Mount Ararat home to rare species of squirrel

mountAraratMount Ararat, Turkey’s highest mountain, is home to Anatolian ground squirrels and other extraordinary wildlife. 

Various bird species, predators, mammals, reptiles and many rodent species are also living on Mount Ararat. 

Mount Ararat has a snow-capped peak that towers over eastern Turkey, Iran and Armenia. It is where the Bible says Noah landed his ark after the flood. 

Thanks to its flora and fauna dotted on thousands of acres of land, the mountain provides a unique living environment to wild animals, some of which are still unknown to science. 

ararat squirrel

Anatolian ground squirrel

Anatolian ground squirrels, which live in the region but are rarely seen, have been drawing great attention. 

Iğdır Forestry and Water Affairs Director Mete Türkoğlu said, “This species is generally found in the region from the Caucasus to Iraq, Syria and even Palestine. In Turkey, they live across the eastern provinces of Kars, Erzurum, Iğdır and Ağrı as well as in the Central Anatolian region,” he said. 

He said the squirrels had many reasons to choose Mount Ararat and its vicinity. “They generally prefer dry lands; places far from water and moisture, but where people are. The reason why they are seen especially during these months is that they spend half of the year sleeping.

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Tulip Festival kicks off in Istanbul

tulip festivalThe 13th Istanbul Tulip Festival opened on April 3 at the Emirgan Park with the participation of Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin. As part of the festival, the Istanbul Municipality has decorated many parts of the city with tulips. The festival will continue with various events throughout April.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/tulip-festival-kicks-off-in-istanbul-129766

Turkey’s whistled language to get alphabet

Whistled language? What? That’s fairly interesting!

“A group of Turkish academics have launched a project to create an alphabet for the whistled language, which is spoken in northern Turkey’s Black Sea region. Around 10,000 people, mostly in the district of Çanakçı in the Giresun province, currently use and understand the language, according to UNESCO.

whistle languageThe language, Kuşdili (bird language) as locals call it, was listed by UNESCO as being in urgent need of protection last year. It was developed to allow people to communicate across steep mountain valleys but has been dying out, as mobile phones reduce the need for new generations to learn the language.

Prof. Musa Genç, the dean of the Tourism Faculty at Giresun University, told Anadolu Agency the project aims to “pass on this cultural heritage to future generations.”

”To do that, we have formed a working group to create the alphabet of the whistled language,” Genç said.

He said a group of academics, including musicians as well as linguists from Giresun University, will visit Kuşköy village and begin creating the alphabet for the language. According to Genç, records of the language will first be turned into notes and later into letters.

“When the project is finalized, the whistled language, which is used for communication by locals in the region, will become a more common and internationally used language,” he said.

He said the language had been used in Giresun for around 500 years and it was also used in other parts of the world as a communication tool. The human voice can travel up to 500 meters in normal conditions, Genç said, adding that the whistled language allows the voice to reach up to 30 kilometers in good weather conditions.

The practice is one of the dozens of whistled languages used around the world where steep terrain or dense forests make communication difficult over distances, such as North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, the highlands of northern Laos or the Amazon basin in Brazil.

Since 1997, the Bird Language Festival has been held in Kuşköy to promote its use. The district has also provided training programs to primary school pupils for the last three years. However, despite these efforts, UNESCO found that “the whistled language may soon totally disappear unless essential safeguarding measures are undertaken using an integrated approach.”

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

 

Original Hagia Sophia tiles in France

Persepolis_Iran

Ruins of the Achaemenid city Persepolis, Iran

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.

Mokomokai12

A popular conversation piece in 19th century drawingrooms

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. 

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“Identical” ceramic tile panels on the tomb of Sultan Selim II

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!

Archeology in Turkey – There’s no end to it!

Spotted this in our local news today:

Excavations reveal ancient Germanicia

The ancient city of Germanicia, which was discovered 10 years ago in the southern province of Kahramanmaraş, is progressing to become the Ephesus of the region.

germanicia2Located in the Dulkadiroğlu neighborhood, the ancient city was discovered in 2007 during illegal excavations. Registration, expropriation, excavation and preservation works have still been ongoing to uncover the ancient city that covers an area of 140 hectares, including the neighborhoods of Namık Kemal, Şeyhadil, Dulkadiroğlu and Bağlarbaşı.

Social life in the era was featured by mosaics, which covered the floors in the late Roman era. The mosaics uncovered in different spots during excavations carried out by the Kahramanmaraş Museum Directorate, have entered the archaeology literature in the multi-language publication of the World Mosaic Unions and increased the importance of the region.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Seydihan Küçükdağlı said works had been ongoing for almost 10 years in the area. So far, 30 out of 50 parcels of land have been expropriated.

germanicia-antik-kenti-nde-kamulatrlior

And of course, the locals have to move.

“Thirteen parcels of land are in the court process and it will soon be resolved. We want this area to be projected as an archeology park, an open museum. The excavations will continue to reveal the mosaics that have been uncovered in two fields and the current archaeological data we have. Each of these parcels are in a different spot. The ancient city of Germanicia will become the locomotive of Kahramanmaraş tourism once it is completely unearthed,” said Küçükdağlı.

So far, they have completed an excavation area of 3,000 square meters and spent 13 million Turkish Liras in two years, said the director.

Some of the mosaics found in the ancient city of Germanicia have been on display in their original places and some at the museum, according to Kahramanmaraş museum director Ahmet Denizhanoğulları.

germanicia 3Last year’s works unearthed very important ruins of graves and walls, said Denizhanoğulları.

“This year, we continued excavations in a different parcel and found very important mosaics. Germanicia is progressing to become the Ephesus of the region. Once it opens for tourism, this place will change the future of our city. These were the highest quality mosaics in their era. They date back to the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. They feature daily life and hunting animal figures. There is also a place we excavated in 2015. It is most likely a church,” said the director.

Getting back to Istanbul – and the world of Realpolitik

I’m happy to be back in Istanbul after spending most of the summer at our seaside retreat. We were rocked by a moderately disturbing earthquake in Bodrum – but it seems the big city suffered worse damage from torrential rain and a storm of super-sized hailstones. Gentle reminders from Mother Nature about who’s actually in charge on this planet. Anyway, I have to start work again, a necessary evil in order to sustain a lifestyle above subsistence level.

My good lady is still out of town, so, looking for ways to amuse myself in her absence, I headed over to the European side of the city. I was keen to see Taksim Square, Gezi Park and İstiklal Avenue, having heard so much negative comment about their descent into a black hole of fundamentalist Islamic horror.

democracy park

Not easy to get into. Could that be significant?

My first target was Küçükçiftlik Park, which I had seen advertised as venue of the 4th Istanbul Coffee Festival. I passed through tight security before emerging at a ticket booth totally lacking in any kind of queue. On asking the entry price I understood why . . . 35 Turkish Liras! What? Unable to believe what the young lady had said, I asked, “What’s in there? Is it worth it?” I took her momentary hesitation to mean that she herself had doubts, so I headed for the exit. 35 Liras! Last year it had been held in the grounds of Topkapı Palace, and admission was free. So what had changed over twelve months?

While in the vicinity I decided to check out Maçka Democracy Park, a good-sized island of greenery (yes, another one) in the inner city I hadn’t visited in a dog’s age. It was named in happier times when regular military coups ensured the preservation of democracy and secularism, at least for the nation’s ruling elite. It turned out that visiting the park was easier said than done. Clearly much of the lower end has been leased out to whatever private concern is now scalping citizens for entry to the Coffee Festival, and I had to walk a kilometre or so up the hill to find a gate.

Maçka Park has been in the news recently over an event where a couple of scantily clad young women were harangued by a guy who found their short shorts unseemly – giving rise to a series of protest meetings where sisters gathered (in shorts) to assert their rights to expose however much female flesh they thought necessary or desirable. Me? I keep out of such issues. I just try not to ogle too blatantly when vistas of naked leg and cleavage appear before me 😉

Maçka cable car

Maçka park cable car

I was pleased to find that the cable car I remembered from years gone by still crossed the valley from Şişli to Taksim – and more pleased yet to find that the spectacular view over woodland to the Bosporus was less disfigured these days by youthful inscriptions etched into the perspex windows of the carriage.

A short walk brought me to Taksim Square, still a rather barren space despite council claims that they had planted a large number of trees. Gezi Park, location of much political excitement four years ago, is actually a rather more accessible and pleasant spot than in former times. The whole area has been closed to motor traffic which has been diverted underground. An exhibition area hosts thematic displays of handcrafts and the wares of micro-businesses. On this particular day, dozens of stalls were purveying second-hand books, classic movie posters and prints of old Istanbul, and several outdoor cafes offered Turkish coffee brewed slowly, in the traditional way, on glowing charcoal.

Feeling a little hungry, I headed down a back street and found a tasteful little restaurant calling itself “Gezzy” where I enjoyed a most delicious pide, a kind of Turkish pizza with cheddar cheese, tomatoes and green peppers.

From there, I carried on down the road known as Tarlabaşı Boulevard. On the downhill slopes to my right spread the colourful neighbourhood featured in numerous Turkish films about the underground life of gypsy music, prostitution in all its multitudinous guises, and the world of crime in general. I remember, years ago, on first seeing the narrow lanes of rundown Victorian tenements (or whatever the Ottoman equivalent was), wondering when the mixed blessing of gentrification would arrive in an area so close to the beating heart of the metropolis. Well, arrive it has – amid much fanfare, accompanied by somewhat justified wailing and gnashing of teeth.

pera-house-british-consulate-e1463533606658

A green space in central Istanbul – but just try to get in!

I cut back up the hill towards Beyoğlu, passing by the fortress-like walls of the British Consulate. Built in 1845 as an embassy, in ostentatious imperial neo-classical style, adorned with the requisite inscription in Latin and the date in Roman numerals, the enormous edifice provides little in the way of services, to locals or UK citizens. A bombing fourteen years ago that killed a number of Turkish citizens, and accidentally got the Consul-General, led to the building of a defensive wall. Once an important outpost of empire in the Ottoman capital, Pera House these days looks like little more than an expensive anachronism.

The back streets running more or less parallel to İstiklal Avenue, the commercial thoroughfare leading out of Taksim Square, are lined with imposing buildings of similar vintage in various states of decrepitude and restoration: The Pera Palace Hotel, famed for its role in accommodating wealthy travellers disembarked from the Orient Express; the Grand Hotel de Londres, a reminder that French was a more fashionable language than English in those days; the Italianate façade of the Beyoğlu Council building, erected in 1857. These and more recall that for centuries, in Ottoman times, and before, when the city was capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, citizens lived in the ancient city across the Golden Horn. The district known variously as Pera, Galata or Beyoğlu was a satellite town of foreign traders and diplomats.

Most visitors to modern Istanbul take time to visit Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348, and providing panoramic views of the city from its 63-metre viewing deck. In those days, the Genoese and their Venetian neighbours controlled trade in the Mediterranean, and it was their contact with Eastern civilisations that contributed to the Renaissance in Europe. Subsequently their control was challenged and more or less replaced by Ottoman power – which may have been a major motivation for Western Europe to get its political act together in the interests of defence.

old tower

Lesser known tower of Galata – with the Church of Peter and Paul lurking behind

I had thought Galata Tower was the only remnant of the walls that formerly enclosed the enclave of Galata, but as I walked down the hill towards the Golden Horn I came across another tower and section of ancient fortification in a sorry state of decay. Turkey is often accused of failing to protect its rich architectural heritage, but when you get out and wander around the city, or the country as a whole, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ancient churches, castles, mosques, temples, bathhouses, theatres, stadiums, city walls . . . Every day, it seems, some farmer ploughing his field turns up the mosaic floor of an opulent Roman villa. This is world heritage – but mostly Turkey is expected to foot the bill for protection and/or restoration. Just as the Middle East refugee tragedy is a global problem – but largely locals are left to house and feed the displaced homeless.

Behind the decrepit tower I caught a glimpse of a bell tower clearly belonging to a Christian church. I wandered round the block trying to get closer, but it was well protected by the walls of a decaying 18th century inn, and a locked gate. Nevertheless, I did identify it as an Italian Catholic church dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, erected in 1843 to replace a more ancient edifice that had been converted to a mosque in 1475 after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.

In the 19th century, the district of Karaköy, at the foot of the hill below Pera, became a major commercial district where banks and other businesses established their headquarters. I’d heard about Salt, Istanbul, and took a quick look in as I passed by. It’s a kind of research library, museum and exhibition centre housed in what was once the HQ of the Ottoman Bank, established in 1863, according to the BNP Paribas website, “by the Turkish government in partnership with French and British financiers” with the aim of “restoring Turkey’s finances to health and helping to modernise the Ottoman Empire”. Yeah, right! Wonder if the Rothschild family were involved in any way. On the wall inside is another inscription in imperial Latin:Extra fortunam est, quidquid donatur amicis; Quas dederis, selas semper habebis opes.”

Just fishing

Maybe he’s got the best idea. “Leave the wise to wrangle . . .”

My Latin’s a bit rusty these days, but the Internet came up with this translation:

“Who gives to friends so much from Fate secures,
That is the only wealth for ever yours.”

So were those French and British financiers claiming to be friends of the Ottomans? Well, that friendship didn’t turn out so well for the locals in the end, did it! Empires come and go, but leopards don’t change their spots.

There’s more to Turkey than camels and beaches

This article appeared in our English language daily, Hürriyet Daily News the other day:

Turkish cuisine seeks place at the table

In a bid to banish stereotypes of late-night greasy fast food, Turkish chefs are trying to burnish their image by showcasing the culinary riches the country has to offer. A new breed of cooks has shaken up the Istanbul food scene with an innovative approach to Turkish cooking, while others are on a mission to show there is more to the nation’s cuisine than the perhaps notorious döner kebab.

maxresdefault-5For many outside the country, Turkish food brings to mind images of pitta bread stuffed with shavings of meat roasted on a vertical spit, usually consumed after a heavy night of drinking.  The döner was brought to Western Europe by the Turkish diaspora, especially those in Germany where additions like salad and mayonnaise have made it a heavier meal than in Turkey. But did you ever try karnıyarık, a dish of split aubergines with a meat filling, or çılbır, poached eggs in garlic yoghurt? Ever heard of tulum, a traditional cheese ripened in a goat’s skin, or a dessert called cezerye, caramelised carrot with coconut?

“Turkish cuisine is largely known abroad through döner and kebab,” said Defne Ertan Tüysüzoğlu, Turkey director of Le Cordon Bleu, an international culinary academy, which started in Paris and now has campuses all over the world.

“Turkish cuisine is not well known,” agreed Aylin Yazıcıoğlu, executive chef at Istanbul’s Nicole Restaurant. “The food that comes to mind when people talk about Turkey is, unfortunately, all bad examples. We see this changing slowly. We’ll do our best to change it.  At Nicole, diners are offered a multicourse tasting menu of local products aimed at showing off the best that Turkish cuisine has to offer.

“I believe that in a world geared toward the ‘local,’ we’ve started to understand the value of our cuisine. We’ve started to realize the value of our products,” said Yazıcoğlu. “In our country, everything is available throughout the four seasons,” she added.

Turkish food, she said, has much to offer and needs to promote its greatest assets, such as olive oil. But to truly change perceptions, more work is required. “I can say there’s been a movement but it would be very strong to talk about a revolution. The conditions are not yet ripe for a revolution,” she said.

Close to traditional French cuisine 

Arnaud De Clercq, who has taught at the Istanbul branch of Le Cordon Bleu for the past two years and has worked in Michelin star restaurants in France, described Turkish cuisine as “very rustic” with its focus on sauces, ragouts and stews. “It is close to the traditional French cuisine: beef bourguignon, veal blanquette, lamb navarin – all this you can find here, but a bit different,” he said.  He singled out Turkish meze, the selection of small dishes served as an appetizer at the start of a meal.


n_113991_1“When the Ottoman Empire expanded, it also spread its cuisine,” he said. “You can find Turkish meze in all regions, in all countries and each country adapted it to its own taste, like in Lebanon, in Syria or in Jordan.”

Turkish chef Serkan Bozkurt from the Chef’s Table Culinary Academy, an Istanbul-based cooking school, said perceptions about Turkish cuisine were changing. Today, he said, Turkish restaurants and cafes were blossoming in Europe, with chains like the bakery Simit Sarayı and the Kahve Dünyası coffee shop opening up in London and other places.

The somewhat limited perception of Turkish food overseas, the cuisine has a wide variety of regional differences, with specialties from the western Aegean differing sharply from those in the eastern Black Sea region. Antakya in the southeast has a rich culinary heritage inspired by Aleppo in Syria, while specialties on the Black Sea include dishes such as muhlama, an unusual fondue made with corn flour, butter and cheese.

In a huge country, which spans 784,000 square kilometres, an area bigger than Germany, Poland and Austria together, the cooking styles are very varied, from the herbs and vegetables used in the Aegean, to the meat-dominated specialties of the east, Bozkurt said. Its cheeses alone are likely to impress; Turkey has dozens of varieties, which differ sharply from region to region, he said.

“I always say if a week-long cheese tour was organized in Turkey with trips to its seven regions, people would get dizzy! Turkish cuisine is not confined to meat and kebab,” he said.