Mountains of fire

Over there, on the roads of the ancient kingdom of Albania in the Caucasus, a woman discovered the white lands and the eternal fires of the lands of Aran, where the present seems buried in time.

In January 2015, Nilüfer Karanfil-Büyükyıldırım, a Turkish architect and photographer based in Istanbul, was involved in a shoot in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as an artistic assistant. During the filming, they gave her the task of going to locate traditional houses in the village Xinaliq, situated at 2 350 metres altitude in the province of Quba. A timeless place where people speak a distinct language and who are the descendants of ethnic groups who have been isolated for centuries. A place whose Zoroastrian past, caves and fires, from the burning of natural gases, forged mysticism and legends. This was, for her, a unique experience, halfway between a dream and reality.


We’re heading to the road
Night had the news about the day;
The weather is very cold,
The road is long and windy.
I’m sitting in the back.

My mind is not yet clear,
Looking around
The houses fade away,
The trees are in order,
Flying blue plastic all around.

We stop.
An old cabin smashed by the wind:
Howling dreams pass through my mind
Consisting of thick woods and pillars at night
Fragrance of town
Slow burning wood
Outside has the widest darkness that you can take.


I’m sleeping amongst the humming
There is a strange timelessness in the smell of the night
Like everything was as always
Pending one step ahead.
Shadows are too long
With light sprinkles falling on my shoulder
My ears, my nose and the edges of my eyes get numb

I wake up on white.
It burns in its brightness

We are on the road again,
What I see a little later takes my breath away
With a fine line in the valley

One wheel spacing on winding roads
Textures change with each step
All colors of cold and heat;
Icy water sparkles on the rocks of the stream
Snowflakes like sand,
I can’t see ahead.
The blizzard begins;
Direction is only one step forward
One step from a turn.


I follow the lines,
I forgot where I was heading
And where I came from now.
The lofty high wall of the valley
Searching for the sky;

I am walking on a slippery winding road
I move my hand between the rocks
Colors are purple, colors are yellow, white
The veins of rocks that bloom like flowers.
Fish ear; (??)
I’m at the bottom of the mountains
Two thousand three hundred meters above
I get a seashell on my hand

And one more
I always think of the Aegean; these seashells…
Hollows of doric columns as in their bodies
(Fluted columns)
Arris, debris.
My eyes
Running away, getting smaller
Like a pinhead
It reflects the mind

This is a journey to a profound place
Too far that you can’t go without knowing that you’re there
So endlessly
To such a narrow, such a thin unknown
Like the sun disappearing in the redness of the sunset.
Now the perspective of the road is being deleted
As if the destination disappeared
We are waiting to move between the mountains.


Nobody passes.
There are sounds of birds, the glimmer of water
The road is frozen, slippery
It’s hard to walk;
There is a Neva passing -fast-
A hennaed lamb tied on it,
In the cold of the air, his ears flapping with the wind
Another Neva is coming towards us now;
We get in.

I’m sitting in the back, the road is rainy
We are fast.
Surrounded by the cigarette smoke,
I can’t take my eyes from the steep rocks that move away
The window is misting with my breath
As if it is getting darker, the face of the day
It’s like I’m in a dream
In such a distant, supreme, remote corner
I see your lights.
The sky is getting bright
The riverbed is expanding
Mountains retreat back
I can now see them all.


Roof on top of a roof;
Houses made of dark small river stones
Ladders with multi-pane windows;
Turd walls, patterns
Cold black, wood fire;
Dark, deep dark, grayed soil
When time has stopped, it’s like frozen here.
Tombstones coming out of the snow like arrows thrown left
and right
I’m in one of those distant hills, where the houses lean on
each other.

Squeezed out of a peak, elderly aunts facing the opposing mountains;
Used to sink the day in steamy tea brews,
Unlikely to believe!
I don’t raise my head;
I just centred the two slopes right in front of me
I have already taken the valley in my hand.
Fire is burning in my eye
Two thousand years without extinguishing,
The Blue -coming out of the ground-
These birds of the sky are for you.


I walk on the one-step wide streets -ahead a cliff-
The hedges of the fields stretched on the slope of the opposite hill;
Like stitching marks
Dividing the white cold cover,
I’m standing here with a cool breath.
I remember the Caucasian kalpaks,
Rattle sounds…
The gaps of the sheep leaning against each other;
A stick, a dog, a cardigan on the shepherd’s back
No trees.
There are only branches here;

The sound of the dog reverberating
All the hills are circulating
Then it disappears.

I was a little startled, my lips are asking;
-I want to go higher-
Like a finite endlessness here
As if there is no longer beyond anymore, there is only the rest and the past.
It is impossible to jump from one top to another;
As always must go up and down,
The road lays straight to reach what it sees,
Obviously it is not easy.


The night comes down suddenly
A dark blue colored cover.
The lights are on, the chimneys are smoking one after another,
My hands hurt as they get warmer.

How many winters melted these waters, who knows how many springs flowed again…
I’m on such a strange time travel;
I don’t want to return.

Playing in my ear:

Noah says, our language is his language;
Nobody knows, a man who speaks here says
Here is the top of it – he shows: the ship is there;
There is also a lake, pieces of wood float in it
As he tried to touch and catch the wood with his hand, it vanishes from side to side…

-The ruins of the shipwreck-
He shows a path:
-This is the way of fire that does not go out.
I look through the houses stacked up a hill,
As few street lights as you can count,
Maybe three or five, they look like torches at the end of the pole.
I look for the last time when I open the window
-I must return before it gets dark, without missing the road- I say
Slowly the air makes you feel frosty.


We are leaving shaken.
I see the herd falling on the path of the mountains;
Before spring comes and melts into the river bed
They’re looking for the last green,
They’re looking for the dried branches of the berries…
It’s getting dark again slowly,
-How many nights- I say
I close my eyes;
Valley blows a whistle in my ear,
I don’t understand what I hear.

April 3, 2020, İstanbul.
Text and photos: Nilüfer Karanfil-Büyükyıldırım.

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