Eski Palu.

At Eski Palu Sinclair identifies the citadel, the Ulu Camii, the Kucuk Camii, Merkez Camii, Alacali Mescit, Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, a hamam, a church, a bridge and a second turbe. The bridge, which crosses the river, and the citadel are some distance from the other structures, half of which are in what was the old town centre and the rest a short walk to the north, along the road leading to the path that goes to the citadel itself.

My tour of Eski Palu began in the old town centre where I looked at the Ulu Camii, the Kucuk Camii and the hamam, but I left till later the church because, although not far from the structures just listed, it is on the way to the bridge, which I saved more or less for last. As I walked around I also saw two cesmes and some old houses in need of tender loving care. The cesmes will probably be restored, but the old houses are likely to be ignored. Wherever you walk during May, Eski Palu is awash with wild flowers.

The Ulu Camii dates from the 15th or the 16th century. A small courtyard exists at the west end of the prayer hall, which had a low roof of logs and mud. The roof was supported by five piers carrying five arcades running north to south. The mihrab, which appears to date from the 18th century, has four flower-like stars on the wall immediately either side. The minaret has a square base that transitions to eight blind arches by bevelling the corners. Thereafter the minaret is cylindrical in shape.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

Ulu Camii, Eski Palu.

The hamam is better preserved. It has a very large disrobing chamber preceded by a small vestibule. As Sinclair, notes:

The vestibule is partly in a tower-like projection from the s. wall and partly in a box-like construction inside the disrobing chamber… From the vestibule one turns left into a separate room lighted by one of two trilobed windows either side of the southerly projection. The disrobing chamber’s dome is supported by a squinch and blind arch construction: the beginnings of the dome above and in the spandrels of the arches are in brick… The long cool room stretches all the way from the n. to the s. wall.

Hot room. The central dome rises from arches at the entrance to the axial domed spaces and from the cut stone diagonal wall above the entrances to the corner rooms. Above the latter the wall is taken up vertically in brick inside a rounded blind arch, which forms the angle between the vertical brickwork and that of the brick skirt sent down from the dome’s base…

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The hamam, Eski Palu.

The Kucuk Camii really is small (“kucuk” means “small”) in that each wall of its square prayer hall measured only 10 metres internally. Parts of the walls still survive, as does part of the unusually wide cylindrical minaret. The dome, which no longer exists, rested on a brick skirt brought down to squinches. The door leading to the steps within the minaret is beneath the south-east squinch.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

The citadel provides remarkable views over the surrounding countryside, the river, the bridge, the ruins of Eski Palu and the new town to the west. It has a top platform, the main enclosure, remnants of wall, the scant remains of what appears to be a church (probably Armenian), a rock with an Urartian inscription and various rock chambers, some of the latter connected by a tunnel. Sinclair refers to local people who believed that one set of rock chambers “was the retreat where the Armenian monk Mesrop (Mashtots) invented the Armenian alphabet” in 405CE. This would appear to be a legend of very doubtful reliability because scholarly research suggests the alphabet was conceived while Mesrop Mashtots undertook study in Alexandria, then one of the world’s most important cultural, scholarly and scientific centres.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View west from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

View south-east from the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The tunnel below the citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

The citadel, Eski Palu.

Between the citadel and the old town centre are the other important survivals from the past. Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe was subject to restoration and, most unusually, one of the workmen refused me permission to examine the complex up close (he wanted to assert his authority, I suspect). However, I could see that the mescit is a box-like square with a thin round drum from which rises a dome. The turbe was added to the north-east corner of the mescit. The turbe would have had a hexagonal ground plan, but two sides have been lost due to the join with the mescit.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Cemsit Bey Mescit and Turbe, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit is partly dug into the hill and its small prayer hall is crowned with a six-sided pyramidal cap. Extending the basic square west are two iwans separated by an arch rather than a wall. The iwans and arch were designed as the portico.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Alacali Mescit, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii dates from only 1874, but, although merely a rectangle running east to west and now devoid of a roof, is quite an unusual structure. Windows exist along the south-facing wall but not along that to the north (because of the sloping land), and internally the roof was supported on four north to south arcades of three arches each. The south wall, with the stump of the minaret at its east end, is particularly pleasing to the eye because of the five arched windows and the suggestion that the mescit originally had alternating courses of light- and dark-coloured stone. A courtyard existed along the east wall, but not much evidence for this survives.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii, Eski Palu.

Merkez Camii.

Merkez Camii.

I now walked past the church in the old town centre to the bridge, which has recently benefited from a massive restoration programme. Although the stone still looks very new, I could not in any way fault the reconstruction. The bridge has nine arches of differing height and width and the surface of the road slightly meanders as it gently rises and falls. The bridge, which looks as if it dates from quite early Ottoman times, is near a railway bridge and, at one point during my visit to Eski Palu, a passenger train made its way from east to west.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

Between the church and the bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The bridge, Eski Palu.

The church, which commands views east along the river and its valley, belonged to the Armenian Monastery of the Mother of God. Sinclair refers to a:

Large, cavernous structure, perhaps built in the early 19th century,… placed near the e. rim of the platform… Seen from the w., it appears to consist of a high dome bay and an apse, but in reality the church was hall-like. The apse is wide but shallow: short faces bring the e. end to the n. and s. wall of the chancel. Then the dome bay, about one and a half times the length of the chancel. Here, apart from the collapsing of the dome, part of the n. wall and the whole of the s. wall have fallen. The octagonal drum, however, remains: this begins precisely at the base of the dome. Eight windows. The dome’s pendentives rest on four arches, two against the walls, all on four wall piers: thus the n. and s. walls were a shell which bore little stress from the dome. However, they let in much light, by means of three large windows each in their upper halves.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The chancel is roofed by a single vault with e.-w. apex. The remaining bay, w. of the dome, seems to have been similarly vaulted, and to have had the same dimensions as the chancel, but practically nothing is left… Brick is used on the arches, jambs, reveals, vaults, dome, etc.

Décor. Inside, pilasters rise to a thick moulding at the springing line of the chancel vault. Niches in each face either side of the apse. Blind arches echoing the windows in the lower half of the dome’s bay walls. The remains of crude paintings of angels in the e. wall of the chancel, one to each side of the apse. Biblical inscription on apse arch.

Small vestry n. of chancel…

Church of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

The church of the Monastery of the Mother of God, Eski Palu.

Although some of the Muslim buildings in Eski Palu are being restored, the church is not, and I could detect nothing that suggested it would so benefit in the immediate future. Moreover, some of what Sinclair describes above no longer survives.

What is now Eski Palu once had a substantial Armenian population, as did some of the villages surrounding the town, and Sinclair refers to Havav, a village “a few kilometres north”, that has the ruins of three churches in or near it.

Palu is one of the numerous places in what is now eastern Turkey where the massacre and expulsion of Armenians took place in 1915. Here is part of an article that first appeared in the “Boston Globe” in April 1998:

Katherine Magarian saw her father and dozens of other family members slain by invading Turks in the Armenian massacres that began 83 years ago this Friday. In all, the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Armenians lasted nearly eight years and claimed the lives of more than a million people. Twenty years earlier, the Turks had also slaughtered thousands of Armenians.

Magarian, who turned ninety-two on 10th April, survived the murderous rampage by escaping her village with her mother and sister. Separated from her mother, Magarian eventually emigrated, first to Cuba and then to the United States in 1927. She settled in Rhode Island, where she has lived ever since. Magarian spoke recently with “Boston Globe” correspondent Paul E. Kandarian at her daughter’s home. The following are edited excerpts of her remarks.

“I saw my father killed when I was nine years old. We lived in Palou in the mountains. My father was a businessman. He’d go into the country selling pots and pans, butter, dairy products. The Turks, they ride in one day and get all the men together, bring them to a church. Every man came back out, hands tied behind them. Then they slaughter them, like sheep, with long knives.

“They all die, twenty-five people in my family die. You can’t walk, they kill you. You walk, they kill you. They did not care who they kill. My husband, who was a boy in my village but I did not know him then, he saw his mother’s head cut off. The Turks, they see a pregnant woman. They cut the baby out of her and hold it up on their knife to show.

“My mother and I, we run. They get one of my other sisters, and one of my other sisters, she was four, she ran away. My mother was hit by the Turks; she was bleeding as we go. We walk and walk. I say, ‘Ma, wait, I want to look for my little sister,’ but my mother slap me, say ‘No! Too dangerous. We keep walking.’ It gets darker and darker, but we walk. Still, I don’t know where. The Turks had taken over our city.

Two, three days we walk, little to eat. Finally, we find my sister, who had run away. Then we walk to Harput and I see Turks and want to run, but they are friendly Turks, my mother tells me. She say, ‘You go live with them now, you’ll be safe,’ and I was. I worked there, waiting on them, cleaning, but I was alive and safe. But I don’t see my mother for five years. She was taken to the mountains to live and she saw hundreds of dead Armenians, hundreds of them, who had been killed by the Turks, bodies all over.

Years later, my mother say to the Turks, ‘I want to see my child,’ and they let her come back. She came to the house at night. She did not know me, but I know it was her. Her voice was the same as I remember it. I tell her who I am, she say, ‘You are my daughter!’ and we kiss, hug and cry and cry.

“My mother later heard of an orphanage in Beirut for Armenians and we go there after the Turks kick us out of our country. I spend four years there and, again, I don’t see my mother until a priest gets us together. In 1924, she comes to this country to meet family who left before the genocide. Three times now, I have lost my mother.”

I could find only one internet article about Palu that seeks to establish how many Armenians were murdered in the town, but the figure of 1580 may refer to the town as well as the villages closest to it. However, I found the following with a Palu link. It derives from “Al Monitor, the pulse of the Middle East”:

The presence of “secret” Armenians in Anatolia has become the subject of a news report in the Argentine press. In an article entitled “The Footprints of Secret Armenians in Turkey”, Argentine journalist Avedis Hadjian writes that people of Armenian origin, estimated to number hundreds of thousands, continue to live in Anatolia and Istanbul under false identities. Hadjian’s research begins in Istanbul’s Kurtulus neighbourhood and then takes him to Amasya, Diyarbakir, Batman, Tunceli and Mus.

According to the report, those who have been hiding their real identity for almost a century reside mostly in Turkey’s eastern regions. They have embraced the Sunni or Alevi sects of Islam and live with Turkish or Kurdish identities.

Still, a tiny community living in villages in the Sason district of Batman province preserves their Christianity. Stressing that no one really knows the exact number of crypto-Armenians, Hadjian says he has seen that many of them are scared to acknowledge their Armenian identity. He quotes a crypto-Armenian in Palu: “Turkey is still a dangerous place for Armenians.” 

The crypto-Armenians who live under various guises do not socialise with those who live openly as Armenians and evade contact with strangers. According to Hadjian, some reject their identities, even though they accept their parents or grandparents were Armenian, and their Turkish and Kurdish neighbours still call them “Armenians” or “infidels”. Others acknowledge their real identity, but say they keep it secret from their offspring.

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Divrigi (part two).

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

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

View toward the citadel, Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

A cemetery, Divrigi.

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

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam and citadel, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

The hamam, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

A turbe, Divrigi.

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

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

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

The market, Divrigi.

The market, Divrigi.

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

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

The park and playground, Divrigi.

The park and playground, Divrigi.

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

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The hamam and restored bridge, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The MHP headquarters, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

The pazar, Divrigi.

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

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

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway station, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

The railway, Divrigi.

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

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

The citadel and ruined church, Divrigi.

The citadel and Armenian church, Divrigi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divrigi.

Divrigi.

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

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

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

Arapgir and Eskisehir.

It was at this point that a little confusion prevailed. The owners of the hotel thought I wanted to visit Arapgir’s oldest district rather than Eskisehir and, because of this, dropped me at an albeit interesting spot at the southerly extremity of the town beside a river in a valley with quite steep walls on both sides. The road crossed the river by means of an old stone bridge benefiting from the final touches of a substantial restoration project which, although over-zealous in the fashion I had observed elsewhere, nonetheless guarantees that the bridge will last for centuries to come. I walked up and down stone steps, along a footway below the road but above the river, and chatted with labourers installing railings that would soon be painted black. The side of the bridge devoid of the footway had been subjected to far less vigorous restoration and, although more difficult to see because it was now in late afternoon shade, gave an excellent impression of how the bridge must have looked until about a year earlier.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

The restored bridge, Arapgir.

Among the trees about 20 metres from the bridge and just above the river is a relatively slim but tall stone building with a square ground plan and damaged dome. The wall facing the bridge is pierced by an arched doorway partially framed by stonework carved with patterns more Muslim than Christian, and beside the doorway is a window rectangular in shape. The wall overlooking the river is pierced by a single window, in this case with a slightly pointed arch framing a second pointed arch within it. Inside the building are the piers and arches that support what remains of the dome and the walls have a few small cavities that may have been storage spaces. The structure resembles a one-time hamam, but it is just possible that it had been a church or chapel.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The hamam (?) near the restored bridge, Arapgir.

The couple who owned the hotel had told me that the scant remains of a church lie a little above the bridge, so I found a dirt road that led in the direction required. I soon found some courses of stone lurking among long grass and wild flowers not far from where two small houses overlook fields and gardens. Two families were at work in the fields and gardens and, when I began examining the courses of stone, they stopped to say hello. Chat followed, as did offers of tea, but I was very disciplined and explained that I needed to see the ruin and what remained of what I thought was Eskisehir.

It was at this point that Veysel introduced himself. Veysel lived in one of the houses just mentioned and worked for the Belediye driving dustcarts. He explained that I was not in Eskisehir at all. Esksehir was about 3 or 4 kilometres away on the far side of modern Arapgir, but he had time to spare and would take me there after I had examined what remained of the church.

What remains of the church is very little, but one stretch of stone suggests that it was a very substantial building when extant. The surviving stone reveals that the external walls had been unusually thick, which points toward a cathedral rather than a church. It was obviously Armenian because, after examining what survives of the external walls, Veysel led me to some nearby houses in which stone from the building and its immediate surroundings has been recycled. I saw stone with Armenian script and some it had dates such as 1890 and 1891. One attractively carved stone, no doubt from a grave, had had all its Armenian script obliterated by someone hacking at it with tools, but a cross could be made out and no damage had been done to two branches of leaves that overlapped at what would have been the top of the stone when marking someone’s final place of rest. Here was very obvious proof that, at some point in the past, the authorities did all they could to obscure the fact that Arapgir once had a substantial Armenian community.

The cathedral (?), Arapgir.

The Armenian cathedral (?), Arapgir.

Recycled stone from an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Recycled stone from the Armenian cathedral (?) or an Armenian cemetery, Arapgir.

Back home I undertook research into the history of Arapgir and its immediate surroundings and found the following. Somewhere in Eskisehir or Arapgir there had once been the magnificent 13th century Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God, but in 1915 it was attacked, looted and set on fire. After the first world war, because only a few Armenians remained in the town and the surrounding area, what remained of the cathedral was repaired and used as a school. However, at some point in the 1950s, important figures at the Belediye decided to demolish the building and, in 1957, it was blown up with dynamite. The land on which it had stood was sold to someone living nearby and, today, only very small sections of stone survive. The cathedral is described as one of the largest Armenian churches that ever existed in what is now Turkey and a picture of it on the internet suggests that this was indeed the case.

There were six other Armenian Apostolic churches in the town in 1915, a Roman Catholic church and a Protestant church. It was mainly Armenians who attended the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, information confirming that Arapgir was a very important Armenian settlement at the beginning of world war one.

At home, the more I thought about the remains I have just described, the more it seemed that I had been directed toward what remains of the cathedral. I am by inclination cautious about reaching conclusions of this nature, but there was nothing I saw later that suggests my assessment is incorrect. This said, it was obvious that a lot more needs to be done in and around Arapgir to document and preserve what remains from the past. Arapgir stands at the centre of a remarkably interesting part of Turkey rich in the physical remains of many different people.

Veysel was keen to leave for Eskisehir, so off we went. I thought we were going to walk all the way and therefore suggested we hire a taxi, but Veysel had a much better and more cost effective plan. We walked through the town, passing on the way some large old houses spread over two or even three floors. A mixture of timber-frames, stone, plaster, corrugated iron, overhanging upper storeys and storage spaces immediately below the pitched roofs (most such storage spaces lacked walls) ensured there was much to admire. Every so often stone tablets set into walls had some carved decoration and, perhaps, a date revealing when a house was built or extended. A network of narrow canals carried water from springs into gardens and small fields.

An old house, Arapgir.

An old house, Arapgir.

Arapgir itself has some monuments confirming that it was a population centre by the 18th century, but it was in the 19th and early 20th century when its prosperity was most apparent. Its former wealth was dependent on trade and industry. Arapgir’s merchants were wholesalers for goods such as soap and olive oil from Gaziantep and Aleppo, and glass and iron from Beirut. They also bought goods from Europe such as cloth from Manchester and Marseilles. But Arapgir also had its own weaving industry and imported the yarn from Britain. However, with the end of the first world war, trading activities fell into rapid decline. Part of the reason for this was because of the loss of Armenian merchants during the genocide. Merchants who survived the war migrated to cities in the west where economic opportunities were superior. The town’s economic decline was reinforced by the expansion of the rail network and, later, the road system because goods that used to pass through Arapgir were taken directly to large urban centres where the majority of consumers lived. The weaving industry also fell into decline as other localities in Turkey invested in modern machinery to give them a competitive edge. Today little evidence for such economic prosperity exists other than in the town centre han, now a hotel, and the large old houses which confirm that many local families in the past had considerable wealth. Of course, some of the houses had belonged to Armenian families, but which ones it is difficult to say today.

Veysel’s cunning plan was that we would drive to and around Eskisehir in a Belediye dustcart! We arrived near the north-west extremity of Arapgir and Veysel fired up the engine of his motor vehicle. We first drove along a road that ascended over a hill and into a very pretty valley with trees, orchards, small fields, the occasional building and views of hills and mountains. The road, which soon degenerated into dirt, meandered along the valley wall, sometimes high up and sometimes quite close to the river. It was an enchanting drive, but I was very conscious of Veysel’s time and the cost of the petrol. When I offered to pay for some petrol and his time, he looked at me with an expression of anger that morphed into hurt feelings. We were friends. Friends pay for nothing because hospitality is a mark of friendship. I was in the company of yet another amazing Alevi who at one point said, “Really I am a Bektashi. Veysel is and always will be a Bektashi. Arapgir now has many Bektashis and Alevis and we cannot stand the Sunni Muslims.”

Veysel grew very animated as he tore into the Sunni Muslims and at one point tears stood in his eyes. He seemed to give expression to the persecution his people have suffered for centuries. The more the trip went on, the more often I encountered Alevis, Bektashis and Kizilbash who expressed anger and outrage similar to the anger and outrage felt by Veysel. The two or three times I met Armenians, they kept their feelings to themselves as if to share them would open wounds of such magnitude that the pain would never abate. In the face of crimes against humanity on the scale that have happened in Turkey in the past, silence is sometimes the only appropriate response.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir.

Eskisehir, which, as its name implies, is much older than Arapgir (‘eski” mean “old” and “sehir” means “town” or “city”), was also a trading settlement. Its site, just as large as that of Arapgir although not much survives today, is to the north-west of and at a higher level than its neighbour. It is hidden from the present town by the hill I referred to earlier. It extended for about 4 kilometres in a north-easterly direction until coming to the Arapgir Cayi. Evidence suggests that many of the houses of the town were spaced quite generously apart, perhaps with large gardens or orchards around them (many orchards survive to this day). The citadel is perched high above the tree-line to the north of Eskisehir overlooking the Arapgir Cayi. The bare slopes below the citadel once had houses on them, but today all that remains of the houses are piles of stone “gradually being forced downhill in spring floods”, as Sinclair says. It was in this area that Eskisehir had its commercial heart. Some buildings survive, albeit ruined, including mosques dating from the late Selcuk and the Ottoman periods. Some way from the ruined buildings is a restored mosque dating from as late as the early 19th century, by which time Arapgir was emerging as the more important and economically vibrant settlement.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

The restored mosque, Eskisehir.

Around what was once the town are the Ulu Camii, at least three other mosques, a residence for Sufi dervishes called a hankah, a hamam and what would appear to be a bedesten, all in various stages of restoration or decay. However, we spent most time examining a structure Veysel thought was a church, although if it was a church there was nothing I could identify to confirm that this was so. It was certainly a large structure with what resembles a tower (a bell tower?) at one end. After it was abandoned, someone converted part of it into a house with a door and three windows set into the south-facing wall.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

The church (?), Eskisehir.

We drove along the dirt road through the trees and came out beside the Arapgir Cayi, where I was surprised to find a large stone bridge crossing the river. The bridge, which is probably Ottoman in origin, had recently benefited from a very complete programme of restoration. It crosses the river with two arches of slightly different width and has a quite steep ramp at the south end. The road across the bridge has a kink in it near the middle. Motor vehicles as large as the dustcart can cross the bridge and people like to drive out to the bridge to swim in the river or eat picnics. When we stopped the vehicle to examine the bridge from the north bank, we met a family preparing to return home after relaxing in the pretty surroundings for the afternoon. The father of the family, who wore only his swimming shorts and a pair of shoes because he had just got out of the river (his wife and other family members were fully clothed, of course), tried to encourage us to drink raki with him, but we declined the kind invitation.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Near the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

The restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

Veysel and the restored bridge, Eskisehir.

A few of Eskisehir’s houses survive. They are large, timber-framed houses that spread over two or even three floors in a manner very similar to some of the old houses that survive in Arapgir. However, today Eskisehir is no more than a widely dispersed village and one with a very small population.

We drove away from Eskisehir by following a road east of the bridge. The road crossed the river, ascended the valley wall to the south and led to a road destined for the centre of Arapgir, so we managed to do a superb round trip. Once on the road leading to Arapgir we were high above the Arapgir Cayi and the views into and along the valley were sublime. However, by now the sky had filled with dark clouds and it began to rain. The rain persisted for the next half hour or so.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

Overlooking Eskisehir.

We drove into the centre of Arapgir where we picked up two of Veysel’s work colleagues outside a bakery; the team of three were about to begin their evening shift collecting litter from large wheelie-bins. I stayed with the team for about half an hour, by which time we were close to the hotel. Because the men wanted a short break from work, we stopped for glasses of tea brought to us from a nearby tea house. It turned out that both Veysel’s colleagues were Alevis and all three had harsh things to say about the AKP and Sunni Muslims. If I understood what they were saying, the AKP was currently in control of Arapgir, but whether the party would still be in power following the general election was uncertain. Overhead, rumbles of thunder and flashes of fork and sheet lightning added drama to our conversation.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

View from the dustcart, Arapgir.

What an amazing day it had been, although it was not quite finished. I said goodbye to Veysel and his colleagues, walked to the hotel and freshened up in my room, then went to the very centre of town, a roundabout with roads leading off in four or five different directions, and took photos of the bunting flapping against the rapidly darkening sky. I then met a young man who had a camera far superior to mine and, in his shop, he showed me some of the photos he had recently taken. We took photos of each other, then I walked a short distance further down the road, a road leading past a very large modern mosque in the mock-Ottoman style to the small bus station. I stopped at a small lokanta for koftes, salad and bread washed down with ayran. A woman not wearing a headscarf called in and ordered some food to take home. My meal over, I went almost next door for a large bowl of ice cream. Two children walked in and had small portions of ice cream at a nearby table.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

As I walked back to the hotel I was reminded that, when planning the trip in the UK, I had toyed with the idea of not visiting Arapgir because I had been once before and was not sure a second visit could be justified by what I would see. How wrong such an idea would have been. But my lack of sound judgement in relation to Arapgir convinced me that to go to Divrigi the following day was the right thing to do because, although I had also been there once before, it had been a very long time ago when me and my travelling companion had time to see only two major monuments, the Ulu Camii and the Hospital.

But what of the wine that I consumed with great pleasure in my room as I wrote up notes about the day’s many delights and sometimes sobering encounters? It had a pale colour not unlike a rosé and a delicate bouquet with the faintest hint of mint. It tasted dry with some crisp acidity and reminded me of fino-style wines found in pasts of southern Spain such as Montilla. Although not very sophisticated, it packed a punch! I drank the whole half litre with a growing sense of satisfaction, but I had no adverse effects the following morning. Being an organic wine, perhaps the detrimental after-effects really are much reduced!

What a day. The monuments, the birds, the flowers, the wild herbs such as mint and oregano, the hospitality, and the nagging sense that I had found somewhere I could almost call home despite the language barriers. My goodness: the wine was getting me quite emotional! Yes, the wine was dry like a good fino or amontillado from southern Spain. Perhaps it was even a bit like those amazing wines from Sanlucar de Barrameda (one of the strangest but most likeable of all Andalucian towns) with their salty smack. It might have passed muster in Jerez, the home of sherry, although in some ways it was more interesting than half the dry wines that derive from that source of intoxicating drink. And how different it was from the wine with which I had started the trip, a wine of dark ruby colour with a taste reminiscent of reds from some of Europe’s most reputable wine regions.

My last thoughts turned toward the Kurds with whom I had engaged during the day. It is obvious that many Kurds still have sympathy for the PKK and such sympathy may have increased in recent years because the AKP has become more obviously Turkish nationalist in its inclinations and has tried to push through a legislative programme appealing to the needs and aspirations of the country’s Sunni majority. I am fully aware that, in the past, the PKK was a dangerous and violent terrorist group which, in common with the Turkish armed forces, committed some terrible crimes against humanity and unforgivable human rights abuses. However, on every occasion I have engaged with its sympathisers and/or people alleging that they are past or present PKK members, I have never felt in any danger. Putting to one side that this may say more about me than them, such Kurds have posed a threat not to me but to many of the Sunni extremists who, for lack of a better political party to support, vote for the AKP. They also pose far more of a threat to extreme Turkish nationalists such as the Grey Wolves, some of the most dreadful people who have thrived and murdered in Turkey past and present.

P.S. Back home I found something on the internet referring to an Armenian cemetery in Arapgir, a cemetery with about thirty or so irregularly dispersed tombs. According to the article, a few hundred Armenians remained in Arapgir after world war one before most moved to Istanbul to improve their chances of economic well-being. Some survivors of the genocide migrated to Soviet Armenia and settled in Yerevan, the capital, where to this day a district has the name of Arabkir. Today, Arapgir has only two Armenians, brothers in their forties who spend their spare time caring for the cemetery. The cemetery has a small altar which is sometimes used for ritual purposes.

Another internet article suggests that the arrest of leading figures in Arapgir’s Armenian community began as early as 26th April 1915 and that the first large group of Armenians were expelled from the town on 19th June. The last large group were expelled on 5th July and a majority of all those expelled met their death as they marched ever further from home. Arapgir was one of the many towns and cities which, in 1895, witnessed massacres of Armenians on a much smaller scale than in 1915.

Arapgir.

Arapgir.

P.P.S. The following provides some context for the information already shared about Alevis and Bektashis. It is an article on the internet that I have quite savagely edited to extract the most relevant points.

As well as grappling with the issue of growing Kurdish disenchantment with AKP rule in Ankara, Erdogan must face the problem of the Turkish and Kurdish Alevi minority, which, in common with the Kurds, represents about a quarter of the Turkish population, or twenty million people. Alevis are heterodox Muslims following a tradition that combines Shia Islam, metaphysical Sufism and pre-Islamic shamanism. Alevis do not pray in mosques and a cem evi is an Alevi meeting house.

In 1995 an Alevi leader, Izzettin Dogan, launched an officially-approved Alevi group called Cem Vakfi. The Turkish government used Cem Vakfi to split the Alevi opposition to the regime. The government, even when it was secular, favoured Sunni Islam and harassed Alevis. Politically, Dogan represented the extreme nationalist right and was linked to the MHP, or Nationalist Movement Party, which has links with the fascist Grey Wolves. The MHP supported the military in its campaign against the Kurdish PKK and the Grey Wolves have been charged with at least five thousand murders of Turkish and Kurdish leftists, Alevis included, in the 1980s. In 1997, Dogan formally constituted Cem Vakfi in four towns in the Netherlands under the auspices of the foreign branch of the MHP, the Federation of Turkish Democratic-Idealist Organisations in Europe, or ADUTDF. Today, veterans of the Grey Wolves are embedded in the state apparatus and responsible for countless abuses of human rights in both the Kurdish areas of south-east Turkey and in parts of the western regions where they hold political office.

In 1978 the Grey Wolves committed a massacre of Alevis by calling all “believers” to aggressive jihad against Alevis and other leftists. The Grey Wolves proclaimed, “One who kills an Alevi will enter Paradise, and the death of an Alevi is equal to five haj pilgrimages to Makkah.”

In 1980, after a military coup, the MHP was banned, along with all other political parties. Nonetheless, many supporters of the Grey Wolves had careers in the military and state bureaucracy. The ban on the MHP was eventually removed and in the late 1990s the party changed its public orientation in a religious direction.

Erdogan’s government has approached the Alevis in Turkey with ambitious plans for the construction of mosques in their communities, even though Alevis meet for their rituals in cem evis and only a few Alevis attend mosque services. Mosque-building in Alevi settlements is therefore a waste of public funds, but, since the 1980s, pressure for the Sunnification of all Turkey’s Muslims has been intense and, in response, has provoked political unrest among the Alevis. Today, Alevis increasingly refuse to conceal their identities, as they might have done in the past. Instead, they present themselves openly as Alevis and defend the Alevi faith. Alevi books and magazines are now issued prolifically and Alevism is offered as a counter to mainstream Sunni ideology.

Support for Cem Vakfi and Dogan by Turkey’s state institutions and mass media has failed. Alevis with democratic or leftist inclinations reject him and the situation is likely to remain as such for many years to come.

Nonetheless, the AKP government, through its apologists, has performed brilliantly in convincing politicians in Washington and elsewhere that the Alevis support the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. There is no serious corroboration of this claim, which has also been made by Erdogan himself. Its proponents assert falsely that the Alevi movement in Turkey is similar to the Shia Alawite cult ruling Syria, but this is not so. It is denied by Alevis themselves as well as by authoritative, objective academics in Europe and North America.

P.P.P.S. Arapgir is famous for having a craftsman who makes shoes with wooden nails, but no stitching or chemical glues. Only the wooden nails keep the shoes intact. It is said that he can make a pair of shoes in one day.