You are the th visitor here since 7 April 1996 ! Welcome !


Into Eastern Anatolia / Kurdistan / Upper Mesopotamia

This is one of the most beautiful regions of Turkey. Here, the treeless Anatolian steppe soon meets the snow-capped Caucasus in the East, washes into the cool Black Sea in the north, and slopes downwards into the dry Syrian Desert in the south. This is an ancient land that the 10,000 Greeks under Xenophon ("Xenophon's Ten Thousand") marched through under the most difficult conditions on their way to freedom. Byzantines fought the Persians, the Arabs and then were swept over by the wandering Turks. The Crusaders came here too, before being thrown out of Edessa, their first conquest in the Middle East, today known as Urfa. Even today, this is a land of controversy, of both hope and agony.

The Turks call this land Eastern Anatolia, and the government hopes to turn this into a land of milk and honey. By building the Ataturk Dam ("Southeastern Anatolian Project" - SAP), which is the 6th largest in the world, the Turkish government hopes to irrigate the dry plains of Urfa and turn it into a breadbasket and thus increase the income of this troubled region. However, amidst all this hope and ambitious plans, a bitter insurgency is being waged by the Kurds, who form a large proportion of the population of this land and yet have no state of their them, this is Kurdistan - their aggrieved homeland where thousands have died in the struggle... I prefer to call this beautiful region Upper Mesopotamia - land washed by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates - land of the ancient Commagenes, the Assyrians, and so on...

Click to see map showing the distribution of the Kurds

To hear what Kurdish independence movement/separatist/terrorist groups (call them whatever depending on which side you support) have to say :

  • Kurdistan Committee of Canada online!
  • Kurdish Information Network
  • Kurdistan Archive
  • The above links are placed for info only ; the author does not express support for any side w.r.t. the conflict.

    Having the dangers of the insurgency in mind, I joined a 3 day local tour to this part of Turkey. Travelling on a minibus across the region, you may be in a region of endless windswept plateau in the morning, reaching an area of snow-capped mountains in the afternoon, and then the arid semi-desert of the North Syrian Plains in the evening. And one come across the nomadic Turkoman shepards, the proud Kurds, the hospitable Turks and their cousins - the Azeris - as well as the Arabs...

    Nomadic Kurds of the East

    Travelling across the region, one sometimes come across army road blocks. Don't worry, they are there just to check your passports. No problem unless you'rfe smuggling weapons or something...

    The climax of the tour was the watching of sunrise on Nemrut Dagi, a 2200+ m high mountain where an ancient kingdom (Commagene) built a mausoleum with huge statues of the king and various Hellenistic and Persian gods. King Antiochos I believed that he was the descendent of Alexander the Great of Macedonia on his mother's side, and of Darius the Great of Persia on his father's side (and of course, through these great kings, the gods of Greece and Persia). And nearby on another mountain was Arsameia, the capital of Commagene, where one sees the statues of King Mithridates (founder of the kingdom) shaking hand with Hercules - another manifestation of the egoistic kings of Commagene. This little kingdom which for 130 years play off the Romans against the Persians, was finally wiped off the map in 72 AD by the Romans. Standing amongst the monumental ruins of Commagene and looking across the wilderness of the Kurdish mountains, I realised that the current conflict was but a tiny chapter in the saga of this ancient land.

    Among the Gods of Commagene

    Tips : Those going on a Mt Nemrud expedition should bring lots of warm clothing - it's f-r-e-e-e-e-e-z-i-n-g-l-y c-o-l-d !

    Urfa : Into Arabia

    The Islamic holy city of Sanliurfa (or Urfa to the Ottomans or Edessa to the Crusaders) in Turkish (Upper) Mesopotamia was next. This was where the locals believed Abraham or Ibrahim was born (we visited the cave where he was born). We also visited the holy pools which were once fire thrown upon Abraham by the pagan King Nemrud but were turned into water by God who took pity of Abraham (who invoked Nemrud's fury by smashing icons in the city). The bazaar of Sanliurfa was an exotic one, with Arabs in their robes, Kurds with their low-crotch trousers and Turks in the `modern' clothing. As the locals say, this is the city where Islam is the main force of society, and where the three great nations of the South East - Turks, Kurds & Arabs - have always lived harmoniously...

    "So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Harran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Harran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan."

    Genesis 12; 4-5

    The houses of Harran : Back to the biblical days ; Harran's kids : they go around begging for money. If you give one, they'll all run after you !

    We then visited Harran, the biblical Arab village near the Syrian border built upon the ruins of an ancient city (and the first Islamic university in the world). Ruined houses dotted the moon-like landscape while a crumbling citadel built on the site of a moon temple. We spent a night in Harran, in one of the unusual beehive-shaped houses that attracted tourists to this village. The houses are built using mud, and is cool in the day and warm at night. The enterprising Arab owner (who like many people in this remote region, has more than one wife - illegal under Turkish law - and many children - he has 16 at the last count !) of the house we stayed in had set up a hot shower, drinks vending machine and miscellaneous modern amenities. This was an unique experience that I doubt I would ever come across again.

    ANKARA - City of Ataturk...

    Back to TWC's Mad Rush Homepage

    TWC's Homepage Please email your comments to