Western Turkey - Personal Journal
- Tuesday, 7 April 1998
About 6 a.m., we got dressed (there aren't any showers on the
train) and Jim shaved in cold water. We then made our way to the dining car for
breakfast. Another group had been told to be there at 6:30 but they came later,
and when we arrived at our appointed time of 7:00, the tables were crowded. It
was a minor nuisance; we still managed to get a good breakfast before the train
arrived in Ankara.
We milled around the train, trying to claim our baggage, and get
to the bus. Meli gave us the bad news. We would not be able to see the
wonderful Ankara Museum of Anatolian Civilization. Because of the Bayram
holiday it was closed. We had a brief tour of part of the town and the capital
Then we entered the Ataturk Memorial Park, where his tomb is
located. Meli told us a long story of Ataturk, interrupted once by the changing
of the guard outside the building we were in.
Her lecture ended with an emotional reading from Ataturk's speech
at the Anyac memorial in 1934.
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives you
are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There
is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by
side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far
away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now in our bosom and are at
peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as
After the lecture we had some time to walk around, go into the
building where Ataturk's bones rest in his tomb, and deal with a new and
unexpected set of emotions. I have a new respect for the accomplishments of
this small nation, and something akin to awe at the stature of this man. Meli's
devotion to his ideals is obvious. The driving force behind her passion and
zeal is beginning to be revealed. I cannot express more eloquently than what
Dave Pratt wrote in our community journal:
Turkey's 20th century hero, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) brought
about a huge revolution in Turkey between 1915 and 1938:
- Driving Britain, Greece, Italy, and France from Turkish
territory, to consolidate the present boundaries
- Bringing about a secular state under a democratic form of
government by removing first the political power and then the religious
leadership from the sultan, and replacing religious courts with civil
- Emancipating women
- Introducing the Latin alphabet and phonetically adapting
the Turkish language to it;
- Eliminating many Arabic and Persian words, replacing them
with words with Turkish roots
- "Outlawing" wearing of the fez and veil
- Introducing the metric system
- Replacing the lunar calendar with the Gregorian
On the steps in front of Ataturk's tomb were his words,
"Sovereignty belongs to the people unconditionally." Meli summarized an
important struggle in 1990's Turkey by contrasting these words with the view of
the Muslim fundamentalist; "Sovereignty belongs to God unconditionally."
Since we could not see the Museum of Anatolian Civilization, Meli
came up with an alternate plan, involving a long bus ride to the excavated
ancient (7500 BC) Hittite city of Hattusas.
As we were leaving Ankara, we passed family after family in the
process of sacrificing or butchering the ram for Bayram. Kurban Bayrami is a
memorial holiday based on the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was asked by
God to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When Abraham demonstrated his willingness
to be obedient, he was stopped at the last moment and shown a ram with his
horns caught in the bushes. The ram was sacrificed instead of Isaac.
The Muslims, who trace their connection to Abraham through Isaac's
half-brother Ishmael, remember this event every year by sacrificing a ram, and
giving the meat and the fleece to charity. It is a weeklong holiday, celebrated
around the world. Many Muslims take this opportunity to make a trip to Mecca.
During the week, we heard the news about some people caught in a
stampede in Mecca and trampled. They were participating in a Bayram ritual
called "stoning the Devil." (Many months later I learned that Muslims are
taught that the nearly sacrificed son was Ishmael, not Isaac. Then I understood
why this was such an important holiday for Islamic people.)
A little out into the country, Meli asked if we'd like to stop
when she saw yet another sacrifice in progress. A positive chorus brought the
bus to the side of the road. After Meli had requested and received permission
from the family, Americans with cameras poured out to capture this amazing
sight. The ram skin had been separated from the carcass and was serving as a
groundcloth to keep the meat clean, as they worked right on the ground.
Shortly after we disembarked, one of the scarf-clad young women
ducked into the house and came back with her own video camera to take pictures
of us. She and her husband are guest workers in Sweden, and were home for the
holiday. Her English was excellent.
A bus lecture filled in some of the travel time toward Hattusas.
Meli talked about Islam, and why the Muezzins sing the call to prayer five
times a day. Somehow the timing is related to avoiding alignment with old pagan
practices of praying to the sun, at dawn, noon, etc. The call to prayer takes
up the time that the pagans used for prayer, so the Muslims are not praying at
those times, but preparing to do so. It seems like the plan backfired, because
everyone's attention is still drawn to those certain times.
Meli talked about the differences in environment in Anatolia and
how those natural differences affect the people who live there. In the West,
the people live near the sea, have good weather and an abundant food supply.
The character of these people is friendly, easygoing, and they are secure but
In the hot and dry center of the country, the people live in a
static society, and are orthodox and traditional. They have the attitude, "If
we are good to God, he will be good to us and send rain when we need it."
In the East are the high mountains. The people, utilizing three
levels, shift their animals up and down the mountains for grazing, depending
upon the seasons. Infants die easily in such harsh conditions, but the
survivors live long lives. They bond to each other to survive and become
clannish. Outsiders are not easily assimilated, but have to earn respect.
"What we don't know," Meli says, "is God. What we can do, is
progress." She talked about Çatal Höyük, the world's earliest
social settlement that has been excavated. The people had pottery, woven
clothing, seals depicting ownership, and judges, indicating that class
differences existed even then. She talked about society as a pyramid, with
religion at the top, judges or rulers next, and the ordinary people as the wide
base. She discussed how two societies interact when they come together, and one
has more than the other. This reflects back to her statement in the museum near
the Basilica Cistern, about the movement of peoples being immigration or
One society may try to take what the others have by invasion, or
they might immigrate and share. The two societies might have very different
values. She told of us two different ones. In one women were valued and divorce
was punished. An old message has been uncovered that a man wrote to his mother:
"Mother, I love you so much. You are more precious than iron, and more
beautiful than bronze." In the second society, women were treated as
collateral. Such societies would clash for reasons beyond economics.
Meli talked more about the mother-goddess image, how differently
she was perceived by different societies, and became stylized as people's
independence grew. Then the god of war arose and became head of all. The ruler
started to play the role of god. The people wanted to bring peace back, and the
mother goddess was re-established. They wanted to have self-sustained,
As we approached Hattusas, Meli told us how German archeologists
had discovered the site, and that the best pieces are in Germany. But we are
excited about being on the site itself.
Brittanica Encyclopedia identifies Hattusas as "the ancient
capital of the Hittites, who established a powerful empire in Anatolia and
northern Syria in the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest settlement in the city
area dates to the 3rd millennium BC, in the so-called Early Bronze Age. There
are no written documents that would reveal the identity of the first settlers.
The earliest written sources that were found at Bogazköy are clay tablets
inscribed in cuneiform writing in the Old Assyrian language. They attest the
presence of Assyrian merchants on the site, which at that time was called
Hattus. With the downfall of the Hittite Empire (c. 1190 BC) the city was
destroyed; traces of burning are found in all parts. The site, it seems,
remained vacant for a long time. The next settlement, mainly on
Büyükkale and in the lower city, was in size and layout much more
modest than the Hittite capital. Through pottery and other finds, this
settlement is linked to the Phrygians, to whose kingdom the region belonged in
the 8th century BC."
This is a place no other ETBD tours have gone. We are all
enthusiastic, but the bus ride was very long, and our time on the site turned
out to be quite short. Just before we reached the site, we went through a small
village that was a photographer's dream. But we did not have even a minute to
pause there. It was one of those "spoonful of honey" experiences, that made us
want to return for more.
Young men were at the site, selling carvings of ancient images
from the local green rocks. "I carved this myself," they told us. Jim was
particularly captivated by one of the lions. Behind us was a gate to the city,
guarded on each side by huge carved lions. A "group photo" was taken here, and
then we rushed on to the next spot. Through the defensive wall runs a tunnel
and we felt our way through the darkness to the other side. It was in the dark,
damp and slippery tunnel that Jim acquired a skinned knee and ripped pants -
but he kept his cameras safe!
The bus ride from the archeological site to our next stop,
Cappodocia, was very long. Meli proposed that we each give a brief history of
why we choose this tour, and express what we feel we gain by travelling. Some
very interesting stories were shared; none were more interesting than Meli's.
She told her story last, and it began with the origin of her ancestral
They were Jews who converted to Islam, probably for survival
rather than personal conviction. Meli told us about the "people swap" early in
the 20th century that the European powers (Treaty of Lausanne) thought was the
solution to squabbles between Christians and Muslims. All the Christians in
Turkey were moved to Greece, and all the Muslims living in Greece were moved to
Turkey. This was an "overnight" move, and people lost all they had. On both
sides, they were forced to live in tents while housing was constructed. Meli's
Jewish-Islamic family was moved from Greece to Turkey, and suffered greatly.
(The same kind of "people swap" was done in India in 1947, creating the Muslim
country of Pakistan, and is depicted in the movie Gandhi.)
Meli told us about her own fascinating journey through life, her
time as an exchange student in America and her realization that "My country
needs a Joan of Arc. I'll be one." She married a governor, but realized this
was not the right way for her. In her divorce she asked only for the children,
and no financial settlement. It meant that she and the children lived in a
nomadic tent for two years, but independence was important to her.
We arrived in Cappadocia just in time for dinner at a restaurant
on the Red River in Avanos, and it was quite dark by the time we arrived at the
Green Motel. Meli had searched out a family who were renting rooms but wanted
to preserve the old ways of the village. Over the years the money for the tours
that she has brought here has enabled the owners to build up their business
There are a couple of problems that still need to be addressed,
however. Since the motel is carved into the rock, cold was a problem for us in
the still-early season. Perhaps in summer this is an advantage. The more
serious problem is the shortage of appropriate traps ("U" pipes) in the
plumbing in some of the bathrooms. After a few flushings, the odor of sewer gas
was almost unbearable. In spite of the cold, we slept with the window open.
That was the night I came down with a sinus infection, joining some of the
others who were already ill with various virus afflictions. (Our tour plumber
later advised us it would help to block the sink drain, and that wet toilet
paper made an excellent block.)