This was a temporary blog, specifically for the walk across Turkey. Visit Matt's permanent website, www.mattkrause.com.
Euphrates river at Birecik
This leg starts when I cross the Euphrates
at Birecik, and ends 170 miles later when I cross the Tigris
at Diyarbakir. I expect to be walking this section in mid-January through the first of March.
Temperatures will probably range from about 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to the low 30s at night (10 to -1 degrees Celsius). Elevation is 2000 to 3000 feet, with a spike up to 4000 feet midway through the leg.
Road between Birecik and Urfa
Walking through this area will take me about three weeks, but I plan on staying over a while in two of the cities, Urfa and Diyarbakir, so I will probably be here for 6 weeks or longer.
In the previous writeup (“Osmaniye to the Euphrates”) I mentioned that my imagination had run out, and that I didn’t know what to expect beyond Osmaniye. I might have run out of imagination, but this section has something that’s more important than imagination — meaning. For some reason I barely understand and so won’t even bother trying to articulate at this point, this section of the walk is what possessed me to undertake the walk in the first place.
Part of my fascination with this section is rooted in its being sandwiched by the famous Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Both rivers’ headwaters are in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains, the mountain range I will have spent over 4 months walking in or near. The Euphrates flows through Turkey for about 750 miles before flowing through Syria and Iraq, and the Tigris flows through Turkey for about 250 miles before flowing through Syria and Iraq. The rivers then meet in southern Iraq and empty into the Persian Gulf.
Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates
In the 1970s Turkey began building a series of 22 dams to make use of the rivers’ irrigation and hydroelectric potential. The project was known as “GAP” (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi, aka the Southeastern Anatolia Project). My route will take me within 30 miles of the largest GAP dam, the Ataturk Dam
Of course, the rivers were a factor in relations amongst the region’s nations well before the 1970s. In the 1920s, after World War I, the new nations of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq negotiated who would get how much of these rivers’ waters in the Treaty of Lausanne. Most of the time, subsequent negotiations have gone fairly smoothly and the countries cooperate reasonably well on water-management issues. Sometimes, though, things break down. In 1975 Syria’s building of the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates angered Iraq so much Iraq threatened to bomb the dam. Syria and Iraq eventually reached an agreement after intervention by Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.
About a week after leaving behind the Euphrates I’ll arrive at the city of Sanliurfa
. For a few decades Sanliurfa has been the city’s official name, but the city usually just goes by Urfa, its older name. Urfa’s population is about 500,000, its elevation 1800 feet.
Urfa's Balikli Gol ("Fish lake")
, considered by the three big monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to be their common father, may have been born in Urfa. There’s some dispute about this. Muslims say he was born in Urfa, but Christians say he was born to the south in Iraq. Some people say he was an actual man, others say he was made up like a composite drawing, an Everyman for the region (lived in the desert, moved from one oasis to another, etc).
Whatever. I don’t really care whether Abraham was born in Turkey or Iraq, or whether he was one man or a composite. I’ll be in Urfa, and in Urfa they say Abraham was one man, and he was born in Urfa. That’ll be good enough for me.
One of Urfa’s most famous sites is Balikligol, “Fish Lake.” Fish Lake is a pond next to Halil-ur-Rahman, a mosque built by the Ayyubids in 1211. The pond is filled with fish. The story is that when King Nimrod burned Abraham to death, God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. Catching and eating the fish is, shall we say, not cool, but if you see a white one, legend has it that you’re definitely going to heaven (unless you eat it I guess, and then all bets are off).
At one point my plan was to end the walk’s Turkey leg here in Urfa, heading south into Syria, Jordan, and Israel. But as Syria became more unstable my hand hovered closer to my back pocket, where I was keeping a backup plan in case Syria didn’t calm down. I pulled the trigger on that backup plan earlier this year, and now it doesn’t matter what happens in Syria, I’m just going to keep going past Urfa to Turkey’s eastern border.
Having to cut Syria, Jordan, and Israel out of the deal for now is fine with me. This walk across Turkey is a practice run for something else I want to do, a walk across Iran, and word on the street is that having been to Israel makes getting a visa for Iran difficult.
Road from Urfa to Diyarbakir
From Urfa I will turn to the northeast and head towards the city of Diyarbakir
. The territory between Urfa and Diyarbakir looks pretty barren, some of the most barren territory of the walk. It’ll take me about two weeks to walk between the cities, on a plateau rolling between 2000 and 3000 feet, with one spike to 4000 feet near a village called Guvercin (“Pigeon”).
Tigris river at Diyarbakir
Diyarbakir is a city I’ve wanted to go to for years. An American friend of mine who lived in Istanbul was a partner in a taxi business there. Another friend of mine from Istanbul now lives in Diyarbakir with her husband, and I am looking forward to visiting them while I’m there.
Diyarbakir is the capital city of all things Kurdish in Turkey. Kurds make up about 25% of Turkey’s population overall, more than that in the southeast. Turkey has had a rocky history with the Kurds over the years. In the 1980s the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) started an armed rebellion, and by the 1990s Turkey was embroiled in an all-out civil war. During the war a lot of villagers fled to cities throughout Turkey and western Europe, leaving the countryside more sparsely populated and the cities scrambling to absorb the refugees.
The Tigris river flows along Diyarbakir’s eastern edge. When I cross the Tigris I will have walked 1000 miles (1600 kilometers) since the trip began in Kusadasi — a milestone I refer to as “rolling the odometer.”