Hello everyone. Our final days in Turkey were spent in Canakule, in the northwest near Troy and the battlefield of Gallipoli. Unfortunately, we had a seven hour bus ride ahead of us, so we didn’t have time to visit those sites before heading back to Istanbul. We did get to see the Trojan Horse prop from the movie “Troy” though, so we really didn’t need to go to the actual site 🙂
We spent our final day in Turkey back in Istanbul, where we walked along the Bosphorus- the straight that narrowly separates Europe from Asia
We also decided that we couldn’t leave Turkey without seeing the famous “Whirling Dervishes”. This is a religious sect within Islam that has been around for about 800 years. It was banned for a while when the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Ataturk, came into power as it was thought to be a backwards and primitive practice. Since it is so interesting to watch (and has been much more popular than the short lived “completely stationary dervishes”), it has had a resurgence in recent years- particularly as more tourists visit Turkey. I was hoping to see the dervishes on the street, but we had to attend a paid show. The show was in the same train station that that famed “Orient Express” once started from. It was accompanied by live music, and was mesmerizing to watch.
After spending a few weeks in Turkey, we have some final thoughts and observations to share.
Turkey, while Islamic, is undoubtedly the most secular and forward-thinking Islamic nation. They’ve always been at the crossroads of many civilizations, and it shows in their people and their culture. While you hear the call to prayer five times per day, I was surprised that in the whole time we were there, I didn’t see one person stop what they were doing to pray. Surprisingly, women are also not allowed to wear the headscarves when they’re in publicly owned buildings, such as a university or government building, and very few women wore anything that looked like a ninja costume.
One thing that seemed shocking to us was the government control over freedom of speech. We had the dubious honor of visiting the country while there were two controversies with the US. The first was the senate resolution to label the killing of the Armenians almost 100 years ago “genocide”. Many turks were very insulted by this, and said that Americans don’t understand what “really happened”. Unfortunately, they COULD NOT explain it to us as talking about this subject is forbidden! Ironic that it wasn’t genocide, but it is still forbidden to speak of it, eh?
The other controversy had to do with the recent Kurdish attacks near the Iraq border. I didn’t realize it, but over the past 25 years, tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers have been killed in skirmishes with separatist Kurds. These latest attacks have the country in an uproar though. There were demonstrations in every city, and Turkish flags hanging everywhere you looked- similar to all of the US flags you saw after 9/11. While it is a tragedy, I don’t understand why all of a sudden THESE attacks are such a big deal. I think that it is possibly because of the amount of control the government has over the media, and the government wanted to make it a big deal. In fact, the government has a loosely written law that forbids the media from talking about anything having to do with the struggle with the Kurds that could “negatively affect public morale”. Since the definition is so arbitrary, the media can really only report on whatever the government tells them is OK.
I first learned of these limits while reading an editorial in a Turkish English-language newspaper. The rule abridging freedom of speech is an amendment to their constitution called “article 301”. Imagine that- amendments to the constitution designed to limit freedoms. It reminds me of some right-wing amendments being proposed in our country. There are hundreds of people in jail awaiting trial for speaking their mind, and the real conundrum is that people can’t really talk about it.
When we visited the ancient city of Pergamon, we were fortunate to be the only two people on the tour that day. Our guide was a mid-20s woman, so we were able to ask her many questions. I was absolutely shocked to hear that this young woman, wearing western clothing with hair bleached blonde….who thought Turkey should be part of the European Union, thinks Article 301 is a GOOD idea. She thought that if people were free to talk about the banned issues, it could be dangerous. We just didn’t know what to say.
That said, there are really no laws that have a negative impact on the day-to-day lives of visitors. We found the Turks to be some of the most friendly people we’ve encountered, although sometimes the salesmen can be pushy in the touristy areas. They must think that westerners have a terrible floor covering delima! If I ever hear “hey…come into my shop….we have very nice carpets- you can just look” again, it’ll be too soon 🙂
Turkey is also a country with vast amounts of history and archaeological sites, many of which are only recently discovered. The natural beauty here is also impressive. I was surprised that the coasts are actually much less developed than the coasts of the US. Many of the urban areas- especially in tourist towns, are as clean and modern as you’d find anywhere. Many people though are still poor, and some areas look like they’re straight out of the movie “Borat”.
I think it is important to see these areas though, and it gives you a new appreciation for the things we take for granted. Many people are apprehensive about visiting countries that are much poorer or so culturally different, but Turkey really was a very easy country to travel in, and was a great way to “get our feet wet” for the even more exotic places we’ll see in the coming months.