BITLIS, or Betlis (Arm. Paghesh), the chief town of a vilayet of the same name in Asiatic Turkey, situated at an altitude of 4700 ft. in the deep, narrow valley of the Bitlis Chai, a tributary of the Tigris. The main part of the town and the bazaars are crowded alongside the stream, while suburbs with scattered houses among orchards and gardens extend up two tributary streams. The houses are massive and well built of a soft volcanic tufa, and with their courtyards and gardens climbing up the hillsides afford a striking picture. At the junction of two streams in the centre of the town is a fine old castle, partly ruined, which, according to local tradition, occupies the site of a fortress built by Alexander the Great. It is apparently an Arab building, as Arabic inscriptions appear on the walls, but as the town stands on the principal highway between the Van plateau and the Mesopotamian plain it must always have been of strategic importance. The bazaars are crowded, covered across with branches in summer, and typical of a Kurdish town. The population numbers 35,000, of whom about 12,000 are Armenians and the remainder are Kurds or of Kurdish descent.
Kurdish beys and sheiks have much influence in the town and wild mountain districts adjoining, while the Sasun mountains, the scene of successive Armenian revolutions of late years, are not far off to the west. The town was ruled by a semi-independent Kurdish bey as late as 1836. There are some fine old mosques and medresses (colleges), and the Armenians have a large monastery and churches. There are British, French and Russian consuls in the town, and a branch of the American Mission with schools is established also. The climate is healthy and the thermometer rarely falls below 0° Fahr., but there is a heavy snowfall and the narrow streets are blocked for some five months in the year.
A good road runs southward down the pass, passing after a few miles some large chalybeate and sulphur springs. Roads also lead north to Mush and Erzerum and along the lake to Van. Postal communication is through Erzerum with Trebizond. Tobacco of an inferior quality is largely grown, and the chief industry is the weaving of a coarse red cloth. Manna and gum tragacanth are also collected. Fruit is also plentiful, and there are many vineyards close by.
The Bitlis vilayet comprises a very varied section of Asiatic Turkey, as it includes the Mush plain and the plateau country west of Lake Van, as well as a large extent of wild mountain districts inhabited by turbulent Kurds and Armenians on either side of the central town of Bitlis, also some of the lower country about Sairt along the left bank of the main stream of the Tigris. The mountains have been little explored, but are believed to be rich in minerals, iron, lead, copper, traces of gold and many mineral springs are known to exist. (F. R. M.)