Anatolian Express VIII: A taste of Malatya

Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's been a long day, one that started early in Sivas. I ran out of my hotel, grabbed a couple of poğaças and a newspaper, then ran back and had breakfast before my taxi came. I was on my way to Malatya. 


Malatya wasn't on the list of places I wanted to visit before coming to Turkey this summer, but I'm here anyway. I came to Malatya because it's on the road, and I didn't really feel like flying as I traveled east. Nor am I a huge fan of the ten-hour bus ride, even though Turkish buses are generally really nice. I can take long bus rides if necessary--my personal record is a 24-hour ride spent sitting on a case of beer from Vientiane, Laos to Hue, Vietnam--but I prefer to avoid them if at all possible. So that's how I ended up in Malatya.

Prior to coming to Malatya, I knew this place mainly as the Apricot City. Apricot season starts later on in the summer, and the city's famous Apricot Festival takes place in July. Word on the street, however, is that the apricot harvest this year has been a disappointing one. 
This could be one of the few apricots on display this summer in Malatya
The only other thing that I knew about Malatya is that it is the hometown of former Turkish Prime Minister and President Turgut Özal. Özal was president when I first arrived in Turkey in 1992, and because of what people considered his more liberal attitude towards Kurdish issues, the PKK had declared a unilateral cease-fire in its war against the Turkish government. When Özal died in April of 1993, the cease-fire was cancelled. During that early window, however, I made my first trip to the southeast of Turkey, visiting Nemrut Mountain just a few months before Özal passed away. I didn't visit the region again until 2008, when I visited Kars and Van after a research trip to Georgia.

The southeast is a lot mellower now. Indeed, during last year's Gezi Park protests in Taksim, the Turkish government reportedly moved police from the southeast to Istanbul to battle protesters. While PKK-related attacks continue in the region, the situation is a lot better than it used to be.

The ride from Sivas to Malatya was tiring, mainly because it was on a little minibus, rather than a normal big bus. I took the minibus because it left at a much more convenient time than the regular coaches, but it was pretty cramped and uncomfortable for a trip of that distance. Still, the people on board were nice. I kept a low profile, for the most part, because I didn't feel like talking to lots of people for the whole trip, but about twenty minutes outside of Malatya a young woman sitting across the aisle from me--decked out in a tesettür (headscarf) and turquoise Converse low-tops, started chatting me up. At first she spoke (a bit) of English, but then switched to Turkish, and before long I was talking to most of the bus, including the driver as he veered through traffic and headed into the main Malatya bus station.

After settling into my hotel, I walked around Malatya's bazaar--which was pretty cool, if quiet on a Sunday afternoon, and also checked out 'Kanal boyu Caddesi' ('the boulevard along the canal'). The rest of the town was pleasant, with lots of people walking around. A lot of them seemed genuinely shocked to see a tourist, and there were lots of stares, but the vibe was friendly.

As usual, of course, I had time to take some photos.

              On the road to Malatya

   Yeni Cami--'The New Mosque'

More Malatya shotz are on display in the Borderlands Lounge.
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