Friday, December 21, 2012

Mount Nemrut

Legend has it, King Antiochus I (86-36 BC) thought he was equal to the gods. He just needed a monument to reflect it. So he aimed high. After all, if he was equal to the gods, he may as well rule among them.

He had statues erected of himself, and his fellow god and goddess cohorts, on the peak of Mount Nemrut, some 7000 feet high. That way, it is said, the sun would rise and bow at his feet. In addition, he had  festivities on top of the mount celebrating his birthday and coronation. Every. Single. Month. (The 16th and the 10th, respectively). Here was a man who, clearly, had no issues with self-esteem.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ethnic conflict

In reaching the last destination on my list, my guide and I passed into Kurdish country- a six hour drive east of Cappadocia. Once the territory was crossed, his demeanor changed: on edge, overly attentive of the surroundings, quieter. I saw the difference, but didn't understand the reason of the one-minute-to-the-next paradigm shift.

"We've entered an unsafe area," Ibrahim stated as if reading my mind.

I looked around me. Aside from being a bit run-down, it wasn't a place that I would have pegged as dangerous.

We pulled over and parked in front of a kebab shop. Ibrahim jumped out to get us lunch. I watched young teenage boys at the neighboring shop play with a pink umbrella.

"It's amazing how well they all speak Turkish," Ibrahim stated as he got back into the car.

A bit confused, I asked why that would be a novelty, especially since we were still in Turkey, albeit Eastern Turkey.

"Because they're Kurds," he stated matter-of-factly, as if that alone was enough of a reason.

The area referred to as Kurdistan was divided amongst the newly formed states of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq in the early 1920's, just after being promised their own sovereign state. The divided land, one rich in oil and water, had been inhabited by the Kurds for over 2000 years. Today Kurds make up over 20% of the population in Turkey. Their culture, language and way of life are distinct to their ethnicity. The Turkish government has tried for years to assimilate the Kurdish people, yet the Kurds' main desire is to create a defined separation in the form of their own country. Requests on both sides are ignored.

"The government will start repairing roads and at night the Kurds will destroy what was fixed. Then they'll complain that the government isn't helping them at all, when in reality the government is giving them special treatment to placate them."

Ibrahim continued by speaking of his cousin who was stationed in Eastern Turkey during his army service. Many in his troop were good friends with a local grocer. A grocer who, one evening, was shot dead after he and other Kurds tried killing the soldiers who frequented his shop.

But it wasn't until driving in the fog filled mountains with low visibility that his voice lowered and he told the story that keeps him unnerved every time he makes the visit eastward.

"It was on one of these roads," he began. "I was 12 and begged my dad to let me join a tour group to Mount Nemrut. When we reached an area like this, a group of dirty long haired, long beard, nasty, really gross looking men with AK-47's ran down the hillside and created a barricade. When the driver slowed to a halt, the men circled the van. Our driver tried calming the women in the van saying 'it is going to be ok, it will all be ok' but he was shaking himself."

"One man banged the driver side window with the butt of his gun yelling at the driver to open the door. Every time the gun hit the window, the women would scream. We thought we were going to die."

He paused, recalling the memory. "The old woman held me tight as I cried."

"The driver finally rolled down the window after the nasty man threatened to shoot. 'Let me see your papers! Let me see your papers!' the man demanded. 'Who are you and what are you doing here,' he continued to scream. Our driver explained he was a tour guide and just taking a group of tourists to see the ruins on Nemrut."

"The man looked in the back at all the crying women and then back at our driver. 'You can go,' he stated, 'but don't be out at night and be careful!' He motioned for the rest of the guys to back away from the car, but our driver said 'wait!' and then asked who they were and why they stopped us."

"They were the secret police. The license plate on the van wasn't local and looked suspicious, which is why they stopped us. But we were nervous the rest of our trip."

Over twenty years have passed, but Ibrahim still remains nervous. On our return back to Cappadocia he would occasionally comment, "we're still not in the safe zone," and once we were, his shoulders softened.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


It was during midnight drinks with friends at an outside table in Athens when I first heard of Cappadocia. The thought of a rock city, other than Petra, intrigued me. Upon returning home to start researching, I was grateful to have not added a 3 day stint in Istanbul to my trip to Greece like I had initially planned with a friend. A trip to Turkey, I then discovered, required much more than just the obligatory big city tour.

Friday, December 7, 2012

land of the beautiful horses

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another... how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia."  - Acts 2:1, 4, 6, 7-9
Since the dawn of its existence, Christianity has played a central roll in the Turkish region of Cappadocia. Spanning the entire Eastern region of the country, the Apostle Paul traveled through it many times during his ministry to preach of Christ. The landscape being a key element to the religion's survival.

Between 10-25 million years ago, volcanic eruptions laid foundation to one of the worlds most distinctive natural rock formations. Wind,  rain, snow and climate change have created varying conical shapes from the lava rocks over the course of time.

With a long history commencing with Mesopotamia and shortly thereafter Hittite rule, Cappadocia, pronounced Cap-ah-doh-key-ah, was first mentioned in 6th century BC under Persian reign; a name meaning 'land of the beautiful horses'.  Since that time, the region passed hands from Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great, Byzantines, to the Turks.

Throughout the decades the land was placed in great use. Buildings of all types, including houses, churches, pigeon holes, and event halls were carved out of cliffs and standing rock formations. Minerals spewed from the eruptions left the soil rich and fertile. Even today, vineyards, orchards, potatoes and grain are easy to harvest. Underground cities, 8-11 floors deep accommodating tens of thousands of people, were created out of the soft rocks around the 8th century BC. To date 40 such cities have been excavated.

It was during the Roman rule that Christians took refuge in the underground cities, hiding against widespread persecution.  It was the ideal location. With its narrow hallways, Roman soldiers loaded with gear could only file in one by one allowing ample time for rolling stone doors to be slid into place, sealing off main entrances to the inner dwelling places.

Today, remnants of each era is present in modern day Cappadocia. Most notably, Christian artifacts. In a primarily Muslim country, the frescos and stone-carved cave churches make Cappadocia as unique as its landscape.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A two continent city

Bosphorus fishing
Ferry Station

Galata tower 
window shopping
a hippie way of lilfe   
view from Ataturk

symbol of Istanbul
fishing off the Galata Bridge

Galata Tower and Bridge
Dinner cruises
Pide (flat bread filled with hot air)
Turkish living in Fatih
Market in Eminonu
adult swing-set
Fener district
Greek High School
movie set in Balat
script reading
daily life in Sultanahmet

Sunday, November 25, 2012

one mosque, two mosque, red mosque, blue mosque

Atop the Galata Tower during an afternoon call to prayer, the voice of the muezzins singing from each mosques across the vast city of Istanbul filled my ears. I scanned one minaret after another other for miles around, enraptured by the sound vibrating in the air. I wanted to capture the moment forever.

Reaching each individual mosque is just as enticing to the senses. Light breezes carry the smell of roasted chestnuts. Crimson red pomegranates, piled high, wait to be cracked open and juiced.  Offers of apple tea are sung out by every carpet vendor in the city.  But only the mosques garner the most attention.

Sultanahmet or the Blue Mosque, as it is most widely known, was built in the early 1600's. It is still a place of worship today and closes to tourists during each call to prayer. Boasting six minarets, Saltanhamet caused quite a stir until another minaret was added to the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Directly across from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sofia. Built in 360 AD, the Hagia Sofia was an Orthodox cathedral. It remained such (except for a 60 year period when used as a Roman Catholic cathedral) until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque. Now a museum, since 1935, remnants of both Christian and Islamic design are seen in one spot by tourists of every cultural background.

The New (but very old) Mosque was completed in the mid 1600's, after over 60 years of construction due to death of a sultan, political discord, financial downfall, decay and a fire to the structure. But its location, just in front of the ferry port and Galata bridge make it another one of the most widely viewed mosques in all Istanbul.

Upon a large hill, apart from all the others, stands the Fatih Mosque, or Sultan Mehemed. Built in the latter part of the 1400's, the mosque suffered extensive damage from four separate earthquakes throughout the following three centuries. After each earthquake, the building was repaired until the last earthquake left it in disrepair and was reconstructed with an entirely different architectural plan.