A day for national unity in Turkey

fft99_mf6871574Today, 23 April, was a big day in Turkey, one on which three significant events coincided. These three events represented three major aspects of life in Turkey – the majority religious faith and two other cultural phenomena that bear many characteristics of religion.

First of all, 23 April is the day dedicated to the nation’s children by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic. On that day in 1920 the new Republic’s Grand National Assembly was inaugurated, representing the establishment of national sovereignty in the face of aggression by Western imperialist forces. I am reblogging below a brief article posted on the website of the Turkish Coalition of America.

resimli-mirac-kandili-mesajlariThe night of 23/24 April this year also happens to be Miraç Kandili in the Muslim calendar. There are five of these special holy nights, and Miraç is the one celebrating the ascent of the Prophet Muhammed to heaven.

Finally, bringing together all Turks, secular and religious, and transcending all political boundaries, is the sacred game of football. Tonight two of Istanbul’s greatest clubs, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, faced off in one of the year’s crucial matches. I’m not going to detract from the grandeur of this day by discussing the match or even disclosing the result.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_3k3647qbhqeco88ssg0g0g88k_640The important message for Turks of all political persuasions surely is the need to work together to preserve their national sovereignty in the face of renewed threats from within and without.

“On April 23, Turkish Americans across the United States are celebrating Turkish National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. The day marks the inauguration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) on April 23, 1920, proclaimed in 1929 as a Turkish national holiday dedicated to children.  Every year, April 23 is celebrated in Turkey and Turkish communities abroad with international children’s festivals, in the spirit of world peace and harmony.

“The inauguration of the TGNA on April 23, 1920 was first step toward the creation of the Republic of Turkey, the roots of which were laid during the Turkish National War of Liberation led by Mustafa Kemal – later to be given the name Ataturk (father of Turks).

“The Turkish national liberation struggle began on May 19, 1919 and culminated in the liberation of Anatolia from foreign occupation, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. When the TGNA held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of the Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, patriotic movements began springing up all around Anatolia.

“The occupation of Izmir by invading Greek armies and the atrocities they committed against the Turkish population was the final outrage that sparked a nationwide resistance movement. This resistance soon turned into a war of independence under Mustafa Kemal, a young Ottoman military officer at the time. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolving 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 and was declared as the capital of the new Turkish Republic on October 13, 1923. On the opening day of the Assembly, Mustafa Kemal was elected as its first president. His opening speech includes clues of what he envisioned this Assembly to achieve. Stating that “there will not be any power above the assembly,” Atatürk set the stage for the founding of the Republic of Turkey to replace the Ottoman monarchy. The Assembly, as the representative body of the Turkish people, established a national army and defeated the Allied Powers. Under the visionary leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it created a secular, democratic Republic.”

“Love will save this world”

In my current employment I work weekends, so Thursday and Friday are my days off. In fact I like it this way. Population and vehicle density are so bad in Istanbul these days, you may as well stay home on Saturday and Sunday, unless you want to spend hours snarled up in traffic jams.

dscf0510So I’m happy having my weekend when almost everyone else is working or at school. Today it was really starting to feel like spring. I turned off the heating, opened a couple of windows, then went out for a longish walk.

There’s a pretty park not far from our place, laid out in 1973 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Council workers have been busy planting pansies and tulip bulbs. The tulips won’t bloom for a couple of weeks or so, but, with the sun shining, the rows of yellow,  purple and whie pansies looked great. There were also leaf and blossom buds appearing on some trees, so probably the worst of winter is behind us.

I made a circuit down towards the railway line where progress is continuing on track and stations for the new High Speed Train. Much of the city is under reconstruction these days, it seems – adding to the traffic chaos as truck and trailer units carry away demolition rubble, and concrete mixers and hydraulic pumps shuttle around the building sites.

As I approached the pedestrian overpass crossing the horrendous racetrack linking the coast road with the two main motorways, my eye was caught by a sentence of graffiti crudely painted on one of the steel pillars:

dscf0513“Bu dünyayı sevgi kurtaracak,” it read. And once again I felt happy to be in Turkey. Western graffiti of the artistic or obscene variety has been increasingly in evidence around Istanbul in recent years. Especially during the few months when the so-called “Gezi Park” protests were going on, there was some pretty unpleasant stuff being daubed on walls around town.

This one, however, gave me hope that all is not lost. The anonymous scribe was assuring us that: “Love will save this world.”

Nice to think there are people around who still believe that.

Common rhythms and songs unite Greeks and Turks

n_101555_1I’m passing on this article that appeared in my local English language paper today:

Though often at odds in the past, Greece and Turkey share a bond revealed not only in food or language but also in music celebrated on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

Turks and Greeks have preserved many similarities when it comes to music, from style to instruments and lyrics.

Cooperation between Turkish and Greek singers has been a stalwart and singers and musicians from both countries are known on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

Ömer Faruk Tekbilek, a Turkish multi-instrumentalist and composer who has worked with Greek musicians in the past, performed in Athens in June while a concert on the island of Lesbos showcased dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Konya.        

Asia Minor and Istanbul music – the kind played by motley bands  featuring violins, lyres, and other stringed instruments such as baglamas, outis, saz, santouris, bouzoukis and clarinets – are especially prevalent in both countries. 

“The songs found in both musical traditions mainly come from the region of Marmara and they are popular folk songs with lyrics in both languages, some of which were recorded in Greece from the late 1920s until the Second World War,” according to Nikos Andrikos, from the musicology department of Ionian University and research associate at the Technological Educational Institute of Traditional Music in Arta.

Read the whole article.

Postscript on the Yeldeğirmeni Synagogue

Thanks to Marjorie Searl for a translation of the Hebrew inscription on the Hemdat Israel Synagogue.

“Thanks to crowdsourcing and my friend Miriam… The top two lines are quotes from the Hebrew Bible:

DSCF0078 (1)The top line is Isaiah 56:7 “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Second line is Psalm 118:19 “Open for me the gates of righteousness. I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.” (Translations courtesy of Bible Hub).

The third line says “This building was finished at the end of the month of rachamim” (which could refer to the month of Elul).

The month of Elul in the Hebrew calendar comes right before the Jewish High Holidays; therefore there is much preparation for the repentance involved with those observances. The Hebrew word “rachamim,” the last word in the third line reading from right to left, means mercy…the month of Elul is often referred to as the month of rachamim, or mercy, as the prayers and observances relate to the asking for God’s mercy as we repent and ask forgiveness.

So, it suggests that the synagogue was completed just before the Jewish New Year and High Holidays, which makes sense, as it would be very important to have the first observance in the new synagogue at the time of these important celebrations. It must have been an incredibly festive way to begin the New Year of 1898. Elul is in August/September, depending on the variations of the lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanah  (it means “the head of the year) opens the Jewish New Year and High Holiday observance typically in September; so no doubt the building was done by early September 1898.

So, there you have it! Thank goodness for friends and Facebook! This was fun.”

Given the current state of relations in the Middle East, it’s a little sad to see how closely related the Hebrew and Arabic languages are. I noted in the previous post that the Hebrew letters for ‘Hemdat’ are believed to have been a subtle way of paying thanks to the Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamid II. The Arabic word for ‘mercy’, ‘rahim’, is also used in Turkish, and the month of September is ‘Eylül’.

Proud to be a Turk

But what does it mean?

I’m not a big fan of The Economist, so you may be surprised by my endorsing an article from its pages. Well, credit where credit’s due. This piece appeared earlier this month, and I have to tell you, I think the writer got it pretty right:

multiculturalism-living-with-diversity-in-turkey-10-638

And one or two from New Zealand – making 68!

I AM A Turk, honest and hard-working.” So began the oath of allegiance to their country chanted by generations of schoolchildren before the practice was scrapped three years ago. This proud, flag-waving nation takes it as read that Turkishness goes beyond nationality. But what does it mean to be a Turk? Labels of ethnicity, language, religion and social class overlap in complex patterns. As a result, some citizens consider themselves more Turkish than others.

The modern Turkish republic emerged from a crucible of war, as the waning Ottoman empire between 1908 and 1922 fought in succession against Bulgarian nationalists and Italian colonisers in Libya, then against the British Empire, Russia and Arab nationalists during the first world war, and lastly against Greece. Genocide or not, awful things happened to Anatolia’s Armenians in 1915-17. There were many, and now there are few; nearly all of Turkey’s remaining 50,000 ethnic Armenians live in Istanbul. After the Greco-Turkish war of 1921-22 Turkey lost some 1.5 million Greeks too, in a population exchange that brought half a million ethnic Turks “home” from Greece. More ethnically Turkish or Muslim refugees poured into the new nation, fleeing from Russian revolution or from persecution in the Balkans, the Crimea and the Caucasus.

The young republic was mostly Turkish-speaking and overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Assimilation and urbanisation have made it even more so. Yet Turkey retains more of the ethnic and religious diversity of the Ottoman empire than is generally realised. Some 10m-15m of its citizens are Alevis, adherents to a syncretic offshoot of Shia Islam that is unique to Turkey. Other religious minorities include Jaafari Shia Muslims, Jews, Christians and Yazidis. Among the ethnic minorities, apart from Kurds and Armenians, are large numbers of Arabs, Albanians, Azeris, Bosniaks, Circassians, Georgians, Laz and Roma. Turkey is now also home to well over 2m refugees, mostly from Syria but also from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere.

Turkey's diversity

Missed me again – but I’m here too

In their determined push for modernisation, Ataturk’s followers imposed customs and ways of thought that came easily to sophisticates in Istanbul or Izmir but were resented further east. The superior airs of secular, cosmopolitan Kemalists have rankled ever since, particularly with country folk and with immigrants to the big cities. Some speak half-jokingly of a lingering divide between “white” Turks and “black”, marking the gap between those who cherish Ataturk’s legacy and those who resent it as an imposition.

Mr Erdogan has capitalised brilliantly on the deep grudge felt by “black” Turks. His credentials include his origins as the son of rural immigrants to a tough, working-class part of Istanbul, having worked as a pushcart vendor of simit, Turkey’s sesame-sprinkled progenitor of the bagel, and a pithy, populist style of delivery. On Republic Day last year, which handily fell just before November’s election, he made a speech evoking times when some people celebrated the holiday “with frocks, waltzes and champagne” while others gazed at this scene “half-starved, with no shoes and no jackets to wear”. Now, he concluded, Turkey is united. Even after two decades of such rhetoric, it goes down well with many voters.

Not quite united.

Yet a look at Turkey’s political map suggests a less than complete picture of unity. The half of the electorate that votes for Mr Erdogan does include some minority groups, but mostly represents the narrower, ethnically Turkish and Sunni Muslim mainstream. Of the three rival parties that make up the parliamentary opposition, the Nationalist Movement, or MHP, is also “properly” Turkish but represents the extreme right. Its most distinctive trait is reflexive hostility to all non-Turks, especially Kurds.

The largest opposition party, the CHP, sees itself as the direct heir to Ataturk. Pro-Western and centre-left, it embraces secularists of all stripes and has sought to focus on issues rather than identity politics. Yet to the dismay of its own leadership the CHP’s core constituency, as well as most of its MPs, are Alevis.

The third component of the opposition, the People’s Democratic party, or HDP, is outwardly an alliance of small parties and leftist groups that recently joined forces to cross the 10% threshold for entering parliament. But for all its inclusiveness, most of the HDP’s supporters and candidates are Kurds. Yet to many the problem with the HDP lies not with its ethnic profile but with what they see as its too-cosy relationship with the PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla group that has fought a sporadic insurgency against the state since the 1980s and is officially deemed a terrorist organisation.

Read the whole article.

Istanbul: Turkish cuisine at a crossroads

One for the ‘foodies’. I’m passing this on from Al Jazeera:

Turkish-cuisineWe explore how a new generation is keeping Turkey’s centuries-old culinary traditions alive in a modern world.

Istanbul sits at the point of intersection between Europe and Asia and its food has been heavily influenced by its rich history and traditions: the palace food from the Ottoman times, the Armenian and Greek influences and that from Anatolia.

Although Istanbul is often visited for its past, it’s very much a modern metropolis. In a buzzing city with 14 million inhabitants, the food scene is also booming.

Twenty-five percent of the city’s population is employed one way or another in the food business and many young people are creating opportunities for themselves from its rich gastronomic history.

AJEats finds out how food became such a strong part of the culture, and what the future holds for Istanbul’s food lovers in a world of fast food and mass production.

istiklal2PRESENTER’S VIEW

By Gerald Tan

Turkish cuisine was once described to me as the original fusion food. It instantly made sense. How often do we hear that Turkey’s commercial hub, Istanbul, is the only city occupying two continents, the point where Europe and Asia embrace. It would follow, then, that their culinary influences would be prevalent in Turkey.

Read the whole article