We had a three-day holiday to celebrate the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. Left alone, I did some wandering around less frequented parts of the old city.
19 May: Youth and Sports Day to Commemorate Atatürk
May 19, 1919 marks the beginning of the Turkish War of National Liberation, a turning point in Turkey’s history. On this day, a young Ottoman general, Mustafa Kemal, arrived in Samsun. The man, who would later be known to the world as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, stepped ashore on this small Black Sea Coast town to embark on a journey that would ultimately create the Republic of Turkey and a new nation state.
The Ottoman Empire at the time had been carved up as a result of its ill-fated decision to join World War I on the side of the Germans. The defeated Ottoman government signed the Mondros agreement with the Allied forces, securing its own existence, while relinquishing almost all of its territories, except for a small Anatolian heartland, to Britain, Italy, France and Greece. The Mondros agreement, designed to decimate the Ottoman nation, was being implemented step by step with the final insult to the Ottomans coming with the invasion of Izmir and violent advance into Anatolia by the Greek army. Civilian resistance began building up against the occupation, but without a sense of direction or coordination.
Mustafa Kemal, whose public and military standing was solidified as the military commander who won the Ottoman victory in Gallipoli, was assigned the post of Inspector General of the Ottoman Armies to Anatolia. He immediately left Istanbul aboard an old steamer, arriving in Samsun on May 19, 1919. Mustafa Kemal dispatched his first report to the Ottoman Sultan on May 22, underlining that Turks would not accept foreign subjugation and longed for national sovereignty. This signaled the beginning of the national liberation struggle. Realizing that Samsun, already under British occupation and surrounded by Greek irregular forces, was no longer safe, Mustafa Kemal moved his staff to Havza, about 85 km inland, on May 25.
In Havza, Ataturk’s historic mission unfolded. He dispatched telegrams to local resistance organizations all over Anatolia to organize mass demonstrations protesting the occupation and to inform the public about the gravity of the situation. Demonstrations followed across the country. Several leading Ottoman army generals and their troops joined Mustafa Kemal and signed the Declaration of Amasya on June 22, 1919, declaring that the unity of the country and the liberty of the people were in danger, that the Istanbul government was inept to save the nation and that “the liberty of the nation was to be saved by the nation’s own perseverance and will.” This declaration included the first signs of Ataturk’s vision of national sovereignty and democratic rule for the Turkish people.
Mustafa Kemal took the leadership in convening two national congresses with representatives from all over the Empire in Erzurum and Sivas, followed by the forming of a national parliament in Ankara on April 23, 1920. He was elected as Commander in Chief and organized the remaining Ottoman forces, as well as irregular forces under the Ankara government’s central command, creating a new army that eventually defeated the occupying forces.
The Turkish War of Liberation lasted four years and culminated in the international recognition of Turkey’s borders through the treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923 and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. Ataturk later declared May 19 as a national holiday dedicated to Turkish youth and sports. The holiday continues to be celebrated today in Turkey as Ataturk Remembrance, Youth and Sports Day.
Source: Turkish Coalition of America
Transport systems in Turkey have been revolutionised since I first came to this country back in the 1990s. Last week we took a trip on the High-Speed Train (YHT) that now connects Istanbul to the capital Ankara.
In fact, we only went as far as the city of Eskishehir, a two-and-a-half-hour journey – and I have to say I was less than impressed. I have a memory of riding the TGV in France years ago, hissing along almost silently at 300 km/h as power-poles and scenery flashed past the window. According to the video display, our Turkish train did hit 250 km/h on a couple of occasions, but for the most part we cruised along at more sedate speeds.
To be fair, Turkey’s geography is a factor. Much of the country is high altitude steppe once you leave the coastal regions, and getting up there requires a few twists and turns. You can actually feel your ears pop as the train climbs from sea-level. Probably, if you continue to Ankara or Konya, you’ll have a better high-speed experience.
Our main purpose, however, was to check out Eskishehir itself. The city has become popular with Istanbul day-trippers in recent years, reputedly thanks to a go-ahead mayor and council who have worked a 21st century miracle of Europeanisation on their dusty Anatolian town.
Well, in general, I’m happy to save my European experiences for when I visit Germany, or other pinnacles of post-modern development. I love Turkey for what it is – but still, I confess it is nice to enjoy a few modern comforts. The Eskishehir City Council have indeed laid out some pretty parks; and encouraged development of a buzzing bar and café scene along the banks of the Porsuk River, catering for a youthful population augmented by the presence of two large universities.
Personally, however, I was more interested in scratching the surface to find what lies beneath the face presented for public consumption.
One peculiarity of Eskishehir is that many of its people have Tatar ancestry. According to Wikipedia, the Crimean Tatars “are a Turkic ethnic group that formed in the Crimean Peninsula during the 13th–17th centuries, primarily from the Turkic tribes that moved to the land now known as Crimea in Eastern Europe from the Asian steppes beginning in the 10th century. . . Since 2014 Crimean Tatars were officially recognized as indigenous peoples of Ukraine . . .
The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal state during the 15th to 18th centuries . . . The Turkic-speaking population of Crimea had mostly adopted Islam already in the 14th century.”
That was probably their big mistake. After Russia defeated the Ottomans in the War of 1768-74, they began expelling Muslim Tatars from Crimea – and continued during the wars with Napoleon in 1812. Further expulsions took place during the Crimean War (1853-56) and another war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877-8. In those days the Russian government was implementing a policy of Russification and Christianisation, and the Tatars didn’t fit into either category. Soviet Russia continued the ethnic cleansing in the 1920s, culminating in 1944 when Josef Stalin’s regime exiled the entire remaining Tatar population to Central Asia. Over that period of 170 years, hundreds of thousands of Tatars sought and found sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire and later, in the Republic of Turkey. Many of their descendants live in Eskishehir today.
I hinted above that the city is getting a reputation with well-heeled Istanbulites as a beacon of European enlightenment in a country many of them see as descending into an abyss of Shariah Islamic fundamentalism. Whether or not that is the case, I have no intention of discussing here. It is certainly true that the Mayor of Eskishehir is unabashedly affiliated with the opposition CHP – the Republican People’s Party that claims direct descent from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself.
Turkey has probably one of the most complex histories of any country on Earth. Empires have come and gone over many millennia, of which the most recent are the pagan Hellenistic creation of Alexander the Great, the equally pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Muslim religion practised in Turkey differs considerably from that of its Middle Eastern neighbours in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Much of this difference stems from the work of a fellowship of mystical Sufi philosophers who exerted considerable influence on the people from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The best known in the West is Rumi – Mevlana Jelalettin, founder of the sect sometimes referred to as “Whirling Dervishes”. Another poet, well known in Turkey, is Yunus Emre (1238-1320) whose use of the Turkish vernacular made his spiritual insights accessible to common folk. He is said to have been buried in a village not far from Eskishehir. We came across the tomb of another Sufi mystic, Sheikh Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi in the old part of town – although apparently the Sheikh’s last resting place is claimed by several other cities, and not only in Turkey.
Shuhreverdi is said to have founded a sect known as Fütüvvet (I’ve no idea what that is in English), whose followers were known for their humility, courage, generosity, kindness to others, not giving importance to material possessions, tolerance and adhering to firm moral principles (can’t see much wrong with that!). The Sheikh claimed to have derived his eclectic philosophy from Zoroastrian sources and Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Shuhreverdi’s views were considered heretical by some orthodox Sunni leaders, and threats were made on his life. Apparently, he met a nasty end, executed in 1191 CE on the orders of an Islamic judge in Aleppo – so maybe his remains are somewhere in Syria.
Be that as it may, Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi’s name is still remembered in Eskişehir, and his shrine is known to some in Turkish as “Salı Tekkesi”, the “Tuesday Chapel”, since local folk used to gather there formerly on Tuesdays. Why, I can’t tell you, but it is possible that some of that holy gentleman’s unorthodox opinions and independent streak have passed down to present-day Eskishehirians.
Another of the city’s many claims to fame is that it is the main source of the world’s supply of sepiolite, more commonly known by its German name meerschaum, from which elaborately carved pipes were much prized by aficionados. The German word means “foam of the sea” since the stone is so light it will actually float on water. Luletaşı, in Turkish, I was surprised, and not a little shocked to learn, is also used for cat litter – one of its qualities being the capacity to absorb unpleasant aromas.
A highlight of our visit to Eskishehir was visiting a museum commemorating Turkey’s War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). I am quoting here from the website of The Turkish Coalition of America:
“The Ottoman Empire . . . had been carved up as a result of its ill-fated decision to join World War I on the side of the Germans. The defeated Ottoman government signed the Mondros agreement with the Allied forces, securing its own existence, while relinquishing almost all of its territories, except for a small Anatolian heartland, to Britain, Italy, France and Greece. The Mondros agreement, designed to decimate the Ottoman nation, was being implemented step by step under the watch of the surrendered Ottoman government. The final insult to the Ottomans came with the invasion of Izmir by the Greek army and its violent advance into Anatolia. Civilian resistance began building up against the occupation, but without a sense of direction or coordination.”
Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) formed a national parliament in Ankara on 23 April 1920, organised an army of national resistance, and was elected commander-in-chief. The war “lasted four years and culminated in the international recognition of Turkey’s borders through the treaty of Lausanne July 24, 1923 and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923”.
Several crucial battles were fought in the vicinity of Eskishehir, and the museum, located in a historic wooden mansion, contains maps, artefacts and explanations of the war’s course. There is also an excellent film screened in a small theatre that brings to life the events of those turbulent years. An extract can be viewed on YouTube. It’s in Turkish, of course, but the visuals tell some of the story:
Of less geopolitical significance, but still a high point of our self-guided tour was sipping a beer in one of the riverside cafes and seeing a “muster” of storks circling overhead. These are migratory birds that return to their nests in Turkey every spring to breed and raise their young, before flying off to warmer climes for the winter. So, spring has arrived, I’m happy to say!
My step-daughter has just returned from a visit to Iran. She was there to deliver a paper at a conference, but was able to do a little sight-seeing. One of the “must-sees” for tourists is the UNESCO-listed ruins of Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE). Those guys get an honourable mention in the Biblical Old Testament for permitting exiled Jews to return to their homeland and build a great temple in Jerusalem. Their kindness to the Jews, however, didn’t save them from having their magnificent city looted and burned by the army of the Great Macedonian Alexander as he marauded his way east on his mission to conquer the world.
Apparently present-day Iranians are unhappy that many artefacts from Persepolis later found their way into the collections of museums in Europe and the United States. I did a quick check online, and sure enough:
“A number of bas-reliefs from Persepolis are kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. There is also a collection from Persepolis at the British Museum. The Persepolis bull at the Oriental Institute is one of the university’s most prized treasures, but it is only one of several objects from Persepolis on display at the University of Chicago. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum houses objects from Persepolis, as does the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Louvre of Paris hold objects from Persepolis as well.” (Wikipedia)
Inevitably our discussion turned to the matter of other historical and archaeological treasures housed in museums far from their original homes. Step-daughter was sure she’d seen the Rosetta Stone, key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics, in Cairo. I was equally sure I’d seen it in the British Museum – and another online check confirmed that the one in London is the real one. The same institution counts among its most prized possessions, apart from probably more Egyptian mummies than you’ll find in Egypt, the so-called Elgin Marbles – a vast store of marble friezes and sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens, smuggled away in several shiploads by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the 19th century. Greek governments have repeatedly asked for them to be returned – but the Brits are having none of that.
Elsewhere, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a large section devoted to treasures from the classical city of Ephesus in modern Turkey, including a 70-metre frieze commemorating a (rare) Roman victory over the Parthians in 165CE. The Treasures of Priam, King of Troy (also in modern Turkey) were spirited away in the 1870s by the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. They were exhibited in the Berlin Ethnological Museum until 1945 when they disappeared – turning up later (in 1993) in Moscow, of all places. Well, it’s hard to get self-righteous about having stolen property stolen by someone else, I guess.
New Zealand’s indigenous Maori have for years been trying to get back tattooed human heads that were popular with European collectors of cultural curiosities in the early days of colonisation. I’ve recently been made aware (thanks Lara!) of a similar campaign by native American peoples to repatriate human remains from universities in Canada.
It seems the government of Turkey is at the forefront of this worldwide struggle to have purloined cultural and archeological objects returned to their homeland. In recent years, they have won several significant court battles resulting in the handing back of disputed sculptures and other artefacts. One such was the Sarcophagus of Heracles, smuggled out of Turkey in the 1960s, seized by port authorities in Switzerland in 2010.
And here’s another interesting one in the news this week:
A panel of tiles in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum were smuggled to France in the 1890s and replaced with imitations, according to museum director Hayrullah Cengiz.
“You can see the logo seal ‘made in France, Sevres’ behind the tiles,” he said, speaking to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
According to Cengiz, the Hagia Sophia receives nearly two million local and foreign visitors every year. One of the two panels on the sides of the entrance of the tomb of Sultan Selim II, son of Süleyman the Magnificent, are an imitation of the original tiles, he said.
“The tomb is a work of Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect in the Ottoman state. These tiles were taken to France for restoration in the 1890s by the Frenchman, Albert Dorigny, who came to the Ottoman Empire as a dentist. But they were not returned. Instead, imitation tiles were made in France and mounted in place of the originals. The original tiles are on the right side. You can see the difference between the two panels. These are a perfect example of 16th century tiles.”
Cengiz said the Culture and Tourism Ministry had made a request to the French Ministry of Culture for the tiles to be returned. “These tiles were being exhibited in the ‘Arts of Islam’ section of the Louvre Museum in France. They have recently been removed, most likely due to complaints,” he added.
“The restoration of five tombs here was finished in 2009. It was revealed that these tiles were imitations during the restoration work, as you can easily see the logo ‘Made in France, Sevres’ written behind them. When you look at the difference between the two tiles on the right and the left, you can see the beauty of the original ones. The colors of the others have faded and lost their gloss because they are imitations, even though they have been there for only 100 years. The original ones, which are 400 years old, look brand new,” he said.
Cengiz also said the two panels are made up of 60 tiles and the fake ones were an exact copy of the original. “It is not too difficult to copy them, but as years pass by, the difference becomes evident. Not only did Dorigny smuggle this panel, he probably stole many other tiles from Istanbul museums where he had done restorations in those years.”
Now that was a cheeky one!
Şeb-I Arus translates literally as “Wedding Night”, but in fact was the date that the renowned Sufi mystic, Celaleddin Mevlana Rumi, passed away. In keeping with his transcendental philosophy, Mevlana Rumi saw his death as the merging of his spirit with the Divinity, hence a “wedding”, and not an event to be mourned.
I’m passing on some extra information from several sources:
“He is the most-read poet in the United States and possibly the best-known Islamic figure after Muhammad. His philosophy of divine love has inspired countless artists, musicians, and writers. He created the iconic symbol of Turkey, the sema ritual often known as the “whirling dervishes.” The man referred to is of course Rumi, whose full name was Mevlânâ Celâleddîn-î Rûmî. His death 742 years ago is commemorated every year on December 17.
Every year on December 17, people flock to Rumi’s mausoleum in Konya to pay their respects and experience a powerful ceremony of remembrance.”
Who is Mevlana? Hz. Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi is the great Anatolian mystic, poet and the father of the Mevlevi Order. He is known as Hz. Mevlana in the East and as Rumi in the West. At birth, his family named him Muhammed, though he came to be nicknamed Celaleddin. As for “Mevlana”, it connotes to “our master”, while “Rumi” relates to “the land of Rum” or “Anatolia”, where he lived. In his lifetime, he was also referred to as “Hudavendigar”, meaning “distinguished leader”, whereas his present internationally renowned title “Mevlana” was very seldom used.
Hz. Mevlana was born on 30 September 1207 in the city of Balkh, Horasan, which at the time was inhabited by Turkish tribes; (Balkh, today, remains within the boundaries of Afghanistan). His mother Mümine was the daughter of Rükneddin, the “emir” (sovereign ruler) of Balkh and his father, Bahaeddin Veled, was “Sultanu-l ulema”(chief scholar). Their clash of opinion with Fahreddin-i Razi, one of his contemporary mystics, along with the probability of a Mongol invasion urged him to desert his hometown accompanied by his entire family. Their migration, via Baghdad, Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan, and Karaman, ended up, on 3 May 1228, in Konya upon the invitation of Alaeddin Keykubad, the Seljuk Emperor.
As Mevlana began attending his father’s lessons at a very early age, he pursued the divine truth and secrets. He acquired Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and common Greek as well as Classical Greek. He studied the other religions along with Islam. From history to medicine, he received his initial education from his father and then from Seyyid Burhaneddin Tirmizi and other top scholars of the time. Later on, he himself, in turn, taught hundreds of students in Madrassahs (theological universities).
Rumi and the Annual Whirling Dervish Festival in Konya
“From the 10th of December to the 17th, thousands of people will descend on the Turkish city of Konya. Hotel accommodation will be fully booked up and any latecomers that do find spare rooms will have to pay heavily to secure them. Konya is bracing itself for one of the most important events of the year and that is the annual celebration of Rumi and the whirling dervishes’ festival.
For many, this is a journey to commemorate the death of a poet and his works that continue to penetrate everyday society.
Who was Rumi?
Rumi was born on the edge of the Persian Empire, in the city of Balkh which is now part of Afghanistan. In 1273, he died in the Turkish city of Konya. Despite his departure from this earth over 700 years ago, his poems and quotes are still widely read today by millions of people all over the globe.
Rumi Poems and Quotes
The work of Rumi is extensive and often called words of wisdom by modern day artists and authors. His words spoke about every aspect of life but mainly focused on love and inner peace.
Famous quotes include
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.”
“Come, come, whoever you are. Heathen, fire-worshipper, idolater, it doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
What is his significance to the west?
Despite his origins in the east, Rumi is widely known in western countries. He was the bestselling poet in America for a number of years and his poems have been globally translated into many languages.
As a practicing Sufi, his beliefs lay in a branch of Islam yet his followers include Christians and Jews along with Muslims. He did what many others have tried to do and failed miserably at. He connected people of different religions and it all began with his words.
Read any poem or quote, and there is no bias against cultures. There is no preference of one race against another. Muslims are not favored over Christians or Jews.
He found a way to communicate with the world without excluding one single person, hence his popularity in the west.”
Visit these sites for more information:
TCA Celebrates 94th Anniversary of Turkish Republic
On October 29, 1923, the newly recognized Turkish parliament proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, formally marking the end of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day, Mustafa Kemal, who led the Turkish National War of Liberation and was later named Atatürk (father of Turks), was unanimously elected as the first president of the Republic.
Turkey had effectively been a republic from April 23, 1920 when the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated in Ankara. When the Turkish parliament held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the crumbling Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, the nationwide resistance movement gained momentum. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolution of the Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal’s justification for opening the resistance movement’s new legislative body was created.
With the opening of the Assembly, Ankara became the center of the Turkish national struggle for liberation. The National War of Liberation culminated in the emancipation of Anatolia from foreign occupation*, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and finally, the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. October 29, or Republic Day, is an official Turkish holiday celebrated each year across Turkey and by peoples of Turkish heritage worldwide.
Following the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked on a wide-ranging set of reforms in the political, economic and cultural aspects of Turkish society. These reforms have left a lasting legacy of which the peoples of Turkish heritage are proud: the conversion of the newly founded Republic into today’s modern, democratic and secular Turkish state.
* And I suspect it will be a long time before those Allied powers forgive Turkey for causing them that embarrassment.