Expedition to eastern Turkey 2017
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
Expedition to eastern Turkey 2017
Eastern Turkey, or the unofficial ‘Turkish Kurdistan’, is a rarely visited part of Turkey. Tourists usually only know Istanbul, Antalya and Cappadocia, which is a well-worn vacation trail. However, eastern Turkey is a delicate region due to the ongoing conflict between Turks and Kurds, and tourist there are not invisible. I was arrested and questioned there. Eastern Turkey however is an attractive region for tourists. Food and tea are delicious. There are picturesque rivers and lakes, medieval fortresses and Roman defensive walls in Diyarbakir. The Turkish services can’t believe that someone wants to go there for a holiday. In my opinion, the situation in many parts of eastern Turkey is more tense than in Iraqi Kurdistan. This region deserves the attention of travellers.
My trip: Van, fortress Van and surroundings, Akdamar church on Lake Van, Hosap castle, Nemrut National Park, Ahlat, Tatvan, Batman, Hasankeyf, Midyat, Silopi, Habur and Diyarbakir (after return from Iraq).
In addition, my reportage has a lot of practical information and stories from the road, where I met many interesting people and who were more interested in me than me. Sometimes, interest in me became an obsession because, as I have noticed, eastern Turkey is not only a region with a tense political situation but also an area bordering on the war zone, where the situation could change very unexpectedly.
Eastern Turkey as a new challenge
Although I started my journey through Turkey from Istanbul, it was really just a prelude to my Turkish and Kurdish adventure. My goal was to travel around Eastern Turkey, that is after the unofficial “Turkish Kurdistan”. I realized that it was to be an adventure with a thrill where I would see a lot of weapons, military bases and suspicious people. I also knew that I could have problems on the Turkish side because I wanted to get to Iraq by land, and then return through military bases to the city of Diyarbakir, which is the main city of the Kurds. This trip was definitely a challenge and I did not always feel safe. Once I was arrested and interrogated by the Turkish police, I was followed other times. The constant sight of weapons, military bases, sandbags and even military training ground before the border with Iraq left memories in my memory other than those tourists have come back from tourist western Turkey. The soldiers asked me why I did not go to such places as Antalya or other places by the sea, and why I am going to Iraq and not to the beaches. I realized then that I am an extreme tourist.
My journey through eastern Turkey gave me completely new experiences and allowed me to understand what country Turkey really is. Turkey should be treated by dividing “west of Ankara” and “east of Ankara”. Part “west of Ankara” is the part where the Turkish government wants tourists to spend money there and believe that Turkey consists only of beaches and bazaars. On the other hand, in Turkey, “east of Ankara,” the Turkish government treats tourists like lepers, as well as suspectcatss who must be observed, followed and asked tricky questions. In Eastern Turkey, the nicest, the most open and hospitable are the Kurds, while the Turks offer tea to ask a few questions and assess where I think I can work. In East Turkey, the Kurds are happy that someone from Europe has finally come to them because it is a sign that they do not believe in the propaganda of the Turkish government that they are “terrorists”.
However, every Turk in East Turkey is a potential spy who calls the police to report “suspicious Kurds” and “suspicious foreigners who may be spies”. I know it for sure, because the Turkish uniformed police armed with machine guns grabbed me straight from the road, explaining to me that they got a phone call that a dangerous terrorist or spy from a European country could be on this bus. They were waiting for me. The Turks just do not want us there, which was confirmed by other travelers traveling in this region. The police are not friendly there because they have orders that the region is not tourist-attractive. If, on the other hand, the Kurds ask questions that they should not ask, then they are Turks impersonating the Kurds, because they know that for us they all look the same and know that we do not see the difference in their languages.
Transport from the Van airport to the city of Van
I landed in Van late at night, in a small airport, where it was very quiet and where it seemed to me that I was far from everything. However, I was lucky because Kurd who lived in Van received from the airport his family who works in Istanbul every day. Muslim families are huge, which is why Kurd organized two cars and there was one place in one. He drove me through a dark night and then through small dark streets, where sometimes I saw bare walls and sometimes I could hear the howling of dogs. I wondered at that moment whether we would enter the little gate and slit my throat, but my driver was the hostel’s kid, although it was not easy to find him. Kurdish tourist was so nice that he did not want money from me, and then he was so helpful that he came to the hostel with me and asked me if everything was okay and if he could leave. I gave him 20 lire, although I did not have to and he took the money with a smile. I wanted to help him because he helped me. However, the Turkish receptionist in the hostel was very unhappy that I gave Kurd 20 liras. Interesting.
The city of Van, on Lake Van, is the main city in eastern Turkey. Van is mainly inhabited by Kurds who speak Turkish, but he still retains his Kurdish identity. The Van population is a mystery because various sources give different information. According to the census, the Van population is over 350.00, although other sources say 600,000. Van is above all a very good base, from where I organized trips to the most interesting places in south-eastern Anatolia. It is a city where there is a good hotel base, where you can eat well and relax after trips outside the city. In Van itself, however, there is nothing captivating, there is nothing worth recommending in addition to good food and the first impression of the Kurdish city on the Turkish side. I lived in a Van Backpackers Hostel in a shared room for 40 liras a night, where I always came back after my trips.
Van also has a very convenient location for tourists going to Iraq and Iran. The border with Iran is only over 100km, which I think that with a break for tea can be beat in 2 hours. Iraq is still farther away because you have to overcome about 450km in at least 7 hours, however, taking into account numerous military checks and questions it can be even 10 hours. My journey to Iraq took a long time because I was often stopped.
My opinion Van and his people are very good and I recommend this city. I was in many bars on Kurdish food and in the evenings I spent time in teahouses watching the mighty ball, which is common in Muslim countries. As soon as it gets dark, the women are no longer visible in the streets, and the men drink tea in pubs, burn the peppers and play chess. When I was in the bars in Van, people asked me where I was from, they asked questions about the purpose of my trip and wanted to take pictures with me. I was also at the hairdresser’s and fruit stores and every time I had a good contact with people. As I thought, the Kurds were excited and in some way grateful that I came to the region of Turkey, which is referred to as “terrorist”.
People criticizing my political views will probably expect me to build hatred for Muslims in my articles, but I will not give them that satisfaction. I have no problem with Muslims in general, I just disagree with globalization, political correctness and invasive immigration. After Van I walked in the day and late in the evening and I always felt safe. Be sure to try the local white cheese with honey, which is a specialty of the region. Sometimes people also treated me. When I bought grapes, I also got an apple a few times as a gift.
Walking tour to the Van Castle and its surroundings
The next day I went in the direction of Fortress Van and although from the city center there is about 5km, I went for a walk to better see Van and his people. I will advise future travelers that they will not get lost, because from the center to the city there is one straight road and the ruins of the castle at the top can be seen from a distance. I left early in the morning to make better use of the day and not to be in a hurry. Sometimes I would stop for a cup of tea and sometimes sit down and eat grapes in peace.
About 500 meters in front of the castle I stopped in the museum, but the most interesting for me were the famous Van cats in the whole region. These cats are a real pride of the entire region, they are on buses, postcards, magnets and other souvenirs for tourists. Van cats are always white and their hallmark is that they have one brown eye and one blue eye. In front of the museum in the vicinity of the castle there is a large room with a glass window through which you can see cats.
Soon I saw the huge Van Fortress, built on top of me. This object was built between the 9th and the 7th centuries BC. the Armenian kingdom of Urartu and is the greatest example of this type of building. Citadel Van still has all the walls but today it is unfortunately not a castle but ruins of the castle, which are still very attractive for travelers. In the citadel there are still cobbled roads, whole walls and even an arch above your head. To this, as always in Turkey is also a small mosque, minaret and flag of Turkey on the mast. I personally made this place a lot of pleasure, because first I climbed to the top of uneven roads covered with high grass, and then walked around the whole building without any plan.
I rested in places where the most beautiful views were, for example, on the one hand I had a view of the city of Van, on the other on Lake Van, and on the other I saw two old mosques. I spent a lot of time upstairs watching the views and I think the mere presence there was the best. It is necessary to put on good shoes because the area is demanding, and water because Turkey is a hot country and more than 0.5km climbing in this climate tires.
My guess is that such a great fortress in the tenth century was of great military importance, although it was also a symbol of the Armenian domination over this fertile area.
After leaving the fortress, I went down to the well where I felt so tired that I fell asleep next to her, and it was only after some time that the passing Kurds woke me up. From there I went to a small green area surrounded by a moat. I went across the bridge watching the ducks and went to a party where I drank tea, rested after the fortress and where I just saw a young couple. I noticed that the Kurdish men had European suits, while the bride had a white wedding dress combined with a Muslim headgear. Druchna was dressed in the same style but had a burgundy dress. There was also a big inscription “VAN” and next to it were shown the greatest attractions of south-eastern Anatolia, including the white Van cats with one blue eye. People paid attention to me because they do not often have tourists in the “land of terrorists”. It was very nice.
I threw the last piece of bread to the ducks and went through the pastures of goats and small brooks to see two antique mosques. The road itself was also very pleasant because I saw the mountain on which the fortress stood better and for this I had to avoid the marshy terrain and the sheep. The fortress could not be unnoticed by the minaret and the Turkish flag, and below there was a broken minaret and the ruins of the Abbasaga Cami mosque, probably from the Ottoman era. After a short time, I came to the Husrev Pasha mosque, which was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans and which is quite a rare historical object. Husrev Paşa is a mosque with a single dome, which in its courtyard also has a small complex of other buildings. It includes the tomb and madrasa (school) and it is one of the two monuments of Old Van that survived. The madrassa remains that are visible on the north side of the mosque indicate that it was a U-shaped building made up of cells for students and a square class on the tip of the west wing. The mosque has arches, high pillars, a water source in the middle and a minaret, and the whole is made of white, red stone arranged to separate lines of two colors. Here was also someone who was interested in where I came from. The Husrev Pasha Mosque is a peaceful, relaxing place. Next to it was another mosque, Suleyman Han Cami, which was built in the same style as Husrev Pasha and was also red and white. In this mosque, however, I liked the entrance itself because a fortified gate in the style of medieval castles in Europe was built along the road.
After seeing the fortress and mosques, I finally went to Lake Van, which is the largest lake in Turkey, because in its longest point it is 119km, covers the area of 3755km², and the maximum depth is 451m. Interestingly, Van Lake does not freeze even during cold winters because it has a high salinity. Floating in it, I felt as if the small particles of the lake were moving with me. I had the impression that the water consisted of small particles that I could extract from the water. The shore, however, is not attractive because there is a lot of rubbish. After swimming, I put on wet clothes and went down the sand to the asphalt road. Long nobody wanted to stop but in the end I caught a bus and went to the hostel itself. (I would like to add that if someone wants to save 20 liras at the hostel, the beach on Lake Van is very much a place for camping and fire).
My evening in Van was very successful. After a hard day, I invited to the cafe for a delicious snack. In Turkey, the pubs are long open, and some even around the clock.
A trip from Van to the Akdamar church
The next day, after another good breakfast at Van, consisting of, among others, white cheese and honey, I went by public bus to the bus station in the suburbs. For the ticket I paid 20 lire because I was traveling by a large, comfortable bus heading for Tatvan, and even though I got off earlier, I had to buy a ticket for the entire route. The first part of my trip was not very interesting, but then it started to get interesting because I was driving along the shore of Lake Van. Driving along the lake is very easy to see the island of Akdamar and the church in the distance and besides, even if I fell asleep this Kurdish driver probably would remind me. After about 50 km and about 40 minutes driving to my right, I noticed the island of Akdamar and got off at the port, where there are boats regularly sailing to the island.
In this place there is a small tourist base because on one side of the street there is a souvenir shop and a boat, and on the other there is a restaurant under the open sky. There is also a beach and nice views and peace. I was in the port early, so I did not go straight to the island. First, I looked around the store, drank some tea, and walked along the beach, watching the church on the horizon. I also swam around the quieter part of the harbor, but I advise future travelers to take the flip as there is a very rocky bottom. After some time I paid 15 lire for a boat and after about 20 minutes I got off on the island of Akdamar.
Entry to the island costs an additional 10 lire and a fee of 15 lire per boat is a return fee. I also advise you to confirm at the box office about which the last boat leaves the boat.
Holy Cross Church on Akdamar Island, on Lake Van, was built in the 10th century, has many interesting bas-reliefs and frescoes, and was once a very important element of Armenian culture. Today the Akdamar church is a popular tourist destination in eastern Turkey because of its architecture, art, huge historical value and beautiful views. Being on the island of Akdamar, I advise you to take the time to take a good look at all the frescoes and external reliefs that are similar to those I have seen in Armenia before. You should definitely take a good look at the bas-relief depicting David for Goliath though there are many more.
Apart from the church, it is also interesting to see the rock formations of the island, vegetation and an observation deck with a Turkish flag on the mast, as I suspect to emphasize the Turkish domination over the Kurds and the Christian island of Armenians. Besides, I drank tea, walked a lot and dripped in a warm lake. I believe that being in Van, after seeing the Van Fortress, the Akdamar Church is the most important tourist attraction that must be seen. Importantly, only recently, because from October 2010, there is a cross on the church, and only from September 2013, Turkish officials allowed baptisms and Christian services to be held. For me, this church was a beautiful experience that reminded me of Armenia and the great tragedy that befell the Armenians at the hands of the Turks.
At first I planned to spend the night on the island, so I took the tent, but eventually came back. On a boat full of Kurds, I felt watched. You can see that they don’t often have white tourists there.
After returning to the mainland, I went to the other side of the street to the restaurant. For only 20 liras I was served with fish, locally baked bread, good salads, olives, spices, a warm starter with the addition of eggs, cheese, honey and tea and a few fruits. I ate at the table under the trees, looking at Lake Van. I just thought where I would spend the night and I did not have much choice, so I set up my tent on the beach. My night was not very pleasant but compared to the cold nights in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, the Van Lake was still not bad. In the morning I put up a tent, which also helped me in the reorganization of my things and myself, and then expanded to a gas station to buy a poor breakfast. Then I bathed in the lake, chewed the cracker with cold tea from a thermos, and so it took me another hour to stare at the lake and the island. It was a pleasant, relaxing time.
The head of the restaurant also gave me information on his friend who lived near the Nemrut National Park, which I contacted later, lived with him at home and from where I had a beautiful trip through the park.
Adventure in transport from Akdamar to the Hosap castle
Sitting on the beach and thinking that I had had enough of my crackers, I thought I would go on a trip to the famous Hosap castle. The local Kurds advised me to return to Van and then take a new bus, but the map advised me differently. So I took a small bus from around the island of Akdamar and drove to the fork of the road. One led to Van and the other to the Hosap castle. Then I walked a piece and then the big truck stopped. The driver was Turek, who cared so much for his truck that he laid it out with all the blue carpets, including the ceiling, and ran his huge iron monster in socks so as not to get him dirty from the inside.
Before I came in, he also ordered me to take off my shoes and put them in a specially prepared place. He had a thermos bigger than mine, sugar supplies and Turkish hits. Nevertheless, he really wanted to talk to me, even though he did not know the word in English. However, this was not a problem because he had an automatic translator in the phone, which is very popular in Turkey. I sat in a clean truck from the inside and talked about writing about his travels on his phone and he translated them into Turkish. We started a lively discussion about working in Poland and in England, about my life, my wife, children, animals that I keep at home and many other things. After some time, I wanted to make the phone go wrong, because then I would not have to write anything and try to understand his gestures, because I could not understand words.
From Akdamar to the Hosap castle was about 50km but his truck was not able to go faster than 25km / h and from the hill it could 35km / h. When I saw the castle on the horizon, I wrote to him on the phone that I liked hiking, so he stopped and I threw my backpack, my fragrant shoes, and finally myself, in the end. Before me there was still a 4km walk through the desert, near the road, but it was not important to me then. I was glad that I saw the castle in the distance and that I was alone with my own thoughts.
The Hosap Castle
Hosap Castle was built by the Ottomans in 1645 and it is a very impressive fortress built on a hill, which is located about 65km from the city of Van. Most of the preserved elements of the castle come from 1645, which were built by the Ottoman governor Sarı Süleyman Bey. The Hosap castle is much better than the Van fortress, which is a complete ruin. In addition, the Hosap shutdown will look even better in a few years as there are currently restoration works. For this reason, unfortunately, I could not go inside and instead I watched Hosap only from the outside. I even went to a heavily fortified police station to ask for the key to the gate, but the local police officers were very unhelpful. They only said that there is a renovation and they will give the key. So I looked at their machine guns, sacks with sand, observation towers and concrete road blocks, and returned to the castle. I had to identify myself and answer a few questions.
Around the Hosap castle was also a Kurdish village, which I liked very much. I have seen how the Kurds in the east of Turkey live poorly, very basic way, how they hang laundry in the desert and look after their farms. I also met my talkative truck driver, who shouted “Martin, czaj” from a distance – (tea). I also saw interesting rock formations and had good contact with very interesting people. Sometimes it’s good that the locals do not speak English because I would have to answer a million questions. The road to the castle leads through the desert and through the mountains and the whole area is very picturesque and introduces the traveler into a beautiful and interesting medieval atmosphere. I do not know about my readers but I love old castles and I think that only the evil dragon and the virgin locked in the tower were missing in Hosap. I definitely recommend this interesting place.
t find a car for a long time from the vicinity of the Hosap castle, but in the end I was lucky because one car took me straight to the hostel.
My interesting conversation with an Arab
After returning from a two-day trip from Akdamar Church and Hosap Castle, I spent the evening in Van very quietly, in a cafe, with tea and cake. However, I remember that that evening an Arab from Iraq came to the hostel, who introduced himself as “German”, because according to him, “if he lives in Germany, he is German”. I quickly pushed this utopia out of his head, but this example confirms that Muslims in Europe are increasingly brazen and that they live in a world made up of their own fantasy-filled minds. One day a real right-wing party will come to power in Germany and then the Muslims will have to wake up. The Arab also said that he prefers the Netherlands to Germany because people are nicer there (in my understanding there is a larger sheepfold there), but after talking to me he started to change his mind and was from Iraq again.
My experiences with a problematic Jew
My next plan was a trip to the Nemrut National Park, a place where I hadn’t even planned to go. I made the decision to leave a few days earlier, when the chef of a restaurant on Akdamar Island gave me a contact to a man named Mehmet. So I called Mehmet from the hostel and made an appointment with him in Tatvan, from where we were supposed to go to his village, located about 13 km from the big lake.
So I got on the bus in Van and after paying 20 lire I went to Tatvan, which is a small town on Lake Van where Mehmet and his family were to meet me. This time, however, the city of Van was still my base, so I took only the most necessary things. The bus ride was good, but unfortunately it did not last long because an American Jew was on board, arguing with the Kurds, making them up and having a problem with everything. The Kurd who served the tea on the bus asked the Jew to just change, because he was not sitting in his seat, and that was what the quarrel began about. My fault was that I was the only one who spoke English and I offered a Jew some grapes, so when the Kurds’ patience was over, they threw the Jew out of the bus and I had to go out with him because in their eyes I was also an “American”. Unfortunately, there are only problems with Jews.
Then we waited on the road like two donkeys and waited for the next bus. I thought that at that time it would be fine, but the Jew was still looking for problems and as soon as I told him that I was Polish, he immediately began to persuade me “that I hate Russians and that Poland hates Jews and that we are a nation of anti-Semites.” Finally the bus pulled up and we got in together, but I made sure to sit far away from it. Besides, even then he was shouting something at me and when I wanted to answer him, let him back off, he immediately pretended to be a scientist and told me not to disturb him because he is studying now. Once again I was driving near the picturesque Van Lake and near the Church of St. Cross on the island of Akdamar – except that now I also saw a problematic humped nose. Anyway, we arrived at Tatvan town, with a line of trees planted in the middle of the street. I was supposed to come back to Tatvan later, but now I just wanted to meet Mehmet so that he would take me to his home. Unfortunately, I was too early, so the “helpful” Jew asked me if I wanted to go to the lake to eat something. Actually, I had time, so I went with the Jew to the lake, we sat down in one of the restaurants and I thought it would be nice, but unfortunately I was very wrong. The Jew obviously had to argue with the restaurant manager in a language he did not know, and then the Jew still argued with me that he did not like the fish because it was fried, and according to him, the fried food was poisonous, so as he suspected, “the Muslims wanted to poison him “. I began to wonder if he acted this way, because he was an American, a Jew, or maybe that was why he was a moron who was looking for a tease and had not been murdered for a long time.
So I thought that I would make one more attempt and try to find a nice topic with him, so I asked if he was in Poland. I quickly understood how big a mistake I was, because on these words the Jew got rabies. He said that he was in Poland because he was in the Auschwitz camp, to which I replied that if Jews compared Poland to a concentration camp, it would be best if they did not go there at all. I told him that in Poland there are also beautiful cities, monuments, national parks, old castles, good food, galleries and many other beautiful things, to which the Jew replied that for him Poland was just a concentration camp and when he was in Poland he did not want be cheerful. While in Poland, he wants to be very sad, he wants to see the concentration camp and he wants to come back in a bad mood, because only then will he feel what his people have gone through. I told him about the Poles who died there and about the Jews collaborating with the Germans and killing Poles, to which he did not answer.
I also suggested to the Jew that if he lands in Krakow, instead of going to a concentration camp, he should go skiing in the mountains, see how beautiful it is there. Probably then he would have had good memories related to Poland. The Jew, however, treated it as an insult because he insisted that Poland was only a concentration camp and that Poles were the greatest anti-Semites in the world, after the Arabs; even though the Jews are always innocent. So I told him that the Jews invented communism and that, for example, the Jew Soros pays for the Islamization of Europe to destroy it – to which the Jew replied that it didn’t matter because those Jews who do such things: ‘do not speak with the mouth of world Jewry.’ We parted without shaking a hand and without a smile, although the Jew finally managed to do diplomacy and grunted casually that it was nice for him to spend time with me. The farewell was non-violent, but it was also very cool.
In my opinion, despite the problems, I was glad that I attempted a civilized dialogue with the Jew, but soon realized that dialogue was impossible. I believe that Jews should be avoided because this is a problem and every time I meet Jews my theory is confirmed. Jews are a toxic nation, a nation that persecutes and destroys the whole world, but still so brazen that it throws down accusations against other nations right out of the sleeve. This is the specialty of the Jews.
As soon as I broke up with the Jew, I felt relieved. I never realized before that I would be so happy in a Muslim country. I realized that happiness also lies in the absence of Jews.
Transport from Tatvan to Serinbayir
For some time I came to Tatvan but then I called Mehmet, who was waiting for me in a nearby tea room. I made an appointment with him at the post office, but Mehmet was old and had big problems with being overweight, which is why my son picked me up. We sat together with his sons and friends and drank red pomegranate tea. Of course, we talked about my travels and about Nemrut Park and its lakes, but the conversation was primarily aimed at getting to know each other. At first I thought that I should be suspicious but soon realized that they were more suspicious than me. They asked me, for example, that’s why they are not afraid to come alone to the “country of terrorists” and why I am not afraid to get in a van with them to go with the unknown. On television all the time they say that “Kurds are terrorists and whenever I come to them, I will cut my throat.” I said that they are trying to scare me everywhere, but nobody has managed to do so, instead of asking so many questions, let them better place the van.
After about half an hour of conversation and watchful observation, a dirty white van pulled up in a still usable condition. We drove along Lake Van towards Ahlat for over 30km, but along the way we stopped to shop. At the lakeside they sold vegetables and fruits, and because Mehmet had 9 adult children and grandchildren, there was a need for large purchases. There were rams in the village, of course, and people were planting vegetables, but huge shopping was always in the vicinity of Tatvan. I was very interested in people at the market stall; some even watched me like television, one boy gave me a melon as a gift and others tried to make contact with me. I did not want to sit idly, that’s why I helped Muslims to load the vegetable bags into the van, ate some grapes along the way, and when the car was already 110% full, we set off.
Soon we turned left, leaving Van Lake behind and for about 12km we drove along the beaten path, through small villages and primitive farms, where people lived near the animals. It was very poor. I did not even see plaster on the walls. As I noticed, people living in small settlements, after a couple of houses and farms next to each other were waiting for the transport of vegetables and fruits, also what we bought was not just for Mehmet and his family. Not long after we got to Serinbayir, but then it was already dark. That’s how my adventure in transport passed, which once again made me realize how lucky I was that I was born in Poland. For me, however, as a traveler, it was an instructive adventure with interesting people.
The Serinbayir village
The village of Serinbayir is the main human settlement, located approximately 13 km from the Nemrut National Park. It was my base for about 3 days, because every day I went to the park and then returned to Mehmet’s house. The Serinbayir is so small that it can be walked lengthwise and backward for about 15 minutes or less. Usually in the evening, under the starry sky, it was very nice because I was going for walks. I greeted people, I was in the shop and also in the brick mosque to talk to the mullah. The whole village, of course, knew each other well and people seeing me immediately knew which house I was staying in.
Mehmet offered me to sleep on the floor in the room and two meals a day for 40 lire a day. In a Kurdish village, however, we did not sit at the table. The landlady, Mehmet’s wife, every morning and evening spread a tablecloth on the floor in front of the front door and put the food there; mainly bread, sauces, vegetables, very rarely meat. However, it was a place for men only, as the women ate separately in a different room. Then we, all the men, sat on the floor, dipped bread in sauces, ate dishes and drank tea. It was also a very good time for many discussions. We talked about work and earnings in Poland and England, to which the Kurds reacted without ovation when I told them about the earnings from Poland, but they laughed widely when I told them about earnings in England. Wherever I go, the reaction is exactly the same, but these people don’t realize that living in England is also expensive. One of Mehmet’s sons was a driver, while the others were shepherds of goats, and they told me that they traveled to the mountains for days in search of better pastures, as the animals are able to strip grass at a rapid pace. After dinner, they also showed me their house from the inside, as Mehmet was building the second floor. So I was at the construction site, which, as they admitted, lasted for many years because they had no money.
All these Kurdish men had it to themselves that they were tired and unfortunately all smoked cigarettes. The house was clean, however, because the shoes had to be left outside, and the hostess took care of order, that the shepherds were well-fed and also organized the house. Many generations lived together in a Kurdish home, because I saw Mehmet’s sons, his wives and small children there. So no wonder they were building a second floor. In my opinion, the oldest housekeeper in the house played a key role in the organization of the house, and I felt that she also had her sons’ wives under her tutelage and she was in charge. She also told me where I should sit and where not. There was order and all that was missing was a good financial bump to finish Mehmet’s house, build a nice garden for him, buy a new car – my list goes on and on. Every night I went for a walk in the countryside and then sat on the porch and drank tea looking at the stars. The Kurds also complained about the Turkish propaganda that they were very harmful to them that they were terrorists. They said that once there were a lot of tourists in these parts, who supported the local economy, and now the only tourist here is just me. According to them, precisely because of the lies about them, the tourist is a dying species.
I was supposed to stay in Serinbayir for only 1 day but it was my base for 3 days because I was so enchanted by the adventure in the Nemrut National Park. Besides, I also have fond memories of the people living there and the simple rural life. I enjoyed things such as stroking a donkey or watching sheep. I didn’t want to go back to the big city.
Nemrut National Park
A very valuable and pleasant time in Turkish Kurdistan was the Nemrut national park, where the second largest crater lake in the world is located at an altitude of 2247 m above sea level. The protected area as a nature reserve covers the area of 4.8km² around the lake. Nemrut Lake is located at an altitude of about 2,247 meters above sea level, has an area of 12.36 km², and its average depth is about 100 m, the maximum natiomistic depth is 176 meters. Lake Nemrut is moon-shaped and has a length of 4.9 km and a width of 2.1 km at its widest point.
My trip to the park was supposed to be one-day, so Mehmet said he would organize a trip for the whole day according to his program, because he grew up there and knew the place very well. We drove his van through the desert terrain, inside a vast valley, until we got to the highest place where a Kurdish shepherd led his sheep and from there was a beautiful view of the mountains and two lakes, small and large, in the shape of the moon. Then we went to the next, this time green valley and stopped at the “small, warm lake”. The people who were there warned me not to go deep because the area was very slippery and could easily be drowned. I moved only on the shore. The small, warm lake had dark water and seemed to be a large puddle that stood still. The warm lake owes its colloquial name to the fact that in places, especially on the shore, water bubbled and in these places it was warm. The small, warm lake was round and it was not a lake for swimming but rather for looking, for walks among rock formations and high grass around it. I went around them, climbed the rocks and looked at the quiet place from the hill above him. There was a wooden bar with accidentally found wood and a makeshift roof. Importantly, there was a small shop there and a man from Serinbayir came in the summer months to bake meat and cook tea on the fire. I understood then that I did not need much luck because with basic food, in a warm climate, among rocks and plants, I felt happy.
Mahmet barely walked because it was easy to jump over him, so he stayed over a small lake and went to the “big, cold lake”. On the way I walked through meadows and tall trees but I also had a few nice surprises because I came across land tortoises several times. The large, winter lake was large and beautiful, transparent and turquoise, surrounded by trees and rocks; and it is here that I have just experienced the beautiful Nemrut park. The water in the large lake was so clear that I could clearly see the rocky bottom and the fish swimming under the water. I swam there and jumped for about an hour, but on and off because it was cold. Above the large lake was also a small cabin, where a Kurdish man cooked water on the fire and where he could buy snacks.
I noticed that Nemrut Park and his lake was a very popular place for a picnic and the people were nice and hospitable. When I was hungry, I ate with a Muslim family, but not to go out on a beggar I bought them a lot of sweets and thanked them. What a great happiness that I can travel around the world and that I can meet people of other cultures and races. However, on the other hand, what a disaster it is that the whole world lives in Europe. Then I swam many times, and when it started to get dark, I returned to his village with Mehmet for supper and overnight. As usual, I went for a walk around the village and talked to people. I felt that the Kurds needed contact with a foreigner and this contact was always easier with tea in a small Turkish cup.
In the Nemrut park I planned to stay only one day, but it was so nice that I decided to stay a day longer to have better memories of this special place. The next day I did not want to go with a guide anymore. I wanted to do this adventure alone, so I went on foot, and soon realized that it was a mistake, because it was hot, uphill, and the lakes were around 13km. However, I was lucky because people from the village were riding a tractor with a trailer and they took me with them. It’s nice of them. I would help them too. After a short time I got off the hill from where I had a good view of the small, warm lake. Besides, I preferred to go also because it shook very badly. I felt very well because in front of me I saw a vast valley, with a lake and vegetation in the middle. I spent the whole day in the bosom of nature. I swam in a crystal clear lake, I saw many turtles in the bushes, some of them even moved to the other side of the road so that they would not be damaged by cars, I sat at tea looking at trees and walked on rocks scattered near the shore.
Then I went to the higher parts of the mountain to see the whole area better and when tourists left Nemrut Park, I decided to stay and come back alone. I took shortcuts, through rows of trees and through empty glades, and at one point I stopped to sit with a Kurdish shepherd and his dogs, with his donkey and herd of sheep. Although I am no longer a child, I was happy as a child, when I could pose for a picture with a donkey and chase sheep, while a shepherd was recording a film about how a white tourist catches ego furry animals with tails. In the next stage of my return trip it was already dark and cold, and I thought about what Mehmet told me. He warned me that there are wolves and bears in the park and I walked alone through the wilderness at night.
Passing through the desert valley, fork in the road and fortunately I chose the right one (opposite to Ahlat), and then many times climbing the winding, sandy, stone-covered streamers, I got to the place where I could see the lights. I was still not sure if I would be happy to get to Serinbayir, and when I saw the lights, I thought I had never been so happy to see the minaret. Soon I came to the village, I was greeted by people, and after a while I was drinking tea on the porch of Mehmet. The next morning I left Serinbayir and the beautiful Nemrut Park.
Usually when I travel I take some things that I give to local people, including children. In Serinbayir, for example, I bought sweets and juices for 40 lire and gave them to children from the village, and I bought Mehmet a large shopping bag, from which his whole family was very pleased. However, there is one thing that these people really need – and they are sunglasses. The sun in Kurdistan does not know pity and these people do not have glasses, so if white travelers appear in Serinbayir one day, take glasses with them. For sure it will be a way to break the ice and give a good name about our country.
Transport from Serinbayir to Ahlat
I had to go back to Tatvan with Serinabayor, but Mehmet said it did not make sense because Ahlat is an important place to see. So he threw me on the road near Lake Van, then he turned right to Tatvan and I hitch-hiked the other way to Ahlat. People were very helpful because once even in the carloaded to the brim, they squeezed to take me.
By the way, when it comes to hitchhiking, I officially include Turkey to the hitchhiker’s paradise, as well as many other Muslim countries, and Georgia and Armenia. The worst for hitchhikers is Israel, and I don’t say this for political reasons but because that’s how it is unfortunately. In Muslim and Christian countries there is a good chance that someone would disinterestedly give a traveller a lift, even an “infidel”. In Iran there is also no problem, although drivers sometimes want the hitchhiker to give them money towards petrol. However, when I stood on the road in Israel, the passing drivers looked at me as if I was a terrorist and a “goy”. Of course Jews can be also helpful and I hitchhiked there too, but in Israel hitch-hiking is much more difficult.
I went to Ahlat to see the tombs of the valiant Muslim state, Seljuk. These tombs come from the sixth and seventh centuries, have many interesting reliefs and are built in a specific, Muslim way on several cemeteries. These cemeteries are of great historical importance and the local community has already reported tombstones to UNESCO. In Ahlat you can see some of the best preserved tombstones and mausoleums from the then Turkish period in Anatolia, and additionally, they are an important source of information about the technical and decorative style of the era. The tombstones are in red, have high rectangular shapes and interesting inscriptions. In addition, there are still large, cone-shaped mazuoleas that are scattered over many kilometers.
Ahlat is a place that does not have to please everyone because of its specificity, but for me it was an interesting experience because I had to move around fields full of tombstones, sometimes hidden in high grass. Some mausoleums are on hills that I had to climb, and next to them are also small caves and a clean river. An additional advantage is the curious people who are very curious about a foreign stranger. I was invited to tea, during which Turkish men used an electronic translator on the phone, which is very common in Turkey. Ahlat is therefore a trip where a tourist goes to see objects of great historical value, but soon he is convinced that it is also a sightseeing trip. It is also necessary to visit the mosque, also built in the shape of a red mausoleum and come to the caves.
Ahlat is located about 42 km from Tatvan, so you can visit these cemeteries on a one-day trip. On the way, I also recommend stopping at Lake Van to admire nature and, undoubtedly, have interesting contact with people.
Transport from Ahlat to Tatvan
After traveling a large part of Asia, I thought that nothing would surprise me anymore. I thought that my adventure in transport was over, but still not. Well, this time I was taken by a Kurd who traded grapes. There were fruit stands all along the Van Lake line, also my Kurd stopped by each one and tried to sell for a box of grapes. The only problem was that his whole car was already full, but he was kind enough to let me sit in the front seat and then put two boxes on my lap. The fruit vendors were on my side, so we took the route, which was supposed to last about 30 minutes, in two hours. Sometimes my only driver shouted “grapes” in Kurdish, and sometimes I got out to show the grapes to potential buyers, and then I took the boxes on my knees again and we kept going.
In this way, we visited all the stalls on the road along Lake Van, and there were probably 40 of them. For the driver it was fun to have a Polish grape vendor driving next door, and for me it was an experience that I had to endure. I got off at the turn on Tatvan, and having received a sprig of grapes as a gift, I went to catch a second hitch. As an aside, we sold a few cases. After a while I got on the local bus and after 10 minutes I was in the center of Tatvan. I include this hitchhiking among my next adventures in transport.
Tatvan is a small town on the western part of Lake Van, which has about 100,000 inhabitants. In Tatvan itself, there is nothing that I could specifically recommend, but it is a very nice small town, which is a base for trips to the Nemrut valley and to Ahlat. Tatvan is nicely located on Lake Van, where there is a lot of fish restaurants and walking people, as well as shepherds with their sheep. For couples, it can even be romantic. You can spend a nice time at the lake in Tatvan, and that’s why I spent it at the shooting range. I was shooting from a rifle to balloons fixed on the lake.
I find Tatvan a very nice addition to my Eastern Turkey travels, and I think you should spend at least one day here. On warm days, you can go a little further to swim in the lake and then spend the whole day calmly by the water. Besides, as I continued walking along the lake, I saw the other part of town, where there was a nice park and small football fields, and ice cream and boiled corn vendors. I have a very good opinion of Tatvan.
The special feature of Tatvan are the trees along the street, which add to the charm of the city. There are many shops, tea houses and also good hotels in Tatvan. I stayed at Tatvan Park Hotel, where I paid 40 lire for a nice, clean room. The local chefs didn’t disappoint me either because they serve excellent kebabs with grilled vegetables. In the evening I sat in the tea room watching football and in the morning after a delicate breakfast of white cheese and honey I returned to Van.
My last day in Van
This time I came back to Van to leave it forever, but before that happened, I was going to spend the whole day there. First of all, I was not in a hurry, because the last few days I was still in motion and I felt that I had to spend this day peacefully. First, I repacked my entire backpack and lost the pictures and spent the rest of the day walking around Van. I sat in many teahouses, I ate delicious sweets which in Van is plenty, and finally I went to the hairdresser for only 15 liras. I will always remember Van as my base in a journey through eastern Turkey, as a city of tasty food and first contact with Kurdistan. It would be even better if the people selling bus tickets spoke English instead of using a translator on a computer or telephone screen, but lack of good understanding is an inseparable part of my trips.
The next day I left Van early in the morning, and then I did not realize that it would be a journey full of unexpected adventures. This time I was heading to Iraq.
Journey to the border with Iraq – part I
(In this chapter, a description of my arrest and questioning by the Turkish services in Batman city.)
Early in the morning I got on the bus and drove with Van towards Iraq. My goal was the city of Silopi, about 15km away from the border with Iraq, but then I did not know yet that it would be a journey of many surprises. For the most part of my time, my trip was nice. I stopped in pubs in parking lots to eat something good and I had nice views of nice valleys, mountains and military bases in strategic places. Among the painted fields and changing landscapes, I could see works on the tops, bags of sand with protruding machine guns and once in a while concrete barbed wire and barbed wire from which emerged the Turkish army to check my documents. It was nothing extraordinary; only the standard setting of my trips. People were usually nice because in the parking lots they took pictures of me from the landscapes, and what is important, they always presented themselves as Kurds. On one of the parking lots there were big posters where I saw tourist attractions of “Turkish Kurdistan”, including Hasankeyf, which I did not have in plans, but on the visit I started to think about.
The turn of my journey took place outside Batman, as the police armed with machine guns took me straight off the road. First, everyone had to stand outside for a few questions and a luggage search, then everyone left, but except me. The Batman police are paranoid about the Kurdish militants and suspect everyone of cooperation, and I found them very suspicious. We drove to Batman in a small passenger car, but first went to the hospital where a doctor checked for tattoos. They told me to take off my shirt and socks. So my guess is that Peshmarga has tautages there. Because they saw nothing, we went to the police station for a longer questioning. They searched my luggage one more time, then seated me in a cozy room and about 10 Turkish policemen and hired interpreters watched me. They asked me all sorts of questions about my travels, about my alleged ties to the PKK and Peshmarga, and one policeman tried to provoke me by speaking to me aggressively in Kurdish – as I concluded. They also asked about my links in Europe and the Middle East with many organizations, and it was soon clear to me that when they failed to convince me that I was a terrorist, they tried to convince me of espionage. They also looked at my photos and finally let me go, even though I felt they didn’t believe a word of it. On the other hand, it does not surprise me at all, as it is the nature of policemen not to believe. One of them even mentioned that they detain tourists from time to time and everyone tells them similar stories, which only proves how paranoid the Turkish police are. Man can’t even go on vacation to Iraq because they are immediately suspicious ?!
For some time I was still sitting in front of the station where I talked to translators and saw interesting armored cars, and then the same policemen who picked me up from the road were so nice that they brought me to a pub. Here our date is over, but then I did not know that they would send secret police after me. I went by taxi to the bus station where someone said to me: “Hi Marcin, do you like my country, is it nice?” After which he bit his tongue and walked away, because he was so amateur that he called me by name, even though I saw him first once. Besides, the Kurds in a small bus, picked up stuffed with potatoes and peppers, said “tourist” and then they laughed. Generally, it seemed that no one believed that I was a tourist, what I experienced several times later.
This time I was going to Hasankeyf, about 37km away from Batman. For the trip I paid only a few lire and the ride lasted about 30 minutes. As for Batman itmself, I will always remember that city as a nest of sensitive coppers.
Hasankeyf is an ancient city on the River Tigris, which has been inhabited for about 12,000 years. Hasankeyf and the surrounding limestone cliffs are attractive not only because of the picturesque views but also because of man-made caves, 300 medieval monuments and a unique canyon. All this together creates an impressive museum in the open air. For centuries Hasankef was very well known because it was on the ancient Silk Road and was conquered by about 20 different cultures, which to some extent changed the region. Hasankeyf was conquered, among others, by Romans, Mongols and Turks, who included this place in the Ottoman Empire.
As soon as I got to Hasankeyf, I went to the only hotel in the area, where I had room for 50 lire with breakfast. This place was very pleasant, with fish in the artificial pond and with turkeys walking in the yard. I stayed there for 3 nights, and every day started with breakfast under the trees. The host gave me breakfast, also made of white cheese and homemade fig marmalade.
I spent my time in Hasankeyf very nicely. Many times I walked the main, historic street where there are many shops with interesting items, a few kebabs, and at the end of the street is the El-Rizik Cami mosque, built in 1409 by Sultan Suleyman. In addition, the mosque also has a high, decorated with a mosaic minaret, a panoramic view of the Tigris River and a bridge and caves in the distance. The main street leading to the mosque is very attractive, at the top there are materials protecting against the sun and on the walls of the mosque, materials and Muslim calligraphy. There is also a large teahouse near the main street, where street vendors of souvenirs always stood in the evening.
Hasankeyf has many interesting monuments, and I intend to mention a few here. On the Tigris River there are ruins of the Old Tigris Bridge, built in 1116, although today only the ruins of the pillars were left after this magnificent building. The bridge over the Tigris River was once considered the largest since the Middle Ages, and the bridge was built of wood, in case the bridge had to be removed to prevent the attack. For this reason, the two high foundations rising above the river are all that remained on the bridge. An important place, though not closed, is the Citadel, located on the top of the mountain, about 100m above Hasankeyf. The Citadel was once a strategically located city where to this day, houses and stairs carved in rocks, corridors and streets have been preserved. On the way to the caves, I also saw the ruin of the Suleyman mosque, which still retains its shape and has a high minaret, and I also saw two nearby mosques, Koc and Kizlar. I do not want to describe each monument, but rather my general impression of Hasankeyf.
It was a great pleasure to visit a teahouse with a view of the River Tigris, where I lay on the chaise and watched the area. I also went to the mountains to visit the caves, which of course made an impression if we try to imagine that thousands of years ago these areas were inhabited by civilizations, which themselves, without the use of modern machines were able to hollow huge rooms in limestone rocks. Now it is only a tourist attraction but once there were villages, schools, stalls and people walked down and up the rocks carved in the rocks. I came to a waterfall where I drank water and had a good view of the area. Besides, the rocks are found not only in one place but in all rocks, in nearby Hasankeyf. On the way back to the center, I was also at the vegetable bazaar in the Kurdish village, which showed me that the Hasankeyf area is full of life.
Every evening I first went to the river to shoot at the balloon shooting range, and then sat at the caves watching the calm river Tigris. Every evening I also sat in the tea room, which only confirmed my belief that my time spent in Hasankeyf was very valuable also when it comes to people. I learned some interesting things from some very suspicious people. Unfortunately, Hasankeyf may soon be under water because of the Ilisu dam built on the river, which means that this whole area of great historical and cultural value can be found underwater. Where now there are caves, cafes, where there are monuments and Kurdish villages, in a few years there will be a hydro-power plant, which in my opinion is a death sentence for the whole region and its people.In Hasankeyf there are caves and beautiful nature, but thus the dirty interest and political blackmail of Erdogan towards the Kurds win with history and nature. Many shopkeepers and people accidentally encountered wanted to throw away the truth about Hasankeyf, and above all the issue of the dam as “the next coup of Turkey against the Kurds in their own land”.
The other side of people in Hasankeyf was their great suspicion, because everyone who goes there is a potential spy. Some people asked me politely from where I was and others shouted, demanding an answer where I stopped and what was the purpose of my visit. I never knew if the next man I meet in the pub will not have a whole list of questions, and many have. One man even shouted, “Hey, if you came here you have to work in some very important office, but tell your superiors that this is the land of the Kurds” – and I think that this commentary on witnesses is a good proof of the political situation in region.
Hasankeyf is regularly terrorized by the Turkish army and the matter of the dam only added oil to the fire, which is why I can not be surprised by the local reactions. Summing up however, Hasankeyf is a very valuable place to visit in many respects.
Journey to the border with Iraq – part II
(My tail, a story that in eastern Turkey a tourist is not invisible.)
After Hasankeyf I was driving towards Iraq but I had with me another tail sent by the Turkish police. This detective reportedly sat down at me by accident and asked many questions in a “friendly way”. In a country where no one speaks English and most people have communicated with me through an electronic translator on the phone, someone who spoke English has found me again. After completing the next military bases where I had to prove that I was just a tourist, we came to an uninteresting hole called Midyat, where I said to myself: “oh, we got to Midyat.” Immediately, my tail asked: “how do you know”, smiling at the same mockingly, to which I replied that I read on the bank. I also decided to use my tail a bit and give the impression that I was more cheeky than him. I asked him to take pictures of me from the landscapes and buy something to drink for me, because if he was already a tail, he must have been useful to me. After reaching Midyat he patted me on the shoulder, as a sign that I passed the exam and got off. It was immediately merrier on the bus. The boy serving tea and biscuits began to smile and the Kurds began to wish me good luck in Kurdistan, even though in their opinion this was not the best time because there was just a referendum on independence there.
The further route was rather pleasant, because we stopped several times to buy grapes from vendors sitting on the road in their makeshift shacks. The surroundings were semi-desert, with limited vegetation, with a few goats grazing in the shade, and once in a while with car wrecks. There were, of course, military controls, where the Turks, deprived of their sense of humor, armed to the teeth, checked me several times. These bases were fenced with concrete and barbed wire, and behind them there were such attractions as machine guns and armored cars, though the Turks also probably had other toys for special occasions. Fortunately, they could not speak English, because then the questions would not end. These bases, in a dry climate, looked like a post – apocalyptic burrows from the movie “Terminator-Salvation”.
(On the way to Iraq, a tourist feels watched, checked, and even led by the hand. The Turkish services are paranoid. They can’t believe that someone may be here on vacation.)
As soon as I arrived at Silopi, it was certain for me that this is not the perfect place for a honeymoon. Silopi is a dirty, dark and suspicious rat burrow, which is only 25km from Habur, where there is a border with Iraq. I had a nice hotel there, hot water in the shower and 24h electricity, and of course kebabs and many pairs of eyes directed at me. They watched me like television, because they do not often have such guests as me. The very beginning, however, was strange because I went to the hotel to ask for a room, but before I could ask about the price, a young English-speaking Turk appeared from nowhere, who said that this hotel was full and that it wants to lead me to another. I told him that I did not even have time to ask, but after one look of my “helpful Turk”, the receptionist took a deep breath and took a step back. It made me understand that he too could have been sent by the Turkish intelligence, because in Silopi only he spoke in English and the hotel I entered was full of Kurds.
I guessed that the police in Turkey did not want a tourist from Poland, also hiding a British passport at the bottom of the backpack, talking to the Kurds. It was clear to me that the Turks tried to make my contact with the Kurds as limited as possible. In the new hotel the receptionist without any objections denied 40 liras per night, despite the fact that he reportedly always took 60 liras, and additionally talked to me in Russian, because he wanted to check if I knew this language. Once again, I felt watched, although this time I felt also guided by the hand.
In addition, I recommend Silopi as the last town before Iraq, where you can get Iraqi currency, eat well, spend the night in a hotel and even go to the cake shop. In Silopi there is everything you need for the traveler to organize well before the expedition to Iraq, but the town has a “gentle character” due to the strong presence of the army on its outskirts, and certainly also has many spies. Silopi is also very neglected, there are no sidewalks in the side streets and people are suspicious. Of course, Silopi, as a border city, has many residence options. The cheapest hostels are in the vicinity of the bus station, where you can pay only 10 – 15 liras for a shared room. I paid about 7 liras for meals.
The road from Silopi to Habur
In the morning I won the Iraqi dinars and without looking back, I left Silopi. On the way, I passed a military field with tanks and cannons that would be able to shoot down the moon and armored cars and many trucks going to Iraq. On the Turkish side, the border was called Habur, but on the Iraqi side, controlled by the Kurdistan regional government, it was the border of Ibrahim Khalil.
The distance from Silopi to Habur is only 25 km and I paid 10 lire for a place in a shared taxi. I would add that it is not worth buying tickets to the border in advance. Just go out onto the street and taxi drivers will surely find a passenger. Besides, there are also buses, although I recommend shared taxis. I certainly do not advise paying more than 15 liras for transport to the border.
The border in Habur / Ibrahim Khalil
To my surprise, the border crossing went quite smoothly, even on the Turkish side. As soon as I received the exit stamp from Turkey, my driver along with other passengers gave me another 2km to the duty-free shop, and then to the Iraq border. People in the taxi were honestly excited that I was going to Kurdistan, although I saw that nobody believed me that I was just a tourist. Well, I have to get used to it. As soon as I received the “Republic from Iraq” stamp, the man in the window also asked me if I was a “tourist” or “terrorist”. I understood that it was a local joke. I was excited because this time a new adventure awaited me ……… in Iraq.
Transport from the border with Iraq to Diyarbakir
After a very interesting expedition to Iraqi Kurdistan, I returned to Turkey. On the one hand, I wanted to see Diyarbakir, which is the largest center of Kurds in Turkey, and on the other hand I also wanted to save on the ticket. My trip from Erbil to Diyarbakir on board a good bus cost me $ 25 and lasted about 10h, and for this I had to add a flight from Diyarbakir to London, which cost me over £ 82. In summary, I saw a very interesting city in eastern Turkey, and the entire trip from Iraq to England cost me only about £ 100. If I wanted to fly out of Erbil, I would have to pay £ 350 for the flight itself, and I would not see anything more. So I think that I did very well.
As for the border crossing, the Iraqi side went very smoothly. The Turks, however, asked me many questions and checked me thoroughly before they let me in Turkey again. I did not have to pay for the Turkish visa because at the airport in Istanbul about a month earlier I bought a 3-month visa for multiple entry. I crossed the border in Ibrahim Khalil because it is the only border crossing open to tourists.
Diyarbakir is one of the largest cities in Southeastern Turkey, located on the banks of the River Tigris, and with a population of approximately 930,000. Importantly, Diyarbakır is regarded as the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan and for this reason is the central point of the conflict between the Turkish government in Ankara and the Kurdish minority. Diyarbakir has a very strong guard of the Turkish army, which means that in addition to many interesting monuments, part of the landscape are also soldiers with machine guns, concrete entanglements, armored cars and observation towers. Besides, it is the same in all of southeastern Anatolia, with the only difference that Diyarbakir has its reputation as cities of regular revolutions and terrorist attacks (according to the Turks), and liberation attacks (according to the Kurds). When I was here, it was quiet, but I certainly do not recommend Diyarbakir just before the election and immediately after the election.
Turkish propaganda, which works very hard to show Kurds as terrorists, always shows the riots and brutal clashes between the Kurds and the Turkish police from Diyarbakir. On Turkish television, they never show a historic bridge over the Tigris River, an ancient mosque or the famous defense walls built by the Romans. If in the Turkish media they show any information about Diyarbakir, it is always in a way of endless war, so that both Turks and tourists will avoid this city from a distance. The truth is of course quite different, because I spent a few days in Diyarbakir, people were nice and helpful, food was great, and it was also safe. Diyarbakir is therefore a very good example of the fact that the media propaganda of Turkey has nothing to do with the truth.
Let me remind you that to this day “fighting against terrorism” Turkey occupies the northern part of Cyprus, attacked Syria and the Kurds in Iraq, helps ISIS and murdered 1.5 million Armenians; which has so far not been admitted. This is not about this article, but I mention it in case the Turks would once like to convince us that they are crystal clear and innocent like an angel. Also, they are not !!! What makes me laugh the most is when terrorist Erdogan accuses Netanyahu of terrorism. All right, I agree that Israel is a terrorist state, but Turkey too. In my opinion, this is Turkish hypocrisy without borders.
To understand why Diyarbakir is the hotspot of the conflict between Turks and Kurds, I think it is also worth mentioning the local level of “democracy”. It is obvious that the Kurds will vote only for Kurd, who supports them in the struggle for independence, and therefore in 2014 in the elections for mayors of Diyarbakir elected politicians who did not like the Turkish government. For this reason, they were arrested on the basis of fabricated evidence, then they were given a quick theatrical trial and imprisoned for a year. Immediately after their arrest, protests were held with the participation of many thousands of people, but in Turkey no one knew about it, because the Turkish government ordered to remove all articles about the event from the Internet. At that time, the government in Ankara seated people in Diyarbakir’s town who did not even take part in the elections, but were on the Turkish side. Generally, any Kurd who is inconvenient to Erdogan is immediately accused of cooperating with the PKK and put in jail without presenting evidence. I have so much to say about the Turkish democracy in Diyarbakir, and then the Turks wonder why the Kurds hate them.
From the bus station I went to the center of Diyarbakir, where I lived in the Hotel Köprücü, near the Iskender Pasa Camii mosque. I arrived very early in the morning and I did not fly to London until the following day late in the evening, which is why I spent one night in a hotel and all the two days in Diyarbakir. Near the Grand Mosque is a very cheap hotel for 12 liras from the bed, but this time I stayed in a more expensive but still cheap place. For a night in a nice room, with private bathroom and breakfast, I paid 15 euros. The location was also good because the Grand Mosque was only about a 15-minute walk away. As it always is in Turkey, the whole street was full of shops and street food vendors were on the streets. In fact, at any time of the day or night you could go out to eat a kebab, grilled fish from the River Tigris, sweets and pomegranate juice.
When I left the hotel in the morning, I got to the street through the Iskender Camii mosque, where several times a day there are a lot of faithful and during the free hours of prayer it is also a pleasant place because its fenced area functions as a park. My first day I wanted to go towards the Grand Mosque as soon as possible, and although it was close, the passage of about a kilometer distance took me longer than planned because on the way I was on a delicious kebab, I went to one of many confectioneries to try Kurdish bakhlava and I also tried to make contact with young women who smiled at me, correcting their headscarves. There were of course also armoured cars, but I preferred not to throw in the eye, because I was already distinguished by the crowd.
The first place where I stayed was an ancient caravanserai named Hasan Pasa Hani. This object is a 500-year-old, two-storey bazaar, where there are several interesting shops, although I recommend it to tourists because of the architecture, nice views of the old town and above all good food. I would like to come to Hasan Pasa Hania for breakfast, to which the waiter will serve many small, good snacks and a very good Kurdish coffee. It is a little more expensive than other places but the prices are not shocking, and I think that due to such an attractive place it is worth it. I sat on coffee on the first floor, in a room lined with carpets and traditional Turkish lanterns that I had seen many times before in Istanbul. This place is built in the shape of a square and has many traditional arches for Islam. Although Hasan Pasa Hani occupies a small area, it is definitely a place worth exploring.
On the other side of the street is one of the most popular tourist attractions Diyarbakir and also the object shaping the city’s identity – the Great Mosque, completed in 1092. The mosque, which is the pride of Mesopotamia, can accommodate 5,000 faithful and is considered the fifth holiest object of Islam – I guess, probably because it was originally a church of St. Tomasz, who Muslims stole from Christians and rebuilt the mosque. The Grand Mosque in Diyarbakir lies in a 63-meter-long, 30-meter-wide courtyard, and there is not one building, but a complex of buildings on one site, which were mainly built in the 12th century. This includes Madres (Muslim school) Mesudiye and Zincirye, an Ottoman fountain of purification built in 1849 and a square minaret. In addition, I recommend spending time on covered terrain, where there is a good view of the mosque and minaret, as well as richly decorated and sculpted columns, which are the distinctive features of the Grand Mosque. Undoubtedly, this is a place full of art and tradition.
After leaving the mosque, I spent time in the local bazaar. I was on a snack, I bought a belt from a Kurdish tailor, and then I went to the tea room. At the back of the Grand Mosque is a cheap hotel and small streets that have turned out to be interesting for me. Above all, however, I appreciated the contact with people who was extremely interesting for me and for them. Here they also asked me why I came to the “terrorists”. Many times I have met this term from the mouths of Muslims in many countries, by which I understand that the image of Islam as a religion of terror is on their hearts. I spent the whole afternoon at the Defensive Walls, although on that day I did not go far and did not climb on them. I felt that I needed a whole day on the Defensive Walls. After many teas in small Turkish glasses, I returned to the hotel, stopping along the way to see the minaret on four columns.
At the beginning it was a tower, built on a free field around 900, whereas after conquering Mesopotamia by Muslims and then after forcing the local population to convert to Islam, the tower was converted into a minaret around 1500. Muslims were so inventive that they even made their own legend to the minaret, explaining that the four columns supporting the minaret signified 4 denominations of Islam, whereas the minaret means one Islam. That’s how they came up with a nice idea, but in order to make them more pleasant and in accordance with the new policy, around 1500 a minaret was added to the minaret called Sheikh Matar. This is an interesting story, because this inconspicuous mosque tells a lot about the history of Mesopotamia.
I spent the evening near the hotel on the square nearby, walking around the Defense Walls. I was also at the night bazaar, where honey, coffee, soaps and peanuts were sold. As soon as they closed the shops, street vendors of food, hernages and fruits appeared immediately. I also admit that they had a lot of traffic. As one Kurd told me: “chickens go to sleep early, while Kurds are social, they drink tea and play cards until late.” As in any Muslim country, the environment was dominated by men. After dark I did not see women on the streets anymore. Besides, I noticed that all the objects I mentioned so far were built in the same way, and it’s not just about architectural style but also about color. Each mosque in Diyarbakir and caravanserai is in white and gray, one color line alternating.
The next day, my plan was to explore the defensive walls and its surroundings. It is true that near my hotel there were fragments of the wall and a few impressive towers, but to go through the wall and see what was better to offer, I had to go again to the Great Mosque. The Defensive Walls of Diyarbakir are one of the largest and best preserved buildings of this kind, and not only in Kurdistan, or in the Kurdish part of Turkey if you prefer, but in my opinion it is an architectural phenomenon of the world. The Roman defensive walls in Diyarbakir are over 5km long, are over 10 meters high and 3 to 5 meters thick. They were built in 297 by the Romans and for the next 1500 years were expanded and fortified using volcanic rocks from Anatolia in black. These walls have 4 main gates and 82 wide, fortified observation towers, and many parts of the wall were built on cliffs near the river, which made it difficult to conquer the city. In my opinion, the defensive walls were built to be a kind of city in the city, because at first glance you can see massive walls and fortified towers, but in the middle of the walls there are chambers for weapons and ammunition, rock rooms serving as a place for the army and hospitals network of tunnels, which facilitated the rapid transport of weapons and soldiers.
For most of the day I walked around the defensive walls and it made me very happy. The road on the wall was bumpy and it was necessary to be careful, while some observation towers were already in bad condition. Nevertheless, walking around the walls is safe and I advise you to walk around it, although it is an effort that requires strength and concentration, so that our trip does not end in an accident. I met many people who wanted to make contact with me, and the mother who walked with my daughter who communicated with me through an electronic interpreter on the phone told me that I looked like a soldier. I often heard it in Kurdistan because if people are raised from a child in the company of armies, armored vehicles and spies, then of course everyone who comes to Diyarbakir is probably a soldier, a spy, or at least a journalist.
When I got off the wall, I went to the kebab and ayran to the street where there was not even asphalt on the road but there was an excavator, several trucks and people watching me like television. I think that the average tourist could base his walks around such places because of crazy imagination, but I just came back from Iraq, so it was a very nice experience for me. Besides, the Kurds were interested in where I was from and I saw that they were happy that finally someone visited them. I also did some shopping for home.
My next step was to go through a huge gate, where on each side there was a massive observation tower. On the way I was checked by a Turkish soldier who first blocked my way with a machine gun and then asked about my passport if it hurt something. This time I was already heading towards the Great Mosque, but from the outside of the wall, which I also highly recommend. I walked through very modest buildings where poor Kurdish families lived. Of course, I have aroused considerable interest because nobody goes there and that’s why it was a very educational experience for me, even though sometimes I felt like a white monkey in a zoo. I tried to talk to people, I bought ice cream for children and I took a lot of pictures. Walking along this side of the wall, I also saw very attractive low reliefs and Muslim calligraphies on watchtowers. I came to the conclusion that the defensive walls of Diyarbakir and monumental gates and observation towers, called bastions, are an open-air museum.
My last interest was the ancient bridge over the Tigris River called the 10 Eyed Bridge (On Gözlü Köprü), due to 10 stone arches. This bridge was built by the Mervani Kingdom in the tenth century, and today it is one of the symbols of Diyarbakir and the pride of all Mesopotamia. I got there by bus from under the bastion with a big Turkish flag, although you can of course go for a few kilometer walk. Tje 10 Eyed Bridge is a good place to meet the history and tradition of the region with a cup of Turkish tea. There is from there a view of the river Tiger enjoying the eye, and when I was here, there was also a local band dressed up in national costumes. Along the shore there are teahouses and carpets on the grass and the bridge has been restored. I came back to Diyarbakir, hitchhiking under the defensive walls.
It was the end of my visit to the Kurdish city in Turkey. I bought some souvenirs, ate a Kurdish kebab and slowly returned to the hotel, buying local tea and bakhlava on the way. My backpack barely got lost because the traveler’s luggage grows with the trip. (I remember that I sent a 25kg parcel from China once.) My transport to the airport took me about an hour, but luckily only one bus.
Summary of eastern Turkey
I wrote this article so that future travelers would develop their adventure horizons and see Turkey also east of Ankara. Turkey is not just Istanbul, bazaar and beaches in Antalya, although the Turkish government is doing everything it can to make Turkey understand it in this way. The eastern part of Turkey is very interesting and people are more natural. Nor should you believe in the propaganda of fear and plot this region from your list of places to visit. There, too, there is a life to be learned, and I hope that through my article and my photos I have made this region more attractive.
I’ve heard many times that tourism in Eastern Turkey and especially in Turkish Kurdistan is dead, because Europeans are afraid to go there, and what’s interesting are those who are voting in Europe for the left responsible for importing real terrorists. I believe that Kurdistan, both in Turkey and Iraq, should go and spend money there so that the Kurds live in peace and prosperity. I think that this kind of attitude is also a very good solution to the problem of immigration.