Reflections on violence in Turkey published on Medium

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to publish something I had started writing a month prior, in the wake of the third bombing here in Ankara within six months. Wanting to balance my professional concerns with my urge to speak my mind, I decided to publish it because of my convictions about the piece.

It discusses both the basic context of each of the bombings, as well as the impact medias have on the mediation and discussion of such events in the United States.

The article is called, “What Terrorism Coverage Has To Do With Terrorism- Notes From Ankara A Month On,” and if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, please feel free to click through to my new Medium page and check it out!

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

Tokatsgiving

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To celebrate Thanksgiving 2014 I visited the central-eastern Turkish city of Tokat, joining a group of Fulbrighters for a potluck dinner. While in Tokat I was able to spend some time sightseeing in the city center while spending plenty of time in fellowship (pun intended) with my fellow grantees and our Turkish guests.

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Before I elaborate on some of the sights I was able to visit while in Tokat, I must address a very Fulbrihgt-esque pun, which is the title of this post and was the name of our celebration. As previous posts have suggested, we Turkey Fulbright ETA’s particularly enjoy combining the names of holidays and the cities in which we celebrate them. Tokatsgiving was no exception, but is in fact an exceptional instance of this type of word-play. Why?

Part of our dual role as English as a Foreign Language instructors and ‘cultural ambassadors’ includes sharing English-speaking countries holidays and cultural traditions with our students, Thanksgiving being a particularly easy and fun opportunity. Many of us have included the instant-classic ‘Slapsgiving’ episode of How I Met Your Mother (a series which for some reason is wildly popular among young Turks) in our lesson plans. Incidentally, in addition to being the name of a city, ‘tokat’ in Turkish is the word for slapping someone. A better holiday-locale combo has never been accomplished…..

In any event, I was blown away by the rich history still visible as we “gezmeked” (my Turklish version of ‘wandered’) the streets and sights of Tokat.

Our trip began as any good weekend rendezvous does, with a long and big Turkish breakfast (kahvalti) in a beautifully restored Ottoman era home.

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Doyduk… clean plates after a massive and delicious breakfast.

IMG_6253We toured an old Ottoman-era home turned museum (free of charge) which explained life for upper class central Anatolian families. The house itself was allegedly designed by a famous Armenian architect.

IMG_6277From the gardens of the restored Tokat Mevlevihane, you can see the city’s stone clock tower. As is generally the case, exploring the Mevlevihane turned museum was a major highlight of my trip.

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The complex has been stunningly restored and, much like the museums in Konya and the Galata district of Istanbul, contained a vast display of manuscripts, daily life objects, musical instruments, physical manifestations of ritual practice like tesbih or prayer beads, clothing, artwork, and especially here, a large collection of antique carpets.

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The former semahan, or room in which the ritual practice of sema (whirling) has beautiful woodwork which has been well maintained, but that isn’t what catches your eye when you enter the space. No, it’s the lit-up mannequin ‘whirling dervises which mechanically spin across the floor.

Tokat has numerous old stone mosques, many dating back to the Selcuk era.

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There are also a number of tombs either standing alone or on mosque complexes. I was more than a little surprised when visiting the tomb of Ali Tursi, which has beautiful turquoise Selcuk-era tilework, to see this posting by the Ministry of Religious Works ‘reminding’ visitors of ‘how to appropriately visit’ a tomb. I’ve never seen a posting like this at any other tomb in Turkey….

IMG_6401In addition we were able to pend time checking out the rich collection at the Tokat City Museum, which had no entrance fee. The museum is an a lovely old stone building, and has everything from archaeological finds from Tokat and the surrounding area to a wide assortment of religious artifacts (both Muslim Christian, iconographic paintings that echoed to a different time), folk costumes, handicrafts, and more. The collection includes pieces of the castle in the nearby town of Zile conquered by Julius Ceasar, who upon victory infamous declared “Vendi, Vidi, Vici!”

IMG_6418 IMG_6432In addition, we stopped into an old caravanseray that is now owned by the state university in Tokat, who uses it to house much of their music daprtment, and one of the historic bazaar areas, where I picked up some of the famed cloth wth painted designs in the forms of a dress and a dual function scarf/vest. The woman I bought them from had painted them herself!

Of course, I’d be remiss without mentioning the meal itself, which was an absolute feast. We enjoyed a fantastic array of ‘tradition Americana’ dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole (my contribution), REAL pumpkin pie from scratch (which was quite an effort), stuffing, etc. as well as some Turkish classics like mercimek koftesi (red lentil meatlessballs?) and stuffed grape leaves. There were many cries of affiyet olsun, and we all went around the table and shared the things for which we are thankful.

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Tokat was a fabulous city that I’m so glad I visited- truly a hidden gem in the hillsides of central Anatolia.

 

 

I don’t always follow the Coptic Lenten fast, but when I do…

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What?

The Egyptian Lenten fast is 55 days long (out of about 210 days in the year… The Copts take their religious dietary restrictions seriously, it seems). The fast calls for an entirely vegan diet over those 55 days, excluding all dairy, meat and fish products.

I’m not a regular practitioner of Coptic dietary restrictions, but I had recently pre-boiled and frozen a massive amount of chickpeas and I found fresh-frozen okra at the MigrosJet near campus today, so I decided to give it a whirl, at least for my dinner tonight.

A quick Google search confirmed my guesstimation of how to combine these two gems, the okra and the chickpeas:

Sauté some garlic and onion in olive oil, add tomatoes and okra, some cumin and lemon juice (also parsley for garnish but i didn’t have any) and voila- serve with rice.

Of course, while the rice was simmering and I was doing some kitchen clean-up I grabbed the now empty bag of frozen okra, and lo and behold: an identical recipe to my “authentic Egyptian” spelled out in detail in Turkish and English on the back of the bag.20150323-192506.jpg

Nothing surprises me anymore.

Who needs Google, anyway?

I added some tomato juice for extra flavor, and if you aren’t the fasting or otherwise vegan type, my recommendation of a spoonful of plain yogurt on everything applies to this meal as well, of course. Additional spices could include mint or crushed red pepper.

A blessed Lent to my Coptic family, and alf sa7a (a thousand times to your health, y3ni ‘bon appetit’) to any who want to give this recipe a whirl.

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HallowIzmir and a Day-trip to Çeşme

Over Halloween 2014 weekend I traveled to the Aegean coast to celebrate the holiday and do some sightseeing.

I stayed with a friend in a unique area of Izmir called Bornova, which I had yet to visit. I had a great time spending a day wandering and site-seeking Bornova’s famous Levantine architecture. I’m always intrigued by that, but the Bornova one-two punch is that many of these structures are religious (churches, to be precise). Well riddle me nerdy.

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The focal point of the city square in Bornova is the still-active Catholic Church. Ironically, we couldn’t find the entrance, not sure if we could’ve gotten in.

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The side streets are full of hidden gems.

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We were happy to come across the haunting St. Mary’s Magdalene Anglican Church and accompanying cemetery. Some sources online say that this church is still active, but there’s no way… I believe their services are held across town in Alsancak, but this building, based on the state of disrepair we witnessed, isn’t being used.

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Some of the historic structures have been renovated into hotels or civic buildings, while others sit awaiting restoration.

My wanderings also led me to Çeşme, a tourist hub about an hour south of Izmir, along the Aegean coast. I had previously only been to the bus terminal /international port, for my trip to Chios, the Greek island, a few weeks prior. We rode the Izmir metro system to its last stop, and then boarded a bus bound for Çeşme.

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Late October is admittedly not the best time to visit the city, which is known for its beaches. Nonetheless, we wandered the boardwalk/port area, sat in a handful of cafes, ate kumru, a sandwich famous from the area which is mostly comprised of highly processed bright pink “sosis” (sausage).

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I was thrilled to stumble across the Orthodox Church of Ayios Haralambos, a 19th century church that Lonenly Planet calls “imposing but redundant.” I’m not sure what that means, but it certainly no longer operates as a church. The entire space was blanketed in the flags of the Kemalist CHP party, and there was a craft bazaar being held in the center of the space. Note the specific damage done to the iconography of the church… I still have a lot of lingering questions about this space.

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We then visited the city’s castle and accompanying museum, the major tourist attraction of the city.

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The museum had both battle and historical artifacts and displays as well as archaeological and ethnographic (coins, pottery, glass, etc). A security guard even specifically led us to a room full of antique glass to make sure we didn’t skip it. Our day finished at a famous ice cream place called Rumeli Pastanesi, where I dove into a coffee and chocolate cone. In addition to its ice cream (dondurma) this place also sells famed jams and preserves, both if which often contain mastic, the famous sticky stuff in these parts.

In all, Çeşme made for a good day trip with a bit of history sprinkled alongside relaxing with friends.

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For curious minds regarding the Halloween festivities, I was a blank attendance sheet one night, a poor attempt at Fulbright Turkey ETA humor, and Frida Kahlo the next, an easy costume for someone with a wardrobe and eyebrows like mine.

Bayram II- Bergama (Pergamum)

Kurban Bayrami 2014 Part 2. You can read part one, about my trip to Chios, here. For more on Izmir, click here.

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Most people who spend a decent amount of time touring Turkey make a point of visiting Ephesus (Efes), the ancient Biblical city, as I have. Though they are almost equidistant, far fewer people make it to the city of Bergama, known in ancient times as Pergamum (or Pergamon… according to Wikipedia, both are correct).

This is unfortunate.

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Bergama is located 100 km north of Izmir, today a city of about 60,000 people. Its current name in Turkish reflects its ancient stature. We went for an afternoon from Izmir and just barely had time to see three of the main attractions there: the Acropolis, the Asclepion, and the Red Basilica.

Having been a big fan of the Disney rendering of the story of the Greek god Hercules, I was fired up to visit the Acropolis; to climb up the mountain to have a chat with old man Zeus myself. Things in life never go exactly the way they do in the squeaky-clean animations though, and the climbing was mostly done in an old cab with a disgruntled but courteous driver blasting Turkish dance-pop music. In addition, my chat with Zeus in his altar is pending, as I’ll need to arrange a trip to Berlin to see the remains, thanks to the persuasiveness of some opportunistic German archeologists in the late 1800’s. I’ll also have to wait about 5 years, as the exhibit in Berlin undergoes renovations. Always, the renovations.

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A consolation, though. The magnificent tree pictured above stands at the site of the foundations of the Altar of Zeus.

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Nevertheless, the site is stunning, and the vast majority of its structures remain, including an insane 10,000 seat theatre carved onto the side of a steep cliff. Significant portions of the Temple of Trajan also remain, pictured above. The view from the top of the site is breathtaking, a picturesque modern day Bergama with hillsides and red-tiled rooftops.

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A more orientalizing blogger may suggest it’s as if one goes back in time, gazing over the landscape. Besides being silly, that would also be patently untrue as the cable car which can take visitors up and down the steepest part of the ascent to the site (dropping off right at the ticket booth) obstructs the pastoral in many directions.

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You can make out a bit of history though, especially if it’s a clear day: a view of the pillars lining a walkway at the Asclepion, about 5 kilometers away as the crow flies.

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For those of you who didn’t know (I didn’t), the Asclepion at Pergamum was a renowned ancient center of medicine. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, “Treatments included mud baths, the use of herbs and ointments, enemas, and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often by dream analysis.” That can’t have been all they were up to, because this was also the site where the great Galen was born and worked; his studies had a major impact on ‘western’ medicine for a good century and a half. Nice.

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It was sunny and lovely, and my travel companions and I really enjoyed traipsing around the almost empty site. (Fellow visitors included two Turkish families, and two small tour groups, one geriatric group of Brits, and one with all members wearing matching “UPENN ALUMNI hats. That’s it!)

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We wandered through the aforementioned bazaar street lined with Roman columns, looked at but didn’t drink from a sacred well (which was the same color as the now infamous algae blooms of Lake Erie this past summer, yum), and scaled and (I) sang in the very well restored theatre, which continues to host theatrical and musical performances in the summer.

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I was also intrigued by signposts which advertised an app that allows users to visualize the way the site is presumed to have originally used, using 3D imaging technology. Sorry for the poor photo quality:

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I enjoyed one of my favorite Turkish indulgences, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, while perusing a gift shop chock full of replica parchment, echoing Pergamum’s fame as the site of the development of the stuff. My pride in the innovations of ancient Egypt instilled by my grandparents got the best of me, and a Google-search later permitted a not-fully-deserved “I told you so;” parchment for use in the famed library of Pergamum was developed beginning with a shortage of papyrus shipped from Alexandria.

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Our cab ride back into town took us through a neighborhood teeming with traditional old houses, some of which have been carefully restored as boutique hotels.

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It also led us to the Red Basilica; another reason for Pergamum’s fame.  It was originally a massive temple to some Egyptian Gods, and Christians who later acquired the building actually just built their basilica inside the structure. The Book of Revelations lists this site as one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, specifically as the throne of the devil. To be honest though, all I saw was a whole lot of renovation and not a lot of Basilica.

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Though the archaeological museum was closed, we were able to walk through the historic covered bazaar, and we also spotted an old hamam, which is still operational.

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Our day ended with some piyaz (white bean salad) and “Bergama koftesi,” the defining trait of which seemed to be copious amounts of cumin.

As my travel companions from last year would say, “On to the next adventure!”

Bayramınız mübarek olsun

Tomorrow marks the first day of the Festival of Sacrifice, the most important celebration in the Islamic calendar. Corresponding with hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiday is known as Eid al Adha in Arabic, and Kurban Bayramı here in Turkey. It is also known in Arabic speaking parts of the Muslim world as Eid al Kabir, (roughly, the great celebration, indicating its importance in the tradition).

Structurally, one could say that Kurban Bayramı is the Christmas of Turkey. Ziyaret etmek, visitation, is a key aspect of the holiday, with families traveling across the country to be together, visiting their families and paying respects to their elders, marked by “hand kissing” (a soft kiss to their hand, and then touching your forehead to their hand). Children often receive money, candy, and new clothes at these visits (following the compulsory hand kiss!).

Kurban Bayramı, is also, of course, notable for the ritual slaughter of an animal, the significance of which is denoted in the name of the holiday. Animals considered halal for slaughter include goats, sheep, cows or rams, and camels, and there are stringent guidelines on the books regarding the treatment, age, safety and well-being of the animal prior to slaughter. These days, many families in urban areas send money to an organization to have an animal slaughtered for their family (a practice that occurs in the US as well). However, in Kırıkkale is is apparent that DIY is still very much the norm… More on that in a bit.

The sacrifice ritual itself involves prayers said over the animal and a swift cut to the carotid artery, causing almost instantaneous death. There are many prescriptions for everything from how the limbs should be held, in which direction the animal should face, to the sharpness of the knife. The method is very similar to Kashrut (kosher) slaughter, and is regarded by Muslims to be the most humane way to kill an animal.

The ritual stems from the Islamic version of the story of Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) going to the mountain with his sons at the behest of God, being asked to sacrifice his son (in the Islamic version it’s Ishmael/Ismail) and then being told to slaughter an animal instead. The slaughter performed by Muslims around the world starting tomorrow is symbolic of their gratitude for their lives, livelihoods, families and blessings, which come from God. Some people in Turkey also slaughter an animal on an occasion which summons immense gratitude, the birth of a healthy child, for instance. Often, at Kurban Bayramı, or one of these voluntary (adak, in Turkish) slaughters, a drop of blood from the animal is smudged on the forehead of children, with the belief that it will bless and protect the child.

Directly related to the slaughter is the importance of charity to the holiday. The meat from the animal is divided after the slaughter; some is kept by the family, and some is sent or delivered to families who couldn’t afford an animal to sacrifice, who normally cannot afford to purchase meat. As at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, special alms are often collected.

Side note: there are few things i find more entertaining than asking my classes to explain the holiday to me. Kids say the darndest things.

As a student of Islam and a fiend for the culture, it’s wonderful to be in Turkey during the Bayram. I was here for it last year as well, but this year I’ve had a much better opportunity to observe preparations for the holiday in my town (language helps!!). What has struck me the most is how the holiday is commodified, in so many ways. (I did compare it to Christmas after all…)

What follows are photos from around Kırıkkale from the last couple weeks, with explanations and translations in the captions. These photos may seem rather mundane, but I think they reflect the observations I’ve had recently. It’s also been quite an adventure to try to discreetly document these signs and storefronts, often in the crowded city center, without drawing too much attention to myself.

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A large banner loosely translated as “buy your sacrificial animal from us!” offering discounts of 75 TL and different prices for “küçükbaş” (little heads, animals like goats and sheep) and büyükbaş (cows or rams)

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“Our sacrifices are for brotherhood”

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An advert for an organization that funds sacrificed meat being sent to places in Africa and Central and South Asia.

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Similar

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This one offers the services of a veterinarian to ensure the sacrifice is carried out correctly. Many people across Turkey carry out the sacrifice themselves, often in the cement courtyards of apartment buildings.

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In the lead up to Bayram just about every bakery storefront in town bears a sign that reads just like this: “We can do your special orders for Bayram desserts”

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A colorful bakery window

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Knives for sale at a big street festival in ktown on Thursday. Because people perform the sacrifice themselves and there are high standards for sharpness there’s a pop up industry for a week.

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This vendor offered mini do-it-yourself knife sharpeners

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Or one of these men could do it for you

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That kid can’t even believe how much candy he’s going to eat this weekend.

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Candies (“şeker”) for sale in downtown ktown on Thursday night.

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I love this one… Look at the little plastic sheep! The sign in the window says “kıyma çekilir” basically meaning, we can turn your meat into ground beef.

Other items included in the pop up industries of pre-Bayram week included ziploc freezer bags (for all the meat), large wok-like pans (sac) for making kavurma (meat), and napkins.

To all those celebrating, iyi Bayramlar, Eid Mubarak!

Urfa Part One: Göbekli Tepe

In early March 2014 I went with a group of fellow ETA’s on a whirlwind weekend tour of two of the most important and historic cities in southeastern Turkey: Şanliurfa (more commonly known by its former name, Urfa) and Diyarbakir, a journey I will be covering in a series of posts. This post is the first in the series, detailing the first half of my almost 24 hours in Urfa.

I flew from Ankara to Sanliurfa’s airport on a Friday evening, where we met up with our friends and had dinner at a kebap house. The cuisine in Urfa and the surrounding area is distinctly spicier than other regions in Turkey, and we sweat our way through an array of delicious meze (often called semsek) before feasting on lahmacun and the famous Urfa kebap. The whole meal was washing down with a copper mug-and-ladle over-frothing with yayik ayran a foamy, salty yogurt drink.

me savoring the ayran

me savoring the ayran

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urfa lahmacun

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the time/arrange to have the ultimate Urfa dining experience: sira gecesi, an evening of food (especially ciğkofte and kebap) and live music, held in a şark odasi, or Ottoman-style sitting room (seating on the floor with cushions) in a konuk evi (converted mansion). Inşallah, next time.

We woke early the next morning and arranged two taxis to drive us 11 km northeast of central Urfa, to a site that was as unassuming as it was mind-blowing:

Gӧbekli Tepe, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the world.

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As unassuming as it may appear, Gӧbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill, also known in Kurdish as Girê Navokê) is, for lack of a better term, a really, really, really big deal. I mean, Stonehenge is amazing, right? Such ancient history, such compelling questions about the origins of belief… Göbekli Tepe is estimated to be about 6,500 years older than that, dating back to somewhere around 9,500 BCE. Something like 11,000 years old. That brain buster is just step one, though. Claims about what this site indicates do no less than challenge just about every textbook claim made about the shift from nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies to agriculturalist societies. With this discovery, some argue that everything anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians have argued about the timeline of the Neolithic revolution, the domestication and production of crops and animals, and its causes are up for scrutiny. But there’s more, and for Tess the religious studies major, this one is the real kicker: the leading archaeologist of the site, and the man generally accredited for ‘discovering’ the site in 1994-5, Klaus Schmidt, argues that Gӧbekli Tepe also evinces what is probably the first known worship site of any kind.

The signage at the sight echoes Schmidt's theory about the implications of the site

The signage at the sight echoes Schmidt’s theory about the implications of the site

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The site first received widespread international attention after the publication of two pieces: “The Birth of Religion” by Charles C. Mann in National Geographic, and “The Sanctuary: The World’s Oldest Temple and the Dawn of Civilization” by Elif Batuman in the New Yorker. Both articles reflect on the lead researchers’ supposition that, to quote the lead in of the National Geographic piece, “We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.”

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This momentous claim is not without its skeptics, of course. In addition to the articles above, I’d encourage you to check out Cris Campbell’s six-part series examining Göbekli Tepe and critiquing this theory on his blog, Genealogy of Religion. (His blog also has much better pictures of the site, and the megaliths in particular, than I could manage to capture.)

views of the megaliths from the boardwalk overhead

views of the megaliths from the boardwalk overhead

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A relatively newly discovered and little known archaeological gem, mass tourism has not yet reached Göbekli Tepe. Reports from a few years describe a couple hundred daily visitors; more recent ones suggest that as many as a thousand come at the weekend during high-tourist season. This seems a little difficult for me to fathom… We saw a total of about 30 people, including at least one bus of schoolchildren and a large family in the two-ish hours we spent at the sight mid-morning, on a Saturday. It seems difficult to imagine that mass waves of tourism are likely to come soon, given Urfa’s location and the surrounding areas current geopolitical realities. However, I’ve recently read that tickets are now being sold and required for entrance to the site, but I do not remember this being the case as of early March.

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In addition, the idea of the site was far more astounding than the site itself, in my opinion. The site is prohibitively ancient- the engraved megaliths cannot stand alone, and their excavation puts them at risk to the elements. They are propped up by a network of wooden stilts, and a rickety boardwalk of sorts guides visitors over the site. The lack of visual splendor is a perfect testament to the tension between preservation and touristic exploitation faced by those who seek to learn and/or profit from locations like this. Signage in four languages (English, German, Arabic and Turkish, seen above) vaguely indicate the meaning of the arrangement of the stones and their engravings, mostly animals and humans. The hillsides around the site were blossoming with yellow flowers and flush with the green of the coming spring (perhaps a testament to the controversial and apparently successful Guney Anadolu Projesi, a water irrigation project, previously alluded to on the site here and here, with more to come).

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It is difficult to articulate what it feels like to visit something so truly ancient, to stand on earth that (regardless of the anthropological evidence conclusive from these stones in particular) is known to be among the first to be used for agriculture. How can one say what it “feels like” to stand on the ground where, millennium before, people may have gathered, conscious of some deity or higher power for the first time in human history? “Overwhelming,” “humbling,” “inspiring”… they don’t quite cut it. After months of traveling across an ancient land, after visiting countless sites whose dates of construction were jaw-dropping, how could I even begin to wrap my head around these hills, what they might signify?

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My mind was blown, but it was time to press onward for more, as I headed off, stuffed in a taxi with my friends, back through the pastoral hills back to Urfa, to the cave where it is said that Abraham (the one with many sons) was born. Coming soon!

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.

 

 

Kahvalti


Kahvalti 
means breakfast in Turkish.

What a ‘typical’ Turkish breakfast consists of could be debated (endlessly?) but some of the basic staples are bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese. Let’s follow that basic list with runners-ups: olives, eggs, and sweet spreads (jams, ‘bal-kaymak,’ which is honey and clotted cream, pekmez (often with tahini, the much improved Turkish equivalent of PB and J)). We’ll add to the list some other commonly found additions, like borek, sucuk or other sausages, cold vegetable dishes and, increasingly, french fries.

This pictures below will evince this, but it should be noted that Turkish cay (chai… tea) is the necessary complement to the breakfast meal, despite the fact that the name for breakfast, kahvalti, literally translates to ‘a base on which you can drink coffee.’ Traditionally tea is drunk during the meal, and Turkish coffee follows the meal.

Whoa now, you say. That sounds like a lot of food. Oh yeah, it is. photo This image is of a fabulous breakfast place in Cihangir, Beyoglu in Istanbul, called Van Kahvalti Evi. I absolutely recommend it to anyone traveling to Istanbul who wants to experience an authentic breakfast. The city of Van, located in the far east of Turkey, is famous for their breakfasts. In the next few days, in fact, Van residents are attempting to break the world record for the most crowded breakfast table! Two food items are particular to Van Kahvalti specifically are visible above. The most famous is Van otlu peyniri, or ‘van herb cheese.’ It’s very salty, but delicious. The other is called kavut, made of ground wheat… my friends and I have a difficult time appreciating this one due to the texture, which is very gritty. IMG_3767 My friends and I traveled to Van to experience their authentic Kahvalti, and we were not disappointed. Above is a picture of me in Van, not disappointed. IMG_3766 The plate closest to me 2 images above, and the plate closest to the bottom hold two ‘local-to-van’ breakfast foods. The darker of the two is kavut, mentioned above…. you can see how gritty it is, even from the picture. Kavut also goes by the name “devseyiti.” The chunky-looking, caramel-colored food next to the kavut is alternatively called ‘jejerun’ or ‘murtuga,’ and it consists of bread that is coated in flour and egg and fried. This Van ‘kahvalti salonu’ (breakfast joint) is the only place I’ve ever seen this food. IMG_1966 Another shot from Van Kahvalti Evi in Istanbul, on a different occasion. The plate just up from mine (with the two pieces of bread) is honey, which is often locally sourced and has bits of the comb still (as you can see above)…. sometimes more than bits…. so yum. As described above, honey is often served along with clotted cream (bal=honey, kaymak=clotted cream), especially in the eastern part of the country. A decadent but delightful way to start a morning.

Above are some of the more elaborate kahvalti spreads I’ve experienced, and they focus on the specific culture of Van (which has Kurdish influence,among other things). However, the INSTITUTION of breakfast in Turkey isn’t limited to a region.

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This one is at a cafe in Eskisehir. Note the bal-kaymak (next to the olives), the boiled egg, the french fries, and the little fried sausage, which are also common. This is a fairly typical offering when ordering a “breakfast plate” from a cafe.

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My beautiful friend at a different lovely cafe in the Cihangir district in Istanbul. The two bread-looking objects next to the boiled eggs are gul boregi “rose borek,” a flaky pastry filled with cheese.

IMG_0799This spread is from a sea-side cafe along the Kordon in Izmir. On the far right you can see a different variety of borek. In the middle, to the left of the sunny-side up eggs is one of the key standards of Turkish breakfast: menemen. It’s very similar to a Lebanese or Tunisian shakshouka– a mixture of tomatoes and peppers cooked with eggs. The spice level of menenmen can vary wildly– a group of us tried some at a roadside tea garden in Adiyaman province in the southeast, and many wept, sweated, and wailed from the spice (me). College kids often joke that it’s the one dish they can prepare besides pasta. Variations on menemen are popular, including with sucuk (spicy garlicky sausage), cheese, etc.

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Here’s a breakfast morning at my home in Kirikkale. Our friend sucuk makes a re-appearance, this time in omelette form. In the foreground of the image is gozleme. Gozleme is a distinctly Turkish and notoriously poorly translated food. Most often tourists are told it is a pancake, or ‘savory pancake;’ neither of those do gozleme justice. It is a very fine crepe-like dough (not sweet) filled with variable items like cheese, mice meat, spinach, eggplant, etc.) and cooked on a ‘sac,’ a rounded griddle (the same stove-thing used to make manouche). It’s just awesome.

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There’s a lot that can be said about Turkish breakfast, but beyond all the food, perhaps the most important thing about kahvalti is the way it is eaten: slowly, in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with great people. An important aspect of Turkish culture is that of ‘keyif,’ which someone once described as “a pleasurable state of idle relaxation.’ As well as being delicious, kahvalti should be keyifli.

Afiyet olsun!