Neither earthquakes nor reckless taxi drivers stopped us from enjoying the amazing Republic of Turkey, where my wife and I encountered the friendliest people whom we have ever met. To our Western eyes, Turkey is more exotic than its well-touristed neighbor Greece. We hiked the Kaçkar Mountains, danced with Hemşin and Laz people, drank lots of tea, sailed the Aegean Sea, and witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, all in 6.5 weeks from July 24 to September 9, 1999. A two-week tour package warmed us up for the ensuing month traveling on our own.
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Turkey offers a rich variety for travelers:
- Turkey is a democratic, secular, western-looking, rapidly modernizing, capitalistic, NATO ally of the USA.
- Turkey has the lowest travel costs in Europe.
- Easy, cheap, and comfortable travel on the extensive bus system.
- Travel without a tour package to meet more people, accept generous local hospitality, and experience serendipity.
- High quality gold jewelry costs half of US prices.
- Turkey is safe and has low crime.
- The crime rate in Turkey is lower than in the United States.
- The risk of terrorism for tourists is very low — no more risky than being struck by lightening. (See section on the Kurds.)
- Tourism in Turkey has been hurt by negative press and misperceptions, and resulting empty hotel rooms and uncrowded sights make Turkey very attractive for spontaneous visitors.
- The tragic August 17, 1999 earthquake in İstanbul’s poorly-built suburbs did not damage the airport or any tourist areas. Your chances of experiencing an earthquake are no different than for visiting California.
- Turkey has fresh and tasty food.
- Enjoy fresh peaches, watermelons, böreks, baklava, meatballs, breads, a hundred eggplant dishes, and more.
- Turkey is the world’s biggest producer of hazelnuts, figs, and apricots.
- Turkey is one of only 7 countries in the world that can feed itself without imports.
- Eat döner kebap in the family room of a “self-servis” cafeteria, where the welcome is warm. Döner kebab is a Turkish dish made of meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. The meat may be lamb, mutton, beef, or chicken. Alternative names include kebap, donair, döner, doner or donner. Döner Kebab is the origin of other similar Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma and gyros.
- Turkey offers fascinating historic cities where East meets West. İstanbul makes a fabulous destination for a week or more.
- Turkey offers majestic architecture and ruins from an amazing 9,000 years of Anatolian history.
- The Turks came to Anatolia from Central Asia after 1000 AD (and are not culturally related to Arabs or Persians).
- The sweeping story of Anatolia includes the Hittites, Romans, Saint Paul the Apostle, Süleyman the Magnificent.
- Turkey was the the cradle of Christianity and now hosts popular Christian tours, such as to the birthplaces of Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Nicholas (“Santa Claus” himself).
- Turkey’s geography varies from the warm and beautiful Turquoise Coast, to icy Mount Ararat 16,854 feet (5137 meters).
- Turkey’s people are the friendliest we have ever met:
- Turks actively practice the Muslim value of hospitality towards visitors, and serve you tea in little tulip-shaped glasses at every opportunity.
- When travelling on our own away from the big cosmopolitan cities, local folks often showered us with curious attention, making us feel like rock stars in the spotlight. On six different occasions, locals had us take a group photo to mail to them later.
- The people of Turkey hunger for connection with the world. Most Turks yearn to join the European Union (EU) to trade a remarkable variety of food and industry.
- Advice for women:
- Dress conservatively.
- When entering a mosque, etiquette requires everyone to take off shoes and women to put on a head scarf (bring your own scarf for convenience).
- As a married couple traveling together, we had no problems with unwanted attention, aside from feeling like rock stars pursued by curious fans.
- In smaller towns and rural areas, Carol felt uncomfortable culture shock by noticing mostly men and very few women on the streets. A common Muslim tradition in rural Turkey is for women to stay at home or only go out in groups, conservately dressed, usually with a head scarf. This sex role difference is most pronounced in Turkey away from the cosmopolitan cities. We were relieved to experience an exception in the Kaçkar Mountains, where men and women mixed in a more relaxed fashion and we line-danced with the local Hemşin and Laz people.
- Solo female travelers need to be extra confident in the face of assertive male attention in Turkey, and may enjoy the trip better by traveling with a companion of either sex (or with a group). American movies and TV shows shown worldwide have unfortunately portrayed American and Western World women as having loose morals, which can encourage amorous men.
Mountain weather forecasts for Turkey (Anatolia)
As mountain weather differs from nearby cities, check forecasts for specific peaks or ranges:
Built in 1973, the First Bosporus Bridge connects Europe with Asia and is one of the longest bridges in the world. İstanbul is the world’s only city which spans two continents. 3% of the Republic of Turkey is in Turkish Thrace, in Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, and 97% of Turkey is Anatolia (Asia Minor or Anadolu).
The Bosporus Strait (in Greek Βόσπορος; or “Istanbul Strait” in Turkish: İstanbul Boğazı) separates Europe from Asia and has determined the history of İstanbul and its empires. As the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation, the Bosporus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which is connected by the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea).
History of İstanbul
Culturally speaking, 2700-year old İstanbul (Istanbul) peaked twice: once as the capital of the East Roman Empire, and again as capital of the Ottoman Empire, when it became the biggest and most splendid city in Europe by the 1700s and 1800s. Today, İstanbul’s population is 12 million and growing rapidly. The next largest cities in Turkey are Ankara, the capital (with 3 million people) and İzmir (2.5 million). In 1985, UNESCO listed the “Historic Areas of İstanbul” as a World Heritage Area.
1000 BC to 657 BC
|İstanbul started as a fishing village on the Bosphorus Strait.|
657 BC to 330: Byzantium
|İstanbul was first called Byzantium, a Greek city-state which was later subject to Rome and renamed Augusta Antonina.|
330 to 1453 CE
|Emperor Constantine renamed the city to Constantinople, which served as capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern or Later Roman Empire). Constantine the Great encouraged Christianity for the Empire and became baptized near his death. In the 400s, Emperor Thoeodosius II built the city’s walls, the strongest in Europe, so strong that they blocked the Islamic Arab army assaults of 669-718. Constantinople peaked in the 1100s.|
1453 to 1922 CE
|Islamic conquest: With the help of the world’s largest cannon battering the city’s huge walls, Mehmet the Conqueror captured Constantinople, which then became known as İstanbul, capital of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which achieved its greatest dominance in the 1500s.|
1922 to present
|İstanbul lost some of its luster when the capital of the new Turkish Republic was moved to Ankara, an inland location safer from invasion. But by the mid 1980s, İstanbul regained its international renown as “Capital of the East.”|
Ethnic harmony and conflict
In the İstanbul suburb of Ortaköy, a Jewish synagogue, Islamic mosque, and Christian church have been peaceful neighbors for centuries. After Ottoman Turks conquered the city of Byzantium in 1453 and renamed it İstanbul, the Ottomans’ millet system of distinct religious communities allowed Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Kurds to continue to live in relative harmony for centuries, as they had in Byzantine times. In the 1400s and 1500s, many Jews who fled from the Spanish Inquisition took shelter in Ottoman İstanbul, which welcomed their advanced knowledge of science and economics. In modern times, many of these Jews were attracted to Israel, leaving only 24,000 in Turkey as of 1999. As the Ottoman Empire weakened and ethnic nationalism rose at the turn of the 20th century, Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds yearned to assert their own control over claimed homelands, and they separately fought bitter but unsuccessful battles against the staunch Turks.
Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya Museum)
Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sofia from 532 to 537 AD in Constantinople on the site of a former Hagia Sofia on the acropolis of the former Byzantium. The Greek name Hagia Sofia is Sancta Sophia in Latin, which means “Divine Wisdom.” The 102-foot diameter dome perches an amazing 180 feet above the floor (rivalling the scale of the 144-foot high and wide concrete dome of Rome’s Pantheon, built earlier from 118-125 AD). An earthquake collapsed the dome after only 22 years, and it was rebuilt several times by later Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans. 30 million gold mosaic tiles covered the dome’s interior in Byzantine times. Hagia Sofia reigned as the greatest church in Christendom for nearly 1000 years, until the Islamic conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, after which minarets towers were added. A church with a larger dome, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was not built until 1506. Hagia Sofia served as a mosque from 1453 to 1935, after which Atatürk, the father of the modern Republic of Turkey, declared it a museum. İstanbul’s Hagia Sofia still stands as one of the architectural marvels of the world.
- Visit impressive Sultanahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque), built 1609-1616.
- Architect Sinan built Süleymaniye Imperial Mosque on Golden Horn harbor in İstanbul from 1550-1557. Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife are buried here. In the West, he is known as Suleiman the Magnificent. In the Islamic world, he is known as the Lawgiver (in Turkish “Kanuni”; making his formal Turkish name of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman), because he completely reconstructed the Ottoman legal system.
- Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı in Turkish) is on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait. Dolmabahce served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1922 (except for a twenty-year period 1889-1909 when the Yıldız Palace was used). In style, the palace is baroque, rococo and very French. Dolmabahçe means “filled garden”, referring to the palace being built from 1843-1856 on land reclaimed from the sea.
Turquoise Coast or Turkish Riviera: Ancient Lycia
A nearby goddess sanctuary helped the town of Ephesus (or Efes in Turkish) become a prosperous port and cultural center by 600 BC. At various times, Ephesus was controlled by Lydia (King Croesus), Persians, Hellenists (Ancient Greeks from Athens), and Alexander the Great (334 BC). Eventually Ephesus became capital (population 250,000) of the Roman Province of Asia Minor (ancient Greek Anatolia, or modern Turkish Anadolu). As its port silted and restricted commerce, Ephesus declined from greatness and the city center moved to nearby Selçuk.
The Great Theatre of Ephesus, the largest outdoor theatre in the ancient world, was begun during Hellenistic times (probably during the reign of Lysimachos in the third century BC), and was altered and enlarged from 41-117 AD, by Roman emperors Claudius, Nero, and Trajan. The Greek builders dug out a space from Mount Pion (present-day Panayir Dagi) to fit the 30-meter (100-foot) high theater, which accommodated 25,000 people, or 10 percent of the population of Roman Ephesus at its peak. The theater exhibited the fights of wild beasts and of men with beasts.
Biblical note: Paul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle) stayed 27 months as a missionary in Ephesus. A few years after 51 AD, he delivered a Christian sermon condemning pagan worship in the theater in Ephesus, where local silversmiths feared loss of income from the sale of silver statues (idols) of the goddess Artemis. The resulting mob almost killed Paul (Acts 19:21–41, in the New Testament) and his companions. After that, Paul avoided Ephesus. Paul died about 64-67 AD in Rome during Nero’s Persecution. However, centuries later, the tide turned in favor of Christianity. During the fourth century, Ephesians probably converted to Christianity, as all temples were declared closed by Theodosius I in 391 AD.
Over several centuries, the Cayster River filled the harbor of Ephesus with silt, creating a malaria-infested swamp, pushing the sea 4 kilometers away and cutting off the city’s commerce and wealth. By the 6th century, Emperor Justinian decided to build the Saint John Basilica 3 kilometers away, which effectively moved the city center to Selçuk.
Selçuk: the Temple of Artemis
Just a column in a swamp remains from the Temple of Artemis (Greek: Artemision; Latin: Artemisium; aka the Sanctuary of the “Lady of Ephesus”), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally described by Antipater of Sidon about 140 BC. The large Temple of Artemis (measuring 300 by 150 feet) was finished about 560 BC, after 120 years of construction, started by the notoriously rich Croesus of Lydia on the ruins of a smaller temple designed by Chersiphron. A fame seeker named Herostratus burnt down the Temple in 356 BC. The Ephesians eventually rebuilt a larger structure measuring 425 by 225 feet, four times larger in area than the existing Parthenon of Athens (228 x 101 feet, completed 431 BC). In 262, the Temple of Artemis was razed again, this time by Goths. Ephesians rebuilt again. The third Artemision ended with Christian destruction in 401 by John Chrysostom and a mob. The stones were reused in other buildings — some of the columns in Hagia Sophia originally belonged to the Temple of Artemis.
In Selçuk is the Basilica of St. John (St. Jean Aniti), constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It stands over the believed burial site of St. John, the apostle, evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel) and prophet (author of Revelation). Atop the hill is Selçuk Castle, a Byzantine construction from the 6th century. A nearby domed building is the Isabey Mosque, or Jesus Mosque, built in 1375 at the direction of the Emir of Aydin and using columns and stones recycled from the ruins of Ephesus and the Artemision.
Santa Claus is from Anatolia, not the North Pole.
Saint Nicholas was born in Patara on the Aegean Sea coast of Anatolia. As a Byzantine Christian bishop, Nicholas of Myra anonymously dropped gifts of coins down the chimneys of village girls who lacked dowries, thereby allowing them to marry and probably avoid a life of prostitution. After his death he was declared Saint Nicholas, patron saint of virgins, sailors, children, pawnbrokers, Holy Russia, and others. Saint Nicholas’ town of Myra is now called Demre in Turkey.
The fame of Saint Nicholas grew in different cultures, such as in the Dutch figure of “Sancte Claus”, and in the German legend of Christkindl (the Christ child) who was helped by the elf Belsnickle, imitated by adults in furs who brought gifts. These traditions evolved into Kris Kringle, as defined by Reverend Clement Moore in the famous 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” which starts: ” ‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse… .”
In the Civil War era of the USA, Thomas Nast further solidified the image of Kris Kringle in Harper’s Magazine illustrations of a familiar white-bearded, gleaming-eyed man. Today in Turkey, Saint Nicholas is known as “Noel Baba”, or Father Christmas.
Built before his death in 343 AD, the original Saint Nicholas Church held his remains and was restored as a Byzantine basilica in 1043, and was restored again in 1862 by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and again by Turkish archaeologists. An ancient Greek marble sarcophagus had been reused to bury the Saint; but his bones were stolen in 1087 by merchants from Bari, Italy, where today his remains rest in Basilica of San Nicola. The present day Church of Saint Nicholas is located in modern Demre (ancient Myra), Turkey.
Olimpos (or Olympos)
We anchored our gulets at Phaselis, offshore of Mt. Olympos (2375 meters or 7792 feet elevation, Turkish name Tahtalı Dağı). The area around Phaselis and Olympos Valley was one of the most beautiful on our coastal cruise of southwest Turkey.
A gulet is a two-masted wooden sailing vessel traditionally from the Turkish Riviera (or the Turquoise Coast), and today commonly serves as a tourist charter. This motor sailboat design, varying in size from 14 to 35 metres, is also found throughout the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Most gulets are powered by diesel, and many are not properly rigged for sailing.
Near Phaselis is the ancient city of Olympos (or Olimpos), one of the six leading cities of the Lycian federation (168-178 BCE), located in Olympos Valley, 80 km southwest of Antalya city near the town of Kemer. This coastal peak is the tallest of the several different mountains named Olympos (or Olimpos) in Turkey, but not as tall as the more famous Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in Greece (9,568 feet, or 2918 meters), known to the ancient Greeks as the home of god Zeus. (The highest peak in Turkey is Mount Ararat, an extinct volcano on the eastern border, with a height of 16,854 feet or 5,137 meters, also called Buyuk Agri, meaning “Great Pain” in Turkish.)
Visit the ancient natural gas fires of the Chimaera, a remarkable wonder of the natural world. The Chimaera will spontaneously reignite even after you smother the flames! In ancient times these natural fires burned more vigorously, so bright as to be visible by sailors along the nearby coast. In Greek mythology, the Chimaera was the monstrous son of Typhon, and grandson of Gaia.
Lycian tombs (or necropoli) from about 400 BCE can be seen by boat on the Dalyan Çayı River, above the ancient harbor city of Caunos, on the Turquoise Coast, near the town of Koycegiz, in the Republic of Turkey. Dalyan means “fishing weir” in Turkish. The Dalyan Delta, with a long, golden sandy beach at its mouth, is a nature conservation area and a refuge for sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and blue crabs.
Visit the Greek theatre at the ancient Roman city of Caunos, founded in the 800s BC, becoming a Carian city in 400 BC.
Visit a 6th century Byzantine monastery on Gemile Island.
See a Byzantine castle at Kaleköy, or ancient Simena. Kaleköy can only be reached by sea. Its Byzantine castle was built in the Middle Ages to fight the pirates which nested in nearby Kekova Island. Kaleköy (literally “Castle’s village” in Turkish, called Simena in ancient Lycian) is a popular yachting destination in the Kaş district in the Antalya Province, located between Kaş and Kale on the Mediterranean coast. The village lies amidst a Lycian necropolis, which is partially sunken underwater.
The Taxiarhis Greek Orthodox Christian Church, which dates from the Ottoman era, was abandoned in 1923 in Kayaköy. Kayaköy (Greek: Levissi) is a ghost town near Ölüdeniz, 8 kilometers south of Fethiye in southwestern Turkey, abandoned by Greek Christians in 1923, and today visited by tourists. In the 1700s, Kayaköy was built on the site of the ancient city of Carmylessus (or Karmylassos). In 1900, its population was about 2000, mostly Greek Christians. After the Greco-Turkish War, Kayaköy was mostly abandoned after a population exchange agreement was signed by the Turkish and Greek governments in 1923. Kayaköy may be the inspiration behind “Eskişehir”, the imaginary village chosen by Louis de Bernières as the setting of his 2004 novel “Birds Without Wings”.
Arykanda (Arycanda) is an ancient Lycian city built on five large terraces ascending a mountain slope, near the small village of Aykiriçay, on the Elmalı-Finike road in Antalya province in south western Turkey. While the oldest confirmed artifacts date from the 6th/5th century BC, the settlement of Arykanda may go back as far as the second millennium BC. Arykanda survived through Byzantine times, until the 6th century when the village moved to a new site, called “Arif Settlement” by archeologists, south of the modern road. The Greek style amphitheater at Arycanda was built in Anatolia during the 1st century BC. Twenty rows of seats were divided into seven sections, and holes supported protective awnings at the edge of every row.
Perga or Perge
Walk through a Roman gate to Hellenistic gates, and see Ionic order columns made by Romans at ancient Perge, Turkey. Perga, now commonly spelled “Perge” and pronounced “per-geh”, was the capital of the then Pamphylia region, which is in modern day Antalya province on the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. An acropolis here dates back to the Bronze Age. In the twelfth century BC, Greek tribes migrated from northern Anatola to settle what would become four great cities: Perga, Sillyon, Aspendos and Side. Perga was founded about 1000 BC at a defensive location 20 kilometers inland from the pirate-infested Aegean Sea. In 546 BC, the Achaemenid Persians gained control, followed by Alexander the Great in 333 BC. Then came the diadoch empire of the Seleucids, under whom Perga’s famous mathematician Apollonius lived and worked (about 262 BC to 190 BC). Apollonius was a pupil of Archimedes and wrote eight books describing conic sections (the circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola). Beginning in 188 BC, the Romans ruled and created most of the buildings that survive as ruins today. St. Paul the Apostle briefly “preached the word” here, as mentioned in the Bible (Acts 14:24). Perga lasted until Seljuk times before being abandoned. Perge is in the modern Turkish village of Murtana on the Suridjik sou, a tributary of the Cestrus river, formerly in the Ottoman vilayet of Koniah.
Central Anatolia: Cappadocia
The Persian name “Cappadocia” does not exist on official road maps, but describes one of Turkey’s major tourist destinations, the 100-mile-wide square east of Kayseri, in Central Anatolia. As much as 10 million years ago, three volcanoes covered this area in ash, which hardened into a soft rock called tuff. This volcanic tuff has eroded into fantastic shapes which the Turks call “fairy chimneys.” Cappadocia once included most of central Anatolia (between Ankara and Malatya, between the Black sea and the Taurus Mountains, and centered at Kayseri), and was the center of the Hittite Empire and later a Roman province mentioned in the Bible. For thousands of years, people have carved caves and entire underground cities into the tuff formations. Early Christians thrived here, hid from 7th-century Arab armies, and made unique rock churches carved from tuff, with frescoes added in the 1000s to 1100s. In 1985, UNESCO listed Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia as a World Heritage Area.
Nemrut Dağı (Mount Nimrod)
Pre-Roman, megalomaniac King Antiochus (64-38 BC) cut two ledges on top of 7237-foot high Mount Nemrut in central Anatolia and filled them with impressive statues of gods and himself. Between the ledges, his workers piled crushed rocks into a cone-shaped tumulus 160 feet high and 500 across, burying the tomb of Antiochus and his father Mithridates Callinicus. The small Commagene Kingdom’s greatest days only lasted for the 26-year rule of Antiochus, who was deposed by the Romans. For many years, modern scholars tried in vain to probe the mysterious tumulus, and one scientist died trying to dynamite a tunnel; but finally in 2003, Turkish archaeologist Mahmud Arslan discovered the burial chamber hidden for more than 2000 years. Earthquakes toppled the 6-foot-high stone heads long ago, but the Turkish government may make restorations. UNESCO listed Nemrut Dağı National Park as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Anatolia: Historical claims to fame
Greek Anatolia (meaning “The East”) is what the Romans called Asia Minor, and the Turks now call Anadolu. The Asian peninsula of Anatolia encompasses twice the land area of California, and has hosted the following astounding drama of human history (listed sequentially in time):
- the world’s first city, Çatal Höyük, 7000 BC (Palaeolithic times, the Old Stone Age).
- the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, possible homeland of the Indo-European languageand people.
- the Hittite Empire (mentioned in the Bible), which rivalled ancient Egypt.
- İzmir (ancient Smyrna): Home of Homer (born around 700 BC), founder of western literature.
- Troy: In Homer’s Iliad, Troy was called Ilium, where Paris killed Achilles by a shot in the heel in the Trojan War, about 1250 BC, giving us the expression “Achille’s Heel.” Homer described a Trojan Horse filled with soldiers to crack Troy’s defenses, but the earthquake of 1250 probably did the damage. The Trojan Horse may actually have been built as a “thank you” to Poseidonthe Earth-Shaker.
- two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
- The Mausoleum was the striking tomb of ruler Mausolus of Halicarnassus (or modern Bodrum) who died in 353 BC, giving us the modern term, “mausoleum.” The original Mausoleum was lost to earthquakes and crusaders.
- Temple of Artemis (Anatolian mother goddess) was four times bigger than the Parthenon in Greece, but all that remains today is a stone column in a marsh.
- important Roman sites and some of the most famous Greek (Hellenistic) ruins: Ephesus, Troy, Pergamum, Miletus, Halicarnassus, and others.
- Turkish baths, which evolved from Greek and Roman baths.
- Diogenes, who founded the Cynics (412?-323 BC).
- the first cultivation of cherry trees.
- the inventions of parchment (at Bergamon) and the envelope.
- where Julius Caesar spoke the famous Latin phrase “veni, vidi, vici” or “I came, I saw, I conquered” in 47 BC near Zile & Amasya, after a battle against King Pharnaces II (who was trying to reestablish the Pontic Kingdom of his ancestors by attacking the Roman provinces of Galatia, Armenia, and Cappadocia).
- Anatolia is the cradle of Christianity:
- Urfa (or Şanlıurfa): Possible birthplace of Patriarch Abraham, who first heard God in Harran and ultimately fathered three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- Tarses: Birthplace of the foremost champion of Christianity, Saint Paul the Apostle, who used Roman roads to spread Christianity in Anatolia from the years 45-58 CE.
- Ephesus: where Saint Paul the Apostle preached Christianity for 27 months, and later Saint John took care of Mary, Mother of Jesus, for the last 5 years of her life.
- Antioch (now Antakya, or Hatay): where the term “Christian” was invented, St. Peter preached, and Christian thought thrived from 100 CE until the Arab conquestin the year 642.
- The 7 Churches of the Revelation (of Asia), early centers of Christianity: Ephesus (now Efes), Smyrna (İzmir), Pergamum (Bergama), Sardis (Sart), Philadelphia (Alaşehir), and 2 others.
- Mount Ararat (Arı Dağı): 16,800-foot volcano, highest point in Turkey. Biblical landing place of Noah’s Ark.
- Patara: Birthplace of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus), who was Christian Archbishop of Myra(modern Demre).
- Constantinople (now İstanbul), where
- Constantine the Greatdeclared equal rights for all religions, then elevated Christianity and accepted baptism on his deathbed. Within 20 years, Christianity went from persecuted faith to state religion.
- Emperor Justinian built Hagia Sofia, the greatest church in Christendom for nearly 1000 years and one of the architectural marvels of all time.
- Seljuk Turkish Empire: In the year 1097, Seljuk Turks beat the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert (near Erzurum), founding the Kingdom of Rum. Turkish tribes then settled Anatolia. The Pope called for the First Crusadeto drive out the Muslims, but too late. Famous Seljuks include:
- Omar Kyayyam, poet.
- Aladdin Keykubad, ruler.
- Whirling Dervishes founder Celaleddin Rumi, or Mevlana, the mystic “Shakespeare of Islam,” a Turk writing in Persian and teaching universal love.
- the first known coffeehouses (in 1554 İstanbul).
- the world’s first successful human glider flight, by Hazerfan Ahmet Celebi, launched from İstanbul’s Galata Tower.
Atatürk, “Father of the Turks”
Mustafa Kamal almost single-handedly turned the backward Ottoman Empire into the secular modern Turkish Republic. In thanks, he was proclaimed Atatürk, “Father of the Turks.” Almost every town in Turkey mounts a statue to this national hero. He was born Mustafa, and later nicknamed Kemal (“excellence”) by his math teacher. He earned hero status in his brilliant defense of Gallipoli (in 1915-1916), saving Constantinople from the British.
- Ever since Greek independence in 1831, Greece wanted to reestablish the Byzantine Empire’s boundaries, so they invaded the Ottoman city of İzmir in 1919 with British encouragement. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in defeat, General Mustafa Kamal organized a democratic revolutionary government in Ankara (formerly Angora), and with very limited resources, brilliantly held off invading French, Italian, and Greek armies.
- Detractors:Many Hellenic (Greek), Armenian, and other Christian people revile Atatürk, holding him responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the removal of more than a million Christian people from their ancestral homes in Anatolia. However, responsibility for the huge exchange of Christian and Muslim populations between Turkey and Greece is also shared by the Allies and Greece, who also signed the Second Treaty of Versailles in 1922.
- Sadly, human history repeats an endless round of ethnic conflict (essentially fratricide), where one era’s victims become the next era’s oppressors. For example, in a little-remembered holocaust from 1821 to 1913, more than half a million Muslims were murdered or driven from their homes in the Balkan peninsula and Greece by various Christian groups including Greeks, Bosnian Serbs, Bulgarians, and Russian Cossacks.
- Ironically, a classical hero of Christian and Greek people is Alexander the Great, a Macedonian responsible for pillaging vast areas, and spreading Greek culture along the way. The winners rewrite history. Coincidentally, Mustafa Kamal was also born in Macedonia (in the city of Salonika, which later became Thessaloniki, Greece).
- References: 1) The Washington Post. 2) The Associated Press.
- After the complex task of virtually single-handedly establishing the secular Turkish Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kamal Atatürk lived another 15 years. During this time, as a benevolent dictator, he directed sweeping humanistic reforms on a foundation of Turkish nationalism, including the following:
- adopted a constitution with western-style legal codes, granting women the right to vote and serve parliament (1934).
- abolished polygamy, and required marriage to be a civil ceremony (non-religious).
- abolished the fez hat (symbol of the Ottomans), replacing it with the kasket, a brimmed cap that prevents bowing to the ground, which Atatürk thought demeaning.
- influenced the next leader of Turkey to be neutral in World War II.
- overhauled the Turkish language (which had evolved in the 11th century from the Seljuk Turks who wrote with Arabic script):
- Non-Turkish words (Arab, Persian, etc.) were removed and replaced by Turkish words (originating in central Asia).
- City names were converted to Turkish (Angora toAnkara,Smyrnato İzmir,Constantinopleto İstanbul officially)
- Turks were required to adopt a surname (family name). Up until then, Muslims had only one given name; family names were optional. Parliament proclaimed Mustafa Kamal’s family name to be Atatürk, which means “Father of the Turks.”
- The Arabic alphabet was replaced with a Latin-based alphabet. Several Turkish letters are not found in English, such as: ç ğ ı İ ö ş and ü. (To correctly view the Turkish letters ğ, ı, and İ in your Internet browser, choose View…Character Set or Encoding…Turkish.)Fortunately, Turkish letters are pronounced the same in every word, making words easier to recite aloud from reading (unlike the many inconsistencies of English, where a letter such as “c” can be pronounced “s” or “k” and vowel pronunciations vary with many exceptions).
Turkish grammar is so logical that it forms the basis of Esperanto, an artificial international language. However, word order, verb usage, vowel harmony, and multiple suffixes make Turkish challenging for English speakers. For example, Turkish generally uses the following word order:
- SUBJECT, TIME, PLACE, OBJECT(s), VERB
- for example: “John this evening at his home to me a book gave he.” = “John bu akşam evinde bana bir kitap verdi”
Turkey has about 60 million people, mostly Sunni Muslim Turks. Kurds are the biggest minority in Turkey, numbering 10 million (including 6 million in Eastern Turkey). Like Turks, Kurds in Turkey are virtually all Muslims. However, Kurds maintain their own Kurdish language, culture, and traditions. In search of better wages, 2.3 million people from Turkey live and work in Germany, including one-half million Kurds. On the streets of Erzurum, the biggest city in Eastern Turkey, I met Kurds and Turks who mixed freely as friends, which I take as a positive sign for Turkey’s aspirations towards a pluralistic society more acceptable in the eyes of the European Union and the world.
Kurds, who speak an Indo-European language (Kurdish), are closely related to the Persians, and migrated to Southeast Turkey from northern Europe centuries before Christ. Kurds and Ottoman era Turks coexisted in relative peace for hundreds of years. But since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, in an era of ethnic nationalism, many Kurds in disparate tribes hoped to create a new nation of “Greater Kurdistan,” which would consolidate the Kurdish territories across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. (Note that many of the atrocities that Armenians blame on “Turks” in this era were actually done by Kurds, who historically feuded with Armenians over the same territory around Mount Ararat.)
In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was founded on a policy of ethnic Turk nationalism, which wrongly classified Kurds as “mountain Turks,” who were supposedly “equal citizens” except that the Kurdish language and culture were outlawed.
During the 1980s, a small number of Kurds, mostly from down-trodden under classes, joined the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) out of hunger, desperation, and nothing to lose. PKK was based in neighboring Syria, Iraq, and Iran and secretly supported by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). PKK guerrillas killed thousands of people in Southeast Turkey. The Turkish army responded severely, and 30,000 people from both sides (but mostly Kurds) were killed in the 15-year guerrilla war. In 1988, Iraq killed 5,000 of its native Kurds with poison gas, pushed survivors towards Turkey and brought their plight to the attention of Europe and the USA, who pressured Turkey to become more lenient towards their Kurds.
As of 1999, Turkey officially legalized Kurdish language conversations, songs, and a radio station, but attitudes are still slow to change. Kurdish feudal lords currently have de facto control over Southeast Turkey: 80% of land is owned by 5% of the population, and 50% of the Kurds own no land. The majority of Kurds live in harmony with Turks, but tensions will remain for generations to come as Turkey slowly evolves into a more integrated multicultural nation.
Turkey’s huge Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) helps bring prosperity to Kurds and reduce discontent. GAP projects, such as Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates River, inject money into Kurdish territory and employ 1.8 million people. GAP comprises 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric power plants, and irrigation facilities on the Firat (Euphrates) and Dicle (Tigris) rivers, to be finished by 2005. However, neighboring Syria and Iraq are not happy about GAP because it reduces their water flow.
Recommended books about Turkey
Search for latest “Turkey travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).
- Lonely Planet Turkey 16 (Travel Guide) Paperback – May 17, 2022
- Lonely Planet Istanbul 10 (Travel Guide) Paperback with Folded Map, June 15, 2021
- Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports (Rick Steves Travel Guide) Paperback – 2019
- The Delights of Learning Turkish: A self-study course book for learners of Turkish Kindle Edition
- Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary Turkish (Bilingual dictionary) (Berlitz Phrasebooks) Paperback – 2019
- Rapid Turkish, Volume 1 Audible Logo Audible Audiobook 2011
- Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 28, 2009
- Birds Without Wings (2005) by Louis de Bernières. A humanistic historical fiction novel of the political and personal costs of love and war amongst Christians and Muslims of Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent, during the rise of Atatürk. The ghost town of Kayaköy which we visited on the Turquoise Coast may be the inspiration behind “Eskişehir”, the imaginary village in this novel.
- Ironfire: An Epic Novel of Love and War (2005) by David Ball: Knights of Malta versus the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.