Famous poet Cemal Süreya wrote a poem, “Kars,” that says, “Öyle güzel ölürüm ki artık/Beyaz uykusuz uzakta” (How peacefully I can die now/In the distant sleepless white). Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s novel “Kar” (Snow) is set in Kars, and the movie “Kosmos” (Cosmos) by Reha Erdem was shot in Kars.
The city, the inspiration for various works of art, has a rare beauty and an enigmatic nature. It is a small city of 78,000 inhabitants located in the northeast of Turkey -- just west of Armenia, with which it shares a border -- and south of Georgia. Due to the unique location of Kars, it has been part of numerous empires.
The city was part of ancient Armenia, but it has changed hands from the Armenians to the Georgians, the Persians, the Russians and finally the Turks, and today is home to a large number of Kurds, Armenians, Azeris and Turks. Along with having an interesting history and eclectic populace, Kars is located at a high altitude, enjoying warm summers and enduring harsh winters. Snow comes in abundance in Kars and stays for about seven months of the year. While walking on the streets in Kars one can see spectacular sites, including stone houses built in the Baltic style that are remnants of the Russian rule of Kars. Other historical sites worth seeing include the Church of the Apostles, an ancient Armenian church that was converted into a mosque, and the Kars citadel, a centuries-old fortress sitting at the top of a rocky hill overlooking the surrounding land.
Kars in the eyes of the poet Matur
Poet and writer Bejan Matur, who participated in a culture and arts festival in Kars last week, shared her views and insight about Kars and its influence on artists with Sunday’s Zaman. “Geography is the first thing to note. The high altitude, fresh air and natural colors are among the attractive traits of the city. It reminds me of a tangled mass of mountains in Afghanistan called the “Roof of the World,” which includes the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. When I first saw Kars, I thought this city must be the roof of Turkey. The other place I felt this kind of emotion was in Kabul [Afghanistan],” she said.
What Matur finds most interesting is that “the people in the Southeast look unhappy and somber because of the trauma and tragedies they have seen and, unfortunately, are still seeing. Yet, the more one travels into the northeast, the more this somberness lessens and the more people are integrated with nature. I have seen happiness and positivity in the faces of the people of Kars.” About the feeling the city gives people, Matur said: “Kars is a city where rich and indigenous cultures once flourished. It used to blend cultural traces of Russian and Armenian civilizations seamlessly. Yet, sadly, now we see too few of these traces. It is like this city has abandoned its past, and it is sad to think that a culture is lying dead underground. Yet, on the other hand, this sadness is covered by the energy of the region.”
Matur said when she saw Kars she truly understood why Pamuk chose it as the setting for his novel. “It is indeed an inspiring and poetic city and a great setting for a work of art,” she noted. “The city itself is like an open air museum, displaying specific architectural traits with buildings displaying Russian and Ottoman traces. The presence of these various cultural components renders Kars very wealthy in terms of architecture and culture.”
“Another important feature of Kars is that it is a border city. Every border city is special and inspiring for people. But, sadly, the border between Turkey and Armenia is now closed. This has caused the city to become a bit introverted. But still, it is kind of lively, and I imagine once the border is reopened, it will be much more energetic.” Matur also expressed her strong wish to see the border reopened, which will ultimately improve relations between Turkey and Armenia.