The nation of Kurdistan exists only in the dreams of the Kurdish people. It is their homeland in a region of the Middle East that includes eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and small parts of Syria and Armenia - despite the ongoing efforts of the Turkish military to suppress that dream.

Three years ago (in somewhat safer times), my husband, Rich, and I rented a car and explored eastern Turkey. The beauty of the land, its ancient history, and especially the warmth of the people, both Turkish and Kurdish, made for an unforgettable trip. Despite the tension in the area between the army and Kurdish nationalists, we were greeted with amazing friendliness by people on both sides, sometimes only a few miles and minutes apart.

We were traveling near Mount Ararat, though we hadn't glimpsed it yet. Our road took us up a desert canyon along a wild river, past fields where people were scything hay by hand, through villages of stone houses with haystacks on the roofs and heaps of dried cow-pies in the lanes (the equivalent of woodpiles in more fertile regions). Around a bend in the canyon, the great peak suddenly appeared, floating like a mirage above the horizon: Ararat!

The highway climbed onto a plateau and ran along the edge of a gorge that formed the boundary with Armenia. We came to a military roadblock, not uncommon. The usual drill was for us to slow down so the soldiers could see that we were Western visitors and - grinning at the rare sight - motion us on through with a wave of an Uzi submachine gun.

But this time, with the usual grins and waving guns, the soldiers motioned us to pull over. They took our passports into the guardhouse and returned a moment later with an order: the Komando wished to see us.

Our hearts sank. Were we going to be arrested for something? The Commander rose as we entered his tiny office.

"Welcome," he said. "I would like to practice my English with you. Please sit down."

Weak in the knees, we were happy to spend some time with him. The officer snapped his fingers, flunkies brought tea, and we had a pleasant chat. Then the three of us posed for photos - possibly the only ones in existence of two American tourists posing with a Turkish army commander atop a tank.

Off we went and, after a few miles, turned down a bumpy, dirt road to a primitive village, where we stopped at a tiny cafe, hoping for some kind of restorative for our jangled nerves. As soon as we entered, the owner shook our hands, saying, "Welcome to Kurdistan." He opened three beers and sat down with us.

Once our nerves recovered, we began to see the irony: tea with a Turkish military officer and beer with a Kurdish patriot - in the same half hour.

Only in the dream land of Kurdistan.