Posts filed under ‘Ottoman’

Ankara

The bus to Ankara turned out to be a bit more exciting than we had planned. The driver claimed he didn’t know he had to stop in Ankara on his way to Istanbul, so insisted on passing the exits. After a series of phone calls, and some remarkably polite and persistent intervention from Yekta, we arrived somewhere–anywhere–in Ankara and got off the bus. We managed to find four taxis despite the late hour (1:30 am) and made our way to the dorms at Bilkent University.

When our planned speaker postponed the next morning, I offered the students a day off to explore Ankara. Instead, they wanted to go out to Gordion, a site where UNC Classics Professor Ken Sams leads an excavation. After taxi, dolmus, and bus rides, we found ourselves looking up at a mound that had previously been a city.

I loved Ken Sams’ discussion. We had encountered many guides who provided details about the stones. Ken is a historian. He told us what is known about the people who had lived at Gordion, how we know the things we know about them, and what we don’t know yet. As we stood looking into the stone walls between structures, he told us that the same things had been found in each. These implements provided information on food and textile manufacturing technology, but not why the same things had been found in each room. Archaeologist still don’t know who did the production, and how labor was organized.

Ken explain to us the kinds of things archaeologists can know, what they wish they knew, why they think other kinds of records may no longer exist. And we learned that archaeologists sometimes revise their previous judgements. We visited the tomb of King Midas. Ken explained, though, that new dating suggested that the corpse was Midas’ father, making it still the tomb that Midas built, but not quite, well, the tomb in which he was buried.

Into the Tomb
Into the Tomb

At the small museum next to the excavation, one of the graduate students working at the site explained that the local population had emulated Hellenistic pottery–it was quite the style in some circles. But they didn’t understand some of the Greek pottery’s particular functions, so their imitations are of great interest when analyzing cultural transmission. Ken had talked about the Greeks’ bringing their own languages and customs to Gordion–and to Anatolia generally–but both he and his student emphasized that the local, pre-Greek population remained present throughout the countryside. So what is a “Turk?” It was Phrygians who lived at Gordion–or anyway, it was a Phrygian government who ruled the people. And, it seems, the local population learned from the Greeks, but the Greeks also picked up some of the local customs.

The second Ankara morning was devoted to Atatürk, of course. I got to stay at the dorms with an ill student while William took the students to Anıtkabir, Atatürk’s mausoleum and museum. Their guide was a friend’s father, a retired politician, former cultural minister, and a great admirer of the Founder. After reading of, talking about, and observing the Atatürk cult from afar, the students were able to get right to its center. I am sorry I missed it, but was delighted to hear about what the experience was like for them. (Check out their blogs, links on the right.)

By afternoon, everyone seemed well enough to go to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, where Thomas Zimmermann, archaeologist from Bilkent, talked to us about Turkey’s pre-history. He began outside, talking about the buildings themselves, how the project of taking Ottoman hans and turning them into an archaeological museum was an inherently political project. The goal was to claim a distinctly Turkish past, a past that predated the Ottomans, the Seljuks, and even the Byzantines. It reminded me of the new Lebanese state’s efforts to find its Phoenician past, and the nationalist Egyptians’ attempts to claim Pharonic origin. In this case, the new Turkish nationalists used archaeology to trace a very long historical trajectory, claiming that they descended from the Hattas and the Hittites.

This is an award-winning museum, displayed well and labeled clearly, organized coherently and quite beautifully presented. It creates a linear historical path from pre-historical people to the Turkish present, almost ignoring the Greeks and Romans, who seem to be off limits– invaders instead of true inhabitants of the heartland. I found myself wondering how historians get to choose which groups are authentic and which are outsiders. But in any case, I think the students understand that there is much at stake in the project, more important than memorizing which artifacts go in which era.

Thomas’ fascination with metals was clear–it’s always exciting to have a teacher who is enthusiastic about his work.

July 6, 2008 at 1:31 pm 1 comment

A Four Mosque, Two Museum Day

We met the Fez bus for the ride to Konya. Their staff and the driver agreed to a short stop at the Seljuk mosque in Beyşehir on the way. I got to take the microphone and explain to the students–and the others–why the mosque was important. Eşrefoglu mosque is one of the oldest standing wooden mosques, built around 1229. It also functioned as an observatory, the water in the central courtyard was open to the sky, allowing people to watch the movement of the stars and the moon. Astronomy was important for medieval Muslims, initially to indicate days and times of prayer, but eventually simply as scientific exploration. The mosque’s wooden columns and capitals are beautiful, and the tile is that Seljuk blue so different from the blue of the Blue Mosque and other Ottoman monuments.

We arrived in Konya, called our friend Mehmet (owner of a carpet shop, Ipek Yolu), and he brought his pick-up truck to carry our luggage while the students walked to his shop. After we checked in to the hotel around the corner and had lunch, Mehmet drove us around Konya. He not only sells carpets, but has also worked to reintroduce natural dyes to the local producers. First stop was to the home of one of his weavers, a very experienced woman who has been making kilims for him for decades. Pay is $80/square meter, which provides a significant supplement to the family’s income. We saw her weaving a Navajo kilim–another of Mehmet’s new projects. As those of us who have traveled in the American southwest can attest, Navajo blankets and rugs have gotten quite expensive. Mehmet’s weavers are now producing traditional southwestern patterns for sale in Santa Fe.

Next stop was his own dying shop, where he explained the process by which he has tried to match the colors of antique carpets using plant material. The vats are in a large garage, the dyed wool skeins hanging out to dry in the yard. He showed us a terrific old carpet that desperately needs restoring. He unweaves very old undyed kilims to match the old wool, then dyes them to match the color of the antique carpet. An experienced rug knotter will take his wool and restore the antique.

The students were fascinated with the details of weaving, dying and restoring, but some appreciated even more the drive around Konya’s residential neighborhoods. They noticed that very poor households were located in the same neighborhoods as more affluent families, and they enjoyed chatting with the children and petting the cats.

Our second day was the mosque/museum day. Mehmet’s younger brother Muammer was our guide, as we began a day of the kind of intensive high-cultural tourism we hadn’t done since we left Istanbul. I found myself wondering again what the goal of this kind of day is. Is it just exposure to new kinds of things? Some kind of mosque-appreciation project? Museums can be either hours of discovery or bored slow-paced strolling from cabinet to display to statue.

First, it was a 17th century mosque, like a classical Sinan-style mosque updated to baroque. They made the comparisons, got the differences. Then we went to the tomb and attached mosque of Şemsi Tebrizi. There is some dispute about whether Rumi’s teacher is really buried here, and the circumstances surrounding his death. What is certain, though, is that many people see this as a very holy space. The students were impressed with the intensity of feeling displayed by at least one of the visitors–an intensity that Muammer insisted would not have been approved by Rumi himself.

Our third mosque of the day was the central mosque of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, Alaeddin mosque. It is an odd structure, expanded over time as more and more people had to fit inside. The blue-tiled mihrab is striking, as is the intricately carved minber. Most striking is probably the forest of columns and the apparent lack of planning for the whole structure.

Museum one of the day was full of Seljuk-era wood and stone carving. I knew that Konya was an important city on the old silk road. Nonetheless, I was surprised to see the carvings of lions and elephants, and even more astonished with the Seljuk carving of the Buddha.

How would the Seljuks have know to carve elephants? I tried to take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of this region for international trade. We left the museum and hurried many blocks to the tile museum, but it was closed for lunch, so we decided to do the same.

After lunch was the big event of the day. Mehmet had arranged for a local historian to take us to the Mevlana “museum.” Mevlana is the name by which Turks know the best-selling poet in America, the man we call Rumi. The government of the young Turkish Republic outlawed sufi orders, worried that they might become alternative bases of authority. They have turned Mevlana’s tomb, a site of pilgrimage and devotion, into a museum, but a museum in which half of the people are engrossed in prayer and half file through with little understanding of what the building is about.

William and I had been there before, and were struck once again by the intense religious environment that the government was unable to displace when it turned the site into a museum. The mosque/museum tourism day seemed to rise to a whole new level of ambiguity at Rumi’s tomb–the line between the two genres erased more dramatically than it had been even at Hagia Sophia. The tekke in which new members of the order had studied now contains displays of the ways the young students lived, and the devotional turning ceremony has become folkloric dance. The crowds of visiting Turks were here to make a pilgrimage; the crowds of foreign tourists looked quite silly wearing leapord-spotted wraps to cover their shorts-clad legs. It was an odd combination.

Our guide, the local history teacher, seemed, like everyone else in Konya, to have his own narrative about and relationship to Mevlana (Rumi). He claimed that Şems was not Mevlana’s teacher–apparently, it seemed important to him that Rumi come up with his own ideas without anyone else’s help. Muammer was convinced that Rumi was a rational man who emphasized rational discourse and thought and would have profoundly disapproved of the kind of emotional intensity we had seen in the morning. For the religious, he is a spiritual leader and a lover of God. For the secular, he is a notable reformer. For the outsider, he is the teacher who insisted on including all. The “museum” experience of reading and listening to the significance of each object and the way the building was created seemed to detract from the human experience of just simply noticing the feelings of the place and the way people responded to it.

One more mosque on leaving Mevlana: a 19th century structure with large windows and ornate minarets, a mosque that seemed to emulate Dolmabahçe’s style. Very modern, European. Enough mosques! We had seen an impressive range of dates and styles over the course of the day.

We got cleaned up and went to a “traditional” restaurant serving local foods. We ate sitting on the floor around round trays, having no idea that this was to be good preparation for our next journey, to the village.

(Can’t resist another in the continuing McPhotos series)

July 3, 2008 at 5:05 pm Leave a comment

New Stones and Old Stones: Narrating Turkey’s Past

Yesterday it was Gallipoli, today Troy. The tour of Gallipoli took five hours, a very detailed recounting of landings and trenches, battles and bad judgment, famine and disease. The story was told by our Turkish tour guide with a remarkable focus on the British, Australian, and New Zealand forces that had struggled to take the Dardennelles in 1915. The narrative was about their plans, their decisions, their suffering, even their dead. We visited the Allied landing sites, the Allied cemeteries, the Allied memorials, and heard detailed accounts of annual Anzac Day celebrations.

When I found our guide standing alone at the Australian memorial, I couldn’t wait any longer. How do tour guides portray these events and monuments for Turks? I asked. Bülent, our guide (named after one of the chief leftist politicians of the 60s) insisted that he did not do tours for Turkish groups. I asked about what seemed to be a tremendous emphasis on and respect for Turkey’s enemies. He agreed, mentioning Ataturk’s famous quote now prominently displayed at the site. When I mused about whether Turkey might consider the same sort of memorial to Armenians, he deferred. He focuses on Galipoli, and can’t really contribute to the conversation on Armenians.
Bülent told me that there are different sites emphasized in tours for Turks, and over the past few years various municipalities had begun bringing busloads of religious Turks to Gallipoli for free tours.

Indeed, we saw Turks at only three of the 9 sites we visited. We saw them at the trenches, the tour stop that illustrated quite dramatically the proximity of the two groups of combatants: the trenches were very few meters apart. Our penultimate stop, a memorial to the Turkish dead, was quite crowded with Turkish busses (from Zetinburnu, Kacamustafapasa municipalities). Bülent explained that the government was trying to turn Galipoli into a pilgrimage site, a sacred space, because of the number of Turks who had died during the battles there. Indeed, the place has become an open-air mosque, complete with a fountain in the courtyard and a mihrab inside the inner walls.

Turks were also predominant at the highest site, where Mustafa Keml (Atatürk) had seen the Allied landings and urged his troops to great sacrifice in order to stop it. The Turkish tour guide was speaking to his audience in the shadow of an enormous statue of Atatürk.

In my Modern Middle East lectures, I often present Gallipoli as a prequel, Ataturk’s life before he took off his Ottoman uniform and joined the opposition to the Allies and the Sultan in 1918. According to many of the people we have spoken with, and a fascinating article by Esra Ozyurek, the renewed reification of Ataturk is largely a response to the growing power of Islamist politics. Although the five other fundamental principals of Kemalism may be eroding, secularism seems to be keeping center stage. Too bad I missed the photograph of the two high-school girls wearing the “turban” headscarves so offfensive to the Kemalists. They were leaving the area of the trenches using a Turkish flag as a shawl.

As the Fez bus wound its way from Çanakkale to Selçuk the next day, we stopped for tours of much older stones than those memorializing the World War I dead. First stop, Troy. Our tour guide provided a photo opportunity to see the Trojan Horse that Brad Pitt had touched (!), retold the mythology of the Illiad, and walked us through the myriad levels of “Troy.” He was more than a bit confusing, apparently unable to distinguish between myth and history, or even to comment on the extent to which myth had influenced our perceptions of history.

This was antiquarianism of stones, and some of his explanations seemed most unlikely. The high point of the stop was Zoe climbing the walls of Troy (the Turks don’t keep people off many of the ruins).

From Troy, to Bergama (Pergamum), another set of ruins, this one much more convincing. This was the only female tour guide I have seen in Turkey so far. She did a better job, at least explaining how the city had functioned, and where things were located. She paused for reasonable intervals to let us climb around.

The views were awesome–it is located high on a hill–and the students immediately took to posing. They were particularly delighted with the columns, and decided to retake their “senior pictures” leaning on real pillars instead of the photographers’ substitutes in their home towns.

What had all these to do with “Turkish” identity?  How do today’s Turks incorporate all these stones into their own collective memory?  The only clues we had was a statue defining Homer as an “Anatolian.”

By the time we arrived in Selçuk, I realized that tour guides would not give us what we wanted.  Stones are fascinating, but we wanted to know about who had built and lived in them.

June 28, 2008 at 8:03 am 2 comments

To Eyup

I had never gone all the way up the Golden Horn to Eyup, but knew that would be an important part of our explorations of Turkish culture. I thought a stop at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate on the way, and a walking tour of the old Jewish community area of Balat would be important ways to consider Turkey’s tolerant past. But the day was hot, and the students a bit tired. We had actually hired a guide this time, who took us first to Rustem Paşa mosque, one of my favorites, a small mosque built by the great architect Sinan. It’s hard to find the structure, surrounded as it is by the buildings that have grown up around it.

We decided to take the boat to Fener instead of walking all the way, and when we got to Fener found the Patriarchate closed for cleaning for another hour. We walked up the steep hill to a Greek Orthodox high school, now with dozens instead of hundreds of students.

Back down the hill we visited the Bulgarian Orthodox church, a pre-fabricated structure built in Vienna in the late 19th century and assembled on a site just off the water. After lunch, we returned to view the building housing the Patriarch of Constantinople, a remarkably ornate and guilded structure to which the Patriarch moved in the 17th century. It is a far cry from Aya Sofia, earlier center of Orthodox life before the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

Then we had to decide whether to keep walking (it was getting hotter) or just take the boat to Eyup. Some had had enough monuments (mosques and churches) and wanted to focus on neighborhoods. (Reminded me of a friend’s characterization of the ABC’s of European tourism: Another Bloody Church, Another Bloody Castle.) But Eyup is different.)

We decided to take the ferry all the way to Eyup.

After a gondola ride up the mountain for tea in Pierre Lotti’s café (Freely claims it wasn’t really), we walked to the pilgrimage site. The guidebooks claim Eyup as one of the holiest sites for Muslims, the place where Prophet Muhammad’s standard-bearer Eyup was buried after dying in an unsuccessful effort to take Constantinople in the 7th century. The guide repeated the tour books: an Ottoman religious man dreamed the location of Eyup’s body shortly after the conquest of the city in 1453. As Freely and Sumner-Boyd point out, however, medieval texts describe the site of Eyup’s tomb over the intervening centuries, and the Byzantines had treated the site with respect.  Is the guide’s story an effort to pretend that the Byzantines were not tolerant, or is it a way to show that Muslim mystics have powerful dreams? (A few years ago, we were struck by the Budapest population’s respect for the Ottoman conquerors–clear at their military museum–and that they had maintained and beautified the tomb of Gül Baba, a Muslim religious leader during the Ottoman period. It seems tolerance and intolerance have historically gone both ways in the past, but that present elites seem mostly to emphasize each other’s intolerance.)

The tomb of Eyup is clearly not only a venerated site, but a loved space. People’s devotion was clear in the way they walked into the tomb, touched the screens and the windows that protected both the tomb and a stone with the Prophet’s footprint.  People exited walking backward, women stroked the stones and kissed the screens.  Turkish boys, circumcised as young children, are dressed in distinctive outfits for the day’s celebrations. Many families come to Eyup’s türbe as part of the celebration.  Like us, it seemed, many of the Turkish women were wearing headscarves just for their visit to the tomb.

The difference between the tomb at Eyup and Istanbul’s large, touristic mosques was palpable. This is a place of devotion, in addition to aestetic apreciation. People begin praying outside, hands held open, concentrating. The students asked why the place was so significant.  It is the closest connection possible with the lifetime of Muhammad.  Kevin asked about orthodox Islam’s insistence that there be no intercessor between the person and God–what is this veneration of saints? This is, of course, one of the resons that Salafis (“fundamentalists,” Wahabbis, and others) have, over time, tried to destroy the tombs of important forebears. Great questions, these students have!

June 28, 2008 at 7:02 am Leave a comment

Church to Mosque

After last week, I thought we needed to take things a bit slower. Monday had not been a promising start–we grappled with questions of Turkey, religion, and politics from 10 am until dinner was over nearly 11 hours later.

Tuesday we got to enjoy the final student site presentations. The morning was at Kariye museum, a strangely asymmetrical domed structure with the most remarkable and spectacular mosaics still intact. William and I had gone to the old Byzantine church-turned mosque-turned museum some years ago with our kids and our friend Bob Ousterhout, who had written his dissertation on the structure. He is one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met, and his explanations have stayed with me.


Then it was Kalenderhane, another Byzantine church recreated as a mosque. Both student pairs described the transition, and Zoe actually distributed a page with the basic mosque structures that the students colored while she described the basic needs for the conversion.

All day Wednesday we had conferences to talk about oral history and final projects, and Thursday provided everyone with some work time. Thursday evening was party time! Robin, the wonderful landlord, brought the Efes and some Turkish food, the students provided soft drinks, fruits and vegetables. William grilled, and the Burch students met a group of visiting music students and a number of Robin’s friends. The view, both on and off the terrace, was terrific.

June 19, 2008 at 5:17 am Leave a comment

Experiential Learning

This was the educational philosophy we advocated when I headed UNC’s first year seminar program–that students learn better when through experience and discovery. This week, from Monday’s walking the Byzantine land walls to Friday’s site visit to a hamam, I learned that “experiential learning” really is effective–and, sometimes, a bit awkward.

And exhausting. I’m quite behind in the blog posting because the end of each day has come very late this week, because there is always tomorrow to prepare, because I’m experiencing so much I haven’t time to write about it. The students’ blogs seem a few days behind, too.

Before the week even began, we were scrambling to make the schedule work. Monday’s weather looked like it would be fine and cool, perfect to walk the land walls from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. David made this map. During the Byzantine period, the entire city was surrounded by walls. Many are crumbling now; some are in the process of being restored.

We began at Yedikule, the seven tower structure the Turkish government turned into a park. The views from the top were spectacular, though, an acrophobe since childhood, I only climbed one tower. The students quickly learned that I was very nervous with their energetic wall-scaling. They delighted in seeing me anxiously cover my eyes, and seemed to become more and more outrageous to get the response. They are all adults, I kept reminding myself.

See them up there?

(See them up there?)

The walls go through fascinating areas of the city, cutting through sections tourists don’t see. We wondered why so few tourists walked the walls, and how people who lived along these millenium-old structures perceived them. Many of the neighborhoods we walked through were quite run-down, the people very poor. Some of the unused archways seemed to house the homeless. At the same time, the government seems to be investing large sums in restoring sections of the walls. What do the walls mean? How do the Turks view them? What is it like living in a place with so much history?

They all made it back!All back down safely!

The week seems a blur now. There is so much to see and to do, that we planned things for mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Tuesday we visited an NGO that focuses on women and Islam, and listened to a wise woman answer many questions. I’ve been struck for years that Cemalnur’s answers only seem to make sense some time later. Instead of simple answers about religion and the state, what the NGO does, how sufis are different from other Muslims, she tells stories and suggests parallels. When we returned to Europe, two of the students did the first site project: Sirkeci (the 19th century train station) and the Orient Express it hosted. They spoke of the way the railroad tied Istanbul with western Europe, of the elites that frequented it and the culture they fostered, of the effects of railroads on the Ottoman (and later Turkish) state.

Then most of us went to Tumata to hear Tatar and Uyghur folk music played on remarkable instruments in a musical museum. Like last week, the music gradually became more devotional and the audience more participatory, various students began to figure out how to play the drums that the regulars handed them, and one of the regulars began to turn–the sema.

As we prepared to leave, they insisted we stay for soup, then for dinner, then for the celebration of the birthday of one of the musicians. When I returned upstairs after helping put away dishes, I found all the UNC students up and dancing with the musicians.

Wednesday was museum day, Dolmabahce in the morning, and the Military Museum in the afternoon. Two students took us through the Military Museum, emphasizing how the choices and content of the exhibits reflected the way the Turkish directors wanted their history to be understood. Thursday we visited Bogazici University, where Sevket Pamuk did a remarkable presentation on changes in the Turkish economy over the past century–and hosted us for lunch! The students returned in time for Turkish class. They can put verbs in their sentences now.

Friday morning we sat in the courtyard of the “Blue Mosque” and heard stories about the man who built it, about his life and the issues surrounding his accession to the Ottoman throne, about his goals for the structure and the reason he placed it where he did. Then Gunhan, an Ottoman historian who doubled as a tour guide, took us inside, talked about the tiles and the structures, the arches and the domes. Over lunch, we talked about history writing and national identity, about the challenges of being a historian. Then he took us to neighboring Aya Sofya and did the same thing! We learned about the Emperor who build it, the reasons he needed such a monumental structure, the design and the redesign, the mathematicians who worked out a way to keep such a massive dome from falling. And I learned that it is just as striking to walk into Aya Sofya regardless of how many times one has seen it before. Gunhan was amazing, wearing his tour guide license along with his historian hat. Again I was struck that the “gee whiz” of tourism is a delightful but limited phenomenon. History matters, even (especially?) in the face of spectacular structures.

Two of the students had decided that they would do their site presentation on hamams. After telling us about the origins, economy, and social functions of public baths, we actually did one. Gedikpaşa built his hamam in 1475, making it one of Istanbul’s oldest. It’s a bit rundown at this point, and hasn’t been restored to tourist/spa quality, which is one of the reasons the students wanted us to go there. Countless groups of women have used it over the centuries to wash–and to recreate community. It was amusing to watch that happen, as the UNC women began to splash water around and sing. Needless to say, I’ve no idea how much splashing went on on the men’s side.

June 10, 2008 at 6:19 am 1 comment

Turkish/Art

I’ve often wondered how people teach art. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is overwhelming. They have objects dating back before the building of Bagdad, and the collection is spectacular. I wander from carpet to pot to door to map to miniature, gawking at beautiful colors and complex shapes. I was fascinated watching the others. Some stayed close by Nazende, an art historian from Marmara University, who talked about symbols and techniques. (Muslims are much more symbolic in their art: God is often represented by a tulip, Muhammad by a rose, Ali by a carnation… Iznik potters don’t get the red really right until the sixteenth century…) Others wandered apparently aimlessly, while still others walked through the whole exhibit and sought an exit, air, and less visual stimulation.

We all gradually made our way out onto the terrace, to see a remarkable juxtaposition of famous (fabulous) monuments.

Then we asked Nazende questions. In European art museums, the focus is on paintings. Why are all the objects here useful items instead? We heard about reforming Ottoman elites’ efforts to introduce painting, efforts that were quite unsuccessful. We talked about calligraphy as art, the importance of words in this artistic culture, thinking about Efdal’s demonstration. We talked about values and arts and monuments–is this teaching art?

And then the students had their first formal Turkish lesson. They have obviously been testing out their growing vocabularies as they acquire new phrases, and had been requesting classes since their second day in Istanbul. They were picking things up rapidly, living on the local economy where most people selling to their price range speak no foreign languages. Yekta had done a terrific job as teacher and translator, but they were pushing for more, strongly motivated, it seemed, to be able to really communicate with the Turks they were meeting. Their blogs reflected that strong impulse, so I found a teacher, with Katie’s help. Hande teaches English to adults all day long, but agreed to take on another group. This was the most light-hearted language class I have ever watched.

June 1, 2008 at 6:05 am Leave a comment


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