Eastern Turkey has a remarkable landscape which is as rugged as it is spectacular. Scattered across its vast landscape, Eastern Turkey’s rural life has a rich and extraordinary history, which makes it a particularly interesting location for photographers.
Holy Cross Church Aghtamar Island, Lake Van, by Nuran Zorlu
Nuran Zorlu’s Armenian ancestry dates back to 5th century BC. He has travelled extensively around Eastern Turkey to photograph the land of his ancestors and the colourful people who now live there.
The images and most of the information in this article are supplied by Nuran, a Turkish born Armenian commercial photographer who lives in Sydney with his young Australian family.
Photo tours give Nuran a way to return regularly to Eastern Turkey, where he expertly shows how and where to photograph the region’s spectacular landscapes and some of the oldest settlements in the world.
In 2012 most of Turkey’s estimated 31 million tourists visited the western side of the country where most of the country’s popular destinations are located.
Eastern Turkey is mainly a Kurdish populated area where the many historical and natural sites are relatively unknown to westerners.
Highlights of this rugged region include: ancient settlements; great biblical mountains; some of the best-kept Roman mosaic museums; lesser known Islamic masterpieces; early Christian churches; city ruins where once 100,000 people lived; unique landscapes; and colourful cultural lifestyles.
The images in this article give a taste of the region’s remarkable landscape, which is as rugged as it is spectacular. Scattered across the vast landscape, Eastern Turkey’s rural life has a rich and extraordinary history.
Where is it?
Eastern Turkey is a large region that borders Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The most easterly point can be reached by plane from Istanbul within 2 hours.
Turkey Wikipedia entry link.
Getting there/getting around
There are a number of airlines that operate in this region. The major airports are Gaziantep, Van, Kars and Erzurum, and there are a number of smaller airports. On arrival, the best way to get around is bus/coach.
Winter is harsh in this region. The best time to visit is between April and October when the south-eastern regions have milder climates. Mid-European summer – July and August – is unbearably hot.
Most people have little knowledge of Eastern Turkey – Turkish nationals included. The land transport can be tricky. Tour companies take groups to the well-known destinations, and trusted guides are a must if you’d like to see some of the lesser known – but equally amazing – locations or historical sites.
What Gear to take?
Most photographers in this region like to travel light and commonly use a DSLR with zoom lenses like 24-105mm or 18-200mm, and a good tripod.
Kurdish Girls, Chatak, Van
Specific Places to Visit
Turkey has 11 World Heritage sites, two of which are in Eastern Turkey:
– The mausoleum of Antiochus at Mount Nemrut, 40km north of Kahta, near AdÄ±yaman;
– Great Mosque and Hospital of DivriÄŸi in Anatolia, a 13th century building, one of the masterpieces of early Islamic art.
The city of Van, near the border to Iran, is located on what was for centuries one of the busiest trade routes. Van is in the shadow of the Tushba castle – Tushpa being the capital of the Urartian kingdom from 6th to 9th centuries BC. From the top of the castle there is a stunning view of Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake, which is surrounded by three beautiful mountains.
Lake Van contains four major islands on which there are several Armenian religious buildings. Three of these buildings are in ruins but the Holy Cross Cathedral on Agtamar Island was restored in 2007 as a museum, where once a year it is open for service to Armenians. This building dates back to the year 921 and is famous for the bas-relief carving of biblical scenes on its external walls.
There are quite a few old monastery ruins scattered around Lake Van. Nuran’s favourite is St Thomas Monastery. It’s not easy to reach this sacred place ““ it requires a big hike – but after all that effort when you reach the top of the hill, this 14th century monastery welcomes you with the best view of Lake Van. On clear days you can see the vast north shore of the lake.
Tatvan, located on the western side of Lake Van, doesn’t have much to offer visually, but just a little further north you find one of the best kept early Islamic cemeteries and four tombs.
Follow the northern shores of Lake Van heading north you reach the busy town of Dogu Beyazit, which features two of the most majestic sites in Eastern Turkey: Ishak Pasha Palace and Mount Ararat.
Ishak Pasha Palace is an 18th century castle located on the only corner that doesn’t face Mount Ararat. The castle was used as an administrative centre, with an amazing mixture of Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Georgian architectural elements. Unfortunately a restoration company ruined some of its best features.
Mount Ararat and little Ararat dominate the remarkable landscape in this region. It’s a wonderful experience to watch all the different cloud formations trying to wrap around the top of the mountain.
A few hours north is the border city Kars, arguably the best cheese-producing region in Turkey. Located near the border of Armenia, Kars has a few remaining buildings that show its Russian and Armenian past.
The main attraction of Kars is a must-see: the ruins of Ani. Once the capital of Greater Armenia, Ani is one of the great forgotten cities. In the 10th century it was a bustling commerce centre with 100,000 people. It was known as the “city of 1001 churches”.
Other locations worth visiting include Hasankeyf, Halfeti, Urfa, Antep, Mardin, and Mount Nemrut.
Nuran Zorlu’s Eastern Turkey Photo Tours
Nuran Zorlu is an established and respected Australian commercial and advertising photographer, with more than 20 years of experience. He is also a well-respected teacher of photography and a sought-after judge of national photography competitions.
Nuran’s travel photography has featured in many major photographic exhibitions and publications. He has lectured on travel photography and history at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney University in Australia, and in Cezayir Cultural Centre, Istanbul, Turkey.
Born in Turkey to Armenian parents, Nuran speaks English, Turkish, and Armenian fluently. He has a degree in philosophy and sociology from Istanbul University and a great love for the region’s history.
Nuran’s unique perspective means that his photography tours teach not only camera, framing and lighting technique; they also provide the opportunity to gain an intimate understanding of the country and its people.
Nuran has developed very good Eastern Turkey connections over a period of time. He likes to work with local guides who are from each region and can be trusted with many of the regular changes in each region. This is particularly useful when visiting remote villages and the lesser known areas that are a feature of his tours.
Nuran travels with two DSLR bodies and three high quality zoom lenses (17-40mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm), as well as medium format digital camera with three prime lenses. And, of course, a very good tripod.
“One of the greatest pleasures of travelling is sharing the experiences that you have had with others. Whilst it is difficult to share tastes, smells and even conversations, travel photography – done well – tells a visual story of these memories”.
One of Nuran’s other great pleasures is food. An added delight on tour is his knowledge of local dishes and where the best restaurants are in each of the regions you will be visiting. With Nuran as your culinary guide you will try some of the best food that Turkey has to offer.
More about Nuran Zorlu
Nuran is a multi award-winning photographer with a Master of Photography. His photographs have been selected as a finalist in prestigious awards such as ‘Head On’ and Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Shoot the Chef’.
He is the founder and curator of the photographic exhibition space, Gallery Xposure.
See additional images in Photo Review Mag app January 2014 issue, where this article was first published.