Trip to Western Armenia (Part 4)

On our way to Mush, we stopped at Tatvan, at the most south-westerly tip of Lake Van. The typical rural open-air supermarket in the city center was crowded with local shoppers and hardly any tourists other than us. After shopping for some souvenirs, we headed to Mount Nemrud. The ski chair lift although partially operated during the off-season, unfortunately, was closed that day. The mini Vans drove as far as possible, then we walked the rest.

The panoramic view was spectacular. You could see Tatvan, the lake, the villages around it, and beyond. Walking a few steps northeast, you could see a small lake at the lower part of the northern slope of the mountain. (It seemed no more than maybe a twenty-minute walk from where we were standing, but we had no time for that).

Standing at one point facing east, you could see the small lake to your left, and part of the southwestern shore of Lake Van to your right. It was spectacular. Of all the places that we visited, it was this area that I, the nature lover, (especially lakes and mountains), liked the most. (I have read that, Lake Van has a pollution problem. If so, I think the bay of Tatvan will be one of the most polluted areas of the lake due to the offshore winds, and the sheltered nature of the bay. I hope I am wrong).

The next stop was Bitlis, the ancestral hometown of the famous American/Armenian writer William Saroyan. The downtown that we visited, was a narrow and steep sloping valley, crowded with shops and local shoppers. The two-way traffic on the narrow road, at a crawling pace, not only made the road almost impassible, but also made the air so polluted that, you could see, and smell it.

I was relieved and happy when we get out of Bitlis, and enter the Plains of Mush (Մշո դաշտ). I have read about Plains of Mush having fertile soil, but was surprised by its size. Judging from the time it took to cross it, it seemed it is bigger than the Plains of Ararat (Արարատեան դաշտ) In Armenia. It was mostly cultivated with vegetables, melons, and wheat.

I was surprised to see many solar hot water tanks on the roofs of the village houses. Good use of an environmentally friendly and sustainable source of energy. We got to a Kurdish-owned hotel in Mush when it was dark. (Here I must say that the other minivan stayed in Van for two extra nights and joined us the second day morning to continue the journey).

The only reason we stayed in Mush for two nights was to visit the Gelli Guzan district in Sassoon province, that prior to the Armenian Genocide, was an Armenian district with many Armenian villages, and rich with revolutionary history. After breakfast, Selim, the Kurdish manager of the hotel, who seem to be a good friend of Volodia, joined us for the trip.

We had to “climb” the mountain (separating the two provinces) from Mush, and then descend the mountain on the other side, to enter the Gelli Guzan district in Sassoon province. The Mini Van “crawled” its way on the dirt road with many S-shaped turns all the way to the top of the mountain which took quite some time.

Just passed the pick to start the descent, there was a fountain where we stopped and washed our dust-covered faces, and got refreshed. Just passed the fountain, and we were stopped by the army border post for a security check and passport verification. (This was the norm whenever we crossed from one province to another).

Probably it was because, most, if not all, the provinces we visited were heavily populated by Kurds, who are struggling to keep their cultural heritage, and language, which is denied to them by Turkish authorities. The animosity between the Turks and Kurds was high at the time, (And more so now). Against our objections, this time around, the border guards kept our passports and returned them on our way back.

We got a very friendly reception from the Kurdish villagers in Gelli Guzan. They offered us tea prepared in a samovar on an open fire, and some homemade cookies and fruits. The place was a lush green valley with wild and cultivated fruit trees. One of the elders said that the Armenians had lived in the area for a long time, but now there were none.

Mrs. Badalian, (a retired teacher from Yerevan, and her husband, professor Khachadryan traveled with us in our minivan during the whole trip), asked the elder whether he will write it down. He did, with help from Selim. Here I must say that Mrs. Badalian was taking notes at any and every chance she could have.

This was the first and the only close contact we had with the locals and enjoyed every minute of it. This was also an area where many of our revolutionaries had lived and worked at different times. According to Vazken, Serop Aghpur, Սերոբ Աղբիւր, and Hrayr Djokhk Հրայր Դժողք, were killed in this area by Turks, with the help of Armenian traitors.

That evening we had a birthday party for Lucy Terzian at the hotel. Present were also, Mr. Murad, the owner of the hotel, and Mr. Selim, the hotel manager. On this occasion, Vazken, had his chance to discuss (I would add rather “smoothly” considering his limited knowledge of the Turkish language), Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish politics, and history, with these two knowledgeable Kurdish nationalists. The next stop was Saint Garabed  Սուրբ Կարպետ Monastery.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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