To Cemisgezek and the Termal Hotel.

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

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

Between Hozat and Cemisgezek.

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

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

Cemisgezek.

Suleymaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

The pazar, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Yelmaniye Camii, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

The cemevi, Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

Cemisgezek.

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

View south from Cemisgezek.

View south from Cemisgezek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Pertek Kale and the ferry.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

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To Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

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

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

The roundabout, Pertek.

The roundabout, Pertek.

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

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

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

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

Hozat.

Hozat.

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

Hozat.

Hozat.

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

To Ergen Armenian Church.

To Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

Between Hozat and Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

Lunch near Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

Ergen Armenian Church.

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

Gecimli.

Gecimli.

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

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

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

Between Hozat and the Pertek to Cemisgezek road.

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

Near Gecimli.

Near Gecimli.