The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin, Diyarbakir.

I resumed my walk through the neglected streets of the old city before coming across a cultural centre arranged around a large courtyard. The cultural centre had once been a large house and must have been built by a wealthy family. An elderly man with a large salt and pepper moustache invited me into the courtyard.

About forty males and females sat on chairs facing six elderly men, and one of the elderly men recited from memory what I soon understood to be an epic from the distant past important to the Kurdish people. The story was told in Kurmanji, which, until a few years ago, would have been an unlawful act. It is only for the last few years that Kurds have been allowed to give public expression to their cultural identity through the use of Kurmanji.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I stayed until the end of the recital, which concluded with rhythmic clapping by everyone present. After I had thanked the man who had invited me into the courtyard and the man responsible for the recital itself – the latter was delighted that the audience had responded so positively to his admirable efforts – I chatted with four young women, at least three of whom were Kurdish. All four were university students. Three of the women, all from Diyarbakir itself, did not wear headscarves. Two wore jeans and tee-shirts and the third a long skirt and a tee-shirt. One of the three women without headscarves – she was training to be a teacher – had a tee-shirt that revealed her arms and more of her chest than is conventional in Turkey. She was the most extrovert and self-confident of the four and, when I said I was a teacher and part-time university lecturer, she interrogated me about educational matters. The fourth woman in the group was from Adiyaman and was spending a few days with her friends in Diyarbakir. She dressed as a conventionally pious young Sunni woman revealing nothing of her body except her hands and face. She may have been Turkish rather than Kurdish.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I was asked what I intended to do and I said, “I will walk to the Syriac Orthodox church to see how things are. I have not visited the church for a few years.” The young women had some spare time and, to my amazement, decided to come as well. It turned out that none of them had been to the church before. As we meandered toward the church, we chatted about the forthcoming election. The women living in Diyarbakir intended to vote for the HDP. She did not say how she would vote, but I suspected that the woman from Adiyaman would vote for the AKP.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

We arrived at the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin where coin-operated barriers now lead to the entrance. The entry fee is very small, of course (however, I was not allowed to pay the 2TL), but in many respects the barriers are indicators of optimism. The Belediye is now helping to look after the church (hence the barriers and a uniformed attendant) and the church is firmly on the city’s rapidly expanding tourist trail. Inside were some tourists, Turkish and otherwise, and about thirty Syriac Christians. The Syriac Christians had stayed on following the end of mass earlier in the day. Among the milling people was Abouna (Father) Yusuf Akbulut, whom I had first met in 2009. Yusuf was very busy, but we managed to briefly chat. I was amazed that he recalled the visit I had made with Hilary one rainy day in October almost six years earlier.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

Sinclair says that the church:

Originally built in the 6th century, was a large construction most of which has been lost. The main body had three lobes to n., w. and s. From the would-be lobe in the e. extended the chancel, which survives, as does the apse in which it ends. Chancel and apse have been converted into the present church. The lost part… lay on the site of the present ample courtyard to the w. of the church… The house to the n. is the former bishop’s residence…

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

From the portico the church is now entered beneath a gallery, and the rest of the former chancel is covered by a shallow dome. The apse is now decorated crowdedly… but if one looks high up on the e. walls to either side of the apse, two excellent wall capitals with garlanded acanthus from the original church can be made out…

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The nave is now domed: the eight supporting piers, two set against each of the n. and s. walls, shoulder arches and pendentives. Beneath the original capitals in the e. wall doors lead to chambers either side of the apse, but these chambers are late. The n. door’s heavy, rectangular external frame was probably part of the original church. 

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin.

At the end of our tour of the church (we were shown around by a young Syriac male studying at one of Ankara’s universities), the young woman exposing more of her flesh than is usual in Turkey said that she had Muslim parents, but she herself did not practice Islam “because religion causes so many problems.” To confirm that what she said might be true, I told her about the problems Yusuf had encountered in 2000 and 2001 when he spoke out about the massacres Syriac Orthodox Christians suffered at the hands of Turks and Kurds at the same time Armenians were subjected to genocide. She nodded her head slowly and said, “Yes, the Turks and the Kurds will have been Muslims. The Syriac Christians will have been killed because they were Christian. It is wrong. It is sad.”

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

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To Cemisgezek and the Termal Hotel.

Being dropped off where hills, a river, trees, pasture with 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 in Dersim. 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, houses in particular, survive to make it 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, some distance outside, a turbe and a bridge with a single pointed arch.

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 that 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 it worth a detour to Cemisgezek, 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 the town. 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 with little difficulty, 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 total number or in variety – 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 was to prove the 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.

Cermik (and more about Cungus).

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

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

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

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

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

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

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

The citadel, Cermik.

The citadel, Cermik.

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

The hamam, Cermik.

The hamam, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

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

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

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cermik.

Cermik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pauses. “Everybody knows.”

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

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

“Nothing,” the man murmured.

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

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

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