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The Legend of Mount Ararat

An Opera Concert Staged at the Ishak Pasha Palace, Dogubeyazit, Agri, Anatolia, July 4, 1999, based on a Book by Yasar Kemal, Opera by Cetin Isikozlu

When I saw the newspaper advertisement for an opera at the famous Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit, I made reservations to fly to Agri and from there take a tour bus scheduled to leave from Agri with a group from Ankara. It is a good thing I did since it was the most memorable opera that I had seen in my life, including those that I used to watch at the grand Metropolitan Opera in New York City, standing at the balcony with a cheap ticket. July 4th  was also the 223rd anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, my adopted country since 1988. What a better way to celebrate the Independence Day of America, a country much like what the Ottoman Empire was some years back, in a beautiful part of Anatolia.

A one-day stopover in Agri and the experiences that I had there where I had met 5 elementary school girls with turbans on the way to a turbe and visit to the Republican Train in Kars is the subject of another article that I wrote under, ‘’On the Roads of Anatolia – Agri to Dogubeyazit.’’ Here, I want to write about the magnificent evening at the Grand Palace of Ishak Pasha who ruled the region around the 1680s. They told me that the construction of the palace took 99 years (1685-1784).
The Opera was staged as part of the 75th-anniversary celebrations of the Republic of Turkey, my country of origin. This was the first time that an opera was being staged in east Anatolia and I was amazed how some people had even dared to criticize this. The courtyard of the Palace was packed with not only the people from the surrounding towns and villages but also many dignitaries and writers from all over Turkey, including Mr Yucel Yener,  the president of TRT, one of the sponsors.
The music was played by the 90 members Georgia Symphony Orchestra and 75 members Azerbaijani State Philharmonic Chorus. It was sad that there was no participation from Armenia, which may be sending their State Dance Group to Istanbul soon.  The artistic directors were Cuneyt Gokcer from Turkey and  Eflatun Nimetzade from Azerbaijan.
The opera is based on the famous book ‘’The Legend of Mount Ararat’’ by Yasar Kemal, the greatest novelist of Turkey. (I had read Yasar Kemal’s second book, ‘Teneke’, while I was a student at Tarsus American College in the early fifties and, since then, read almost all of his books and articles.) The book, which we read during the bus trip from Agri to Dogubeyazit, is about the eternal love of a thousand-year. It tells the story of shepherd Ahmet’s love for Gulbahar, the daughter of the Governor of Beyazit, Mahmut Pasha.
One day a white horse stops in front of shepherd Ahmet’s house. According to the customs, the horse has led away three times, if the horse returns every time, the man of the house becomes the new owner of the horse. But the governor wants his horseback. When the Governor is told of the legend, he orders the village burned and shepherd Ahmet brought to the palace.  As Ahmet is led into the Palace, he sees Gulbahar, the governor’s daughter. She falls in love with shepherd Ahmet at first sight.
At night Gulbahar goes to the dungeon to see Ahmet, but the dungeon keeper is in love with Gulbahar and wants to make a deal with her, asking for a handful of her hair in return for entrance to the dungeon. Gulbahar agrees and gives her hair to Memo, the dungeon keeper.
The villagers return the white horse to Pasha, but the Pasha, wanting Ahmet dead, claims that the horse is not his original horse. The villagers revolt against the Pasha and demand the return of Ahmet. Pasha sets a condition for Ahmet’s release stating that If Ahmet goes to the top pf Mount Ararat and bring the fire to him, he can marry Gulbahar, knowing well that for thousands of years, the mountain has been swallowing those attempting to steal the fire.
Ahmet climbs the mountain, brings the fire and marries Gulbahar. On the wedding night, Ahmet wonders what Gulbahar gave to the dungeon keeper to let her in. When Gulbahar tells him the truth, Ahmet places a sword in the bed between them. Again, according to tradition, if the woman believes that she has done wrong, she kills herself with the sword. If the woman has given herself only to her husband than the woman kills the man.
Gulbahar can not sleep all night. When in the morning she sees the fire on the mountain flare up again and Ahmet is sleeping next to the sword without ever touching her, she kills Ahmet with the sword.
It is a sad story but with music, it was staged magnificently. Here is a passage from the book:
‘’Agri Dagi’nin yamacinda bir gol vardir. Bir harman yeri buyuklugundedir. Adina ‘Kup Golu’ derler. Cok derinllerdedir. Sulari som mavisidir. Hic bir suda, hic bir mavide boyle kadife bir mavi yoktur.

Her yil, karlar eriyip de bahar gozunu acinca, Agri Dagi’nin, guzel, kederli, karagozlu, iri yapili, cok uzun ince parmakli cobanlari, daha gun dogmadan Kup Golu’ne gelirler. Golun bakir topragina, bin yillik sevda topragina kepeneklerini atar otururlar. Kavallarini bellerinden cikarip, Agri Dagi’nin ofkesini, sevdasini calmaya baslarlar.

Aksam olurken, bir akkus gelir, Gole simsek gibi iner. Kanadinin birisini som maviye baktirir. Ucar, gider. Az otede, buyuk bir At golgesi Gole dogru gelir. Gelir gelmez de oradan kaybolur. Cobanlar kavallarini bellerine koyup dogrulurlar. Sonra, sessiz, birer ikiser oradan ayrilir, karanliga karisirlar.’’

‘’Kup Golu’nun oralardan gecenler, Gol kiyisina oturmus, basi elleri arasinda, gozlerini som maviye dikmis, Gulbahar’i gorurler. Arada sirada, Ahmet, Golun sularinda Gulbahar’in gozune gorunur. Gulbahar kollarini acip Ahmet’e yurur. ‘’Ahmet! Ahmet!’’ Sesi butun dagda yankilanir.

Gol kapanir. Ahmet silinir. Gulbahar silinir. Kucuk bir kus gelip kanadini suyun som mavisine batirir.’’

Yasar Kemal
Agri Dagi Efsanesi,  essiz bir medeniyet ve kultur besigi olan Anadolu’nun efsanelerinden birisidir.
Yuksel Oktay
6 Temmuz 1999

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