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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To Mazgirt.

During what was to be roughly forty-eight hours in and around Tunceli, I heard the adhan only once. There is a very ordinary, modern, Ottoman-style mosque in the town centre, but it was never very busy. I suspect that most people who use it are not indigenous, but outsiders who had settled in the town permanently or temporarily, perhaps for work purposes.

And it was most definitely NOT the adhan that woke me at about 4.00am. I was startled awake by a far more interesting and rhythmic sound, that of an unaccompanied male voice repeating the same or a very similar phrase many times, with other voices, which sounded male but may have included those of a few women, repeating the phrase after the soloist. At one point I thought I heard drums emphasising the rhythm, but it could have been human voices creating the effect. The chanting, because this was the best way of describing what I heard, went on for about twenty minutes and I assumed it came from a nearby cemevi. Because I did not hear the same thing the following morning at the same time, I assumed it must be something peculiar to the Monday concerned. Alternatively, were Alevis and/or Bektashis marking an important day in their cycle of festivals and commemorations, a cycle that differs significantly from the cycle of festivals and commemorations important to mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims? Back home, because I found nothing significant about 25th May 2015 for Alevis or Bektashis, I concluded that what I heard was a routine practice confined to Mondays.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I knew that a minibus left for Mazgirt, my main destination for the day, at 7.00am, but, if I left that early, I would miss breakfast. As it is, Mazgirt is not a great distance from Tunceli, so an early start was not essential. I ate breakfast, which was not as good as the best nor as bad as the worst so far. I enjoyed in particular the views south, east and north from the L-shaped room in which the food was served. This said, a woman prepared the meal and the food included loose butter as white as Lurpak, a local cream cheese, boiled eggs and flat-bread still warm from the baker’s oven. The woman wore casual clothes of European character and no headscarf, as you might expect in a hotel run by two men who appeared to be socialists or communists.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

Because overnight I had an upset stomach, I returned to my room for a fourth and last shit to clear the system (as I knew from past experience, with an upset stomach regular shits are the best medicine and not medicine itself) and instantly felt a lot better.

At about 7.45 I left the hotel, walked to the bridge over the river carrying the road from Elazig to Pulumur and Erzincan, and made my way south toward Elazig and what I hoped would soon be the edge of town. But development persists for a long way, so much so that I flagged a minibus to Tunceli University’s campus, which I knew was about 7 kilometres from the town centre. The minibus went past many new buildings, most of which could not be more than ten years old. Some of the buildings coalesce into a quite attractive residential area with apartment blocks rising about eight to a dozen storeys. The blocks are painted bright colours and the apartments look comfortable. Every apartment has at least one balcony. Shops, offices, lokantas, bakeries and interior design and furniture stores occupy the ground floors, so the locality is a relatively self-sufficient suburb. This said, vacant plots exist among the apartment blocks and they are covered with litter and building waste.

None of the female students in the minibus or on their way to the university by walking or using other transport wore a headscarf. They and their male companions could have been conveyed to almost any campus in the UK and looked very much at home.

I got off the minibus when it turned off the road to Elazig to ascend the hillside to access the campus. I walked a short distance along the Elazig road to where an elderly couple were waiting for a minibus to Elazig via Pertek and the ferry that crosses the Keban Reservoir. The Elazig minibus arrived and, because it had the space, I went as far as the point where the road to Pertek branches from the much longer road to Elazig that I needed to follow to access Mazgirt. Once again, the driver would not take any money for the fare.

I was now about 8 kilometres from the junction for Mazgirt and confident that the next lift would get me at least that far. Five minutes later a van stopped and the driver and his companion said they were going to Mazgirt. The 11 kilometres from the junction to Mazgirt is through remarkably pretty undulating scenery dominated for most of the way by fields, orchards and pasture. In the distance are mountains and one of the mountains is the vast eruption of rock on which stands Mazgirt’s citadel. Mazgirt itself, a small and compact town, clings to the gently sloping wall of the mountain facing south. From the town there are wide views down the Munzur Cayi valley and over that of the lower Euphrates.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

On the way to Mazgirt a car on the other side of the road ran over a puppy, but the driver did not stop to see if it had survived (nor did we stop, in fairness, but all three of us expressed anger and dismay that the driver running over the puppy could be so reckless and indifferent). The driver of the car in front of the one that ran over the puppy had applied its brakes so as not to do it any harm. Returning to Tunceli later in the day I saw that the puppy had not survived. Its body remained in the road where it had died.

I was dropped in the middle of Mazgirt, a town with an official population of just less than 2,000. A small square of irregular shape has the Hukumet Konagi on one side and, before leaving for Tunceli, I was invited inside by a police officer with whom I had some tea. Bunting of the different political parties hung from lamp posts and buildings, and the vans of the CHP pulled into town with the usual music blaring from loudspeakers (at one point in the Hukumet Konagi I had a conversation about Erdogan with a CHP bigwig or fixer. I was surprised that I had a far more negative impression of the president than he did).

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Part of the square and a nearby street constitutes the commercial heart of the town and most premises are occupied by shops, small supermarkets, tea houses, lokantas, barbers, a butcher and a tailor. The dress of the women suggested Mazgirt has a largely Alevi population, so conversation was frequent and relaxed with everyone I met.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Although Mazgirt’s most important survival from the past is the citadel, I also examined two very ruined churches, the Ulu Camii, a turbe in excellent condition and some attractive old houses utilising stone, timber, plaster and, to fix holes in the walls or render roofs lightweight but watertight, corrugated iron or flat metal sheets. By the end of my short visit I liked the town a lot. I also liked the walk up and partly around the citadel majestically constructed on the mountain high above the town. During the walk I encountered beehives and wild flowers, the latter of enviable variety. Back in the town centre I alarmed a police officer when taking a photo of the landscaping that had rendered the small square a building site. He asked if I had taken a photo of an armoured vehicle parked outside the Hukumet Konagi. When I showed him the photos on my memory stick to confirm I had not, he relaxed and we shook hands. Mazgirt and its immediate surroundings had a much larger police and jandarma presence than I would have thought necessary, but, in fairness, some of the jandarma posts had been abandoned.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The police officer worried about my photographs was from Istanbul and had to serve in the small town of Mazgirt for two years. He was half way through his tour of duty and admitted that Mazgirt had come as quite a culture shock after living his whole life until twelve months before in Istanbul where secular and Sunni dispositions are vastly more apparent than Alevi.

Before leaving for Tunceli, I consumed two chilled ayrans in a small supermarket on the main square. By then I was very thirsty and in need of the refreshment.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

By way of introducing Mazgirt to his readers, Sinclair notes that:

From the line of mountains extends a rocky arm pointing roughly south-west; from this again the delicate but formidable citadel rock breaks off towards the south-east; a remarkable detached tower of rock outlies it to the south-west. A bowl, where until the first world war most of the settlement lay, is thus enclosed on three sides by dark, broken cliffs: previously, part of the town had lain on the beginning of the descent towards the Munzur Cayi. The town has now moved.

Of the citadel, Sinclair writes that:

In its basic shape this is a long platform with a rock rising out of the middle…

Lower platform. There are walls upstanding only at a few points. At the sharp nw. corner they survive to a good height… The facing material of what survives is a reddish and purple block, and the walls that we see are probably near in date to the Elte Hatun Camii (1252/53). Approaching up the e. skirt one finds a small complex of walls…: to the r. is a rather crude but gently rising rock-hewn staircase…

Upper platform… Circular rock-hewn pit (original purpose unknown): the rectangular block of masonry built partly over its w. edge is said to have belonged to a windmill. Just n. of the inner angle starts a rectangular floor created by hollowing out the rock slope, so that the inner rock wall, against which some medieval (?) masonry has been added, is of a substantial height. Perhaps originally a platform connected with a temple elsewhere on the terrace?

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

What I call the Ulu Camii, because this is how Mazgirt’s inhabitants designate it today, Sinclair identifies as the Elte Hatun Camii. The mosque:

in which a dark, purplish composite stone was used, was built in 1252/53 by a princess called Elte Hatun… The prayer hall is a rectangle of limited size. The entrance vestibule is against the e. half of the n. wall… Since it is a single-vaulted chamber whereas the vaults of the prayer hall are taken on piers, it had to be built higher than the prayer hall…

Portal. The muqarnas canopy is cut into the back wall of a deep and tall arched recess… Cesme… Simple muqarnas canopy.

The entrance hall has a domical vault and lantern above… The prayer hall’s vaults rest on four solid, fairly low piers. From the piers are sprung thick n.-s. arches, and the vaults, interrupted by wide ribs, rest on arches. There is a lantern dead in the middle of the roof. The mihrab niche is a rectangle inset into the wall, on whose face runs a plain concave moulding.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

 Sinclair calls the turbe the Elte Hatun Turbesi, but:

The low quality of the carving makes this almost inconceivable. Perhaps 15th century. Eight-sided, pyramidal cap. Door to n., three windows placed at the other points of the compass… Door frame: roughly executed plain mouldings. Either side, two vertical bands of an extraordinary incised decoration.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

 The church in a better state of preservation is the Armenian Church of Surp Hakop. According to Sinclair:

Its ne. and e. sides, apparently lying against the hill, are in reality banked up with gradually accumulating loose earth. The church is a strangely short rectangle. The apse and the side chambers are conceived of as openings dug into a mass of masonry filling the e. end and faced in a clean wall. The nave, not much longer than it is wide, is roofed by a broad barrel-vault steadied by a powerful rib. From the springing-line upwards, the w. wall has disappeared, leaving only the bases of the three windows in this wall. Large cut blocks are used on the sw. corner. Thus the doorway and its relieving arch are executed in this masonry. Note muqarnas-style decoration of capitals of rib and at base of arch leading to apse.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Perhaps 16th or 17th century; however, the church has the appearance of being reconstructed from the ruins of a predecessor whose e. end was of a similar design, but whose nave would have been longer and thus better proportioned.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Not all that Sinclair describes above survives today, but even less remains of the second church, which is also likely to be Armenian. Nonetheless, I provide in full Sinclair’s brief description so we acquire an insight into what has been lost:

That of the Mother of God. N. side chamber; beginning of apse and apse arch; arch now blocked, which once separated n. aisle from nave, part of vault over nave are left. Probably a basilican church. Date extremely hard (to estimate); possibly medieval. Arches in brick.

Church of the Mother of God.

Church of the Mother of God.

Although too small to support of hotel, even a very simple one, Mazgirt is a delightful place in remarkably attractive surroundings and well worth visiting for at least a few hours.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

I walked out of the town past a modern school and a driver stopped his car to ask where I was going. He drove me all the way to the centre of Tunceli where he had business to conduct and shopping to do. Until we arrived among the kipple cluttering the south end of Tunceli, the journey was scenically a delight.

Divrigi (part one).

After unpacking a few things and freshening up, I left the hotel for what amounted to a walk of four hours around Divrigi. My first destination was a ruined church, which I could see from my balcony, below the citadel.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

View from a bedroom balcony, Belediye Hotel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the church as Armenian and dates it to the late 19th century. It has:

Three aisles and three apses, of which the central one is wider. Along the n. and s. walls, shallow blind arcades of three wide arches each. From the triple engaged pillars supporting these rise ribs… The arcades running westward from the walls between the apses would have mirrored these arcades.

There is a door in the first arch from the e. on the n. side. Opposite it in the s. wall is the entrance to what seems to be a large chamber. Windows in the other two southerly blind arches: beneath the windows are tall brackets. No light is let into the chamber behind the s. wall except from the church’s interior: but this may be because the hillside has slipped and covers any windows there are. Slippage has also obscured the window of the s. apse.

The church, Divrigi.

The Armenian church, Divrigi.

The day of my visit the grass around and in the church was long and dotted with wild flowers. The church looked pretty, despite being in such a ruined state, but it was only when I visited some of Divrigi’s other survivals from the past and noticed that they had benefited from past or recent restoration that it dawned on me again that monuments of Armenian derivation are subject to neglect of a criminal kind.

The church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

The Armenian church with the Belediye Hotel in the background, Divrigi.

I next ascended the hill above the church to examine the citadel, which, taken as a whole, is excellent, even though some parts of the fortifications have suffered from over-zealous restoration in recent years. No one else was on the summit the same time as me. Many patches of ground near or within the fortifications were covered with long grass and many wild flowers, which only enhanced my pleasure, although some of the paths leading across the site were therefore hard to follow.

The citadel, Divrigi.

The citadel, Divrigi.

Sinclair describes the citadel in great detail, but I will quote only a paragraph so that something of its majesty is conveyed:

The citadel has two lines of wall to the w., where the slope was gradual and parts of the medieval town must have lain. To the n., where the site comes to a point, it is delimited by cliffs, and the cliffs of the e. side drop to the river. To the s. a trough crosses the ridge from e. to w. The wall here was built above the n. side of the trough, on the low cliffs descending to its floor.

 At one of the highest points within the citadel is the 12th century Citadel Camii. Although the mosque externally is plain, internally there is much to admire. Sadly, however, the doors leading inside were locked. I had to content myself with sublime views of the meandering river far below and of the railway leading to Erzincan via Ilic and Kemah. The river is a tributary of the Euphrates.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

View from the citadel, Divrigi.

One of the most surprising things about the citadel was that many sandbags had been arranged to provide soldiers protection from in-coming fire. Here were fortifications that had recently seen military action, just as they would have seen military action on many occasions in the past. The sandbags had to be in place to help repel attacks by members of the PKK, so they must have been assembled some years earlier before the ceasefire was declared. I was surprised to see evidence of the civil war in Divrigi because I had not realised that PKK activity had been as far north as this. Then I remembered that a few years ago I had been warned about PKK activity in and around Kemah, east and just a little north of Divrigi. Suddenly the sandbags made perfect sense.

The Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

I walked down to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital to admire two of the most remarkable buildings of Muslim origin anywhere in Turkey, so much so that they now constitute a world heritage site and deservedly so. I will not describe them in detail because of their international fame and because information about both can easily be acquired electronically and in book form, but will say that, after well over twenty years since last seeing them, they took my breath away all over again.

In many respects the Ulu Camii and the Hospital are quite plain internally and externally, but, once your eyes closely examine the portals, you are confronted with intricately carved stonework of such interest and eccentricity that you linger in admiration for far longer than would normally be the case, even when engaging with architecture of the highest quality.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The Hospital, Divrigi.

The mosque and hospital are designed as a single long rectangle on a platform in a hillside overlooking the town. Work began on both in 1228. From the middle of the roof rise the spire-like pyramid that covers the mihrab dome and, near it, the cap of the tomb in the hospital. In the hospital in particular there is a simple monumentality to everything that survives, so much so that, although almost eight hundred years old, it feels somehow very modern.

But it is the portals, of which there are three, that are the main reason why the mosque and the hospital have been declared a world heritage site. As Sinclair indicates, the hospital portal consists:

Of two pointed arches of rotund cross-section… many parallel torus mouldings follow the curve of each arch and the vertical drop to the base. The supports for the two arches merge with buttresses coming forward from the walls… Of the two arches only the outer is carved in a comprehensive manner, and that only on the three outer courses of the curve.

Look closely and you will identify many different decorative elements including squares, octagons, medallions, leaves and tendril tracery. Flamboyance is the order of the day.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Hospital portal, Divrigi.

The Hospital portal, Divrigi.

Of the west portal of the mosque, Sinclair writes that:

The nature of its decorative patterns, their disposition and some features of the basic design such as the use of free-standing pillars beneath the inner arch are unique within the world of Selcuk and contemporary Syrian architecture. They are not only unique, but far distanced from anything else within that world. They belong instead in the world of Armenian manuscript decoration.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

West portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

 And of the north portal of the mosque, Sinclair notes that:

The front face is designed as a rectangle into which is put a splayed arch of Gothic shape… The carving… imitates stucco. The large elements in the thickest of the decorative lines give the whole portal a fleshy, prolix and jungle-like appearance. Each band or course is carved with great originality and skill, but the successive parts were not thought of in concert with one another. The lack of harmony is accentuated by the circumstance that almost the whole of the portal’s front face is covered, that is to say practically no blank space is left which might have relieved the crush of juxtaposed and discordant elements.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North Portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

North portal, Ulu Camii, Divrigi.

If the summary description of the north portal above suggests that Sinclair is not altogether happy with the final outcome of much labour over an extended period of time, may I say that I think it is, in common with the two other portals, simply astonishing. It does, in many ways, look quite bizarre and is intentionally extravagant and over-the-top, but no one can accuse it of not having ambition or lacking a playful sense of imagination. I love the mosque and the hospital even more on my second than my first encounter with them, even though on close inspection you notice some damage to the stonework, some of it inflicted by idiots who have left behind their names carved into the portals. Moreover, although far more people now visit Divrigi than twenty or so years ago to see the world heritage site, they come to admire buildings that express humankind’s capacity to build, build rather than burn, burn, so it was enjoyable to mix with the small number of foreign and the much larger number of Turkish tourists, the latter who had travelled hundreds of miles from large urban centres, most of which lack monuments of similar quality.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all? As with the citadel, admission to the Ulu Camii and the Hospital was free. In fact, by the end of the trip, after having seen scores of important monuments, an admission fee was required at only one site, the Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir. However, when I went to the church in Diyarbakir, one of my companions at the time paid for me. Now think how different things are in most European nation states, the UK included, when notable monuments are visited. This is another aspect of Turkey that often brings tears to my eyes.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

One of the portals, Ulu Camii and the Hospital, Divrigi.

To Harput and Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

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

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

Harput.

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

Harput.

Harput.

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

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

Ulu Camii, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

The castle, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the turbes, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

One of the hamams, Harput.

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

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

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

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

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

The Syriac Orthodox church, Harput.

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

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

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

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

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

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church and the castle, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

The Armenian church, Harput.

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

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

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

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

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

The Armenian chapel, Harput.

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

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

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

The Urartian cistern in the castle, Harput.

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

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

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

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

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

The pazar, Elazig.

The pazar, Elazig.

Elazig.

Elazig.

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

Elazig.

Elazig.

Cermik (and more about Cungus).

I admired from a distance the ruins of the citadel high above the town because there is much to enjoy in Cermik itself. The main street meanders into the pazar, which is larger than a town of Cermik’s size would seem to require, but the town is obviously a commercial centre for many smaller settlements nearby. The pazar peters out in a small square dominated by the Ulu Camii, which has two small prayer halls side by side. The prayer hall to the west has three aisles separated by walls pierced at irregular intervals by arches and appears to date from 1144 or 1145, but only some of the original stone blocks remain. The prayer hall to the east, which may date from 1517, has a squinch and blind-arch dome and a three-domed portico.

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii and the citadel, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

Ulu Camii, Cermik.

Ascending the steep slope between the Ulu Camii and the citadel is a part of town where many old houses survive. Some of the houses are timber-framed and spread over two storeys, but others are built largely of stone, are smaller in size and spread over only one floor. Gardens, many in a state of neglect, lie among the houses.

Cermik, from below the citadel but above the last houses.

Cermik, from below the citadel but above the last houses.

It was Saturday evening and many women and children were outside enjoying the gradually cooling conditions. The women chatted amongst themselves or occasionally stirred large pots of food kept hot by wood-burning fires they had built in the street, and the children played games, football included. Some of the women were too shy to talk or, in some instances, even make eye contact, but a more assertive woman with whom I had spoken earlier invited me to consume a bowl of excellent soup made from yoghurt, bulgar, lemon and salt. The soup was so filling that, as well as everything I had eaten earlier in the day, I knew I would not want a proper evening meal. I would have loved to take a photo of the woman, aged about thirty-five, and her female companions aged about sixteen to fifty, but I was in a predominantly Sunni area where taking photos of women is still discouraged. Because I did not want to cause a problem, I kept my camera hidden.

I walked to different spots beyond the last houses to secure better views of the ruined citadel on the cliffs above, but it is not an easy monument to access without some clambering up rocks on steep slopes. Although the views from the summit must be outstanding, the town centre promised more delights.

The citadel, Cermik.

The citadel, Cermik.

Back in the town centre I saw a large hamam in excellent condition, a cesme in very poor condition and a large stone building described to me as a saray, or palace. The saray was extensive and adjoined a stone structure with what looked like a tower. Taken as a whole, the stone structure beside the saray resembled a small castle, but local people said the saray and the “castle” were really one building. Once the home to a rich and powerful family, most of the saray, which spreads over three floors, is now abandoned, but very poor families live in some of the rooms.

The hamam, Cermik.

The hamam, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The cesmi, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

The saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

Beside the saray, Cermik.

It was now about 7.15 and I began walking toward Kaplica, but on the way men were dancing in Kurdish line-style in the playground of a religious school. I entered the playground and was soon in conversation with two men, a doctor and a teacher, who explained that a wedding was taking place. The males and females were strictly segregated, of course, the latter inside the school attending to the bride and preparing the food for a large feast in about an hour’s time. I was given tea to drink and invited to partake in the feast, but declined the kind invitation because of my prior commitment to Mehmet and Cemal, and because I did not want to be part of a wedding reception in which I would have to spend time only with the men while the women were having great fun (I hope) elsewhere.

I quickly freshened up at the hotel, then walked back to the brothers’ workshop, where I found Mehmet and Cemal with four of their best male friends and a relative. One of their friends had with him his daughter aged about fourteen. It was interesting to see how easily the daughter got on with her male companions and how often she contributed to discussions. The brothers had only stopped work about an hour before my arrival and looked very tired. We drank tea and ate an ice cream each. About 10.00pm I said I needed to get some sleep and Mehmet quite unnecessarily gave me a lift to the hotel.

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

Mehmet (centre) and friends, Cermik.

It was while we chatted in the workshop that I discovered something of the area’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity. Two of the men present, one of whom was a police officer, were Turks whose first language was obviously Turkish, two were Kurds who spoke Kurmanji and the rest were Kurds who spoke Zazaki. I was told that a few Armenians and Kizilbash still lived locally.

Back home I found that Zazaki subdivides into three main dialects, with southern Zazaki being spoken in Siverek, Cermik, Egil and parts of Adiyaman and Malatya provinces. Central Zazaki is spoken in Solhan and parts of Elazig and Bingol provinces, and northern Zazaki is spoken in Gumushane, Varto and parts of Tunceli, Erzincan, Erzurum and Sivas provinces. It is estimated that between 1.5 and four million people speak Zazaki in Turkey, with most academics inclining toward a figure of about two million.

About 15 million Turkish Kurds speak Kurmanji, but Kurmanji is also spoken by Kurds in Syria and parts of Iraq and Iran. Moreover, Kurmanji is the language used for ritual purposes by the Yazidis, the great majority of whom are Kurds.

Although a majority of Turkey’s Kurds are Sunnis, as are a majority of the Turks with whom they have had such troubled relations for so long, most Kurds follow the shafi school of jurisprudence while most Turks remain loyal to the hanefi school. However, many Kurds are Alevis and some belong to different Sufi groups, the Bektashis included (sometimes no distinction is made by Kurds between being Alevi and Bektashi, which, if nothing else, confirms the similarity between the two expressions of faith). A small number of Turkish Kurds are Yazidi (most Turkish Yazidis have migrated to Germany because the Turkish government never did enough to protect them from persecution), but Turkey’s Yazidi population has increased of late due to the Islamic State’s persecution of Yazidis in Syria and Iraq and the Yazidi exodus from the lands that they have lived in for centuries (the Islamic State has not withdrawn its threat to rid the world of Yazidis by an act of genocide. We still do not know how many Yazidis in the last year or so have been enslaved, forcibly converted and/or murdered, but thousands have already been killed, of that we are certain). Of course, many Kurds have no faith commitment at all, as is the case with many Turks. Kurds devoid of a faith commitment overwhelmingly incline toward the political left.

Bunting put up by political parties for the forthcoming general election, Cermik.

Bunting put up by political parties for the forthcoming general election, Cermik.

Strictly speaking, the Kizilbash are not an ethnic but a religious minority. They are Shia Muslims who emerged during the late 13th century. Their name means “red or crimson-headed”, which is a reference to the headwear they once wore. Because in the past they regarded their rulers as divine figures, even mainstream Shia Muslims condemned them as heretical extremists. Ethnically, some of Turkey’s Kizilbash are Turks and others are Kurds. In the contemporary era, few if any female Kizilbash cover their faces or wear a headscarf. If females wear a headscarf at all it is usually worn like a loose turban and little care is taken to cover all their hair. To this day mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims distrust the Kizilbash, even though they do not appear in the least fanatical about their religious beliefs and devote most time to securing their economic well-being in conditions not conducive to generating much wealth (many Kizilbash live in villages and small towns and depend on agriculture or semi-skilled labour for a living). Encounters with Kizilbash later during the trip convinced me that they are generally a very sound group of people opposed to religious extremism and in sympathy with secular political parties seeking to combat disadvantage and discrimination.

Only twenty-four or twenty-five hours had passed since arriving at Diyarbakir Airport but I had already seen some amazing places, met some delightful people and been the recipient of remarkable hospitality from complete strangers. The trip could not have begun in a manner any better.

I quickly washed a few items of clothing and draped them over plastic chairs on the balcony confident that most would dry by the morning. Two balconies along two young women were smoking cigarettes. They were not wearing headscarves and were therefore either secular or Alevi. We waved to each other.

Cermik.

Cermik.

P.S. The following is part of an article that appeared in the 16.4.15 edition of “The New York Times” and is inspired by a visit to Cungus:

The crumbling stone monastery, built into the hillside, stands as a forlorn monument to an awful past. So, too, does the decaying church on the other side of this mountain village. Farther out, a crevice is sliced into the earth, so deep that, peering into it, one sees only blackness. Haunting for its history, it was there that, a century ago, an untold number of Armenians were tossed to their deaths.

“They threw them in that hole, all the men,” said Vahit Sahin, 78, sitting at a cafe in the centre of the village, reciting the stories that have passed through the generations.

Mr. Sahin turned in his chair and pointed toward the monastery. “That side was Armenian.” He turned back. “This side was Muslim. At first, they were really friendly with each other.”

A hundred years ago, amid the upheaval of world war one, this village and countless others across eastern Anatolia became killing fields as the desperate leadership of the Ottoman Empire, having lost the Balkans and facing the prospect of losing its Arab territories as well, saw a threat closer to home.

Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century. Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres like the one here, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with a hundred years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity; the psychic wounds passed through generations.

A recent article in “The Armenian Weekly” contains the following description of what happened at Cungus in 1915:

“They brought the Armenians here. Thousands of them. They stripped them of their belongings and threw them into the chasm,” explains a Kurdish villager who had spotted us while driving by.

We are standing at the mouth of a deep, eerie cleft – bottomless, according to the locals – called Dudan by Armenians and Kurds for centuries (the cleft is also known as Yudan Dere).

“How do you know the Armenians were killed here?” I ask. It’s not that I’m skeptical. We know from various survivor and perpetrator accounts that the 10,000 (?) Armenians of Chunkush (Cungus, a district in the province of Diyarbakir) were led here by gendarmes and armed chettes (irregular Kurdish “troops” often “recruited” from among Muslim prisoners released to engage in acts of rape, pillage and murder) in 1915, brutally murdered and hurled into the chasm.

“There was a woman in our village. She lived to be 104,” he replies. “She saw it all.”

He pauses. “Everybody knows.”

We had already realised that everybody knew. In Chunkush one of the locals, a teenager, had given us directions to Dudan where, he said, the entire population of the almost exclusively Armenian village had perished.

As we were driving… we asked a man where Dudan is. He jumped into our van and led us there. When we got to Dudan, our driver, a Kurd from Diyarbakir, asked him, “What happened here?”

“Nothing,” the man murmured.

“They say something happened to the Armenians here,” the driver insisted. At that point the man became visibly angry. “I do not know,” he said, and stormed out of the van.

The murder of the Armenians of Chunkush constitutes one of the largest, most brutal in situ massacres of the Armenian genocide. The Armenians from Chunkush were marched to Dudan – only two hours away by foot – and massacred on the spot. Historian Raymond Kevorkian writes:

“The males were dealt with first, in accordance with a classic procedure: tied together in small groups of fewer than ten, they were handed over to butchers who bayoneted them or killed them with axes and then threw the bodies into the chasm. The method used on the women was quite similar, except that they were first systematically stripped and searched and then had their throats cut, after which their corpses were also thrown into the chasm. Some of them preferred to leap into the abyss themselves, dragging their children with them; thus they cheated their murderers of part of their booty.”