Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chunkush - A Small Village Between Kharpert and Dikranagert

 On Monday June 18, 2012, we left Elazig, where we spent the night, and drove south to the village of Chunkush.  Lisa’s two grandmothers were born in this village.  Chunkush is about 2/3 of the way to Dickranagert, and off the main highway up against the mountains.  The little two lane road leading to Chunkush was almost in better condition than the highways.  The drive took about 45 minutes and, as we approached the tiny village on the hillside we realized that we were literally at the end of the road!  2500 people who are mostly Turks now populate Chunkish.   In the early 20th century Chunkush was a village of Armenians and Turks.  All of the Armenians were slaughtered or deported south during the 1915 Genoicde.

Just before we reached the town, we stopped to take pictures.  Just ahead of us was an old turtle, making his way across the road.

We reached the town center and parked our van in the small town circle.  We figured our visit would take about 15 minutes given the size of the village.  But, we were very wrong! 

I noticed a large square abandoned building at the top of the mountainside and suggested that it might be the old church.  It had no dome.  Nearby we saw a few abandoned arches of what we later learned was once an Armenian Catholic Church. 

Soon after we got out of the car, a couple of the local men came up to us and offered to hike up with us to that abandoned building, which they said was an Armenian Church.  It turned out that the older of the two men was born in Chunkush, and knew quite a bit about its history. 

As we walked up the rocky path strewn with cow dung and large pebbles, we passed tiny little dwellings made of large rocks, straw and cow dung.  Roosters cackled at us as we passed by, and cows and donkeys mooed and bayed at us.  We passed small gardens with fruit trees and patches of vegetables.  Small children came to the doorways to see these strange ladies hiking up the steep pathways toward that building at the top of the road.  And, this lady was, of course, wearing sandals – having not planned to make the hike for fear of heights!  But, slowly but surely, I made it!

At the top of the mountain we could see across the small valley where Armenians once populated this area.  We saw the remains of an Armenian monastery sitting next to a newly constructed multistory residential building.  

As we crawled through the archway of the old building, I found an Armenian inscription (sideways) on one of the walls – evidently this must have been placed here at some point after the church was built but during some type of repair.

As we turned the corner toward the interior of the church, what we saw amazed us.  This was a huge basilica with St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Ani!  It was amazing, and, sadly, while the structure and ceiling were intact, the inside was in total disrepair.  Garbage was strewn on the ground, and one had to walk with extreme care.  Opposite the main altar, one could look through what once must have been the nave entrance to another doorway that led to what we believe was a school.


A small chapel was under the main church.  It was obviously being used as a storage area, filled with trash.

Our villager-guide hopped in our car as we headed out of the town and asked us to stop in front of his “apartment” for a moment.  He yelled something to a woman standing on the balcony, and a few minutes later she came out with something wrapped in a heavy cloth.  As he unwrapped it, we saw an amazing old sword with the remains of an Armenian style cross on its hilt.  This was an amazing find, and this man was so proud of his treasure! 

As we drove away from Chunkush toward the city of Diyarbekir (historic Dikranagert) nearly three hours later, we were all very glad that we made this journey.

NOTE:  As I was writing this blog, I found another blog on the web written by a woman who traveled to Chunkush in 2008 – her family was from that village.  She had an accurate description from her grandfather of where their family property was located – which was near to the St. Garabed Church.  You can read about her emotional visit, and see some beautiful photos, here.

To read more about the massive and brutal executions in Chunkush in 1915, read this article.

Next stop:  Diyarbekir.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Old Kharpert (Harput) - New Elazig


We started our tour upon our arrival driving up to the top of the mountain that borders the new city of Elazig.

The old city of Harput has been almost completely rebuilt, although one can see a few of the old buildings scattered throughout this village at the top of the mountain.  The main street is lined with shops and restaurants, and leads to mostly rough narrow roads that lead to homes, to the old fortress, or further along the “main” road to the very top, where there is an area for picnicking and a climb down into a cave that is FREEZING COLD and lined with ice!

We visited the cave first – hiking along the edge of the mountaintop to a rocky area, and then climbing down the rocks toward the opening of the cave.  Not something I was too eager to participate in – but, I survived with lots of help from Dicko!  And, for shame – there were old ladies (really “old”) and men climbing down there, so who was I to complain?!  In the narrow cave, one can climb even lower, where ice lines the cave.  That was where I drew the line!  I handed over my camera to Dicko and said “have at it!”  The following pictures depict what he saw.

Icey Cold!
Deeper and colder!

This was on a Sunday, and the area had lots of families scattered around with their picnic.  We saw one family grilling their lunch, and preparing tea – they invited us to join them for tea, which we gratefully declined.

Hot Tea, Anyone? 

Sunday Family BBQ

View from top of mountain - east of old town
We then drove back to Harput, and visited the fortress.  In the early 20th century Harput Syrians and Armenians inhabited this area.  However, the Genocide of 1915 wiped out the entire population of Harput – those who were not killed were marched south through the desert toward Der Zor and most died.  Few who did not escape the town before the massacres survived. The fortress still exists but is under reconstruction.   

Directly below the fortress is a deep narrow valley.  The hillsides still have remains of old buildings that we are not sure what they were.  

Virgin Mary Church Below the Fortress

At the top of the ridge, just below the fortress, we found a church that was labeled Syrian.  Whether or not it was Armenian is not clear.   But knowing how the Turks have wiped out all mention of Armenians in these old villages, I would guess that it could very well have been Armenian.

Entrance to the Church from a distance

Entrance to the Church:  blocked by a steel door
After we walked around the church and fortress, we drove back to the village, had an ice cream and walked for 15-20 minutes and looked at the few remnants of the old village.  There was little to see, but I know Lisa was happy that she could see where her maternal grandfather lived and studied before he escaped the country (and “the draft” by the Turkish Army) and came to the United States.

An Old Dwelling in Kharpert (Harput)
Next stop:  Chunkush

From Kars to Erzurum

On Saturday June 16, 2012 we drove from Kars, in the northeastern part of Turkey, slightly southwest to Erzurum.  The drive from Kars was beautiful – mountainous valleys covered with green grass, small lakes, and fields of wildflowers in purple, yellow and occasionally pink.  The highways were decent, with patches of heavy construction.  We rarely drove more than 40 miles an hour.  We passed many tiny villages strewn among the hillsides and near to the road.

Wildflowers = the BEST Honey!!

Lisa and Dicko dodging bee
Truck drivers taking a break for bread, cheese and water - "Take our picture"
Of course, not all roads in Turkey are paved!
Herds of cattle, sheep and goats spotted the landscape, minded by one or two Kurdish dressed shephards – men, women, and children.   Occasionally depending the time of day, we encountered cattle taking their naps in the middle of the highway.  Funny thing – those cattle own the road.  If one approaches in a vehicle, they stand their ground, stare you straight in the face while chewing their cuds, and play “chicken” with you and your vehicle.  The cow will win so it isn’t worth the battle – you basically swerve your way around those beasts and hope you don’t run over one of their tails, or worse!  The car will lose that battle!

Entering Erzurum from the north, we came in to a completely modernized city.  The highlight of this particular visit was walking through the small streets of what is left of Old Erzurum.  The entire Armenian population of this once heavily populated city is now gone.  Many Armenians were marched south down the Tigris River towards the desert of Der Zor in Syria and most died.  In the mid-1800’s a large portion of Erzurum Armenians migrated north to the area of Javakh in Georgia.  After the 1895 Hamidian Massacres of Armenians, more Armenians left Erzurum.  (More on Javakh later).

The following pictures show what is left of the old city of Erzurum – this area is directly across the road from the fortress, where the only remaining Armenian church exists.  As I noted in my 2009 blog, the Seljuk Turks took credit for building that “church” which is now called a “mosque.”  The pictures from 2009 say otherwise.

Dicko and Lisa in front of old residence
Villager at her dwelling
Villager kneeling
An Outdoor Living Room
Armenian Church inside fortress - only Armenian church left in Erzurum after Genocide
The neighborhood - what's left of it
Still standing 100 years later
On a more positive note:  one highlight of Erzurum and all of Turkey was the breakfasts we had.  This is a feast!  The Hotel Dedeman in Erzurum had the best breakfast without a doubt.  Cooked entrees – potatoes, eggs, tomatoes with cheese, sausages, etc.;  fresh tomatoes and cucumbers; several kinds of cheeses; fruits – melons, bananas, watermelon, apples, apricots, plums, chopped fruit compote with fresh fruit, dried fruits; jams and honeys; yogurt (traditional  “madzoon) – thick and not lowfat!; fresh butter (no salt!); olives of all sorts; halvahs of all sorts; breads; nuts; and hot tea, coffee and juice!  We ate a healthy breakfast, and then drank water and snacked on fresh bread, bananas, and rojik (dried mulberry juice with nuts – into a fruit leather roll).

Num Num Time
Next stop:  Old Kharpert