“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

Şeb-i Arus: A Death and a Wedding – Bringing people together

I had to work last Friday afternoon. I wasn’t 100 per cent happy, but I was doing a favour for a young colleague who wanted to swap her afternoon classes for mine in the morning. The reason? She was heading to Konya for the weekend.

42 magic cube

42 – More than just a number

I’ve had occasion to write about Konya before. First and foremost, number plates on the cars of its citizens are prefixed with its administrative number, 42. The mystical significance of that number is strengthened by the city’s history as the home and last resting place of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, the 13th century Sufi philosopher also known as Mevlana or simply Rumi.

Rumi was born in 1207 CE in Khorasan, in present day Afghanistan, but his family moved to Anatolia in 1228 on the invitation of the Seljuk Emperor, Alaeddin Keykübad – the one mentioned in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s ‘Rubaiyat’. Undoubtedly the Seljuks recorded dates using the Islamic lunar calendar, but it has been determined that Rumi passed away on 17 December 1273. Accordingly, a two-week festival is held every year in Konya to mark the event, known as Şeb-i Arus in Turkey.

channel 42

Konya television

The phrase Şeb-i Arus is an interesting mix of Persian and Arabic words meaning ‘Wedding Night’. These two languages bear a similar relationship to modern Turkish as Latin and ancient Greek do to modern English: they were the languages of religion, science, medicine, literature and the arts, and scholarship in general. The founders of the Republic of Turkey, aiming to make a clean break with their Ottoman past, attempted to ‘return’ to a pure Turkish, employing a Latin alphabet. The latter reform was successful (though not everyone was happy) but the former was doomed to failure from the start.

But why ‘Wedding Night’ you may ask. The reason is that, according to the Sufi philosophy, the true life of the spirit begins after the death of the physical body – so that material ‘death’ is in fact a transition to a higher plane of existence whereby the human soul is ‘wedded’ to the ultimate reality.

don't be sad

Grieve not! The thorn in your foot brings news of the rose you were seeking.

Well, not all of us are able to dismiss so lightly the apparent reality of life on Earth. Veil of illusion it may be, but the world of friends, family, study, work, marriage, children, food and shelter, sickness and health, demands our attention – and we ignore its demands at our peril. So what’s a person to do?

Sufism (Tasavvuf in Turkish) is not a sect of Islam – it has been called the inner, mystical dimension of that religion. Its appeal to non-Muslims is its rejection of the dogma associated with orthodox religions. According to the Mevlana website Rumi’s doctrine ‘advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him all religions were more or less truth.’ . . [Like India’s Mahatma Gandhi, he] looked with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike.

sema 2

Sema ceremony

Orthodox Sunni Muslims represent the majority in Turkey, and Sufism is a largely Anatolian phenomenon. Its followers regard it as the purest form of Islam, but most of its sects were outlawed after the foundation of the Republic because they were perceived as politically reactionary. The Mevlevi followers of Rumi, however, were permitted to continue as a kind of living cultural treasure because of their emphasis on the spiritual importance of music, poetry and dance. Interestingly, these are also features of Alevi worship – whose adherents represent a substantial twenty per cent minority in modern Turkey.

Alevism is a heterodox belief system which seems to defy simple definition. Like the Alawites across the border in Syria and elsewhere, they trace their origins back to the disputed question of who would succeed the Prophet Muhammed on his death. They differ from the Alawites, however, in that some of their practices and traditions seem to stem from older Turkish folk beliefs. In this they appear to have something in common with Sufism, though there is no officially recognised connection.

ney

Ney musician in Persian culture

The most obvious identifying feature of Mevlevi worship is Sema – the characteristic ‘whirling’ of devotees accompanied by a chorus of chanting, and the eerie, breathy music of the ney. The dancers wear tall brown felt headgear and white robes that swirl outwards as they spin with one hand turned down to the earth, and the other upwards towards the heavens.

The dance represents a mystical journey of the spirit towards truth and perfection, leaving the ego behind. The dancer returns from this spiritual journey ‘as one who has reached maturity and greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.’ You might think the world could do with more of that!

The ney is reputed to be one of the world’s oldest musical instruments. It is a kind of flute with a recorded history of nearly 5,000 years. It is identified symbolically with the life force, the spirit breathed into earthly creatures by their source and creator (click to hear the sound).

For two weeks every year, a festival is held in Konya,  location of a striking green-tiled tomb housing Mevlana Rumi’s mortal remains. Thousands of visitors, from all over Turkey and further afield, congregate for festivities culminating in the ‘Wedding Night’ on 17 December. This coming Thursday will mark the 742nd anniversary of his death – and Rumi’s words still serve as inspiration for people of all faiths.

opening doors

If every door opened immediately, hope, patience and desire would have no meaning

∞ “My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”

∞ “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames”

∞ “Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged”

∞ “You were born with potential.

You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness.

You were born with wings.

You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.

You have wings.

Learn to use them and fly.” 

Tören

Istanbul concert, December 2015

∞ “I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.

I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.

I entered the mountain cave of Hira and then went as far as Qandhar but God I found not.

With set purpose I fared to the summit of Mount Caucasus and found there only ‘anqa’s habitation.

Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even.

Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not within his range.

I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation only a “two bow-lengths’ distance from him” but God was not there even in that exalted court.

Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.”