Kemaliye

Watered by the rivers of its lush green gardens, Kemaliye is a drawing point not only for its culture and history but also for its nature and sports competitions.

We are strolling down a path through Malatya's apricot orchards. The air is exceedingly dry but around us is nothing but green. We still have 160-170 kilometers to go to the township of Kemaliye in Erzincan province. We can hardly wait to see this small but fascinating town on the banks of the Euphrates. Winding through the mountains and then along the shores of Keban Dam reservoir, we finally arrive at Kemaliye, about whose nature, culture, cuisine, and historic houses and door knockers we have heard so much.

A GIANT GARDEN
Espied from a hilltop, the township lies like a giant garden encircled by steep slopes with a river running past it. We realize how apt is its name, Eğin, 'paradise', which was used up to the founding of the Republic in 1923 when it was changed to Kemaliye in a reference to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk following a visit he paid to the area. Both names can still be seen used side by side.

The first thing to catch our eye as we start our stroll around the town are the doors and door knockers. Made of wrought iron in a refined union of workmanship and taste, they are as beautiful as they are functional. Mounted on the outside of the door, they consist of two sound-producing parts. While men arriving at the house use the upper knocker with its deeper sound, women announce their presence using the lower, softer sounding one. That way the people inside know whether a man or a woman is at the door and can open it accordingly. The knockers, which are worked with a variety of motifs, continue to be produced today by a single family in the township. We immediately decide to visit the workshop of this family, whose last name appropriately is Demirci, 'ironworker'. As the Demirci family describe to us how their trade has been passed down from father to son for generations and what special work it is, I can't help but agree. And we leave with the hope that it will continue this way for years to come.

HOUSES AMONG THE FRUIT TREES
Well-preserved and attractive historic houses line the streets of Kemaliye, which has been home to a number of different cultures since its founding. Surrounded by mulberry, walnut and plane trees, these houses are some 200-300 years old. Using stone on the lower story and timber on the upper stories, they were designed in keeping with the local terrain. In this township perched on steep slopes, most of the houses are built against the hillside -on a 3 to 3.5-meter axis that takes good advantage of the lay of the land- and rise to three or four stories. The stone-built lower stories are used mostly for storing wood and provisions while the upper timber stories are used as the living area and the roof is for drying fruits and vegetables. The doors opening onto the street from various parts of the house are extremely interesting. In a conversation we have with one of the families here  we learn that preservation and upkeep on the timber portions against the harsh winter conditions is a laborious and costly proposition. And some people in the region, which gets months of snowfall every year, have tried to take measures by covering the facades of their homes with siding of a different material.

WINTER IN ISTANBUL, SUMMER IN SIRAKONAK
The village of Sırakonak offers a cluster of Kemaliye houses. For this village is what we might term an 'open-air museum'. There are virtually no modern buildings whatsoever here and nothing but mulberry trees and history as far as the eye can see. As we stroll through the narrow streets, the residents are eager to invite us into their homes. We are guests in what is the biggest and perhaps the oldest house in the village. Our host explains that no one from outside has settled in Sırakonak and that most of those who own homes here spend the winter in Istanbul and return for the summer. The wood workmanship on both the exterior and the interior, especially that on the ceiling, is of a quality rarely encountered. And these  friendly people have not forgotten what a special place this is and have had the good sense to be solicitous of their history and of their homes. Like Sırakonak, other villages such as Başpınar, Kozlupınar, Çit and Dutluca are also well worth seeing, and preserving. To this end, the Foundation for the Preservation and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL) opened an office in Kemaliye in 2002 and
is pursuing its efforts in the township and its villages today.

THIRTY YEARS OF SPORT
One of the most important features distinguishing Kemaliye from the neighboring townships is that it has hosted the activities of the International Culture and Nature Sports Festival for thirty years. Welcoming guests by the hundreds from Turkey and abroad for an entire week, the festival is a large-scale  event with contestants in many different fields. In the segment of the activities we took part in, the program flowed without a hitch and the diligence and helpfulness of the Kemaliye Culture and Development Foundation officials were impressive. The activities included a rock climbing race, a bicycle race, a paramotor show, javelin throwing, and a water sport exhibition as well as excursions to the neighboring villages, a boat ride through the canyon, a tree planting and kite festival, and folklore presentations. The opening of a number of touristic facilities in the township and several week-long photography and painting exhibitions were further livened up by the presence of a number of guests, including some top-level state officials. Receiving us in his office, the Mayor of the Kemaliye Municipality, Mr Mustafa Haznedar, expressed his pleasure that such a festival has been held in the township for years and briefed us on its recently enriched program. We would like to express our gratitude to all those whose efforts went into it. 

KEMALİYE BY THE WATER
The waters of the  Euphrates, which flowed alongside us throughout our trip giving life to the region, have unfortunately been somewhat reduced by the heat of summer in recent years due to global warming. Nevertheless they continue their long journey winding between the steep precipices. And we for our part went out in a boat for a chance to see the Karanlık Kanyon, which at the same time meant an opportunity to view Kemaliye's beauty from the banks of the river. We were amazed at how small we were among the giant rocks that rise on both sides blotting out even the sun! A macadam road runs along a steep slope overlooking the canyon. This road, built through tunnels, offers a good alternative for those wishing to view the canyon from a different angle.

THE UNION OF WALNUT AND MULBERRY: LÖK
Following our boat trip, we were delighted to find a table laden with the region's very appetizing cuisine. Besides local specialties like 'keşkek' (a wedding dish made of finely ground wheat and served with meat or chicken), wheat soup, special Eğin 'piyaz' (beans marinated with onions in olive oil and vinegar), sauteed kenger (a spiny thistle - Cynara cardunculus) and 'hışik' stew made with fresh green beans, 'Lök' is one of the locally made products that shows just how delicious a taste can be. A blend of walnuts and mulberries ground to a fine powder, 'Lök' is a among the region's 'must-taste's.

A PLACE TO DIE FOR
This diminutive township in the heart of Anatolia is successfully preserving all its historical assets and cultural diversity and standing on its own two feet. Clearly it is only going to further grow and develop with time. In this century when everything is becoming so monotonously alike, Kemaliye is one of those rare places to die for. It fully deserves to be preserved with meticulous care.