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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript one: the June 2015 general election and its aftermath.

What eventually proved to be Turkey’s first of two general elections in 2015 took place on 7th June. At stake were the 550 seats of the Grand National Assembly. It was the twenty-fourth general election in the history of the Turkish Republic. Amid speculation that no party would win enough seats to govern alone, the result created the first hung parliament since the 1999 general election.

The Justice and Development Party  (AKP), which has governed Turkey since the 2002 election, lost its parliamentary majority, but remained the largest party in parliament with 258 seats and 40.9% of the vote. The AKP failed to win the 330 seats it needed to submit constitutional changes to a referendum and fell well short of President Erdogan’s personal target of 400 MPs. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) also fared worse than in the previous, 2011, general election winning 132 seats with 25.0% of the vote. Having been projected to win over many disaffected AKP supporters, the Nationalist Movement Party  (MHP) improved on its 2011 performance by winning 80 seats with 16.3% of the vote. The new People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose candidates had contested past elections as independents in order to bypass the 10% election threshold, fought the election as a party despite concerns that it might fall below the threshold and lose all its parliamentary representation. The HDP fared better than expected by winning 80 seats, the same as the MHP, with 13.1% of the vote. The indecisive result raised the prospect of an early snap general election.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

Campaigning before the election focused mainly on the declining economy, the ongoing Solution Process between the government and Kurdish rebels, the ongoing political conflict with the Gulen Movement and Turkish involvement (or, until July 2015 at least, the apparent lack of such involvement) in the Syrian civil war. Allegations of government corruption and authoritarianism, mainly originating from a 2013 scandal and the 2013 Gezi Park protests respectively, were also some of the issues raised during the opposition campaigns. The vote was seen by some as a referendum on Erdogan’s call for an executive presidency.

Accusations of electoral fraud and political violence also caused controversy during the election process. Candidates, activists, offices and motor vehicles were subject to politically motivated acts of violence and vandalism, culminating in the death of five HDP supporters after two bombs exploded during a rally in Diyarbakir on 5th June. The interference of President Erdogan, who was accused of covertly campaigning for the AKP under the guise of “public opening” rallies, was also controversial because the president is constitutionally required to exercise political neutrality. Despite fraud claims dating back to the hugely controversial 2014 local elections and numerous claims of misconduct in many provinces on polling day, the election was largely praised by the OSCE for being carefully organised, and was declared free and fair by the European Parliament.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The uplifting article below (sadly, the next post will reveal that the optimism was misplaced) appeared recently in “The Guardian” newspaper along with a photo saying that Feleknas Uca could be the first HDP member of parliament from the Yazidi community. Feleknas Uca is a woman:

The election result brought forth an embryonic new Turkey, but not the one the president wanted. It produced what is tantamount to a cultural revolution in Turkish political life. Women will pour (?!?) into parliament in Ankara in unprecedented numbers, 98 up from 79. Openly gay candidates won seats for the HDP. Most of all, the long-repressed Kurdish minority (one in five citizens) will be properly represented in the parliament for the first time with 80 seats.

“This is the first time that feminists in Turkey actively supported a political party,” said feminist activist Mehtap Dogan. “Up until now we have always done politics on our own, away from parliament. But this time we ran a campaign supporting the HDP because we believed in their sincerity when it comes to defending the rights of women, LGBTs and ethnic minorities.”

The HDP is the first party to introduce a quota of 50% female politicians, and all party offices and HDP-run municipalities are chaired by both a man and a woman. The party’s successful attempt to break out of ethnic identity politics and broaden its appeal well beyond the Kurdish issue owes much to leader Selahattin Demirtas’ magnetism and his message of outreach. But the mass protest movement, born in a central Istanbul park two years ago and which mushroomed into national protests that Erdogan crushed mercilessly, also fed into the HDP’s support.

“During the Gezi Park protests, many got an idea of what Kurds had to go through for years: the violence, the repression, the unjust arrests. It opened our eyes to the Kurdish suffering,” said Dogan. “At the same time, we saw how the pro-government press tried to turn our legitimate, peaceful protests into acts of terrorism.”

Just as Erdogan branded the protesters two years ago “riff-raff”, “terrorists” and “foreign agents”, in the election campaign he stoked division and malice by repeatedly smearing his HDP opponents as “terrorists, marginals, gays and atheists”. He asked religiously conservative voters not to cast their ballots for “such people who have nothing to do with Islam”. The tactic backfired as many religiously conservative Kurds shifted their votes from the AKP to a party that promised to represent everyone’s interests.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

A chart on the “Hurriyet Daily News” website about the June election result revealed the following about provinces in eastern Turkey. The HDP was the largest single party in Agri (79% of the vote), Ardahan (31%), Batman (73%), Bitlis (61%), Diyarbakir (80%), Hakkari (88%), Igdir (57%), Kars (45%), Mardin (74%), Mus (71%), Siirt (66%), Sirnak (85%), Tunceli (61%) and Van (78%). Of the provinces in which I spent time not already mentioned, the AKP was the largest party with 47% of the votes in Bingol, 54% in Elazig, 49% in Erzincan, 54% in Giresun and 59% in Sivas (Divrigi is in Sivas province). I was surprised to see that the AKP was the most popular party in Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, but not surprised that it was in Malatya, given how Sunni Islam has impacted so detrimentally on the provincial capital in recent years. Our many friends in Balikesir must have been livid that the AKP was the most popular party in that province in the west, and I was shocked to see that Rize had a higher percentage voting AKP (67%) than profoundly conservative and pious Konya (65%). In only one province, Osmaniye, did the MHP emerge as the most popular party, so Osmaniye is somewhere I shall avoid for a while. The AKP remained the most popular party in all three of Istanbul’s electoral districts and both of Ankara’s, but the CHP was the most popular party in Izmir’s two electoral districts.

By common consent, the AKP was seen as the most obvious loser and the HDP the most obvious winner. However, as the largest party in parliament, the AKP had the opportunity to form a coalition with one of the other parties, but it was doubtful it would wish to do so. The AKP had forty-five days following the declaration of the election result in which to form a government. If it could not form a government, or if the coalition collapsed sometime thereafter, the president could call another election.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The difficulties the AKP had in forming a coalition government were as follows (although we now know that the AKP never seriously wanted to form such a government). The CHP was reluctant to enter a coalition with the AKP because the CHP remains Kemalist in outlook; its uncompromisingly secular inclinations render it almost impossible to contemplate collaboration with a religious party. The MHP would have loved to form a coalition with the AKP, but such a coalition, one including a Turkish nationalist party with links to shadowy extremist groups of a very violent nature, would definitely have derailed the AKP’s progress in recent years to woo the Kurds, a process which has made it very unlikely that civil war will begin again. The AKP would have found it impossible to work with the HDP because the HDP is as uncompromising in its commitment to secularism as the CHP and far more supportive of minority rights (ethnic, religious, sexual, etc.) than any mainstream party. Moreover, the HDP was now the leading representative of Kurdish interests in the Turkish Republic. However, the AKP believes (and I think the AKP is correct in its belief) that most ethnic Turks are not yet prepared to see Kurds in government, given that Kurds are still viewed by a majority of ethnic Turks as second class citizens who want to create from within the Turkish Republic a nation state of their own. There was also the legacy of the civil war and the fact that most ethnic Turks believe that blame for the war lies with the Kurds alone, and not with the decades of repression, discrimination and blatant denial of human rights predicated on government policies shaped by Turkish nationalism dating from the birth of the republic itself.

A remarkable thirty-two HDP members of parliament were women. The only party that did little to ensure women entered parliament in significant numbers was the MHP, which now had four women MPs. This said, women now made up 18% of parliamentarians, up from 14% before the election.

Filiz Kerestecioglu, who entered parliament for the HDP, is a lawyer and a women’s rights’ activist. Twenty-five years ago, she helped set up Turkey’s first shelter for women suffering domestic violence. The shelter soon emerged as the home of Turkey’s feminist movement. Filiz Kerestecioglu is reported to have said to the BBC that the increase in the overall number of women parliamentarians was “not satisfactory, but still, it is important”.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

The Armenian church on the island of Akdamar/Aghtamar, Lake Van.

Farewell, Diyarbakir.

My four companions had an appointment with other friends in a distant suburb, so we went our separate ways. I spent more time in the narrow streets around the church, then went to examine the fortifications along the west side of the old city.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I had just finished walking along some of the wall, when I heard people playing drums and a wind instrument that may have been a qernete. I walked toward the music where a group of Kurdish men and women had linked fingers to dance in a circle. They were supporters of the HDP and it was not long before I was added to the circle and photos were taken. About fifty people had gathered to look on. The pious Sunni women wore solemn expressions that betrayed contempt for what was going on or regret that they could not join in. Most or all of those taking part in the dance were secular in inclination. Dancing proved a delightful thing to do as the shadows lengthened with the approach of evening.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I waved goodbye to everyone and went quickly to Gazi Caddesi to buy some lokum, then, returning to the hotel, called at a supermarket to buy a large piece of kasar cheese and orange juice. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I left for my last proper meal in Turkey itself, an Adana kebap at somewhere I had eaten in when last in the city, Nasir Usta Lokanta just outside the old city on Ali Emiri Caddesi.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I ordered a one and a half portion of Adana kebap and ayran knowing that water and salads would be brought as free extras. In fact, six free dishes arrived, one with slices of lemon and coriander, one with pulped tomatoes, one with tomatoes and lettuce, one with fresh onion, pepper and coriander, one with yoghurt and bulgar, and one with three portions of cig kofte. The lokanta was busy inside and out with many customers decidedly middle class in appearance. Based on the appearance of the children and women alone, most customers were secular in outlook or very relaxed about their commitment to Islam. With time to spare I delayed departure, not least because I was given a glass of tea to end the meal.

Nasir Usta Lokanta proved a fitting place to end the trip in terms of the quality of the food provided and the crisp and clean, female-friendly surroundings. It was not quite the best meal of the trip – my first evening meal in Sebinkarahisar and the late lunch in Solhan were better, partly because of the novelty of some of the food available – but I was delighted with what I had.

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

Nasir Usta Lokanta, Diyarbakir.

I went for one last walk around the old city concentrating on the area near the Ulu Camii and Nebi Camii, the latter mosque being where, even on a Sunday evening, about a dozen men sat among their boxes, tins and other necessities to polish or repair shoes.

It would soon be dark, but quite a lot of young women still walked around, albeit in the company of male relatives or friends. A more liberal air prevails in Diyarbakir than in cities such as Elazig and Erzincan, even though Sunni Islam is the dominant expression of religious faith. This said, especially in the parts of the old city where some of Diyarbakir’s poorest families live, women are often dressed from head to toe in loose-fitting black garments and they often cover their faces. Older women who do not routinely cover their faces pull their headscarf over their mouth and nose when unknown men come into view.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

I was reluctant to extract myself from the streets where lots of businesses remained open, people were milling around and there was so much to enjoy (although a lot of police were walking around and armoured motor vehicles had been parked at street corners). I would miss the lifestyle, the opportunities to engage with friendly people, the unusual destinations and the rarely visited monuments, but, in particular, I would miss engaging with some intelligent, forthright and assertive women who confound the stereotypes of women in overwhelmingly Muslim nation states.

It was now dark so I returned to the hotel. I arranged everything for the last time in my bags to spread the weight as best I could; read some of Gerard Russell’s “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East”, the ideal book for the sort of trip that was about to conclude; showered again; finished the orange juice; and went to reception to pay my bill. I then walked the short distance to the taxi rank where I noted that it cost 20TL to get to the otogar because the otogar is further from the city centre than the airport! The insanity of it all.

A growing number of police and armoured motor vehicles had been coming onto the streets as nightfall approached. By 8.00pm helicopters were flying overhead. On the way to the airport armed police officers in cars and armoured vehicles had blocked some roads to traffic or were guarding important intersections. Diyarbakir felt like an occupied city. And the reason for the massive police presence? Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, was in the city attending a pre-election rally on behalf of the AKP. Because the AKP had become so unpopular in Diyarbakir, an extremely expensive and disruptive police operation had to be undertaken to guarantee his safety. Other than confirming that the AKP was the political party of government and could therefore demand that such a police operation be mounted, it was difficult to imagine what use the rally would serve because the vast majority of Diyarbakir’s population will vote HDP. Still, a few shots of Davutoglu in newspapers the following morning speaking to supports of the AKP in the HDP heartland will be good for AKP morale.

The taxi driver could not take me all the way to the terminal. I paid my fare before walking through a temporary barrier staffed by police who confirmed that people had a right to access the airport. It was obvious that disruption to normal routines would persist until Davutoglu returned to Ankara by plane later that night.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

After getting my boarding ticket for the flight to Istanbul and confirming that my big bag would not be seen again until I arrived in Manchester, I settled down in the departure area. My flight was delayed for about an hour because Davutoglu’s movements took priority. I read some more of Russell’s book concentrating on the Yazidis, a community I would have liked very much to have encountered, but would probably have encountered only if allowed access to a refugee camp (a refugee camp near Diyarbakir is said to contain many Yazidis, but, even if I had gone to the camp south of the city, I doubt the Turkish authorities would have let me in. I had been turned away from a refugee camp two or three years earlier simply because I wished to visit a nearby village).

I examined my wallet and found about 60TL. The Turkish lira was slowly dropping in value against major world currencies and the trend was likely to persist for at least a few months, so keeping the liras was unwise. Turkish and Kurdish passengers were enthusiastically buying boxes of baklava from the airport’s branch of Saim, one of Diyarbakir’s best sweet manufacturers, so it seemed the obvious thing to buy. I asked for half kilos of two different kinds of baklava to fill a kilo box, but was not given the sweets until I had had one to eat. It tasted excellent and, back home, Hilary and I agreed that it was some of the best baklava we have ever consumed.

I looked around at my fellow passengers and noticed something that had been confirmed earlier during the trip: more Turks and Kurds are overweight now than ever before. A product of growing prosperity and a more sedentary lifestyle, excessive weight has led to an interest among the better-off in jogging, gyms, organic food and experiments with celebrity-endorsed diets. Men are more prone to being overweight than women, and young women, whether pious or not, are the people least likely to have weight problems. In fact, some young women are painfully thin. I, in common with many others, blame this problem on the adverts and photos of actors, models and other celebrities with ludicrously slim bodies for inspiring in young women wholly unrealistic images of what constitutes desirability in appearance.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

The old city, Diyarbakir.

P.S. Partly because Diyarbakir had such a large Armenian population at the time, and partly because even more Armenians lived in the surrounding towns and villages, Diyarbakir became one of the cities where the number of Armenians murdered in 1915 and thereafter was the largest during the genocide. Christopher Walker describes Diyarbakir at the time as “an inferno of torture and murder”. In 2006, David Gaunt estimated that almost 70,000 Armenians met their deaths in Diyarbakir province and only 3,000 of the province’s Armenians remained alive after world war one. Some scholars put the figure for Armenians murdered in Diyarbakir province even higher than this.

P.P.S. On 23rd April 2015, the Armenian Apostolic Church canonised all the victims of the Armenian genocide in what is believed to be the largest canonisation service in history. It was the first canonisation conducted by the Armenian Apostolic Church in four hundred years.‪

To Diyarbakir.

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

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

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

Between Elazig and Diyarbakir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

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

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

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

Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir.

To Yuzen Ada and Solhan.

After waiting fifteen minutes at the main road, a man from Istanbul stopped his car and drove me into the centre of Solhan. The man had been on the road for fifteen days taking orders for kitchen electrical goods in Bolu, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya, Elazig, Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van. He was now returning home and hoped to arrive in Istanbul about 1.00am or 2.00am. He picked me up at about 1.00pm, so was suggesting he would get home in twelve or thirteen hours. I thought this unlikely, even though he drove to Solhan at great pace. For most of the way the car exceeded 120 kph.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

I returned to my hotel room briefly, then went to take a few photos around the town. The streets were top-heavy with men and boys, but everyone was very friendly. It looked as if I was in an overwhelmingly Sunni area where segregation of the sexes was the norm. Opportunities to talk with women were non-existent other than if they were encountered as employees in the hotel or some of the town centre shops. But few women benefited from such roles and the conversations had to be brief and business-like. Lots of women wore loose-fitting black garments from head to toe and some covered their faces. Girls aged fourteen or more wore headscarves that covered their hair and ears. Only a very few women defied Sunni conventions about what would be called appropriate female dress. Depressing? Very depressing.

I walked around the small pazar, identified where minibuses left for Elazig, located the small otogar serving towns and villages in the surrounding hills and mountains, visited a shop selling locally-produced honey, watched a man ride a horse bareback along a road leading over the river and out of town, met four supporters of the HDP and admired the bunting along the town centre’s main thoroughfares. I then took someone’s advice for a good meal and walked up the stairs leading to the Saray Restaurant which overlooks the main street.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I liked the Saray as soon as I entered its clean, spacious and female-friendly surroundings. Food is prepared in two different areas, one being devoted to grilled meats, salad and bread and the other to hot plates. Because I had had a few grilled meat dishes already and knew I would probably have more in Elazig and/or Diyarbakir, I went to the hot plate counter and ordered tas kebap, bulgar pilaf and a warm yoghurt dish with a mild pepper sauce and vegetables, the latter cooked so well that they melted in the mouth. I knew that bread and a salad would probably arrive free of charge, but when the waiter came to serve me I was also given a small bowl of lentil soup, a stuffed pepper, macaroni smothered in yoghurt, ayran and four different salads. I took my time and managed to eat almost everything I was given, partly because the quality of the food was so good that the meal was the trip’s very best so far (indeed, not even an Adana kebap the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir could quite exceed in quality what I ate at the Saray in Solhan, a town most Turkish citizens would regard as in the middle of almost nowhere). But the most remarkable thing of all? For a meal worthy of a bill of at least 30TL I was charged only 10TL. Yes, less than £3.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

At the end of the meal I shook hands with almost every member of staff as well as that of the owner and promised that the Saray would get a rave review on the internet, then continued my walk around town. In a back street I came across a Belediye dustcart with a picture on the side of a small lake with some floating islands about 8 to 10 kilometres from Solhan. I had forgotten about the lake and its islands, known locally as Yuzen Ada, but, because it was just after 3.00pm, knew I had a good chance of getting there and back before nightfall.

I walked west along the main road, then came across a minibus with a few passengers in it. I did not expect the minibus to be going all the way to the lake, but asked the driver if I could be dropped at the appropriate junction. Amazingly, the minibus was going to the lake, but it had first to pick up more passengers around the town. We drove to a large school to collect some middle and high school students (it was Friday and pupils and students who had been boarding in Solhan during the week were being driven home to nearby towns and villages in lots of minibuses), then stopped at an apartment block to collect an elderly couple and their sacks of food. The sacks were so full that the food would last well over a week.

We drove out of town and, after about 4 or 5 kilometres, turned right onto gently inclined pasture with a small, seemingly deserted village inhabited only during the hottest months of the year. The road entered a valley and began to ascend more steeply. There were cliffs, rocky outcrops, wild flowers in the meadows and mountains in the distance. At the highest point the road crossed undulating upland reminiscent of the North Pennines in England, then the road descended a short distance into a small village. The minibus dropped off a few passengers in the village, then drove another 1.5 kilometres to the lake itself, which has attracted a few facilities such as small wooden chalets to stay in overnight and a café and lokanta.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

Meadows with wild flowers and rounded hills and mountains enclose the lake and its facilities, as does a footpath covered with a wooden roof. The lake itself is very small, but three flat, near-perfect circles of grassy land do, indeed, float on the surface of the water (it would appear that the roots of grass, flowers and trees hold the soil together. The islands were once attached to the land enclosing the lake, but erosion eventually detached them and gradually reduced them to the shape they currently have. The best view of all can be acquired from a path that leads to a viewing platform on a hillside about 20 metres above the lake’s surface. From here you can also see almost all the facilities that the lake has spawned, but I did not find them in the least oppressive because they are dwarfed by the grandeur of their upland surroundings. A few families were eating large picnics in the fresh air beside chalets they had probably hired for the weekend. Two powerful motorbikes had been parked by a couple who were drinking tea in the café. The couple looked as if they were Turkish.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

I was very glad I had visited the lake, not least because it got me for one last time into the mountains. I walked back to the nearby village and chatted with some men and women before making my way onto the upland area that resembles the North Pennines (there are even some dry stone walls that make the comparison with England even more convincing). The road began to gradually descend and I entered the valley with the cliffs and rocky outcrops. A meandering stream tumbled over rocks and, briefly, I could have been walking beside the Wear or the Tees in west County Durham. By now it was almost 5.00pm and the visibility was excellent.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

I made no attempt to flag a lift because I was enjoying the walk and wanted to look at the village not far from the main road. The village has a few houses to the west of the road overlooking the river, but most are a little higher on the hillside to the east. I was almost correct; all the houses but one or two were empty (two donkeys tethered near one of the houses to the east of the road confirmed that some people were around, but I saw no one the half hour I was in the village). The rest of the houses awaited the families that would live in them from early June until about mid-September.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Some of the houses are made with stone, some with breeze block and some with what appears to be breeze block covered with a thin layer of plaster. All the houses have a square or a rectangular ground plan and spread over only one storey. Liberal use is made of corrugated iron and flat sheets of metal to patch holes or improve insulation, especially on buildings for livestock or the storage of food. Every roof is pitched and covered with corrugated iron. Such roofs looked quite new and on the houses made with stone probably replace flat roofs of log and mud. The pitched corrugated iron roofs are much lighter than log and mud roofs and are therefore popular in areas prone to earthquakes. The walls of some of the stone houses have courses of wood designed to absorb the shocks when earthquakes occur. Yes, Solhan is in an area prone to earthquakes.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Many of the houses have storage space immediately below the corrugated iron roofs and, nearby, penfolds in which they can put their livestock at night. Most of the penfolds have dry stone walls and are square or rectangular in shape. They are usually located next to a house so family members can quickly respond should a problem arise.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The houses of the village lie on undulating pasture with many wild flowers. To the south a ridge of mountains had patches of snow where the sun could not easily reach. To the north-west, lots of beehives had been arranged on a gently inclined slope leading to the river. I was having quality time in the mountains, so much so that, even though it would be the last time I would be in such surroundings, I did not mind. All good things must come to an end.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

I walked to the main road and it was not long before a young Kurdish couple stopped their car to offer me a lift to Solhan. The driver was the male, of course, but the woman did not wear a headscarf, which suggested that she and her partner were not devout. The man drove to town very fast, no doubt keen to impress his partner with his motoring skills. We drove past two or three camps for nomads in which the tents were made of felt, as in the old days.

It was now almost 6.00pm and the visibility excellent. I walked around the town centre streets stopping every so often to chat with friendly men. The very last pupils and students in Solhan’s schools were making their way home in minibuses and, although some women walked around in small groups, they did all they could not to draw attention to themselves.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I returned to the hotel, washed a few items of clothing and left for one last walk around the town. After looking at the river south of the centre where it is confined within stone walls and banks of rubble, I walked around a small but attractive cemetery close to a large playground where children were engaged in noisy games. A little later, not long before meeting some men outside a tea house in the pazar playing a game that looked like a cross between chess and draughts, I was stopped by a police officer in plain clothes. The police officer asked what I was up to and examined my passport. I was briefly worried that I might have some difficulties with him, but, suspicious at first, he soon came to realise I did not pose a threat to anyone. He invited me to have a glass of tea, but I explained I wanted to take some photos before the light faded altogether.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

I would have liked to return to the Saray Restaurant for an evening meal, but the late lunch had been so substantial that I could not justify the extravagance. I fancied something to eat and drink, however, so called at a small supermarket to buy a chocolate pudding, a bar of dark chocolate, a packet of Ruffles Original Crisps and a litre of apple juice. Back in my room I had some crisps, the pudding and the apple juice and soon felt full but refreshed.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

To Tunceli.

The hotel bed was extremely comfortable, so, although I was awake by 5.30am, I felt very rested. I packed everything I could, showered, dressed and was downstairs by 6.15 because I had been led to believe that breakfast was served from 6.00am, even though it was a Sunday. The buffet had, indeed, been spread out so I began to eat. I had already paid my bill on arrival the day before and thought that, with luck, I might catch the 7.30am departure for Tunceli. I had two cheeses, black and green olives, tomatoes, sliced meat, bread, jam (cherry and strawberry), chocolate and hazelnut spread, honey, a boiled egg, helva and lots of tea.

The breakfast room in the Gulistan Hotel, Erzincan.

The breakfast room in the Gulistan Hotel, Erzincan.

I rushed upstairs and was on the street just after 7.00am. Roadworks had forced all traffic to take a detour, but with the help of an elderly man I found the correct stop for buses to the otogar. I needed the number one and the timetable suggested that, even on a Sunday, services began just before 7.00am and ran every ten to fifteen minutes. A number one arrived on time, set off and got me to the otogar by 7.25. I ran to the office of the company operating buses to Tunceli to find I was not the last passenger buying a ticket. The bus was going as far as Diyarbakir.

The day had started in perfect fashion and, to add to my pleasure, the sun shone brightly from a sky with very few clouds. The mountains enclosing Erzincan to the south and the north looked all the better for the patches of snow on their slopes.

For the first 50 kilometres of the journey we went east along the valley of the Euphrates as if destined for Erzurum. The valley floor for most of the way is flat and quite wide with some trees, fields and pasture, the latter supporting herds of cattle. The mountains, albeit mostly rounded rather than with rock faces and peaks, remained north and south of the road, those to the south having extensive patches of snow on their north-facing slopes. Any sense of sadness or solemnity I may have had at times the day before (because of the poverty, the rundown streets not far from the pazar, the many building sites and road improvement projects designed to enhance an economically challenged city, the ill-equipped zoo where the welfare of the animals came second to entertaining human visitors, the large number of dogs roaming freely, the oppressive air of Sunni piety that encouraged many women to dress completely in black and cover their whole body except for their eyes and the top of their nose, and the almost complete lack of opportunity to interact with women) had completely gone. Turkey was working its magic yet again.

For part of the way east the railway was in view from the road, but no trains passed us. As we approached Tanyeri the valley began to narrow and the river, the road and the railway became close companions. However, the valley floor was still flat enough for the Euphrates to be quite wide and at one point it had burst its banks flooding nearby pasture. We passed beside a pretty railway station with a water crane in very good condition, a water crane similar to one I had seen the day before at Erzincan station (steam locomotives must occasionally travel the line, perhaps pulling trains for railway enthusiasts). A little later we turned right off the main road and headed south to Tunceli via Pulumur. We crossed the Euphrates and went under an admirably built stone bridge that carries the railway further on its journey. A sign beside the road informed people that they were entering Tunceli province and, very close to the sign, we drove beside an old jandarma post. I was reminded that, when last travelling along the road, Tunceli province in general and Tunceli town in particular felt like occupied territory. The fact no jandarma occupied the post near the road sign suggested that things were now more relaxed. Thankfully, the next few days confirmed that they were.

The bus boy walked along the aisle providing passengers with tea, coffee, fruit juice, water and a squirt of kolonya.

As soon as we entered Tunceli province we began to ascend a gorge-like valley with rugged rock walls which soon had us at the highest point on the road from where very pretty views of rounded hills, pasture, wild flowers and trees with their new leaves led the eye toward villages and snow-smudged mountains, the latter in the distance. Cattle gave way to sheep. At one point it looked as if we were almost as high as the highest mountains to the south, but this was not, obviously, the case. Why? Because one of the mountains was almost completely covered in snow.

We reached the pass where a large, shabby building is used to store motor vehicles and other equipment so that maintenance workers can keep the road open during heavy snowfalls. The views from the pass of forest, snow-capped mountains and pasture with wild flowers on rounded hills were sublime and small villages nestled in the folds of the undulating terrain. The road was far more beautiful than I recall it from trips in the middle of summer when the high temperatures have melted all the snow and the absence of rain has bleached from the land the strong colours that persist until very early June.

We began to descend and some cattle grazed on the pasture. Not long after we arrived in Pulumur, an overwhelmingly modern town with houses and small apartment blocks dispersed along the valley and over the surrounding slopes in a few distinct mahalles. Pulumur’s commercial heart, decorated that day and for at least another week with lots of bunting for the different political parties, is very small, so much so that, for many people, trips to Tunceli, Erzincan or even Tercan will be necessary to conduct certain types of business or secure supplies, food items included if they are a little out of the ordinary. This said, Pulumur’s situation cannot not be faulted and I suspect that roads to nearby villages in the hills and mountains lead to interesting destinations.

As soon as we left the centre of Pulumur the road enters a meandering valley with a river that tumbles over rocks little and large. Small orchards existed where the land flattens, but for most of the time the road is enclosed by rock walls, small patches of pasture on the slopes and trees that grow wild. We drove beside an old stone bridge with a single high arch, but it is in poor condition, and a large but abandoned army or jandarma camp. Some of the buildings in the camp had been trashed, no doubt by local Alevi males who regard the camp as a symbol of the government in Ankara that has always discriminated against them, but perhaps most obviously during the period when the AKP has dominated Turkish politics. This said, even worse oppression than that of the AKP prevailed in the 1930s. More about this later.

Gradually the valley widened and, in the process, so did the river as it flowed less vigorously. The road could now take a straighter and more level course. Isolated houses existed near the road with a few fields and an orchard nearby, and the trees looked a delight as their new crop of pale green leaves seemed to flutter in the gentle breeze like the wings of small birds. But still in the distance were the snow-smudged mountains and, with luck, I would be among them later in the day. What an entry to Tunceli province, still better known locally by its old name of Dersim, the only province in Turkey with an Alevi majority. I was more excited with each kilometre that lay behind us.

About 40 or so kilometres from the town of Tunceli we drove through a small village in a beautiful situation, but in the centre of the village was a large apartment block within a compound heavily protected with walls, barbed wire and razor wire. This was another army or jandarma camp. Although unoccupied, it could very quickly be brought back into use should unrest among the local people recur. It felt almost like the good old, bad old days.

By now the road to the town of Tunceli (which, from now on, I shall call Tunceli. When referring to the province of Tunceli, I shall use instead the preferred local name of Dersim. There will be times when I use Dersim to describe more than merely the province of Tunceli. In this case I will include areas of provinces that share borders with Tunceli province that have large or majority Alevi populations and are therefore thought by local people to be part of Tunceli province/Dersim even though they are not formally recognised as such by the government in Ankara) was excellent. However, every so often the road entered short tunnels not driven through the rock, but built from concrete to protect it from avalanches or rock falling from the slopes of the surrounding hills and mountains. There were also a few short tunnels driven through the rock and, because one such tunnel had neither a concrete lining nor an archway at each end, it looked like a natural feature. Some trees were in blossom and many beehives had been arranged in lines along the edge of pasture full of wild flowers.

It was 9.15am and the digital clock in the bus suggested the temperature outside was 18 degrees centigrade. Passengers bored with the scenery (?!?!) could operate screens attached to the back of the seat in front them to access free films, TV channels or radio stations. Hmmm. I thought about many of the buses we have in the UK that cost so much more to travel on, but do not have services comparable to those in the bus in which I was travelling through eastern Turkey from Erzincan to Tunceli. Such services included free liquid refreshments and the occasional small snack as well as the entertainment just listed.

Water tumbled down a rock face creating a cascade about 25 metres long, but the stream and the waterfall would dry up completely in a few weeks when all the snow had melted from the surrounding slopes. Because the valley remained quite narrow villages were rarely encountered, but isolated houses with fields and orchards persisted. This said, a lot of houses had been abandoned and/or trashed. It was quite likely that such vandalism is directly attributable to the army or the jandarma who destroyed the houses of people suspected of, or known to be in, sympathy with political or terrorist groups that sought an end to discrimination against minority groups such as the Alevis and the Kurds.

A road led to the east for about 12 kilometres to Nazimiye. The road ascended a side valley along which a river flowed before adding more water to the Pulumur Cayi that we had been following for many kilometres. Near the point at which the two rivers met the Pulumur Cayi spread quite wide and a few small but low-lying islands broke the surface with scrub and patches of grass. The river then narrowed once more so it was about 20 metres wide and, not long after, we passed a spot where local people liked to come for picnics at the weekend or during public holidays. High above the road the army had built low, turret-like gun emplacements from where soldiers could survey the surrounding countryside from positions of relative safety and security. The gun emplacements looked abandoned. Because the bus had not stopped once for the police, the army or the jandarma to check passengers’ ID suggested that the gun emplacements were empty.

About 20 kilometres from Tunceli the valley widened to an extent greater than since we had left Pulumur. The river was about 30 metres wide, rounded hills lay along both valley walls and, although the land looked a little drier and hotter than further north, there were lots of fields, meadows, orchards, beehives, cattle, horses and mules. A man cut long grass with a scythe attached to a long wooden handle. A rock wall above the river was slowly eroding into pinnacles that reminded me of some of the landscapes in Cappadocia.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

We arrived in Tunceli, a relatively small provincial capital in terms of population, the centre of which lies on the slopes where the Munzur and the Pulumur rivers join. True, the suburbs seem to stretch for many kilometres, especially to the south leading to the rapidly expanding campus of the provincial university, but the town centre is compact and clearly defined and the otogar centrally located. At first sight Tunceli looks overwhelmingly modern and nothing you find or see will lead to that first impression being radically altered. However, because of the two rivers just mentioned, the surrounding hills and mountains, the good road links with nearby towns and villages, the unusually attractive apartment blocks painted bright colours, a small but lively pazar and, as I would soon find out, remarkably friendly people with a refreshingly liberal outlook on life, there is much to admire. In fact, by the time I had to leave Tunceli less than forty-eight hours after arriving, the town had emerged as one of my all-time favourite Turkish provincial capitals despite the absence of major monuments. The two most important reasons for this? The people and the surrounding area. Even the substantial town centre presence of the police and the army did not compromise my enjoyment of the place because, although armoured vehicles were parked on or sometimes patrolled the streets, for most of the time the police and the soldiers remained in their heavily fortified compounds.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I walked from the otogar to an open space overlooking the Munzur Cayi below. A small park, some benches and the statue of a turbaned male who must have lived some time ago create a very attractive setting for views up the Munzur Cayi and the mountains to the north. A very large hotel that appears quite expensive overlooks the Munzur Cayi to the south of the park, but I wanted somewhere not so posh. I asked a woman without a headscarf and her male companion about other hotels and they directed me to one in the town’s nearby pazar. I arrived at the hotel to find a man reading a book about Che Guevara who seemed to share ownership of the business with a friend. The man put down his book and said the room with en suite facilities and breakfast cost 50TL a night. This seemed a good price, especially for somewhere so centrally located, so I agreed to stay two nights (I had a lot to see around Tunceli). The room had a balcony providing views over part of the pazar, which enhanced the benefits of staying.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I unpacked a few things, but was out very quickly. I had a walk around the central business district noting immediately that only a very few women wore a headscarf, none covered their faces and none dressed in black from head to toe. Most women dressed in clothes similar to those that women might wear in Europe or North America and they walked around on their own or with friends or relations and shopped or called at cafes or pastanes with the same freedom enjoyed by men. They chatted with me, an unknown male, without embarrassment or fear that they were contravening unnecessarily restrictive codes of social convention, and it was obvious that a majority of local men were supportive of the more relaxed and integrated relations that existed between the sexes. Moreover, by the end of the day I saw more women driving cars than the whole of the week that had just ended. Add to this that bunting and posters around the town revealed that left-wing political sentiments were very much to the fore and support for the AKP almost non-existent and my admiration for Tunceli rose another half dozen notches. Tunceli is a town largely shaped by a very liberal and progressive outlook by Turkish standards, a liberal and progressive outlook that only prevails elsewhere in large urban centres in the west such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bursa (but a liberal and progressive outlook does not prevail in all districts in the cities just listed, of course. Some districts suffer from a very oppressive Sunni Muslim outlook that has a particularly detrimental effect on gender equality and relations between the sexes).

View east from Tunceli.

View east from Tunceli.

Oh yes: alcohol was on sale in many shops and lokantas, and one small shop in the pazar (where about only half the businesses bothered to open because it was Sunday) sold large bottles of Efes Malt for a very reasonable 4.5TL. Tunceli was very much my kinda town!

One tea garden beside the town’s main square had been taken over as the local headquarters for the HDP and groups associated with it, and its display of bunting was so spectacular that I spent quite a lot of time taking photos and chatting with HDP members and supporters. A large statue of Ataturk stands on a stone plinth in the middle of the square. If the great dictator were alive today and saw that a party such as the HDP, representing in particular the interests of the Kurds whose existence he would not even acknowledge, was so popular in the east of the country, he would have gone apoplectic. Moreover, only a few glasses of raki would have calmed him down.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

The HDP headquarters, Tunceli.

Ataturk's statue, Tunceli.

Ataturk’s statue, Tunceli.

It was in Tunceli where I first saw posters with a picture of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, “Partizan”, wearing a cloth cap and resembling a working class hero of the Soviet Union, circa the 1930s. In the picture Kaypakkaya looked like a young Robert de Niro around the time he starred in “Taxi Driver”.

Ibrahim Kaypakkaya lived from 1949 to 1973. He was an important figure in the

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

communist movement in Turkey. He was the founder of the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) and its armed wing carried out fatal attacks in Tunceli, Malatya and Gaziantep. At least one such attack led to the murder of a village muhtar whose information to the security forces had resulted in a gunfight during which some of Kaypakkaya’s allies had met their deaths.

On 24th January 1973, Turkish military forces attacked Kaypakkaya and some of his supporters in the mountains near Tunceli. Kaypakkaya was badly wounded and left for dead, but he managed to shelter in a cave before making his way to a village where he asked a teacher to shelter him. The teacher provided him with a room to recuperate in, but he then locked the door and reported Kaypakkaya’s whereabouts to the army. Kaypakkaya was taken to the prison in Diyarbakir, notorious at the time for the brutal treatment of its inmates, interrogated and tortured. On 18th May he died from gunshot wounds and, so it is said, his body was mutilated and cut into many pieces.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

Posters with pictures of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya included, Tunceli.

After his death Kaypakkaya became a martyr for the Turkish communist movement because he “chose to die rather than give information”. Leftists in Turkey more generally remember him as a symbol of resistance to tyranny in all its forms. He left behind him some writings that offer a critique of kemalism, the political ideology that Ataturk developed and which shaped Turkish political thinking until at least the end of the 1980s, and that reflect on Kurdish identity in a nation state which, in the 1960s and early 1970s, preferred to pretend that the Kurds did not exist.

As I took photos of the posters, three or four men walked past and gave me the thumbs-up sign to show their solidarity with what Kaypakkaya represents.

To Eski Ergani and Ergani.

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

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

Makam Dagi, Ergani.

Makam Dagi.

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

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

Makam Dagi.

Makam Dagi.

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

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

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

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

Ergani from the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

The village just below the summit of Makam Dagi.

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

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi, Eski Ergani.

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

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

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

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

The exterior of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

One of the compartments of Zulkuful Suluklari, Eski Ergani.

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

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

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

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

Hikmet, Ergani.

Hikmet, Ergani.

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

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

Outside the barber's shop, Ergani.

Outside the barber’s shop, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastern, Ergani.

Boxes for baklava assembled in the pastane, Ergani.

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

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

Bunting for the HDP, Ergani.

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

Ergani.

Ergani.

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

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

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

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

Makam Dagi and Ergani.

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