Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Eastern Anatolia

Of all places, I am currently in Dogubeyazit, East Anatolia about 50 km from the Iranian border and just as far away from Armenia. It's another world.
The city is famous for two things, starting point for climbing mythical mount Ararat (slightly tougher than Kilimanjaro, and a bit easier that Elbrus) and Ishak Pasha Palace. 
Initially I thought to climb the summit or at least give it a good go up to base camp. I mean after Elbrus I am not in a rush. I did not realize that since the mountain is a military zone, all trekking is under strict regulations, requires permit arranged far in advance, joining a group, and most of all time I did not have.

So it was time to settle for the cultural trip.

I didn't finish this post so I didn't post it at the time. Now at home in Cyprus I finally have some time to reflect on Eastern Anatolia.
I have been to many places around the world, but I never felt so far away.

It's a totally different world, where men and women have totally different roles than what I am used to. It's peaceful and safe environment as long as you follow the society rules. I am not sure what happens if you don't and I don't really want to find out.
Few examples: it took me a while to realize that there is a reason why I am the only woman having dinner in a restaurant among several dozen local men. It's not because women don't eat out. But they do so at the dedicated for them places. Each restaurant has a second floor where women go to eat together with their chaperon, either a male family member or an elderly female relative.

Streets of Van, Turkey

streets of Van, Turkey

More: It was 40° but the local ladies are wearing closed shoes, long skirts, long buttoned up trench coat and a headscarf. And strangely enough they don't seem to suffer much. Either they are used to, or in typical female fashion, they know how to look pretty and pretend it doesn't hurt, similar to walking in stilettos. Or probably a bit of both. 

On the last day, after a few days in Dogubeyazit which is Very conservative, back in the main town Van, I thought I put some what "liberal dress" which showed my legs from under my knees. Faux Pas at its best. You just don't do that over there. No one acted disrespectful, only group of passing women will bypass me and look back in a mix of pity and confusion: "Poor foreigner, she forgot to put trousers under that shirt, they don't teach them well in the West, ay-ay-ay." Or : "Look daughter, if you don't 
behave you might turn into a silly woman like that, showing her ankles in public like it's MTV or so".

Society in Eastern Anatolia is on the conservative side. Light miles away from the latest Miley Cyrus scandal, or anything remotely ostentascious. The region is very poor, but people a very hospitable and not in the commercial way you see in Istanbul or along the coast. As a woman I did not feel anyone looking at me in lustily or making strange remarks, there is a lot of respect in society for the individual.  As a tourist, you are treated as a rare but dear bird. Favorite pass time of the locals seems drinking strong ultra sweetened black tea and take their time. There is nothing to hurry about, time has stopped 


On the other hand there is feeling of mutual misunderstanding lingering at all times. You just know if things go wrong for some reason, things will go very very wrong. That feeling slightly increased while realizing on the way between two cities how heavily militarized the whole region is.


Naturally, I hit the sites in Van and in the Van salt lake : 
Akdamar island, lake Van

Armenian Church at Akdamar Island, lake Van

ferry to Akdamar island

Armenian church, Akdamar Island

Armenian Church, Akdamar Island
fortress Van, Turkey


Van Fortress

And even more in Dogubeyazit:

Ishak Pasha palace

All in all, very refreshing trip in a very different
travel destination. Only this last view was worth the whole trip:
Ishak Pasha Palace

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