East Anatolia 1991

At the end of the world

(Extract from the diary)

The rough landscape is impressive, yes even wildly romantic. It outshines everything seen in Turkey so far. So this is remote East Anatolia with its Kurdish inhabitants who cause such great headaches to the authorities in Ankara. It’s end of November and already freezing cold. Huge snow fields cover parts of the plains, and at places meld with the flanks of the mountains rising up to 5000 metres. This region is characterized by its endless stone deserts, its glowing rocks, and its great number of valleys where people live a humble life in simple mud huts and brave the elements.

During the exhausting bus trip to what seemed to be the end of the world, we met a great many soldiers bristled with weapons, pretty scaring to me. “No photos!”, they yelled threateningly when I was about to take a picture of a group of men drinking tea. The ill feeling and discord between the locals and the Turks is all over the place.

Whispering walls
Full of curiosity, I climb into the impressive ruins of the Ishak Palace constructed by a Kurdish ruler in the 17th century. Fascinated, I wander through the old premises and its mosque. The cold wind trapped in the antique quoins sounds like the whisper of an invisible voice from forgotten times. As there are no tourists in this area in the winter months, I am all by myself. It feels pretty eerie, however, rather than allowing this atmosphere to take hold of me, I prefer to enjoy the loneliness in this impressive site not far from the Iranian border.

A delightful spot above the palace invites me to sit down on a stone and let my eyes wander over the vast panorama. The houses of the border town Dogubayazit seem to be cowering flatly onto the brown ground. The famous Mount Ararat stretches its peak into the deep blue sky at a height of 5.165 metres, awakening the urge to climb it. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that – due to lack of water, the authorities had to cancel the guided tours already six weeks ago.
The sun is very low and makes the walls, roofs and cupolas of the palace begin to glow red when I decide to make my way back to town, approximately six kilometres away from the palace.

Almost torn to pieces by dogs
Only a few minutes after starting off back to town, I see from afar three big dogs running my way. Somewhat surprised, I keep an eye on them, and continue walking along the narrow road winding its way into the valley. “They’re after me”, I say to myself. I’m rather perplexed and scan the area for possible dog owners, but I can’t make anyone out who could possibly call back these three dogs which seem to be barking louder and louder by the second. Hastily and nervously, I grab for the small aerosol with tear gas in my pocket. Experience has taught me years ago never to travel without my tear gas. The content of this aerosol already saved my life once in South America. Only seconds after getting hold of my tear gas, I’m surrounded by three highly aggressive dogs. Although my heart is in my boots, I stand still watching my snarling attackers and looking them straight into their eyes. The dogs seem to be considering which side to best start their attack from. As if arranged, they circulate around me at a safe distance of approximately 10 yards. I keep having to turn around my own axis in order to not lose sight of any one of them. Suddenly, as if by command, all three of them at once take a leap towards me. The gas shooting out of the aerosol hits one of the huge shepherd dogs, making it howl and abruptly quit its attack. In an instant, I fling myself around by 180°, and just on time manage to hit the second cur in flight. Like a log, the cur drops down onto the ground by my feet, whines and also retires. The third one abandons his attack, and trots away following its two mates.
I’m amazed as I realize the dogs won’t give up. Once again, they circle around me like wolves, and appear to be waiting for the best chance to go for me once more. Due to the strong winds, they don’t seem to have been hurt too much by the tear gas. Otherwise they would surely have turned tail and run.

I panic more and more as I realize my tear gas is almost used up. I guess it will hardly be enough to help me beat back a second assault. My mind is raving and turning somersaults. There must be someone somewhere who set these beasts on me. They are, without doubt, well educated shepherd dogs who know how to hunt their prey in order to beat it. I’ve been told and I know from experience that this is a well-tried method to mug tourists. Who are they to call to account? Who is the delinquent once the dogs disappear after having torn the victim to pieces? Their owner is probably waiting behind a rock close by, planning to deprive me of everything of value to him once I’m done with. I’ve got all my money, the traveller cheques, my passport and everything else I couldn’t leave behind in the unsafe and cheap hotel room on me, so the felonious dog owner will pretty much make a fortune with me.

Desperately, I turn in circles with the dogs. Is this going to be the end of me? Those are my thoughts. But, even before being able to continue my line of thoughts, the ferocious beasts once again start coming for me. Quick-witted as I am, I bend down to pick up a stone as big as a fist, and, with the full force of desperation, I throw it at the first dog. The stone hits it straight on its hip. As if struck by a bullet, the dog pulls its behind a bit to the side, and runs off yowling awfully. Obviously intimidated, its mates hastily follow their leader. I keep throwing stones after them, screaming of relief. Suddenly, out of the blue, a man appears right behind me. He greets me friendly. Still under stress, I raise my hand to greet back. Is he the dog owner? I quickly pick up more stones from the dirt road and put them in my pocket. The gaunt and tall man turns around to look at me one more time, and then disappears just as he had appeared behind a nearby rock spur…


East Anatolia 1991/1992

A country with an impressive rough scenery – wildly romantic. Large snowfields partly cover the plains, at places melding with the flanks of the mountains which rise up to 5000 metres. For Tanja and Denis Katzer, East Anatolia’s endless stone deserts, glowing rocks, and never ending valleys form the gateway to Persia.