To Diyarbakir.

The Mayd Hotel has two female staff, one who cleans the rooms and gets them ready for guests, and one who prepares breakfast and light snacks during the day. Both women, one of whom wears a headscarf, like to smoke and are occasionally encountered sucking on cigarettes on balconies or in empty bedrooms. They work harder than the males in the hotel, the owner himself and his four other employees, the latter who share duties on reception, carry guests’ bags to their rooms, assume responsibility for the laundry and undertake odd jobs to ensure the smooth running of the hotel.

It was the last breakfast of the trip so I went for broke. I had honey with yoghurt, borek, fried potatoes, grilled peppers, four types of olive, two types of cheese, tomatoes, boiled egg, simit, cherry jam, strawberry jam, melon, tea and water. I wanted to delay leaving the hotel for as long as I could so I had less time to spend in Diyarbakir, from where my flight was not scheduled to depart until just after midnight.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I went for a walk, calling first at the main square to examine for the last time the brightly painted buildings surrounding it and the bunting hung by the different political parties. A block south of Gazi Caddesi is the street emerging as the place to go for up-market consumer goods including clothes, so I went there next to confirm that it aspires to be Elazig’s miniature version of Kensington or Knightsbridge in London. It does have aspirations to emulate Kensington or Knightsbridge, and every so often I passed a new or yet-to-be-completed office or apartment block manifesting enviable attention to detail to make it look attractive. The more I walked around, the more the area looked as if it would emerge as an inner city middle class enclave where the devout and the secular live together, but still somehow exist in parallel universes that never quite connect or interact.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

After walking past a small park sheltered by mature trees, I arrived at a sterile open space where buses arrive and depart for destinations around the city. I then entered what is overwhelmingly a residential area north of Gazi Caddesi, but small business premises exist in most of the apartment blocks at street level. I zig-zagged north and east until arriving at a wide street running north to south with a narrow ribbon of greenery and a dry water feature that turned the road into a dual carriageway. An attractive modern mosque overlooks the road from the west. In a shop window on the east side of the street two women were making gozleme. The older woman had covered all her face except her eyes and the top of her nose with a scarf, but the younger woman used her scarf to cover only her hair and ears. I wanted to take a photo of the two of them sitting on the floor as they rolled out the dough before cooking the gozleme on convex circles of sheet metal over a wooden fire, but I could tell that they were reluctant to be thus immortalised, even though a man in the shop urged them to let me do so.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I was on the Sunni side of the street and did not want to cause the women any embarrassment. But here, once again, is hypocrisy writ large. Females from about the age of fourteen or fifteen are discouraged from having photos taken of them by anyone other than relatives or close family friends, but males of all ages urge you to take photos of them all the time, even if you have only just met them. When photography first became popular in Muslim societies, males and females were reluctant to be photographed because the rumour spread that the photograph somehow captured part of a person’s soul and that part of the soul would never return to the body that once possessed it. In time, however, males overcame their fear that part of their soul would be lost for all eternity and allowed themselves to be photographed with ever greater enthusiasm. But females were still discouraged from being photographed, partly because of the ludicrous idea about the “theft” of part of the soul, but also because males did not want female family members to be looked at in photos by people who might have lustful inclinations toward them! That photos might be taken of Muslim males by photographers who had lustful inclinations toward them did not seem to count, of course. As ever, therefore, females were required to inhabit the background while males got to strut their stuff.

I returned to the hotel to arrange things in my bags in such a way as to ensure the weight was as evenly distributed as possible, then showered, ate a peach given to me in Solhan, drank lots of water chilled in the bedroom fridge and went to reception to settle the bill. It was about 10.40am when I left the hotel and I arrived at the minibus garaj next to the Balada Park Hotel (no one seemed to be working at the hotel, which suggested everyone was having a day off) just in time to catch the 11.00am departure for Diyarbakir.

I could not recall the hills and mountains south of Elazig ever looking so pretty or so tempting to walk through. The visibility was excellent, so much so that my last day in Turkey was very good for photography even though I was going south into less elevated surroundings on the last day of May when temperatures were definitely warmer than when I started the trip. There were just enough white clouds to render the sky interesting and the clouds cast shadows over the fields, pasture, orchards, forests, hills and mountains. The mountains north and south of Hazar Golu still had smudges of snow on them, but they were smaller and fewer in number than two weeks earlier.

In Elazig I noticed that the railway station is conveniently located just a few blocks south of the main square, the otogar is not as far from the centre as in many cities of comparable size and even the airport is only 7 or 8 kilometres south-east of Gazi Caddesi.

At first we followed the railway to Palu, Mus and Tatvan, then that line veered off to the east as we went south to Hazar Golu. The Elazig to Diyarbakir railway leaves Elazig from the south-west, then swings to the south-east to take a route along the very sparsely populated south side of the lake. It is only when the road reaches the east end of the lake and swings south-east for Maden that the railway and the road embrace each other so they can negotiate the direct but meandering route to Maden and Ergani.

The small town of Gezin is the last settlement the road passes through before leaving Hazar Golu. Gezin comprises mostly of villas that are the second homes for city slickers who love the lake and its surroundings. A few businesses line the main road and they are overlooked by a large modern mosque in the mock-Ottoman style with lots of domes and semi-domes of different sizes.

Not far past Gezin the hills and mountains embrace the road and the railway and the very pretty run to Maden begins. Forest, pasture, beehives and villages on the valley walls add to the pleasure gleaned from watching the railway make progress south via short tunnels, bridges and cuttings. Lots of yellow flowers still grew, but for how much longer? The deep red poppies of Dersim came to mind and I wondered how many were still in flower. So delicate did they look that the poppies’ petals reminded me of butterflies’ wings.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Just before Maden station the minibus stopped at a roadside lokanta and small market where people were preparing gozleme and meat dishes such as patlican kebaps. A large pile of melons from Adana, some of the first melons of the year, were examined by family groups who had stopped in their cars. A white van hired by the HDP pulled into the car park and I chatted with its occupants. One of the occupants was a woman aged about forty dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes. She was the same person who featured in a picture on the exterior of the van itself. She was going to Diyarbakir to take part in an HDP rally during which she would sing and dance. She was ready to go on stage as soon as she arrived at her destination.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

As always, Maden’s location in a deep valley with houses stacked on the hillside above the railway and the river made me want to get out to look around, but I could not do so now with bags heavy with booty for home. Flights of stone and concrete steps meandered among the buildings providing pedestrians with short cuts from one group of houses to the next. Shadows fell across the heaps of spoil that confirm how important mining had once been. For a town with an official population of not much more than five thousand, Maden appeared to have a lot to offer its visitors.

Between Maden and Ergani the bus boy brought everyone something to drink and I had a fruit juice.

Makam Dagi and the large cement works confirmed that we were approaching the northern edge of Ergani, from where the scenery took on a more worn-out appearance with rounded hills in the distance and the plain assuming the first shades of brown redolent of the long, hot summer ahead. The road, a dual carriageway from Ergani almost all the way to Diyarbakir, allowed us to get to the northern suburbs of our destination very quickly, but it was then that we meandered through the extensive new suburbs to the main otogar dropping people off as we did so.

The meandering drive through the northern and western suburbs of Diyarbakir was other-worldly. Most of the buildings (the first few are encountered in ones and twos, but further into the city they are clustered together en masse) are very new, very tall (blocks at least ten storeys high are normal), carefully designed (balconies of generous proportions are common) and brightly painted. Where such buildings cluster together en masse they are invariably clones of one another, but there is something compelling about the views they create, even though they are the opposite of all that I like best about architecture in the Middle East (it is this alien character of the new suburbs that makes them other-worldly, of course). The buildings lie along new roads, some of which are wide and dominated by curves and roundabouts, the latter at intersections. Families wealthy by local standards occupy some of the apartments. The ground floors of many of the apartment blocks now have businesses in them and, in time, the suburbs will emerge as places where local people can meet most of their routine needs without having to visit the city centre. Some of the most impressive businesses are large lokantas and cafés with ultra-modern air conditioned interiors and outdoor patios raised above the level of the pavement. Family groups were on the patios enjoying a very late breakfast or very early lunch (in fact, they may have been eating brunch. The suburbs are not without their American characteristics). Blink, and the suburbs of Diyarbakir could have been in parts of Mediterranean Europe. Moreover, it was obvious that some of Diyarbakir’s best dining experiences are now in the suburbs and not in the old city or the streets immediately enclosing it.

The benefits of the peace that has prevailed in the south-east for some years impressed themselves in a manner as substantial as that of the Syriac Orthodox Christians who have returned to the Tur Abdin region around Mardin and Midyat.

Inevitably, not everywhere surrounding the apartment blocks and other large structures such as offices and shopping malls has been landscaped, with the result that many families and office workers overlook patches of open space marred with litter and the debris of construction work. In time, of course, such open spaces will be built over or turned into parkland and/or playgrounds, and very large billboards had helpful artists’ impressions of what the brave new world will eventually look like. My heart inclines toward the old city, inevitably, despite its considerable challenges in terms of overcrowding and economic decline, but I can see the appeal of Diyarbakir’s new suburbs, especially for Kurds in the region who, for the first time ever in many families, are experiencing economic security and well-being.

We arrived at the newish otogar, itself increasingly enclosed by the brave new world of wide boulevards and large structures with brightly painted walls, and some of us transferred to a servis bus that took us to the edge of the old city through streets busy with pedestrians and motorised traffic.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

I had a cunning plan. I would identify a small hotel where rooms came with en suite facilities where I could leave my bags and wash and rest when I wanted, then check out at about 9.45pm. With the temperature about 30 degrees centigrade and likely to rise another degree of two by 4.00pm, I knew I could not get to the airport feeling and looking presentable without at least one shower. I also wanted to have a good look around the old city, which would inevitably mean I would get a bit grubby. I found just what I wanted between Kibris Caddesi and Inonu Boulevard. Moreover, the hotel was about 150 metres from where taxis left for the airport for a very reasonable flat fare.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

I showered and changed into grubby but still presentable clothes to keep clean the clothes I had travelled in from Elazig (the clothes worn in Elazig and to Diyarbakir I would put back on for the journey home), then set off for the trip’s final good look around. Surp Giragos Church was my first destination. I made my way via the narrow streets of the old city east of Gazi Caddesi and south of Biyikli Mehmet Sokak.

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

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Elazig.

I left about 2.30pm to confirm that minibuses departed for Diyarbakir the following morning, a Sunday, from the same garaj from where services depart for Keban. Not far from the garaj the stalls of a large market had taken over some of the streets and many people had come to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives, honey, clothes, shoes, bedding, tools, toys, kitchen utensils, plastic bowls and buckets, and many other things for the house and the garden. The atmosphere was delightful, so much so that I decided to look around more slowly after visiting the garaj.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

As I continued on my way I became aware that a woman was following me. She was aged about thirty-five, did not have a headscarf and wore a blouse that revealed most of her arms. As I entered the garaj she asked me what I was up to, so I explained. It did not take long to confirm that minibuses for Diyarbakir left roughly every hour the following day, then she asked if I had some spare time. I said I had plenty of spare time so she said, “Good. I would like to show you around this,” and she pointed toward a large, incomplete hotel beside the garaj. “I am the general manager of the hotel and we plan for it to be the very best in Elazig.”

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

Staff at the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

I am not used to attractive women much younger than me asking to spend time with them, so the hour or so that followed was great fun.

The hotel’s general manager is called **** and **** is, by the standards of almost any nation state, a remarkable woman, but to achieve what she has achieved in Turkey is astounding. Despite decades of the Turkish Republic being dominated by secular aspirations before the rise of the AKP, secular aspirations that included commitment to gender equality, Turkey has never provided girls and women with the same opportunities as boys and men, so the fact that **** has bubbled up to assume such a high status role in an industry still dominated by men is itself a rare achievement. But ****, who is married to a Turkish academic teaching at Elazig University, is Armenian. Yes, **** belongs to the very ethnic group, the Armenians, that suffered genocide during the first world war.

****’s career path has been an interesting one. She used to be a tour guide before entering hotel management in Bodrum (which she said she missed because of her affection for the sea). It was her experience of hotel management at that popular Mediterranean resort which opened up the opportunity that has arisen in Elazig.

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View west from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

**** showed me around the hotel and introduced me to some of her colleagues, including two of the men whose money has made the whole project possible. I could not believe the ambitions **** and her colleagues have for the hotel. I was shown the basement where the car park will be and the rooms nearby that have all the equipment required to provide gas, electricity and water, the latter both hot and cold. I also saw the spacious lobby, the offices, the restaurants, the kitchens, the outdoor café, the function and conference rooms, some of the bedrooms and suites, the hamam, the sauna and the salt room. I hope that their immense investment in money, planning, labour, high quality construction materials, luxury facilities and recruitment of staff meets everyone’s expectations and long-term aspirations for a healthy profit.

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

View north-east from the incomplete hotel, Elazig.

It was only gradually that **** revealed things about her Armenian background. Home is really Istanbul, but her husband is from Elazig and he wanted to return to the city of his birth when a teaching post arose at the university. **** came with him, obviously, and managed to secure the role of general manager at the soon-to-be-opened hotel (which overlooks the wide ring road, so views from the upper floors are very good in all directions, even to Harput in the north over the concrete jungle that comprises the city centre). She misses Istanbul very much, partly because its lifestyle is far more secular in character than that in Sunni-dominated Elazig, partly because she loves fish and Istanbul has many excellent fish lokantas, and partly because she is a long way from her Armenian family and friends (she did not know of a single Armenian in Elazig other than herself, so I told her about the Armenian I had met in Sahinkaya almost a fortnight earlier).

**** and her husband had recently entertained an Armenian film-maker in their home on the west side of the city, so this led me to wonder if they and I had encountered the same person, but, the more **** spoke about him, the more it was obvious we had met different people. I told the story about “my” film-maker hanging the Armenian flag from the damaged dome of the church near Sahinkaya and **** was visibly moved. The focus of our discussions shifted from the hotel and its final appearance toward the plight of the Armenian people past and present.

It took a while before I convinced **** that my interest in things Armenian was sincere and long-standing (a quick look at my blog entitled “In Search of Unusual Destinations” proved decisive), but once I had done so she shared some interesting information. A relative of hers had recently bought a house in Arapgir to re-establish a family link with the town severed by the mass murder of Armenians in 1915, and the film-maker she and her husband had met had been in the area because of family links with Harput.

It turned out that **** is forty-four years old. Despite all the pressures that exist if you wish to succeed as an Armenian woman with strong secular inclinations in overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey in a sector of the economy still dominated by men, **** is thriving and remains far more youthful in appearance than I would have imagined possible.

At one point in our discussions **** asked what I was doing the following day (she wanted to invite me to her home, Sunday being the one day of the week she had off from work). When I said that I had to go to Diyarbakir to catch my flight home late Sunday evening and would therefore be leaving Elazig in the morning, she said, “Okay. Never mind. That gives me a chance to buy some new shoes. I love shoes, but they get ruined at the hotel. Just look at these,” and she pointed to a pair of once-smart, flat but expensive shoes that had many scuffs on them. “I will replace them with four new pairs tomorrow.” A woman with strong secular values who thrives in a man’s world dominated by Sunni Muslims? An economically successful Armenian living among people who may be the descendants of Turks and Kurds who engaged in genocide against her forebears a hundred years ago? As if all this is not remarkable enough, **** has not compromised her femininity to get on in life.

How exciting to find an Armenian thriving in Turkey even though the number of Armenians in the country is now so small, and even though so many Armenian monuments have disappeared, lie in ruins or suffer from such outrageous official neglect that their very survival for even a generation is very much in doubt.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I eventually got away about 4.15pm and went directly to the market to take some photos. The market was still very busy, but everyone seemed relaxed rather than boisterous. A chat with a very vivacious woman aged about thirty (she did not cover her head, but walked around with two female friends who had scarves) led to a nice photo as she gave the HDP’s V-sign. We parted company, but met again further into the market. On this occasion the woman pressed into my hand a boiled corn-on-the-cob that made an excellent snack.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

The market, Elazig.

By now I was thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere, so went to the lower end of the pazar to take more photos. I also walked to the main square where a group of men who sat on a bench engaged me in conversation as we consumed glasses of tea, then I had a last look at the covered pazar and spent time in a shop specialising in honey and all the equipment required to produce it. The man in the shop tried to give me a jar of honey to take home, but I explained about the problem of getting it through customs (it remains unlawful to bring Turkish honey through UK customs, not that the law had stopped me doing so in the past. My excuse for breaking the law in the past? In this respect, it is an ass).

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

I returned to the hotel to freshen up, then went out to find somewhere serving a pide. I had not yet had a pide, despite it being a favourite of mine. I did not have far to walk from the hotel to find a suitably clean and bright lokanta. Once inside I ordered an ayran and a pide with meat and cheese. The excellent pide arrived with a refreshing salad, but I could not get away until I had consumed two teas on the house.

I had a chat with one of the waiters. He was Iranian. He said that he had had to flee from Iran because the authorities regarded him as a dissident. He did not sympathise with the religious character of the constitution. He said, “I don’t like Muslims.” I said, “Are you Christian, Zoroastrian or Bahai?” He replied, “No. I have Muslim parents. I am Muslim. But Muslims treat Muslims badly. I have lost my belief in Islam because Muslims cannot treat even their brothers and sisters like brothers and sisters.”

Of course, Iran is an Islamic state predicated on a mainstream Shia understanding of how such a state should function. My encounter with the waiter was a reminder that, in the Islamic world, tyranny and oppression are not confined to Sunni Muslims alone.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I went for a last walk around central Elazig concentrating on the streets east of the main square. It was now almost completely dark and girls and women were seen very rarely. I passed four of the city’s older hotels, one of which I had stayed in a few years ago. The hotel had had a face-lift that included plastic double-glazed windows (I recall that sleep had been very difficult because of the noise from the traffic in the street below). In fact, all the hotels had been up-graded to such an extent that I did not recognise them except for their names.

Elazig.

Elazig.

When I stopped to admire some over-the-top wedding dresses in a shop window, the owner of the shop invited me inside to take a few photos. The owner had no customers, but his shop would remain open until about 9.00pm in the futile hope some might arrive. However, with dresses far outnumbering suits, the chance that anyone would pop in was very small because women, his most likely client group, were deserting the city centre streets as quickly as they could. This said, it was great fun examining the clothes (many dresses cost at least £400, a lot of money by Turkish standards, and they came in many colours and styles), so much so that I stopped at a second shop specialising in wedding garments before walking to the west side of the city centre. Here, only two or three blocks south of the Mayd Hotel, a street is attracting some very exclusive shops. Some of the shops meet the needs of rich pious Sunni women who want clothes which, although ensuring everything but the face and hands will be covered (some young women might also reveal their toes if wearing shoes without socks or tights), will nonetheless guarantee that people admire their appearance. The headscarves, tops, trousers, coats and other garments (some very attractive patterns and design features such as flowers decorate the fabrics) had been carefully made and styled, but by Turkish standards they were extremely expensive. I also saw a shop with a vast selection of expensive and brightly coloured handbags, some of which were enormous (pious young Sunni women liked large handbags almost as much as eye-catching headscarves, tight-fitting jeans, make-up and, sometimes, shoes with high heels), but a shop selling chocolates detained me the longest.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

What did my walk around the shops reveal? Pious Sunni women are still required to cover up to a degree that is wholly inappropriate, especially given how hot most of Turkey gets in summer, but if the Sunni women are young and rich they know how to make an impression. You are young, female, Sunni and rolling in liras? Do not hesitate to flaunt what you have by splashing out on clothes, shoes and accessories of unquestioned quality, but do not dare show off more than your face, hands and an occasional toe because, if you reveal too much, you have only yourself to blame for men wanting to sexually assault you.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Just before turning in I witnessed an alarming incident at a street corner not far from a large, city centre mosque. Two police officers drove up on their motorbikes and began interrogating a male aged about sixteen or seventeen. The young male looked frightened as one of the officers unleashed a torrent of words in a raised voice. The second officer began rummaging among some litter carelessly pushed into plastic bags and cardboard boxes, thereby spilling the contents onto the pavement. He was looking for something, but his search proved unsuccessful. He walked over to a plastic chair, presumably the property of the young male, and stamped on it with his heavy boots. The chair very quickly broke into many pieces, thereby rendering it of use to no one. A few last stern words were directed toward the young male, then the officers rode off in a hurry sounding their sirens, the latter perhaps for extra effect. Were they going to deal with another incident or were they getting away quickly before members of the public could establish their identity?

Elazig.

Elazig.

As for the young male, he melted away among the pedestrians along a dark side street, his self-respect and street credibility severely dented. The many onlookers, all male, briefly chatted among themselves before resuming whatever they were engaged with. Their lack of emotion suggested that the incident they had witnessed was not abnormal and one that had to be put up with, even though some must have felt the police had over-reacted. Their apparent indifference about the plight of the young male suggested that they were grateful they themselves had done nothing to incur the wrath of the police officers. But their indifference also suggested that ordinary Turkish citizens still feel powerless in the face of state institutions and/or when confronted by uniformed representatives of the state. Even in 2015 it looks as if the police have power and authority that remains undiminished from earlier, more deferential and dictatorial times. Or is it the case that in recent times Erdogan has encouraged the police to be more assertive in how they exercise their power and authority?

All I can assume is that the young man had been selling things on the street, perhaps without permission to do so (I imagine that people trading on the streets need a licence), but the police officers had acted in a manner both inappropriate and disproportionate. The incident brought back memories of how uniformed representatives of the Turkish Republic have acted in inappropriate and disproportionate ways in the past. I wondered if enough has been done to bring the police and other uniformed personnel under control. Such servants of the state are meant to protect members of the public, not oppress them.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Elazig.

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

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

Solhan.

Solhan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

Between Bingol and Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

View from the balcony, Mayd Hotel, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

The bazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

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

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

Borek and lemon, Elazig.

Borek and limon, Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

To Keban and Arapgir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keban.

Keban.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

Yusuf Ziya Pasa Camii, Keban.

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

The Armenian church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

The church, Keban.

The Armenian church, Keban.

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

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

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

The dam, Keban Reservoir.

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

The fish farm, near Keban.

The fish farm, near Keban.

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

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

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

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

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

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

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

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

To Elazig and Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

As far as I could tell, only one other person spent the night in the pansiyon, so there was no competition for the facilities in the morning. I packed as many items into my bags as I could, then went downstairs for breakfast. I ordered lentil soup, which came with bread, salad, water and tea. Only two other men sat in the lokanta. One had soup but the other ordered only tea, which he drank with his first cigarettes of the day. According to the law, smoking is no longer allowed where food is served, but in simple lokantas in south-east Turkey reliant largely on local custom to make a profit, such rules are enforced erratically. The TV news updated us about the latest speeches and gaffes made by leading political figures over the weekend, then someone changed the channel so we could watch a programme about south-east Turkey, or Turkish Kurdistan. While males sang songs happy and sad about love and lust, iconic images of Mount Ararat, Dogubayazit, Isak Pasa Saray, Lake Van, Hasankeyf, Mardin, Midyat, Diyarbakir and the mountains around Hakkari filled the screen (if an Armenian instead of a Kurd had watched the same programme, he or she would have recognised some iconic images of Western Armenia instead of Turkish Kurdistan).

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

The lokanta of the pansiyon, Ergani.

I paid my bill for the food and the room, collected my things and walked about 100 metres to an office from where minibuses left for Elazig, my destination for the day. I had to wait only twenty minutes before we set off. There was just time to chat briefly with a young woman wearing a headscarf.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

My bedroom in the pansiyon, Ergani.

I knew the road from Ergani to Elazig from a number of trips in the past, but, because I was now travelling along it in mid-May when everything looked so green and fertile and the visibility was crystal clear, it felt as if I was doing the run for the first time. As soon as we left Ergani the road led to hills and mountains. We passed an old stone bridge over a river, trees with bright green leaves along the valley floors, orchards, wild flowers and an army camp as the comfortable minibus sped along the fast road. For many kilometres the railway meandered in sympathy with the rivers and every so often disappeared into a short tunnel or crossed a stone bridge, some of the latter with elegantly wide arches.

Around Maden (the name means “mine” or “mineral” in Turkish), a small town with many old houses ascending a steep hillside above the river, scars and slag on the slopes confirm that mining has been popular until very recently. Mining began in Maden in the 16th century when Greeks were brought from Gumushane to exploit the area’s mineral wealth. Today little mining continues, if it continues at all, but the railway has a presence in the town with a station, a few sidings and a water crane for use by the occasional steam locomotive.

Shortly after leaving Maden the valley widens. The road emerges on the right-hand wall of a wide bowl at the far end of which is the slope holding back the waters of Hazar Golu. Because Hazar Golu is surrounded by hills and mountains, some of the latter smudged with snow the day I passed them, and because the lake is such a large and attractive resource, the towns and villages along the north-east and north side of the lake have emerged in recent decades as destinations for people to escape the summer heat on the nearby plains. A few hotels and pansiyons exist, but villas, some of which are now twenty or thirty years old although others are much more recent in construction and designed to a higher standard, are considerably more numerous. This said, development remains just short of being overwhelming, although for how much longer I wonder. This means that at present it is not the built environment that dominates your attention, but the lake, the surrounding hills and mountains, the fields, the orchards and the wild flowers. The province of Elazig is lucky to have such a destination within its borders.

From the most westerly extremity of the lake the road veers north and descends onto a wide undulating plain with ridges of hills and mountains to the south and the north. Fields and orchards dominate the run into Elazig, which, from the south, appears a relatively small city, but only because it stretches so far from east to west and has also grown significantly in recent years toward Harput in the north.

The minibus terminated at the garaj to the south-west of the city centre and a servis bus carried passengers for free to destinations around Elazig. I and two other passengers got off where Hurriyet, Istasyon and Gazi caddesis meet and I left to find a small hotel for the night. On Horasan Sokak just off Gazi Caddesi the two-star Mayd had a room with en suite facilities, a balcony and breakfast for 60TL. It was so early in the day that breakfast was still available to late-rising guests. I knew it would be a good breakfast when I saw that a woman was responsible for preparing it.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig is a city with a very large population of conventionally pious Sunnis, both Turkish and Kurdish. I had already noted that a very large number of women wear headscarves, but some like the all-enveloping, loose-fitting black garments and cover their faces so that only their eyes and the top of their nose are visible. Large, modern mosques are not far from the hotel and in my room a sign pointed toward the kible, or the direction for prayer. A prayer mat of very recent pedigree was on the floor of the wardrobe. For most of the next twenty-four hours I was very much on the Sunni side of the street with all that this implies in terms of segregation of the sexes and infrequent chats with women. On the plus side dozens of lokantas, but all unlicensed, exist in the side streets around the hotel; the pazar is only a seven minute walk away; the minibuses to Harput depart from a car park a few blocks to the east; and, by utilising the side streets south of Gazi Caddesi, I could walk to the minibus garaj for Keban and Arapgir, the latter my destination for the following day, in about fifteen minutes.

But Harput was for later in the day because my first destination was the village of Sahinkaya, about 6 kilometres west and a little north of the city centre. Sahinkaya, until quite recently known as Hulvenk, is not far from the Armenian Monastery of St. George (the name “venk” or “vank” is Armenian for “monastery”).

I left the hotel, walked to the minibus garaj where I had arrived earlier to confirm that minibuses departed for Keban the following morning (they did depart, and on an hourly basis, but I was told minibuses from Keban to Arapgir did not exist), then I strode off in a westerly direction along the main road leading eventually to Malatya. It seemed to take a long time to reach the city’s football stadium and a new but incomplete park with water features, but eventually I arrived at the point where the roads to Malatya and Keban part company. I stood near the beginning of the road to Keban and flagged down the first minibus that came along. I said I was going to Sahinkaya and the driver confirmed that he could take me to within 3 kilometres from the village. We drove past a very large modern dental hospital and many apartment blocks that looked as if they had been built only a year or two earlier, but already some shops, cafés, lokantas and other businesses occupied ground floor premises to meet the needs of the growing population.

When the minibus reached its destination all the passengers got off, but the driver urged me to get aboard again and he very kindly drove me about a kilometre further along the road to Sahinkaya. By now I was beyond the clutches of the concrete jungle that is most of modern Elazig and surrounded by fields, pasture, orchards and houses with large gardens. I began walking toward the centre of the village, but a man stopped his tractor to offer me a lift to a tea house, where we sat in the shade as refreshments were summoned. We chatted about the village, the monastery and the local population. To my amazement the man said he was Armenian. Kurds sitting at the next table said, “Yes. And we are all friends in this village. Kurds, Zaza, Armenians: it does not matter. First we are friends.”

Inevitably, my offer to pay for the refreshments was refused and, after shaking hands with everyone, the owner of the tea house included, I left for the monastery. Sahinkaya is not a particularly pretty village, but there are enough old houses and sights characteristic of the Turkish countryside to make it worth spending some time in. Just about everyone I met, male or female, said good morning and made sure I was going in the right direction, but I took one wrong turn before being put right by a man in protective clothes checking his beehives. When he learned that, in a few days’ time, I was visiting Tunceli, he said I must try the honey from Ovacik because it was very good.

As I approached a cesme dispensing chilled water that hit the spot perfectly on a warm mid-morning, I came across a brand new taxi parked in the shade of some trees. The driver had a welcoming smile on his face and gave me a cucumber to eat. He explained that he had dropped off three people who had walked the last 200 metres to the monastery. I was intrigued that I was not the only person visiting remote and largely forgotten Armenian ruins a hundred years after the genocide against the Armenians had begun.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I passed polled trees arranged in two rows, a stone ruin that had probably been part of the monastic complex and pasture brightened by many wild flowers. To the west were the last houses of Sahinkaya and to the east the apartment blocks of Elazig most distant from the city centre. The apartment blocks were less than a kilometre away. Sahinkaya will eventually lose its separate identity and become a suburb of Elazig made up of housing far less characterful than that which currently exists.

The three people at the monastery were an Armenian American film-maker from Boston, his cameraman, also from Boston, and a younger man whom I assumed was a Turkish national taken on as a fixer. The film-maker and his cameraman had been visiting Turkey off and on for two or three years with the intention of making a documentary about the 1915 genocide and its aftermath. This would be their last year in the field, as it were, after which all effort would be directed toward putting the documentary together. The Armenian American had good reason to visit Sahinkaya because at least one of his grandparents had lived locally. He told a remarkable story about close encounters with local people who had heard of or known his grandparent, about tracking down the remains of his relative’s house and about the possibility of buying the land where the house had stood, thereby reclaiming for an Armenian a little bit of Western Armenia with close associations with his family. There was even talk of being able to identify precisely where the relative’s grave had been.

We talked for a while about the events that began in 1915, about the film-maker’s family associations with the area, about the places he and I had visited because of our mutual interest in the genocide, and about the Turkish Republic’s shameful neglect of most surviving Armenian monuments other than a handful that large numbers of tourists, foreign and indigenous, visit and are therefore kept in good condition. The fact that a few Armenian monuments such as the astounding church on the island of Akhdamar in Lake Van are looked after properly lulls the gullible into thinking that all Armenian monuments in Turkey are cared for, but the ruined, vandalised and graffiti-smeared monastery church near Sahinkaya typifies the dire condition of most such treasures of the past.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk. Note the Aramaic script of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

I left the three in peace because they planned to hang from the damaged dome of the monastery church a makeshift Armenian flag that they were attaching to a pole they would lower into the nave with a rope. I asked permission to witness what promised to be a very moving event and was encouraged to stay, on the understanding I did not get in the way of the cameraman and his desire the film the event devoid of human distraction. I loitered in the background and, as the flag was lowered from the dome to flap gently in the badly vandalised nave, felt much more than a mere lump in my throat. An Armenian flag was, albeit briefly, hanging in an Armenian monastery church in eastern Turkey not far from Harput where some of the most thoroughly documented massacres and deportations, the latter themselves resulting in immense loss of life, took place in 1915.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

It would not surprise me if what the film-maker did with the flag constitutes a criminal act in Turkey, but I regard the act as a small moral victory on behalf of a people who simply want the Turkish Republic to admit that what happened in 1915 and immediately thereafter constitutes genocide. Geoffrey Robertson’s “An Inconvenient Genocide: who now remembers the Armenians?” provides, in my eyes at least, conclusive proof that it was a genocide, and even the Turkish Republic now concedes that 600,000 Armenians lost their lives during world war one. However, the Turkish Republic insists that genocide did not take place because not all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were murdered and because “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”.

Genocide involves “the extinction of a race or any part of a race”. In other words, total extinction of a people is NOT required for genocide to have occurred. The Turkish Republic significantly underestimates how many Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 by putting the figure at 1.1 million. However, even if “only” 600,000 Armenians were murdered in 1915 and thereafter, this constitutes over 50% of all Armenians said by the Turkish Republic to have been alive in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, which amounts to a very substantial “part” of the Armenian “race” in the eyes of anyone, surely. It was established a few years ago that genocide took place in Srebrinica in 1995 when just over 8,000 Bosniaks were murdered by Serbs, Ukrainians and Russians. If genocide can take place when “only” 8,000 are murdered, how can it not be the case that genocide takes place when at least 600,000 are murdered?

What of the argument that “no authentic evidence exists” for “a pre-meditated plan to kill off Armenians”? Robertson is unequivocal in his conclusion about the matter. Although it is difficult to pinpoint documentary evidence that extermination of the Armenians was planned:

Criminal law works authentically by inference from all the evidence: quite apart from the confessions by Turkish leaders (who, after world war one, said that the extermination of the Armenians was intended) and the verdicts of the Constantinople trails (of 1919, which led to convictions for “crimes against humanity and civilisation”), the deportations were certainly pre-planned, as were the laws providing for asset and home seizure by the state. Sending Armenians (and only Armenians) on long marches in the knowledge that most would be killed en route, by brigands and local vengeful Muslims, or by disease and starvation, necessarily entails pre-meditation, and government responsibility for the foreseeable consequences.

But what of the monastery church itself near Sahinkaya? What condition is it in? As I have indicated above, the ruin has been vandalised and suffers from the hands of graffiti “artists”. Because lots of mortar is crumbling away, further damage will be done to the remaining stonework, especially with the freezing and thawing of water that takes place during winter and spring. Blackened internal walls confirm that some disrespectful idiots have tried to burn the ruin down, and some of the soot suggests the fires are quite recent. Most of the floor has been dug over by treasure hunters convinced that Armenians buried gold, silver or other valuables in 1915 just before being murdered or, if women, children or elderly men, just before being sent elsewhere, the latter ostensibly to be relocated to a settlement less militarily sensitive in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. In other words, the monastery church is a most forlorn sight and confirms that such buildings are subject to intolerable official neglect. This said, most of the roof remains intact despite a hole in the dome and I have seen Armenian churches, whether once part of a monastic complex or not, in even worse condition than this. In fact, it would not take much money or labour to ensure that the ruin survive, more or less as it currently is, for many generations to come. But will such an investment in money and labour be made? Not, I fear, if the AKP secures a parliamentary majority in June 2015. Such an investment might be made if, by some miracle, a coalition is formed without either the AKP or the uncompromisingly Turkish nationalist MHP.

Here, for the record, is how Sinclair described the monastery in 1982:

A Syrian monastery was founded here in the early 6th century, but the present buildings are Armenian and the earliest part of the present church belongs to the 15th century, though this work was probably an extensive restoration of a church built in 1300/01. The rest, including the westerly addition to the church, is much later. The church now stands at the s. side of the enclosure, with two single buildings not far to the n.

Church. This is now a rectangle with a dome, now fallen, in front of the apse. The church was extended to the w. in an addition of 1882, and the nave now consists of two rows of four pillars upholding barrel-vaults above the narrow side aisles and a variety of vaults, beside the dome, above the central aisle. Low arches are sprung from the pillars to the n. and s. walls. To the e. the line of the arcades is continued by the walls separating the apse from its side chambers. The church’s earlier part (to the e.) is higher, and the drop in the height of the vaults is reflected outside in the height of the roof… E. end. Deep sanctuary, ending in semi-circle. S. side chamber reflects its shape in its n. wall; n. chamber has been enlarged… E. half of nave. Note polychrome masonry of pendatives, different patterns formed by the blocks in the pendatives. Simple painting (cavalier saint and dragon) on n. wall, second bay…

Monastic buildings, which probably date from 1882. E. wall of enclosure adjoins corner of church’s ne. chamber. The w. wall no doubt joined the church’s nw. corner, but is broken off at a good distance from it. Large room against n. wall… All walls in this enclosure are of mudbrick; the arches of the main room and the jambs of its n. door are stone.    

Sadly, a lot of the fine detail that Sinclair describes in relation to the church is now lost and, perhaps even more alarmingly, none of the structures mentioned after “Monastic buildings” remain. Compare my photos of the monastery near Sahinkaya with Sinclair’s photo in volume III of his monumental study and be shocked by what has disappeared in such a relatively short time. Anyone who values the products of human endeavour as the very things that have helped to shape us today, and that provide us with a glimpse of humankind’s amazing capacity for invention and creativity, cannot visit the monastery near Sahinkaya without feeling a profound sense of loss. Moreover, I feel compelled to ask the following. Is not such neglect and its consequences almost as unforgivable as the destruction by the Taliban in 2001 of the great Buddhist statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and is it not almost as unforgivable as the destruction currently being undertaken by the Islamic State at world heritage sites in Syria and Iraq? Furthermore, is there something in the nature of Islam that makes such destruction of non-Muslims’ cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, more likely than when other belief systems dominate a region of the globe, either temporarily or permanently? Of course, it is possible that this is a problem with Sunnis alone in so far as such Muslims have, in recent years, also engaged in the destruction of many Shia and Sufi cultural artefacts, religious buildings included, in countries as far apart as Mali and Iraq. Moreover, Ahmaddiya Muslim mosques have been attacked by Sunnis in almost every nation state where they have a statistically significant presence.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

The cesme near the Monastery of St. George, Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

I could tell that more work had to be done before just the right shots were taken for the documentary, so we exchanged contact details and I began the walk back to Sahinkaya, chatting briefly with the taxi driver as I passed him. I also filled my bottle at the cesme wondering whether this was a source of water for the monks who once inhabited the monastery. The stonework gracing the cesme looked old enough to have been around at least as early as the late 19th century, despite the fact that a tablet of stone set into structure has a date of 1938. This said, the inscribed tablet of stone could easily have been a later addition.

I arrived at a house where a family were sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. We chatted briefly before one of the women said that, if I was quick, a minibus would leave for Elazig in five minutes from outside the modern mosque. I would have liked to look around the village a little longer (for many years now my favourite settlements in Turkey have been villages rather than towns or cities) but, if I missed the minibus, it would mean a much longer journey time to the city centre and less time at Harput, so I dashed off and caught the minibus with two minutes to spare. There were only seven other passengers and half were female. Only one woman wore a headscarf so the conversation flowed easily with females as well as males.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.

Sahinkaya/Hulvenk.