To Elazig.

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

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

Solhan.

Solhan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

The bazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

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

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

Borek and lemon, Elazig.

Borek and limon, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

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To Palu and Eski Palu.

Before breakfast I walked to the ferry terminal to put the previous night’s empty beer bottles into litter bins, then went to eat in the garden of the hotel overlooking the reservoir. The sun was shining. As I waited for the food and tea to arrive, I looked at the roses in the flower beds. A man arrived in the garden and sat a few tables away. Three friends soon joined him for breakfast. Borek replaced the chips of the morning before and there was an excellent jam made from what looked like blackberries, but the fruit was karadut, or black mulberries. Once again, honey was in the comb.

I packed the last few things into my bags, paid the bill, thanked staff for what had proved a delightful stay and walked to the ferry terminal knowing I could find a seat in one of the five or six minibuses for Elazig that had arrived for the next crossing. However, as we waited for a ferry to arrive (two ferries make the crossing all day long timing their departure so they set off at almost exactly the same moment, but from opposites sides of the reservoir), I chatted with a man driving an almost new Volvo. An Alevi with the usual misgivings about Erdogan, the AKP and Sunni Muslims, he kindly offered me a lift to Elazig where he was undertaking a day’s business. Because Elazig was from where minibuses would take me to my destination for the night, Palu, I agreed without hesitation to join him.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

Once all the motor vehicles had been driven aboard, the ferry set off. Passengers could walk around the deck, which meant that the views of the castle and the reservoir were very good. I was not allowed to pay either my fare or for the car. The crossing took about only fifteen minutes and it did not take long to disembark. The drive thereafter was pretty rather than spectacular, but, as the car began to descend into Elazig, we passed a very large but incomplete hotel commanding extensive views over the city and the wide valley beyond.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

The man who had given me the lift left his Volvo in a car park next to where minibuses depart for the minibus garaj serving towns and villages to the east. Because Palu lay to the east of Elazig, this was the garaj required for the next leg of my journey, so I got into the right minibus and, ten minutes later, asked from where I could find a service to Palu. In the fashion characteristic of the trip so far, a minibus for Palu was leaving in about five minutes. Perfection.

Most of the journey to Palu was of moderate interest scenically, especially as we drove beside another reservoir with rounded hills to either side, but as we made our way into Palu itself, which lies beside the Murat Nehri with high mountains nearby, my spirits lifted. A steep, meandering descent from a plain into the town itself confirmed that I would enjoy what remained of the day. Some unattractive urban areas lay between Elazig and my destination, most obviously in Kovancilar where we turned off the main road to Bingol and Mus, but, although Palu is now overwhelmingly modern, its situation is stunning and it is small enough not to be much of a blot on the landscape. Moreover, because Palu lies beside the railway from Elazig to Mus and Tatvan, the small town is worth a detour even without the dramatic scenery and Eski Palu, the latter being the main reason why I was staying overnight.

A search on the internet before leaving home suggested that Palu did not have a hotel, and this was confirmed by men at the garaj in Elazig from where the Palu minibuses depart. However, in Turkey even small towns have accommodation of some sort for visitors expected or otherwise, and the men at the garaj had assured me that staff at the ogretmen evi would put me up. Palu’s town centre is so small that the minibus terminated almost opposite the ogretmen evi, so I walked across the road to enquire about a room. A room was available because most teachers had departed for home. The term was almost over and exams dominated the working day, but only a few teachers were needed to supervise them. The manager of the ogretmen evi, who was summoned from the nearby large and very new Hukumet Konagi, showed me around the facilities (the facilities included rooms where games such as pool were played and a kitchen where breakfast was prepared), then he offered me a room with three beds near a smaller room with a sink and toilet (showers and more sinks and toilets were upstairs and easily accessed). I said how grateful I was for the room, which had lots of storage space, especially for one person, but was even more amazed when I was told that the room cost only 15TL a night. I said that the cost was very low and was happy to pay more, but more could not be accepted. I was in the middle of the town with the pazar, shops, businesses and lokantas nearby; the railway station was a few blocks to the south-west; and a road leading toward Eski Palu began near the Hukumet Konagi less than 300 metres away. I could not believe my luck. We drank tea, my passport was photocopied and a few personal details were committed to a ledger.

I paid for the room in advance, then the manager led me to a small courtyard where the teachers could sit in the evenings drinking tea or soft drinks as they chatted with friends. From a tree the manager picked a green fruit not unlike a very small apple, but the fruit had a stone rather than pips inside. I bit into the sour but refreshing flesh, itself firm like an immature apple, and the manager gave me about twenty to take for my walk to, around and from Eski Palu.

The best way from Palu to Eski Palu on foot (there is a way by car, but it is much greater in length and requires crossing the river twice) is to follow as closely as possible the railway going east, then, with some of the ruins now in sight, ascend a rounded hill aiming for one of the minarets. The centre of Eski Palu, which has long been abandoned and replaced by the town in which I was staying overnight, lay among and close to the ruins just mentioned, but the ruins of a citadel are found on the massive eruption of rock behind them. Eski Palu is a destination that deserves to be far better known and, as I was soon to find out, its ruins are more extensive and rewarding than those at similar but more famous places.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

For most of the way to Eski Palu there are footpaths. Some of the footpaths are directly above the river with the railway to your left, and some are a little to the north with the railway to your right. However, all the paths eventually disappeared among new grass and late spring’s wild flowers. I had to ascend a hillside using for directions one of the minarets to keep me roughly on course. When I arrived on the more level ground that must have once been the centre of Eski Palu, there were the ruins of two mosques, a hamam and a cesme in close proximity and, some way to the east, a ruined church. High above me to the north were the ruins of the citadel. The ruins of the hamam were the most impressive and they were the ones most obviously benefiting from a lengthy restoration project.

View west to Palu.

View west to Palu.

I had been looking around the ruins for about fifteen minutes when I met five or six workmen who had been resting nearby before resuming their task of restoring the hamam. One of the workmen kindly encouraged me to enter parts of the ruins not previously examined, then he invited me to join two of his colleagues for glasses of tea in a large portacabin that was where they slept at night. The portacabin was also their daytime retreat when the heat became oppressive or they wanted to eat a meal. They explained that, although it was a rather long walk to the citadel via a gently inclined road encircling the mountain on which it stands before turning into a path with stone steps, I should make the effort to see it. I would enjoy the views, some Urartian remains and a tunnel of unknown origin. I took their advice, but did not realise at the time that the walk would also lead to other ruins associated with Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

To Sagman and the Termal Hotel.

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

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

View south from the road to Sagman.

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

View south-east from Sagman.

View south-east from Sagman.

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

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

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

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

The mosque, Sagman.

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

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

The cesme, Sagman.

The cesme, Sagman.

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

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

Sagman.

Sagman.

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

The castle, Sagman.

The castle, Sagman.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

The mosque and castle, Sagman.

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

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

The almost deserted village between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Between Sagman and Pertek.

Between Sagman and Pertek.

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

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

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

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

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

The village where I was fed between Sagman and Pertek.

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

Pertek.

Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

Sunset, Keban Reservoir, Pertek.

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.

To Pertek and the Termal Hotel.

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

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

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

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

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

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

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

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

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Termal Hotel, Pertek.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

To Keban and Arapgir.

The Mayd Hotel in Elazig is at number 11 Horasan Sokak, but Horasan Sokak is better known locally as Kofteciler Sokak because of the large number of lokantas, many of which serve meatballs. Where I ate twice the day before is just off Horasan Sokak and other lokantas exist along that street as well as along half a dozen others nearby.

Keen to make an early start just in case getting from Keban to Arapgir proved a problem, I was eating breakfast by 7.00am and impressed with what the two-star hotel provided (I was correct. With a woman in the kitchen the food was better than normal). Beside all the usual items such as olives, cheese, sliced meat, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, butter, jam, honey, chocolate spread flavoured with hazelnuts and boiled eggs, there were lentil soup, yoghurt, simit, borek stuffed with egg and vegetables, cooked tomatoes and peppers, fried potatoes and as much tea and water as my body required. I went for broke and tried just about everything, enjoying in particular the borek, yoghurt, honey and sour cherry jam. If I were to have problems later in the day with transport, I could get to the evening before having to eat again.

I settled the bill and left for the minibus garaj I had arrived at the day before. By utilising a short cut through the side streets I got to my destination in under fifteen minutes. The next minibus for Keban was leaving at 8.30am; I had almost half an hour to wait. I chatted with a man bound for Keban and the nearby dam.

Two boys, one with a grubby improvised bandage on his hand, approached us and asked for money. Aged about eight and ten, the boys were Syrians displaced by the civil war that had raged for three years and was now further complicated by the emergence of the Islamic State. We did not learn much about their circumstances – were they alone? Had their parents died or were they alive but not with them in Elazig? – but I gave them some money. They thanked me and slowly walked away counting the coins in their hands.

I was reminded that Turkey is now caring for 1.8 million people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. 1.8 million people! This is a humanitarian exercise for which Turkey deserves international recognition and immense praise. But we in the UK refuse to take only a few thousand people who have fled poverty or conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa or sub-Saharan Africa and who have crossed the Mediterranean to be cared for in Greece or Italy. The UK used to have an enviable reputation for providing people in need with a place of sanctuary. We are now, despite our relative wealth, increasingly inward-looking, xenophobic and intolerant of those seeking the same life chances as us. And you know what makes this so ridiculous? If every UK citizen looks back far enough into his or her family history, he or she will discover something we all have in common. We are all, yes all, foreign in origin. Even the people who have inhabited the islands of Britain the longest, people of Celtic descent in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, are foreign in origin. The point I am making is this. If we are all foreign in origin, how can we justify denying to other people the opportunity to migrate to the UK, especially if the other people are migrating for precisely the same reasons we migrated? The suggestion that we are full already is simply nonsense. Even our densely populated urban areas in south-east England have lots of plots of land that can be developed to good effect, and I am not including in this plots of land that are parks or green open spaces, which must remain so for the well-being of people locally.

Before the civil war, Syria was the Middle East’s most intriguing nation state because of the ethnic, cultural and linguistic mixture of its people, the considerable beauty of some of its landscapes and many of its urban areas, and because of the remarkable monuments that had survived from, in some cases, thousands of years ago. But now at least 150,000 people have been killed, millions of Syrians are refugees, vast swathes of urban Syria are in ruins that resemble Gaza after it has been bombed by the Israelis, and the Islamic State is doing all it can to destroy monuments that it deems unIslamic (recent reports suggest that the wonderful desert city of Palmyra is the latest world heritage site to attract the Islamic State’s hatred of things not Muslim).

It is already obvious that, even if peace were to return to Iraq tomorrow, the great majority of non-Muslim Iraqis will never return because they believe that they can never again be certain of their safety and security in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation state. Unless the civil war ends soon in Syria, and the Islamic State is crushed forever, the great majority of non-Muslim Syrians will never return to Syria for precisely the same reason. And who, in the end, will be the biggest losers because of disrupting the delicate ethnic, cultural and linguistic balance that once existed in both nation states? The people who remain in Iraq and Syria, the vast majority of whom will be Muslims.

Already, too many Middle Eastern and north African nation states have suffered the loss of minority groups, thereby becoming far more monocultural than they have ever been. The question for the future therefore becomes this: Can those few overtly multiethnic nation states in the region such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel remain as diverse as they currently are? The indicators are not encouraging. Coptic Christians in Egypt live in constant fear that they will be subjected to massacres in their residential districts or bomb attacks in their churches; non-Christian minorities in Jordan know it is only a matter of time before Islamist inclinations gain greater popularity among the Sunni Muslim majority; the Lebanese fear that the war in Syria will once again ignite conflict among its ethnic and/or confessional communities, but that, on this occasion, non-Muslims will be able to defend themselves less effectively; Turkey is far less multiethnic than it was even a generation ago; and Israel is increasingly blighted by Jewish religious fundamentalism of the most alarming kind, fundamentalism that often morphs into racism directed against the Arabs generally and the Palestinians more particularly. Such Jewish racism is sufficiently violent in its rhetoric and physical expression to have already driven some Palestinians from their homes. Moreover, such racism causes growing numbers of Jewish people in the diaspora, and many non-Jewish people who support the existence of the state of Israel, to despair that peace with the Palestinians will ever be achieved.

As my trip to Turkey was confirming, Turkey could emerge as an exception to the rule in this troubled part of the globe. Yes, Turkey has seen a most alarming decline in the extent to which it is an ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nation state since, say, the 1950s, but all sorts of substantive and symbolic indicators point toward a growing number of Turkish nationals, whether ethnic Turks or Kurds, anxious to celebrate the diversity of the country’s population, past and present. The Greek and the Jewish populations may now be only a few thousand strong each, but the Armenian population seems to have stabilised at around 70,000, although it is clear that some people who describe themselves as, say, Turks, Kurds or Laz are in actual fact Islamicised Armenians. Because a majority of them are Muslims, no one need worry too much about the long-term prospects for the Laz, the Arabs or the Georgians in Turkey, and it cannot be denied that, since the war with the PKK concluded a few years ago, prospects for Turkey’s Syriac Orthodox Christians have improved significantly. Instability in Syria and Iraq may actually increase the size of Turkey’s very small Yazidi and Chaldean communities – leaders in both communities in Syria and Iraq have said their people never want to live in Syria or Iraq again – but, for Yazidis and Chaldeans to remain in Turkey, they will need convincing guarantees from the Turkish government that sympathy for their dire plight is not merely a temporary phenomenon.

I am more confident about the prospects for multiethnicity in Turkey than for multiethnicity in any of the other nation states just identified, but I also realise how quickly things can change in the Middle East. Should conflict once again break out between the PKK and the Turkish government, all the good work of the last few years will be undone in months. It could also be undone in a few months if the AKP tries to impose a legislative programme more Islamist than it has proposed to date, or if Turkish nationalists of the more extreme kind allege that Turkey’s minorities pose threats to the integrity of the republic and/or idealised notions of what it means to be a Turk. There is a lot at stake in the forthcoming general election, believe me.

Although my love affair with Turkey began in 1978, there are still things about the country that bring tears to my eyes, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. Tears come to my eyes for good reasons because of the astounding hospitality and friendliness of most of the people; for the way that things rarely fail to fall into place if you need transport, accommodation or food and drink; for how the more you look and listen, the more you find places that very few people know about even though such places should be internationally renowned; and for how Turkey has provided sanctuary for so many refugees from recent and on-going Middle Eastern conflicts. Tears come to my eyes for bad reasons because of the barriers that still remain for the great majority of people with disabilities, special needs and learning difficulties; the discrimination that confronts all the country’s minority ethnic groups and its gay, lesbian and bisexual communities; the poverty that exists in many rural communities, especially in eastern Turkey; the gender inequality that penalises millions of girls and women in countless substantive and symbolic ways; and the boundless energy, enterprise and intelligence that lie untapped among a majority of the country’s female population because, other than in a few sectors of society in which secular principles have not given way to Islamic ones, girls and women cannot compete as equals with boys and men. Today turned out to be one of the days when I often found myself fighting back the tears, and sometimes for some of the reasons just listed.

Because the 50 kilometre journey to Keban in a comfortable minibus cost only 5TL, or about £1-30, I tried to work out how much a bus journey of a similar distance would have cost in the UK. £4-50 to £5 seemed about right. The fare to Keban was very small despite the fact that petrol in Turkey is almost the same price as in the UK, thereby making it very expensive in comparison to the average income, which is about a fifth or a sixth that of the average income in the UK.

The minibus went past the football ground, the incomplete park with the water features, the large dental hospital, lots of very new apartment blocks of crisp and clean design, the Ramada Hotel and a wall painting of Ataturk dressed in a soldier’s uniform and sucking a cigarette. Some progress has been made in recent years to convince Turkey’s citizens that smoking is a danger to their health, so much so that many people no longer smoke and far fewer smokers offer cigarettes to people they know, which are both in marked contrast with past decades. However, smoking remains more popular in Turkey than in the UK, and in recent years seems to have been taken up by more women. It is still quite rare to see pious women in headscarves smoking, but those that do are usually earning a living in a full- or part-time job while still constrained by all the responsibilities of motherhood and home-maker. It was the start of day five of the trip and I had smoked only two cigarettes since arriving in Diyarbakir. I never smoke at home and have not done so for at least a decade, when I confined consumption of the evil weed to only the occasional cigar. But the flesh is weak.

Elazig has spread so far to the west that it was only when we arrived at the turning for Sahinkaya that we escaped the clutches of the city. I had never travelled the road to Keban before. The gently undulating terrain is dominated by fields, pasture, orchards and grapevines, and hills and mountains are always in view in the distance. Some of the orchards produce apricots and many of the apricots find their way to Malatya, the city in the centre of one of the world’s best regions for their production. As I was to soon find out, some of the grapes are turned into wine and quite a lot of the wine is consumed locally by Alevi and Bektashi Muslims. In fact, I was temporarily leaving the Sunni side of the street for an area dominated by Alevis. It was almost as if I was leaving one nation state for another.

For most of the way to Keban lots of wild flowers grew in the long grass. There were many places where beehives had been arranged in lines not far from sources of nectar and pollen. We passed a large modern mosque built where only four or five houses were in walking distance. I was reminded that Alevis and Bektashis do not, as a general rule, engage in ritual practices in mosques. I knew for certain that the mosque will have been recently built in the hope that Alevis and Bektashis will be persuaded to adopt mainstream Sunni Islam. Is there much chance that this will happen? No, and above all due to the discrimination that Alevis and Bektashis have suffered for centuries at the hands of Sunni Muslims.

Almost every village along the road to Keban has a new mosque and the mosque is always far larger than the size of each village justifies. The AKP has engaged in a massive mosque-building programme in recent years, but in all the parts of Turkey with substantial Alevi and Bektashi populations I suspect its efforts to reinforce the influence of Sunni Islam have been largely unsuccessful. How sad that such a lot of money and effort have been put to such pointless use.

We drove beside Poyraz, a widely dispersed village. Just beyond the settlement, a road veers off to the north and leads to the vast and elongated Keban Reservoir where a ferry carries vehicles and passengers to the north shore from where another road leads after a few kilometres to the town of Cemisgezek, which I hoped to visit in a few day’s time.

The road gradually ascended for quite a long way and every so often we passed very large, modern houses that had been carefully designed and brightly painted. The houses belonged to guestworkers who, on retiring from their jobs in countries such as Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, were rich enough to build exactly what they wanted in the area where they had been born.

We reached the highest point on the road and ahead of us mountains dominated the view. We began to gradually descend and drew to a halt at a road junction where a man wanted a lift to Keban. A sign beside the road indicated that the nearest village was 3 kilometres away and the furthest 11 kilometres. In Turkey, such signs tempt me to take a detour even if they seem to lead to nowhere of great importance. However, I knew that the chances of something interesting lying along the road are very high, so the risk of being disappointed is very small.

When the baby in front of me dropped his dummy I reached forward to pick it up. I handed the dummy to the young mother, but she did not acknowledge my existence in the slightest way. I was not surprised because she wore a headscarf and was dressed in a manner that confirmed she was a conventionally pious Sunni Muslim who should not have any contact with an unknown male.

The road entered a meandering valley, but remained above the river. A few minutes later we arrived at the edge of Keban and I got off the minibus at the point where a road to the left led downhill into the centre of the old town.

Keban.

Keban.

People confirmed that minibuses did not travel between Keban and Arapgir, but I was not unduly worried because it was just after 9.30am. Since Keban is small and situated in such pretty surroundings with hills pressing against it on all sides, I decided to walk into the town centre because the minibus driver had told me earlier that there is a pretty mosque and an old church.

Keban stands on a slope above a deep, narrow tributary of the Euphrates. It was a town of considerable importance until the mid-19th century because of nearby lead and silver mines, the abandonment of which caused the settlement’s population to decline. When the mines were open, smelting took place locally. The miners were mostly Greeks, but Sinclair suggests that “there was always a Turkish supervisor”.

In the 1830s Germans and Hungarians worked one of the lead mines, and in 1840 Austrian engineers arrived and improved production for a short period of time. The main problem that confronted the miners and engineers was the lack of wood for smelting, so in the 1840s attempts were made to force the people living in nearby villages to supply wood, but such coercive efforts resulted in people leaving the villages and the males becoming brigands or bandits. Production dwindled and the mines and furnaces were abandoned for good about 1871.

The very pretty mosque is Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii. It is part of a kulliye, or complex, and therefore proved an unexpected delight. Sinclair notes that the mosque and its related buildings date from 1795 or 1796:

The mosque lies at the s. side of a courtyard dug out of the hillside. The dome is taken on four slim, widely spaced pillars. Between the pillars and the walls are sprung high pointed vaults. The dome and space beneath it are broad, airy and light in relation to the thinner, darker vaults. Women’s gallery to the n. The mihrab is plain, but the stone mimber is excellently decorated… The son cemaat yeri is a portico on pillars whose pitched roof continues the slope of that covering the prayer hall. It has a single dome (in the middle). The minaret to the w. is clear of the prayer hall’s wall and was built two years later than the prayer hall. It has an octagonal base: the slender shaft is twelve-sided.

Library. This is to the w. of the courtyard. It is on two storeys and domed. The dome sits on an octagonal drum which is pierced with windows. Next to the library is the medrese. Turbe for Ziya Pasa’s daughter. It is square with two windows in each wall (except that one window is replaced by the door) and domed. By the turbe is a cesme whose shallow iwan has a keel-shaped vault… Of the caravansaray only the portal and parts of the walls stand. By the entrance there are animal reliefs and other decoration.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

I walked the short distance to the church, which Sinclair says is Armenian. It has a basilican layout and the faintest remains of frescoes on the walls. The roof is intact; the windows, whether still in existence or blocked with stone, are easily identified externally; and internally you are confronted with a pleasing combination of columns and rounded arches. The structure is in such good condition that the Belediye, or town council, uses it to shelter some of its motor vehicles, dustcarts included.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The doorway leading into the church faces the local police station where a few officers engaged me in conversation as they stood on the steps leading inside. One officer held a large automatic rifle which hung from a strap over one shoulder and the others had handguns in holsters around their waists. I was offered a large glass of tea, for which I was very grateful. After an officer received a message on his phone, he and two of his colleagues made their way to a police car and prepared to leave to sort out a problem. Amazingly, I was asked to join them, which must have meant it was a minor problem, but I had to leave for Arapgir just in case traffic on the road proved very light. I walked to the office of a bus company running minibuses to Elazig and elsewhere because, earlier, I had dropped off my large bag to save carrying it around. I thanked the young man for looking after it and walked up the hill to the main road from Keban to Arapgir, noting along the way that many old houses have survived in the town. In fact, Keban has much to commend it, although it appears to lack a hotel in which to stay.

I stood in the shade of some trees waiting for a lift, but the traffic was light and most drivers indicated that they were going only a short distance, most of them to the dam holding back the vast Keban Reservoir. The dam made quite an impressive sight. It is 1,125 metres long and 210 metres high at its greatest point. Below the dam is a fish farm and below the fish farm a bridge carries the road to Arapgir across the river.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

About half an hour after taking shelter under the trees, a man stopped his car and drove me into the quite wide valley below the dam. I was dropped at the south end of the bridge where a dirt road veered to the left to follow the river. The man was driving along the dirt road to inspect that everything was going well at a second fish farm. I walked across the bridge and, at the north end, bunting for one of the political parties flapped in the gentle breeze. Beside the river was a lokanta specialising in grilled fish from the nearby fish farm, but it did not look as if much dining would be going on the day I was passing through.

The fish farm, near Keban.

The fish farm, near Keban.

I had to wait about only fifteen minutes for the next lift and, on this occasion, was taken by a wonderfully friendly Alevi man and his son aged five all the way to the junction for the road to Malatya. The man farmed in a nearby village and one of his main crops was grapes. By now the road had ascended quite some height above the river valley and we were some distance onto the undulating plain. Snow-smudged mountains were shadowy presences in the distance. The mountains were the ones I hoped to get through the following day on my way to Divrigi.

I said goodbye to my hosts at the junction for Malatya and the man and his son waved as their motor vehicle turned around. The man had driven me some distance out of his way to ensure I would have a better chance of a lift to Arapgir. Amazing. Such kindness.

Ten minutes later I was in a large lorry delivering goods to the centre of Arapgir, so all my worries about travelling from Keban had proved unfounded. On the last section of the journey we passed some very large flocks of sheep and the first tented camps set up by nomadic families to care for such flocks during the summer months. Some of the tents were large bell tents. A few donkeys were tethered nearby. To the east another ridge of mountains was smudged with snow.

We turned off the road leading to Divrigi and began the descent to the centre of Arapgir, passing as we did so the pretty suburb and one-time separate village of Asagiulupinar. I had been to Arapgir once before, but only on a day trip from Malatya. I now intended to stay overnight to see what I had missed on the last occasion, Eskisehir, or old Arapgir, a few kilometres to the north of the modern town.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

I thanked the driver of the lorry for his kindness, then walked the short distance to the relatively new Arapgir Nazar Hotel, one of two hotels that have opened in Arapgir since my last visit a few years ago. I entered the very clean and attractively decorated lobby and was offered a room with en suite facilities and breakfast for 50TL for the night. The person at reception was a young female aged about twenty-two who did not wear a headscarf. The owner and his daughter appeared from along a corridor and I was invited into the man’s office where I was offered coffee. The three of us immediately got on well, above all because my companions were liberal Alevis with no time for the constraints of Sunni orthodoxy, and because I hoped, like them, that the forthcoming general election would confirm that the AKP can no longer dominate Turkish politics in the same way it has for over a decade. A picture of Ataturk hung on the wall above the large desk behind which the man sat, confirmation that the family would vote for one of the secular parties when the election took place.

I was asked why I had decided to stay overnight in Arapgir and whether I would travel the following day to Kemaliye, the small town on the Euphrates River about 30 kilometres to the north. I explained that Divrigi and not Kemaliye was my next destination, even though I knew that Kemaliye is said to have much to commend it, and I explained about Eskisehir, which I had not visited when last in Arapgir. My hosts could not understand the appeal of Eskisehir, but, as I found out later, this was due to the fact that they did not know much about it. But what they did know about was a village called Onar about 15 kilometres from Arapgir where there are no less than eighteen rock tombs dating from the Roman era and a 13th century cemevi, or meeting house, for Alevis and/or Bektashis to engage in ritual practices. They asked if I wanted to visit Onar. When I said I did, they replied, “Then we will leave in half an hour. Get ready and we will go in our car.” I could not believe my luck.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.