Dan Bilefsky, New York Times: With his 5 wives, 55 children and 80 grandchildren, 400 sheep, 1,200
acres of land and a small army of servants, Aga Mehmet Arslan would
seem an unlikely defender of monogamy.
By Dan Bilefsky, New York Times: BATMAN, Turkey
— For Derya, a waiflike girl of 17, the order to kill herself came from
an uncle and was delivered in a text message to her cellphone. “You
have blackened our name,” it read. “Kill yourself and clean our shame
or we will kill you first.”
On my first trip to Southeast Turkey, I eyeballed the famous Euphrates River. It's about 1,730 miles long, a little more than 600 miles of which are ın Turkey. I also saw the famous Ataturk Dam, completed in the 1990s and now one of the largest dams in the world.
Elma deyin: "Say 'apple' " instead of "say 'cheese'."
Could you get 15 male educators at an elementary school in America to climb aboard a bus and go on a 36-hour weekend retreat together? It wouldn't be easy, first of all, to find 15 male educators at your average elementary school. But in Turkey, elementary schools are not primarily the purview of females. There are lots of male teachers mentoring and guiding the lives of their students. And so I found myself, a guest English teacher at Akansu elementary school in Kayseri, embarking on a trip to southeast Turkey with other teachers, all practicing Muslims. For me, a Christian from America, this was a fascinating experience.
"Mr. Jim is brave," one of them said shortly after we boarded. No, not brave, just curious, I replied. They made me feel more than welcome. "Though you are a different nationality and a different religion (than we are), we love you like a brother," Hasan Demeral, the school principal, told me. The Islamic God and the Christian God and the Jewish God are the same, he declared, only known by different names. And indeed, the teachers treated me like a fellow believer and a brother.
We stopped several times a day at a mosque for prayer. I stayed outside and engaged in my own meditation. "How often do Christians pray? Once a week?" I was asked. Depends on the individual, I tried to explain. Some "pray without ceasing"; some pray five times a day or more; some pray in the morning and the evening, some pray just before sleeping, some pray only occasionally, but prayer in the West is not generally an hour-by-hour daily group ritual. Not sure my answer translated. I do have to admire the way that Allah is not forgotten in the press of a day's activities.
One thing we could find rather extraordinary common ground on: we were on a pilgrimage to Sanliurfa, the "cıty of prophets" in Southeast Turkey, home to prophets Job (Ayoub) and Abraham, the great grandfather of three religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. More than once I was moved to tears by the sense of reconciliation that our joint pilgrimage represented.
We stayed overnight in the guest quarters of a private elementary school. Before bedtime, we gathered around in a circle in the warm early spring evening to tell stories, laugh, and commune with one another. A parent whose son used to attend Akansu joined us to talk about life in Southeast Turkey compared to Kayseri, where he had moved a year earlier. People in the Southeast aren't nearly as educated, he said.
Since I don't speak Turkish, I (and a couple of other men) decided to retire early read before bedtime. We took our shoes off as we entered the guest quarters, and all the shoes stacked neatly on a shelf. They went to the prayer room while I meditated at "bedside," actually a pull-down couch in a room I shared with two other men. Several of us vowed that we wouldn't snore, but there was a lot of teasing the next morning about freight trains and foghorns waking people up in the middle of the night.
The weekend reinforced my belief that our common humanity is so much more important than our differences.
Atop Mt. Nemrut, in southeastern, Kurdish part of Turkey not far from the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian borders, we held the sunset in our hands as we stood in the presence of ancient gods. Their heads were thought to be a royal shrine and burial ground dating to the first century BC.
Lucia Holliday Buie reports: Matt Porter and I planned a trip to Nemrut Dagi (Mt. Nemrut) for eight teachers from Meliksah University and three teachers from Erciyes University. Despite media senationalism, the southeastern region of Turkey is pretty safe.
I saw fields being plowed by horse. Donkeys remain a common conveyance. Kurds like to have many children, I was told, which might help explain their poverty. The women wear their scarves in a flattering fashion around their heads, maybe with a roll of extra fabric framing the face and some beads, and then draped down their back and shoulders. Long skirts and ankle-length bloomers! Men wore traditional Arab-style pants -- the "crotch" is at knee height where the "skirt" descends into pant legs.
Mt. Nemrut was "discovered" by a German engineer in 1881. He was hired by the Ottomans to design a cross-country transport system and stumbled upon these massive, mountaintop statues seated in thrones, heads severed by earthquakes, but lying a short distance from the thrones and a tomb. Archeological excavation began in 1953.
The statues were built by a 1st century Roman king to honor himself and his brothers and sisters - Greek/Armenian gods. Between two rows of massive seated figures, the king had the mountain topped with crushed stone and underneath, his body and that of three female relatives reside.
If You're Thinking of Going
The best way to come to this remote part of Turkey is to take a commercial bus to one of the nearby towns or cities, then hire a guided minibus for a seven-hour round trip, wending your way towards the mountain to watch the sunrise or sunset light the statues. The commercial bus system in Turkey is very reliable, comfortable, and affordable. Combine a tour of Nemrut with a tour of one of the interesting nearby cities.
Reminders of Southwestern U.S.
The landscape resembled Montana, or parts of the Southwestern United States, and was dotted with many herds of sheep, goats, cows and grazing horses and donkeys.
We stopped at Kahta, a beautiful Kurdish village to see a castle built by the omnipresent Emperor Justinian during the 7th century. Some of the teachers went for lunch at a cafe under a leafy arbor. I went to the van to get something. A Kurd followed me. He had enough English to ask "Where are you from?", but then he would repeat everything I said, word for word. A bit unnerving.
Then, men gestured to a truck where several women had gathered. It was a van with two sets of shelves lining its interior walls. It represented the "grocery store" and traveled to the village every two weeks, our guide explained to me. A Kurdish crone brought wheat which the owner was weighing and then he gave her tomatoes in exchange. I watched and said, "Wow!" The crone started repeating "Wow" in a perfect, unaccented imitation. I had to smile.
Shocked That This Bucolic Village Was Site of Honor Killing
We were, however, horrified when we returned home to Google "Kahta, Turkey" and to discover that a 16-year-old girl in February, 2010 was BURIED ALIVE under a chicken pen in this town for "talking to boys." Her father, mother and grandfather have been arrested and charged with "honor killing." The wire service AFP (Agency France-Presse) reports:
In honour killings, most prevalent in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, a so-called family council names a member to murder a female relative considered to have sullied the family honour, usually by engaging in an extra-marital affair. But the practice has gone so far as to kill rape victims or women who simply talked to strange men."
On Sunday, we went to nearby Gaziantep, a city of 1,1 million. It seemed very pleasant and relaxed, famed for a mosaic museum, its copper craftsmen and mother-of-pearl inlay, as well as pistachio bakklava.
We lunched at Imam Cadgas, the best and most elegant restaurant in town that has been in business since the 1870s, with traditionally-dressed waiters and white tablecloths. The restaurant is situated within the walls of the ancient castle. It had a very Ottoman atmosphere to it -- indeed, there was an Ottoman coat of arms displayed proudly by the stairwell.
Afterwards, we fanned through the bazaars, contained within the castle walls, to buy native crafts...
And then we toured a museum of splendid Roman mosaics, including the famous and haunting "Gypsy Girl," which has become a symbol of Turkey -- you see it on many of the travel brochures. There's speculation that she has the eyes of Alexander the Great. But there is certainly anxiety if not fear in those eyes. Most of the mosaics come from Zeugma, a 2nd century town excavated on the banks of the nearby Euphrates.