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Text and Photos: AKGÜN AKOVA
The spice of Kars
Neighboring Kars' Şahkulu Mountains, the county of Kağızman combines lush green trees, red hills and purple mountains.
In childhood, reality mingles with dreams. Illusions play in the same garden as tales, with fireflies taken for shooting stars and pigeons for grown-up sparrows. The greatest of my childhood illusions was for a long time to think that two people were brothers. You ask who? Well, one was Einstein and the other Frankenstein! When I learned that they were not brothers, my childhood was over. People may believe that when they grow up their illusions and misunderstandings come to an end, but thanks to a certain folk song I know that isn't true. The song went, “Kağızman'a ısmarladım nar gele nar gele,” which means something like “I ordered them from Kağızman, bring those pomegranates (nar), bring those pomegranates.” For years I thought people ordered waterpipes (nargile) from Kağızman! Then one day I went there and saw that, embracing the poplars of Kars, this county was the child of a region more plentiful, more abundant, than a pomegranate split open in the Aras Valley. And surprises awaited me, as they do all travelers in this region. As the melancholy but strong light of the East struck my face, they popped up in unexpected places as I moved like a shepherd dog among mythical-seeming flocks. Men talking to their horses, beekeepers gathering up their swarming hives, women pulling loaves of bread from a tandoor and toting them home on a kind of stretcher, oldsters mowing the grass at lightning speed with their sickles, kids turning rain prayers into jingles, wild ducks coming down through the reeds at the edge of ponds, geological formations reminiscent of Cappadocia's fairy chimneys... All of them, every one, poured over me in Kağızman from the lap of the East.
PICTURES ON THE ROCKS
And here I am in the village of Camuşlu standing in front of one of those surprises. It is with difficulty that I have climbed this rock, which rears up like a gigantic mirror of history. Down below, birds twittering in the language of spring, poppies bobbing in the breeze, and lizards basking in the sun, while a roller crosses overhead... On the rock, meanwhile, there are long-antlered deer, mountain goats and wild cattle, all carved there twelve thousand years ago. A hunter, like a prehistoric artist, wrought this millennia-old hunting scene on rock, and his work has survived to our day in spite of rain, ice and snow. Known as Yazılıkaya (Writing Rock), this place was first introduced to the scholarly world in 1968 by Prof. İ. Kılıç Kökten.
Another series of rock pictures in Kağızman goes by the name of Çallı. Drawn on the andesite rocks of a cliff with an extraordinary view, these pictures are the first in Anatolia to represent a camel on rock. As for the Plain of Çallı, it boasts one of the most impressive situations. Stone prairie houses stand at the foot of the cliff, and below them an oasis-like chorus of poplars witnesses the mountains beyond, which grow purple with the setting sun. In these rock pictures at Kağızman another animal, the dog, has been drawn very skilfully. The fact that starting with the Neolithic Age numerous rocks in the Kars area have been filled this way with pictures provides clues as to how life in the region was lived at that time. Though we will never know who they were, these shepherd and hunter “artists” use pictures to tell us stories about the Kağızman of that day, stories which have never even found their way into folk tales.
THE ORCHARD OF KARS
Kağızman is full of fruit and nut trees. Apple, oleaster, peach, mulberry, plum, pear and walnut trees, like the strawberries and grape vineyards, are gifts of a temperate climate to humankind. This must be why people say, “Kağızman is the spice of Kars.” The winter that flogs Kars and Sarıkamış isn't seen much in these parts, and though the other rivers and streams freeze over when winter comes, the Aras does so very rarely. The sun shines for most of the year, but during the winter months the dwellers of Kağızman often start the day with fog. Underground there is another resource that adds to the wealth of the county: rock salt. With reserves estimated to total more than 60 million tons, the salt is extracted in an operation reminiscent of an underground city.
On the way from Kars to Kağızman you will see the Köroğlu Citadel by the roadside, and while it is noteworthy the Keçiyan Citadel in Tunçkaya Village is a much more important structure. In the 17th century Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 1,200 houses and 40 to 50 shops in the citadel; but its population today is very small. Meanwhile the Medieval church in the village of Çengilli boasts two inscriptions in the Georgian language. Although dilapidated, Çengilli Church is a majestic edifice. A few days before going into the army, young men of the village emulate the youths who prior to a wedding pass a “test of manhood” by jumping from the Mostar Bridge into the Neretya River. What they do here is climb the dome of the church to show the girl, her family and friends how daring they are. As the afternoon wanes, one of the everyday rituals of the East begins in Çengilli as thousands of sheep interspersed with dozens of shepherds and dogs raise a great cloud of dust on their way back to the sheepcotes in the village.
TO THE SOUND OF A PIANO
In the spacious living room of the Ataman Home, Mrs. Gülsen pointed to the old piano in the corner, saying “When I was a child this house was always full of the sounds of the violin, cümbüş (a sort of mandolin) and piano.” Meryem Bora dressed a Kağızman doll in clothes “made from the pattern for the model worn 150 years ago by brides leaving their parental home for the house of their husband.” And Sadık Miskini strummed a saz while singing “I gave my heart to the loving ones / They turned me onto the road / I wasn't even a single drop / They turned me into a lake.” In the presence of all this I couldn't help recalling a line written about the East by Onat Kutlar: “As time passed, brushing my skin like a cloud somehow descended to earth, I simply tried to forge a path for myself.” Right. That's what I did in Kars, and forging a path from letters of the alphabet found myself on this very spot, in the Kağızman I have tried to tell you about. I only hope that some day you will find yourself on the road of Kağızman, that county clinging to the Şahyolu Mountains.