IN THE KINGDOM OF URARTU
In The Kingdom of Urartu at Lake Van in Adilcevaz
21 April-4 May 2016
Urartians Statuette in the British Museum: This land where so many have lived, and until 100 years ago, in peace: Turks, Armenians, Kurds. I find it apt that this statue has no face.
Project inception: Old friend Celal Ögmen, proprietor of Kalamar Restaurant in Kumkapi, asked me to go to Van Province in Eastern Turkey and draw his mother’s village. It’s A Suphan, a tiny town above Suphan Dag (Mountain), near the city of Adilcevaz in Bitlis Province, to the west of Lake Van. I learned that Lake Van was the centre of The ancient Kingdom of Urartu, a civilisation that flourished 3-4000 years ago. We know it as Ararat.
Ataturk Airport flight to Van: Couple waiting for the plane. Brrr. Sneaky People. These were the only sneaky people I saw on the entire trip.
First shot at this old mosque ruined by frenetic interest in my drawing. All the old men come to pray, the police to check me out and staying for photos, the governor and the media who forgot about him and clustered around ME. Flattering but good grief! Later, Abdullah & I sneaked back quietly ad I got the picture on the next page.
My guide, Abdullah, took me to Kef Kalesi, and I set about drawing across from the mosque, looking down at this one on the shore. It was a Friday, and old men began toarrive at the mosque to pray. I was soon surrounded! Then the police arrived, to see what we were about. Much bonhomie with them, and then came the picture on the next page.e a TV news truck, with cameramen and news anchors, interviewing me with much help from Google Translate. Hardly anyone in town speaks English, and my Turkish is limited. By now there was a perfectly huge group of excited people and it was impossible to draw. Lastly arrived a long black car with the mayor. He was charming, considering that I had pre-empted his own interview. They don’t see many artists in Adilcevaz.
OLD MOSQUE ON THE WATER Adilcevaz – Bitlis – Lake Van Ertugrul Bey Camii
April 22 2016
42 years today
I don’t know how old this mosque is, but it pre-dates the highway by a couple of centuries, judging by the depth of its entrance. In the background is Lake Van, ringed by snow-whitened mountains. Abdullah and I sneaked back after the crowd left, and I got this drawing in a couple of hours. The date is a private anniversary.
ÖMER F DUK & TEAHOUSE
Ömer Farouk Duk, ten, son of the owner of the hotel where I’m staying, demonstrating why I should draw him. Before breakfast. We made a deal: I keep the original, and I eat my breakfast first. 27 April Adilcevaz
PS I’ve become very fond of this kid and his bright observant enthusiasm.
What a charmer!
Teahouse with empty nest and reclining rock empress.
Take one on the teahouse. Check out the perfect imperial profile on the rock in the foreground! Ömer got a copy of his portrait.
Kef Kalesi Adilcevaz
Kingdom of Urartu c780 BCE
All these differing dates are true… the culture of Urartu did flourish here for thousands of years, but disappeared. It’s believed Urartians are the ancestors of the Armenian people. The town is proud and proprietary of their ruin, as well they might be. There was much intermingling between Turks, Kurds and Armenians before the governments began to interfere, around 1900.
This drawing took two hours and was witnessed by groups of giggling schoolchildren. I realised right away that I could easily spend the whole time in Van drawing this particular site. But I was frustrated at the time by knee problems, and knew I couldn’t get up those steep slopes to wander in the ruins themselves. See the figure just right of centre, standing on the oil with arms outstretched, taking in the whole world of lake and white mountains and cold clear air. How I envied him!
KEF KALESI DOORS
Doors Kef Kales – Adilcevaz
A c3000-year-old doorway. Fascinated by the way this rock ages. It looks like the ancient Urartians scored the living rock and created a castle out of the very mountain. There is a legend of treasure hidden here, but no one knows where. I think we’re looking at it.
These doors lead to tunnels going throughout the mountain. In addition to the usual rumours of treasure, Abdullah told me that they are well-explored by archeologists. Things found there are in the Archeological Museum in Van.
AZIZ FIXING MY PHONE Bahar Aziz fixing my phone Drawn while the phone was down A beautiful place, sheltered and shaded by trees all ‘round. While I was there they chainsawed every one of these tall healthy trees, bird-nests and all. It was like watching a man murder his own children. And they were so NICE! — The whole family knocked themselves out to show me a good time. I don’t know why they sold their trees but probably needed the money. I did my best to conceal my horror but failed as the tears streamed down my face. So I drew the trees as fast as I could. The minute I stepped out of the car, my new iPhone shut down. I’d been warned by Turkcell that the government might block it, as it was American. So I was panicked. But it was just Apple insisting on installing a new system that exact minute. Aziz understood and watched as the new system took hold, reassuring me in sign language. Another cousin had a working copy of Google Translate and explained. We all had a good time anyway.
OKTAY ON THE FLY
Done on the fly 24 April
He had never had a portrait, and pleaded for one. I didn’t mind! This guy later showed up in Adilcevaz at 5M to drive me six blocks to the bus stop, the day I left.
Father Mountain 24 April 2016
Celal wanted drawings of what he saw as a child when he climbed up this hill over the town:
In one direction, the town, and in the other, this second-tallest mountain in Turkey. Everyone in town calls it Father Mountain.
SHEEP IN KARASEYF
Outside the new school in Karaseyf Köy
Clouds streaming up from the top of the mountain (Suphan Dagi)
Here’s the other side of Süphan Dag, since Karaseyf is on the other side of the mountain from A Süphan. I was outside the school, drawing like mad as sheep and tractors paraded by and students and teachers giggled and watched over my shoulder. A happy time!
RUINED ARMENIAN CHURCH
Armeni Kilisesi— 22 April 2016
In the centre of an immense green haven-improbable pink bushes— absolute peace… shepherds, Kongal dogs, mooing cows, drifts of conversation from the guides away o— ver the grass. These are Armenian churches.
One of the happiest drawing experiences ever. Abdullah and his pal wandered away and left me blissed out and drawing for a couple of hours. They said that yes, the area to the left and behind the ruined church at centre is another settlement. The dark hill at left was covered with those salmon-pink bushes. At right, reflected sunlight arced up from a hamlet hidden behind the hill.
LITTLE GIRLS WITH TOMBSTONE
A Süphan , Adilcevaz, Van.
These little girls are out in their front yard, and so is this Armenian tombstone.
“For centuries we lived in peace, us and the Kurds and the Armenians, and then they f- cked it up.” — a Turkish acquaintance in Van. The horrific fate of Turkey’s Armenian population is well known. As the Ottoman empire broke up, they were massacred. Almost exactly 100 years before I drew this, all the Armenians were either killed, marched away, or forced into hiding by Ottoman soldiers. They left artifacts all over Van province, mute testimony to a vanished culture. Some survived by being absorbed into Kurdish or Turkish families. I met many people who said, “Oh my grandmother was Armenian…” etc. Innocents like these little Kurdish girls were simply born into the wake of blood, standing in their own front yard over an exquisitely carved tombstone that was obviously half-buried, probably under their cinderblock house in the sheep pasture.
The best guide in the Kingdom of Urartu, Abdullah Keles 2016.
A super guy who showed me things I hadn’t known to ask about. He and his wife Derya took me all the way to Van to the museum there. We couldn’t chat much but did fine with Google Translate. Like everyone in the region he’s a whiz with technology.
STONE SHEEP IN VAN
Man with shield and Kongal dog
Life-sized: A flock of stone sheep at the Archeological Museum in Van. It’s closed for renovation. These are out front in the sculpture garden. I think they’re of Urartu: c3000 years old. And at right, the lions lie down with the lamb.
How may mothers’ sons have been bundled up and set on these to play? In three thousand years?
A saddled mystery mount
carved dagger on other side.
Many sheep have a dagger carved into their sides like decoration Could these have been a form of tribute, with the dagger a led-e to stand together in time of war?
Van 27 April 2016
Abdullah and Derya’s adorable two-year-old playing on the sheep. Check out the close- up at top left: If that isn’t a man with a shield and a Kongal dog, I don’t know what it is. The museum, which was being repaired after an earthquake, has since re-located, and I can’t wait to go back and see more.
KEF KALESI WITH SCULPTURE
Double exposure: Sheep grazing on Kef Kales above Ulu Camii’s bricks, and sculpture from this ancient site, with me, at the museum in Van.
Very happily drawn on my mother’s 95th birthday
26 April 2016
My mother had been gone for 22 years, but I felt her strongly while I drew this. A brilliant day, and gazing up at and drawing the fantastic stone fortress, softened by grazing sheep, filled me with euphoria so strong it was hard not to stop and dance. The mosque’s bricks seemed anticlimactic to such wonders, so I left it blank util I found a photo of myself in Van, standing next to the ancient Urartian bas-relief. From this very site, it shows what they looked like. They held their own against the Assyrian empire, but still vanished about 2700 years ago, succeeded by the Armenians.
In Karaseyh Köy from the new school
A shepherd brings the flock home past the raw bricks of the only school in three villages.
A volunteer at the school teaches math and history
Although this school serves 100 students for three villages, there is not much money. This lady volunteered to teach math and history, since she knows the subjects, but I do not think she is paid. The principal of this school is Omer Keles, my guide Abdullah’s brother. He is dedicated to educating these kids by all means available.
“Happy to be a shepherd” in Karaseyh Köy
30 Apri 1016
He dropped out of school- said he’d rather be a happy shepherd than study. He’s ten. —
This was relayed to me by a dismayed Ezra. The kid refused to learn to read, even, and his parents allowed him to leave. But he and the sheep do look happy!
A man of substance!
1 May 2016
Shemsattin owns a hat import business and occupies the house opposite the hotel, which looks out at Kef Kalesi and the lake. He’s a friend of the hotel owner, and showed up well dressed and asked for a portrait. Normally I field such requests, but one look at that moustache, hat and demeanor made me change my mind. He gave me a hat!
SHRINE AT AHLAT
Four at the shrine in Ahlat
30 April 2016
A great Muslim saint is buried here in this shrine. All day while I drew, groups of fundamentalist Muslim men came and knelt, praying at the shrine. While all the while a woman in traditional dress sat at right and tended to things on her phone.
KAVAK TREES IN VAN Grand Deniz Turizm Restaurant last stop before Akdamar
3 May 2016
Who knew I was allergic to poplar trees? I love them— but sometime since they chopped down every single one in Istanbul, I developed an allergy. Once I went into a pharmacy and described the symptoms, they fixed me right up with a syrup and some pills. These are planted in rows just at the pier for the boats to Akdamar Island in Lake Van, where I wanted to go.
AZIZ IN THE ARMY
Aziz in the Army 2016
Remember Aziz Buday, who fixed my phone back in A Suphan? He became a Facebook and Instagram friend, and when he went into the Army some months after my visit, he asked me to draw his picture. Here he is!
Dapper Shepherd at Harmantepe
What the well-dressed shepherd shall wear on a rainy day in the mountain village: Biblical shepherd’s crook, copious umbrella, rifle, cigarette and neon green tennis shoes. A friend of Ridvan’s, it was his flock we stopped for at Harmantepe, and I got this drawing. The sheep look like troops behind a general. I love this drawing.
Ridden Akkus 1 May 2016
Ridvan took a day off work at the electrical plant, donned a suit, and drove me all over the mountains in the rain so I could draw his mother, sisters, uncle, friends and villages. What a guy!
ARTOS MOUNTAIN & KAVAK TREES Artos Mountain Kavak Trees
Waiting for the ferry to Akdamar
Snow-streaked mountains behind thrilling sheaves of poplar trees
And then the pale sheet of the sea… a common sight around here.
3 May 2016
All over Van are these stands of white poplars with the white-streaked mountains behind. The lake is so vast it looks like a sea. As I drew this, the man in the picture walked up and down the rows, planting his field. I was waiting for the only boat to Akdamar. Since there was no tourism, there were no boats, but I lucked out: a large Turkish family had booked one, and they invited me to come along.
BUNNIES & GRIFFINS & BEARS OH MY!
A shot-up saint over a zoological stack of fabulous creatures, with two happy bunnies in the centre. The rabbits are indigenous to Akdamar Island, and to many other islands nearby. Most of them are black, a hallucinatory hippity-hop among the rocks and seagulls. Torn-up celery and lettuce for the bunnies line the tourist walkways. Centuries of monks must have dined on these rabbits, worn their fur and probably made pets of them as well. They are accompanied by white goats and gulls.
DAVID & GOLIATH FOR PHOEBE
Standing right next to the wall. This was drawn two years after the rest, from a photo, on the day after a great friend died. I wasn’t good for much else that day, and always wished I could have taken her there. She would have loved the irony of such humour and light carved in stone. And God knows she wielded her slingshot all her life with grace and skill, slaying many giants.
MATRIARCH AT AKDAMAR
Magnificent matriarch of the Eskitasçioglu Family at Holy Cross on Aghtamar
This lady and I had some conversation on the boat coming over. She was unable to navigate the steep path up to the church, so I drew her inside it. Al her children and grandchildren are doctors and dentists. She has a beautiful smile!