Ararat Highland Attractions
The Ararat highland includes the towns of Agri and Dogubayazit.
Agri lies in the middle of the Eleskirt plain at the confluence of the Küpkiran Çayi and Murat Nehri (the southern headstream of the Euphrates). Known prior to the Turko-Russian War (1878) as Sorbulak, it was subsequently christened Karakilise (Black Church) by the occupying Russians on account of its Armenian church of dark-colored basalt. Its name was changed to Agri in 1927 when it became capital of that province.
Eleskirt sprawls across the almost circular bed of a former lake at an altitude of 1,820m/5,973ft (cereal growing and livestock rearing). It used to be called Alashgert (-kert or -gert being Armenian for town or citadel) and until the end of the 19th century was just a village. The ruler at that time, a Kurdish derebey (autonomous local prince), held sway independently of the Ottoman Porte from his fortress at nearby Topprakale. An important inscription was discovered at Eleskirt relating to King Menua of Urartu (ca. 815-790 B.C.) whose capital was at Tushpa (now Van).During his retreat from Persia Xenophon rested for a week on the Eleskirt plain with the exhausted remnants of the Ten Thousand, gathering strength for the next demanding stage of their forced march, the crossing of the Tahir Pass (the view from the pass is quite magnificent). Dominating the plain to the north is the 3,432m/11,264ft volcanic peak of Büyükköse Dagi, its summit often still snow-covered in June.
Diyadin, chief town of its district, is situated at the northern foot of the Ala Daglari, just 30km/19mi or so north of where the Murat Nehri rises. It lies right on the line of the main north Anatolian fault (earthquakes, volcanic activity) and there are hot springs only 8km/5mi from the town. The site was formerly that of an old town called Zarehaven which, though sacked by the Persians as early as the mid fourth century, was still in existence as a village until the 19th century.
At an altitude of 2,241m/7,355ft, Balik Gölü, northeast of Tasliçay, is Turkey's highest lake. Reaching it involves a drive of some 28km/17mi on a very minor road. The lake is set against a delightful backcloth of high mountains and its waters teem with fish. A small island has a ruin on it, probably an Armenian monastery.
Dominated by the towering peak of Ararat, present-day Dogubayazit, chief town of the Dogubayazit basin, has only been in existence since after the First World War. The chronology of settlement, precise location, even the name of its earliest predecessor, are shrouded in mystery, there being no written records prior to the region's absorption into the Ottoman Empire. Some 7km/4.5mi to the southeast, close to the remains of a Urartian settlement, are the ruins of a town dating from about 1064 (now called Eski Dogubayazit), often, though wrongly, said to have been founded by Bayazit I sometime around 1390. It was abandoned in 1928 and its inhabitants forcibly resettled in the valley, ostensibly because there was too little scope for developing the existing town. The last remaining houses were demolished in 1945.The old town of Bayazit was once an important staging post on the Silk Route, appearing in Armenian sources as "Darong". In the Ottoman era it was the provincial center, a status it surrendered to Agri in 1927 (the name Dogubayazit also dates from this time). The new town contains little of interest, but it does have some hotels and provides a base from which to attempt the ascent of Ararat. It makes its living from tourism and the through traffic to Iran.
From Igdir a track makes its way to the small Ararat village of Basköy (2,100m/6,892ft) at the mouth of the Ahira valley, a gorge-like defile full of volcanic lava slag. The entrance to the valley is pitted with caves, once the abode of Christian hermits. Five crosses are carved in the rock below the caves.
Çakirtas, a village about 7km/4.5mi north of Igdir, has some interesting houses. Near the village is a conical türbe, the rear of which was damaged by a grenade during the War of Independence.
In 1913 a Late Urartian cemetery (seventh century B.C.) was discovered by Russian archeologists at Malaklu, a village near Igdir. Finds from later Turkish excavations (1966) can be seen in the museum in Kars. Igdir, the local center, lies in a large basin enjoying a micro-climate of hot summers and mild winters, in stark contrast to conditions in the mountains all around. Cotton, rice and fruit normally associated with warmer climes are commonly cultivated. Most of the inhabitants are Shiite Azerbaidjanis who migrated here from Russia and Iran between 1878 and 1920.
Ishak Pasa Sarayi is a historic palace and fortress built in the late 14th and early 15th C. The fortress was transformed and expanded in the 18th C, to become the grand palace seen today.
Among several interesting natural features near the Ararat village of Yenidogan are mountain tarns with fumaroles, colored tufa cones and a small lake, Kop Gölü (at 4,000m/13,128ft). A short distance below the lake stands a little fort, Koran Kalesi, with ruins of an Armenian church near by.