I ate my breakfast with five men who had arrived overnight, three of whom were sharing the driving of a large, open-topped truck destined to deliver a heavy load in Ankara. The best elements of the meal? The honey in its comb and glass after glass of tea.
I settled the bill, then walked to the office of VIP Taksi from where transport departed for Elazig. After a short wait, six passengers, four men and two women, got aboard a small but comfortable minibus and, for 25TL each, were driven to our destination with only one break of about fifteen minutes. One man was destined for Elazig Airport from where he was catching a flight to Istanbul and, when we arrived on the edge of the city, the driver let him out at a major intersection from where a minibus or a taxi would take him to the terminal.
The older of the two women – she was aged about fifty-five – wore loose-fitting clothes that she had layered over the top half of her body. Shalwar completely covered her legs and a large headscarf covered her hair and ears. All the items of clothing had flowery patterns on them, but, because the pattern on each item was different in design and colour and burst forth from dark backgrounds, her clothes looked shabby and did not complement one another. On her feet were dark-coloured socks with a bold geometric pattern that probably came from her husband’s chest of drawers, and old, flat leather shoes black in colour. The number of items she wore on the top half of her body were quite inappropriate on a day when the temperature promised to reach about 30 degrees centigrade, but this is how women in Turkey are expected to dress on the Sunni side of the street, especially once they enter their mature years.
The other female passenger was aged about twenty-five. She wore jeans, a tight-fitting blouse and no headscarf, and knew she was being watched closely with lustful intent, both before getting into the minibus and while in transit. She was that rarest of things in Solhan, a woman defying the dress conventions encouraged by orthodox Sunni piety.
Of course, there is no expectation that males conform to a particular dress code, provided they dress in such a way as to keep covered most of their body. Heads can be uncovered at all times, even when visiting mosques, and younger males are very keen on baseball caps, some of which confirm an affection for the USA. Tight-fitting clothes are the norm for men until a majority attain middle-age, after which tops and trousers sag and flap a bit as portliness sets in. Only the very oldest Kurdish males wear shalwar nowadays, but the number who do declines with every visit I make to eastern Turkey. Sad.
Needless to say, the vast majority of Sunni Muslim males seem happy for such inequality in terms of the dress code to persist because it confers on them advantages of a somewhat suspect nature vis-à-vis girls and women. Do the Sunni males who enjoy such advantages ever stop to consider how unfair this is on girls and women, and how uncomfortable it must be for girls and women to comply with the dress code, particularly in the hot summer months? Of course not, otherwise the dress code would have been modified ages ago to remove the inequality that prevails.
Perhaps because it was the last time I would be in such green and pleasant upland surroundings, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive through the hills, the mountains and the forests as far as Bingol. There were many places where we passed beehives arranged in lines on hillsides and in pasture full of wild flowers. There were also about six tented camps where nomads lived during the summer to look after the beehives or their large flocks of sheep. Cattle grazed on some of the pasture.
Bingol is about 1,000 metres above sea level and has an official population of just over 100,000. As the day before it looked overwhelmingly modern and, with so much construction taking place, it would look even more modern two or three years in advance. Despite the attempt to make the modern buildings attractive with a few post-modern embellishments and brightly painted walls in more than one colour, large areas of Bingol appear somewhat sterile and impersonal. This is due partly to the sheer size of many of the structures designed in a similar style at more or less the same time. Because wide boulevards with a lot of traffic are overlooked by many of the largest structures, the sense that contemporary Bingol is more dystopian than utopian is only increased. This said, I imagine the central business district has some redeeming qualities such as narrow and winding streets lined by thriving businesses, and the city as a whole is enclosed by seductively attractive landscapes. One of Bingol’s up-market hotels would make a very comfortable base for two or three nights to visit some of the surrounding towns and villages, few of which are known well by people other than those who live in Bingol province itself.
The young woman began coughing, but everyone ignored her. I reached over to give her my water bottle and she accepted it gratefully.
The delightful upland scenery persisted west of Bingol, but, gradually, the mountains became rounded hills and the valley widened until it became in effect gently undulating but verdant upland plain. Pasture mingled with fields and orchards. Flocks of sheep continued to outnumber cattle.
We stopped so the driver could have a rest at the point where the road leads north to Kigi. I regretted that I did not have another one or two nights in Turkey to travel to Kigi to spend longer among Armenian ruins in the mountains.
At Kovancilar a road leads north to Mazgirt and Tunceli, and a sign at the junction points toward Ekinozu Kilisesi. Back home I found that Ekinozu Kilisesi is that rarest of things, an Armenian church that enjoys official recognition by the provincial Turkish authorities. Photos of the church on the internet suggest it remains in quite good condition and that other ruins, a cesme included, exist nearby. The ruins suggest that the church was once a monastic complex.
The church and its associated ruins are in the village of Ekinozu, which used to be called Habab, Hebap or Khabab. Armenians know the village better as Havav. An article I accessed on the internet back home suggests that the cesme has been restored and that, during Ottoman times, the village had a population of about five hundred people. The same article suggests that the village once had two cesmes, three Armenian churches and an Armenian monastery. However, I am confident that one of the three churches was part of the monastic complex itself.
Sinclair has a short description of Havav which appears to confirm that my speculation about the ruins is correct. He refers to “the village church of Surp Lusavorich (the Illuminator)”, Surp Astvatsatsin (Mother of God), the church of the “monastery of Kaghtsrahayats Vank, probably medieval”, and Surp Kataoghike, a “partly ruined church”.
I recognised the very pretty mountains that lie south of Kovancilar overlooking Palu and the Murat Nehri, and the extension of the Keban Reservoir that the road runs beside for about 30 kilometres to Elazig. The scenery was now merely pretty because gardens, orchards and fields of wheat dominated the gently undulating valley floor and pasture the rounded hills to the north and the south. I detected a hint of yellow among the shades of green, which, along with the visibility marred by a slight haze, suggested that the hottest months of the year were not far off.
The journey from Solhan to Elazig is about 180 kilometres, but I had been charged less than £7. I had travelled in a motor vehicle not dissimilar to some taxis or minicabs in the UK. Even if I had travelled a distance of 180 kilometres in a UK bus I would have been charged far, far more than £7, but it would have taken much longer to complete the journey and the seat would not have been so comfortable as in the small minibus.
The minibus dropped me very close to the city centre and less than ten minutes later I was in a room in the Mayd Hotel. I had decided to stay overnight in Elazig rather than Diyarbakir knowing I could do my shopping slightly more easily in the former than the latter city. The price for the room was the same as before. I was given a slightly better room than when I had stayed almost two weeks earlier, but the balcony was at the back of the hotel overlooking a small, litter- and rubble-strewn open space enclosed by ugly buildings. The upside? The room was very quite at night.
I was out of my room not long after 1.00pm and spent a pleasant hour or so in the pazar buying black olives, green olives, dried apricots, fruit leather and a kitchen knife. I bought the kitchen knife in a small shop not far from the covered section of the pazar and one of the two men working behind the counter sharpened the blade while I waited. Both men were aged about fifty and had beards that suggested they had undertaken the haj to Makkah. I then went to the large shed where men sold flour and dried beans to buy four bars of bittim sabunu. The bars cost only 1TL each. I toyed with the idea of buying many other things, pistachios included, but so many Turkish food items are easily found in the UK now, albeit at prices higher than in Turkey itself. I confined my avaricious inclinations to essentials.
I returned to the hotel to drop off my purchases, then went to the pazar again to buy a pair of black leather shoes and smart but casual trousers. The trousers were significantly discounted and the length of the legs adjusted in a tailor’s shop so they fitted me perfectly. As I waited for the trousers to be returned, I chatted with some very friendly men who owned the nearby shops, including the ones from where I bought the shoes and the trousers, and tea and coffee were generously provided. Business was slow and I provided some much-needed diversion.
My walk around the pazar confirmed that most shops selling clothes, shoes and scarves for older girls and women stocked items that would appeal only to conventionally pious Sunni women. Shops selling fashionable clothes that might appeal to non-Muslims in Europe or North America were for males only. Such shops sought to target local males aged about fifteen or sixteen to their late thirties.
Between my two visits to the pazar, I called at a small café for a portion of borek washed down with limon. This proved exactly what I needed to sustain me until the evening, when I intended to eat a proper meal.
As I finished the borek, I gave some thought to the money that remained. The trip had proved so inexpensive that, even with over a day to go and the possibility that I might buy a few more things for home, I would probably get by without accessing an ATM. This would mean that I would get through the whole trip with only the money I had brought from the UK. Remarkable. Moreover, despite having a significant sum of money with me at the start of the trip, not once had I felt vulnerable to theft, even in Diyarbakir which has a reputation for tourists falling victim to thieves. This said, I have always found theft far more of a problem in Istanbul than Diyarbakir.