Five years ago, almost to the day I left Istanbul for Denmark. I should never have left. I don’t have many regrets in life. I can count them on three fingers. One of them was leaving Istanbul on June 1, 2009. Early that spring I said this about Istanbul, “fuck it man, I’d wade through a river of shit ten times to see this place.” In many ways I’ve waded through several of those metaphorical rivers of shit over the last five years.
And then there was today. Clouds lowered over the city. It’s been pissing rain here for a week, flooding many parts of the city and more rain was expected.
“Fuck it,” I said, grabbed my backpack (the same one I bought here in 2009), hailed a cab and rode to Taksim. I had business to take care of. The cabbie left me at Babil Sokak, my old street. It hasn’t changed. I guess I haven’t, either.
My eyes puddled up and the whole crazy mess of city assaulted me at once. The old guy where I ate breakfast every morning recognized me. I stopped at Hasan’s, my old barber. He gave me a great shave, trimming the beard up nicely. Hasan said he had missed me, asked me, “where have you been my Texas friend? Please stay for tea.”
I did, choked up, holding back the tears.
What was it Horace said? “Jealous time flees.”
Jealous and fleeting, indeed.
I walked down Cumurriyet Caddesi, this time unable to hold back the tears.
How I so love this city: the filth, the crowds, the covered women, the women in miniskirts, the men in coats, the touts, the louts, the traffic and the smells: roasting chestnuts, roasting corn, steaming tea in tulip shaped glasses, musty bricks laid before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
I walked past the Galata Tower and turned the corner onto the Golden Horn Bridge and then a miracle happened, just for me.
The clouds evaporated. The Bosporus turned from sullen gray to green. Ferries cut cottony tails across the Sea of Marmara. Fishermen cast lines off the bridge and the whole city was just as golden and magnificent as I ever remembered it.
I was home.
One personal goal this year has been to read more of what scholars and academics would call, “primary sources;” what laymen call “books that make up books.” Some can be fascinating for their own sake, like Herodotus (my all time favorite) or Thucydides (my bête noire). Portions of Lucian are worth reading today for sheer irony and humor and then there is the whole sprawling magnificence of the ancient Greek playwrights. Later writers sound fascinating but prove a touch on the disappointing side, like Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Genealogy of the Pagan Gods.” I’m still reading this and have hopes for it. The book is full of hard to find but thought provoking stories; I mean, where and when did the Greco-Roman gods really emerge? It’s a question not likely to stimulate many, unless they’ve read their Hesiod. Other primary sources this year have included “The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite,” which is a brief (mercifully so) history of the war between Byzantium and Persia from the perspective of an Edessene at the beginning of the 6th century. And most recently I’ve been quite taken by “Cyriac of Ancona, Later Travels.”
The volume in question is part of the i Tatti Renaissance Library published by Harvard University and covers his letters and diaries from 1443-49. As a 15th century Italian Cyriac was no doubt engaged in commerce. And he spent most of his life sailing around the tatterdemalion scraps of the Byzantine empire, setting up trade posts for the Genoese in the Black, Marmara and Aegean seas. It was with a certain relish and anticipation that I picked up his book. Some of it was good—like when he met the future Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in Adrianople during an audience with his father Sultan Murad II. If only Cyriac had taken a moment to look more closely at little Çelebi, as Mehmet was then called, one wonders what he looked like at ten? Was he brooding and intense like he seems in the later histories, or gentle and serene as depicted in the miniature by Nakkaş Sinan Bey?
There are other missed opportunities, like when Cyriac goes hunting with Constantine Dragases—the last Constantine, he who died on the Theodosian Walls like a proper Roman and last Emperor. What was he like, there in the wilds of the Peloponnese? Did he foresee his doom even then? The end of his empire and the end of his line? If only Cyriac’s letters told us more about these men than his trade arrangements. Alas, the recording of history is nothing if not grief over missed opportunities like these.
Cyriac is mostly remembered today, if he is remembered at all, because he urged the preservation of the antique remains that littered and illumined his world. Rare is he who sees the treasure that has always stared him in the face. At one point Cyriac sounds like a cantankerous citizen at a city hall meeting fulminating against the lack of preservation and decay all around him. “One needs a more expansive genre in which to cry out against, despise, condemn and thoroughly curse such great negligence, slothfulness and lack of human culture on the part of our contemporaries,” he writes near the beginning of his letters. We owe a lot, as a culture, to Cyriac’s imprecations. That we value the past as we do, and have preserved much of it, we learned during the Renaissance, and it remains Cyriac’s forgotten legacy.
In July of 1444 Cyriac made his way from Constantinople to Perinthus (the modern Marmara Ereğlisi). Two thirds of the way there he stopped in Selymbria, now Silivri, to document the many inscriptions lying around. What must this have looked like? Cracked marble plinths, perhaps an architrave and columns lying higgledy-piggledy, used as a quarry for the more industrious of subjects and ignored by all the rest. The blue luciferase waters of the Marmara behind them. Here Cyriac found treasure.
Some inscriptions date back to the reign of Trajan—or at least this is my semi-educated guess, my Latin being rusty and my Greek practically oxidized out of existence. What struck me was the span of human existence there—as I had seen when I visited the region in 2008-2009—and how much their desire to leave something behind is still so very alive. It’s one of those qualities that binds us as humans, even if we don’t realize it.
And yet, sometimes when I am back here in the suburban post-modernity of the New World, thinking about or reading history I feel I live in a facsimile of reality and it’s only when I am back over there, when I can touch a two thousand year old marble inscription that I know the past is real, not green lights tumbling down a black screen.
Such was my state of mind a few weeks ago when I sat down in my favorite chair and began reading the inscriptions Cyriac noted in his diary between the 25th of July and 12th of August 1444. Some were interesting and in Latin:
Good fortune. Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus,son of the divine Trajan, victor over the Parthians, grandson of the divine Nerva, consul for the third time.
Others anodyne (and in Greek) in their attempt to honor a citizen ad aeternam:
Good fortune. The Council and the People honored Poplios Ailios Harpokration, also called Proklos who built the shrine of Tyche; the Alexandrians who do business in Perinthos set up a statue in his honor.
But then I read this:
As I was leaving my eighteenth year and just beginning the study of rhetoric, a grievous illness overcame me in well-wooded Lesbos, and I had not yet reached the pleasant land of Ephesus. My brother, by a great deal of work, gave this sadness to be borne to my parents on a swift ship. I dwell in the holy houses of heroes, not in Acheron—for such is the end of life for the wise.
Seven lines carved on a marble plinth gut punched me. They shouted and smiled down at me while I lay on the floor collecting the questions after a knock-out blow.
When was it written? Where was it found? Where is it now?
Who composed the lines? What did he die of? Did it take him quickly? Or was it a wasting disease? And just how did a dying eighteen year-old find the composure to write with such simple and powerful elegance?
Slaver the Greek word that begins the inscription around on your tongue for a moment and listen to its alien beauty: ohkto-kai-deka-toy.
Eight and ten. Eighteen.
If the rest of Cyriac is dull, uninteresting and lifeless like the two former inscriptions, so be it, I thought in that moment, this inscription makes the entire book worth reading. It’s why I love the study of history and why I have disciplined myself to read primary sources this year instead of wasting time on Facebook or Twitter. The sources are like mines of gold or silver, but the veins of metal are rare and hard to find. And to mix metaphors a little, sometimes the poetry of the past, as in these seven lines of Greek, cuts me down to size.
I’m forty two years-old now. What’s forty two minus eighteen? It’s twenty four. I’ve had twenty four more years of living than this eloquent young man who, but for a loving brother, would have vanished, would have been wiped clean by the forgetful waters of River Lethe, and instead found himself in Elysium.
What have I done with my extra twenty four years? I’m human and wasted much of the time whining and groaning about lost opportunities (I really don’t have any to be honest, because I took most of them, wisely or unwisely) and pissing and moaning about stupid mistakes (we all have those, me included, but most aren’t that stupid, although there have been a lot).
Let us add more to the scales. He was eighteen years-old and died. And here am I with a (thus far) well-lead life: fifty five countries visited, one great love and two ex-wives, a career in finance (long), a career in software sales (short), a career as a writer (even shorter), and a stint as a stay-at-home step-father (the shortest). I’ve had more huge chunks of plain old-fashioned obscene good luck than 99.9 percent of humanity and I have the gall to complain?
And then I read what this young man—no, this boy—composed while dying and I know any story I tell will never have the impact of his seven lines of poetry.
I’ve had a lot of time to ponder Göbekli Tepe in the two years since I visited. The photos I took of the place will soon find their way to the History Channel, as it seems as if there is an embargo of sorts on photos from the site currently–or this is what I was told when negotiating the use of my photos–and producers are desperate to get their hands on something before the embargo ends and the results of this years excavations are published.
I offer these two older posts on Göbekli Tepe (here and here) before submitting this story by Charles C. Mann in National Geographic on the temple complex. The photo essay accompanying the story is here. Do read it, damned interesting. My photos of the site begin here.
What’s most fascinating about this place is how it is upending what we previously thought we knew about the neolithic revolution–or what most of us call the agricultural revolution. What came first? Settlements? Or farming and then permanent settlements? Or maybe as Göbekli Tepe and other excavations in the Fertile Crescent are telling us is that it was a thin concatenation of events, strategies, ideas all thrown around in the same general vicinity–the mythical Garden of Eden–and that it was ultimately a thousand or so years of trial and error. As Mann sums it up in his story:
It is more as if the occupants of various archaeological sites were all playing with the building blocks of civilization, looking for combinations that worked. In one place agriculture may have been the foundation; in another, art and religion; and over there, population pressures or social organization and hierarchy. Eventually they all ended up in the same place. Perhaps there is no single path to civilization; instead it was arrived at by different means in different places.
That feels about right to me.
Gouge my fucking eyeballs out, please. I hate this orientalist tripe dressed up as modern anthropological-cum-travel writing observation:
The Turks, as everyone knows, are insane and deceitful. I say this affectionately. I live in Turkey. On good days, I love Turkey. But I have long since learned that its people are apt to go berserk on you for no reason whatsoever, and you just can’t trust a word they say. As one Turkish friend put it (a man who has spent many years in America, and thus grasps the depth of the cultural chasm), “It’s not that they’re bad. They don’t even know they’re lying.”
Affectionately? Do you have any idea how horribly insulting a Turk would find this? And for good reason, too. It’s an ugly, untrue stereotype. This kind of crap just reinforces orientalism and, considering the source, is a set-up for a kind of ‘Wogs begin at Calais’ trope that delegitimizes anything the Turks might do. It’s also just plain wrong. How about this for a little thought experiment:
My friend is right, and his comment suggests a point about American culture that I doubt many Easterners grasp. People here—and, I would guess, throughout the South and the Mountain States, though Texas is the only state I know well—see “truth” as something plastic, connected more to emotions than to facts or logic. If it feels true, it is true. What’s more, feelings here tend to change very quickly—and with them, the truth.
The above paragraph can be used to describe every Fox TV-watching, Sarah Palin-loving person in America. Now go read the original. The whole essay is full of really, really odious stuff that proves a singluar point about human nature: we see what we want to see. Take me for example: when I first discussed hejab in Turkey with three girls who were wearing it, I saw what I wanted to see. Only later would I learn that it was much, much more complicated than my first, oversimplified impression.
Look, the Turks do have unique characteristics. They love practical jokes. Have a very different and wonderful sense of humor. They are supremely hospitable and kind. But this idea that the truth, to Turks alone, is plastic, malleable and that ‘orientals’ are deceitful and insane is an old Orientalist trope. It’s also complete bullshit.
Human beings lie. Human beings tell you what they think you want to hear. We all do it. Why? Because we don’t like hurting people’s feelings. It’s human nature.
I can’t believe it’s 2010 and I have to fucking point this out.
Please, shoot me.
This story by John Feffer about Turkey is popping up just about everywhere on the internets. The author, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, has as his thesis that “Turkey is chasing China to be the next big thing.” This is rather fanciful and the China analogies litter the essay. I’ll give him this, many of his facts in the essay are correct: Turkey has largely become Europe’s silent manufacturer and his deconstruction of Turkey’s ‘Zero Problems With Neighbors’ is an excellent elucidation of Turkey’s foreign policy. Further, the Turks are on their way towards rectifying the Kurdish problem.
As for superpower? Look, this is silly. No doubt whoever controls Anatolia and the Straits will always be powerful in a regional sense. But a superpower? How will Turkey project power outside of the Mediterranean Basin? They don’t even have nukes, which is pretty much the contemporary definition of great power status. In spite of its problems, the essay is worth a read as a primer on Turkey’s history since the death of Mustafa Kemal. The biggest fault with the essay, however, is his terribly dismissiveness of Islamism’s rise in Turkey. He writes:
This is, however, a fundamental misunderstanding of the AKP and its intentions. Islamism has about as much influence in modern-day Turkey as communism does in China. In both cases, what matters most is not ideology, but the political power of the ruling parties. Economic growth, political stability, and soft-power diplomacy regularly trump ideological consistency. Turkey is becoming more nationalist and more assertive, and flexibility, not fundamentalism, has been the hallmark of its new foreign policy.
Feffer, sadly, misunderstands the role of how “Economic growth, political stability, and soft-power diplomacy regularly trump ideological consistency.” These are the AKP’s means to an end. I’ve seen it firsthand in Turkey. Islamism is real. Very, very real. The Secularists in Turkey are boxed in. So are the Generals. The Secularists don’t have an answer to Erdogan’s economic growth miracle, because the Secularist economic policies are and were bankrupt. Corruption of the worst kind was rampant. Hyper inflation and economic crises like clockwork were the norm under the last twenty years of secular and military rule. When I first visited Turkey in 2001 one US dollar was worth millions of Turkish lira. The notes were simply insane. Try counting none or ten zeros when you wanted to buy a coke. Dinner was a joke.
Today the lira is stable. Turkey’s economy churns along. Economic life in Turkey is better than it has been in a very, very long time. The AKP has gone a long way towards neutralizing the deep state in Turkey, as well as eradicating the worst signs of corruption, although not eliminating it completely. No, I am not idealizing life under the secularists; it had its problems. But the warning signs of a creeping Islamism under the AKP are real.
While I was there in 2001 or even 2003 seeing a woman in Istanbul with a veil was unlikely. Not any more, as this link makes clear. This link is also indicative of how hard it is to come to grips with the reality of Islamism in Turkey. At first, I too got caught up in the talking point of choice, a kind of post-modern spin on women’s rights, which is anything but. It goes like this: women in Turkey are free to wear the veil or not wear the veil. It is their choice. But, as I investigated closer what I found was the opposite: the social pressure, from fathers to neighbors and the increase in honor killings, to conform to the politics of the veil were very real. That isn’t choice, not as I define it. I don’t want to go into the whole debate again, suffice it to say that many young women in Turkey don’t have a choice.
Nor is Islamism’s creep limited to the rights of women. The theory of evolution is under attack in Turkey. And Turkey is one of the few places in the developed world, outside of America, where science itself is being challenged. As a matter of fact, if you took the Christianist project here in America and put an Islamist label on it in Turkey, it would be almost identical.
There are places where alcohol is banned in Istanbul, as well. Sure, tourists can drink to their hearts content. But locals? Nope. In parts of Anatolia, never a liberal bastion, a quasi-Shari’a is often enforced, if not lawfully, then by custom. And these customs are moving West, to Izmir, Bursa and Istanbul itself as rural immigrants pore into the cities.
These are just some of the reasons why the Gaza Flotilla is such a turning point in Turkish politics. The AKP is slowly chipping away at the foundations of secularism in Turkey. And they are winning. The Gaza Flotilla and Erdogan’s attack on Peres at Davos were exhibitions of soft-power par excellence. But, before we cheer Erdogan on in the face of Israel’s coarse and brutal siege mentality, its flouting of international norms and the continuing inhumane blockade of Gaza, let’s keep the domestic Turkish context in mind. Politics, as they say, make strange bedfellows.
The good news is that Turkey presents a serious challenge to the neo-con project in the Middle East (a project, I hasten to add, I do not in any way support). Turkey presents a much needed wake-up call to the American political class’s constant obeisance to Israel, as well. As Erdogan has proven, he is an adroit wielder of Turkey’s significant soft-power.
I’ve long been of the opinion that if there is to be an Islamic democracy it would have to rectify the values of Islam and the values of secularism and pluralism. It would have to be a democracy in an Islamic context, much as Japan is a democracy in an East-Asian context. And this is a project I’ve not given up on. But helping such a project along requires restraint and nuance (not to mention patience) on the part of American policy-makers. This might be a temporary swing of the pendulum in Turkey’s domestic politics, but then again, it might not.
Alas, the American foreign policy establishment has proven time and time again that it doesn’t do nuance. And restraint?
But in order to keep Turkey in our orbit they’ll need to learn both.
I’m not holding my breath.
Last Friday while sitting at a local coffee shop awaiting a call back from yet another software company here in Austin—I got the job—I saw a young Middle Eastern woman. She had luxuriant raven hair tied in two long braids falling over her shoulders, like that of a school girl’s. She wore a heavy wool sweater and baggy pants that did little to hide her shape. Her kohl-lined eyes and deep brown irises were murderous and magnificent, much as I imagine Circe or the Sirens to have looked. But none of this compared to the sound of her voice.
I wasn’t paying her much attention until she spoke. She was teaching an old roughneck-oilman Turkish. It was that sound—a sound I’d heard a thousand, million times in Istanbul that never failed to bring a smile, and a winsome, poignant agony, a certain lilt to her voice, an inflection beating out the tempo of ages past, empires risen and fallen, wild horsemen on the Parthian Steppe. Born of the Earth and the long passage from the Land Of Darkness somewhere along the Orkhon River an age or two ago. Not nasal, more from the back of her throat, almost like the sound of a surprise or a poetess in rapture and while I listened, a thousand keening images from the city on the Straits rose before me, of kahvalti and chai, raki and an uskumru sandwich along the Eminonu docks; of crowds milling in and out of the great bazaar; the horn of the night’s last ferry crossing over to Uskudar; radical students playing the guitar and singing huzun songs along Istiklal Caddesi; of the green glass skyscrapers of Levent, the red-tiled roofs of my home district, Elmadag and the mirror-blue waters skipping across the Marble Sea.
The river flows and takes me away and as each cold day passes here in Austin I lament more and more for my city, the city and the simple sonorous carols of Turkish.
Thus my imprecation to the universe: I’m rotting here.
I’m a bit of a Turcophile, as many of you are aware. That’s why I read this post by Arianna Hufffington’s ex-husband with interest. A friend of mine, who is also a bit of a Turcophile sent me the link. We had an interesting discussion via email and I’ll append his thoughts at the bottom of the post. Needless to say, he disagrees with me to a certain extent.
As to Huffington: he makes some good points, but overall the tone is such that he cannot separate the Turkish Islamists from the Turks. And that is unfortunate. Michael Huffington writes:
Last night on 60 Minutes there was a 14-minute segment about Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). It was an honest look at religious freedom (or lack thereof) inside one of America’s military allies. It is a story that should be seen by the leaders of the free world as well as people of faith.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians (of which I am one) is similar to the Pope of the Catholic Church. And yet he is a treated as a second-class citizen in his own country where he was born. The Orthodox “Vatican” is called the Phanar and it is located on less than an acre of land in the city of Istanbul. There have been so many threats of violence that they have had to use barbed wire and cameras to protect the priest inside the property. The last century has seen the Orthodox Christian population diminish from 2,000,000 in 1900 to less than 4,000 in all of Turkey today. Most were forced out. Yet this geographical area of the world was mostly Christian a thousand years ago.
First, a little reality check. There very well may be 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians in the world. At least many of them are nominally Orthodox, in such post-Communist places as the Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation? But, it must be remembered, the Orthodox Church is semi-autonomous, the separate national churches like the Russian or the Bulgarian or the Greek don’t take their marching orders the way Catholics do the Pope. The idea that there are 300,000,000 pious Orthodox in the world is fanciful, at best.
Furthermore, there was a vibrant community of Nestorian Christians in Central Asia all the way to China—the mother of the the Great Khan Mongke was a Nestorian for that matter—and in China there was a bishop, in the Middle Ages. Should we be poking our noses in their business as well, trying to resurrect the faith there too? I make this point, not to invalidate Huffington’s point about religious freedom. I simply make it to point out the absurdity of worrying about a religion that began dying out in Anatolia almost a thousand years ago (1071AD) and finally did so in the last century.
Over the past 20 years, Turkey has been trying to gain admittance to the European Union. Turkey is not a European country. Most of its land mass is in Asia Minor. It is not ethnically, socially, culturally or religiously European. Yet the U.S. government (especially under President George W. Bush) has lobbied the Europeans forcefully to admit Turkey into the EU because Turkey is our military ally, and the American military and political establishment didn’t want them falling into the Russian or the Iranian sphere of influence.
Couple of different issues at play here. Yes, Turkey has been trying to gain admittance for quite some time. And the Euros would have been wise to have accepted Turkey 15 years ago. This would have forced the secularists in government to change the economy for the better. And it was a huge missed opportunity, if Europe truly cares about Turkey remaining secular. Here’s what happened instead. The Turks grew disillusioned with the secularists and voted for the soft-shoe Islamists to run the country and economy, making what I would call a Faustian bargain, hoping they would fix the economy and not impose their brand of religious politics along with it.
The Turks got an exceptionally strong economic recovery, as I documented during my time there. But they also got the Islamist baggage along with it. And now that the economy threatens to head south in light of the global financial crisis, the Turkish Islamists are using the culture war card to stay in power.
This is a shame. It is also worrisome. Just look at the power the culture war has over the American imagination.
Now, as to Huffington’s contention that Turkey isn’t a European country. Well, a good 15% of the landmass sits in Europe. So does Istanbul. Of course, that’s easy to dismiss. But what isn’t is this: Turkey has been an integral partner in the European state system since the French allied with the Turks several hundred years ago to outflank the Hapsburgs. So, feel free to dismiss Turkey as an “Asian country.” But let’s not forget history.
I visited Istanbul in 1972, and Ankara in the 1980′s when my company had an office there. The Republic of Turkey was founded less than a century ago by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on October 29, 1923. His government changed the local culture from an Islamic dominated society into one that was modern, democratic and secular. One of the major changes was that women were given the right to vote. They were also given the freedom and encouraged not to wear the veil. But today Turkey is returning to its Islamic traditions under the government of Prime Minister Erdogan who took office in 2003. He belongs to the Justice and Development Party which was founded by former members of an Islamist political party. Whereas I never saw women wearing the long black burqas during my visits, I did notice in the 60 Minutes segment that women are now doing so. (Under the Shah of Iran burqas were banned by law, but under the law of the Islamic Republic of Iran they are required.) Will that someday happen in Turkey also?
What Huffington describes is terribly, terribly true. As you are all aware, I have a very difficult relationship with hejab—defined loosely as Islamic dress for women. And hejab in Turkey is just a symbol of the creeping Islamism in the country. Alcohol has been banned in many places in Istanbul for Turks. (Of course, for an economy that derives a quarter of its GDP from tourism, foreigners can still drink to their hearts content.) The freedom of the press in the country has been losing ground for a decade. You Tube is unavailable in the country. Instead they have a what is called, “Turktube,” or some such. Evolution is being challenged in the public schooling system. Honor killings happen more than most will admit. Harassment of key secular intellectuals and artists. I could continue but the point is that the Islamists are pushing the outer boundaries of Turkey’s secular past for the worse.
Now, to Huffington’s other comment: could Turkey go the way of Iran? Not any time soon, because the civic space is still very vibrant and filled with the secularists. But they are losing ground. Were the economy really to head into a tailspin? Perhaps. The larger point is to remember what I wrote when I was out East near Lake Van: I really felt like I was in Iran already. Less than 10% of the women were uncovered. Worrisome, indeed.
It is clear that Turkey is a different place than it was in 1987 when it originally made its application to accede into the EU. If Turkey were ever allowed to join the European Union, the consequences would be reminiscent of those that happened to the city of Troy when it allowed the Trojan Horse inside its fortified walls. The Muslim culture would ultimately dominate Christian and secular Europe. As can be seen in Turkey today that country does not welcome or protect other religions within its borders. They have seized Orthodox Church properties, closed churches, monasteries and schools. If one walks with a priest down the streets of Istanbul it is not a comfortable feeling. Many priests will change out of their church clothes and wear business suits once they leave the confines of the Phanar. This is not religious freedom as we know it in the west. While we welcome people of all faiths in America we cannot be so naïve as to expect all countries to do the same. But we cannot allow their cultural mores to snuff out our religious freedoms or the freedom of women to have equal rights.
This is where I get off the Huffington bus. He’s engaging in the whole, “Muslims are going to take over Europe” concern trolling here. Nonsense. As I have repeatedly stated in posts about Iran and Turkey: the best way to counter the Islamists is to engage them and play their own game. Tell Turkey, sure, you can join the EU, but remember, hejab in the EU is a no-no. You don’t like it, too bad. Moreover, religious tolerance is a key virtue in the EU and a fundamental aspect of the acquis communitiare, and if you can’t ratify that, well, you’ve got no chance of joining the EU. The bottom line here is that the EU has leverage over the Islamists in Turkey it’s too pusillanimous to use.
France and other European countries rightfully have serious and well-founded reservations about admitting Turkey into the EU. If Turkey were admitted any Turkish citizen could travel, work and reside in any EU country because they would no longer need a visa. There are Islamist fundamentalist in Turkey as there are in Iraq, Iran, Egypt and other Muslim countries. This would be a security nightmare. The American Administration should butt out of this issue and let the Europeans make their own decisions.
Clearly Huffington has been huffing some glue here. Yes, of course, there are Islamists in Turkey. But not of the virulent al Qeada type. Please. Are there terrorists? Yup, sure are. But they are Kurds. A people who speak an Indo-European language who value secularism just as much as the secular Turks and Europeans do. Again, the Kurdish issue is more leverage the EU could and has used. But I do agree with Huffington in that the US should butt out.
This brings me back to the interview with Patriarch Bartholomew. At the end of the interview the Patriarch says that he feels crucified in his own country. It is clear that over the last century the church has been crucified in that there are only 4,000 Orthodox Christians left out of a population that totals 72,000,000 people. In the Bible Luke 9:5 says “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” It is probably past time for the Patriarchate to leave its homeland. The Turks have made it unbearable to live and work there. There are many other countries in this world that would welcome the Patriarch and the several dozen priests that remain. And why should the next Ecumenical Patriarch of 300,000,000 souls have to be a Turkish citizen just because the Turkish government “won’t allow” any other citizen of any other country to hold that position? A government should not hold a veto right over the spiritual leader of any religion. Orthodoxy will grow faster and more soundly if its roots are planted in nourishing soil. After all Jesus Christ did not stay in Jerusalem or Bethlehem for most of his ministry. He had no physical house or building to live and work in. Instead he wandered the countryside meeting all who wanted to listen.
I agree. The Patriarchate would be better off in Greece. Will it happen? Probably not. It would be a serious blow to the Turks internationally if the Patriarchate announced it was leaving. But if it did, it might force the Turkish Islamists into a nasty little corner, one the secularists could capitalize on.
I’ll let my friend have the last word here. He’s much more positive than I am about Islamism in Turkey:
On the topic of Turkey, I’m less concerned than you are, but keeping a very watchful eye on things. Yes there is harassment, which is not good, buts its unclear to me to what degree this is being done by isolated but vocal fundamentalists, part of a broader movement, supported by the Erdogan government (directly or indirectly) and so on.
Like you, I know and have had conversations with a range of people in Turkey. My general feeling is that while Erdogan’s government is introducing religion into the government its happening in a way that is different than the religious fundamentalists here or elsewhere in the Middle East. While it may seem similar I think that something different is happening, that at least so far, does not raise the same alarms for me as elsewhere. Of course I could be smoking crack, but it feels different to me.
Having said that, I also don’t think that Ergogan can take things very far. Both the military and the “deep” government (there’s a word for the permanent part of the Turkish government that I’m blanking on at the moment) control too many levers of power and will not permit much movement on the issue. As such I suspect that introduction of religion into Turkish society and government will be more superficial than all encompassing. Enough to sate the majority of the vocal supporters while leaving the real crazies disappointed, think abortion clinic bomber types.
I knew tearing myself away from this city was going to be difficult, but I had no idea I would spend my last full afternoon in a terrible state of what the Turks might call, “hüzün.” If I did not have to be in Denmark in mid-June I would not leave. Soon I’ll head down to the train station and have a last uskumru sandwich and watch ferries dance across the Bosporus.
I arrived on April 1, 2009 and in the blink of an eye this magical city has wooed me, wowed me, saddened me beyond measure and lifted me to the highest of heights. I will look back on this time just as I do Lake Toba, but for altogether different reasons. Toba was about disconnecting from the world in a way I’d not done in years. It was an escape, an idyll, an exotic dreamscape of guitars, new friends, peace and the warm waters of the lake I bathed in each morning. Toba was a place for me to bury the past, the obligations of home and family and in their place plant seeds that would, I hoped, spring up into a new life.
Istanbul has been about that second spring. It is an altogether appropriate metaphor, right and good. When I arrived it was cold, overcast and only the first, most tenuous buds of green sprouted from the trees. The flowers only just pushing up from their winter sleep. I was wiped out from the chaos of India but it was much more than India on my mind. What Istanbul took away in 2007, it gave it all back and more in 2009.
Three things happened in Istanbul that leave me grateful beyond measure. The grieving process of my failed marriage ended. And in that I realized the second thing: as much as I am a solitary creature I learned that although I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life alone it was only an impulse, a defense. I crawled into a cave, like a bear after a grievous fight, there to heal my wounds. The wounds healed and the bear walked out of the cave to catch salmon in a spring brook, to revel in the world, the glory of the light, the green trees and the cold rushing mountain waters. In a sense I would say that my faith was restored, for faith is not to be underestimated.
Finally, as this most perfect of Istanbul days draws to a close and my thoughts race forward to the train station, crowds, a new language, new places and sights, I am grateful for the simple joy of falling in love with such an amazing city. I believe it was Jan Morris who said, “I have loved places like people, and they have become me.”
The good, the bad and the indifferent. All of it. I’ll trade it, any day, for diamonds, gold, lovers, money, career, fame, position or power. Will I return? I certainly hope so. Will I ever live here? I plan on it. But for now I have a journey to complete. There are a few loose ends that need a twisting up and a sewing shut.
It is a fitting consolation, no matter what transpires, that I can say, where ever I go, “Ben İstanbulluyum!”
“I am an İstanbullu.”
My talisman, my secret chant, my incantation.
May 26, 2009: We left Istanbul at noon. Navigating Istanbul traffic from Sultanhamet to the Yenikapi ferry port wasn’t too hard. Getting the ferry ticket and embarking was a cinch. The ferry to Yalova took about an hour. Amanda and I listened to the music on her iPod as the wine-dark waters of the Marmara skimmed beneath us. We disembarked, gassed up and sped off into the Bithynian hills. We stopped for lunch along Ulubat Golu, a pretty lake just west of Bursa. Watched a young family play futbol along the shores and shared an Iskender kebab. Lots of tea, as always! We stopped at a pastanesi–sweet shop–about 3/5ths of the way to Izmir. Honey and pistachios. How can one go wrong?
We drove up into a set of low, lumbering gray rocks and olive mountains. We made the pass and there before us shimmering silvery and blue lay the crescent harbor of Izmir. The windows were down, the breeze strong, smelling of olives and the sun was warm. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet by the Decembrists trilled on the radio. I navigated the streets of Izmir and got us on the road to Selçuk. I don’t know how. But I did. “Follow the signs,” I kept saying aloud. Outside Izmir the hills grew stepper and more arid. It was all very Greek. A sharper contrast to the smooth pastels of Bithynia and Lydia. Orange groves and apricot orchards proliferated. Olive trees were all encompassing. Farmers doddered home in horse-drawn carts piled high with peasant women and produce.
We drove through Selçuk, a lazy village in a narrow valley. I sniffed a hint of salt spray in the air mingling with the oranges. We arrived on the beach at Pamucak just before sunset, falling below a low bank of hills across the Aegean, but not before burning out in a pyrotechnic display seldom equalled, all oranges, fiery crimson, raging pink and then the soft amber hues of early night.
May 27, 2009: Did nothing but sit under a warm Aegean sun today. Listened to Jame McMurtry: “I looked out the window and saw too much.” I can relate. But I see what I see and live to see it. Nothing else really matters anymore. Three Kangal shepherd dogs amble along the beach, barking up a ruckus, white splotches against a sapphire sea. Another sunset: coral blue waters, old sun dripping into the sea. Two in a row.
May 28, 2009: Woke up at 800am. Showered. Journaled til 930am. Had breakfast then drove to Ephesus. What a site! It was big. Quite possibly the largest classical site I’ve ever seen. It was really huge, sprawling. The only one bigger that I can think of is Persepolis, but that’s not Greek or Roman–it’s Achaemenid Persian. Athens? Nope, not even close. And I haven’t been to Pompeii so I can’t say. Although I have seen Roman ruins now from Hardian’s Wall in England to Ephesus. Good thing I can still read and decipher Latin inscriptions. Who knew that would come in handy?
After Ephesus we drove to Şirince, a former Greek village de- and then repopulated after the settlement of the Greco-Turkish War in 1923-3.
The Turks have taken good care of the agricultural land they got in exchange for Thessalonica. All rocky hills, olive groves. Apricot trees. Plums. Vegetable gardens snug against white washed houses two-stepping up the mountains. I hate to use this word, the bane of all writers, but the village was ‘quaint.’
Amanda twirled the blackberry wine in the afternoon sun, furrowing her brow, head under a baseball cap. Olive trees ran up the steep hills. Someone snapped seabeans softly behind her. She narrowed her almond eyes pondering some archeological concept and blurted, “abandonment!” Pointing at a dilapidated house behind and below me. I twisted around and nodded. But she’d already moved on.
“Reuse,” she said. Her dimpled cheeks smiling. I looked at the tiles and nodded.
“So, what did you see at Ephesus?” I asked, rising to the bait.
“It was abandoned quickly,” she said. “But I know so little of the Old World, you know? I’m a New World archeologist. What do the books tell you?”
“There was a serious crisis here in the 7th and 8th centuries,” I said.
“First, came the last Persian War. The Persians devastated Asia minor. Disrupting imperial trade networks. Looted and destroyed cities. Clive Foss, a late-classical historian wrote about it in an interesting ‘scholarly paper,’” I said, fingering scare quotes in the air.
Foss wrote: “When information again become available (after the Persian invasion) all had changed. The cities had for the most part disappeared. And the country was dotted with castles and small towns.”
I continued talking: “Anatolian cities went from open to walled within a 50 year period. Mostly during the reign of Heraclius the Great. But that was only the first crisis. Heraclius did defeat the Persians. And had his defensive planning not been so great the Byzantine Empire, like the Persians, might have fallen during the second crisis.”
“Which was,” Amanda asked?
“The Arabs. Heraclius was a broken man by the time they stormed out of the desert wastes of Arabia. The Byzantines lost Syria, Palestine and worst of all, as far as the Constaninopolitans were concerned, the bread basked of the empire: Egypt. It was only Heraclius’ defenses in depth which saved the empire. And of course, the Theodosian Walls. Oh, and several earthquakes happened in the same time frame. Ephesus was devastated in one. Antioch and Beirut in another.”
Caught the sunset again. Brilliant. Three in a row. Can I have ten, please?
May 29, 2008: Yesterday we sat on the beach for a few hours (I think I have the best tan of my life right now) and then shot off to Priene.
“Two reasons,” I said, “why I like Priene better than Ephesus.”
“The mountain?” she asked.
“Make it three,” I said. “The mountain, one. The fact that it hasn’t been restored, two. And three, that it is empty. No tourists. I have the place to myself. I can let my imagination reconstruct the city, or just appreciate the transience of human endeavor.” (Gawd, do I really talk like that? LOL)
“It has been restored,” she said. “Or at least, a little and it has been surveyed. The lines are clear, at least to my archeological eyes. See the red numbers painted on the debris?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “You can read rocks like I read a text, can’t you?”
“But for me,” she continued, “the view, the site is excellent. Very beautiful. A much prettier location than Ephesus.”