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.

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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.

Erzincan.

I walked to where the otogar used to be hoping to confirm transport to Tunceli the following morning, but, as is the case in so many large urban centres nowadays, it had been moved to a location about 4 or 5 kilometres to the east where the ring road joins the main west to east highway. I decided to walk to the new otogar, but catch a bus or a minibus back to the city centre. A sudden downpour lasting about half an hour delayed my departure.

The Turkish habit of locating otogars ever further from city centres is a result of rising land prices in urban areas and the fact that fewer people use buses because privately owned motor vehicles are now so common. However, by locating otogars so far away, most of the people who rely on buses are penalised because they have to travel by public transport to the otogar, thereby adding time and cost to the journey. Some bus companies run free servis buses to the otogar, but usually only from a starting point in the city centre. Once at Erzincan’s otogar another problem became apparent. Buses and minibuses travel to and from the otogar infrequently, especially from about 6.00pm onwards. Also, although the otogar had opened in 2012, massive road works designed to improve traffic flow at the point where the ring road and the main west to east highway meet were in full swing, making access to the otogar for people on foot very difficult unless a long detour is made.

The mosque near the old otogar, Erzincan.

The mosque near the old otogar, Erzincan.

I have to confess: I found the walk quite interesting, despite the problems of accessing the otogar when I finally got there. On both sides of the wide valley in which Erzincan stands the mountains were smudged with snow, and it occurred to me that snow might have fallen on the summits during the downpour that had delayed my departure from the city centre. Not far from where the old otogar used to be, a very large but ugly concrete mosque stands beside the road, and, with some puddles and street furniture in the foreground, it looked quite bizarre and worthy of a photograph. A little later I passed the Hilton Garden Inn, a sleek rectangular box with an exterior dominated by large sheets of glass and what looked like metal panelling. While the hotel suggested subdued sophistication of a corporate kind, the plot of land immediately to the east was littered with mounds of gravel, bags of rubbish, large plastic containers, items left by building contractors, temporary storage facilities made with breeze blocks and wooden carts with wheels made from axles and tyres recycled from old motor vehicles. Pasture with lots of yellow flowers survives in places beside the road, but more often there are car salerooms, factories, warehouses and depots for large private companies or state institutions such as the PTT. Not far from the otogar on the opposite side of the main west to east highway is a very large modern mosque with many domes primarily intended to meet the needs of people – men, in reality – who work locally. Occupying the ground floor below the mosque is a very large and female-friendly lokanta. Rather than designed to meet the needs of passengers leaving or arriving at the otogar, its car park suggests that people who live in Erzincan drive there for a treat.

To the new otogar, Erzincan.

To the new otogar, Erzincan.

Hilton Garden Inn, Erzincan.

Hilton Garden Inn, Erzincan.

To the new otogar, Erzincan.

To the new otogar, Erzincan.

Near the new otogar, Erzincan.

Near the new otogar, Erzincan.

Near the new otogar, Erzincan.

Near the new otogar, Erzincan.

At the otogar I established that buses ran regularly to Tunceli, my next destination, the following morning, then I waited at the bus stop hoping a bus would pass on its way to the city centre. Before a bus arrived a man offered me a lift and dropped me at the old otogar.

It was now about 6.00pm, the sun was shining and it seemed the perfect time to walk around the pazar. This I did and was soon reminded that it is not only quite extensive but lacks a covered section of any significant size. When in the part of the pazar where many shops sell dried fruit, nuts and other foods that last a long time such as lokum, pestil, kome and honey, I met a man who had given me a bag of mixed nuts a few years earlier. As we chatted, he introduced me to some family members helping out on a Saturday afternoon. The vast country that is Turkey contracted to a small and intimate place where you might bump into people you know almost anywhere. I did not leave until we had had a drink together and was given another bag of mixed nuts.

The pazar, Erzincan.

The pazar, Erzincan.

Particularly to the south and the west of the pazar, some rundown residential streets exist with a few business premises among the houses. The houses shelter some very poor families and the businesses function on small profit margins. Men worked on old motor vehicles hoping to coax a few more weeks or months use out of them, and boys played boisterous games of football and tag among puddles left by the recent downpour.

The pazar, Erzincan.

The pazar, Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

I crossed the city’s main west to east street where most of the shops, lokantas, hotels, offices and important public buildings are found to walk around the blocks just to the north, but, because Erzincan is a youthful city largely dating only from after the earthquake of 1939, and because the centre of the city has very few structures of architectural note, there was not much to see that lifted the spirit or provided visual delight. I lingered a while in a small park where, near an artificial pool, the busts of famous people associated with Erzincan have been placed on pedestals for passersby to admire. All the famous people were male and some were famous for their brutality and accomplishments in war.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Although fed a few hours earlier at the railway station, I went to a lokanta not far from the old otogar. I ordered kofte in a tomato sauce, pilaf, salad and thick yoghurt flavoured with garlic and mint, and drank water. The lokanta was very much old school in that it was shabby and had not been redecorated for many years. Female customers must be extremely rare. Although beer could be bought for 8TL a large bottle, it was kept hidden from view in a fridge. When the head waiter rinsed a glass with water before pouring the water onto the carpet thinking this would help to keep the carpet clean, I was transported back in time at least twenty years (a generation ago, carpets in hotels, lokantas, buses and important public buildings were often soaked with water, brushed vigorously and allowed to slowly dry while people walked over them because the owners of the carpets thought such regular washing and brushing were inexpensive ways of keeping them clean). Although the food was good, I should have found somewhere better where men and women ate together.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

By now it was almost dark so I confined my walk to digest the food to the main street. Because Erzincan is the most socially conservative settlement so far visited, I was not surprised that, once it was dark, girls and women almost completely disappeared from the streets. A few young women, most of whom wore headscarves, worked in shops and supermarkets before they closed for the night, and a few women without headscarves came with male relatives to do their shopping, but by about 8.30pm the centre of Erzincan was almost completely a male preserve.

I called at a supermarket to buy a litre of chilled fruit juice to take back to my room, but the supermarket did not chill its juice! However, I bought a litre to make sure I was consuming sufficient quantities of non-alcoholic liquid.

I reflected on what I had seen in Erzincan since arriving about midday. The city seemed to be the one with the highest proportion of pious Sunni Muslims as well as the large settlement that was the most economically challenged. Some of the newest suburbs to the west of the city centre are quite prosperous, but they do not look as prosperous as those in Diyarbakir or Elazig. Erzincan’s shabby appearance is exaggerated because of the amount of redevelopment currently taking place. In the city centre lots of new buildings are going up and many roads are being up-graded. Perhaps improved economic circumstances lie just around the corner. There are certainly a large number of hotels in Erzincan and the hotels include two with four stars along the main street west of where I was staying. If things pick up, business people have lots of choice about where to stay, a Hilton included. Even the simple hotel I had stayed in on the previous occasion has had a makeover and up-grade that includes the construction of a lokanta. I wondered if the hotel is still owned by the socialist whom I met when last in Erzincan. The socialist appeared to have revolutionary inclinations.

It was time to return to the hotel where I spent about an hour writing up notes about the day’s experiences.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.                          

P.S. As I wrote the above (26th June 2015), the news bulletins devoted most of their attention to the beheading of a man in south-east France, the murder of over thirty tourists at Sousse in Tunisia, and a suicide bomber who murdered almost thirty Shia Muslims during midday prayers in Kuwait. It soon emerged that the individuals responsible for these dreadful crimes are Sunni Muslims who are members of, or in sympathy with, the Islamic State. In Kenya on the same day, Al-Shabaab murdered “dozens of African Union troops at a base in Somalia”. Al-Shabaab is not affiliated to the Islamic State, but it is a brutally oppressive and violent Sunni Muslim group already responsible for many crimes against humanity that have involved far greater casualties than those at the African Union army camp. Unknown are the number of deaths that were the responsibility of Sunni Muslims on 26th June in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other overwhelmingly Muslim nation states (also unknown are the number of deaths that were the responsibility of mainstream Shia Muslims in overwhelmingly Muslim nation states, but the figure will be much smaller than the figure for deaths attributable to Sunni Muslims), but I think we can assume that Sunni Muslims murdered at least three to four hundred people in one day alone.

26th June 2015 was just over a week into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during which, if sharia is complied with properly, all war and conflict should cease so Muslims can engage peacefully with the fast and their routine religious obligations. But what had the Islamic State demanded of its militants and sympathisers? That death and destruction be directed against Shia Muslims and all those associated in any way with nation states that are part of the US-led alliance trying to defeat the tyrannical regime. Because Sunni Muslims are among those seeking to defeat the Islamic State in the US-led alliance, the Islamic State was also killing Sunni Muslims.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Evidence from security agencies around the globe suggests that French nationals make up the largest group of Europeans who have gone to fight for or support the Islamic State (the figure may be as high as 1,200), Tunisians make up the largest group of North Africans (the figure would appear to exceed 2,000), and significant numbers of people have also left from Germany, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Most such supporters of the Islamic State are young males, a small number of whom are converts to Islam. Refugees fleeing from the Islamic State confirm that the regime operates in such a way as to penalise and persecute girls, women, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims, non-Muslims such as Christians and Yazidis, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people devoid of a faith commitment. Sunni Muslims who are not sufficiently “orthodox” in how they give expression to their commitment to Islam are also subject to victimisation. In other words, the Islamic State is organised in such a way as to meet the needs and aspirations of a relatively small number of ultra-orthodox Sunni Muslim males. The number of Sunni Muslim males in sympathy with the Islamic State may be quite small when compared with the worldwide Sunni population, but such Sunni Muslims have a detrimental effect out of all proportion to their number because of the ideology they profess, the arms they possess and the tendency among Muslims of many persuasions to believe that the Islamic State is not as serious a threat to Muslim well-being as nation states such as the USA, Russia, the UK or France.

Erzincan.

Erzincan.

Sebinkarahisar.

I walked along the main street a short distance, then noticed a sign for the Basaran Hotel. At reception I was offered a room for 35TL a night with en suite facilities and breakfast in the morning. The hotel was clean, quite comfortable and centrally located, but the overnight cost was ludicrously low. After confirming the room was okay and the price for real, I committed to the two nights. I quickly unpacked a few things and freshened up, then set off for the citadel. It was late afternoon and the light at its very best. This was too good an opportunity to miss.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

It was a brisk walk of about ten minutes to the foot of the mountain from where a very good path leads to the entrance to the citadel. In the old part of Sebinkarahisar is an almost abandoned pazar because most commercial activity has now relocated to the modern town. Near the pazar are many old houses, those with timber frames outnumbering those made with stone. Some of the timber-framed houses are very large and, although families too poor to maintain them adequately live in them, a little tender loving care will secure their future for at least another generation or two. The pitched, corrugated iron roofs of the houses usually shelter storage spaces open to the elements because walls are often absent. Gardens, trees, dogs, cats, cockerels and hens made it feel as if I had strayed into one of the nearby villages. Males and females made sure I went in the right direction even though it was obvious where I had to go. Some mature trees had been savagely polled, which gave them a surreal appearance. Although the one-time business premises in the pazar look forlorn, they are very photogenic, as is most of the old town. Many of the pazar’s buildings have unwanted wooden, metal and household items stored behind locked doors. Some of the stored items will become collectible in a few years.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The pazar, Sebinkarahisar.

The pazar, Sebinkarahisar.

The pazar, Sebinkarahisar.

The pazar, Sebinkarahisar.

Polled trees, Sebinkarahisar.

Polled trees, Sebinkarahisar.

I arrived at the last building in the old town and walked along a road that turned into a path. The path zig-zagged up the mountain to a gateway in the outer ring of fortifications. Views from the path were excellent the higher I ascended, but, once within the citadel and walking around its extensive site, even better views opened up, and on this occasion in every direction rather than primarily to the west. Even without the citadel on its summit the mountain would be worth ascending for the views alone. I was especially impressed with how the countryside opened up toward the south and how the road to Giresun very soon entered the mountains to the north. I looked to the south-east hoping to identify the Greek monastery that was my main destination for the following day, but could not identify it with the naked eye. Then again, I was not sure where its exact location was.

The path from the old town to the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The path from the old town to the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

Part of the old town, Sebinkarahisar.

Part of the old town, Sebinkarahisar.

View west from the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View west from the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View north from the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View north from the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

In Turkish, “sebin” means “alum”, “kara” means “black” and “hisar” means “castle”, so the name “Sebinkarahisar” can be translated to mean “black castle of alum”. The castle is the citadel, of course, and its ruins are, as the name of the town suggests, very dark in colour. Because the rock used to build the citadel is the same colour as that of the mountain on which it stands, it is safe to assume that the stone for the fortifications was quarried locally. Given worries expressed earlier about over-zealous restoration, the thing I liked best about the citadel, beside its vast size, its spectacular position and the remarkable amount that has survived the ravages of time, is that only remedial work had been undertaken to keep it in its present condition. Consequently, it was easy to connect with what it was like when intact.

Sinclair devotes no fewer than four pages to the citadel, although two of the pages are taken up with a very detailed plan of what survives. Here I provide a summary in an effort to convey something of the majesty of the ruins:

In the 9th to the 11th centuries Sebinkarahisar was the centre of a Byzantine theme, in other words, a district the military obligations of whose inhabitants formed the basis of the army organisation. Its citadel rock rises abruptly out of the cultivated and gently rising west side of the Buyuk Irmak valley. On the summit of the rock is a small upper citadel; below this the greater part of the rock, which is about a kilometre long, was encircled by a second wall… It seems probable that in the middle ages the majority of the houses were on the same site as the present (old) town and on the slope between the two, because of the shortage of suitable ground within the outer wall of the citadel…

The roughly square upper citadel (probably Ottoman) includes a big octagonal tower in the middle of the wall opposite the gate. The outer wall, mainly mid-Byzantine and only preserved in short stretches, takes in that part of the main ridge of the rock which rises southwards to the second summit, and a spur going roughly se. from the highest part of the rock.

The octagonal tower, the upper citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The octagonal tower, the upper citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

After the towering gateway in the outer walls, one goes through a depression in the main ridge and moves over a slope, keeping the summit to the left, to the rock’s e. side. Below the path is a brick-arched entrance to a rock-cut staircase originally leading to the underground water level. The brickwork may date from the time of Justinian (6th century CE). There are four other rock-cut staircases to cisterns, all blocked.

The gateway in the outer walls, Sebinkarahisar.

The gateway in the outer walls, Sebinkarahisar.

View south over part of the lower citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View south over part of the lower citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View north over part of the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

View north over part of the citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The alum which supplies part of the town’s present name was mined on a large scale from the 14th century and used for cleaning cloth in the then expanding European textile industries. The mines are at distances of 15-20 kilometres up the old road to Giresun, which is to the west of the present road…

Upper citadel… The towers on the two easterly corners and by the gate are rounded and open-backed… The (octagonal) tower has four storeys…

Outer circuit. The rock tails off towards the s. in a spur; the fortifications end here in a small enclosure… Beyond this the spur drops, and then continues in a pinnacled knife-edge. A second spur… (with) traces of wall on this spur’s outer edge, and a stretch with triangular tower and semi-circular tower on its se. side… On the w. side of the rock just a few fragments mark the wall’s course until the stretch in which the present entrance is built… Further on the whole rock’s nw. corner forms a triangular apron…

The citadel and the rocks that form its southern extremity, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel and the rocks that form its southern extremity, Sebinkarahisar.

The entrance. The upper of the two towers either side of the gateway is of small and neatly cut but heavily weathered blocks, and the same masonry continues for a short stretch south-westwards. The tower probably represents a medieval Turkish reconstruction of part of the mid-Byzantine work. The rest of the wall in which the gateway is cut is Ottoman…

 It was now about 6.00pm so I returned to the old town to take some photos. I saw a woman washing sheep’s fleeces in a large, shallow blue plastic bowl. Nearby were five mature cats, all her pets, and down the road a bitch was followed by her puppies as she looked for something to eat. On the edge of the pazar I met two elderly brothers who earned some money repairing and making wooden doors in just the same way they have been repairing and making doors for about fifty years. I took photos of the brothers and the results of their labour, some of the latter being propped against a wall in the sunshine. One brother got very emotional when I showed him the photo. He shook my hand vigorously and spoke in an animated fashion with two people who walked by. I got the impression it was one of the first times he had been photographed.

Carpenter, Sebinkarahisar.

A carpenter, Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

A little later I came across the ruins of an old han with exposed arches on two levels revealing where the rooms had once been. Nearby, four women wearing headscarves and aged about twenty-five to thirty-five chatted with one another as they plucked mint and the leaves of other herbs from stalks collected earlier in the day.

The han, Sebinkarahisar.

The han, Sebinkarahisar.

I had spent most of my day with Alevi Kurds who have a very relaxed attitude toward tobacco and alcohol, but in Sebinkarahisar the dress of the women and the appearance of many of the men suggested that I was in a town with a Sunni Muslim and Turkish majority. For this reason I was reluctant to take photos of women. In fact, some women watched me warily as I walked by to ensure I did not use my camera on the sly and a few covered their face with their scarf when I came into sight. This said, two or three women did chat with me, but only when they were sure that men they might know could not witness what was going on.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar had a large number of dogs, perhaps the most dogs encountered on the trip so far. Some dogs were cared for properly as pets and some were kept to guard property. The latter barked and bared their teeth in ways that caused me some alarm. However, the largest number of dogs roamed at will and seemed to be feral. The foot-loose and fancy-free dogs every so often formed gangs of different sizes, but, as far as I could tell, did not pose threats to humans.

Sebinkarahisar is in Giresun province and, a few years ago, Giresun University opened an outpost in the town that now meets the educational needs of a considerable number of undergraduate students. A lot of the female students dress in ways that satisfy pious Sunni Muslims, but I found it odd that most make sure their trousers are very tight, even when wearing a headscarf that covers their hair and ears.

I called at a small supermarket to buy two ayrans to quench my thirst, then walked along the main road in an easterly direction to see again the view that had first got me so excited about Sebinkarahisar. I walked into a parking lot behind a large building where the Belediye parked its idle motor vehicles, dustcarts included. The views, although over piles of waste and debris awaiting disposal or recycling, were very impressive toward the citadel.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

The citadel, Sebinkarahisar.

I returned to the hotel to shower and change my clothes. I planned to have a sit-down meal because I knew I could do justice to one.

Sebinkarahisar may have an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim population, but some Sunni women work in businesses around the town. One such business where women work is Sevim Ana Ev Yemekleri, a lokanta on the main street. In fact, the lokanta is owned and run by women and, being thus owned and run, was bound to serve food a little less ordinary. I went inside and began chatting with three female university students and the owners themselves. In fact, only one other male, an elderly customer, was inside at the time, although two or three males popped in and out while I waited for and ate my food.

Although one of the university students wore a headscarf, she was happy to chat with me. She came from Gaziantep, which provided the ideal opportunity to celebrate the city’s enviable reputation for high quality food served in very good lokantas.

The food at Sevim Ana Ev Yemekleri was excellent. I ordered two icli kebaps as good as if they had been made in someone’s home, manti with a warm yoghurt and pepper sauce, a very runny and therefore refreshing cacik, salad, a creamy sutlac still warm from the oven and yet another ayran. Bread arrived with the salad and I was given tea to conclude the meal. The bill came to 25TL, but only because I insisted on giving Fatma, the young woman with a headscarf who served me, a tip she thoroughly deserved. When I handed Fatma the money, everyone in the lokanta clapped their hands and said a few appreciative words. Fatma had a special need, but it was not obvious what it was.

Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar.

To help digest the large meal I went for a walk around the town centre. Sebinkarahisar is not a large town by Turkish standards, but its pastanes, lokantas and food shops confirm that it takes matters to do with eating and drinking seriously (although I saw only one place that sold alcohol). I looked around some of the shops specialising in sweets such as kome and pestil, then walked to a supermarket near the hotel to pick up a litre of orange juice just in case I was thirsty during the night. All the ayran and yoghurt I had had should have ensured that thirst would be the least of my problems, but I was not taking a chance.

Divrigi (part two).

I left the Ulu Camii and the Hospital to walk through the pretty residential areas to the south. Although demolition of some old buildings has taken place and modern houses and small apartment blocks have filled a few of the gaps, a lot of old houses survive. Most old houses are timber-framed and some have overhanging upper storeys supported on wooden corbels. There are also some houses made with stone, but these are fewer in number and more likely to be abandoned by their owners. Most old houses have gardens beside them. Near where the market had set up for the day is a large cemetery containing many old graves and small tombs. Many of the graves had irises in or beside them and they were in full bloom. Where the irises clustered together en masse they made a very impressive sight.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

I saw three turbes as I walked around, those of Sitte Melik, Kamareddin and Kemankes. All three turbes have octagonal ground plans and pyramid roofs and are austere in appearance externally. On the western edge of the commercial heart of Divrigi is a very large hamam still in daily use. The hamam has an impressive roof broken up by domes. Holes have been pierced into the domes and filled with glass to allow natural light to access the interior. Immediately beside the hamam is a carefully restored bridge that in the old days would have been one of the two or three main routes into the centre of Divrigi. The bridge crosses a narrow river, which in the past no doubt supplied the hamam with its water.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

Right at the end of my walk I had a look around the excellent and very extensive market. There were at least a hundred stalls on an irregularly shaped open space not far from the town’s small but attractive pazar, which is really no more than a few streets running at right angles to one another lined by shops, offices, tea houses, lokantas and workshops for craftsmen. The market was dominated by stalls selling food such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives, honey, sweets and bread, but other stalls specialised in clothes, shoes, items for the kitchen, hardware, tools, goods made from plastic, cheap electrical gizmos, live hens and plants for the garden. It was very crowded and remained so for most of the day. Many minibuses had brought people from villages and small towns in the surrounding area and most would not return until about four or five o’clock. Adding to the spectacle and the noise were members of the political parties out in force to persuade people to vote for them. Vans with loudspeakers toured the streets playing music, speeches or irritating jingles and men loitered around the offices of local party headquarters giving out leaflets or verbal information about their policies. It was the perfect day to be in Divrigi. Wednesdays must knock spots off all other days of the week, especially if a general election is soon taking place.

One small thing I like about Divrigi is that quite a lot of cesmes survive and they still dispense water. As I walked around I filled my bottle three times thinking what an asset they must be when the temperatures are at their highest from the beginning of July to the middle of September.

In the market I bought a half kilo of sweet, juicy and ready-to-eat strawberries of dark red colour for only 2TL, then walked back to the hotel. Not far from the Belediye was a bufe that sold beer for 5.1TL, not a bad price, all things considered, especially given the good exchange rate working in favour of those with pounds sterling. I thought of how enjoyable the walk had just been, not least because of the cesmes just mentioned from which chilled water never failed to pour. But I had also enjoyed the chats with people I had met: a young professional photographer, female, at the Ulu Camii; student teachers training to work in religious schools; couples, some with children, visiting Divrigi from cities such as Bursa, Izmir or Istanbul; a bus driver very tired during a long day’s shift; and a tour guide from Ankara visiting new places on his own to offer unusual destinations to his tour groups. Divrigi seemed to have a large Turkish and Sunni population, the latter because most women walked around with headscarves arranged to completely cover their hair and ears, but whether this is actually so I could not confirm at home. This said, the presence of so many headscarves in an urban environment meant that chats with women were infrequent and very brief, the photographer excepted. Because the photographer came from Istanbul and was a thoroughly modern woman, chat with an unknown male was of no consequence to her. And, because I am old enough to be her grandfather…

The market, Divrigi.

The market, Divrigi.

At 3.00pm I sat on my balcony writing up notes about the day so far. I ate the strawberries with the last of some chocolate, a parting gift from Hilary, and the remains of a packet of Lidl’s crisps, which had survived the train journey from Darlington to Manchester Airport at the start of the trip. Swifts in large numbers circled just to the south of the hotel and, later that evening, I discovered why. They had built nests in many of the balconies on the top floor of the hotel, the floor above mine. However, one swift flew too close to the ground. A cat scuttled across the patio with the bird struggling in its mouth.

About an hour later I left the hotel and turned right to examine a nearby park run by the Belediye. From the park excellent views exist of the citadel, the railway station, the hills and mountains to the north and the river far below. A few children enjoyed the facilities in a large playground. Young couples had come to flirt on benches and drink tea or soft drinks in a quiet tea garden. Suddenly the horn of a diesel locomotive sounded from the railway track beside the river and a freight train rattled toward Divrigi station from Kemah and Ilic. Dark clouds gathered in the sky and a rumble of thunder suggested there might be some rain, just as in Arapgir the evening before.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

I walked into the centre of town to look around the market, watch two men in their workshops in the pazar repair metal cooking utensils, examine the large hamam with its many domes and the restored bridge beside it, photograph some old houses and chat with some men outside the regional headquarters of the MHP. I spoke in particular with Mustafa, a doctor aged about forty with long hair who was campaigning on behalf of the party. Most noise was generated at the AKP headquarters, however, but whether such noise was attracting or repelling voters I could not say. A picture of Erdogan looking statesmanlike had been transferred to a rectangle of material larger than a bed sheet and it flapped in the gentle breeze. The AKP would probably secure a high vote in Divrigi, but I based this assessment only on the appearance of many of the local people. Conventional Sunni piety seemed to prevail among a majority of men and women of voting age. Hajis’ beards and headscarves were very common.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

I called at a branch of the BIM supermarket chain for a refreshing ayran that was mild and creamy with a hint of salt and sourness, then stopped at a bakery in the pazar for a flat loaf of bread just out of the wood-fired oven. The bread had a brown but soft crust with parallel ridges just like a ploughed field. I ate some of the bread as I walked along and, while so doing, decided not to have a sit-down meal to end the day. Instead, I would finish off the last strawberries with what remained of the bread. I was mixing things nicely with food and this evening’s option would simply sustain the habit.

From the park beside the hotel, the railway station and its associated clutter looked so interesting that I went to look around the area more closely. Only two passenger trains pass through Divrigi each way every day, but the station is kept in very good condition (one of the trains was due in about an hour’s time and two passengers were waiting for it). There is a rarely used bufe on the platform and, some distance from there, a small locomotive works where repairs can be undertaken. A few sidings were occupied by freight trucks, abandoned carriages and old and new locomotives, and near the locomotive works is a turntable. A few of the locomotives and carriages looked worthy of sending to a museum. Small apartment blocks between the station and the locomotive works had been built a few decades ago to house families with at least one adult working on the railway, but whether all the apartments nowadays are lived in by such families I could not say. Although some lines in the west of the country are now high speed and enjoy a lot of passenger traffic carried in modern trains, most lines east of Ankara, the capital, are starved of resources and cannot compete with transport on the rapidly improving road network, although there are indications that some lines in the east will benefit from up-grading in the years to come. I hope such up-grading occurs. I have enjoyed every encounter I have had with Turkey’s railways and promise myself that, one year, I will travel some of the lines again.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

I walked along a siding where grass and wild flowers grew between the wooden sleepers. A few low wagons had been parked on the siding and each wagon carried lots of new concrete sleepers. Here was evidence that some up-grading would soon take place in the region.

I returned to the hotel and on my balcony ate the last of the strawberries, the bread and an apricot, the latter a gift provided by someone in the market. It was now about 6.45pm and on the patio about eight of the tables were occupied, some by groups of men, some by groups of young women and some by couples. One large table was taken by a Turkish family and another by a French family. Most people had ordered drinks, beer proving popular with males and females, but food was available from the kitchen. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I went downstairs, sat at one of the free tables, ordered the first of two beers and wrote a few notes as I enjoyed the excellent views of the citadel, the ruined church, one of the town’s octagonal turbes, the nearby hills and mountains, a short stretch of railway track, the swifts flying overhead and the views toward the centre of Divrigi. It proved a very pleasant end to a very enjoyable day.

The citadel and ruined church, Divrigi.

The citadel and Armenian church, Divrigi.

I chatted with the French family. The mother and father were in their late thirties, their daughter was thirteen and their son was eleven. The children had been taken out of school to have an adventure they were unlikely to ever forget; they were touring eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia on their bikes. The family had flown to Ankara and, after one night in the capital, had caught a train to Sivas. They spent three days touring the surrounding area on their bikes, then returned to Sivas and travelled by train to Divrigi where they will stay for another three nights. Their next destination is Kars from where they intend to cycle to and from the ruined medieval Armenian city of Ani.

“How will you get to Armenia,” I asked, “because my understanding is that all border crossings between Turkey and Armenia are closed, to foreigners at least.”

“Yes, that is also our information,” said the mother. “We will go by road from Turkey to Georgia and enter Armenia from Georgia. After seeing some of Armenia we will return to Turkey via Georgia. It is sad we cannot go directly from Turkey to Armenia, but history and politics are so often problems for many countries and their relations with their neighbours.”

The problem of transit arrangements between Turkey and Armenia is rendered even more insane because growing numbers of Armenia’s citizens are travelling to Turkey to make sense of their family history. Moreover, it is said by some analysts that no fewer than 100,000 Armenian guestworkers now live and work in Turkey because the Turkish economy is so much more vibrant than the economy in Armenia (however, some sources put the actual figure for such guestworkers as low as 10,000. A figure of 50,000 may be close to the reality).

The Belediye Hotel is very much a reminder of the days before economic liberalisation, the dismantling of the state monopolies and the rise of the AKP. A lot of the 1970s and early 1980s persist in the appearance of the building and the facilities it provides. With its overwhelmingly male-friendly character and complete indifference to religion, the hotel encourages the idea that Ataturk’s commitments to Turkish nationalism, secularism and state funding for and management of economic development remain uncompromised. But uncompromised they no longer are because, in the late 1980s in particular, what had come to be known as Kemalism was subjected to long-overdue critical appraisal. This said, not everything associated with Kemalism was misguided and, at Divrigi’s Belediye Hotel, you are brought face-to-face with some of its benefits (although the hotel’s male-friendly character cries out for the civilising effect of a female-friendly makeover).

Even the hotel manager looked a left-over from that increasingly remote and discredited era when the secular forces in Turkey ruled the roost. He was overweight, wore a denim shirt and trousers, had thick black hair that looked like a wig and boasted a moustache resembling a large black slug. He lacked a beard, of course, because a beard would have implied sympathy with Islam. His somewhat raffish and dissolute appearance reminded me of those very popular 1970s and 1980s male singers of Kurdish origin who could not say they were Kurds because, at that time at least, Kurds did not officially exist in Turkey. True, the Kurdish male singers of old took more care with their appearance than the hotel manager did, but they could afford to do so because they were rolling in money.

The westbound evening passenger train went by with eight carriages about five minutes ahead of schedule.

Every time I come to Turkey in general and eastern Turkey in particular I think the bubble will burst and I will have no further desire to return, other than to see a few select people who have been far more generous with their hospitality than I ever deserved. The Turkey that first got me so excited has, to a large degree, disappeared due to growing prosperity, improved communications and humankind’s inclination to slowly erode the things that makes us different, but, especially in the villages and small towns where, for good or ill, traditional ways of doing things persist the longest, I still get a thrill when I encounter something unexpected or that challenges my preconceived notions of the country or its people. Also, I now realise that differences will always exist because the process of assimilation can never be total or complete, which is something that fills me with delight because, in Turkey as in so many other nation states, I am drawn to minorities that bravely sustain their distinctive identity in often hostile environments. It always puzzles me why majority populations feel so threatened by minorities that simply seek to preserve from the past some of the things that mark them out as different. Provided such things do not conflict with fundamental human rights, what is the problem? Celebrate diversity, do not suppress it.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

P.S. Back home on the internet I accessed “Chronological Index: the extermination of Ottoman Armenians by the Young Turk regime (1915-1916)” on the “Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence”. The index includes this brief entry about Divrigi:

May 1915, kaza of Divrigi (province of Sıvas). After the arrest of the local Armenian elite, a second wave of arrests is organised on the merchants and artisans of Divrigi, upon which underage adolescents, comprising some two hundred individuals, are mobilised. Submitted to torture for several days, these men are finally brought to the outskirts of the town, shackled and forced to march to the gorges of Deren Dere, where they are assassinated with axes (Kevorkian, “The Armenian Genocide”, 2006: 551-2).

Reading more of the index, I was shocked that many other settlements I visited or passed through on the trip were where massacres or deportations took place: Cemisgezek, Cungus, Diyarbakir, Ergani, Erzincan, Harput, Palu, Pulumur and Sebinkarahisar. The index also identifies many places I have visited on past trips where massacres and deportations took place: Adana, Afyon, Aksehir, Amasya, Ankara, Bayburt, Birecik, Bitlis, Bolu, Burdur, Bursa, Edirne, Egil, Erzurum, Eskisehir (the large city in the west of modern Turkey, not the small settlement near Arapgir)), Gaziantep, Istanbul, Izmir, Izmit, Kangal, Karaman, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Konya, Malatya, Manisa, Mardin, Mus, Nigde, Odemis, Samsun, Sason, Siirt, Silvan, Sivas, Talas, Tercan, Tokat, Trabzon and Yozgat, I am also shocked to see how often the small town of Kigi features, a place not far from Bingol that I did not have the time to visit. And buried away in the index are passing references to the massacre of Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Christians in places such as Cizre, Midyat and Nusaybin, yet more settlements I have visited in the past. The full enormity of the genocide directed against the Armenians, and the crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Christians, impressed themselves in a manner more obvious than ever before.

To Divrigi.

For half an hour before breakfast, I went for a walk through what remains of the old pazar, past an 18th century mosque and the old han that is now a hotel (it looked as if no guests were staying in the hotel), and along a road that slowly descends a hill. The road leads past some old, timber-framed houses. When I arrived at a second mosque with a nearby cesme from which a lot of water flowed I walked no further out of town, but examined the ruins of a hamam and an old house nearby. I then took a road and a footpath that led westward. I passed more old houses, one of which is made overwhelmingly with stone and has recently been restored, perhaps by the Belediye in an attempt to help attract tourists to Arapgir. I then took another right turn along a road I had walked the day before and was back at the hotel.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Part of the old pazar, Arapgir.

Part of the old pazar, Arapgir.

An old hamam, Arapgir.

An old hamam, Arapgir.

Breakfast in the Arapgir Nazar is taken on the top floor in a large room from where there are excellent views of the town centre and the surrounding countryside. Breakfast is not a buffet; staff bring a plate with a mixture of things to eat, but you cannot have anything more than what is on the plate and in the basket containing bread. Water and as much tea as you want complete the meal. Although the food on the plate is very conventional it is nicely presented, almost as if you are eating in someone’s home. Two women work in the kitchen, which explains why the food is presented to guests in such an attractive manner.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

I had hoped to say goodbye to the couple who had looked after me so well the day before, but they were not around. Instead, I settled the bill with the female receptionist, asked her to thank the owner and his daughter for me, and walked into the middle of town, from where I had to ascend the road leading to the road to Keban and Malatya. I had walked about 100 metres when I turned to flag a lift and a van stopped with two men inside. Because the men were going to Malatya, they gave me a lift to the point at which the road from Arapgir joins the main road. I had to go in the opposite direction toward Divrigi.

Twenty minutes after arriving at the junction, the driver of the fourth northbound motor vehicle stopped to offer me a lift. He drove a small, open-topped lorry with two cows in the back and on the cab floor was a large plastic bag with two hens with their legs tied together.

I was driven about 20 to 25 kilometres through beautiful upland scenery. At first the road navigated around the south-west end of the valley sheltering Eskisehir, ascending as it did so with a series of hairpin bends. For some of the way the road was in a valley with a meandering stream that tumbled over stones, then we arrived on a rocky, almost treeless, stretch of relatively level upland far above the valley of the Arapgir Cayi. By now, of course, we were among mountains rather than hills and the views were spectacular. Poles beside the road confirmed that snow was a major problem during winter and early spring. In fact, in some very exposed places fences had been erected to hold back drifting snow from the road. I was reminded of parts of Wyoming.

We slowed down and the driver indicated that he was turning left to take a dirt road leading to a village hidden from view in the folds of the hills and the mountains. I thanked him for the lift provided, which got me almost a third of the way to my destination. Moreover, I was now very high up, the visibility was excellent, the views were sublime and the air was invigorating.

On the road to Divrigi.

On the road to Divrigi.

I had already seen some tented camps for nomads looking after flocks of sheep and goats on the upland pasture. At two of the camps people clustered around lorries to unload mattresses and bedclothes required for the four or five months that lay ahead. I had also seen a road leading 14 kilometres to Yesilyayla, a name which means “green highland pasture”. What could have been a better destination for the day had Divrigi not been on the agenda. At the end of the road I would probably have found a village spread across the pasture, but in all likelihood it would have been a village inhabited only during the summer months when people move into the mountains so their sheep and goats can fatten on the grass that has not been eaten since the previous autumn.

A flock of sheep, on the road to Divrigi.

A flock of sheep, on the road to Divrigi.

Tented camp for nomads, on the road to Divrigi.

Tented camp for nomads, on the road to Divrigi.

Motor vehicles along the road were now so infrequent that I began to walk. Most of my walk for the next 3 or 4 kilometres was level or slightly downhill, but, as bad luck would have it, I had to negotiate a stretch of road being up-graded, which meant it was in a very shabby state and subject to large motor vehicles tearing up or laying the surface. I had some company of sorts, however, and the road works did little to mar my enjoyment of the scenery. It is planned that the road will be re-routed through a tunnel about half a kilometre long. Some workmen explained that the route of the current road meant that it was subject to regular closure during winter because of deep snow, but the tunnel would ensure that this happened far less often.

On the road to Divrigi.

On the road to Divrigi.

I arrived at a point near where more tented camps for nomads were being established and, because the views were so delightful, stopped to wait for a lift. The man in the second car to approach me drew to a halt and took me all the way to Divrigi, where he had to pick up food supplies for workmen digging the tunnel.

The road for the last 35 or so kilometres to Divrigi was not as beautiful as the stretch as far as where the road works began, but, with mountains always in view and the fertility of the plain to the south and west of Divrigi itself, I could not complain. Moreover, my luck with lifts meant that I was in Divrigi far earlier than I had expected. Because no minibuses run between Arapgir and Divrigi, and because I knew the road would not carry much traffic, I had expected to arrive in my destination about midday. However, I was in the town centre, where the weekly market was in full swing, before 11.00am. I had ahead of me almost a full day.

Research before leaving the UK revealed that Divrigi now has at least two hotels, but I wanted to stay at the Belediye thinking it would be in the town centre and inexpensive, the latter because of subsidies deriving from the town council. I first went to the Belediye itself, thinking the hotel might occupy a floor among the offices or be located nearby, but, when I arrived and asked staff about the hotel, they said that it was about a kilometre away. I prepared to undertake the walk, but a female employee said I had to wait and a lift would be provided. Three men in uniform ushered me to a car in the Belediye car park and kindly drove me to the hotel.

Divrigi’s Belediye Hotel is on the northern edge of town with the railway station and its attendant facilities nearby and a deep valley with a meandering river even closer. Immediately south of the hotel is the vast buttress of rock on which stand the ruins of the large citadel. The hotel itself has seen better days and parts of it now look shabby, but the rooms are spacious and benefit from en suite facilities. I had a room facing the citadel and, in common with all the rooms facing south, a spacious balcony that I sat on whenever I had the opportunity. There is a bar and a restaurant, and in the evenings many people come to drink beer and eat food on the wide patio facing the citadel. The overnight cost, which included breakfast, was 60TL, which, given that Divrigi proved the trip’s the most popular place for tourists other than Diyarbakir, was very reasonable.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

To Harput and Elazig.

I got off the minibus when I recognised somewhere near the city centre, returned briefly to the hotel to freshen up, then went for something to eat. Many of the lokantas in the area around the hotel have flashing electric signs informing passersby what they specialise in, and a lot of the advertised food is very tempting. However, I did not want to eat too much just in case it slowed me down that afternoon, so opted for a tavuk doner sandwich stuffed with salad and mayonnaise at a small lokanta with a dining area upstairs with only enough room for five or six tables. I also ordered water and ayran. The young married couple who own the business were from near Antakya, a favourite city of mine in southern Turkey, but a city not visited for many years, so we had a lot to talk about. “Yes, I know Harbiye. Yes, it’s a wonderful place for lunch or dinner. Yes, the old city of Antakya is very beautiful. Yes, the churches, the museum, the mosaics, the local edible specialities…” Chats like this only increase my wanderlust.

Elazig.

Elazig.

I walked to the parking lot from where minibuses depart for Harput and it was not long before the driver took a full load of passengers through the northern suburbs as we ascended to our destination. Along the way we passed an enormous army camp and a very large military hospital.

It had been a few years since my last visit to Harput and I knew that, since then, many of the monuments, but not the Christian ones, had been restored; old houses had disappeared and some new ones been built; new businesses such as cafés, lokantas and shops had opened; parks and playgrounds had been created; and general tidying up had been undertaken, all of which meant that Harput has become a very popular destination for recreational purposes. There is nothing wrong with this, I suppose, although it is now much harder than in the past to connect with the tragic events that unfolded here in 1915 (the tragic events include the murder of thousands of Ottoman soldiers of Armenian origin stationed in the town and the expulsion on foot of about 3,000 Armenian civilians, mainly women, children and elderly men. Most of the 3,000 civilians never made it to their destination, the Syrian desert, due to hunger, thirst, murder by Turks and Kurds, local tribespeople kidnapping and enslaving women and children, and women and children dying or being killed after suffering repeated rape). Harput, a place that witnessed terrible crimes against humanity, is being sanitised and all physical reminders of the victims allowed to slowly disappear.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

The entrance to Harput used to be dignified by a terrace of very old timber-framed houses in a terminal state of decay, so I was not altogether surprised to see that they had disappeared. This said, the houses have been replaced by a butik hotel built with modern materials to superficially resemble what it replaces, but, as is so often the case with such reconstructions, the replacement engenders a sense of sadness mixed with anger because the original has not been not restored! Other recent developments disappointed and/or angered me in a similar manner, so much so that, for the first half hour or so, I thought I had made a mistake coming. But then Harput began to cast a spell. The spell began with the grandeur of the surrounding landscapes and the views that are a delight almost everywhere you walk. The spell continued with the fresh air, the wild flowers and the relative quiet (it was Monday and the start of the working week so not many people were paying a visit), all of which helped me to acquire an altogether deeper appreciation of the surviving monuments. In the end it was with some reluctance that I returned to the large modern city below, despite Harput being the scene of dreadful crimes against humanity only a hundred years ago.

Harput.

Harput.

In 1915 Harput was the area’s main centre of population. Elazig on the plain below had not been in existence for long and would only become the dominant population centre after large parts of Harput were destroyed in the first world war and then largely abandoned. What remains of Harput merely hints at its past grandeur and importance, but its magnificent hilltop castle, one of Turkey’s largest, its Ulu Camii with a crooked but patterned minaret, its three other mosques, its two hamams, and its Mansur Baba and Arap Baba turbes, both of which still attract pilgrims, are important and, in some instances, enchanting survivals from the past, although I side with those who think some of the restoration work has been over-zealous. This said, I would rather over-zealous restoration has assured the long-term future of the monuments than that the monuments should be lost to humankind. This is especially the case with the castle, the Ulu Camii, one of the hamams and the turbes.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

However, although a lot of labour and financial expense have been lavished on the restoration of Muslim, Selcuk and Ottoman monuments, and on the development of facilities for visitors to enjoy recreational and shopping opportunities, Harput’s Christian monuments are in a shameful state. The large Syriac Orthodox church, known locally as the Kizil, or Red, Kilise, although in good condition externally, cannot presently be entered, which makes me think that the interior must be in very poor condition, and the two ruins attributed to the Armenians, one a church and the other a chapel, are in a dire state of preservation, just as they have been for as long as I have known of their existence first-hand.

Just for the record, here is Sinclair’s description of the Syriac Orthodox church:

This is quite possibly a reconstruction of 1179, from which an over-modest repair inscription is known; if not, the church is 10th century and the inscription refers only to a repair.

The forbidding box-like form of the church is pressed against the s. side of a corner low down in the rapidly descending cliff of the citadel rock: the corner is cut into the ne. end of the rock spur projecting from the citadel rock’s e. corner. A platform still exists to the n. of the church, protected from earth slippage by a retaining wall…: at its s. end the wall distances itself gradually from the rock in order to allow for a small chamber accessible from the nave. The wall in fact conceals part of the nave…

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The interior is ill-lit but spacious: the light, coming lengthways down the church from windows at the e. end only, causes shadows on the deeply pitted floor (much dug by treasure hunters, starting in 1978 or 1979)… The nave is entered by a doorway much narrowed (in the late 19th or early 20th century) by additions from the side and from above: a ramp against the wall, protected by an L-shaped wall and a roof, leads to the doorway.

The wide nave has four wall piers, upholding arcades, on each side. The shallow vaults, although sprung from the top of the walls resting on the arches, rely just as much on the ribs sprung from the arches’ spandrels: the strictly vertical height of these ribs… increases greatly towards the wall as the slant of the rib’s soffit swiftly steepens.

E. end. Since 1979 much of this has become unwalkable owing to deep pits. An internal wall cut through by the chancel arch ends the nave, but two chambers either side of the short chancel can also be reached from the nave through doors in this wall. Off these again are the genuine pastophoria (side rooms for liturgical purposes). The sanctuary is a rectangle with rounded corners: low altar. The semi-dome is of brick. The southern of the two chambers reached from the chancel extends outside the line of the nave wall, and the s. pastophorion is shifted further s. in sympathy… Off the first chamber leads another: this is extremely dark and its floor much lower, mostly because of the digging…

 Not far from the Syriac Orthodox church is what is left of an Armenian church, which Sinclair thinks was the Church of the Apostles:

Only the e. wall and parts of the n. and s. walls adjacent to it remain. They stand at the end of a high artificial platform. The church no doubt belongs to the 19th century. It has three apses, the central one wider than the others. From these apses vaults or possibly rows of domes would have led westwards supported on pillars or piers. To n. and s. of the three juxtaposed aisles was a single aisle, narrower than the central three. The ends of these two narrower aisles can be seen to the n. and s. of the three apses.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

 From both the churches just described there are views into the bottom of a valley where the scant remains of a chapel exist. Sinclair describes the chapel as having a:

Single nave, probably with dome in front of apses. Probably Armenian. Perhaps medieval.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and castle, Harput.

View from the Armenian chapel to the Syriac Orthodox church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

 In “Armenia: the survival of a nation”, Christopher Walker writes that Harput was once “one of the intellectual centres for Ottoman Armenians” and that, in the late 19th century, American missionaries established “a distinguished and progressive educational institution, Euphrates College”. Ottoman census figures confirm that Harput had a large Armenian population, but, today, at best only two ruins confirm that it was once a town benefiting from such a population. Considerable time, energy and expense have been expended to preserve what remains of the Islamic, Selcuk and Ottoman heritage at Harput, and even the Syriac Orthodox church, which once served a far smaller Christian community than did the Armenian churches, is in better condition than anything that can be attributed with certainty to what was once a substantial Armenian population. Are these realities depressing? They are very depressing.

This said, I did enjoy my visit to the castle where, unlike my last visit, I could walk around at will because restoration has been completed. The views from the castle walls are remarkable and were enhanced because it was mid-May when the grass is green, the wild flowers many and varied, and the visibility far superior than during the hottest months of the year. Some parts of the fortifications have been restored to a degree that must fill archaeologists and architects with a mixture of anger and despair, but what did impress me immensely is that excavations are currently taking place in and around an Urartian cistern. The day of my visit no one was working on the site, so I entered one or two of the fenced-off enclosures through unlocked wooden gates to examine the remains more closely. This relatively recent discovery made me wonder what else will be found at this remarkable place. Moreover, will some future discoveries help us to reconnect with the Armenians who once lived here?

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

As far as I could tell, the only foreigner at Harput the same time as me was a German national of Turkish origin who was visiting the area where his father and mother had come from before migrating to Germany for work purposes in the 1960s. Quite a lot of high school and university students had come to engage in self-conscious courtship rituals with someone they fancied in the opposite sex, and small groups of young males and females walked around hoping someone in the opposite sex might take an interest in them. Most of the young women wore headscarves and, being Turkish and Sunni, were reluctant to engage in conversation with an unknown male such as myself. Conversation with such a male would be shameful for a female, although if a male engages in chat with an unknown female no shame attaches to him. Hypocrisy? How else can it be described? And, if pious Sunni women are meant to cover their hair and ears at all times and dress modestly from head to toe, why do exactly the same rules not apply to Sunni males? Hypocrisy? What else?

I caught a minibus to the centre of Elazig to walk around the pazar and the surrounding streets as people bought food to take home for their evening meal and the following morning’s breakfast. For most people the working day was over. I noticed that, although many women were dressed in ways that would reassure the conventionally pious, some had the courage to dress just as they wished, even though, in so doing, they no doubt upset or shocked many of the Sunni majority in the city. Some high school students had paired off to test just how far they could go with public expressions of affection in a heterosexual relationship without older people with strong religious convictions berating them. But some things are resistant to change in Turkey, despite trends such as globalisation and most people being economically much better off than ever before. On all the minibus rides so far undertaken, males and females rearranged themselves on the seats so no males sat with unknown females. Also, as nightfall approached, girls and women made their way home thereby rendering the city centre streets almost completely male preserves. A few women remained in open business premises or begged on the streets, but that was about it. By 9.00pm there was no one to chat with but men and boys.

Elazig.

Elazig.

In cities such as Elazig where Turks and Sunnis seem to dominate, segregation of the sexes is often more apparent than in villages, even though in cities women can move around relatively freely, especially if they are employed, and women in villages can never go too far from home unless they are themselves involved in work such as caring for animals or toiling in the fields.

I have always liked Elazig’s pazar. It does not occupy pretty premises – the covered section is quite rundown and the surrounding streets are largely devoid of interesting architectural features – but the outlets for food (fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, honey, jam, olives, cheese, nuts, lokum, baklava, pestil, kome, etc.) are excellent. Many shops beyond the covered sections sell clothes, shoes, hardware, kitchen utensils, fabric, knives and furniture; a large shed stocks flour, dried beans and bars of bittim sabunu; and lots of shops specialise in very expensive clothes for devout Sunni women who want to make an impression even though they must cover all the body except their face and hands. Moreover, some shops selling clothes for weddings are outrageously over the top, so much so that I thought I had strayed into a documentary about how Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK like to spend big on matrimonial clothes, especially for women. Supermarkets, shopping malls and out-of-town retail opportunities are taking their toll on pazars in many parts of Turkey, but Elazig’s is surviving better than most. It had been my intention to spend the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir, but I was wondering whether it might be better to stay in Elazig instead because in Elazig I could buy most of what I wanted for home more conveniently than in Diyarbakir. I would see how things worked out as the last two days approached. I also fantasised about getting home some large wooden cooking utensils, cooking pots made with metal and an unglazed red clay pot for the oven, to say nothing of seeds to grow vegetables the following year! The only downside to the pazar is where men keep live fish in large tanks. Some fish had died through lack of oxygen and others were close to death.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Just to the east of the covered section of the pazar is a large square dominated on the far side by a substantial modern mosque. A large hemisphere of steel and glass or Perspex covers an entrance to an underground extension of the pazar and, next to the hemisphere, more stalls exist where most people sell fruit, vegetables and herbs. I peered into the window of a shop selling everything required to ensure that a young male never forgot the day he was circumcised.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

For my evening meal I returned to where I had eaten lunch and ordered exactly the same food and drink again. It proved exactly what my body craved, so much so that I went for a walk to help digest the meal. At one point I passed one of those slightly suspect modern places, in this case partly in the open air, pretending to be an antik nargile café, even though it looked as if it had been set up only a few weeks’ earlier. It had suffered a fire earlier in the day, perhaps due to some faulty electrical wiring running along wooden columns supporting a flat wooden roof of cheap and hasty construction. Staff were trying to salvage things from the wreckage.

Elazig.

Elazig.