18 June, 2010

Elaziğ to Erzurum: iklimler

Leaving the sun-baked agricultural plain of Diyarbakır, the bus headed west towards Elaziğ. From a deeply notched hill country the road rose past lakes to the valley where  Elaziğ lies, surrounded by low mountains and fields of wheat awaiting harvest. I would like to have stayed watching the rosy sunset over those peaks; Elaziğ seemed one of the most beautiful regions i'd passed through to date. Then the bus veered back to the east. A nine hour ride, El-a-zig and zag, to arrive just 240 km northeast of Diyarbakır as the crow flies.

At 2km above sea level, the climate and topography of Erzurum could not be more different; this place reminds me most of Anchorage, Alaska. Summers are short, from June to September. On all sides grass-green mountain peaks rise, and even in mid-June snowpacks linger. The weather today was around 13*C (55*F) and rainy. Dark clouds rolled through, now and then wreathing Palandoken, the highest peak. When they parted, there were patches of clear blue undimmed by haze.

It is hard to describe Erzurum without superlatives. This city, though small, has everything. It's the first place i have seen in Turkiye with a developed outdoor recreation sector. Whether you dig hiking, history, architecture, or shopping, Erzurum is worth a visit. On Eski Bit Pazarı Cad, one sidewalk is lined with jewelers, beautiful window displays of gold punctuated by hunting shops; the other side features draperies and headscarves. I walk through an old Silk Road Karavanseray, now a jewelry mall.

View from the Citadel toward the Double Minaret Medrese and Palandöken ski area. 

Erzurum was a crossing for trade routes in the middle ages, and its strategic position at the convergence of Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and Armenian borders made for repeated changing of hands. It was here in 1919, just days after Mustafa Kemal resigned the army to pursue political leadership, that the conference to cement Turkey's sturggle for nationhood convened.The mosques here are different, reflecting a Seljuk (pre-Ottoman) influence; minarets are shorter and broader. Architecturally speaking, the city reminds me of an Andy Warhol painting, spattered indiscriminately with architectural precession and jumbled historical period. Landmark buildings - stand shoulder-to-shoulder with modern glass facades and Turkish Army barracks in the center of town.

This diversity is replicated on the streets. No longer dominated by Turks or Kurds, Armenian features are also visible, as are people of Cerkez heritage. The human contrast here is stronger than anywhere i have seen. Well-off university students mix with ten-year old shoeshine boys. I see everything from alluring modern ladies with bared heads to schoolgirls in shimmering, jewel-toned headscarves to women in garb that obscures even their eyes - and a surprising number of women on the street compared to most cities i have visited here.

Amidst this vivid stew of sights, the city's architectural highlight - the Cifte Minareli (Double minaret) Medrese - is well worth the trip. Unfinished for the ages, the building's facade shows marked differences in ornament between the right and left sides. Legend has it that a master and apprentice worked together on the stonework until one day, when the master, long surpassed in skill by his apprentice and become a servant instead of a master, jumped from one of the minarets. Seeing what his pride had caused, the apprentice followed, and with no one to guide them, the workmen simply quit.