Turkish Dreams

Turkish Dreams

A green carpet interspersed with lines and patterns made by the hands of destiny, history and human beings, and copper domes which brighten the tops of mosques like devout prayers rising up towards the clouds. That is Turkey, which we began to see from the windows of the aircraft before preparing to land. So what about the features of the picture from the ground in this great country to which we went on the eightieth anniversary of the founding of its Republic?

On the morning of the day when we arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara, we were greeted by a prominent press headline, "Great Turkey!" The brief and puzzling headline was not a comment on the agreement to the country's entry to the European Union, or the repayment of the debts owed by Turkey which exceed US $200 billion, or a reduction in the rate of unemployment, or the recovery of the national currency. Turkey was great simply because its young singer Sertab Irner, with her song With Everything in my Power, had won first place in a European contest for the first time since Turkey began to participate in it 28 years ago.

A young man who was humming the famous song told me that Sertab today was the idol of the masses in Turkey after her success. Before that she had produced five albums of songs. Today Turkish ears turned to listen to the words which Sertab sang in Turkish and English. She was accompanied on the stage in the performance by European dancers with clothes and movements that combined East and West, as if the success of the Turkish song came about through its globalization or its Europeanization. The words are:

I feel you as you set off across a different road

To arrive at the distant coast,

You express your love to me with your eyes

Which turn around to gaze at the empty sky.

I thought that the affair was over

And that we had gone past all that,

But with everything in my power

I will try to make you love me again

With everything in my power

I will give you all my love,

And with everything in my power

I will cry

And die

So that you become mine again.

This song almost represents "the Turkish way of life , she wants to attain her desires by any means, and the new generations must learn the lesson well, those generations which continue her song to life in the streets, dreaming of a better tomorrow, in spite of everything.

The Turks cheat on their livelihood in the morning by having a simple breakfast, which involves eating one delicious hot rusk from those offered by the rusk vendors in the streets of the country. A rusk with sesame, another with cheese, a third without either of them. The manufacturers are expert in preparing them, just as the vendors are expert in displaying them. Rusk selling is a profession as old as the empire (I have seen an authentic picture of a rusk seller in front of the Galata Bridge a hundred years ago or more). With sips of hot tea in a small glass, the morning meal is complete, costing no more than quarter of a million liras.

Do not let the millions of Turkish liras dazzle you in spite of the lira s recovery against international currencies, it is still ailing from its collapse two years ago against the US dollar, when it lost half its value overnight. The dollar now is worth 1,400,000 liras, which makes a visitor to the country a millionaire the moment he enters. Hire of a trolley for luggage in the airport costs nearly two million liras, and the taxi which takes a traveller from the airport to the hotel costs five million. The cost of a Turkish doner kebab sandwich is three million. The cost of the most popular meal, Iskandar, (which is flat loaves of bread and strips of meat, with butter added) varies depending on the restaurants which serve it, and may be up to 15 million liras, only.

Turks may spend their day outside their homes, and not return to them until the evening. They pass the time between studying, work, strolling around and having lunch. There are clean restaurants in every street, and you see a family here, and friends there. At one lunch, eight ladies sat near to us, the youngest of them over 60, in clothes that are no longer distinctive for women here today. They were eating a meal during which they were remembering the dreams of their younger days, their youth and the youth of a Republic that, like them, has become a pensioner. Today it is 80 years old.

The Garden of Stone Trees

In Ankara, the capital of the Republic, the rain gets ahead of us sometimes, and sometimes we get ahead of it. The common proverb here is, do not rely on the weather of Ankara. You will meet the rain at the appointed time and any other time. Maybe for that reason the sidewalks are full of shoe shiners removing its traces. The only thing that will distract you from the water from the sky is looking at the people of this quiet, clean city, who are striving earnestly to get to their places of work, as if the rhythm of the rain were the ticking of a clock which is telling them that life is minutes and seconds. So there they are, with quick and precise steps, in simple clothes and with slim bodies. The day s journey begins early, and does not end until night, when dreams and illusions together seek refuge in their bed, awaiting the winds of change with the sun of the new day.

With this constant movement in Ankara we were looking for something stable, and you only find the stone trees. By this I mean a huge collection of statues, most of them memorials to the founder of the Republic. He is present in every part of Ankara, his picture, his face, his statue, and his words. His imprint is clear from his house to his mausoleum, from the museums of Ankara to its schools. The city is Ataturk s garden, which he crowned as the capital of the Republic in 1923, as a result of the great role which it played in the war of liberation.

In the old Ulus quarter, the Republic Monument catches your attention. At the center of it is its founder Mustafa Kemal riding his horse, while the soldiers around him are celebrating victory. Above their hands, (real) birds of peace hover in the sky of the country. Then you see some of these soldiers and groups of the people in another monument in Guven Parki in Kizilai Square, then the Leader and his workers for the third time in front of a bank in the embassy quarter in a street named after him, Ataturk Boulevard. It is not only his statues that fill the squares and parks. The city, which is regarded as the capital of Turkish classical music, the home of the opera, the center for ballet and modern dancing, the theater and art galleries, honors the stars of its modern culture, and puts their statues, men and women, in public squares also.

What remains of the memories of the first days and years of the Republic you will see distributed between two places, and how different they are! There are pictures and equipment contained in museums like the Liberation War Museum. And when you sit on those small wooden benches there, like the benches of the Freedom School, you recapture the first days of Ataturk in his rise to the seat of power on the ruins of the Ottoman state, with the help of his comrades in the army, whose heirs continue to hold the reins of government in the country. The Liberation War Museum, which overlooks Ulus Square, was regarded as the first parliament in the Republican era, as the army clique sat there planning the future. The second place where you see some of these mementos is in the decoration of some shops. History here means only elegant, unusual, strange decoration, even if there is also some intimacy in it. The market has conveyed to its visitors a feeling of living among the halls of that bygone but close age: magazines, photographs, old canvases, classical musical instruments, a film projector, film posters, a dentist s chair, toys, telephones, printing machines and medals. There was even a real locomotive in a shop which sells sports clothes and children s shoes!

In Ankara there is a huge number of museums of the Republic : the museum of drawing and haykal (haykal means sculpture in Turkish), which contains the masterpieces of modern art. The Republic Museum, which is not far from the Liberation War Museum and occupies the building of the second parliament, contains the documentation of the records of the war and its aftermath. (The massive chains and globes of steel outside it, which separate the building and the street, the parliamentarians and the people of the country, will astonish you). Then there is Ataturk s house, the memorial of his mausoleum, the museum of the poet of the Turkish revolution who wrote the country s national anthem, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, and many museums which tell exhaustively about the achievements of the Republic. The strangest thing that happened to us on our tour of the museums of Ankara was the discovery of the museum of children s toys. We thought it would be easy to get to, but it seemed like an unattainable goal! None of those who had lived in the city all their lives knew where it was, even the only taxi driver who claimed to know it drove us to a huge multi-storey shop which sold toys! Chance led us to ask at the Turkish University about it, to discover that it was confined to two rooms in the Faculty of Law, that visiting it must be by appointment, and that photographing it was forbidden. Our guide was happy because he was the only person in Ankara who knew where the place was.

But Ankara Citadel is a place about which the eye makes no mistake, from the highest point. The castle has had historic additions, from the Romans, the Byzantines and after that the Seljuks. Contrary to the idea that it is recent in origin, Ankara itself was built in the third century BC, when it was known by the name of Ancyra. It was controlled in succession by the Romans and the Byzantines, until the Seljuks captured it in 1073 AD, after they had penetrated Anatolia two years earlier. The elevated city (850 metres) became an important location for military transport. During the Ottoman era it was chosen as one of the most important caravan centers in the movement of trade between East and West, thanks to its location in the middle of Anatolia. The Celtic race were the first to adopt it as a capital in the third century BC. The most modern addition to the Citadel of the city was those ancient houses around its gigantic walls, and some of these have been turned into tourist restaurants which serve local dishes.

On one of the exhausting roads which climb up towards the Citadel sits a lady, in one of the places attached to a small restaurant. With her son she prepared manti pastries, which are flower-shaped pastries with minced meat inside them. Meat is the common factor on the Turkish table. We leave the place after a short conversation with the owner of the restaurant who was waiting for customers. He had turned a corner of the place into a café and an antique shop. We went along parallel to the walls of the Citadel and saw a Turkish family who had turned the place into an open air restaurant for grilled foods. With mumbling sounds similar to a language whose alphabet was smiles, they offered us pieces of chicken and the children posed for photographs. The Citadel was surrounded by natural green flowered carpets. Ankara embodies the dream of Turkey to keep its cities green (the sudden rain washes it even in summer). It is a greenness of which you see that the public parks and the forests are evidence.

The Street Is an Employees Office

All through the day, a Turkish street turns into an office for unofficial employees. Instead of the begging which you see in many cities, and which the strict law here considers a crime, the needy search for conventional professions and others that never occurred to anyone. Ticket sellers for the lottery which sometimes represents a life buoy for a destitute family, rusk sellers who fill the street, newspaper vendors, fresh juice makers, hawkers of corn on the cob roasted or cooked in boiling water, people carrying bouquets of roses, shoe shiners, fortune tellers with palmistry and coffee cups, hawkers of ice cream, musicians, photographers and spectators, too. Turkish women share almost all the professions with men, without exception. Although the hijab headscarf is not widespread, women who wear it also work freely. One of the most important public opinion poll establishments in Turkey (Tarhan Erdem) carried out an opinion poll, and its results found that 75% of those who took part believe that the ban on head coverings should not continue. And 56% of them believed that women government officials should have the right to wear a hijab when taking part in official occasions (compared with 44% who believe the contrary). According to dress laws in Turkey, women are not allowed to wear the hijab in government offices, including the university, but their freedom to wear it in their private lives is guaranteed. In spite of the overwhelming Muslim majority in Turkey, the turban and hijab are regarded as symbols of political Islam, whereas the majority of those who took part in the opinion poll, whose results were published during our visit to the Turkish capital, defined the hijab as merely a head cover which is part of the religion of Islam. All the passers-by hardly pay attention to anyone. They express aspects of Turkish life: order, cleanliness, calm, and wonderful weather, but it is hellfire with regard to prices compared with people s incomes. The only thing that puts out this fire is the Turks' passion for enjoyment, that enjoyment that makes them love music, and be extremely fond of dancing and addicted to football.

If their enjoyment of European football began two years ago when Galata Saray Club won the European Cup, their international enthusiasm was completed when they took the third place for their national team in the World Cup football contest which was held last year. The Turkish teams acquired that European passion for competition and winning. We watched the decisive match in the regular annual championship with hundreds of people in various cafés, to crown the popularity that this art enjoys. All the masses came out in Ankara carrying posters and flags of Besiktas football team. One of the newspapers wrote the following day: A Hundred Percent Hero . The first hundred was a reference to the standard of the team which won the match and the championship a week before it ended, over its rival Galata Saray. The second hundred is an allusion to the age of the team s master sportsman, who had just completed a century that year. We were able to photograph him from one of the skyscrapers which grow more numerous day by day in Istanbul. The streets were filled before and after the match with vendors of souvenirs: hats, flags, footballs, fans, scarves, stickers, balloons and mugs. Even in the bookshops magnificent colored books appeared telling the hundred-year history of the club and its rival (in case Galata Saray won). Fanar Bahsa, the third club in the contest, had to wait for another year in order to win a share of the cake, or not to attain it.

Press Papers

But the greatest concern of the Turkish press is not only art and football. Controversy rages every day on more than one subject, regarding the army s relationship with the government. The pages are filled with opinions about Turkey s relationship with its neighbors. Columns in newspapers devote themselves to commenting on international visits to Turkey and abroad. The speech of Foreign Minister Abdallah Gül to the summit conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference was frank in its expression of the effort of the secular Islamic Turkish state to adopt the thesis of the leaders of the East in confronting the West: The Islamic countries must adopt a new vision, a vision based on honest government, transparency and responsibility which grants basic rights and freedoms, including equality between the two sexes. There is no place for empty rhetoric and deceptive slogans. Gül demanded that the Islamic countries reform their administrations in order to meet modern needs. We must first put our house in order from the inside, and support our aspirations aimed at freedom, peace, welfare and democracy.

In the Turkish press street Hasan Tahrawi, one of the active correspondents, who has lived in Ankara for about twenty years, spoke to us about the scope of freedom in the Turkish press: One must admit that there is this margin, through which the newspapers and other Turkish information media operate, while noting the registration of a large increase in the number of newspapers, magazines and television stations in the last ten years. All of these, of course, appear in Turkish, with the exception of The Turkish Daily News, the only English language daily. In spite of this profusion, they remain confined to domestic affairs rather than being interested in what is going on in the world.

Tahrawi confirmed our observation about the interest in large sized color photographs at the expense of lengthy news and flowing narration, and the use of eye-catching headlines, in response to the demands of the ordinary reader, who shows greater interest in non-political news. The Turkish daily newspapers include Hurriyet, Star, Milliyet, Sabah, Aksam, Radikal, Cumhuriyet and Posta. Hurriyet, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Turkey, has 40 pages, in addition to weekend supplements. The media sector is controlled by large companies, among them Dogan Media, which publishes more than ten newspapers and magazines, as well as having television stations. These are characteristics shared by the press with a secular inclination. The other newspapers, which can be described as Islamically-inclined, like Zaman, Yeni Safak and Milli Girne, devote wider areas of their pages to political, religious and intellectual questions.

This permitted margin of freedom allows for a diversity of published opinions. In Radikal, Murat Yatken writes about the positive results of the meeting of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the Chief of Staff Hilmi Ozkuk, after the Military Council had given the green light to the government regarding several steps which would result in beginning Turkey s entry to the European Union. But Hurriyet mentions the army s wish, which it expressed behind the scenes at the meeting, to keep some of these steps at a minimum. The reference was to permission for television transmission for the Kurds, and the determination of the army to keep the transmission under the auspices of the state television TRT.

Yeni Safak criticizes the deception of the Israeli deal to modernize the F-4s of the Turkish Air Force, and how Turkey is paying $50 million a year for spare parts alone within a project whose total value is $700 million, because of the continuous increase in price which the Israeli manufacturing company is imposing. The most unusual criticisms published were by Milliyet, which published a news item about an aircraft being deliberately delayed until Turkish Finance Minister Abdallah Kemal Onkatan caught it.

We go up near Kizilay Square in the Turkish capital to one of the media companies which owns Cihan News Agency. There Taher Karanfil, the representative of the agency in Ankara who has worked for years as director of its foreign affairs, expressed his wish to open active relations with the Arab arena, which is afraid of dealing with Cihan because it belongs to the conservative religious current. Cihan rents out its studio to record and edit some television messages transmitted by the correspondents of Arab television stations, who increase day by day.

An independent television channel, VLS, is transmitted through Cihan, and the parent organization also publishes Zaman newspaper (the third after Hurriyet and Posta). Aydin Haskebanci, who is responsible for international affairs, told us: Our greatest concern here is the observant family. We are not fanatical, but we are committed. Maybe you notice that in the supplements and weekly and monthly magazines that we publish, like Aksyon and Baylar. It is these which devote their pages to appealing to decent morality and solving family problems. We give subscribers to the newspaper a book every month. It may be a commentary on some religious question, but we have allocated the latest one to the dialogue between civilizations. In Turkey the common concern between East and West is apparent.

While Zaman pays a sum of between $1,000 and $3,000 to its columnists each month, who total about 30 writers, the other newspapers, which make higher profits, pay better sums. Instead of books they give their subscribers specialist literary, artistic or other encyclopedias.

Cultural and artistic activity never stops in the Turkish capital. Plastic art exhibitions, which are sponsored by the municipalities and state establishments and authorities, are also hosted by the private sector. In an exhibition hall owned by one of the banks, I met the plastic artist Kadriye Gudanler who had come from Kutahiye. She is a painter and pottery artist, who inherited years of expertise from her home town, and a woman who conveys her feelings to stone, so that it talks, or almost. In her works is the feminine sense of a woman s independent entity. She was born in 1945. She told me that God s gift to woman was a destiny that gives her distinction, because she is the giver of life and the way to eternity. The value of Kadriye s works varies from fifty million to one billion Turkish liras. She is proud that her teacher was the Iraqi artist Ahmad Al-Najafi. She added to us that she was dedicating her exhibition to the soul of her sister's daughter: If fate is merciful her mother will be granted another life." She speaks about her art like she speaks about herself. An artistic woman has poured her emotions into those statues which she brought from the far south, but they convey human meanings to the whole world, or so she dreams.

We said goodbye to Ankara in the Atakule Restaurant, that commercial center which is regarded as one of the many modern characteristics of the city. On its balcony overlooking the city at a height of 125 metres, we took photographs except from the corner overlooking the President's palace! Inside, the restaurant was going around slowly, while we were examining the pictures, hanging on its fixed wall, of scenes from European countries, and of Turkey among them. It is the dream which began eighty years ago, and the Turks want to wake up to find it has come true, and to see themselves having passed through the gate to the European Union. Do they know the password to get through this gate?

Istanbul the Dream of the Conqueror

Exactly 550 full years after Mehmet the Conqueror had entered it the city received us as it was recollecting its anniversary with joy and pride. We saw on the historic building and the buses driving round the city posters of the Conqueror with his portrait and the number 550, displayed prominently in the exultation of history with what their forbears had done. The newspapers published programs of the celebration of the greatest and most brilliant victory of the East over the West. True, the days of the celebrations begin on 29 May each year, but this year they hardly ended. Five centuries and five decades ago Constantinople the capital of the Byzantines had become the city of Islam, Istanbul, and the capital of the Ottoman Empire, whose borders, some years after that, extended from Baku in the east to Tlemcen and beyond in the west, and from the cities of Poland in the north to Aden in the Arabian Peninsula to the south.

The celebration was to begin early with military bands, which set off from in front of the office of the Governor of Istanbul. One had to visit the Conqueror s tomb on the day of his victory. Then the flags and banners were raised in several squares, accompanied by military marches. Ali Mufit Gurtuna, the Mayor of the city, held a reception party in honor of the Conqueror two days after that. The cultural and artistic activities continued, immortalizing the event which had turned the Ottoman state into a massive empire. We might join some of the musical celebrations by brass and percussion bands with which the square called Ordu Evi Sahasi is crowded. We documented them with a photograph which recalls the uniforms of the legends and the masters of war.

The sundial of history from the first hour indicated the military genius of the commander. From the time that Mehmet the Conqueror, the son of Sultan Murat II, assumed the reins of the Ottoman state in 1451 AD, at the age of 19, he prepared for this day and what followed. He studied the past and was aware of history, and found that he would not succeed in capturing the capital of the Byzantines and controlling their empire without controlling Istanbul harbor. So he began to build Roum Castle.

To look down on it from above, we were accompanied by Dr. Nazih Maarouf, a researcher in the development and arts of Islamic handicrafts and a lover of this unique personality.

From the top of the hill of Ulus (in Istanbul this time), our gaze extended over the green carpet which washes its feet in the waters of the Bosphorus. There, at the narrowest point between the two shores, there appeared to us two towers of Roum Castle (Roumeli Hasari), which Mehmet the Conqueror had built on the European side. It had only taken five months, starting in March and ending in July 1452 AD. The three towers of the castle were 27 metres high, while the hill itself, where the castle was located, was 82 metres above sea level. Its total area was 30,250 square metres, as Dr. Maarouf told us. When we returned our gaze to the opposite side, Anatolia Castle (Anadoli Hasari), which was built by the Conqueror s grandfather Yilderum Bayazit, appeared to us. This completed the pincer of fire from the cannon set up in the towers of the two castles, for any reinforcements whose help the city might seek when it was besieged. The points of the two buildings were geographically connected between the two sides of the narrowest passage in the Bosphorus straits (660 metres only).

Land Ships

The sundial of history moved on, and the Conqueror prepared war materiel that had never been described before: 100,000 soldiers, a massive cannon that required sixty bulls to pull it along, with 400 soldiers spread out along either side of it, a huge mangonel, and four mobile towers. The army occupied the surrounding islands. The cannon was set up only five miles away from the walls of the city. In one night, the Conqueror moved 67 naval vessels across the land areas until they got past the great iron chains which the Byzantine Emperor had placed in the sea to bar the way to the Conqueror s ships, beginning from Dolmabahçe harbor, then Taksim Square, descending to the waters of the bay, in a picture that many an artist has recorded. One of these pictures was found in Dolmabahçe Palace. I stopped for a while in Taksim Square, which also has some imprints from the age of Ataturk. Two trams share the rails with the pigeons, which sometimes fly and sometimes walk until they enter Istiklal Street, on these same rails. The pigeons today are safe, because the Conqueror yesterday bequeathed this sky to them.

The sundial of history reminded me of two things: how the Byzantine Emperor under siege at that time had executed Ottoman prisoners (260 of them), beheading them and throwing their heads from the towers of the city, and how the Conqueror had expressed his Islamic tolerance in an historic declaration known as the Ahitname when he conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina on 28 May 1963 AD. He ordered his forces not to harm Christians, their churches or their property. Dr. Muhammad Harb, in his book Al-Bosna wal-Hersik min al-Fath ila al-Karitha (Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Conquest to the Disaster), narrates how the Conqueror allowed Catholics outside the Ottoman state to come and populate abandoned land. Had it not been for that permission, only Muslims would have remained in the country of the Bosnians.

I recalled that permission and that tolerance when I was going past the churches of Istiklal Street, or those that remained in the old city. With these character traits, the Conqueror became the creator of greatness for Islamic civilization, he conquered two empires, ten countries and 200 cities during the thirty years of his rule which he lived as a fighter. He was also a scholar who knew Arabic, Persian, Latin, Greek and Slavic, and a skilled lawmaker.

The sundial of history points to noon on 29 May 1453 AD. The Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror dismounts from his horse and bows in prayer, thanking Almighty God. He enters Aya Sophia and orders the call to prayer to be made and prayers to be held there, to turn the most famous of churches into Aya Sophia Mosque. We enter the place, which Mustafa Kemal had turned into a museum (so that the Europeans would stop demanding that they should restore the church, as our guide told us, adding that Ataturk had demanded in return the restoration of the mosques of Andalusia). In Aya Sophia, which was undergoing surgical repairs, our eyes looked at the second floor, which is difficult of access. There was a row of columns in a semicircle supporting the left half of the dome on entering the main sanctuary facing the prayer niche. While the tops of the columns are in Byzantine style made from marble and limestone, their vegetal decoration is of gilded and silvered glass mosaic on the neck of the dome fixed above a number of small arches. In order to protect them from cracking, bronze circles have been added to the columns, encircling them at the top and the bottom. The galleries indicate additions by those who came after the Conqueror, like a library here or there.

In Memory of Abu Ayyub

While the 29th siege of the city was the last and most successful one, the sundial of history does not forget to remind us of one of these many Islamic campaigns. It was led by Sufyan Ibn Awf, and penetrated Anatolia as far as the shore of the Sea of Marmara. Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan dispatched it, and supported it with reinforcements led by Yazid Ibn Abi Sufyan. The Prophet s Companion Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari took part in it. In the mosque which bears the name of the distinguished Companion Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari, we watch those who are washing themselves, in the place for ablutions with its marble floor. Together with the large door with a marble arch, it dates back to 1800 AD, when the mosque was reopened for worship in the reign of Sultan Selim III. Some of the seven sycamore trees, which Mehmet the Conqueror had ordered to be planted when he ordered the mosque to be built, were still there. The mosque overlooks the courtyard of the tomb. During my visit I saw how supplications were poured down on the walls, to irrigate one of these massive trees with audible words and moist tears.

The shadows of the sundial of history turn round, showing conquests, prosperity, buildings, arts, commerce, and an uninterrupted link between the different parts of the empire. My steps lead me to one of the gates of the Egyptian Market, which embodies the commercial motion carved out by the ships coming to Istanbul with wares from the seas of the world. I entered from one of the six gates (two of them are main gates, in a market whose main part is L-shaped), and saw a market built entirely of stone. At the crossroads where the two branches of the L meet there is a large dome, where the call to prayer used to be made. The first areas of the market used to be allocated to two commercial courts, one of which settled disputes between traders, whereas the other specialized in settling disputes that arose between traders and their customers. The market used to sell cotton, medicines and everything that came from Egypt, India, Syria and the Arabian Peninsula when it first began, and today it has become the gateway to everything from spices to gold.

This market used to represent a part of the New Mosque Complex, whose construction began in the reign of Mehmet III (1595-1602) and was completed in 1663 AD. The mosque stands proudly near it with its doors in their Gothic arches with tapering curves, its marble with carved ornamentation and interlaced wrought iron decorations, one of the most notable elements in Islamic architecture. The mosque is part of the New Mother Complex whose construction was ordered by the Sultana Ummatallah, mother of the Sultan Ahmet III between 1708 and 1710 AD. The complex includes a mosque, a meeting hall for the Sultan, a fountain, a spring, a cemetery, a room in which official appointments were announced, a boys school, shops and a house for feeding the poor. While the top of Ummatallah s tomb is open for mercy, the columns between the tomb and the fountain are linked by a grid which shows the skill of the craftsmen.

The Carpet of Architectural Art

Beneath the close and distant tent of the sundial of history, we move in the quiet Sea of Marmara from Aya Sophia to Sultan Ahmet s Mosque, and the eye moves from one shore to the other. The first thing to link the two continents was the Galata Bridge (Karakoy) between the areas of Eminonu and Karakoy. It was built of wood in 1845 AD. The wooden beams ran along its middle to divide the crossings in opposite directions, and two sidewalks were allocated for pedestrians at a higher level than the surface of the bridge. The ferry moved with us to the top of the strait, as if we were heading for the Black Sea. There was Ottoman architecture there which looked like islands of art borne of the carpet of water and history. The Nusarteyah Mosque appeared there with two elegant minarets, and this is considered an example of the shift from the Baroque style to the Imperial style of architecture. Beside Dolmabahçe Palace is the Mosque of the Sultan's Mother (Bizim Alem) next to the more famous palace of the same name. Her son Abdulmecit completed the construction of it in 1853 AD. Its decorations are immensely splendid, and open out in the shape of a peacock's tail under the arches which support the dome of the mosque.

The sundial takes me back to the new age, when Istanbul was looking for a different face. The city is proud of its heritage of civilization, its historical legacy and its Islamic inheritance, but it is aware that change is coming, that its hands are stretched out to shake European hands, and that it must leave the glory in the museums and turn its face westwards. It makes it a crime to destroy old houses, but it builds tall skyscrapers, which are considered strange on the city skyline. True, it tries to preserve its customs and traditions, but it is adopting tourism, hotels are multiplying, and transcontinental customs are invading it. It is also hoping to become a piece of Europe. It eats slices of pizza and fast food, the epitome of globalization and modernization, and perhaps even manufactures them for the West! But the sundial of history does not lie, because Istanbul remains the splendor of Eastern cities.

The buses and taxis stand today in the open space which links the shore of the Bosphorus with Taksim Square in front of the Dolmabahçe Palace. It is the place that used to contain the parking space for horse-drawn carriages a hundred years ago, and was then regarded as the ideal place for taking a stroll, particularly in front of its magnificent gate with its splendid ornamentation, whose stone and metal flowers almost turned their faces to greet the sun every morning. But that splendor has come to belong to everybody who buys tickets to look at it, after the heirs of the Conqueror have gone. I search in the corridors of the palaces for what might help one to understand the great change that has grown with the conquests, which reached their furthest extent in 1683 AD, when the glory began to decline and the conquests to turn into defeats. I found what I was looking for in a book translated into English, The Mystery of the Ottoman Harem, written by the former manager of the Ottoman palaces, Ilhan Aksit. Reading this book explains, in an indirect way, how the maggots gnawed away at the bones of the palaces which the young Sultans inherited, so that these palaces were controlled at times by the emotions of women, and at other times by the violent rages of men. Singing girls, who used to come as captives from the cities of the empire or from raids by its pirates and some of them, if they were pleasing, would become Sultanas in the palace were a contributing factor in this change. Yes, perhaps the adoption of the Sultana in the footsteps of the great architect Sinan was what characterized the age. Maybe she followed the footsteps of the nobles, but the small cracks remain in the conspiracies, intrigues and other things the sparks that ignite the blaze of major collapses. It is the fire which broke out in the tree of stability with a history.

The Turkomans Will Return

When talking about stability today, the unstable ethnic groups in Turkey come to mind, in view of the fact that they are the issues of concern in official meetings, and the carrots which the Turks must put in front of the donkey of Nasrettin Hoca Juha in Arabic literature - so that he will go beyond the plateaus of Anatolia to the heights of the Alps. Some of these ethnic groups have left the Byzantine discussions to journalists and politicians, and gone about living their lives as they please. That seems to be a fact when we consider the situation of the Arab Turkomans who come from Iraq, one of these groups, and the internal liberties they have achieved that have not yet been granted officially.

While the Arab Turkomans in the last quarter of the twentieth century emigrated from Iraq to Turkey and Europe, this is regarded as a counter-movement to the migrations which began with colonization by the Turkomans of Iraqi territory in the year 54 AH, when Ubaidallah Ibn Ziyad brought 2,000 Turkomans and settled them in Basra. Their influence grew during the Abbasid era, particularly during the reign of the Caliph Al-Mu'tasim Billah. With the entry of Tughril Beg to Baghdad on 25 January 1055, and the Caliph Al-Qaim Billah's surrender of his powers to him, larger waves of Turkomans began to pour into Iraq. The most important of these was the wave which accompanied the campaign of Sultan Murat IV against Baghdad in 1638 AD, in which he recaptured the city from the Safavids. In the 1957 census, which was published two years after that date, the number of Turkomans in Iraq came to 567,000, nearly ten percent of the total number of inhabitants. On the basis of rates of population growth, their number in 1999 could have reached 2,172,000. But ethnographic studies have adopted only 75% of this figure, because of the aforementioned emigration. In the 1980s a large proportion of Arab Turkomans in Iraq fled to Turkey (through Iran on many occasions), and these people found in Turkey a safe haven through applications for political asylum. Some of them were given residence permits for three months, which were then renewed for six months or converted into a permanent residence permit. The strange thing is that in the same family you find some Turkomans from Iraq who obtained Turkish nationality, or permanent residence, or are waiting for it, and also some who are being pursued by the Ministry of the Interior for violating the laws on residence.

Many Arab Turkomans who came after the war to liberate Kuwait are distributed between Ankara, Istanbul and Bursa. The Turkish laws at present try not to renew any Turkoman residence permit, in order to impel these people to return to their country, after it was felt that granting them Turkish nationality will negatively affect the Turkoman demographic dimension in Iraq, which Turkey wants to continue there. The Arab Turkomans used to keep in contact with their families in Dohuk, Kirkuk and other places after 1991, through European and American companies. Some people there founded communication companies which operated through satellite dishes.

Behind an antique desk on the fifth floor of a building in Kizilay sits the engineer Abdulsalam Ahmad, an Arab Turkoman who came from the Iraqi town of Dohuk. He combines optimism with caution in his conversation, commenting on many questions. I asked him about his return to Iraq, and he replied, How should I return to a country without a master? How will we be safe in a country without a government? The Turkomans suffered because of what happened to them before, and what may happen later. In education, like all the other non-Turkish ethnic groups here, they do not have the right to learn their mother tongues. Although education is compulsory, and it is free with symbolic fees in government schools, the pupils families have to buy the school books. Therefore a large number of the children of Turkoman families cannot continue their education because of their bad economic situation.

Abdallah Bayrakdar, another Turkoman, fled from Iraq two decades ago. He has continued to dream of returning, even as he was building his family and working life successfully in Ankara. When I met him in his shop which sells silverware and precious stones in one of the large commercial complexes in the Turkish capital, he had just returned from Iraq: I was there ten days ago, and it is my dream which has continued to entice me for twenty years, in spite of my stability and success here. But I feel that my roots are there, even if I am compelled to divide my life between the two countries.

We visited him the following day in his beautiful home in Batikent, which is about 80 kilometres away from the capital. We went with his younger brother who only knew a few words of Arabic, and traveled by underground railway and bus. There Abdallah, with great pleasure, showed us the Iraqi souvenirs which he had brought during his visit to his home town a few days earlier: drinking glasses, photographs of his parents, and a vase. While his Turkish wife, whom we did not see and who he prided himself had become Arab in character, prepared us some homemade cakes, his two small daughters came in to take photographs. My son Omar is in school, two minutes away from here, he said, and I am eager for my children to learn Arabic, learn the Holy Quran by heart, and come back to Iraq with me. My two brothers don t want to go back, they only know Turkey as their country.

My discussion with Arab Turkomans continued with one of those who have represented the Iraqi opposition since 1991. He is a member of the Iraqi opposition Co-ordination and Follow-up Committee, and his political activity never jeopardized his success in the field of tourism. The number of Arab Turkomans in Turkey is more than 40,000, Junayd Mango told me, and I think the presence of satellites dishes has solved the problem of how to receive Arabic channels for Arabic speakers in Turkey. With regard to the press, we wish Arabic newspapers would arrive here, even though we have a Turkoman periodical which is published quarterly in Arabic and Turkish.

The magazine to which he was referring and in which he writes is called Karde؛lik. It is cultural, artistic, literary and concerned with the heritage. This year this magazine celebrated its fifth year. The owner of the publishing rights is the Responsible Director Izzeddin Kirkuk, and the Editor-in-Chief is Subhi Saatci. Someone looking at the titles of one of the issues is aware that the concern of the Turkomans in Turkey is to speak about their problems in Iraq: the political course of action of the Turkomans of Iraq, the Turkomans of Iraq and the violation of the principles of human rights, democracy and the national rights of the Turkomans of Iraq, Kirkuk is not Kurdish, etc. Junayd completed his discourse on the situation of the Turkomans in Turkey and the future of the language: I believe now that many of the children of Turkomans, indeed the children of Turks as well, are inclined to learn a second Language. It might be English, or French, or German, perhaps because Turkey s relations with the world are undergoing a great change. Junayd considers it is difficult for the European Union to accept Turkey within its ranks, because that union accepts countries which will dissolve in it, like Bulgaria and Romania. But Turkish influence and the religion of the country are the most important things of which the Europeans are afraid on the Turkish side. Regarding his return to Iraq, he said, We cannot separate ourselves from our country. I will have a residence in Iraq, in Baghdad or Kirkuk. And we hope that the people will achieve their aspirations, to exercise again all their rights and competence, without interference in their affairs. And they must commit themselves to respect the rights of neighbors and restore normal relations with them.

The Turkomans of Iraq set up the Association of Brotherhood and Culture, which includes lawyers, merchants and other professions, to revive and develop Turkoman culture, and to make violations of Turkomans human rights known to public opinion in Turkey and abroad. In the words of their statement, "Our Association, although it is newly established, is deeply rooted in the hearts of our people, deeply rooted historically, because we are based on the true identity of this oppressed people, who have struggled for hundreds of years to preserve it, and have offered the blood of hundreds of their sons in order to remain firm and unshakable with their heads raised high.

Are the Arab Turkomans the only Arabic-speaking group in the Turkish fabric? Of course not. There are Arab immigrants from Arab areas of conflict like Palestine. Many of them here have made their own lives and worked in medicine, journalism and business also. Among the Arabic-speaking Turks I met a number of people from the Iskanderun district, who founded the Antioch Association in the main Istiklal Street in Istanbul. There the revive Arabic sounds through language lessons, and hold Arabic poetry meetings, parties and exhibitions of their paintings and photographs of Antioch, which lies on the River Aasi and looks like a handful of ochards in the rock of the tall mountains.

When we go past the Golden Horn in Istanbul, we remember the pleasures of the Sultans, sitting on the balconies of the palaces, with senior ministers and statesmen around them, watching a troupe of musicians and dancers in the open space of the gardens of Topkapi, assembled for the celebration of the birth of the heir to the throne. The trumpeter, the piper, the drummer, the guitarist, the conjuror, the clown, the tambourine player, the horse dancer, the archer and the Maulavi dervish, where are they now? An artist has recreated such a complete orchestra in a laughing, life-style statue. The artist ?ekib Davaz gave them a form which inspires pleasure. ?ekib is planning to place his statues in a maze-type museum like Juha s house, full of mirrors. We may well discover our defects before we discover those of the clowns. But that bygone party has as its equivalent another party renewed at the end of every week. It is a party for ordinary people, which they hold for new weddings. They accompany the bride and bridegroom to the Wedding Hill in the Asian part of Istanbul, as if out of nostalgia for their roots. On top of a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, the strait, the bridges and the future, the families wish for the happiness of the family of the future. The wedding celebrations of ordinary people have multiplied and remained alive to this day, but the wedding celebrations of the Sultans have moved to the museum.

We came to the Turkish Republic after eighty years had passed since its establishment, with a glittering slogan in mind, and captivating words: Ataturk s dream crosses the Bosphorus. Thus Mustafa Kemal used to dream that progress would grow like oak trees in Turkish soil with its varied topography, and crossing the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Asia from its European sister, continued to represent the direction of progress in the Turkish agenda for eight decades (perhaps for this reason they are planning to construct a tunnel that will represent a fourth road, after the three bridges, between the two continents). When the European Union was founded, Turkey s accession to its bloc of countries became a hope that the politicians would chant, and for which the economists were in a hurry. Everybody in the country wished for it, although nobody whom we met believed the day of that dream was close. Many people were full of doubt, as they saw unemployment was their constant companion, poverty went side by side with them, salaries were not enough for working people, and the economy was waiting for a miracle. European demands grew greater day by day, and were not confined only to internal reforms, but also to Turkey s attitudes towards the whole world. The threshold of the European Union in the Turkish mind became like a gateway to a mirage in the desert of truth. Have the dreams grown old after eighty years?


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


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