Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travels to Mesopotamia

As we last left off, we explored the fine city of Diyarbakir. Now, the capital of Kurdistan, or the base of the Kurdish people, Diyarbakir is a truly unique city. I was surprised, as the eastern parts of Turkey seem to have many more churches preserved than western Turkey does. We visited the church of Mar Peytun, built in the 4th or 5th century. With stone floors and a simple square design, this Chaldean Church still functions today. Red clothes with gold crosses decorated the church. Byzantine portraits of the Christ child and the Virgin are hung beside the altar. A miniature sized temple sits atop the red velvety altar, protecting an ancient relic of a saint from long ago. The church, to me seemed like a compilation of numerous styles and ages- like each person from a different century wanted to add a special touch. Blue and yellow checkered drapes next to red and gold drapes, hanging brass lanterns swaying in the breeze, wooden benches and colored fabrics concealing hidden corners of the church. (Pictures to come!)

After viewing this church, we wandered around to several other churches and mosques, taking refuge from the sun throughout the day. One mosque we visited had a beautiful women's section outside with a staircase leading up to the top for a stunning view. The women were praying, some napping, celebrating, and enjoying life. It was beautiful to see a religious place fully utilized not only as a place of prayer, but as a place of community. But my favorite place of all was the old asylum & jail. The remaining buildings of the old jail and asylum still stand, and you can see where the old rooms were- walking through the complex was a bit eerie. It is odd to imagine that a place so beautiful could hold so much pain within its walls. It was a sad realization for me. Directly next to the asylum was an old Zoroastrian temple. The Zoroastrians celebrate the lightness and darkness, and especially fire. It is an ancient religion- and the temple was exquisite. There was an altar in the center for sacrifices and an open roof, exposed to the elements, but also the light and dark of the sky. I am completely intrigued by this religion! Check it out http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/

We headed to the bus station on Sunday night, ready to leave for Hasankeyf, but were distracted along the way. We passed a check point of sorts- but unlike any I'd seen before. Men and women were led through propped up wooden booths. The women's booths covered in black sheets so as to honor privacy and as they excited, they were thoroughly patted down by security guards. Only then were they allowed to cross a bridge, to a destination we couldn't figure out. I couldn't help but wonder what was on the other side, or what necessitated the check point. Earlier in Diyarbakir, near the walls of the old city, around sunset as we were descending the stairs at Keceborcu, a group of what looked like police officers all filed out of cars quickly, each carrying large machine guns, looking like they had a purpose. That was all I needed to scadaddle, quickly. It was the first time in Turkey that I didn't feel safe.

Before I conclude about Diyarbakir, I had to share some culinary higlights with you:

  • Fistikli Kaymak Baklava (a syrupy sweet dessert of baklava filled with pistachio creme) 

  • Fistlki ve Cevizli Kadayif (a thicker, crunchier dessert- tasted like breakfast cereal to me)

  • Menengic coffee (Kurdish coffee, made of wild pistachios and boiled with cardamom and milk 



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diyarbakir, Kurdish Turkey

Day 1 in Diyarbakir: After eating a meal of Kurdish traditional dishes and a semolina helva dessert, we marched through the Diyarbakir streets towards to the far gate of the city to watch the sunset. The huge city wall of Diyarbakir is supposedly the second largest continuous, and ancient wall in the world, second after the Great Wall of China.
the walls of Diyarbakir 
The wall, called Keciborcu (ke-chee-bore-ju), was a nice walk through the center of town towards the outskirts. We watched the pumpkin orange sky fade into shades of purple, the Tigris River to our backs and the call of the muezzin ringing harmoniously throughout the skies. The fortresses surrounding the city still stand proudly, whispering the tales of greatness from centuries past. Amidst the wind and chatter rise voices of Turkish and Kurdish, highlighting the tense politics that seems to simmer quietly in this city of the east. Seeing the bounty of the Tigris in person is like learning world history all over. This is the place where civilization began; the roots of the human race. The same place where another nationality fights for their recognition. A quite contentious issue, it is only in Diyarbakir that I've been able to hear the other side.

Omer, a tour guide at the hostel we stayed at, when we mentioned we were from Duzce said "** etc...fascists!" Clearly taken aback, I simply chose not to respond, honestly knowing quite little about the subject, but simply said, the people in Duzce are very kind and welcoming, which is one-hundred percent true. But even with open hostility, the Kurds prsent a beautiful city aglow with the green lights of the assans, the pounding of drums in the distance and the gentle sounds of wind across the vast plains of Mesopotamia. I feel at home here, it reminds me of a quieter Egypt- a bit grittier, a bit more "eastern," and more flavor. The city is quietly alive with a buzzing passion. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

En Route to Mesopotamia

After a month (and counting) with no computer, I've been itching to return to my blog. Sadly, I have left my devoted readers in the dark lately, with both work and travel piling up exponentially before my eyes. Well, I have much to update. So I promise several gripping tales to come. These past ten days me, my roommate Tas, my site mate Nick and another Fulbrighter, Jenna traveled through ancient Mesopotamia. Basically, this is the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates that stretches from modern day Turkey at its North, down to Israel and Iraq. (See below) So We went from Northern Mesopotamia all the way down to about 2km from the Syrian border, which unfortunately, cannot be crossed at the moment.

For a map of Imperial History of the modern Middle Eastern, this is a great link! http://www.mapsofwar.com/ind/imperial-history.html

Ancient Mesopotamia


Modern Middle East: Apply to Ancient Mesopotamia 

So, the three Duzce Fulbrighters begin our 10 day adventure, determined to see more of this amazing lush country full of hidden history. The anticipation of travelling is always an integral part of the actual trip. As we bus from Duzce to Ankara to finally fly to Diyarbakir, I feel like this trip is symbolic for me-- like a return to the Middle East- the Arab Middle Easter before I back into my masters to study this wonderful region. An ancient understanding of my roots, the place where human civilization truly began- this trip will be epic. 

But before the excitement of what is to come, I turn to the present- which is me, on a bus. I always love early morning bus rides through the mountains. The wet morning mist creeps down the mountain sides, slipping in and out of the nooks and crannies the pine trees conceal.  The fog sits heavily in a white mist highlighting the beauty of the forest colors: deep greens, the springy light green of the foliage and the bright blue shades of the morning sky. The mountains slowly recede into the plains and hills of central Turkey, Anatolia. Electric yellow flowers bloom amongst the dark green grasses still glistening with the morning dew, before the sun can steal it away into its grasp. This simple beauty is what reminds me both of the fragility and the beauty of life. I am cherishing these moments, holding them close, fear the eventuality of these small moments slowly fading away with time. 

Tomorrow, my trip to Diyarbakir. 

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