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LAND OF POETS AND SAINTS
2002 / JANUARY
It was mid-winter in the eastern province of Erzurum, which for months is buried under snow and the temperature remains below zero for most of the time. Despite the hardships of the long winter, the season has an enchanting beauty all its own. My destination was Hasankale, for centuries the most strategic point in the eastern region, and home to saints and the celebrated poet Nef'î (d. 1635). The town was swathed in thick mist when I arrived, and the old stone houses steeped in history were like ghosts in the empty silent streets. At a temperature of minus 23 degrees Centigrade, it was hardly surprising that everyone was keeping indoors. Then a narrow street I came across two people, their voices breaking the silence. They presented a supernatural appearance under the street lamp which threw its yellow light onto the white snow.
Although Hasankale's official name is now Pasinler, apart from the road sign at the entrance to the town the name is not used at all, and it still writes Hasankale on the old train station. To reach the castle or kale which gave its name to the town, you must climb the hill
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LAND OF POETS AND SAINTS
2002 / JANUARY

along a street lined by stone houses. These are designed to protect the inhabitants from the extremes of this harsh continental climate, with its bitterly cold winters and blazing hot summers. At the same time heavy wooden beams laid between the courses of stone makes them resistant to earthquakes. The same technique can be seen in the walls of the castle which commands a view over the town from its high vantage point. The town and its fertile plain were ruled in turn by the Urartians, Medes, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sassanids, Armenians, and Vanad Bulgars - the memory of the latter preserved for a long time in the name Land of Vanad given to the northern area of the district. Then came the long centuries of Ottoman rule, which were relatively peaceful until the later period, when a series of wars with the Russians caused suffering and upheaval. But the plain lost none of its abundance nor the inhabitants any of their hospitalite. People we met insisted that we visit the Haci Rüstü Coffeehouse, and we were not disappointed by this historic establishment with its friendly atmosphere.

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LAND OF POETS AND SAINTS
2002 / JANUARY
The proprietor, a man in his late middle age named Lütfü, proudly showed us a corner near the stove where he displays the memorabilia of visits by numerous famous names in Turkey's twentieth century history, including the second president Ismet Inönü, and former prime ministers Adnan Menderes and Süleyman Demirel.The district of Hasankale has bred many poets, the most famous being Nef'î, and numerous saints. Every village has its venerated tomb, and almost every street an historic mosque. Another celebrated local figure is Ibrahim Hakki Efendi (1703-1780), mystic, anatomist and astronomer whose fame spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, particularly for his theories about the relationship between anatomy and human character.In this part of the country sugar is not stirred into the tea, but instead a hard lump of loaf sugar is placed in the cheek and the tea sucked past it, a method of tea drinking known as kitlama. The man at the next table in the coffeehouse told me that spirited young men should drink their tea kitlama style, so I did my best but failed to get the hang of it.
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LAND OF POETS AND SAINTS
2002 / JANUARY

My tea break over, it was time to regretfully leave the warmth of the café for the freezing street, and visit the villages of Bulkasim and Tasagil. The mist was still thick, and the driver told us that it would not clear until the middle of February. For lunch we bought some of the thin bread called lavas from the bakery and ate it with local Çeçil cheese. Our black car stood out against the white expanse of snow stretching as far as we could see all around us, and the poplar trees by the edge of the road seemed to come straight out of an artst'st canvas. When we had climbed to the top of the hill ahead, the view became even more beautiful, and we stopped to enjoy it at leisure. The driver, Seyfi, called me over and showed me wolf tracks in the snow, seeing which I decided it would be imprudent to wander away from the car.
At Tasagil, which stands on higher ground, the sun shone brightly down from the blue sky onto the glistening snow, and took the chill out of the air.

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LAND OF POETS AND SAINTS
2002 / JANUARY

But by three o'clock in the afternoon twilight was already setting in, and I returned to Pasinler and a sound night's sleep, broken only by the whistling of a train, reminding me that I had to be at the station the following morning. There were only six passengers waiting at the station for the Kars train. As the coloured carriages came into sight, excitement simmered up inside at the prospect of continuing my travels through this vast mountainous landscape in the depths of an eastern winter.

* Ibrahim Yogurtçu is a photographer



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