The town of Palu and the bridge over the Aradzani (Eastern Euphrates, Murad) River (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

Palu – Trades

Author: Vahé Tachjian, 21 March 2012 (Last modified 21 March 2012) - Translator: Ara Melkonian

When people talk about the clothes Armenians wear in villages of Palu, a local saying explains them best: ‘Spun by mother, worked by father’. In other words the clothes and their accessories are all home-made; the peasant wears, from head to toe, home-produced things. [1] The same is usual in the case of preparation of foodstuffs. The best example is wheat, the villager’s main staple. The threshing of harvested wheat, it’s winnowing and turning it into bulghur is carried out by the villager with his own means in his own house. He only needs to approach the village miller to make the wheat into flour. The same is true of the work of preparing bulghur, for which he needs a circular stone press turned by animals (deng or ding). This last is a tool that is not owned by every house. The prepared bulghur is milled at home using hard millstones. Like these, many vital things are similarly home-made, such as the making of clay vessels, baking bread, the distilling of oghi (raki), making of wine, sesame and linseed oil and the preparation of syrup and the repair of agricultural items.

The most important work carried out in the home is, without doubt, weaving. Nearly every village home has its pit loom, used to make cloth. Before weaving, however, the villager has to go through all the stages of making cotton into thread. It is during these that he uses the chalkhavou (a tool made of thin willow branches woven into a basket) that cleans the cotton bolls. Then he uses the cotton gin (djerdjer) that separates the seeds from them. Then cotton is carded, using a bow. Finally the spinning wheel is used to turn it into thread. When the thread is ready, then the work of turning it into fabric on the loom begins. We know that weaving fabric in the villages provides the opportunity to barter goods between them. In the case of the village of Baghin, the amount of local cotton is insufficient to produce the amount of woven goods required, therefore the villagers get their cotton from the Kurdish villagers in the surrounding area that produce it, bartering walnuts, that are plentiful in Baghin, for it. Thus they receive two cotton bolls for a walnut. [2]

From all this it would be wrong to conclude that there are no workshops in the villages around Palu. The reality is that the tradesmen in these places are, at the same time, cultivators of the soil. Generally one part of the family tends the land, while the other operates the workshop. This kind of workshop is generally found in the large villages, such as Havav/Ekinözu and Baghin. The existing trades have a direct link with the villagers’ immediate needs, the first among which is cultivation of the soil. In other words the tradesmen are blacksmiths, stonecutters and carpenters, who make wooden, metal or stone agricultural tools. Their customers are the Armenians, Kurdish and Turkish peasants from the local villages. Another trade is shoemaking which, although it has no direct link with agriculture, exists in many Armenian villages in Palu. Commerce in these village areas is generally carried out using barter. The tradesman, as payment, may receive wheat, flour, fruit, timber, animals etc.


Among the pottery or clay items produced are ewers, pots, deep dishes with widening rims, pitchers, churns, vases, casks, cups, small cylindrical vessels, jugs, covers, hearths, ovens (tonirs) and beehives. They were often decorated with painted flowers in various colours. The potters in Palu town itself are usually Armenians. [3] We can glean much information about this trade carried on in the villages from Rev Harutiun Sarkisian’s (Alevor’s) book. According to the author, there are no porcelain plates or vessels used in daily village life. Brass and clay ones are used in their place. The latter are made from two different kinds of clay – the red and the white, known as clay (gaghdji) soils. Havav village, for example, is well known for its clay source. [4] The villagers go to the places where these clays can be obtained with their donkeys, load them up and return to the village with it. They then fill a corner of the flat roof of their houses with it and leave it to dry. They then clean it, removing small stones, pebbles and gravel and roots. What is left is crumbled, made into powder and sieved. Water is added to the dust and the whole is stirred with sweeps until the water and clay are well mixed and the mixture becomes mud. They then add very small pieces of straw and mix it again. When the mixture thickens, it is then squeezed by treading with the feet. This last operation may take hours. It continues until the mixture becomes as thick as starch and sticky. It is then considered to be ready to us in the making of domestic items. [5]

The first stage, the preparation of clay like this, is a generally a village man’s work. But the second stage, the actual potting is, in the Palu villages, generally reserved for woman. [6] Everything made from this clay is first dried in the sun, and is then baked at the beginning of November. This is done in a very simple way. Every house makes a pile with round pieces of dried dung in the courtyard, near its door to the street. The vessels to be baked are placed on top of the pile. First the casks, then, on top of them the small cylindrical vessels, ewers, pitchers, vases, churns, pots, deep, wide-rimmed dishes and, finally, the cups, jugs and covers (lids). All these must all be covered in their turn with thick, flat dung bricks and lots of dried linseed, wheat, and sesame stems. The fire is then lit and the baking begins. Every time the fire begins to die down, more dried stems as described above have to be added. This process lasts from early morning until the evening. Then they stop stoking the fire and leave it until the following morning, when they bring the baked vessels etc out from the ashes. [7]

Sarkisian (Alevor) also points out that the village of Abder is famous for its pots. This utensil is used for cooking meals; it is shaped like a saucepan, differing from it by having a handle on both sides near the rim. The village of Abder is in a mountainous area and its inhabitants are Kurds, who are generally potters. The pots they produce are very fine and beautiful. They also smooth porcelain before firing. [8]

On the left: an earthenware pan. On the right: another clay vessel called a serig, used to keep yogurt or oil in (Source: P. Der-Movsesian, op. cit.)


Different kinds of shoes are produced in the town of Palu: european, galoshes, yemenis and oriental slippers. [9] Sarkisian (Alevor) provides details of the shoes produced in the Palu region. The most used is, for example, the charokh (or charukh), made from raw or tanned leather. The back is sewn in a semi-circular shape, while the front is square. The whole of the shoe’s circular opening is pierced with holes each 1 cm (approx ¼ of an inch) apart. A leather string (known as the serim or arasan) is passed through the holes to secure the shoe. Shoes of this kind made from raw leather are not used in summer, bearing in mind that they will dry out and harden, while tanned leather always retains its suppleness. The charukh is the shoe for general use, being worn when working in the fields. On more formal days the shoe worn is the yemeni, not a speciality of the villages, but made by shoemakers in the town itself. It is made from red or black European leather. The toes are pointed and slightly turned upwards; it has no heel, and the whole of the sole is flat. According to Sarkisian (Alevor), the inhabitants of the town wear yemenis a great deal. Both townsman and villager, however, wear a much more delicate and better tooled shoe called kondura less often, which is also called a ‘european’ shoe. Another kind is the chadig, very like the yemeni. This has a red upper and a metal heel about 1-1.5 cm (approx 1/4-3/8 of an inch) in height. It is worn by women. [10]

Carpentry and joinery

The items produced by these trades are mainly furniture for houses, horse saddles, wooden pails and tables. This trade is carried on in Palu town by Armenians. [11] The Armenian carpenters of Baghin village are known for the product known as kulag (or kugha). This is a vessel, made from sawn, thin pieces of wood assembled into a cylinder, like a bucket. Kulags are used as water containers, and may contain milk, yogurt, torakh (a form of cottage cheese made from yogurt) or oil. This and other products are loaded on to the backs of mules and sold throughout Palu’s Armenian and Kurdish villages, as far afield as Diyarbekir and Harput. [12]

There is a carpentry workshop in Havav village owned by the Erzngayonk family. Its founder was Atam Agha who, coming from Erzindjan, settled in Havav. The work is carried on by his son Minas. After the latter’s death, the workshop passed to his son Usda (master) Sahag, joined by his three sons Usda Nigoghos, Kevork and Atam. They are skilled artisans, and the things they produce are much sought-after, not only in Havav, but also in the surrounding villages. [13]

In his book about Havav, Gadarigian gives many written details about Usda Sahag and his three sons’ workshop. They were soil cultivators as well as being carpenters. The workshop is located at ground level next to their house. All the various tools for the trade can be found there, such as scythes, very large saws, chisels, rasps, sandpaper, gauges, compasses, axes, adzes, saws, knives, planes and hammers. The workshop also produces various agricultural tools such as the kulag (a cylindrical container made of staves with a lid), winnowing machines, carts, spindles, ploughs, yokes and cotton gins. Among their customers are many village Kurds with whom Usda Sahag barters. He receives, for example, in place of the item sold, knitted woollen socks, timber or fruit. Melkon Kasbarian and Boghos Tsakhsurian are also remembered among the carpenters-joiners from Havav. [14]

Transportation using mules

This is quite a widespread trade in Palu as the region is, due to its geographical location, quite isolated from the outside world. There is always, therefore, a need for muleteers for trade purposes. It is a trade not without dangers. Apart from the fact that the muleteer has to battle against climatic and natural conditions, he also has to protect the goods his mules are carrying from potential robbers. For this reason we know that the muleteers of Baghin, for example, hire local Kurds to accompany and lead the caravan of mules. When the caravan meets robbers – usually Kurds – then the accompanying Kurds’ role is to talk or bribe them into leaving the caravan alone. [15]

Fat preparation

Palu’s Baghin Armenian village is well known for the preparation of fat. The Armenian peasantry have raised the standard of preparing oil to that of a specialist trade and trade the animal fat they produce not only in the county of Palu, but also in the surrounding areas – Harput, Mezire (Mamuret ül-Aziz), Urfa, Mardin, Severeg, Diyarbekir and Malatya. The Baghin merchants fill casks they have made themselves with the fat and set out for these market centres. Journeys are made at night, so that the fat being transported stays fresh. What is interesting is that the people of Baghin are not occupied with producing fat. In actual fact they, from May onwards, obtain it from the local Kurdish and Kurdish-Zaza villages. Thus barter takes place between the Armenian and Kurdish villagers; in place of the fat he has prepared, the Kurd receives the Baghin speciality – the kulag (or kugha or ulba - a cylindrical container made of staves with a lid). The Kurdish fat maker prefers to sell his fat directly to the Baghin villager, rather than have to personally go to markets be they close by or distant where, he is convinced, the local merchants will cheat him. [16]

The Baghin villagers make these journeys in groups, with fat caravans. In this way the village merchant spends eight months of the year away. This trade has reached the status of a corporation among some families who continue it from one generation to the next. Families from there that ply this trade are the Khimatians, Khodoyians, Oghgasians, Avedisians, Mahdesians, Derderians and Khroyians. These many families have divided the fat trade up between themselves; in other words each family has its Kurdish villages from where he buys his fat. [17]


Havav village especially is well known for the stonecutting trade, bearing in mind that the village is surrounded with quarries producing stone fit for building, for millstones and limestone. The members of the Ampagumian-Yeghiazarian clan are the stonemasons in this village. They prepare tombstones, fountain stones, tubs, stones for building houses and millstones for mills and presses, as well as hard millstones. [18] The stonecutters are often stonemasons too, of whom the most skilled have later become architects-khalfas (kalfa). In Havav village, for example, a well-known name in this trade is Khalfa Mardiros Boranian, whose parents emigrated from Sasun and settled in Havav. He was the architect in charge of the rebuilding of the bridge over the River Aradzani/Murad opposite Palu town. Another from the village was Garabed Hampartsumian. He spent some time in Istanbul, where he perfected his speciality and was the architect of various government buildings, palaces and urban bath houses. During this time he became an active member of the Havav pro-education organisation that provides financial assistance to the school in the village. After the 1895 massacres many Armenians were exiled from Istanbul and forced to return to their birthplaces. Garabed Hampartsumian was among these. He re-established himself in Havav and has a prolific trade. Under his management buildings have been constructed in Diyarbekir, Charsandjak, Mezire (Mamuret ül-Aziz) and Harput. Both Boranian and Hampartsumian have received medals from the Sultan. [19] Other khalfa-architects in Havav are Mkhsi Baghdig and Mkhsi Margos brothers, as well as Khalfa Garabed. [20]

Travel on the Aradzani (Eastern Euphrates or Murad) River (Source: Ernst Lohmann, Skizzen und Bilder aus dem Orient, Frankfurt, 1899)

Trades in Palu town

Apart from the trades mentioned above, Grayian gives, in his work, brief details about Palu town concerning others and about the existence of shops. Thus retailers deal in a little of everything, and are generally Armenians. We learn from him that the town’s fruiterers and grocers are Turks. In the days just before the start of the First World War the town has one pharmacist, Karekin Kiurkdjian who has, as his assistant Misak Alexanian and an apprentice Khoren Giragosian. The same Misak Alexanian is also occupied with photography. There is also one dentist in Palu at this same time. Among the other trades there are tailors and watchmakers, all Armenians. The goldsmiths in the town too, who craft rings, bracelets, ear rings, belts, necklaces, pomanders and tobacco boxes, crosses and church vessels, are Armenians. Most of Palu town’s ironsmiths, coppersmiths, tinsmiths, leather workers, saddlers and blacksmiths are Armenians. These last, apart from shoeing horses, own khans, where villagers coming to the town can stable their pack animals. While their owners – Kurds and Armenians – carry out their trades in the town, their animals are looked after until evening, in other words until the villager is ready to return home. One well-known khan is the one owned by Mghsi Grbushian. The blacksmiths of the town are also involved with breeding animals. [21]

Relying on Grayian’s book once more, we learn that the towns butchers are both Armenians and Turks, and the watermills and barbershops are also divided between the two groups. Just as in other places, the barbers are, at the same time, popular doctors who pull teeth, bleed people and prepare popular medicines. Both Armenians and Turks are hatters, in whose shops one may find fezes, various kinds of hat and edging tassels for them. The hatters also have formers that, when heated, are used to smooth out wrinkled and crumpled fezes. Yet another trade, weaving, is mainly in Armenian hands, mostly characterised by the production of chitari (çıtarı, a kind of brocade made of silk mixed with cotton). Both Turks and Armenians are basmadjis who, using wooden moulds (kalıp) carved with pictures of flowers and birds, print various fabrics. The resulting production is used to make curtains, tablecloths and coverlet fronts. Bakers, muleteers, coffee house owners are mostly Turks. Until the outbreak of the First World War, the town’s only moneychangers were Garabed Effendi Takadjian and his son Krikor. [22]

Scenes from Palu (Source: Ernst Lohmann, Skizzen und Bilder aus dem Orient, Frankfurt, 1899)

  • [1] Rev Harutiun Sarkisian (Alevor), Palu: its customs, educational and intellectual state and dialect (in Armenian), published by ‘Sahag-Mesrob’, Cairo, 1932, page 326.
  • [2] History of the house of Baghin, published by the Baghin village reconstruction educational union (in Armenian), printed by ‘Hairenik’, Boston 1966, page 112-114.
  • [3] Mesrob Grayian, Palu: scenes taken from Palu life, memoirs, poetry and prose (in Armenian), published by the Catholicosate of Cilicia, 1965, Antilias, page117.
  • [4] Dikran S Papazian, History of Palu’s Havav village (in Armenian), published by Mshag, Beirut, 1960, page 145.
  • [5] Rev Harutiun Sarkisian (Alevor), op. cit., page 210-211.
  • [6] Ibid, page 210-211, 216.
  • [7] Ibid, page 216-217.
  • [8] Ibid, page 213-214.
  • [9] Grayian, op. cit., page 126.
  • [10] Rev Harutiun Sarkisian (Alevor), op. cit., page 328-329.
  • [11] Grayian, op. cit., էջ 127.
  • [12] History of the house of Baghin, op. cit., page 110-112.
  • [13] Papazian, op. cit., page 161.
  • [14] Boghos Gadarigian, Extinguished lamps (in Armenian), New York, 1950, page 13, 84-109.
  • [15] History of the house of Baghin, op. cit., page 114-116.
  • [16] Ibid., page 107-110.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Papazian, op. cit., էջ 145-146.
  • [19] Ibid., page 155-157.
  • [20] Gadarigian, op. cit., page 32; Papazian, op. cit., page 158-159, 207. 
  • [21] Grayian, op. cit., page 126-128.
  • [22] Ibid., page 126-129.