“The Resistance”

 

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“Oppression greets us from all angles. Oppression wails from the soldiers radio and floats through tear gas clouds in the air. Oppression explodes with every sound bomb and sinks deeper into the heart of the mother who has lost her son. But resistance is nestled in the cracks in the wall, resistance flows from the minaret five times a day and resistance sits quietly in jail knowing its time will come again. Resistance lives in the grieving mother’s wails and resistance lives in the anger at the lies broadcasted across the globe. Though it is sometimes hard to see and even harder sometimes to harbor, resistance lives. Do not be fooled, resistance lives.”

(Rest in peace and rise in power, Kayla Jean Mueller)

 

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Come As You Are: Mevlana Seb-I Arus 2013

The week leading up to December 17 is known in Konya, Turkey as the Mevlana Festival, in celebration of the ‘urs of Celaladdin Rumi.

Street Art in Downtown Konya

Street Art in Downtown Konya

‘Urs is an Arabic word which can be translated as “wedding day;” in this context it refers to the death anniversary of a Sufi saint, or revered Islamic mystical figure. The symbolism of “’urs” stems from Sufi symbolism in which marriage is akin to union with God following a long and deep relationship in life. In any event, the death anniversary of the mystic and poet known widely in the ‘West’ as Rumi, and in Turkey simply by the honorific Mevlana (sometimes accompanied by the grander honorific Hazreti, a religious title indicating deep respect, commonly used for prophets) is on December 17, and so a group of Fulbrighters traversed to Konya, located in South Central Anatolia, the site of Rumi’s tomb. (* note: generally, saint’s death anniversary’s are celebrated according to the Islamic (lunar) calendar; however, because it’s Turkey, it is always celebrated here on the evening of the 17th.)

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell's billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell’s billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

The journey was rather easy for the K-Town crew- there is a high speed train from Ankara to Konya that only takes a couple hours. We were fortunate enough to stay with a friend of our Fulbrighter cohorts there. While in Konya, I had a series of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, the most random of which being that I met and shared a meal with a Turkish woman (and former Fulbrighter to the states!) named Tess! To say Tess is a rare name in Turkey would be an understatement; hers is actually a nickname for ‘Teslime,’ (pronounced tes-lee-may), a beautiful Turkish name which means something like ‘striving for God.’

Konya had been at the top of my list of destinations in Turkey from the get-go. I read some of Rumi’s poetry and studied his philosophy and tariqat (Sufi brotherhood, the Mevlevi’s) extensively in my Sufism seminar in college.

Quick side note for those reading with an interest in Rumi and Islam: if you can, read the translations done by Jawid Mojaddedi of Rutgers University. Unlike the more widely known Coleman Barks, J.M.’s translations are richly informed by the tradition from which Rumi is writing, and symbolism and allusions are thoroughly researched and annotated (rather than eliminated). What’s more, Prof. Mojaddedi translates from the original Persian into iambic pentameter, which, besides being an incredible linguistic feat, is the closest in English (culture and literature) to the rhyming couplet ‘mesnevi’ (in Arabic, mathnawi) poetic form.

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one of my pictures from the Sema at the Mevlana Cultural Center in Konya

The activities of our trip were centered on the celebrations of the festival (‘urs) and included two major components: visiting what is now the Mevlana Museum and attending a sema, more popularly known outside Turkey as a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

The Mevlevi Order (tariqa) was established in Konya following Rumi’s death by his son, Sultan Walad. Shortly after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk decreed the disbandment of all Sufi (mystical Islamic) orders in Turkey (in 1925). At this point, all Mevlevi tekkes (‘lodges’) were shut down. Many have since been converted into mosques (as I witnessed in Eskisehir), or into museums which are operated by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (as in Galata in Istanbul, or in Gaziantep). The most notable of these museums, of course, is the Mevlevihane and site of Rumi’s tomb (the center of the Mevlevi order) in Konya, now known officially as the Mevlana Museum.
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The Ministry of Tourism and Culture oversees not only the operations of museums dedicated to the ‘formerly’ active Mevlevi order in Turkey, but they also control what are now performances of the Mevlevi Sema (Whirling Dervish ceremony) (performances, as opposed to ritual practice). Starting in 1953, the government began permitting replications of the ceremony for the purposes of tourism, initially only in Konya during the week of celebrations surrounding Rumi’s urs. This has since exploded into a major sector of tourism in Turkey—every guidebook, pamphlet, and website will tell you that seeing one of these ceremonies is a “must-do,” and many people across the globe are able to watch touring troops who perform the ritual. From the website of the order (which continues operations across the globe):

In sum, the sacred whirling prayer ritual of the Mevlevis has been largely taken over by the Turkish Government for the purpose of promoting tourism. The Government has little interest in lifting restrictions on the Mevlevi tradition: all it has wanted from the Mevlevis during past decades is to provide good musicians and whirlers (semazens) for Sema. At the present time, excellent musicians have been trained at schools and universities in Konya to play classical Mevlevi music, and there have been new generations of trained whirlers as well. As a result, there is a smaller percentage of musicians and whirlers who view themselves as Mevlevi (or who have had any additional Mevlevi training) than in the past. This matters little to the Turkish Government, which regards Sema as a form of “traditional Turkish folk dancing.”

Simply put, what tourists witness when they travel to Konya, Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey is not regarded as an authentic ‘sema’ by practicing Mevlevis.

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

The Mevlana Museum is the site of the former the headquarters of the Mevlevi order, and the tomb of Rumi (along with numerous other influential figures, including his father and son, and many others). The museum is a direct conversion and appropriation of the former lodge, as a museum space. The dervishes quarters are repurposed as viewing rooms for artifacts, organized by type or theme (musical instruments of the Mevlevi Order, paper documents, personal effects of Sultan Veled, ceremonial clothing, etc.) as well as a few rooms (as well as the kitchen) which are arranged “as they were” when the Order was legal. These are posed re-enactments, complete with dervish mannequins posed in ‘typical’ behavior misc-en-scenes— frozen in time.

the museum complex

the museum complex

 

Some of the affects of Shams - i- Tabriz

Some of the effects of Shams – i- Tabriz

 

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

 

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

What I’ve described above greatly colored my experience in Konya. Yes, the ceremony was beautiful. The information the museum imparted was thorough and well organized. But (for example) did the ceremony need a state of the art sound system and LED light display?
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What did floating floral images of ebru (the Turkish art form of paper marbling) have to do with the union with God the ceremony represents? I wondered what Sultan Walad would’ve made of the booths full of artwork, jewelry and chotchkies crammed into the Cultural Centre lobby, or the jugs of (alleged) ‘zem-zem’  water available for purchase on the streets of Konya.

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For that matter, I especially wondered what my hundreds of fellow audience members thought of it, particularly those who were moved to tears during the ceremony, those weeping and praying at the site of his tomb, those who’d memorized and cherished the verses of a man who has inspired such a rich (and very much living) tradition….

the entrance to Rumi's tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: "ya Hazreti Mevlana"

the entrance to Rumi’s tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: “ya Hazreti Mevlana”

Did any of that have anything to do with the tomb and ceremony I had traveled and paid money to witness? And I was paying money…

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi's tomb. Out of respect for the museum's regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi’s tomb. Out of respect for the museum’s regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

Postulations about the tension between tradition and modernity are thrown around a lot by scholars in the humanities and social sciences…. My questions following the weekend weren’t quite so black and white. What of spectacle? What of contemplation? What of commercialism, for Christ’s sake?

Many questions from this magnificent weekend persist for me, and I hope to potentially conduct further research to understand the contemporary relationship between the Mevlevi tradition and the Turkish tourism industry. I’ll conclude this post with a short video of a man playing the ney (reed flute, a very special instrument within the tradition) from my visit to the Mevlana Museum, and one of the most famous verses from Rumi’s Mesnevi (taken from The Masnavi: Book One by Jawid Mojaddedi (pg. 4).

Note: The man in the video is a visitor of the museum, not employed or endorsed in any way. In retrospect, this impromptu performance was the most meaningful experience of the entire trip for me. This was not a professional whirler, or a staid and (forgive me) tacky mannequin, but an act of devotion. Disturbingly refreshing, and hauntingly beautiful.

Exordium: the song of the reed (1-4)

Now listen to this reed-flute’s deep lament

About the heartache being apart has meant

‘Since from the reed-bed they uprooted me

My song’s expressed each human’s agony

A breast which separation’s split in two

Is what I seek, to share this pain with you:

When kept from their true origin, all yearn

For union on the day they can return.

 

 

Black, White, and Pistachios All Over: A Weekend in Gaziantep

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I visited some friends in Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey whose population currently includes approximately 1 million Syrian refugees. Though the cities formal name is Gaziantep, the “Gazi” prefix was added to honor veterans of the War of Independence (establishing the Turkish Republic) in 1928. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Trip highlights included :

  • Eating an authentic (Syrian) meal of hummus and falafel
  • Walking through the largest park in Asia Minor, 100 Yil Atatürk Kültür Parkı

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  • Seeing the Kale (castle) which remains standing in the city center; “Thought to have been constructed by the Romans, the citadel was restored by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, and rebuilt extensively by the Seljuks in the 12th and 13th centuries. ” –Lonely Planet

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I spent a long time wandering through the labyrinth of bazaars near the castle. The largest, Bakircilar Çarşişi, includes the Zincirli Bedestem, or Coppersmiths’ Bazaar, and extends into the Elmacı Pazarı, or spice bazaar.

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I also saw a number of mosques from a range of time periods and with a variety of architectural styles. Almost all were done with a distinctive black and white striped brick pattern, often complimented by rose-colored stone, along the facades. Some mosques in the city are also converted cathedrals or churches.

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Two places of worship that I saw had or appeared to have history as sites of tassawuf (Sufism, or mystical Islam. The identity of one was made clear through a descriptive panel at the exterior of the hamam adjacent to the mosque; the other was named for a “pir,” or spiritual guide, and many women appeared to be seeking beraka, or blessing, at the tomb there with their children.

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I visited a former caravanserai which is now a handcrafts museum, with displays and demonstrations of traditional Turkish handicrafts, including ebru, calligraphy, jewelry, costuming (including bridal gowns) etc. Many craft traditions that are specific to Antep were displayed, including Antep-style embroidery, copper metalwork, kuntu and inlaid wooden boxes.

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A Fulbright friend hosted a holiday gathering at his apartment, complete with Thanksgiving decorations, Christmas music playlists, homemade mulled wine and pumpkin bread, and latkes. What fun!

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Antep’s pistachios are world renown, as are its pistachio baklava… Which of course I purchased in mass quantities for my friends and colleagues back in k town.

My trip barely scratched the surface of all Antep has to offer. Allegedly the city is working to brand itself as a place known for its museums, and it’s regrettable that time/my priorities didn’t allow for visits to some of the many museums in the city, including a local culinary museum, a museum dedicated to the Mevlevi order, the Gaziantep and Gaziantep City Museum, an ethnography museum, and the new and famous Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum, home to the famous “gypsy girl,” (which my friend has, I think, aptly described as the Mona Lisa of Turkey),  part of its massive collection of Roman-era mosaics from the area.The rapid creation of the museum is due largely in part to what is known as the GAP project, a government program which led to the damming and flooding of the region from which the mosaics came.

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A replica of the famous gypsy girl, along with other famous Zeugma mosaic replicas one of the symbols of Antep.

Bambaşka Biri

I’ll get back to posting stories and photos from my travels this winter soon, I promise! I’ve been having some issues trying to figure out cost-effective video sharing on WordPress, and so I’ll be launching a new YouTube channel that’s specifically devoted to videos from my travels across the region. In the meantime, I wanted to share this video clip, filmed by Sophia Yapalater and her i Phone (thanks girl!) at the Turkish Fulbright Commission’s ETA Mid Year Meeting Talent Show.

Bambaşka Biri is a very well known and loved Turkish cover of Gloria Gaynor’s classic “I Will Survive,” popularized by Ajda Pekkan, with many others covering the hit as well. The members of the K-Town crew thought our collective experiences in theater and show choir should come in handy during our year here, so we choreographed and buffed up this little number for our friends. Hope you enjoy!

Do Ebru

In Eskisehir

In Eskisehir

While visiting the caravanserai of Silahatar Mustafa Paşa Hanı in Battalgazi, Malatya, I was privy to an intimate and impromptu demonstration of the classical Turkish art form known as ebru (sometimes known as water painting or marbling). The oldest determinable ebru works date from the early to mid-1500s; traditionally ebru was used as the media for calligraphy, though many styles and forms now exist. 

The tools used in ebru are highly specific to the craft, including

  • Specially-designed horse hair or rose stalk brushes, whose stiff bristles are ideal for the flicking method at the heart of the craft;
  •  a viscous substance, traditionally made from gum tragacanth, though many other contemporary options, like Irish moss, are used (henceforth referred to as “the sticky stuff;”
  • “paint” comprised of aqueous natural pigments, which are mixed with;
  • ox-gall (used as something of a paint thinner);
  • Special paper;
  • Various metal tools used in the post-paint application phase

The artist begins with a clean rectangular tray of the sticky stuff:
IMG_1339 A variety of colors can be used. Paint is applied through a highly controlled flicking motion, in which a small amount of thin paint is put on the horse-bristle brushes, which are then rapidly tapped along the hand of the painter, as shown. IMG_1342 IMG_1343 They were way ahead of Jackson Pollack on this, by the way. Various colors are applied in succession. As the paint hits the “goo” it dissipates within it, creating concentric clouds of color which interact but retain the general shape and location to where they were applied (flicked, spattered). IMG_1345 IMG_1346 Once all of the colors have been applied to the goo in this way, the artist uses a fine metal tool, almost like something you’d see at the dentist’s office, to alter the paint’s dissipation. Cutting through the goo in a relatively slow, careful manner, they create a series of parallel lines, first horizontally, and then vertically. Doing so alters the form of what were previously clouds or bubbles of color into a more geometric [read: psychedelic] pattern.IMG_1347 IMG_1350 After this step, a fine metal comb which fits the pan is quickly and smoothly (to prevent air bubbles or other distortions of the pattern) run through the goo, further altering the swirling painted pattern.

Next, the special absorbent paper is carefully and, again, quickly, placed on top of the goo, and another metal dentist-like utensil is lightly run over it to remove any air bubbles and ensure even application. Next, the edges of the paper are delicately lifted, and dragged across the lid of the pan. In this process, all of the paint, which in procedure appeared to be clouded deep within the goo, is directly applied to the paper, with little to no residue in the pan of goo. IMG_1351 IMG_1352 Amazing.

Many other, more detailed manipulations of the paint can result in images of objects, such as the popular floral ebru, which today is perhaps the most common style/form.

contemporary commercialized iterations of ebru: on leaves which are laminated and sold to tourists (in Eskisehir)

contemporary commercialized iterations of ebru: on leaves and magnets which are laminated and sold to tourists (in Eskisehir)

 

One of my fellow Fulbrighters seized the opportunity to give it a try for himself, and they even whipped out a beautiful blue paint for him to use. The results are gorgeous!

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Artwork, Adıyaman, Antiochus, and Apricots

Over the first weekend in October, my K-Town crew and I boarded a plane from Ankara and flew to Malatya, a city in Central Southeastern Turkey where 3 of our Fulbright cohorts are placed. The trip also served as something of a one month reunion, as we joined over 20 other Fulbrighters there. With the help of their university representative, the Malatya crew organized a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us to visit a number of ancient sites via bus tour, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mt. Nemrut. But more on that later…

Art

During the day on Saturday we visited Battalgazi (Old Malatya), an area rich with historic sites. Our explorations started at Silahatar Mustafa Paşa Hanı, an old caravanserai dating from 1637 which now serves as a museum and fine arts school.  (A caravanserai, in Turkish, Karvan Sarayi were roadside inns across the Middle East and Central Asia, particularly along the Silk Road, which served as hubs of commerical, informational and cultural interaction.) The caravanserai is named for Mustafa Pasha the sword-bearer (silahatar) of Sultan Murat IV.

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Outside the structure itself, we saw a statue symbolizing “The Erudite Human who is Carrying the Weight of Both Worlds on His Shoulders.” Standing at 4.5 meters, the statue was carved from a single intact tree, felled during the restoration of the caravanserai, which occurred from 2007-2009.

IMG_1325While we were there, we were the recipients of an impromptu demonstration and lesson about ebru, a distinctly Turkish Islamicate art form. You can walk through the tutorial we were privy to and learn more about ebru here In addition to the gentleman who taught us about ebru, we were able to visit the workshops of a number of artists who now work and give lessons at the caravanserai.IMG_1336 IMG_1334

Old Malatya is home to a number of historic and religious sites, some of which I was able to visit:

  • Ulu Camii (The Grand/ Exalted Mosque) was built in 1224, during the reign of the Seljuk Anatolian Sultan Alaettin Keykubad I. According the placard outside the building, “This structure is unique in the sense that it is the sole Anatolian example of the mosque tradition of the Great Seljuk Empire of Iran, called ‘four-iwan’ plan. Though this architectural style was known by the Anatolian Seljuks it was not adopted here as it was not suitable for the climate conditions prevailing in this region. Therefore, the Grand Mosque is the first and sole example of this design.” Among other things, the placard also notes the stunning turquoise and purple mosaics that decorate the walls and inner dome of the mosque, and which were restored in 2007. I think it’s rather exciting to note that this was the first mosque I entered in Turkey. IMG_1373 IMG_1374 IMG_1367
  • Directly to the south of Ulu Camii is the site of Sahabiyye-i-Kübra ve Suğra Medreseleri (The [Islamic] Theological School of Sahabiyye-i Kubra), constructed during the reign of the Memluk Sultan El Melik-ul Esref Saban (1363-1376), under the direction of Emir Sahabettin Hizir. Though no physical ruins remain of the structure, it is known that religious education was conducted on the site through the 18th century.

Other significant nearby sites include the Ak Minare Camii and the Halfetih Minare (Minaret), which both date to the 13th century.

After visiting these sites, we took a break to eat döner from a shop in the town square, at which time our group was approached by a group of small children who, after we’d scarfed the schwarma, led us to a section of the city where the houses had been beautifully restored. On the exterior of the houses throughout this district, ceramic and other mixed media artwork were installed on the exterior walls of the houses, apparently the products of art students from a nearby university. The whole affair was something of a fairy tale, but I’ll let the artwork speak for itself:

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Adıyaman 

Our adventures that Saturday began at the crack of dawn, as the whole Fulbright crew loaded onto two privately rented minibuses which were to become our home for the next 15 hours of so. We watched the sun rise from the buses as we set off for the neighboring province of Adıyaman, where we would visit a number of ancient sites, including the magnificent Nemrut Dağı.

The group enjoyed an outstanding traditional Turkish breakfast at a beautiful wooden restaurant, complete with waterfalls and fish ponds.

a view of the sunrise from the bus

a view of the sunrise from the bus

breakfast spot

breakfast spot

After a few hours on the bus, we arrived at the first site, the view from which was admittedly more astounding than the ruins themselves. Karakuş Tümülüs (which translates to Monument Grave) was built in 36 BCE, a memorial grave of the Commagene royal family. From my Lonely Planet guidebook: “A handful of columns ring the mound- there were more, but the limestone blocks were used by the Romans to build the Cendere Bridge.”(See below) The site has a handful of columns, one topped with an eagle, another with a lion and a bull. A third column has an inscribed slab depicting King Mithridates II shaking hands with his sister Laodike, allegedly explaining that the burial mound holds his female relatives.

The view from the monument site

The view from the monument site

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couldn't resist the titanic opportunity we had

couldn’t resist the titanic opportunity we had

The next site we visited was the Cendere Bridge, built in the 2nd century CE by the Romans in honor of Emperor Septimus Severus. (The bridge was almost immediately rechristened the “Snape Bridge” by we the band of nerds.) We took the opportunity to soak up some gorgeous sunshine, and some folks even dipped their toes in the Cendere River over which the bridge stands. Some of the original Roman columns and stelae remain. IMG_0549 IMG_0553 IMG_0547

Our journey continued with a stop in a small tourist town closer to Nemrut where we stopped in a grocery store and bought a variety of picnic foods which we would eat for lunch at a tea garden at our next stop, which was Eski Kahta (Kocahisar)/ Yeni Kale (Old Kahta/ New Fortress or Castle). To paraphrase the broken English on the placard outside the site, archaeological research has determined that the palace of the Commagene kingdom was at this location. What is now visible are the remains of a 13th century Mamluk castle (hence the name “new castle,” as opposed to an “Eski Kale, old castle” a few kilometers away, which was the site of the ancient Commagene capital of Arsamenia, which we didn’t visit.) The stones used to build this Mamluk fortress were 300-350 meters high, with only one entrance. Inside the castle are the remains of water tanks, a bazaar and marketplace, a mosque, and a prison. Unfortunately, due to a massive renovation project which is currently underway, we were unable to enter the site, but I was able to snag some pictures of the exterior. IMG_0570 IMG_0563 IMG_0564

Antiochus

After a winding and nerve-wracking journey up the mountain via a narrow roadway, our series of site visits concluded with a visit at sunset to the magnificent Nemrut Dağı (Mount Nemrut). From Lonely Planet:

“The spellbinding peak of Nemrut Dağı rises to a height of 2150m in the Anti-Taurus Range…. Nobody knew anything about Nemrut Dağı until 1881, when a German engineer, employed by the Ottomans to assess transport routes, was astounded to come across the statues covering this remote mountaintop. Archaeological work didn’t begin until 1953, when the American School of Oriental Research undertook the project. The summit was created when a megalomaniac pre-Roman local king cut two ledges in the rock, filled them with colossal statues of himself and the gods (his relatives- or so he thought), then ordered an artificial mountain peak of crushed rock 50m high to be piled between them. The king’s tomb and those of three female relatives are reputed to lie beneath those tonnes of rock. Earthquakes have toppled the heads from most of the statues, and now many of the colossal bodies sit silently in rows, with the 2m high heads watching from the ground.”  IMG_0578

here I am!

here I am!

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This incredible site, most famous for these massive heads, is stunning, surprising, and well-deserving of its place on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. When you arrive at the mountain you hike up a long ceremonial path to the peak, where men walked up and down crying “taxi,” referring to the highly decorated donkeys they were leading, in case you were too lazy. Once you reach the summit, there are two sides of the mountain which host the statues. On the eastern terrace, there are 5? Bodies arrayed in place, with their respective heads below: the god Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes; the goddess Tyche of Commagene; the god Zeus-Oromasdes; Antiochos himself; the god Heracles-Artagnes-Ares. On the western terrace there is an even larger collection of massive head carvings, detached from their bodies. In addition, there are a number of large stone reliefs. From UNESCO: “Three superb reliefs show Antiochos exchanging a handshake with Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes, with Zeus-Oromasdes and Heracles-Artagnes-Ares. They are framed by an allegorical group of Antiochos and the Commagenes on the left and an astrological relief called ‘the king’s horoscope’ on the right. The inscription, which has been deciphered, gives the date 10 July 62-61 BC: the date that Antiochos I was invested as king by the Romans.”

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Obviously, Mt. Nemrut is an impressive ancient site; its grandeur speaks for itself. What shouldn’t be missed, however, is the fascinating cultural discourse that exists in the objects themselves, and what they can maybe teach us about culture and identity not just in Turkey, but globally. UNESCO puts it this way:

The Hierotheseion of Antiochos I is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. Its complex design and colossal scale combined to create a project unequalled in the ancient world. A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom’s culture.The tomb of Antiochos I of Commagene is a unique artistic achievement. The landscaping of the natural site of Nemrut Dağ is one of the most colossal undertakings of the Hellenistic period (some of the stone blocks used weigh up to nine tons)….Nemrut Dağ bears unique testimony to the civilization of the kingdom of Commagene. Antiochos I is represented in this monument as a descendant of Darius by his father Mithridates, and a descendant of Alexander by his mother Laodice. This semi-legendary ancestry translates in genealogical terms the ambition of a dynasty that sought to remain independent of the powers of both the East and the West…. the tumulus at Nemrut Dağ illustrates, through the liberal syncretism of a very original pantheon, a significant, historical period. The assimilation of Zeus with Oromasdes (the Iranian god Ahuramazda), and Heracles with Artagnes (the Iranian god Verathragna) finds its artistic equivalent in an intimate mixture of Greek, Persian and Anatolian aesthetics in the statuary and the bas-reliefs.

More plainly speaking, from my perspective at least, Mt. Nemrut is just one example of how the East-West binary so many cling to simply cannot be applied in a paradigm attuned to history. If schoolchildren in the US, for example, grow up learning about Zeus and ancient Greece as the foundation of what becomes “Western civilization,” and here we see that symbology co-existing with ancient Persian mythological figures, in modern day Turkey, what can we say? In an essay regarding how these dilemmas should vs do play out in the art history/antiquities world, (regarding Lydian artefacts) author Saba Askary notes, “The artefacts that remain… are effectively ambiguous, as well as being absolutely remarkable in this ambiguity and interconnectivity,(sic) this fact needs to be embraced and celebrated rather than overlooked.” Imagine the good it would do for conceptions of identity, history, the eradication of Orientalizing mindsets, and the contemporary nation state squabbles and “culture wars” currently underway. Inshallah.

sunset from Nemrut

Apricots

Before leaving Malatya the next day, we had an important purchase to make. Many cities across Turkey are known for particular foods (Aydin figs, Amasya apples, Kayseri mantı, to name just a few examples). Malatya, as it happens, is the apricot capital of Turkey. Apricot, in Turkish, is kayısi, though I was happy to learn that it is locally known there by the Arabic miş-miş as well. According to Lonely Planet, “after the late-June harvest, thousands of tonnes of the luscious fruits are shipped internationally…” and the K-Town Krew schlepped back no less than 3 kilos of the fruit, dried, back to Kırıkkale to share with our colleagues. At the time of writing, I estimate that we still have at least a kilo and a half to go. Malatya is very proud of its apricot production: the fruit graces the city logo, which adorns buses, flagpoles, streetlights, etc., and in the city center there are two massive statues of the fruit, which incidentally serve as handy landmarks/meeting points.IMG_0525

P.S. The dried apricots we brought back are not the orangey-color one might be accustomed to seeing in the grocery store; they’re more of a mottled brown, caramel, and deep apricot/orange color. Apparently, dried apricots which retain the color of their fresh counterparts are treated with sulfates in order to do so—if they’re sulfate-free, they’re brownish when dried.