What We Talk About When We Talk About Genocide

Ani, Turkey 40°30'41" N, 43°34'06" E

“It was a—how do you call it in English?—a genocide? Yes? It was a genocide,” says Murat Yazar. “My grandmother told my mother about it.”

My walking guide and I are wandering through Ani.

What is Ani? It is the ruin of a vanished world in modern Turkey: the remote and beautiful site of a forgotten civilization—the 1,100-year-old capital of a once powerful empire. Relics of this Silk Road city lie scattered across the sky-hammered mesas of far northeastern Anatolia. Broken cathedrals. Rotting ramparts that defend nothing from nothing. Empty boulevards that go nowhere. We roam this colossal diorama of stillness, of eerie silence, Murat and I, as if painted ...

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Map by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University, SOURCE: outofedenwalk.com

Mapping Police Stops Across the World

When you jaywalk across the globe, you must expect to be stopped by police. It is that simple. Such is the car-conquered planet we live on.

All motorized societies classify walkers as suspicious beings. People who walk defy traffic controls. They bypass checkpoints. They do not submit passively to the prisons called paved roads. Walkers, more to the point, do not own cars. This is utterly heretical, subversive or at least worthy of contempt: This single fact places most walkers in the underclass of the poor, the marginalized, drifters, potential anarchists, troublemakers, crazies, figures of suspect loyalties. Why are they walking? Don’t they pay taxes? Are they carrying ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

The Geography of Desire

Near Paşli, Turkey, 39°9'8" N, 42°53'9" E

“Why aren’t you married, kek?”

They’re after Murat Yazar again.

Mustafa Filiz, my second walking partner, the earthbound flight attendant, is older, more clean-cut. He is safe. He can report to the villagers that he is a freshly minted husband. In fact, he has shortened his honeymoon in Istanbul to walk with us. (What this bodes for his marriage, only he and his young wife, a champion kick-boxer, can judge.) But with Murat, who is bohemian and single, who is long-haired and in his mid-30s, there is no excuse, no cover. Within an hour of stopping to sleep in a hut, he must explain his scandalous bachelorhood. He laughs, embarrassed. ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Eat Your Country

Near Mt. Karacadağ, Turkey, 37°44'53" N, 39°53'52" E

Murat Yazar grazes Anatolia.

He is like a hobo out of Steinbeck: resourceful and discreet. You never know what will spill from his rucksack after walking a long day. Plump little firebombs of peppers gathered in a farmer’s field. Bunches of sticky green grapes, pale with must, plucked from a vineyard. Fresh young zucchinis that snap when bent. Ripe tomatoes. Figs. Rarely have I caught my lanky guide in the act of liberating any of this tasty loot.

“Where did you get this?” I ask, startled. (After all, we have been walking together all day.)

Murat smiles his catlike smile. “Our culture,” he says, “permits travelers like us to take whatever ...

Photograph by Murat Yazar

Mule-ology

Near Siverek, Turkey, 37°46'32" N, 39°16'22" E

First things first: A mule is not a donkey.

A donkey is a member of the equine family burdened by low self-esteem: a small, modest, long-eared creature from which mules are bred when mated with a horse. In other words, a donkey is the crude base metal from which a superior alloy—the mule—is forged. To call a mule a donkey, then, is at best a beginner’s mistake that will earn the squinting contempt of veteran muleskinners. At worst, they are fighting words.

There are jack mules (male) and jenny or molly mules (female). There are blue mules, cotton mules, sugar mules, and mining mules. There is a mammoth mule ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

1 Bucket of Wheat = 1 Candy Bar

Yelkovan Koyü, Turkey, 37°48'16" N, 38°32'28" E

The scene is a rock-walled bakkal.

What is a bakkal?

It is a mom-and-pop shop. Only more.

In Turkey, it is the cheap, multi-hued soccer balls that hang in bulging net bags outside the doorway that readily identify a bakkal. We have been walking hundreds of miles across Anatolia using these bright navigational beacons. Why? Because a bakkal is an oasis. It offers cherry juice and bottles of potable water. A bakkal promises a spot of shade under the burning sun. The man or woman behind the counter dispenses travel directions—both physical and spiritual. Often, a glass of tea is offered. At minimum, there is a stool to sit on, to ...

PHOTOGRAPH BY Murat Yazar

Mother Rivers

Near Hasankeyf, Turkey, 37°42'40" N, 41°24'39" E

Çoban Ali Ayhan sings like a human being in pain—like a man pouring salt into the open wound of his heart.

He bounces a wounded cry down into the canyons of the Tigris River: a blade of rusty water that saws its way through the bedrock of time. Ali’s song is a hymn to true love, which is to say, to love unrequited. It is the tale of a beautiful woman who remains blind to the longings of the singer. It is a lyric of loneliness. Of waiting. Of resignation—a form of acceptance. It is the perfect ballad for this antique river and this doomed, haunted town. ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Glance Back: The Levant

The December issue of National Geographic features a story about the Out of Eden Walk journey. The article—Blessed, Cursed, Claimed: On foot through the Holy Lands”—traverses the deep origins of conflict in the most contested patch of real estate in the world. Illustrated by John Stanmeyer, it roams across Jordanian incense roads, concrete Israeli suburbs, and the grim checkpoints of the West Bank. It offers a boot-level view of the Fertile Crescent, "A place of exile and sacrifice. Of jealous gods.”

Next week, we resume the foot journey through Anatolia.

******

Jerusalem is not a city of war. Avner Goren is stubborn on this point. We are on foot, walking under a ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Loose Thread on the Silk Road

Sanliurfa, Turkey, 37°08'54"N, 38°47'24"E

We parked the mule on the Euphrates and took a hire car to Edessa:

A famous pilgrimage town in Mesopotamia. Founded by Assyrians. Traded at the point of a sword among the Greeks, Nabateans, Romans, Sassanids, Byzantines, Arabs, Armenians, Seljuks, Crusaders, and Seljuks again. About 4,000 years ago its cruel king, Nimrod, ordered Abraham burned alive for rejecting the Assyrian pantheon. Abraham’s God saved the prophet by turning the flames into water and the coals into fish. According to Muslim tradition, God then punished Nimrod by sending a mosquito up his nose to bite his brain. The deranged king ordered his men to knock his head with ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Pistachio Mafia

Near Nizip, Turkey, 36°59'12" N, 37°42'59" E

Editor’s Note: Security concerns in southeastern Turkey temporarily disrupted the sequence of walk dispatches. Today, we resume the storytelling from the trail in chronological order.

A man drives up behind us on a bright red motor scooter.

The scooter bears a decorative sticker: Atatürk, in famous silhouette, walking on a hilltop at the battle of Dumlupinar. The man carries a shotgun strapped across his shoulder. He wears an ammo belt glinting with shotgun shells cinched about his wide belly. His name is Cebir Sercan. He tells us to stop. He says we might get shot if we continue walking.

“Farmers will think you are thieves,” Sercan says.

Sercan is a ...