Arhavi – Kars

Ștefan Cândea
After one last visit to a Lazi village (Ortacalar), we get the show on the road towards Kars. In Hopa, the road leaves the coast and runs up towards a huge reservoir on the way to Artvin. Gradually, the landscape undergoes a drastic change. The region looks much more arid. We go up and down several plateaus – the highest: somewhere around 2.600 metres. We drive through a row of ghost towns, locations used by shepherds once a year during the transhumance period. We stop in one to stretch our legs a bit. An old man tells us he is the only inhabitant and asks for a cigarette. We don’t have any so we give him a tea bag instead. He seems content and wishes us god speed.

On the way to Ardahan and Kars small mountain villages heave up on the edge of the road, clearly much poorer than the shepherds’ villages on the coast. In Kars we’re told the region is purposely kept underdeveloped because Turks constitute the minority of the inhabitants. Besides, most of the inhabitants are Kurds. It is quite a hard-up region, but we have seen a lot of works being done to the infrastructure.

We stop in one of these villages and go for a walk. Invitations to tea come pouring in. Everybody wants to have their picture taken – moreover, they all jot down their addresses and ask us to send them the printed pictures.

We enter Kars at nightfall. Kars: a town with many recently built constructions planked between a century-old Russian houses, most of which are this close to caving in. Wide streets still preserve the organization and structure of a European town. We expect to see traces of extreme religion on the streets. Not by a long shot. In Kars there are three discos and two bars where most of those having alcohol are locals, not tourists.

Kars is a mosaic of Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and other nations. Perhaps this might be the reason why the police make a point of being visibly present on the streets, in fixed places, their beacon turned on during the night, their gun on view during the day.