Eastern Anatolia (Turkish: Doğu Anadolu) is a region in Turkey. It occupies the mountainous east of the country and has the harshest winters.
- 1 Ardahan — town in the north, on the road to Georgia and the Turkish Black Sea coast
- 2 Battalgazi — old town close to Malatya
- 3 Darende — historic town with artifacts dating back to the Ottomans and even the Hittites
- 4 Doğubayazıt — town on Iranian border, hub for visiting the fascinating Ishak Pasa Palace nearby, as well as climbing Mt Ararat
- 5 Elazığ — city in northwest, surrounded by mountains and lakes, and the hub for visiting the wonderful old city of Harput
- 6 Erzincan
- 7 Erzurum — biggest city of the region, near Palandöken Ski Centre
- 8 Hakkari — the most remote city of the country, in the far southeast
- 9 Kars — city in the northeast, with interesting Russian architecture, base for visiting nearby Ani
- 10 Kemaliye — locally known as Eğin, this is a beautiful old town on the Karasu River, and is the base town for the adventure sports hotspot of the Karanlık Kanyon ("Dark Canyon")
- 11 Malatya — a large city with lots of parks, base for visiting the statues at the summit of Nemrut Mountain
- 12 Muş — town on the railroad to Tatvan/Lake Van
- 13 Tatvan — on the western coast of Lake Van, eastern terminus of railway from Istanbul, base for visiting the other Nemrut with its beautiful crater lake
- 14 Tunceli
- 15 Van — city on the eastern coast of Lake Van, with some remnants of the Urartu civilization and some nearby Armenian monasteries
- 1 Akdamar (Aghtamar) — medieval Armenian church on an island of Lake Van
- 2 Ani — the old Armenian capital, formerly known as the city of 1001 churches. UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 3 Nemrut Mountain — a UNESCO World Heritage site, with statues on its summit
Covering over four times the area of Switzerland but with fewer than 7 million people, Eastern Anatolia is all about lonely and vast landscapes of mountainous terrain, occasionally interspersed with flat-ish plateau.
Historically this area was mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians and was known as Western Armenia, until the Ottoman Empire killed or deported almost all the Armenians during World War I. Mount Ararat, the most sacred site in the world for ethnic Armenians, is here, next to the modern-day Armenian border.
The climate is continental in the south, hemiboreal in the north. Southern cities (south of Ağrı) experience hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters with a storm season in spring; while northern cities experience mild to warm, showery summers and frigid, snowy winters. The whole region is snow-covered all winter, with many mountain passes remaining inaccessible until mid-spring.
In the eastern and southeastern parts (near the Iranian border and around Lake Van) of the region, the mother tongue of most locals is Kurdish. However most, especially younger ones, are also bilingual in Turkish, although generally heavily accented.
The local Turkish dialect spoken in the northeast of the region (around Erzurum, and Kars) is far from “standard” Istanbul Turkish, and is very close to Azerbaijani spoken in the neighbouring country, to the point of being virtually identical in the easternmost parts of the region, around Iğdır close to the border with Nakhchivan. However writing is standard Turkish.
As in Southeastern Anatolia, it is important to be cautious with whom you are smattering Kurdish or Zaza. Trying to strike up a conversation in those languages with a Turkish official, especially one from the military, can have dire consequences.
Erzurum is the main gateway to the region with fairly frequent air, bus, and rail connections with the rest of the country. Other secondary-major cities with airports include Van and Malatya, which also has rail links with the rest of the country. Unless snowbound, highways connect the region to other Turkish regions in the north, south, and west; and to Iran to the east.
There is no high speed rail yet, but the few trains can be scenic.
At the borderlands of various empires during the last millenia, Northeastern Anatolia is rich in medieval and early modern sites. The local hub is Erzurum. The modern city is not especially historic or beautiful, but it is the site of a citadel and two madrasahs (Islamic academies). One of the madrasahs was built in the 13th century by the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum and is decorated with turquoise tiles typical of the Seljuks, the other dates back to the 14th century, when the area was ruled by the Ilkhanids, an offshoot of Genghis's Mongolians who later converted to Islam.
North of Erzurum, a major highway follows the Çoruh River towards the Black Sea coast. The local mountains are dotted with the ruins of numerous castles and churches built by the medieval Georgian kingdom. The most impressive site is perhaps the Öşkvank Monastery in the village of Çamlıyamaç, about 100 km (60 mi) from Erzurum.
Northeast of Erzurum is the national park of the Allahuekber Mountains. This was the scene of the 1914–15 Battle of Sarikamish, fought between Ottoman Turkey and the Russian Empire as part of the Caucasus Campaign during World War I. Ill-prepared for the harsh winters of the area, up to 60,000 Turkish soldiers froze to death there; annual commemorations take place in the national park, which is also known for its extensive Scots pine forests and healthy populations of wolves and bears, which are rather few in the country.
The area east of the Allahuekber Mountains was ruled by the Russian Empire for four decades before its collapse. A notable local town is Sarıkamış, where a derelict hunting lodge built by the last czar, Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917), is one of the main attractions. Nearby Kars is much more famous for its Russian heritage—stately Russian mansions line its street grid, as do beautiful mosques that had been built as Russian Orthodox or Armenian Apostolic churches. Further east, on the high steppes over a river gorge are the evocative ruins of Ani, the medieval Armenian capital.
Southwards, at the foothills of the Mount Ararat, Turkey's highest at 5,137 m (16,854 ft), is the town of Doğubeyazıt, near the main border crossing to Iran. İshak Pasha Palace, an amazing 17th-century palace and citadel complex on a hillside high above the town, is the main sight. Also nearby, off the highway to Van, is the scenic Muradiye Waterfalls, which freezes every winter.
The rim of Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey, is known for its ancient sites and Armenian heritage. This is the land of the Urartu — a name you may remember from Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which has a large exhibition of fine Urartian ironwork. The main city of the area is Van, at the eastern end of the lake. As Tushpa, the city was the capital of the Urartu kingdom, formed by an Iron Age people. Its castle, on a striking rocky outcrop above the lake, is not to be missed, as are numerous Urartian cuneiform inscriptions in the surrounding area. Except for a few centuries-old buildings, Old Van, in the lakeside plains just below the castle, was heavily damaged and abandoned during World War I.
The countryside to the southeast of Van has ancient and medieval citadels, and other isolated historic and natural attractions but far more travellers head west along the southern coast of the lake to Gevaş, for boats to Akdamar Island. The island is topped by one of the jewels of the region, the 10th century Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which has extensive bas reliefs of Biblical scenes.
Tatvan is the hub for travelling around the western half of Lake Van. Just above the town is Mount Nemrut, a dormant volcano with a summit nearing 3,000 m (9,700 ft)—higher than the mountain of the same name near Kahta to the west, better known for the statues of the ancient gods on its summit. The caldera has freshwater lakes inside, one of which is comfortably warm regardless the season thanks to a hot spring flowing into it, all surrounded by a birch forest. The views over Lake Van and the surrounding area from the caldera rim are simply phenomenal.
Many towns around the lake, including Gevaş, Ahlat, and Erciş, feature Seljuk kümbets, cylindrical or often octagonal mausolea topped by a cone, seemingly influenced by local Armenian and Georgian architectural styles, with much stonework.
The Upper Euphrates Valley at the western half of the region is full of old towns. Malatya is a reasonable hub for travelling around this part of Eastern Anatolia. While Malatya is a relatively new city by Turkish standards, there is a 19th-century mosque downtown, as well as a contemporary Armenian church. A small hydropower plant, one of the oldest in the country, is also an attraction of the city, as is the park with many water features surrounding it.
Nearby Orduzu is a village of pretty single- or two-floored adobe houses with timber frames. Far more archaeologically important, though, is the nearby Aslantepe Mound, an eastern outpost of the Hittites, a Bronze Age people often associated with Central Anatolia to the west. A number of detailed sculptures with typically Hittite designs were excavated from the site and have been exhibited there.
West from Malatya, Darende is the site of the Somuncu Baba shrine. Imagine a tomb of a local saint and a small adjoining mosque in a very beautifully landscaped garden, all stuck into a narrow ravine and clinging to the cliffs.
Just north of Malatya, Battalgazi is locally known as "Old Malatya", as it was the original site of that city. A major centre during centuries past, it features a Seljuk-built mosque, with beautiful, if a bit worn, turquoise tiles and is unique in Turkey for having an inner courtyard. The other attractions in the town include a caravanserai and Roman-built city walls.
Across the Karakaya Dam Lake, kind of a very low-key local resort, you will arrive in Elazığ. As with Malatya, the city was moved to its current location only in the 19th century (so you won't see anything older), and its original site, Harput is up the hills. Topped by a castle, the streets of Harput are lined by historic houses with stone-built ground floors and wooden upper floors.
Upriver along the Euphrates, you will arrive in Kemaliye, locally Eğin, which sits in a particularly lush valley bottom. It is a beautiful town with many mansions, sharing a similar architectural style with those of Harput. In the outskirts, a series of tight tunnels and passes negotiate a formidable and barren terrain high above a deep gorge. If anywhere could be called "the beaten path" in this part of the world, that would be the trio of Harput, Kemaliye, and nearby Divriği (in Central Anatolia).
Meat is more or less what the whole local cuisine is dependent on in the region, as very few vegetables can be grown in this highland with cool and short summers.
The harsh climate due to the high altitude, and generally conservative locals mean that vineyards are rare in the region. However, the Euphrates valley is milder, and supports a couple of wineries near Elazığ, which produce red wine from the local Öküzgözü cultivar. These wineries are believed to carry on the tradition of Noah planting a vineyard thereabouts, after the landing of his ark.
Always keep your passport or other official identification handy. You might be stopped by law enforcement and asked to produce it anywhere and anytime, particularly when close to borders.
Although all the airports are below 2,000 m many popular mountains are over 3,000 m, so make sure to take the usual precautions against altitude sickness.
Those who have had enough of the chilly mountain air can head south to much warmer (and, indeed, semi-desert) Southeastern Anatolia. If you prefer to have a glimpse of sea after wandering inland regions, though, you are much better heading north to Eastern Karadeniz, the nearest stretch of coastline, all backed by lush and misty mountains, although much of that region's beaches were lost to the coastal highway. Travellers heading for the major centres of western Turkey will traverse Central Anatolia to the west, while those intending to do the overland route to India can cross the border into Iran to the east from a number of border crossings near Doğubayazıt, Van, and Hakkari north to south. Just north of Iran is Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan exclave, with a border crossing east of Iğdır. There is also a crossing on the Georgian border to the north, Türkgözü north of Ardahan. Although much less crowded than the Sarp crossing on the Black Sea coast, it is not any faster to cross the border there, as it is much remoter and harder to get to by public transport from the major cities, and also it seems border formalities take longer there. If you have been intrigued by the Armenian ruins all over Eastern Anatolia, Armenia to the east has a lot more, although going there would require a detour via Iran or Georgia (which has much less complicated visa issues) as the border is closed.