Where Mountaıns Talk Ağrı

Winter is slowly retreating from the East. Spring opens its eyes in May at Ağrı, where a giant of a mountain looks out over the melting snows and the eyes of spring become so many thawing lakes.

Every great writer is a majestic mountain. His words traverse mountains and are tossed as high as the skies where the wind bears them far away, to us. Every letter becomes a white bird whose beating wings melt the snow in our hearts. And that is the reason - but not the only reason - why one cannot go to Ağrı Dağ Doğubayezıt or Diyadin without reading Yaşar Kemal’s ‘Legend of Mount Ağrı’. For on the first page of his book, Yaşar Kemal describes how spring comes to the Küp Gölü, a lake at 4,200 meters, with the blooming of the flowers, and you wish you were a mountain climber, a native of Ağrı, the novel’s protagonist Ahmet himself, or Gülbahar if you are a woman. No matter the distance. No matter whether the story is fact or legend.

Does loving Ağrı mean loving mountains? Loving the shadow cast by Süphan, or Tendürek? Does loving Ağrı mean loving the sheep’s milk yoghurt in metal vessels and pink-painted village schools, Urartu stonemasons and ram’s head gravestones? Does it mean loving the toil of women who take their carpets down to the river to wash them together, legendary herds of stags, challenge, the isolation of huts in winter? Or does it mean all this and much more? Loving Ağrı means loving Turkey’s Far East. It means loving melting icicles in spring. Loving hardship.

There stands Eleşkirt. There Taşlıçay. There Hamur, and there Patnos. There Doğubayezıt like a falling star, a rock like a red tooth driven into the earth. There lie dormant volcanoes, and Noah’s Ark. And there stands the Palace of İshakpaşa, a stone eagle that spread its wings in the year 1784 of the Governor whose name it bears. Its back resting against the rocks for protection, it looks out on Mt Ağrı. Is it trying to ape the mountain? I doubt it…It must be gazing on the mountain with reverence. As you drive up to the palace, you will pass through Urartu ruins. Winding your way up, you will frequently leave Mt. Ağrı behind you. Then suddenly you will find yourself in a courtyard one could describe as yellow for this landscape. The palace is a complex in the full sense of the word, the second largest Ottoman palace in history after Topkapı in Istanbul. Although a section said to have consisted of 360 rooms has been destroyed, one is deeply impressed nonetheless. Not only because it is a structure that combines elements of Persian, Seljuk and Ottoman architecture but because it is a virtual lesson in geography due to its location.

Below the steep rocks above and the ruins of an Urartu castle below, the Tomb of Ahmed-i Hani near the the Shafi mosque is never without visitors. On Fridays and holidays especially it is literally thronged with people. Those who come to pray, to seek a cure for their ills, to make wishes, those who even camp out around the tomb. For some Ahmed-i Hani is a philosopher and a sage. For others a poet, a Sufi mystic. For still others he is a saint. At weddings people wish the bride and groom ‘Father Hani’s blessing’. The people have taken him to heart. And not only his tomb… Even his epic love story, Mem u Zin, has been turned into a magnificent work of literature.

The first at 5,137 meters, and the second at 3,896 meters, Big Ağrı and Little Ağrı are two mountains that seem to stand surveying each other in locked gaze.  Due to the severe weather conditions at the summit, Big Ağrı is a challenge for mountain climbers. But the belief that Noah’s Ark lies somewhere on its slopes places it among the most distinguished mountains in the world. And a formation reminiscent of a ship on a slope covered with solidified lava on Telçeker just opposite it keeps such beliefs alive and current.

As you travel from Doğubayezıt to Diyadin, the mountains seem to talk. The İpek Geçidi (Silk Pass) at 2010 meters affords passage. Just 15 km from the city center are the Diyadin Spas with their natural thermal pools and fountains on the one hand and rustic bed&breakfasts and nightclubs on the other, and the Tendürek Mountains standing opposite saying, “If you want to know this place, ask me!” The thermal springs offer health tourism for people from the neighboring provinces. Mountain climbers come to scale Ağrı, and those who come to see the Meteor Crater and Ice Cave make up another group. Doğubayezıt’s Ağrı aside, another dormant volcano in the shade of Mt. Süphan is Patnos, where the day begins and ends as in a typical Anatolian town. The shops raise their shutters in the early morning hours, and the apprentices sweep them clean. Tea is steeped along Ağrı-Van Caddesi and the aficionados immediately start their day-long sipping. The Patnos Market hums with the sounds of people who have come from the villages to sell their cheese, yoghurt and vegetables. Life begins early in all the towns of Ağrı as it does by necessity all over the East. It is the same for a young girl embroidering cloth with motifs from the ceramics and beads with human faces unearthed in the excavations on Girik Tepe, and even with Noah’s Ark, and the same for the fishermen who come down to Balık Gölü (Fish Lake) at Taşlıçay to catch carp. The same for those who work in the spas at Diyadin and for those who take the therapeutic waters for their health. Life begins early for the birds, too, birds that are worked into the region’s silk carpets alongside dragons. And for the shepherds in their felt cloaks who bring their flocks here to graze…

What did we say at the outset? Every great writer is a majestic mountain. So, let us usher in spring on one of those great mountains with Turkish writer Yaşar Kemal. And as we read let us drink in the fragrance of the flowers: “Every year when spring breaks into bloom and the world becomes a lullaby, the shepherds of Mt Ağrı come from all over and, casting their felt cloaks on the copper earth around the lake, they sit down. As the sun rises, they pull their reed flutes from their belts and play the fury and passion of Mt. Ağrı. And as the day is dawning a white bird comes…”
If you have never gone to Ağrı, please don’t say it’s too late…

And when you go, be sure to get up early, for Ağrı’s mountains promise to show you different colors at every moment. Mountains that are white mornings, red at evening and purple as night is falling… The East describes itself best to travelers crossing the foothills of those mountains.

(Haluk Şahin, writer and journalist)
Would a person travel from one end of a country to the other just to see a mountain? He would. Especially if that mountain is Ağrı. I did, and it was one of the most unforgettable trips of my life. Just one look at Mt. Ağrı is enough to remind a person of what kind of place we live in. The great Russian poet Pushkin came to the foothills of Ağrı in 1829 and said: “I looked with all my might at this legendary mountain.” I did the same in 1989. I looked with all my might. I wandered in its foothills. And I wrote a book, ‘Return to Ağrı’. Ağrı, where Father Noah, prophets, priests and eagles all lived and breathed in another time. This is not a Swiss mountain. This is the cradle of mankind, the most famous mountain in the world...