A Tale in Red: Passing by Siirt and Bitlis


After Hasankeyf, Firat suggests we visit – I should have said passe by – Siirt. The town was one of his friend’s hometowns, and he was keen to see it. So, there we go. To Siirt and then Bitlis.

Siirt is a city in southeastern Turkey with a rich history dating back thousands of years. It was an important centre of trade and culture in ancient times and is surrounded by rugged mountains and located on the banks of the Tigris River. Siirt is home to several landmarks, including the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami), built in 1129 by the Great Seljuk Sultan Mahmud II and restored in 1965. It is a unique travel destination with a local bazaar, traditional handicrafts, and delicious traditional dishes such as Siirt kebab.

We passed by, stopping only to buy some refreshments and candies.

Next: Bitlis

Our passage by Bitlis was shorter than Siirt’s. However, I could see a little of the small town. 

Bitlis is a city in southeastern Turkey with a population of 53,023 (2021). It is located at an elevation of 1,545 meters, 15 kilometres from Lake Van, in the Bitlis River valley. The city’s economy is based on agriculture, and its industry is limited to leatherworking, tobacco products manufacturing, weaving, and dyeing of coarse cloth. Bitlis’s rich history dates back to ancient times, with cultural and architectural influences from various empires. Popular attractions include Bitlis Castle, Nemrut Crater Lake, and Bitlis Museum. Bitlis also has many old houses built of cut stone, often with two or three stories.

I was curious about the connection between these two towns and Firat’s friends, so we visited them. The Eastern part of Turkey is filled with mystery for those who live on the Western side, near famous Greek and Roman archaeological sites. It’s like living in a big city like New York or Sao Paulo and dreaming of Alaska or the Amazon. In the Eastern cities of Turkey, the prevailing myth is that the region is heavily influenced by Kurds and Arabs, which fuels prejudices and leads people to use derogatory terms to refer to the area as if it were not a part of the country.

However, when we visited, I remember Firat being surprised at how similar the people were to him. Most of them were welcoming and friendly. It was a mind open and opportunity for us to discuss differences and how the political discourse uses gears to manipulate the population against those who do not follow the same religion, identity or political framework.

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