Guzelyurt to Konya
Western Turkey - Personal Journal
10 - Friday, 10 April 1998
It was Good Friday, and we were in a town where one of the very
earliest monasteries was established. Unfortunately, largely due to fighting a
sinus infection, I felt too tired to take in the expected walk, so after
breakfast I went back to bed while Jim saw the monastery and the church. He
took such awesome pictures, that when I saw them, I wished I'd forced myself to
go. But sensory overload was a daily, perhaps several times a day experience
here in Turkey. There was little time to process and meditate on what we had
seen and heard. After the breakfast lectures, I really needed some time.
But breakfast was first, and we met in a local home for the meal.
It is actually a pension, but has no outward sign of being so. Julie and
Raquella had spent the night here, and were up early so that the sleeping room
could be reconverted into a living room - or in this case a breakfast room. We
sat on the floor eating at low tables, and drank tea made in wonderful
double-decker teapots. The strong tea was in one pot and hot water in the
other. Little tulip glasses were half-filled with tea, then the water added.
I'd really love to have one of those pots, but they are bulky, and "we'd have
to carry it." (Next trip, I want to bring along a luggage servant.)
After breakfast, Meli gave us a lecture and demonstration on the
various ways and reasons that scarves are worn in this part of the world, and
how to wrap them. Her second lecture was on Islam.
Tom Fritch did a good job of taking notes and wrote the following
in the community journal:
Scarves started as sun protection. People of different areas tie
the scarves in different ways identifying who they are. The cotton scarves of
Turkey all are dyed in one location. Northern Turkey uses two scarves (with an
outer silk scarf) for rain protection. Eastern Turkey women tend to tie the
scarves on the side of their head and wrap the scarf around their neck for cold
protection. People from the Taurus area wear a fez type hat and with a scarf
tied around it. City people tie the scarves in a simple way under their necks.
Fundamentalists "close in" themselves with the scarf and often place the scarf
in their mouth.
The Islam talk was enlightening to us all. "Religions are to
make people happy." Islam is no exception. The focus of Islam is human beings.
Humans are models of perfection.
5 Principles (pillars) of Islam
- There is one god - Allah. If you believe in Allah, you are a
Moslem. There are not initiation rites to Islam like Baptism in Christian
- Prayer. Ideally a Moslem prays 5 times a day. Meli then
showed us how physical this prayer is and how intentionally it is meant to keep
the body healthy as well as the mind. (From the editors notebook: The standing,
bowing, kneeling routine, praying in different directions, is basically an
exercise routine, designed to help the body maintain flexibility. The prayers
are fixed prayers, perhaps a mental exercise.)
- Fasting. For one month during Ramadan a Moslem does not eat
from sunrise to sunset. This is done to show commitment plus to purge the body.
No alcohol or even the use of such things as lemon essence is permitted.
Worldwide application of this shows a sense of oneness. "All are equal like the
teeth of a comb." [Allah]
- Charity. Being good yourself is not enough. There is an
obligation to pay 1/40th of your earnings (excluding debt). You must personally
give your gift. You can't just write a check.
- Once in a lifetime you should make a trip to Mecca. Mohammed
said "Don't tell me how much money you have, tell me how much have traveled."
The idea is to open eyes to outside ideas and other worlds.
Meli then briefly touched on the many types of Islam. She
describes these as streams or routes to a central ocean. All are different but
end at the same place. Areas of the world often determine the brand of Islam.
An example given was Semitic tradition (Arabian) was to kill girl babies before
Mohammed. He thought this was wrong. He recommended polygamy where a man can
have 4 wives. Shamanistic tradition (in Turkey) believed everything and
everyone was equal. There is no history of polygamy in Turkey since women were
never less than equal.
Islam embraces 128,000 prophets but 28 are specifically named.
Jesus was one of these. Islam accepts all of Christianity except the Nicene
Creed, which states that Jesus, is God.
The Imam is a social servant as well as a religious leader.
My thoughts are that Islam cannot possibly accept all of
Christianity up to the Nicene Creed without accepting Jesus as Christ, the Son
of God. Here is our basic difficulty. To the Muslim, Jesus is just a prophet. A
highly respected prophet, but not God. But on this trip, I am beginning to
realize that many, perhaps most, of the people who were called Christians in
this part of the world had themselves drifted very far away from the Christ of
the Bible by Mohammed's time. It is small wonder that Mohammed and his
followers are confused about the identity of Christ.
The paintings on the church walls deify Mary, and assign the works
of Christ to her. The paintings of Jesus in the churches are mostly just as a
little baby, or as a pathetically crucified human. The council of Nicea was
convened because of this controversy, that people did not know how to
understand Jesus as being both fully human and fully divine. Even the Nicene
Creed did not resolve the issue, and the previously mentioned Cappadocian
Fathers were hard-put to keep the truth alive. It is a mocking attack that
still throws stones and nips at the heels of true Christianity.
While I rested, Jim and the others hiked on the mountainside. They
visited a monastery and an old church. One legend says that the music of the
Monastic or Gregorian Chants originated here. Jim's pictures and video reveal
more rock carved homes, another underground city, and more of the breathtaking
beauty of Cappadocia. In a very old church (St. Gregory's), the group sang
Kumbaya, This is the Day, and Amazing Grace.
After lunch at Hotel Karvalla, we drove on toward Konya. Meli
pointed out the poplar trees growing alongside the streams, and told us of
their significance to the people. When a baby is born, a poplar tree is
planted. It is his or her investment for the future. After it has grown for a
while, the top can be cut for firewood, and the tree soon regrows and can be
used again and again. When needed, the trunk can be cut down to make a house.
Ataturk began a reforestation program in Turkey, and each one of the trees we
see represents the growth of the new babies and the new nation.
Caravanserai at Sultanhani
We stopped to explore the Caravanserai at Sultanhani. The size and
structure is impressive, as we try to picture the dozens to hundreds of animals
that would have needed food and shelter, as well as the humans. Men, women and
children would have been in the groups. As different caravans met here,
socialization between groups would have been the catalyst for sharing music,
stories, recipes and cultures.
Caravans date back to earliest Anatolia, following roads initially
used for trade or military purposes. The so-called Silk Road began in Eastern
Asia, and spread out in Turkey, taking the treasures of the East to the eager
people of the west. At the western edges of Anatolia, the caravans came up
against the sea. And still, the people who controlled the Bosphorus controlled
the trade route. I am reminded that Columbus' voyage across the sea to America
was allegedly an attempt to find another way to get at the coveted eastern
On the bus again, someone asked Meli about the legal structure in
Turkey, and she told us about Suleyman, the lawmaker from 1520. Today's law
structure is built on German trade law, Roman criminal law, and Swiss civil
After answering all the easy questions, at last Meli agreed to
deal with a question some wanted to have answered, and others hoped would not
be brought up. It seemed a heavy and difficult issue for Meli, and her face was
sad as she began to talk about the Armenian massacre. "To understand what
happened," she said, "you must understand the history." And once again, the
yellowed sheets of history fluttered in the wind, back to days when the Ottoman
Empire conquered Istanbul. Diversity was encouraged in the empire and included
- Armenians, an ethnic group who followed Gregory the
- Muslims, whose young men spent seven years in the military
supported by taxes paid by the other groups.
- Syrian orthodox
- Greek orthodox
- Catholic Europeans who built missions and schools
A nation, said Meli, is one because it has ethnic and religious
identity. The Armenians were originally one nation. Some became converted to
Roman Catholicism while others remained orthodox. To further complicate the
situation, American Protestant missionaries came to Eastern Anatolia and to
Iran, and many Armenians joined them. Armenians as a nation no longer had
unity, but began to be divided against each other.
In the early 1900s, the West first used Armenians as a buffer
against communism. Then Catholic Armenians were turned against the Turks. "It
is a major British tool," Meli said, "to divide and rule." (I hear an echo in
my brain, "Divide and conquer!" as a rallying war cry.)
The Protestants saw the danger coming, and Protestant Armenians
were rescued and taken to America. The Catholic Armenians were left, and they
are the ones who suffered the Turkish wrath. "It is a very sad story," Meli
repeated. "But to understand it, you must look at the history."
The ringing of Meli's mobile phone shattered the somber mood in
the bus. The pages of history fall again in the dust beside the road. We are
entering Konya, and the hotel is calling her to synchronize arrival time. They
want to reserve space in front of the hotel for Metin to park the bus. Meli's
network of contacts seems to us to run very smoothly, and people are eager to
make our trip a good one.
Meli pointed out the church of St. Paul, and said that Konya is
the town called Iconia in the Bible. Paul was here, but it seems that all that
is left of his impact on this town is the small museum church that bears his
name. Jim and I tried to visit it on Saturday morning, but found it locked up
Otel Sifa welcomed us, and dinner across the street again
demonstrated the smoothly running Meli tour, as salads awaited us on arrival.
Food kept coming, course after course, and we were too stuffed for dessert. Not
quite, we decided to share. There's always room for dessert!