One sunny afternoon last month I sat drinking a glass of tea in the office of a functionary in Mus, a market town in eastern Anatolia known for producing sugar beets, tobacco and violence. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish Army put down an insurgency in the area, killing tens of thousands of people, most of whom believed eastern Anatolia should be labelled western Kurdistan. During the First World War hundreds of thousands of locals from the region were sent on death marches northwards to Mount Ararat and beyond, their dreams of a greater Armenia dashed by the new Turkish nationalism. Leaders intent on murderous mischief - Alexander, Xenophon, Xerxes and their successors - had always seemed to pass this way, perhaps contributing to the reputation of Mus among Turks as a backwater best left undisturbed. A famous Ottoman song has sorrowful soldiers trudging up the 'steep road' to Mus, and never coming back. On my return to Istanbul, I heard it sung on two separate occasions by big-city acquaintances who, after expressing great amusement at the thought of anyone spending a weekend in Mus, felt compelled to give me their rendition.
LRB 28 November 2002 | PDF Download