Eastern Turkey has some of the most breathtaking and diverse landscapes that I’ve seen in any one region. I spent the better part of a week crossing the very far east of Turkey from south to north, roughly tracing the Iranian and Armenian borders from Van to Kars. This is a region of relatively high altitudes, blue skies, and great empty spaces. Out here the topography is fantastic and exaggerated, barely only occasional signs of habitation by people. The photo is a case in point. A small village rests in the quiet foothills behind Hosap Castle, between Lake Van and the Iranian border. Not a soul stirred in the village except for two Kurdish boys who wrestled briefly with one another before shadowing to the castle. There they insisted I take their photo and then demanded a scrap of paper on which they scribbled a Facebook address where I could deliver their portraits[Missing: photo / castle photo].
At the Foot of Mt. Ararat. The landscapes of eastern Turkey can be a palette of primary colors. Below, Turkey’s highest mountain–Mount Ararat–is framed by blues and yellows and reds. Ararat is deceptively tall, standing at 5137 meters (taller than Europe’s Mont Blanc) in otherwise flat surroundings. Although it lies twenty miles inside the Turkish border, Ararat has a prominent place in Armenian national identity. It is for Armenian mythology what Mt. Olympus is for Greek mythology, the residence of gods. It is pictured on the country’s national seal, and its “acquisition” by Turkey after the finalization of the region’s borders remains a sore point for some Armenians.
Elsewhere on the Plateau. In eastern Turkey, small rippling hills erupt from the plateau’s otherwise flat topography. The relatively high altitudes–frequently around 2000 meters–render this region sunny, tree-less, and cooler than the lowland terrain further south toward Syria.
Occasionally villages huddle at the base of hilly outcrops. I passed a lot of these without stopping, and I frequently wondered what sort of trade sustained these small communities of modest, one-story homes.
Above Ishak Pasha Palace. Further south, Eastern Turkey’s craggy and dry landscape is, even at slightly lower altitudes, just as hot and inhospitable. Near Dogubeyazit, a mosque perches on a cliff over Ishak Pasha Palace and nearly disappears into the orange rock. Around it, the turrets of a decayed fortress grow organically from pillar-shaped rock bluffs.
East of Van. The landscape here is a quilt of folded, glowing hills covered in short grass. At the golden hour, the hills turn bright orange and long shadows crawl down into the valleys. Long, sagging power lines divide the otherwise indistinguishable foreground from background.
Along the Akhurian. The northeast face of Mt. Ararat, as seen from the Turkey-Armenia border south of Kars. A large gash of erosion traces the Akhurian River from Gyumri to the Aras River, dividing the two countries. Further north, these gorge provide a dramatic backdrop to the ancient city of Ani.
Other Borders. A minaret and a water tower and little else stand in the dusty flat terrain of southeast Turkey as dusk arrives near the Turkey-Syria border.