Kars (Turkey)
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Turkey - flagKars is the capital of the province of the same name. Kars province has the highest concentration of Azeri population in Turkey. Azeris of Kars province speak Azeri but use Turkish as the literary language (there is also a large Kurdish community). Azeris are the descendants of immigrants arrived from Azerbaijan during the period 1878 to 1920. Today, in all there are about 640.000 Azeri speakers in Turkey. A consulate of Azerbaijan operates in Kars.

Turkey - mapKars is situated at the junction of a plain and a mountain, at an altitude of 1750m in a sea of dry grass swept by the wind. The climate is rather severe, the winters are long and very cold, with temperatures going down to -30C, Summer is short and cool. The Turks named the place Kar-su "snow-water", due to the ponds formed by melting snow, which eventually was shortened to "Kars" - "Snow". Recently Kars has attracted a  more attention than usual because Turkey's most famous novelist, Orhan Pamuk, used it as the setting for his novel "Snow".

Kars / KSY: entering the city (photo by Alejandro Slobodianik / Travel-Images.com)The Kars river, a tributrary of the Araz, devides the city into an old upper section and a newer part to the south. The city has a population of about 80.000 and although there are manufactures of textiles and carpets the base for the local economy is agriculture, particularly stock breeding. The local honey and cheese are of the highest quality. The area is heavily militarized and checkpoints and ID controls are routine.

After years of Turkish presence the architecture of the city still retains some European traits, revealing its Russian legacy. The lower city unfolds at the foot of an impressive 12th century Seljuk fortress. The city has its own university (Kafkas Universitesi).

Turkey - Kars: view of Mount Ararat (photo by G.Frysinger / Travel-Images.com)History: The region is one of the oldest human settled areas in Anatolia, with abundant pre-historical remains. Kars was the capital of Bagatrid Kingdom, an Armenian state of the 9th and 10th centuries. The Bagatrid were invaded first Byzantio and then by the Turks in the early 11th century. By the late 11th century Armenian dynasties re-emerged and ruled until the arrival of the Mongols. Ani was destroyed by Tamerlane in 1386 and was captured and rebuilt by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. It was reduced by the Persians to ruins in 1604 and again rebuilt. In 1731 it withstood a Persian siege and in 1808 resisted the Russian army. During the rest of the 19th century Kars was in the epicentre of the Russian-Turkish conflicts. In 1828-30, 1855, and 1877 the city returned to European rule under the Russian Empire, and it was ceded to Russia together with the surrounding territories by the congress of Berlin in 1878.
A short lived Armenian republic was destroyed in 1920 in battles near Kars. By a peace treaty between the nationalist government of Kemal Ataturk and the USSR, Kars and Ardahan were given to Turkey. During their 41-year-long occupation, the Russians built many buildings and wide avenues, creating a grid layout unique in Turkey.

Turkey - Kars / KSY: Evliya mosque - repairing the tiles (photo by Alejandro Slobodianik / Travel-Images.com)Main Sights: Church of the Holy Apostles and Kars museum, castle, caravansaray, Pasha palace, stone bridge, Evliya mosque, the baths, tomb of Celal Baba, Russian downtown. The old city, which was the Bagatrid capital is now a slum, clinging to the hillside across the Kars river.

The houses of Russian and Armenian merchants can still be seen, their fine construction and exterior decoration incongruous amongst the drab concrete buildings that now dominate the city. Many of these houses were pulled down in the 1960s - the government either not interested in the history of the town, or only too happy for it to be eradicated.

The city is served by its own airport, located 6km from the centre (airport code: KSY). Turkish airlines operates internal flights, allowing good international connections via Istanbul (Turkish airlines office: Sinir Turizm ve Seyhat Acentasi, Ataturk Caddesi, 80, tel. +90 474 2123838).

Kars is located at about 50km from the Armenian borders, and there is a rail and road border crossing between Kars and Armenia's second city Gyumri. However as a protest against Armenian military actions in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the Ankara government has ordered its closure. Nevertheless the local authorities have been pressing hard for its re-opening, so the situation my change soon. At present the only direct transportation between Turkey and Armenia are the Istanbul-Yerevan flights and a bus from Istanbul that reaches Yerevan by way of Trabzon and Georgia.

Outside Kars:

Turkey - Ani: Armenian Church (photo by G.Frysinger / Travel-Images.com)Ani: located 42 km east of Kars, near the Armenian border and the village of Ocakli, this ghost town, is the reason why many travellers visit Kars province.  The ancient Armenian town was built on the barren plains above the Arpaçay valley, that today separates Turkey from Armenia. In its hey-day Ani had a population of over 100.000. Once an important station in the ancient silk road, serving as a trading post and caravanseray for merchants' camel caravans travelling between east and west. It was held by the Armenian Gamsaragan dynasty before it was acquired by  Bagatrid kingdom, an Armenian state that established its dominance over most Armenian princes in the 9th century. It suceeded to Kars in 961 as capital of the Bagatrid kingdom. However the Bagatrid Kingdom was brought to an end by the eastward drive of the Byzantine empire, shortly before the Turkish invasion, in the early 11th century. Ani fell to the Mongols in the 13th century, who ransacked it and later Tamerlane rampaged through and mercilessly destroyed what was left. When the trade routes moved further south, the once bustling metropolis lost its revenue from trade and soon the entire province declined. It was again destroyed by earthquakes in the 14th century. The town is surrounded by imposing double ramparts with round towers. Inside the walls what remains today are several Armenian churches with amazing frescos, a Cathedral, a Georgian church, the Horomos Monastery, a ruined Seljuk palace, a couple of mosques and caravanserays.

Ani: walls of the Armenian Bagratid kingdom (photo by G.Frysinger / Travel-Images.com)Ani is still under Turkish military control. Though the site is advertised as a tourist attraction, visitors have to obtain permits from the tourism office, police and museum in nearby Kars. On arrival visitors are briefed by an armed soldier on where they may go. Troops patrol the site and use the ruins of a mosque as a look-out post. A ban on cameras was lifted recently, but photographers are not allowed to point their cameras in the direction of the border, on the other side you can see the European forces, Armenian soldiers maning their positions.

Horomots: located 10 km northeast of Ani, near the dam on the Arpa river, is a large monastery complex, almost as impressive as Ani but virtually unknown to tourists. It contains three well preserved churches of the 11th century (a few more are across the border). The monastery served as burial ground for the Kings of Ani and functioned as an important religious centre until the 18th century.

Sarikamis: Situated in a forest of giant pines, 55 km southwest of Kars, at 2250m, this ski centre has excellent courses and ideal snow conditions, the area is also noted for its hunting possibilities. Visitors can stay either in the town or at the 60-bed ski lodge, where a ski-lift and ski instructors are available. The snow conditions are at their best from November till April. Note that the area also has a strong military presence (the Turkish 3rd army) as well as endless rows of old Russian barracks.

Ardahan: the Kur river separates the new and old towns, the latter with a 16th century castle built by Sultan Selim the Grim, is one of the most stately citadels in Turkey, defended by 14 towers and with a span of 745 metres.

Mount Ararat / Agri / Aragats : Great Ararat resting place of Noah's ark (photo by Alejandro Slobodianik / Travel-Images.com)Mount Ararat (Agri / Aragats): located south east of Kars, it is composed of two peaks, Great Ararat the highest (5,165m tall) is the traditional site of the resting place of Noah's ark after the Flood (Genesis 8:4). Ararat is also remembered in Zoroastrianism, in the Aresta as (Aria Varda) meaning the birthplace of the Strongs. Southwest of the main mountain, the Little Ararat reaches up to 3896 meters. The Serdarbulak lava plateau (2600 m) stretches out between the two pinnacles.  In the summer, the weather in the area and on Mount Ararat itself is sunny, warm and dry. However, in the winter and spring cold and harsh conditions prevail, and mountain climbers occasionally face blizzards and turbulent weather. July, August and September are the months when most world mountain climbers come to the area and when the climb up Ararat is most enjoyable. Despite the usual sunny and clear weather at that time of year, high altitude mountain weather prevails above 3000 meters. The southern face of the mountain offers the easiest and safest ascent to the summit with the best routes and communication, transportation and safety considerations.  The Ararat is also visible from the Armenian side of the border.

Most of Great Ararat formed about 2 million years ago atop a block of uplifted rock during the Holocene Period; Little Ararat formed shortly thereafter. No eruptions have been recorded for either volcano. Nine glacial tongues escape downslope of Great Ararat from the permanent ice field, meet the snow line, melt, and produce streams. The rather high snow line, 4700 m, for a mountain this far north results from the dry surrounding region. Because of the lack of water, the area is relatively barren and uninhabited. From medieval accounts, the Ararat region was a beautiful, forest clad mountain with many human settlements and abundant wildlife; however, deforestation, overgrazing, and a destructive earthquake in 1840 have severely impacted the area. Because of fears of further earthquake activity and the very dry conditions, many inhabitants left the region and settled elsewhere.

Cildir: this town is near the lake of the same name. Lake Cildir, at an altitude of 1965 metres is located in a nature preserve, with the Akcakale artificial island and varied fauna and flora, an excellent area for outdoor activities. A temple with Urartrian inscriptions remains. Seytan (Satan) Castle is near Cildir.

Kagizman: place of famous Neolithic stone engravings, located on a breathtaking canyon

Tozluca: location of salt caves, near the river Aras

see also: images of Turkey, Turkish visas, hotels in Kars, history, maps, Zoroastrianism, images of Georgia, summary
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