It looked as if a large meteorite had crashed into a herd of goats, whose disintegrating bodies had spattered it with blood and whose only recognisable remains were hundreds of horns sticking from its surface at all angles. These were bedecked with coloured ribbons that fluttered gently in the light breeze which swept down from the holy mountain, towering in the background like a brooding god.
The modern cafeteria and picnic-style seating arrangements jarred somewhat with this bloody rock totem and its disembodied horns, which evoked visions of Lord of the Flies. Here the past and present seemed to get along very nicely, with crowds of families enjoying a day out on a sunny summer afternoon. The fact that just a few hundred yards away there were men behind a makeshift screen dispatching goats didn’t jar with the festive atmosphere.
I’d hitched a ride to this ‘Cemevi’ in a rickety minibus from the nearby town of Tunceli in Eastern Turkey, squeezed between an ancient character with a nut-brown face and woolly hat on one side and a chap with a restless goat on the other. The goat’s owner was a young man who continually stroked its head like a lover and kissed it from time to time whilst whispering sweet nothings in its hairy ear. The goat was however not to be fooled and struggled in vain throughout the bumpy trip to its appointment with fate.
Taking a seat at one of the long wooden tables I gratefully accepted tea and biscuits. Nobody paid me much attention, although a few canny individuals were queuing up for baksheesh and I got rid of some change. It was a nice day if you weren’t a goat, and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood.
Rather than worshipping in mosques, Alevi Muslims attend Cemevi halls like this one, where their rites involve singing and dancing, and women mix freely with men rather than being segregated as they are in mosques.
Sticking the horns of slaughtered goats onto this enormous rock appeared to be a local custom, and I never did find out how the rock got there in the first place. Maybe it rolled down from the mountain like a divine gift sometime in the past and the Cemevi precinct was built around it.
The mountain is Duzgun Baba, a place of pilgrimage for generations of locals, and legend has it that if you complete the arduous climb to the summit you’ll be rewarded with remission of sins. There were plenty of applicants for this, forming a long, coloured ribbon from the Cemevi and losing themselves in the misty distance, like the souls of dead warriors entering Valhalla.
Having plenty of sins to be remiss about, I was keen to make the effort. But it was a long trip back to my hotel in Tunceli and the sunlight was starting to fade. Unlike the hapless goats, I had a return ticket.