Balm to Farhad's Heart: Eastern Anatolia


The concept of the East involves a bit of the unknown for everyone living in the West. As Turkish poet Hilmi Yavuz puts it, “Passion runs deep, but Farhad/is only scratching the surface of the mountain.” This line is valid for the East as well: When it comes to understanding it, all the richness and diversity known to us fall woefully short. As the poet says, efforts to comprehend Eastern Anatolia are tantamount to Farhad’s attempt to dig a canal through the mountain for love. Let us scratch the surface of that image a little in the ancient city of Ani, not with Ferhad’s pick but by piquing by our imagination. Lying inside the village of Ocaklı 42 kilometers from Kars, the Ani ruins are a medieval city founded on a layer of volcanic tufa stone. A major commercial city due to its location, Ani at the same time was a city prone to serious conflicts. Indeed conflict appears to have persisted throughout its history in this city known to date back to 5000 B.C.. Ani was founded by the Karsaks, who built the citadal at Kars and gave their name to the city.

The deep plains that embrace the cultures of the East have opened their arms to every idea and every religion in their quest for illumination. The islands of Akdamar and Çarpanak in Lake Van are the cradles of the region’s cultures. Transport conveniently provided by boats from Van’s village of Dibekdüzü makes it possible to tour the Çarpanak, aka Ctouts, monastery on the island. The island of Akdamar meanwhile can be reached by boats departing from Gevaş about 50 kilometers from the city center. With its sharply pointed conical roof, the Akdamar Church is one of the finest examples of Armenian culture in the region and well worth a visit.


The Ahlat Tombstones in the province of Bitlis are without a doubt one of the East’s most important open air museums. Each one a monument in its own right, these tombstones are among the outstanding legacies of the Islamic world and of Turkish culture.  Known in their period as the Dome or Vault of Islam, they continue to embody the most prominent monuments of the tomb tradition under today’s skies. Some 3.5 meters high, they bear silent witness to history in the spirit and meaning of the inscriptions on their pediments.

But the East’s monuments to time are not limited to the tombstones of Ahlat. Commissioned by İshak Paşa II of the Çildıroğulları and Çolak Abdi Paşa in 1685, İshak Pasha Palace is another monument to the silent history of the East. This palace near Mount Ararat and the city of Doğubeyazıt exhibits features of Turkestan architecture. Built of cut stone, the palace’s eastern portal reflects the characteristics of Seljuk art in its reliefs and ornamentation. But it would be wrong to think that the East’s monumental values consist only in architectural works built of stone. You will encounter the chain of values represented by those monuments in everyday life as well. Now in a flatweave pattern, now in a tasty dish, you can easily identify in everyday life colors and vestiges of all the cultures that live, or once lived, in Eastern Anatolia.

It would not be going too far to say that Van’s cultural richness is also reflected in the vibrancy of everyday life, both in the colorful array of local products sold in the shopping venues and in the regional cuisine. The culture of the Van breakfast especially stands out for its richness. And when the region’s geographical structure is taken into account, Lake Van emerges as the city’s greatest advantage. Suitable for water sports as well as nature sports, this landscape and climate constitute a big plus for the region. Kars is another province that benefits. Its Lake Çıldır is a must-see even in winter. While we’re on the subject of Kars, we should also mention the great variety of architecture here deriving from the city’s history. Long exposed to Russian influence in particular, this province is a must-see architectural site for its buildings dating to that period.

With the monuments at its heart, Eastern Anatolia will continue to harbor a gigantic diversity, and light to shine from the East, for a long time to come. The passion of those who emulate Farhad will eventually bring them to the light. What about you? Have you got your pick and shovel ready?

A concrete means of communication between life and death, the tombstones at Ahlat are monuments in their own right that aestheticize the nature of death while monumentalizing the world’s contemplation of it. One of the oldest civilizations of the region, the Urartu has become a source of livelihood for the local people. Texts in the Urartu language incised on tablets in cuneiform are among the souvenir items on offer to visitors.

The outstanding feature of the Van breakfast is its appeal to the palate based on the local cheeses and honey. The hospitality with a smile that goes with it is just icing on the cake. With its perception of aesthetics and civilization, the region’s predominant culture - the Great Seljuk and Anatolian Seljuk civilization - has left its stamp at all points it touched. Now on a mosque portal, now on a gravestone…

Water is life, civilization. Like Lake Van, which looms large in the region. Lake Çıldır is everything to those who live around it. A freshwater lake, it is suitable for fishing. The fishing done in winter especially by boring holes in the ice has inspired many a documentary. A wide array of cheeses stands out among the products developed by the Eastern Anatolian people using their own ingenuity and incorporating the local flavors. Preserving its existence today, the church on the island of Çarpanak is a legacy of the Armenians who once lived here.

The Van breakfast is one of the outstanding culinary treats of the region. Among the endless variety of cheeses that adorn the table, the most famous by far is Otlu Peynir or Herb Cheese. The crowning glory of the breakfast table meanwhile is the honey obtained from the local highlands.
Your visit to Eastern Anatolia will give you access to many of the gift items produced in the region. Handmade jewelry and a variety of handwoven hats and gloves will especially pique your interest.

The region’s provinces offer accommodations to fit every budget. In Kars especially, staying in one of the old, architecturally important buildings could be a good way to experience the history and culture.

Turkish Airlines has flights in both directions from Istanbul to eight cities in Eastern Anatolia: Ağrı, Elazığ, Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars, Malatya, Muş and Van. For information:

Agricultural products make up the bulk of the local economy. Milk and dairy products in particular are the region’s leading commercial goods. Among the many varieties of cheese, including Kasheri, Roquefort and other mold-based cheeses, the region’s herbal cheese is quite famous. Try them all for a different taste.

The locals are famous for their hospitality. Wherever you go in the region, you will find people to be extremely friendly and helpful. The artisans and craftsmen working in the cities of Eastern Anatolia especially will bring back fond memories of things now forgotten.
Counting several countries among its neighbors, the region offers diverse possibilities. Visitors from neighboring Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia in particular contribute to the regional economy. Meanwhile the border crossing at Kapıköy is a gateway to Iran.

An Eagle’s Eyrie: İshak Paşa Sarayı

Eastern Anatolia is a region that has been home to many different civilizations. Major monuments continue to impress visitors to the region today in this landscape where we can find traces of those civilizations. Among them, İshak Paşa Palace still stands in all its splendor and elegance. Located inside the province of Doğubeyazıt, it is among the must-see sites to visit here.
You can find the region’s unique concept of architecture at every point in the Eastern Anatolian landscape. Among those monuments, the Ahlat Tombstones are another must-see.

The touristic potential of the Eastern Anatolian region offers visitors a diverse array of opportunities. For camping enthusiasts in particular, there are camping facilities on the shores of Lake Van.

As much a monument of Eastern Anatolia as a symbol of Van, Akdamar Island is one of the region’s outstanding sites. It is also home to a church regarded as sacred by the Armenians who once inhabited the region.

The most intriguing creature of Eastern Anatolian ecology, the Van cat is famous for its long, snow-white fur and eyes of two different colors. Unique among cats, is it one of the rare breeds that like water.

The 2nd Malatya International Film Festival will be held November 18 to 24. The festival was a focus of keen interest last year when Georgian director Otar Iosseliani, known as the poet of cinema, was guest of honor. For information:


“Eastern Anatolia is an eminently suitable landscape for tracking down the vestiges of a deep culture. But the most outstanding feature of the region is that its oral traditions still survive. At many points you can identify modern-day counterparts of the wisdom that underlies the region’s profound culture, from its bards to its scholars.”