10.06.2017 - 10.06.2017 30 °C
Day 17, Saturday June 10 2017
Kars, NE Turkey
- Thanks to earplugs & eye blinds, not a bad night's sleep. But as we wake up the day after the election results - the feeling that the UK is in a political mess has not diminished.
- We have detoured to Kars in order to visit the ancient & long abandoned city of Ani. Frankly speaking, unless you are headed beyond Turkey to Georgia, Iran, Iraq or Syria (!), or wish to experience a small but important legacy of Armenian culture, there is probably no major incentive to come to Kars. Conversely if you are headed East, then Kars makes a great stopover exactly because of its proximity to Ani. This famed ancient city is situated about 50 km out of town. The River Akhurian which flows through Ani is the current day border between Turkey and Armenia. The border has been closed since 1993.
- Relationships between Turkey and Armenia have never really recovered since the Genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottomans during World War 1. There has been insufficient recognition and apology to the Armenian People for the atrocities perpetrated against them: mass & brutal killings, enforced deportation and dispossession of their homes & businesses. A more contemporary reason is the continued territorial dispute between Armenia & Azerbaijan, Turkey's regional ally.
- It is for this reason that our journey to Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan requires 2 passports and an itinerary that zigzags from Georgia to Azerbaijan, back to Georgia to enter Armenia and then return to Georgia once again in order to cross back into Turkey. Georgia is the 'neutral' player in all these diplomatic games.
- To get to Ani we drive across flat exposed grass land. However we are at an altitude of 2000m. We pass through small farming communities. Herdsmen shuttle their cows from one grass patch to another. Who leads, the cows or the herdsmen? Either way they do it on foot. No quad bike nor horses are used to help control.
- Ani - a city of many names. Variably referred to as the city of 40 Gates , of 1001 Churches, of Abandoned Ghosts... It is also a Windy City. The midday temperature in June exceeds 30C. Hats, suntan cream and water are essential. At the moment there are no tourist facilities at all. Not even holes in the ground!
- Ani is known to have been founded more than 1600 years ago. It was situated on several trade routes, including one of the Silk Road routes. In the 5C it was documented as a fortress city belonging to the Armenians and it is they who built the churches ( archeological evidence of about 40 exist ). The Kingdom of Armenia established as an independent state in 884 made Ani its capital.
- Life was never peaceful for the residents of Ani. Too many empires fought each other in this strategic part of the world. In 1045 it was attacked by the Byzantines during their take over of the Armenian Kingdom. Then a mere 20 years later the city was captured by Seljuk Turks who murdered and enslaved its citizens and sold them and the city, lock stock and barrel to a Kurdish dynasty.
- Despite all this, Ani prospered commercially and grew to become a walled city of more than 100,000 residents by 11C. By this time the city was no longer Christian - churches were converted to mosques and new mosques were constructed. Then fortunes changed, trade routes shifted, several damaging earthquakes struck and during the 14C the city went into steep decline. By the 1700s it was completely abandoned.
- Tensions between Turkey and Armenia have contributed to its neglect. Clumsy archeological digs, poor quality restoration and Turkish attempts to eliminate Armenian history from this area, have produced a landscape of rubble & ruins. Not forgetting the inevitable effects of the passage of time & Mother Nature It is nonetheless a place hugely evocative of past centuries and civilisations. Rumour has it that UNESCO are close to designating it as a World Heritage Site. Perhaps this is why a large visitor centre is being near the site, due for completion early 2018.
- Ani could do with some protection, professional restoration and certainly better & more objective information labelling. The ticket price will inevitably increase and so will visitor numbers. At least today we did not have to avoid each other's photographs. We all had plenty of space to wander & reflect.
- On our way back to Kars we make a short detour down a dusty track to a small tent encampment that is surrounded by bee hives. We have been intending to do so for a while. This is not the first time we have seen roadside apiculture in Turkey!
- Eastern Turkey is famous for its pure honey. The nectar comes only from wild mountain flowers., no crops, no tree blossom and no pesticides. And according to the traditional techniques that they use, the native “Caucasian” bees are never given any sugar to increase production.
- The bee keeper and his wife are naturally surprised by our arrival. A shake of the hand and smile soon dispel suspicion and even the dog stops growling. We are shown the slabs of honeycomb ready for sale to wholesalers in Kars. We are also given a peep inside one of the hives where the bees are busy making their precious nectar. The beekeeper does this without any protective clothing or mask. We are also a little close for comfort. Through a language of gestures we understand bee stings are simply regarded as part and parcel of the job.
- We perhaps should have purchased honey direct from these kindly people but the honeycombs are large ( and heavy ) and not well wrapped. We fear a sticky mess in the truck. On our return to Kars we wander down 'Honey Street' - a road leading down to river, where there are several honey shops. We hope to meet with an English speaking shopkeeper who can explain to us about the different honey products. No such luck.
- But we do discover: honey that is produced without adding sugar to the hives is more expensive because the bees are less productive. A round slab ( sugar free ) such as you see in the photo weighs about 1.5 kg and costs around 12£. It makes us wonder about the production methods and sugar content of our supermarket honey sold at a much cheaper price back in UK.
- The honey shops also sell large rounds of locally made cheese. Honey & cheese, nuts and dried fruit - what a delicious combination.
- We manage a pre- Iftar supper at 6.30 p.m. The only problem is that most of the normal menu is unavailable because - you guessed it - the chefs are too busy with the preparation of Iftar. We must vacate our table by 7.30 when the Iftar crowd start arriving. And so the show goes on. Yes Ramadan must be good business for restaurant owners.