Bitlis, also known as Baghesh was one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Armenia’s province of Aghdznik. The origin of the name Bitlis is not known, although according to one popular Armenian folk story, on a cold, wintry day a donkey left its stable and wandered down the valley below. The donkey died of the freezing temperatures and was only discovered in the spring, once the ice had melted; thus, it received the name Pagh Esh, or “Cold Donkey”. Prior to World War I, one third of the population of Bitlis was ethnic Armenian, whereas the majority of the population was Kurdish Muslim. Bitlis preserves more medieval and traditional architecture than any other town in eastern Turkey. They are of a high quality and are mostly constructed from locally-quarried light brown stone. The city is also notable for its many old houses. These are built of cut stone and are often large and impressive structures. Unlike traditional houses in nearby Erzurum or Van, Bitlis houses do not have bay windows and balconies. Among notable Bitlis Armenians is William Saroyan, whose parents immigrated to Fresno. California. Apart from his many famous works, he wrote a play entitled "Bitlis" about his "return" to the city he considered his homeland, which he actually did visit in later years.
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