Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The island in Lake Van, shown on modern maps with the name Akdamar, has a more historic name: Akhtamar. The island is rich with Armenian associations, but Turkey has been keen to distance the island from its cultural history. That change of name is part of a wider tale. Karlos Zurutuza reports from eastern Turkey.

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From the small quayside at Geva? it is no more than a twenty minute boat ride to Akhtamar, an island in Lake Van. A short journey laden with meaning, for Akhtamar is full of heady symbolism. It is a peaceful spot. The island's rocky shores have never been beaten by violent waves. Here in a mountain basin at over sixteen hundred metres above sea level, Turkey's largest lake and its wild surroundings are all tranquillity.

A display of white painted stones on the slopes of Akhtamar Island proclaims a stark message reminding visitors that the Motherland is indivisible, and so alluding to the contested status of the island. Historically part of Kurdistan, politically part of Turkey, but spiritually part of Armenia. Whose Motherland?

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Not content with the conventional maps of Europe and the Middle East, Karlos decided to hit the road and produce his own! He maps the contours of cultural life: Aromanians from Albania, Yezidies in northern Iraq, Armenian villages in Abkhazia and the Georgians in South Ossetia. These and a myriad of other isolated communities are the ‘pixels’ that Karlos plots on his ‘hi-res’ maps. Were it not for the magnetic effect that the mountains of Kurdistan have on him, he would gladly spend his entire life circumnavigating the Black Sea. He travels light, yet there is always space in his small backpack for two favourite books: Neil Ascherson’s The Black Sea and Jules Verne’s Keraban the Terrible. Karlos writes in Basque, Spanish and English. His work has been published in several newspapers and magazines. He can be contacted at kzurutuza@gmail.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 25.