Steam In Eastern Turkey

Whichever way you look at it, getting to the far East of Turkey takes you to a hostile and formidable area. The road to Erzurum was Ok, and our VW made this part of the journey with no problems.

A Henschel 20802 heads east towards Horasan from Kars. This was the furthest we dared venture into Eastern Turkey. It was rather hostile!

Our journey commenced at Sivas, in Central Turkey. From this point you could head north to Samsun, west to Erzurum, or south to Kayseri. Samsun and Kayseri both had steam and will be the subject of separate stories.

I remember Sivas as a thriving city in an industrial area. It was a rather conservative Muslim area, and the women wore drab clothing. As in all of Turkey, everyone wanted you to join them for Chai (Tea) in their home, at which point they would roll out the carpets and attempt to sell you one. We managed to return home empty handed!

One of the more peculiar things about Sivas was the number of jewellery shops. No one wore jewellery in public, so how come there was so much gold around the place? We were told that Turkish men liked their wives to dress up for them in private! Public Belly Dancing was seen as prostitution, but private dancing was cool! The women would dress up at night in all their finery, make up and jewellery, but it was a strictly private affair.

Another peculiarity about Turkey was that restaurants were divided into two sections. One was for men only, At dinner they would get a bottle of Raki (a potent spirit made from Aniseeds) and drink the whole bottle between them. Then they would stagger home, satisfied with their evening out. In some restaurants, there was a smaller section for wives and families. This was the only area women were allowed in. Turkey is probably the most western of Arabic countries, but in those days it certainly wasn’t like the west!

Having experienced more of Turkish life, we headed out in our VW towards the West. Steam operated from Erzincan to Erzurum and then on to Kars. It is a wonderful stretch of railway line and seeing we were there in March, and Erzurum is at high altitude, there was plenty of snow around.

Eastern Turkey Railway Map Showing Kurdish Area

As you can see from the map. It really is a remote area. Perhaps a little history will put things in perspective. First, I would say not too many railway photographers ventured into this area. It is simply too dangerous!

There is a nation called the Kurds who live in this general area. In 1980, around the time of our visit there were around 5 million in Eastern Turkey. In the 1920s, there was a move for Kurdish independence. Pretty well everyone in the area hates the Kurds. Saddam Hussein tried to wipe them out with chemical weapons in his last years in power, and in 1984 a year after our visit open warfare broke out in the very area we were getting our photos! On the way into the area we passed a huge military base with many warning signs that taking pictures meant death by firing squad. No I don’t have any pictures of the signs! You really don’t want to mess with the Turkish military.

The war didn’t end until 1994, when Leyla Zana, the first female Kurdish representative in Turkey’s Parliament, was charged for making “separatist speeches” and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Turks didn’t like the Kurdish and Visa Versa.

Politics aside, the scenery was getting better, the further East we travelled. I am afraid when it came to recording steam, I had no fear. After all I survived Mozambique. Surely this couldn’t be any worse. Later I met a man who spent time in a Turkish prison on drug charges and for him it was much worse than I ever experienced, so perhaps I was wrong!! I won’t go into details.

2-10-0 Heading East Towards Erzurum

There was another little inconvenience on this part of the journey. As I said before, Kurdish people simply don’t like foreigners and are suspicious of anyone different for good reason. Be it KGB or CIA, this persecuted race are very wary, unlike the more than friendly Turks. In the rest of Turkey you were harassed so much my friend suggested they were too friendly. If you want to be cured of a tea addiction, you will be offered Chai continually!

At this stage our car was being pelted with rocks by villagers on the side of the road. It was quite scary. This continued most of the way to Erzurum. I believe it was a custom to welcome foreigners to the area! At one point we decided we need a loaf of bread. The word was Ekmek, and we left the main road and headed for a small village. Well, as we approached we were surrounded by the men of the village. Most of them carried knives, as you do in Turkey. They were rather menacing. It was obvious they were very suspicious of our motives for being there. We pulled up at a bread shop, and I went inside and purchased a roll for I believe 7 Turkish Lira. It was just out of the oven, and like all the bread in Turkey, tasted divine. This was not the Turkish bread they sell everywhere else in the world. It is normal bread, however these guys know how to bake.

Anyway, when we left the shop everyone cheered and wanted to shake my hand. Now the Kurds were too friendly! We continued on towards Erzurum with fresh provisions.

A Double Header 2-10-0 Arrives In Erzerum In The Late Afternoon

So it was we arrived at Erzerum for the night. The question was, how much further would we go? As you can imagine, we were more than a little edgy.

Yes, we headed East. It got colder and there was more snow. The scenery was spectacular, well worth the trip in my opinion. We travelled as far as Horasan, where the first picture was taken and spied a passenger heading West. This had a Mikado on it. With all the snow and mountains around, it was spectacular.

From there, we headed south to Lake Van rather than brave the rest of the trip to Kars. I was told the line flattened out anyway, but since they are still fighting around there, I may never know!

Henschel 2-8-2 heads a passenger towards Erzurum From Kars



  1. You are either brave or mad! Great photos but
    my devout coward kicks in when I read about
    your car being pelted by rocks! Glad you made
    it home intact!

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