzincan is a city that has developed since that tragic year. This means that modern Erzincan has very few buildings more than eighty years old and, as a consequence, feels more like a concrete jungle than most Turkish cities because of the absence of anything of substantial age. Despite this, and despite the fact that conventional Sunni piety shapes a majority of the population, I had enjoyed my last and only other visit to the city. The city’s shabbiness has an oddly endearing quality, the pazar is very good and the railway has a substantial presence. Also, the mountains that enclose the city are very attractive, although in a somewhat austere manner. With excellent places in the region to visit including Kemah, Tercan and Altintepe, the latter an Urartian fortress with a temple, palace and tombs, there are many worse places to spend the night. Moreover, the northernmost edge of Eski Erzincan is only 3 kilometres from the main square in Erzincan’s city centre.

As I walked to Eski Erzincan along the main road bound for the airport and Caylagan, one of the city’s many stray dogs, one about the size of an Alsatian, befriended me and we became companions for about an hour until it developed an interest in two dogs of similar appearance to itself. On the way to Eski Erzincan we crossed the railway, passed a large cemetery which I looked at later and walked beside a very depressing zoo where animals were in small and sterile compounds in which food and water were provided intermittently.

The railway, Erzincan.

The railway, Erzincan.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

The first structure we came to was an old hamam, a long, low building with stonework in very poor condition. The hot room is at the north end of the structure. Externally, only two of the domes can be identified and both are made of brick. Part of a chimney rises from the roof. Sinclair thinks the hamam is Ottoman, but suggests it “could conceivably be medieval”. Because part of the building is now used as a store and the doors were locked, I could not examine the interior.

The first hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The first hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The ruins at Eski Erzincan now lie among trees and long grass, the latter decorated with wild flowers in late spring and early summer, and two or three houses are near the next structure I went to examine, a gatehouse about 100 metres away. To reach the gatehouse I walked among some trees where two men were looking after beehives they had arranged in lines in a small sunlit clearing among the trees.

Beehives, Eski Erzincan.

Beehives, Eski Erzincan.

A sign beside the ruin identifies it as Kale Kapisi, or Castle Gate. Sinclair reveals that:

This gatehouse, of smooth, well-finished masonry, is Ottoman, but it is almost certainly built on foundations of a previous medieval gatehouse. Its rectangular chamber extends behind the line of the wall. Either side of the wide doorway project two diminutive bastions: these have five faces, as if coming from a cut-off octagon, but the five-faced figure is added to the front of a short rectangle rather than directly to the front of the city wall. The purpose of this rectangular block of masonry is to support the wide arch, which acts as a kind of porch, against the front of the gatehouse’s wall. The facing stone has all been pulled from the gatehouse’s s. wall and also taken at the base of the n. tower. The back aspect is also generally shoddy. Both doorways have been narrowed with breeze blocks.

The family living in one of the nearby houses uses the gatehouse to store things, food for animals included.

The gatehouse, Eski Erzincan.

The gatehouse, Eski Erzincan.

By now my companion had attracted the attention of three large dogs protecting one of the nearby houses, but the man who owned the dogs said they would not attack me; they were interested in my companion instead.

Near the gatehouse is the ruin of a tower with a hexagonal ground plan which, as Sinclair indicates, projects:

from the first angle on the w. corner (of the city wall) to a present height of one storey, but must originally have risen further, perhaps only enough to allow a crenellated defensive wall, less probably enough to allow a second covered storey. One side of the hexagon is accounted for by the back wall, which contains the entrance. The two sides adjacent to the entrance project from the city wall… These two sides are longer than the others to accommodate a lobby immediately inside the doorway. In the five outer faces, arrow slits with deep, wide embrasures. The masonry is of big, bossed blocks. Fragments of 14th-15th century decoration, very likely Islamic, on the n. face, mean that the tower was probably rebuilt in the 15th century.

The hexagonal tower, Eski Erzincan.

The hexagonal tower, Eski Erzincan.

 Immediately south-east of the tower are short sections of the city wall and more sections of the wall exist after turning through a right angle so you are now facing north-east. A flat ditch about 10 metres wide provided additional protection along some of the city wall. The ditch is most readily identified where the wall along the south side of the city runs in a south-west to north-east direction. Here, the edge of the ditch opposite the city wall is in places 2.5 metres high. The slope of the ground precluded a ditch in front of the wall facing south-west. The wall was built along the top of a bank which gets lower as it leads to the north-west.

Part of the city wall, Eski Erzincan.

Part of the city wall, Eski Erzincan.

I lost my companion as I examined the ditch, after which I crossed the road to the airport and Caylagan to spend some time in the pretty cemetery. Very few of the tombs or gravestones in the cemetery are old, but a few notable Muslims have been buried there and their turbes reflect the high esteem in which they were held. The cemetery is kept in good condition and many flowers including poppies, pansies and irises were in bloom. Some simple wooden kiosks with seats have been erected among the tombs, so I retired to one to have a rest. I ate half a simit and a nectarine, both survivals of my visit to Tamdere.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

The cemetery, Erzincan.

I returned to the road leading to the airport and Caylagan, then took a left onto the ring road avoiding Erzincan’s city centre. I knew there was more to see in Eski Erzincan and that it lay just to the north of the ring road, which did not exist when Sinclair visited the site in the 1980s. Thankfully, construction of the ring road does not seem to have destroyed anything of great importance.

I crossed the ring road and, behind a wire fence, saw the remains of a large hamam benefiting from a major restoration programme. Thinking I would not be able to examine the remains close up because of health and safety concerns, I took a few photos before intending to make my way back to the city centre. However, by following the fence I came to a gate and the gate was unlocked. I knew already that the workmen were not on site, so I went inside hoping dogs were not on guard duty or living nearby in a feral state. There were no dogs, so what followed was a delight. I walked around the whole hamam, which is already in an impressive condition. I came away with the impression that the restoration programme will result in a monument not done up to an excessive degree.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

Sinclair notes that:

The disrobing chamber with high dome is to the n. It is in good condition, both inside and outside, apart from the debris on the floor. The masonry of the walls is of the same bossed blocks as on the large octagonal tower. The dome is brick. The recess with pointed arch to the r. of the door (e. side) seems to have been for a cesme. Squinch and blind arch support for dome, set low in the usual manner. At the back of each squinch is a sloping triangle of rows of blocks set, toothlike, diagonally to the triangle’s face.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The area between the disrobing chamber and hot room is arranged unusually, and the series of rooms in question extends to either side of the rectangle implied by the disrobing chamber and hot room. A door leads into a chamber which must have been the cool room. This takes up only two-thirds of the slim space lying strictly between the disrobing chamber and the hot room. Off it, to the w., leads a passage to the lavatory, which projects to the w. end and to an extent lies alongside the disrobing chamber. S. of the corridor is another slim room, the w. end of which is domed. To the e. is a room adjacent partly to the cool room and partly to the hot room: it can only be entered by external doors to the n. and e. The hot room is of standard type, with small domed chambers in the corners, iwan-like rooms on the axes (though that communicating with the cool room is domed) and a central domed space. Furnace along whole s. side of the hot room.  

Beside thoroughly enjoying the hamam for its size and unusual features (part of the floor had been lifted to reveal where the hot water used to flow to keep the hamam warm), I was intrigued to find that the workmen’s clothes and tools, even a small battery-operated torch, had been left inside and outside the hamam as if they had suddenly deserted the site merely to have a meal nearby. Among some trees and bushes were bags of rubbish, cushions, water bottles, glasses for tea and other liquid refreshments, a teapot and a small wood-burning stove to boil water. This was clearly where the workmen had their breaks during the working day. There was also a hastily built loo with breeze block walls and a hole in the ground for human waste.

The workmen's camp at the second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

The workmen’s camp at the second hamam, Eski Erzincan.

A short distance from the hamam, but slowly being lost to view as the grass and the wild flowers grow against and over the remains, is what may be a medrese, although today you would be hard-pressed to know it was such a structure unless relying on Sinclair. Sinclair says that the ruin:

has not been inspected properly, as it lies just north of the main dumping ground for waste from the city abattoir… Roughly 20 metres n.-s., 15 metres e.-w. None of the walls survive to any great height. To the s., where the much-mortared rubble fill is exposed, there is a projection from the middle of the wall. Inside, and near this projection, lies a fragment of masonry which was part of a dome or pendentive… To the e. the masonry, much of it grassed over, is non-descript. In the w. wall is a series of five doorways: their bottom halves are buried in earth, but they are too wide in any case for windows. Each doorway has a stone lintel with rounded brick relieving arch above… The row of doorways looks as though designed to lead into a courtyard. On the other hand, Ottoman and medieval Turkish medreses are normally entered by a single doorway. These doorways, in fact, are the part of a building which defies explanation. Other possible guesses for the building’s purpose are a church with courtyard and, conceivably, a caravansaray or bedesten.

The medrese (?), Eski Erzincan.

The medrese (?), Eski Erzincan.

 It was now about 3.30pm. I walked through an area of small sheds and compounds where, at the appropriate time of the year, large numbers of sheep and goats are killed for Eid-ul-Adha or, as the Turks prefer to call it, Kurban Bayram, the Feast of Sacrifice. I then walked around the exterior of part of the wholly inadequate zoo before visiting the railway station and its marshalling yard. A westbound passenger train from Kars, the Dogu Ekspres bound for Ankara, was due quite soon and about twenty passengers were waiting for it, but it was running about fifty-five minutes late.

The railway station, Erzincan.

The railway station, Erzincan.

The railway station, Erzincan.

The railway station, Erzincan.

The railway station, Erzincan.

The railway station, Erzincan.

After reminding myself of just how attractive the station is, two men invited me to have tea, cheese, bread and olives in a building where railway employees have their offices, lockers, rest rooms and storage facilities for tools. It was interesting to see the interior of the building because, although there is a sense that it is much larger than modern-day exploitation of the railway network requires, its construction and facilities, as in the nearby station itself, confirm that, when built, the railway was very much part of Turkey’s progressive and secular future, a future that inspired in many a feeling of unbounded optimism. Transportation by road and air has done much to erode the importance of the railway network, but, especially in large urban centres such as Erzincan, facilities associated with the railway are kept in very good condition, perhaps in the hope that current investment programmes will revive its fortunes. The introduction of high speed trains in the west of the country, where the roads are far more cluttered with traffic than in the east, have certainly attracted people back to the trains.

The footbridge at the railway station, Erzincan.

The footbridge at the railway station, Erzincan.

Divrigi (part two).

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

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

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

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

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

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

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

The market, Divrigi.

The market, Divrigi.

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

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

The park and playground, Divrigi.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

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

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

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

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

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

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

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

The citadel and ruined church, Divrigi.

The citadel and Armenian church, Divrigi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

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

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

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

To Divrigi.

For half an hour before breakfast, I went for a walk through what remains of the old pazar, past an 18th century mosque and the old han that is now a hotel (it looked as if no guests were staying in the hotel), and along a road that slowly descends a hill. The road leads past some old, timber-framed houses. When I arrived at a second mosque with a nearby cesme from which a lot of water flowed I walked no further out of town, but examined the ruins of a hamam and an old house nearby. I then took a road and a footpath that led westward. I passed more old houses, one of which is made overwhelmingly with stone and has recently been restored, perhaps by the Belediye in an attempt to help attract tourists to Arapgir. I then took another right turn along a road I had walked the day before and was back at the hotel.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Part of the old pazar, Arapgir.

Part of the old pazar, Arapgir.

An old hamam, Arapgir.

An old hamam, Arapgir.

Breakfast in the Arapgir Nazar is taken on the top floor in a large room from where there are excellent views of the town centre and the surrounding countryside. Breakfast is not a buffet; staff bring a plate with a mixture of things to eat, but you cannot have anything more than what is on the plate and in the basket containing bread. Water and as much tea as you want complete the meal. Although the food on the plate is very conventional it is nicely presented, almost as if you are eating in someone’s home. Two women work in the kitchen, which explains why the food is presented to guests in such an attractive manner.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

I had hoped to say goodbye to the couple who had looked after me so well the day before, but they were not around. Instead, I settled the bill with the female receptionist, asked her to thank the owner and his daughter for me, and walked into the middle of town, from where I had to ascend the road leading to the road to Keban and Malatya. I had walked about 100 metres when I turned to flag a lift and a van stopped with two men inside. Because the men were going to Malatya, they gave me a lift to the point at which the road from Arapgir joins the main road. I had to go in the opposite direction toward Divrigi.

Twenty minutes after arriving at the junction, the driver of the fourth northbound motor vehicle stopped to offer me a lift. He drove a small, open-topped lorry with two cows in the back and on the cab floor was a large plastic bag with two hens with their legs tied together.

I was driven about 20 to 25 kilometres through beautiful upland scenery. At first the road navigated around the south-west end of the valley sheltering Eskisehir, ascending as it did so with a series of hairpin bends. For some of the way the road was in a valley with a meandering stream that tumbled over stones, then we arrived on a rocky, almost treeless, stretch of relatively level upland far above the valley of the Arapgir Cayi. By now, of course, we were among mountains rather than hills and the views were spectacular. Poles beside the road confirmed that snow was a major problem during winter and early spring. In fact, in some very exposed places fences had been erected to hold back drifting snow from the road. I was reminded of parts of Wyoming.

We slowed down and the driver indicated that he was turning left to take a dirt road leading to a village hidden from view in the folds of the hills and the mountains. I thanked him for the lift provided, which got me almost a third of the way to my destination. Moreover, I was now very high up, the visibility was excellent, the views were sublime and the air was invigorating.

On the road to Divrigi.

On the road to Divrigi.

I had already seen some tented camps for nomads looking after flocks of sheep and goats on the upland pasture. At two of the camps people clustered around lorries to unload mattresses and bedclothes required for the four or five months that lay ahead. I had also seen a road leading 14 kilometres to Yesilyayla, a name which means “green highland pasture”. What could have been a better destination for the day had Divrigi not been on the agenda. At the end of the road I would probably have found a village spread across the pasture, but in all likelihood it would have been a village inhabited only during the summer months when people move into the mountains so their sheep and goats can fatten on the grass that has not been eaten since the previous autumn.

A flock of sheep, on the road to Divrigi.

A flock of sheep, on the road to Divrigi.

Tented camp for nomads, on the road to Divrigi.

Tented camp for nomads, on the road to Divrigi.

Motor vehicles along the road were now so infrequent that I began to walk. Most of my walk for the next 3 or 4 kilometres was level or slightly downhill, but, as bad luck would have it, I had to negotiate a stretch of road being up-graded, which meant it was in a very shabby state and subject to large motor vehicles tearing up or laying the surface. I had some company of sorts, however, and the road works did little to mar my enjoyment of the scenery. It is planned that the road will be re-routed through a tunnel about half a kilometre long. Some workmen explained that the route of the current road meant that it was subject to regular closure during winter because of deep snow, but the tunnel would ensure that this happened far less often.

On the road to Divrigi.

On the road to Divrigi.

I arrived at a point near where more tented camps for nomads were being established and, because the views were so delightful, stopped to wait for a lift. The man in the second car to approach me drew to a halt and took me all the way to Divrigi, where he had to pick up food supplies for workmen digging the tunnel.

The road for the last 35 or so kilometres to Divrigi was not as beautiful as the stretch as far as where the road works began, but, with mountains always in view and the fertility of the plain to the south and west of Divrigi itself, I could not complain. Moreover, my luck with lifts meant that I was in Divrigi far earlier than I had expected. Because no minibuses run between Arapgir and Divrigi, and because I knew the road would not carry much traffic, I had expected to arrive in my destination about midday. However, I was in the town centre, where the weekly market was in full swing, before 11.00am. I had ahead of me almost a full day.

Research before leaving the UK revealed that Divrigi now has at least two hotels, but I wanted to stay at the Belediye thinking it would be in the town centre and inexpensive, the latter because of subsidies deriving from the town council. I first went to the Belediye itself, thinking the hotel might occupy a floor among the offices or be located nearby, but, when I arrived and asked staff about the hotel, they said that it was about a kilometre away. I prepared to undertake the walk, but a female employee said I had to wait and a lift would be provided. Three men in uniform ushered me to a car in the Belediye car park and kindly drove me to the hotel.

Divrigi’s Belediye Hotel is on the northern edge of town with the railway station and its attendant facilities nearby and a deep valley with a meandering river even closer. Immediately south of the hotel is the vast buttress of rock on which stand the ruins of the large citadel. The hotel itself has seen better days and parts of it now look shabby, but the rooms are spacious and benefit from en suite facilities. I had a room facing the citadel and, in common with all the rooms facing south, a spacious balcony that I sat on whenever I had the opportunity. There is a bar and a restaurant, and in the evenings many people come to drink beer and eat food on the wide patio facing the citadel. The overnight cost, which included breakfast, was 60TL, which, given that Divrigi proved the trip’s the most popular place for tourists other than Diyarbakir, was very reasonable.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

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 only enough room for 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 has not been 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. The large Syriac Orthodox church, known locally as the Kizil, or Red, Kilise, although in good condition externally, 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 economically 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 exactly 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 some 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.

Cermik (and more about Cungus).

I admired from a distance the ruins of the citadel high above the town because there is much to enjoy in Cermik itself. The main street meanders into the pazar, which is larger than a town of Cermik’s size would seem to require, but the town is obviously a commercial centre for many smaller settlements nearby. The pazar peters out in a small square dominated by the Ulu Camii, which has two small prayer halls side by side. The prayer hall to the west has three aisles separated by walls pierced at irregular intervals by arches and appears to date from 1144 or 1145, but only some of the original stone blocks remain. The prayer hall to the east, which may date from 1517, has a squinch and blind-arch dome and a three-domed portico.

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

Ascending the steep slope between the Ulu Camii and the citadel is a part of town where many old houses survive. Some of the houses are timber-framed and spread over two storeys, but others are built largely of stone, are smaller in size and spread over only one floor. Gardens, many in a state of neglect, lie among the houses.

Cermik, from below the citadel but above the last houses.

Cermik, from below the citadel but above the last houses.

It was Saturday evening and many women and children were outside enjoying the gradually cooling conditions. The women chatted amongst themselves or occasionally stirred large pots of food kept hot by wood-burning fires they had built in the street, and the children played games, football included. Some of the women were too shy to talk or, in some instances, even make eye contact, but a more assertive woman with whom I had spoken earlier invited me to consume a bowl of excellent soup made from yoghurt, bulgar, lemon and salt. The soup was so filling that, as well as everything I had eaten earlier in the day, I knew I would not want a proper evening meal. I would have loved to take a photo of the woman, aged about thirty-five, and her female companions aged about sixteen to fifty, but I was in a predominantly Sunni area where taking photos of women is still discouraged. Because I did not want to cause a problem, I kept my camera hidden.

I walked to different spots beyond the last houses to secure better views of the ruined citadel on the cliffs above, but it is not an easy monument to access without some clambering up rocks on steep slopes. Although the views from the summit must be outstanding, the town centre promised more delights.

The citadel, Cermik.

The citadel, Cermik.

Back in the town centre I saw a large hamam in excellent condition, a cesme in very poor condition and a large stone building described to me as a saray, or palace. The saray was extensive and adjoined a stone structure with what looked like a tower. Taken as a whole, the stone structure beside the saray resembled a small castle, but local people said the saray and the “castle” were really one building. Once the home to a rich and powerful family, most of the saray, which spreads over three floors, is now abandoned, but very poor families live in some of the rooms.

The hamam, Cermik.

The hamam, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

It was now about 7.15 and I began walking toward Kaplica, but on the way men were dancing in Kurdish line-style in the playground of a religious school. I entered the playground and was soon in conversation with two men, a doctor and a teacher, who explained that a wedding was taking place. The males and females were strictly segregated, of course, the latter inside the school attending to the bride and preparing the food for a large feast in about an hour’s time. I was given tea to drink and invited to partake in the feast, but declined the kind invitation because of my prior commitment to Mehmet and Cemal, and because I did not want to be part of a wedding reception in which I would have to spend time only with the men while the women were having great fun (I hope) elsewhere.

I quickly freshened up at the hotel, then walked back to the brothers’ workshop, where I found Mehmet and Cemal with four of their best male friends and a relative. One of their friends had with him his daughter aged about fourteen. It was interesting to see how easily the daughter got on with her male companions and how often she contributed to discussions. The brothers had only stopped work about an hour before my arrival and looked very tired. We drank tea and ate an ice cream each. About 10.00pm I said I needed to get some sleep and Mehmet quite unnecessarily gave me a lift to the hotel.

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

It was while we chatted in the workshop that I discovered something of the area’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity. Two of the men present, one of whom was a police officer, were Turks whose first language was obviously Turkish, two were Kurds who spoke Kurmanji and the rest were Kurds who spoke Zazaki. I was told that a few Armenians and Kizilbash still lived locally.

Back home I found that Zazaki subdivides into three main dialects, with southern Zazaki being spoken in Siverek, Cermik, Egil and parts of Adiyaman and Malatya provinces. Central Zazaki is spoken in Solhan and parts of Elazig and Bingol provinces, and northern Zazaki is spoken in Gumushane, Varto and parts of Tunceli, Erzincan, Erzurum and Sivas provinces. It is estimated that between 1.5 and four million people speak Zazaki in Turkey, with most academics inclining toward a figure of about two million.

About 15 million Turkish Kurds speak Kurmanji, but Kurmanji is also spoken by Kurds in Syria and parts of Iraq and Iran. Moreover, Kurmanji is the language used for ritual purposes by the Yazidis, the great majority of whom are Kurds.

Although a majority of Turkey’s Kurds are Sunnis, as are a majority of the Turks with whom they have had such troubled relations for so long, most Kurds follow the shafi school of jurisprudence while most Turks remain loyal to the hanefi school. However, many Kurds are Alevis and some belong to different Sufi groups, the Bektashis included (sometimes no distinction is made by Kurds between being Alevi and Bektashi, which, if nothing else, confirms the similarity between the two expressions of faith). A small number of Turkish Kurds are Yazidi (most Turkish Yazidis have migrated to Germany because the Turkish government never did enough to protect them from persecution), but Turkey’s Yazidi population has increased of late due to the Islamic State’s persecution of Yazidis in Syria and Iraq and the Yazidi exodus from the lands that they have lived in for centuries (the Islamic State has not withdrawn its threat to rid the world of Yazidis by an act of genocide. We still do not know how many Yazidis in the last year or so have been enslaved, forcibly converted and/or murdered, but thousands have already been killed, of that we are certain). Of course, many Kurds have no faith commitment at all, as is the case with many Turks. Kurds devoid of a faith commitment overwhelmingly incline toward the political left.

Bunting put up by political parties for the forthcoming general election, Cermik.

Bunting put up by political parties for the forthcoming general election, Cermik.

Strictly speaking, the Kizilbash are not an ethnic but a religious minority. They are Shia Muslims who emerged during the late 13th century. Their name means “red or crimson-headed”, which is a reference to the headwear they once wore. Because in the past they regarded their rulers as divine figures, even mainstream Shia Muslims condemned them as heretical extremists. Ethnically, some of Turkey’s Kizilbash are Turks and others are Kurds. In the contemporary era, few if any female Kizilbash cover their faces or wear a headscarf. If females wear a headscarf at all it is usually worn like a loose turban and little care is taken to cover all their hair. To this day mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims distrust the Kizilbash, even though they do not appear in the least fanatical about their religious beliefs and devote most time to securing their economic well-being in conditions not conducive to generating much wealth (many Kizilbash live in villages and small towns and depend on agriculture or semi-skilled labour for a living). Encounters with Kizilbash later during the trip convinced me that they are generally a very sound group of people opposed to religious extremism and in sympathy with secular political parties seeking to combat disadvantage and discrimination.

Only twenty-four or twenty-five hours had passed since arriving at Diyarbakir Airport but I had already seen some amazing places, met some delightful people and been the recipient of remarkable hospitality from complete strangers. The trip could not have begun in a manner any better.

I quickly washed a few items of clothing and draped them over plastic chairs on the balcony confident that most would dry by the morning. Two balconies along two young women were smoking cigarettes. They were not wearing headscarves and were therefore either secular or Alevi. We waved to each other.

Cermik.

Cermik.

P.S. The following is part of an article that appeared in the 16.4.15 edition of “The New York Times” and is inspired by a visit to Cungus:

The crumbling stone monastery, built into the hillside, stands as a forlorn monument to an awful past. So, too, does the decaying church on the other side of this mountain village. Farther out, a crevice is sliced into the earth, so deep that, peering into it, one sees only blackness. Haunting for its history, it was there that, a century ago, an untold number of Armenians were tossed to their deaths.

“They threw them in that hole, all the men,” said Vahit Sahin, 78, sitting at a cafe in the centre of the village, reciting the stories that have passed through the generations.

Mr. Sahin turned in his chair and pointed toward the monastery. “That side was Armenian.” He turned back. “This side was Muslim. At first, they were really friendly with each other.”

A hundred years ago, amid the upheaval of world war one, this village and countless others across eastern Anatolia became killing fields as the desperate leadership of the Ottoman Empire, having lost the Balkans and facing the prospect of losing its Arab territories as well, saw a threat closer to home.

Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century. Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres like the one here, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with a hundred years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity; the psychic wounds passed through generations.

A recent article in “The Armenian Weekly” contains the following description of what happened at Cungus in 1915:

“They brought the Armenians here. Thousands of them. They stripped them of their belongings and threw them into the chasm,” explains a Kurdish villager who had spotted us while driving by.

We are standing at the mouth of a deep, eerie cleft – bottomless, according to the locals – called Dudan by Armenians and Kurds for centuries (the cleft is also known as Yudan Dere).

“How do you know the Armenians were killed here?” I ask. It’s not that I’m skeptical. We know from various survivor and perpetrator accounts that the 10,000 (?) Armenians of Chunkush (Cungus, a district in the province of Diyarbakir) were led here by gendarmes and armed chettes (irregular Kurdish “troops” often “recruited” from among Muslim prisoners released to engage in acts of rape, pillage and murder) in 1915, brutally murdered and hurled into the chasm.

“There was a woman in our village. She lived to be 104,” he replies. “She saw it all.”

He pauses. “Everybody knows.”

We had already realised that everybody knew. In Chunkush one of the locals, a teenager, had given us directions to Dudan where, he said, the entire population of the almost exclusively Armenian village had perished.

As we were driving… we asked a man where Dudan is. He jumped into our van and led us there. When we got to Dudan, our driver, a Kurd from Diyarbakir, asked him, “What happened here?”

“Nothing,” the man murmured.

“They say something happened to the Armenians here,” the driver insisted. At that point the man became visibly angry. “I do not know,” he said, and stormed out of the van.

The murder of the Armenians of Chunkush constitutes one of the largest, most brutal in situ massacres of the Armenian genocide. The Armenians from Chunkush were marched to Dudan – only two hours away by foot – and massacred on the spot. Historian Raymond Kevorkian writes:

“The males were dealt with first, in accordance with a classic procedure: tied together in small groups of fewer than ten, they were handed over to butchers who bayoneted them or killed them with axes and then threw the bodies into the chasm. The method used on the women was quite similar, except that they were first systematically stripped and searched and then had their throats cut, after which their corpses were also thrown into the chasm. Some of them preferred to leap into the abyss themselves, dragging their children with them; thus they cheated their murderers of part of their booty.”