Postscript two: events between the two 2015 general elections and the November election result.

But things changed very quickly and the changes were for the worse, as the article below in “The Guardian” newspaper (25.7.15), confirms. Turkey at last decided to take action against the Islamic State (good), but, for reasons difficult to understand, it at the same time attacked PKK positions in northern Iraq (bad), even though the PKK had done nothing substantive to threaten the ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK:

Turkey launched overnight air strikes against several positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq for the first time in four years, the country’s government has said.

The air raids put an end to a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK, severely endangering the already fragile peace process started in 2012 in an attempt to end a bloody conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people over thirty years.

According to the office of the acting prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the bombs hit several PKK targets in northern Iraq including shelters, bunkers, storage facilities and the Qandil Mountains, where the PKK’s high command is based. Turkish fighter jets also targeted Islamic State positions in Syria for the second night in a row, the statement said. In addition to the air raids, the Turkish military carried out artillery attacks against the Islamic State in Syria and the PKK in northern Iraq.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist group in Syria and the PKK terrorist group in northern Iraq,” the prime minister’s office said, adding that all anti-terrorism operations were “carried out indiscriminately against all terrorist groups.”

In a major tactical shift this week, Turkey decided to take a more active role in the US-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State, agreeing to open its air bases to allied forces as well as carrying out its own air raids. It is the first time Turkish fighter jets have entered Syrian airspace to attack Islamic State militants on Syrian soil. Previous air raids were conducted from the Turkish side of the border, according to the Turkish government.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Davutoglu said almost six hundred terrorism suspects had been detained in co-ordinated raids on Friday and Saturday, including people with alleged links to the Islamic State and the PKK. “I say it one more time: when it comes to public order, Turkey is a democratic state of law and everyone who breaks that law will be punished,” he said.

In a first reaction to the attacks on their camps, the PKK leadership said that the ceasefire with Ankara had lost all meaning. “The ceasefire has been unilaterally ended by the Turkish state and the Turkish military,” said a statement on the PKK website on Saturday. “The truce has no meaning any more after these intense air strikes by the occupant Turkish army.” The group said the fallout and consequences of the overnight attacks would be disclosed later.

Mesut Yegen, a historian on the Kurdish issue, said that it was too early to say that the peace process was over. “So far the PKK has not given the order to fighters on the ground to launch a counterattack, but it is clear that the peace process has been weakened substantially,” he said.

It was unlikely that either the Turkish military or the PKK wanted an all-out confrontation. “As long as the attacks remain limited to the air strikes, there is hope that the peace process will continue,” Yegen said.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The raids on both the PKK and the Islamic State came after a wave of violence swept across the country last week. On Monday, a suicide bomber killed thirty-one Kurdish and Turkish activists in the southern border town of SurucPeople in an attack that Turkish officials blamed on the Islamic State.

After the bombing, tension has risen to dangerous levels in the predominantly Kurdish south-east, where many have long accused the Turkish government of directly supporting the Islamic State against the Kurdish struggle in Syria, a charge Ankara vehemently denies.

Later in the week the People’s Defence Force (HPG) – the armed wing of the PKK -claimed responsibility for the killing of two police officers in Ceylanpinar, a town on the Syrian border, in retaliation for the Suruç bomb. A policeman was killed in Diyarbakır on Thursday, while another officer was kidnapped there on Friday night. Violent protests against the ruling AKP’s failed Syria policies and their stalling of the Kurdish peace process have erupted in several cities across Turkey.

In two subsequent anti-terror raids across Turkey, hundreds were detained on Friday and Saturday, including people with suspected links to the Islamic State and to the outlawed PKK.

Ahmet Yildiz, a farmer and shepherd in Semdinli, a small town nestling between the Iranian and the Iraqi borders, said the sound of fighter jets kept his family up most of Friday night. Late on Friday, PKK fighters attacked a local police station wounding three officers.

“The planes are all around in the mountains,” Yildiz said. “I bought a flock of sheep because I believed that peace was finally going to come. But now I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know if I can take the sheep up to the pastures. I am very sad; we all are.”

The leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said it was time to stabilise the peace process. “We underline again how very much Turkey needs peace and a solution [to the Kurdish issue]. It is possible to solve our societal, historical and political problems through mutual dialogue, negotiations and through the development of democracy,” a statement said on Saturday. “The increase and perpetuation of violence will not bring a lasting, democratic and egalitarian solution for any side, or any part of society.”

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

 The update below summarises matters at the end of August 2015. It suggested to me that Turkey is entering a period of uncertainty that will be detrimental to most of its citizens:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved the make-up of the provisional government that will run the country until the 1st November elections, including for the first time pro-Kurdish MPs.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was tasked with forming a caretaker government earlier this week after he failed to form a coalition government following an inconclusive vote on 7th June.

The two pro-Kurdish legislators are from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which for the first time managed to pass a 10% minimum vote threshold required for it to be represented in parliament in the June election. Davutoglu said HDP legislators Muslum Dogan and Ali Haydar Konca will become ministers in charge of development and of relations with the European Union.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years in the June polls. Erdogan appointed Davutoglu to form an interim “election government” which, according to the constitution, must be made up of all parties represented in parliament.

The cabinet spots are divided up according to the parties’ share of seats in parliament with eleven going to the AKP, five to the second-placed Republican People’s Party (CHP) and three a piece to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish HDP. Opposition parties have refused to take part in the interim government, making the HDP – which the government accuses of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – and the AKP major partners in the new cabinet.

Speaking to his party’s provincial heads earlier on Friday, Davutoglu said: “We will work just like a four-year government as we are heading toward 1st November.”

In a deviation from the party line, MHP legislator Tugrul Turkes, son of the MHP’s founder, Alparslan Turkes, accepted an invitation to serve as a deputy prime minister in a move denounced by the party’s leadership.

Davutoglu had to appoint non-partisan figures to fill the seats snubbed by the opposition parties. Selami Altinok, former Istanbul police chief, was appointed interior minister and foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu was named as the new foreign minister.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

 The 1st November general election was a success for Erdogan and the AKP. It has been judged by European Union observers to be free but not fair because it took place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation against a backdrop of escalating violence and the detention of government opponents, members of the media included.

The AKP won an overall majority of 317 seats with 49.5% of the vote (in fact, the AKP secured about four million more votes in November than in June). The AKP won the election on a pledge to bring stability and security out of chaos, but a majority of voters conveniently ignored that Erdogan and the AKP were themselves the cause of the chaos in that they broke the ceasefire with the PKK and directed more military might against the Kurds in Iraq and Syria than against the Islamic State.

In my estimation, the election result is a disaster for Turkey. Why? Because it will unleash dangerously high levels of Turkish nationalism and give to the Islamists, whether moderate or otherwise, the power to push through reforms that make the state far more sympathetic to mainstream Sunni Islam than is already the case. All non-Turks and non-Sunni Muslims in the republic have reason to regret that the AKP’s decision not to negotiate seriously to create a coalition government following the June election has paid off, for the AKP at least, if not for anyone else.

One of the few positive outcomes of the election was that the HDP won more than 10% of the vote (10.7%) and is therefore still represented in parliament, but its share of the vote declined from June and now it has only 59 MPs. Unrest in Diyarbakir, perhaps inevitably, followed. In Silvan, where some of the local Kurds had declared independence from the Turkish Republic, the result was greeted with considerable worry. In fact, across all of Turkish Kurdistan and in Tunceli province, majorities were deeply troubled that the AKP once again ruled alone. By the time we get to the next general election, Turkey will have been ruled by one party, the AKP, for no less than seventeen years, despite the few months this year (late August to the end of October) when the provisional government was in power, a government that included non-AKP MPs (see above).

Another positive outcome was that the AKP did not secure the 330 MPs required to call a referendum to amend the country’s constitution.

Just for the record, the CHP secured 25.3% of the vote and 134 MPs and the MHP 11.9% of the vote and 40 MPs. A small number of people voted for parties that did not reach the 10% threshold required for representation in parliament. The percentage of women MPs declined from 18% to 14.7%.

The “Today’s Zaman” website has an excellent chart revealing how many people voted for each party in every province.

P.S. I recently read that Turkey would like the deserted medieval Armenian city of Ani, which overlooks the border with the Republic of Armenia east of the city of Kars, declared a world heritage site. Neglect and worse have resulted in very little of this once-magnificent city remaining, but here is another indication that at least some Turkish citizens in positions of political authority recognise the importance of at least some Armenian monuments, albeit primarily in the hope that, by preserving what remains, tourist revenues in a remote region will increase.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

The Monastery of St. David, Aprank, near Tercan.

To Solhan.

It was very quiet in and around the ogretmen evi, so I slept very well. I got up just after 6.00am to find that someone had been in the bathroom before me, but the only other person I saw was a man using a mop to clean the floor of the entrance to the building. It was good to see that male and female teachers shared the ogretmen evi during term time, but I suspect that all the small number of people who stayed overnight were male.

I had a walk around the pazar where only a few businesses had opened, then saw a clean lokanta on a street corner where a middle-aged man and his son, the latter aged about fourteen, were preparing food for the day. I went in and ordered a bowl of soup, which had to be heated up because I was the day’s first customer. The soup arrived with two salads and a large portion of bread. A man walked in for his breakfast as I was paying my bill. Palu was slowly coming to life on what promised to be another warm and sun-drenched day in late May. A few boys and girls with rucksacks on their backs gathered on the main street waiting for their friends so they could walk to school together.

I returned to the ogretmen evi, filled my bottle with water in the kitchen, packed my last few things and looked around for someone to give the key to, but the man with the mop had disappeared and no one was in the offices. I left the key on a book on the arm of a sofa in the room with the pool table, then left to catch a minibus to Kovancilar from where I knew I could get transport to Solhan, my destination for the day. I was directed to a side street from where a minibus soon left with about five passengers. Kovancilar is only 8 or 10 kilometres from Palu, but the driver tried to charge me 5TL for a trip that should have cost much less, given journeys of a similar length elsewhere in eastern Turkey. I stood my ground and gave him 2TL, which was what someone else had given him for the same journey. Yes: one or two villains live in Palu, but they are easily managed.

Kovancilar, a rapidly expanding town of modest delights that nonetheless stands in pretty upland scenery, benefits from being on the main road from Elazig to Bingol, Mus, Tatvan and Van, with the result that many long distance buses pass through. I walked east a short way along the main street until arriving at a point where about fifteen men and women had gathered beside the road waiting for transport to Bingol and beyond. One man insisted I had to buy a ticket for Solhan from the office of a bus company nearby that had not yet opened, but another said I had to wait beside the road and a seat on something suitable would be found as soon as passengers before me had got away. Someone arrived to open the bus company office and he explained that I did not need a ticket; he would simply stop a passing long distance bus with a spare seat to get me aboard it. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way. I thought back to the transport problem I had had at Susehri. This was just like the old days!

I had never been to Solhan before, but had passed through it on a number of occasions. Consequently, the road from Kovancilar to my destination should have looked familiar. However, because it was late May and the conditions so much greener than during the hottest times of the year when journeys in the past had been undertaken, and because it was still so early in the morning that the visibility was excellent, it felt as if I was seeing the upland scenery for the first time. I could sense almost as soon as we left Kovancilar that my last full day in the mountains of eastern Turkey would be memorable, so much so that, by nightfall, I would regret not having at least one more day in the region (I would regret in particular not being able to visit Kigi, a remote town with very few facilities said to have surrounding it the ruins of about fifteen Armenian churches).

I was in a Best Van Tur bus destined for Van itself. The bus was so full that I, and one other passenger who got aboard in Kovancilar, had to sit beside the driver. I did not mind in the least because I was at the front of the bus where the views are the best.

The journey began in quite modest fashion. The road snakes its way along a wide, gently undulating valley with rounded hills to the north and the south. Wheat fields and pasture occupy most of the valley floor, both of which indicated in their appearance that much drier and hotter conditions lay ahead for the next three or four months.

Just at the point where the road branches off for Kigi a considerable distance to the north-east, the scenery improves significantly. For quite a long way there are mountains, forests, pasture, patches of snow on rock faces sheltered from the sun, flocks of sheep and tented camps where shepherds and their families live during the summer months. The road ascends steadily to a pass at about 1,800 metres above sea level. Along the way are villages with recently built mosques larger than the local population would seem to justify and the jandarma has a presence almost as substantial as in Dersim. Some armoured vehicles made their way along the excellent road, which is a dual carriageway for long stretches. Very few old houses remain in the villages themselves, which means that they are less attractive and interesting than many villages seen earlier on the trip.

We entered the westernmost suburbs of Bingol (the city’s name means “a thousand lakes”. Many lakes exist around Bingol, but the total number is far fewer than a thousand), a rapidly expanding, overwhelmingly modern provincial capital that seems intent on looking indistinguishable from most other Turkish cities as quickly as it possibly can. I was surprised to see how large some of the most recent structures are, whether they are hotels, office blocks, apartment blocks, shopping malls, buildings associated with the city or the provincial government, or buildings associated with the university (every provincial capital in Turkey has, or is intent on having, a university. In so far as a commitment to higher education is enviable, this has to be a good thing). Bingol’s newest structures are box-like and clunky in appearance. Although extensive use of steel, glass, brightly coloured cladding and imaginatively painted plaster walls create districts with a clean and crisp appearance, Bingol is not a beautiful place. I also doubt that many monuments from the past have survived. This said, Bingol lies in very pretty upland surroundings and many attractive places can easily be accessed nearby.

One of Bingol’s most in-your-face indicators of modernity is the recently completed luxury Binkap Resort Hotel, a large cube clad in darkened glass that no doubt utilises vast amounts of marble internally to add a touch of class. Of course, modernity is usually equated with progressive ideas, but it was very apparent that a majority of Bingol’s women, whether young or old, are encouraged to dress in a manner in sympathy with the norms of Sunni piety. In fact, girls as young as fourteen and fifteen wear loose-fitting clothes, including lightweight coats, and cover their hair and ears with a headscarf. The clothes and headscarves of the younger women are often as brightly coloured as the buildings among which they walk, but it is obvious that Bingol has a pulse that is religiously conservative.

At the point where a road branches to the north for Erzurum, the bus stopped at a roadside lokanta for a break of about twenty minutes, which was long enough for some people to get food to eat from a tempting selection of hot plates, and for other people to drink glasses of tea, buy snacks at a shop or use the loos. I spent most of the time watching two men wash the buses that had parked in front of the lokanta. Across the road were an elevator and silos for storing some of the region’s wheat harvest later in the year. Suddenly six armoured vehicles came along the road from Bingol and turned off to the left, their destination Karliova or Erzurum.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Erzurum has on its eastern outskirts perhaps the largest army camp in all of eastern Turkey. Such a camp has existed in the city since at least the late 18th century, its main purpose originally being to protect the border regions of the Ottoman Empire from the military might of the Russian Empire and, thereafter, the Turkish Republic from the Soviet Union. Of course, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, neither Georgia nor Armenia presented the Turkish Republic with serious territorial threats, but governments in Ankara have sometimes been so concerned about Shia-dominated Iran following the Islamic revolution that they have sustained a vast military presence in Erzurum. Inevitably, once the civil war with the PKK began in the early 1980s, Erzurum provided Ankara with a secure military resource far enough from the main conflict zones to prepare retaliatory attacks that invariably proved disproportionate. The consequences of such retaliatory attacks still poison relations between millions of Turks and Kurds (perhaps a third of Turkey’s Kurds had relations or friends who died or were wounded during the war and millions of Kurds were displaced from their homes. On returning to their homes, thousands of Kurds found that their villages had been destroyed by the army) and, to this day, are exploited by some Kurds as justification for resuming the conflict (although, if the conflict did resume, the majority of victims would be innocent Kurds of very modest means who want nothing but peaceful conditions in which to rebuild their lives).

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Many of the young males on the bus looked decidedly disreputable as they walked around the car park sucking on cigarettes and bottles of fizzy pop as they slyly examined the young women who were their fellow passengers. They wore tight-fitting jeans, shirts and tee-shirts to look as fashionable and as westernised as they possibly could and most had haircuts reflecting the most hip styles that barbers in Istanbul could provide their customers (some such haircuts looked as if they had been fashioned with the assistance of electric razors, small hedge trimmers and pots of very heavy axle grease). In contrast, all the women but one, no matter their age, wore a headscarf and a majority of such women wore modern versions of traditional clothes that covered everything but their face and hands. Some women wore black tights (which, for obvious reasons, could be seen only near the ankle) and most had flat, slip-on shoes that my mother might have called her comfortable pair for wearing around the house. While the peacocks swaggered around as if they owned the car park, albeit temporarily, the women tried to make as little an impact on the public domain as they could.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

The Best Van Tur bus had come all the way from Istanbul, but the bus boy kept it clean internally even though he served refreshments quite regularly. I was content to consume nothing but water.

The attractive scenery persisted from the road junction to Karliova and Erzurum all the way to Solhan, a distance of about 50 kilometres. The villages along the last stretch of the journey had a higher proportion of old houses than the villages on the section from Kovancilar to the pass west of Bingol and they looked pretty among the rounded hills and patches of woodland. A narrow stream meandered across the valley floor with trees and pasture along both banks.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan is an overwhelmingly modern town that stretches in linear fashion along the main road. It lies beside a river with hills and forest providing pretty views in many directions. Solhan is large enough to have a thriving commercial centre and is no doubt a focal point for shopping and the provision of many other services for lots of villages in the surrounding hills and mountains. When I got off the bus in the town centre that Friday morning, I could feel a pleasant buzz, one no doubt enhanced by the fact that the weekend lay ahead. A few people said hello or good morning, and a man directed me toward the hotel in which I hoped to stay. A modest hotel exists in the town centre, but a better one lies along the main road near where the last of the town’s building are found on the way toward Mus. It took me only five minutes to walk to the hotel.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

I arrived at the Grand Konak Hotel, a glass, concrete and steel girder box of medium size set a little back from the main road with facilities beside it to repair burst tyres and malfunctioning motor vehicle engines. I ascended a flight of stairs to reception, which exists in a female-friendly café. The manager offered me a room with en suite facilities and breakfast for 50TL, which I was delighted to pay given how cheap the ogretmen evi had been the night before, and I was led to a clean and comfortable room with views of the main road. A young couple with two children were in a nearby room, but it was not until late that night that other guests arrived to book in. Three such late arrivals were men driving an old and heavily laden open-topped lorry from Van to Ankara and another a white goods’ salesman from near the capital who was visiting actual or potential clients in the Lake Van region.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

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 10.15am 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 close to the shore of the reservoir, but, once we had got past 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 with 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 them and situated above the road) and, yet again, astoundingly 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 that around Ovacik

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 towns in Turkey of similar size.

Hozat.

Hozat.

By now I had been befriended by an Alevi couple with a remarkably liberal disposition who had been 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 near the church 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 flagged 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 on the hillside 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 behalf of the PKK (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 the chair she was sitting on 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 immortalising 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 but parts of the church survive:

The church, which was dedicated to the Holy Virgin, and probably the whole monastery (that of Surp Karapet, in other words, 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 that 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 forming.

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 the scenery. 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.

Divrigi (part one).

After unpacking a few things and freshening up, I left the hotel for what amounted to a walk of four hours around Divrigi. My first destination was a ruined church, which I could see from my balcony, below the citadel.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the church as Armenian and dates it to the late 19th century. It has:

Three aisles and three apses, of which the central one is wider. Along the n. and s. walls, shallow blind arcades of three wide arches each. From the triple engaged pillars supporting these rise ribs… The arcades running westward from the walls between the apses would have mirrored these arcades.

There is a door in the first arch from the e. on the n. side. Opposite it in the s. wall is the entrance to what seems to be a large chamber. Windows in the other two southerly blind arches: beneath the windows are tall brackets. No light is let into the chamber behind the s. wall except from the church’s interior: but this may be because the hillside has slipped and covers any windows there are. Slippage has also obscured the window of the s. apse.

The church, Divrigi.

The Armenian church, Divrigi.

The day of my visit the grass around and in the church was long and dotted with wild flowers. The church looked pretty, despite being in such a ruined state, but it was only when I visited some of Divrigi’s other survivals from the past and noticed that they had benefited from past or recent restoration that it dawned on me again that monuments of Armenian derivation are subject to neglect of a criminal kind.

The church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

The Armenian church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

I next ascended the hill above the church to examine the citadel, which, taken as a whole, is excellent, even though some parts of the fortifications have suffered from over-zealous restoration in recent years. No one else was on the summit the same time as me. Many patches of ground near or within the fortifications were covered with long grass and many wild flowers, which only enhanced my pleasure, although some of the paths leading across the site were therefore hard to follow.

The citadel, Divrigi.

The citadel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the citadel in great detail, but I will quote only a paragraph so that something of its majesty is conveyed:

The citadel has two lines of wall to the w., where the slope was gradual and parts of the medieval town must have lain. To the n., where the site comes to a point, it is delimited by cliffs, and the cliffs of the e. side drop to the river. To the s. a trough crosses the ridge from e. to w. The wall here was built above the n. side of the trough, on the low cliffs descending to its floor.

 At one of the highest points within the citadel is the 12th century Citadel Camii. Although the mosque externally is plain, internally there is much to admire. Sadly, however, the doors leading inside were locked. I had to content myself with sublime views of the meandering river far below and of the railway leading to Erzincan via Ilic and Kemah. The river is a tributary of the Euphrates.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

One of the most surprising things about the citadel was that many sandbags had been arranged to provide soldiers protection from in-coming fire. Here were fortifications that had recently seen military action, just as they would have seen military action on many occasions in the past. The sandbags had to be in place to help repel attacks by members of the PKK, so they must have been assembled some years earlier before the ceasefire was declared. I was surprised to see evidence of the civil war in Divrigi because I had not realised that PKK activity had been as far north as this. Then I remembered that a few years ago I had been warned about PKK activity in and around Kemah, east and just a little north of Divrigi. Suddenly the sandbags made perfect sense.

The Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

I walked down to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital to admire two of the most remarkable buildings of Muslim origin anywhere in Turkey, so much so that they now constitute a world heritage site and deservedly so. I will not describe them in detail because of their international fame and because information about both can easily be acquired electronically and in book form, but will say that, after well over twenty years since last seeing them, they took my breath away all over again.

In many respects the Ulu Camii and the Hospital are quite plain internally and externally, but, once your eyes closely examine the portals, you are confronted with intricately carved stonework of such interest and eccentricity that you linger in admiration for far longer than would normally be the case, even when engaging with architecture of the highest quality.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The mosque and hospital are designed as a single long rectangle on a platform in a hillside overlooking the town. Work began on both in 1228. From the middle of the roof rise the spire-like pyramid that covers the mihrab dome and, near it, the cap of the tomb in the hospital. In the hospital in particular there is a simple monumentality to everything that survives, so much so that, although almost eight hundred years old, it feels somehow very modern.

But it is the portals, of which there are three, that are the main reason why the mosque and the hospital have been declared a world heritage site. As Sinclair indicates, the hospital portal consists:

Of two pointed arches of rotund cross-section… many parallel torus mouldings follow the curve of each arch and the vertical drop to the base. The supports for the two arches merge with buttresses coming forward from the walls… Of the two arches only the outer is carved in a comprehensive manner, and that only on the three outer courses of the curve.

Look closely and you will identify many different decorative elements including squares, octagons, medallions, leaves and tendril tracery. Flamboyance is the order of the day.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Of the west portal of the mosque, Sinclair writes that:

The nature of its decorative patterns, their disposition and some features of the basic design such as the use of free-standing pillars beneath the inner arch are unique within the world of Selcuk and contemporary Syrian architecture. They are not only unique, but far distanced from anything else within that world. They belong instead in the world of Armenian manuscript decoration.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

 And of the north portal of the mosque, Sinclair notes that:

The front face is designed as a rectangle into which is put a splayed arch of Gothic shape… The carving… imitates stucco. The large elements in the thickest of the decorative lines give the whole portal a fleshy, prolix and jungle-like appearance. Each band or course is carved with great originality and skill, but the successive parts were not thought of in concert with one another. The lack of harmony is accentuated by the circumstance that almost the whole of the portal’s front face is covered, that is to say practically no blank space is left which might have relieved the crush of juxtaposed and discordant elements.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

If the summary description of the north portal above suggests that Sinclair is not altogether happy with the final outcome of much labour over an extended period of time, may I say that I think it is, in common with the two other portals, simply astonishing. It does, in many ways, look quite bizarre and is intentionally extravagant and over-the-top, but no one can accuse it of not having ambition or lacking a playful sense of imagination. I love the mosque and the hospital even more on my second than my first encounter with them, even though on close inspection you notice some damage to the stonework, some of it inflicted by idiots who have left behind their names carved into the portals. Moreover, although far more people now visit Divrigi than twenty or so years ago to see the world heritage site, they come to admire buildings that express humankind’s capacity to build, build rather than burn, burn, so it was enjoyable to mix with the small number of foreign and the much larger number of Turkish tourists, the latter who had travelled hundreds of miles from large urban centres, most of which lack monuments of similar quality.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all? As with the citadel, admission to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital was free. In fact, by the end of the trip, after having seen scores of important monuments, an admission fee was required at only one site, the Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir. However, when I went to the church in Diyarbakir, one of my companions at the time paid for me. Now think how different things are in most European nation states, the UK included, when notable monuments are visited. This is another aspect of Turkey that often brings tears to my eyes.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

To Eski Ergani and Ergani.

I walked north along the road to Elazig for about 400 metres, then followed a street going in a north-easterly direction, which was the way I had to go to find the road leading north to the summit of Makam Dagi, the mountain on which the ruins of Eski Ergani are located. I was soon beyond the commercially active parts of Ergani and in quiet residential streets instead, where, of course, women were far more evident than among the shops, offices, lokantas, tea houses and public buildings of the town’s elongated central business district. With the scenery steadily improving as the urban detritus lay behind me, a car stopped and the driver offered me a lift of about 4 kilometres. We climbed steadily and to the west saw the chimneys of perhaps the town’s largest employer, a vast cement factory beside the road to Elazig.

The man stopped the car under some trees beside the road. He was due to meet some friends to eat lunch in a house up an embankment and across an undulating field with sublime views of the mountain summit I was aiming for. I walked with him to the house to enjoy the views and meet his friends. Although invited to join the meal, I knew that if I did I would never do justice to Eski Ergani.

Makam Dagi, Ergani.

Makam Dagi.

I returned to where the man had parked his car. A family had stopped to drink tea before completing the descent to Ergani. They kindly gave me something to drink and we talked about the forthcoming election. A conventionally pious Sunni family, the women in particular admired Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but they took my expressions of concern about the president’s increasingly authoritarian, intolerant and power-hungry inclinations in good humour (there are also worries about corrupt practices, if not by the president himself, then by close family members instead). This said, it was telling that the women stayed some distance from where I stood and I knew that any physical contact between them and me would be impossible or cause considerable embarrassment. I was briefly on the Sunni side of the street, as the dress sense of the women betrayed only too obviously.

I walked up the road delighting in the views around me, then a van carrying a large family stopped and the driver kindly drove me all the way to the end of the road, which is beside a mosque with substantial buttresses of rock rising yet higher on either side. A lot of people had driven up to sightsee, walk, eat picnics, relax with relations or friends or engage in chaste but self-conscious courtship rituals. To protect the pasture, the wild flowers and the fragile rock, an extensive network of steps, paths and wooden ramps made it easy for visitors to circulate. Many people wanted to talk with me or show me around, including the young people in the van that had carried me to the summit, and at one point I was befriended by two female second year university students, one of whom wore a headscarf and the other who did not. The latter dressed in such a way that she would have blended in with a typical group of young female British university students devoid of obvious religious affiliation. In the photo I took of them and a young male friend, she held up her left hand to give the V-sign that has emerged as the sign confirming support for the HDP. Her friend with the headscarf was almost certainly a Sunni – she took great care to conceal her hair and ears – but she joined in the banter and had no objection to being photographed. They both had their photos taken standing next to me and I was told that the results would very soon appear on Facebook. In fact, by the end of the trip I was assured that many photos of me doing different things, including dancing with HDP supporters in Diyarbakir, would appear on Facebook. Thankfully I kept my clothes on, unlike many holidaymakers who find it necessary to strip off when they get to notable destinations.

Makam Dagi.

Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

Two university students and their young male friend, Makam Dagi.

The views from the summit of Makam Dagi are superb. Far below is Ergani, but from a distance it looks little better than a concrete jungle dominated by low-rise buildings. The town stands on the edge of a gently undulating plain, but hills and mountains surround it in the middle distance. To the east, a short way below the summit, are the ruins of a church that was part of an Armenian monastery and, below the ruins and just to the north, a small village stands on a gently inclined shelf (I did wonder if the village possessed some of the houses, albeit substantially rebuilt, that once made up Eski Ergani). Some of the houses have flat roofs made of mud, but others benefit from pitched roofs of corrugated iron (the latter, although not as ascetically pleasing as the flat roofs made of mud, are, due to their light weight, far safer if earthquakes strike). Most houses have only one storey and their ground plan is square or rectangular. South of the village are fields, pasture and patches of trees, but to the north are more hills and mountains. It felt like the ideal place to be on a Sunday afternoon and the friendly people with whom I mixed were delightful company. This said, I suspect I was the only foreigner on the summit.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The Armenian monastery is known locally as Meryem Ana Kilisesi. According to Sinclair it was built in 1433 “by an influential bishop” of Diyarbakir called Mgrditch Naghash. Of the church, only the base and part of the south side survive, but beneath the church is a cistern with a snow reservoir beside it and “elsewhere beneath the ruins associated with the church is another deep, vaulted cistern”.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

The mosque mentioned earlier contains the tomb of Dhul Kifl, who, according to Sinclair, is mentioned twice in the Qur’an. Local legend describes Dhul Kifl as someone who solved all sorts of difficulties confronting people, illness included. The structure containing the tomb is said to date from the 16th century. It is now integrated into a rectangular building with a corridor. The corridor leads to the chamber containing the grave of Abdullah, the standard bearer of Dhul Kifl, and Dhul Kifl’s tomb is reached from here by a door only a metre high.

As I left the mosque, I chatted with a group of women aged about eighteen to forty. All Kurds, a minority of the women wore headscarves, but the piety of the few did not stop the conversation flowing. Those without headscarves were more than happy to shake hands and joke about the forthcoming election. It was Sunday, normal routines were suspended, the sexual segregation that prevailed in the town below was briefly forgotten and it was therefore an occasion to relax by resisting the restrictions that so often inhibit discourse between males and females in predominantly Muslim nation states.

In some respects, Eski Ergani’s most interesting survival from the past is Zulkuful Suluklari, a large reservoir about 20 metres in length with four compartments positioned above a cliff. To this day it is protected by a vault on three rib arches. Stairs lead down from each of the two doors and water remains in the bottom of the compartments.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

I returned to the road leading to Ergani and, not long after setting off downhill, the driver of the van that had taken me to the summit stopped to give me a lift into town. Not far below the summit, Hikmet, the driver and father of the family, stopped the van so his two sons, aged fifteen and sixteen, could show me what looked like a cave. But the cave turned out to have been artificially enlarged (a wide “column” of rock had been left to help support the roof) and its mouth was the entrance to what looked like a tunnel. Yet more water was in the tunnel. Were we examining another reservoir? A reservoir or not, this feature, the mosque, the turbe, the church, Zulkuful Suluklari and traces of other masonry, the latter perhaps the remains of the castle, suggest that more of Eski Ergani has survived than I had been led to believe. This said, Sinclair refers to the ruins of old houses, but, unless they are in the village near the ruined church and have been rebuilt, they seem to have disappeared altogether.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Th entrance to the reservoir (?) in the enlarged cave, Eski Ergani.

Hikmet and his wife had two sons and two daughters. When we arrived in the centre of Ergani, Hikmet got out of the driver’s seat, asked his oldest son to drive the van with the other family members home and invited me to drink tea in his favourite tea garden. With nothing more of importance to see that day I could not refuse his kind invitation, so we entered the tea garden where every table was occupied by groups of men varying in size from two to almost a dozen. Many of the men were teachers. Tea, some of it with milk, was the most popular drink, but some customers ordered hot orange. Games of cards, okey and backgammon were popular at almost every table, but this did not stop some of the large group of men at a nearby table coming over to chat with Hikmet and me. All Kurds, in common with most other customers in the tea garden, the men at the next table were secular in outlook, either socialists or, in two cases, communists. One man alleged he was an anarchist and a few admitted to sympathy for the PKK. After confirming I was in sympathy with secularism and the HDP, we gave each other the V-sign and I said, more as a joke than in expectation that this would really be the case, “After the election in three weeks time, let’s say goodbye to Erdogan!” This went down well with more than merely those chatting with Hikmet and me, and it proved a useful thing to say in the days that followed, except in the company of AKP supporters, of course.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet was a quiet and very dignified man who, predictably, refused my offer to pay for the tea, but I was able to get away after the third glass. I meandered through the surprisingly busy streets of the commercial heart of Ergani, then went to the pansiyon to freshen up and change my clothes. Downstairs I ordered a late lunch of grilled chicken wings, salad (three small bowls of salad arrived with different combinations of things to eat), bread and very frothy but mild ayran for 10TL. I then went for a rest for an hour or so.

About 5.30pm I left to take a few photos of sights that appealed to my sense of the slightly ridiculous, then went for a haircut in one of the barber’s shops still open in the pazar. After a glass of tea and chats with staff and customers that lasted just long enough to see off an unexpected but brief rainstorm, I went to a pastane for a large bowl of ice cream (the three flavours included one of my favourites, lemon). There I engaged in more conversation, but only with males because females were conspicuous by virtue of their absence. I watched a man who, for half an hour, folded flat sheets of brightly coloured cardboard into boxes so they could be filled with orders of baklava. The owner of the pastane came in and, after we had confirmed that all Kurds were good people and the AKP was turning into a disaster for Turkey, I asked for the bill, but was not allowed to pay it. In fact, I could not go until having yet another tea with the owner.

Outside the barber's shop, Ergani.

Outside the barber’s shop, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastern, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastane, Ergani.

Back outside, the brightly coloured bunting of the different political parties flapped in the wind that had blown away the clouds. It was becoming very apparent to me that the vast majority of Kurds, whether religious or not, intend to vote for the HDP while the vast majority of pious Sunni Turks intend to vote for the AKP. Most secular Turks and Turks belonging to Muslim minorities will split their vote among the secular parties such as the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the mildly leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP), and most people of Greek, Laz, Jewish, Armenian, Georgian and Arab origin will cast their votes for secular parties that are not aggressively Turkish nationalist. Turkish supporters of the AKP probably distrust the HDP even more than the nominally Kemalist CHP because they fear that the HDP intends to break up the Turkish Republic by creating an independent Kurdistan, and suppporters of the HDP probably hate the MHP even more than the AKP because the MHP is the party that is most uncompromising in its expressions of Turkish nationalism. Demographics suggest that the AKP will emerge as the largest single party following the general election, despite Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, allegations of corruption in high places, an economy that is beginning to falter, indications that inflation may soon prove a burden, disquiet about environmental damage caused above all by the construction of yet more reservoirs and the Turkish government’s refusal to aid the Kurds of Syria and Iraq in their war against the Islamic State. But will Erdogan secure the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution so he can massively enhance the power and authority of the president? This looks impossible, and primarily because the HDP should secure sixty to eighty seats in parliament.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Ergani has little to commend it other than the pazar, the busy streets of its commercial heart, views of Makam Dagi, a small park with a very unusual water feature made to look like a waterfall, a roundabout with statues in the middle and, of course, the very friendly people, but I like the town, partly for the interesting places to visit nearby, and partly for its unpretentious character. But that evening, as the light began to fade and I stood on a footbridge crossing the road to Diyarbakir with shabby concrete buildings around me and a magnificent view of Makam Dagi to the north, the streets quickly emptied of females, who were already vastly outnumbered by males. The almost complete absence of females in the public domain compelled me to qualify my positive assessment of the town. Moroever, I knew instinctively that if unknown males and females engaged in conversation in Ergani’s town centre as had occurred earlier in the day at Eski Ergani, such an affront to acceptable interpersonal conduct would have attracted looks of disapproval and worse from the many pious males who appoint themselves as arbiters of what is right and wrong in terms of relations between the sexes.

Ergani.

Ergani.

I returned to the pansiyon about 8.00pm and noticed that quite a lot of new plastic doors and windows had recently been installed. Because the windows were double-glazed, when shut they kept the heat in and the noise out. A very fine mesh covered the windows so that, when open, mosquitoes and other insects could not enter. This was very impressive in many ways, but most of the frames of the doors and windows still had on them strips of protective plastic telling everyone that they were products of the “polimer kapi ve pencere sistemleri”. But those same strips of protective plastic told people in Turkish, English, Arabic and Russian that the protective plastic should be removed once the doors and windows had been installed!

A recently completed mosque designed in a simplified Ottoman style stood only 30 metres or so from my bedroom windows and, every so often, I was disturbed by the adhan. Until recently I have had great admiration for the adhan and never felt it was a sound I would tire of or object to. However, in recent years Muslims in many parts of the world have taken to screaming “Allahu akbar”, the opening words of the adhan which are repeated three times, whenever they engage in, or witness, acts of violence that lead to human death or the destruction of buildings. Those opening words of the adhan are now a constant reminder that many people who subscribe to Islam do not value human life and do not respect the products of human endeavour. They prefer burn, burn to build, build and have made life in the contemporary world more dangerous and demanding than we could ever have thought possible. And the adhan? I now find it oppresses my spirit because I associate “Allahu akbar” with the unnecessary and unjust taking of human life and the needless destruction of human resources. I also find it oppresses my spirit because it is never heard delivered by a female voice. I thought longingly of Muslim friends in the UK, male and female, seeking to overturn the ludicrous tradition that only male voices deliver the adhan. This tradition is as ludicrous as the tradition within the Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations that only males can be priests. And we all know where that tradition of male-only priests has led, don’t we? Yes, to the sexual and physical abuse of thousands, perhaps even millions, of young people, male and female.

Ergani, in common with most other places so far seen or passed through, had a lot of police, soldiers or jandarma, but for most of the time these guarantors of law and order remained in their highly fortified camps and compounds, most of which had signs prominently displayed warning that photography is forbidden. In the larger towns such as Cermik and Ergani, armoured vehicles patrolled the streets or positioned themselves at major road intersections, but the presence of police and others was far more apparent in Diyarbakir, still known throughout Turkey as the epicentre of the wild east. This said, in the centre of Ergani a large army camp had been abandoned. The barracks, the stores, the shelters for motorised vehicles, the officers’ apartments and the sentry posts, the latter protected by many sandbags, had a forlorn air about them. Wind-blown litter snagged on the razor wire that crowned the fencing cemented into the walls.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Back home, internet articles suggested the following about Ergani and Eski Ergani. Some of the oldest references to Eski Ergani, then known variously as Arkni, Argni, Argani, Arghni or Arghana, are in Armenian archives and, in the 19th century, the town had ten mosques, three Armenian churches (one of which belonged to the monastery, presumably) and a “Protestant chapel”. Modern Ergani’s population is described as 45% Kurdish, 45% Zaza and 10% Turkish. This must mean that 45% of the population speaks Kurmanji, 45% Zazaki and 10% Turkish.

To Cermik and Cungus.

It took only ninety minutes to get to Cermik. The run as far as Ergani has little to commend it, although good memories were revived when we passed the turning for Egil, one of the many small towns in the region with important survivals from the past. However, from Ergani west the scenery is much more attractive. We meandered along a river among hills and mountains passing small villages and pasture full of wild flowers. It being mid-May, everything looked enchantingly green and fertile. The oppressive heat of August felt a long way off, despite the bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20s centigrade.

There are really two parts to the small town of Cermik, Cermik proper, which lies below the citadel and has a pazar larger than you would expect, and, about 2 kms to the east, the suburb of Kaplica. Only one or two very modest hotels exist in Cermik proper; better accommodation is in Kaplica, but I made the mistake of staying on the minibus until arriving in Cermik. I was kindly given a lift, free of charge, in a minibus to the junction for Siverek, a walk of only about 300 metres to where the hotels are in Kaplica. The first hotel I came to that looked good was the Mevsim, where I was shown a room for 40TL with en suite facilities, a squatty toilet, no towel and a very large balcony with views of the surrounding hills.

As I settled into my room, a knock on the door revealed a large man who had spent the morning in the hotel fixing cupboards into the ground floor apartment of the couple who owned the building. The man asked if I would like to join him and his brother, Mehmet and Cemal respectively, at their place of work in Cermik where I was welcome to have lunch with them. I was not hungry because of the very large breakfast earlier in the day, but Mehmet was very insistent that I join him. I picked up my rucksack hoping lunch would be small and quick because I had a lot to see that afternoon. I wanted to see the major monuments in Cungus and Cermik so that, the following morning, I could relocate to Ergani.

Mehmet (right), Cemal (centre) and two friends, Cermik.

Mehmet (right), Cemal (centre) and two friends, Cermik.

Mehmet and Cemal’s place of work, an office and workshop of generous proportions on the main road leading to the centre of Cermik, was where the brothers made many different items of furniture, some they designed themselves, for the families in the local region who have in recent years benefited from an end to the civil war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey’s rapidly growing economy. I was introduced to Cemal and three other males of diverse age, the latter who had dropped in to see who the stranger was. I tried to confine lunch to a few lahmacun with salad and ayran, but, after we had done justice to the meal just described that came from a nearby lokanta, Mehmet disappeared and, fifteen minutes later, returned with portions of excellent cig kofte, which we ate as if in Sanliurfa by pressing small portions of the raw meat, in this case beef, into a lettuce leaf and adding lemon and a hot pepper sauce. By now we were all on excellent terms and, as we drank tea and Fanta, I took a few photos while the two brothers asked what I was doing that afternoon. After I had explained about visiting Cungus and looking around Cermik, they insisted that I join them later that evening, if for nothing more than a chat and an ice cream. I said I would definitely see them later. All I was doing for such generosity was providing some of the town’s males with a break from their usual routines, routines which required that the sexes be rigidly segregated in the public domain because Cermik lies in the centre of a predominantly Sunni area. In return for their remarkable hospitality I was relieving the boredom, albeit briefly.

That bit of lunch including lahmacun, Cermik.

The part of lunch including lahmacun, Cermik.

By now I knew that, in only three weeks’ time, a general election would take place. In Cermik, as in Diyarbakir and everywhere else I was to visit or pass through for the next fortnight, bunting hung by the different political parties added lots of colour to the town centre streets, and white vans drove around with recorded music or short speeches blasting from loudspeakers urging people to vote for a particular party. Because I was in an overwhelmingly Kurdish area, most of the bunting and vans seemed to belong to the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the socialist and anti-nationalist Kurdish party that aspires to end gender, ethnic and religious discrimination. The HDP has many female parliamentary candidates, but it is also fielding some males who are openly gay. Although most of its candidates are secular left-wing Kurds, the candidate list includes devout Sunnis, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, Circassians, Laz and Romany. By Turkish standards this is an enviably inclusive political party, even though most of those who will vote for it will be Kurdish.

It was about 2.15pm when I left the workshop and meandered my way into the centre of Cermik where I noticed that a minibus had stopped at the point where the road leads to Cungus. The minibus had stopped so that luggage could be tied to the roof. I ran to the minibus and found it was going all the way to Cungus. It was already very crowded, primarily with high school students who had spent Saturday morning in school preparing for or taking exams, but people shuffled around and I squeezed into a small space near the door leading to the seats at the back. I was asked all sorts of questions, but assured that Cungus was very historic and pretty. By craning my neck I caught glimpses of the scenery as we drove the 25 or so kilometres to Cungus. The scenery was even more enchanting than from Ergani to Cermik, not least because the hills soon grew into mountains.

Cungus is a delight. It is surrounded by hills and mountains and divided in two by the narrow, meandering Cungus Cayi. It is just large enough to have a small commercial heart, but very few businesses remain in the pazar. I got off the minibus in the small main square and was immediately the centre of attention, but, after a few brief chats and a couple of photos, was allowed to begin my look around.

Cungus.

Cungus.

I could not believe how much there is to enjoy in Cungus. It has a small castle perched on a buttress of rock accessed by a short footbridge crossing a deep chasm; an old hamam probably dating from the 17th century; the modest Ulu Camii, which is said to have parts that date from the 13th century; the Ali Bey Camii, probably another 17th century structure; an old stone bridge over the Cungus Cayi recently restored to good effect; many old houses, some of which are timber-framed and spread over two storeys; a large church at the western extremity of the town close to a deep valley with a stream feeding into the Cungus Cayi; and, at the eastern extremity of the town, the remains of a monastery once called the Holy Mother of God. The church and the monastery were described to me as Armenian and Armenian they undoubtedly are.

Looking south from close to the church in Cungus.

Looking south from close to the Armenian church, Cungus.

T. A. Sinclair in “Eastern Turkey: an architectural and archaeological survey” has the following to say about the church:

The tall, box-like building’s apparent height is increased by the masonry plinth which supports it on the e. The room, a vestry or hall, which originally communicated with the w. end, was contrived by digging out the soil, and earth is banked up against it on all sides except where it adjoins the church. The body of the church has two rows of tall piers supporting cross-vaults. The central aisle is wider than the other two, and the height of its vault thus emphasised. A low wall was added at the w. end, taking in the two westerly piers, so that the high archway at the w. end of the s. wall and the entrance to the w. room were cut off from the body of the church. Two rooms in boxes lean against each of the church’s n. and s. sides, a door between each pair. They are linked to the nave by windows inside blind arches, and cross-vaults on consoles. The church is perhaps mid-19th century. The w. room, and in the winter probably the church, are used as hay stores.

The church in Cungus.

The Armenian church, Cungus.

The church, Cungus.

The Armenian church, Cungus.

The church, Cungus.

The Armenian church, Cungus.

 Sinclair describes the monastery in the following manner:

The bishops of Cungus and Cermik sometimes resided here, particularly if they were vardapets, or abbots, of the monastery. The first known abbot reigned from 1561 to 1593.

The church was built in 1841. It is a conspicuous rectangular building designed in a similar fashion to the church just described. It is, however, shorter, and at the e. end, instead of two piers, each line of piers is ended by a continuous wall. The compartments defined by these walls are barrel-vaulted, their floors a little raised. By the church’s e. wall, low and narrow archways pass through the dividing walls. A staircase starts at the middle of the n. side, turns at the ne. corner and, running over the end compartments, ends in a small platform at the se. corner. A vestry (trapezium-shaped) on the n. could be reached by a door beneath the staircase. The church’s windows are small apart from the three wide openings in the w. wall above the height of the door, which stare at the town over the intervening fields (the intervening fields have now largely disappeared because Cungus has expanded in an easterly direction along the road to Cermik).

The school (?) is a shed-like building to the church’s s., separated from it by a short interval and lying more or less n.-s. A line of piers towards the w. wall. On the e., a stone-lined trench, part of which is made of two tombstones (1807 and 1909).

A short wall connects the e. sides of the church and school: the monastery’s wall then takes off again from the nw. corner of the vestry, parallel to and near the church’s n. wall. It turns and runs past the church’s w. face.

The monastery, Cungus.

The Armenian monastery, Cungus.

The monastery, Cungus.

The Armenian monastery, Cungus.

The monastery, Cungus.

The  Armenian monastery, Cungus.

The two buildings just described are in much better condition than the great majority of Armenian monuments in eastern Turkey. I like to think this is because the local people value survivals from the past, no matter who conceived them, but their good condition may owe just as much to Cungus being so small and relatively isolated.

Cungus.

Cungus.

After looking around the church, the castle and the old houses, all to the south or the west of the town centre, I had a short break near the small main square where I was soon introduced to Kenan, a man with a 4WD car who sometimes shows around foreign visitors with an interest in Cungus and towns as far away as Hani, Elazig and Siverek (his fees are very reasonable). Kenan kindly drove me across the restored bridge over the Cungus Cayi, from where there are excellent views of the older parts of the town standing on a steep slope. We then drove about a kilometre along a dirt road above but parallel to the Cungus Cayi, a road that leads into the mountains to the south-west. From where we stopped the views of Cungus were even more spectacular because we were high up. Local people had already told me that a pretty reservoir was not many kilometres away, and before leaving home I read about the nearby village of Degirmensuyu which is said have a ruined church. There is obviously a lot more to see in the area, but the last demand I made on Kenan was that we visit the monastery itself.

Cungus.

Cungus.

Kenan, Cungus.

Kenan, Cungus.

Kenan was worried that I would find it difficult to get back to Cermik, but a lift in a car to the pretty village of Yenikoy with two men who shared my wait for transport, a walk of about 2 kilometres and then a second lift, the latter in the car of a young Kurd who lives and works in Germany, got me to my destination not long after 5.00pm, which gave me almost three hours of daylight to look around Cermik.

Yenikoy.

Yenikoy.