Turkey 2008: You will understand Turkey when...

Jul 14, 2008
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Women pray at the Eyup Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
Above: Women pray at the Eyup Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

You will understand Turkey when you understand that Turkey is not to be understood. ~ Sara Vidar

The Big Dig

The Kenan Tepe excavation came and went pretty fast this year. Since the actual excavation is done, we are now just spending the next several summers studying the finds that we have uncovered. My role is to photograph all of the small finds, groundstone, pottery, etc... This summer I shot over 4,000 photos of artifacts!

We had a fun time as always during the month with the UTARP group. We had several late nights that consisted of one two many Efes' (the local Turkish beer) and the Dieing Goats crew took it to a whole new level with both Dave and Jason there in addition to me and Bradley. We also took a couple days off to go to Urfa - a beautiful city in Southeast Turkey that is full of history. It really is amazing sitting in a restaurant overlooking a citadel cnstructed in 242 B.C. that is filled with stories of King Nemrut and the Prophet Abraham.

The Never Stopping Tour

The next stop in my summer was to meet my sister, Sara, in Istanbul and join a two week tour of Turkey as the photographer. Sara had a great time during her first trip to Turkey and my next post will include some excerpts from her emails home. The tour was amazing and nothing of what I expected. Normal tours (the kind I avoid like the plaque) seem to be filled with obnoxious tourists that are only interested in the next photo op and care very little about learning about and experiencing a new culture. This trip could not have been farther from the sort. It was sponsored by the Pacifica Institute, the organization from which I am learning Turkish in the United States, whose main goal is to promote interfaith and multicultural dialogues. So not only were we regularly visiting the historical sites of Turkey with excellent guides, but we were also visiting schools, TV stations, newspapers, interspersed with home-stays with local families and meals with sponsors from the organization. Rarely did we encounter a day that lasted less than 14 hours and some even involved flights in both morning and the evening.

A few things that I have already known about Turkey and a few things that came to light on this tour:

1. Turkish people are some of the most openhearted, caring, real people that you will ever meet. They prioritize family and life, while work is only as a means to promote what is really important. On every trip I have taken here, I have been welcomed into people's homes with open arms and this has never been so present as during this tour. One of the sponsors threw a 50 person party for us complete with musical performances, dancing, art lessons, a traditional wedding ceremony, and fireworks to celebrate our 4th of July! It was trully amazing not just in the efforts that were gone to for the party, but also in how at home and welcomed they made us feel. During probably the 4th round of gift giving at this party, we all said a little something on what Turkey has meant to us and, being the only non-turk to have been to Turkey four times, I started tearing up a little as I was describing my thoughts on the culture. This in turn led to my sister full on crying as she explained how much the people of this country has affected her. It culminated in our host saying that he wished he could share in the tears and Sara coalescing by wiping a tear from her face onto his.

2. Never tell a Turk something cannot be done or that you would like something. The first statement will result in a conference between a minimum of three turks to figure out a solution (an act that I have now found myself more and more a part of). The solution might not always be the best, and it might not alway be the safest, but it usually works.... in an odd way. But I do think there is a correlation between this attitude towards being able to fix anything and the fact that there are so many Turkish engineers in the United States.

As for the second statement - telling a Turk that you would like something - I will leave that one for my next post which will include an excerpt from Sara on how Turkish bargaining goes with our friend Marco, who she pretty accurately describes as a cross between a Turkish Silvester Stalone and Sonic the Hedgehog (I might add the Tasmanian Devil as well).

3. I think that this might be a side effect of number two, but there are a lot of broken arms in Turkey! In the 12 days of the tour we counted 50 exactly, with one guy having both arms broken! And since the tour has ended, we have added 18 more to the count.

Side note on Turkish Politics and the Religion of Islam

This tour also opened my eyes to the political and religious dichotomy within Turkey. The current situation was best described to me as follows: In America, we have freedom OF religion, in Turkey there is freedom FROM religion. I'm not sure how many of you have been following Turkish politics, but recently the issue of headscarves in schools and public offices has come to a head. As the law stands, headscarves are banned from both areas. This means that any woman in Turkey that choses to adhere to her religious ideals and wear a headscarf is not able to attend college or work in a government job. The party currently in power, the AK Party, just passed a law that would overturn this existing rule and open schools to women with headscarves. The opposing party however, the CHP who are in control of the judicial system, overturned this new law claiming that it would lead to a Islamic state.

On this tour I met an amazing couple. Both of which met in school while studying to be cardiologists. The husband readily stated that his wife was better and smarter than he and that she always had the highest scores on all her exams and he regularly came in second. During the time they were in school however, the government cracked down on the headscarf law and she was forced to choose between her religious beliefs and her education. Her husband said that he would support her no matter what her choice. In the end she refused to give up her beliefs and became the only women in the program to not remove the headscarf in order to continue her education. She went on to be a housewife for three years and then got a job working in a research lab as she could keep her head covered with a lab cap.

Reflecting on this political battle in the context of this amazing couple really put things in perspective for me and showed that it is not the religion that is oppressive, it is not the headscarf that is oppressive, it is not the men that are oppressive, it is an archaic out-of-date system that is holding back the the religious sector of women in this country. Now as a disclaimer, I am not saying that there are not religious fundamentalists in Islam and Turkey, but these fundamentalists exist in every country and in every religion. The vast majority of women that I have met her do not feel oppressed by there religion, but rather liberated and again I really feel that we have a lot to learn from the caring-ness and openhearted-ness of this culture that, not all of which but definitely part of which, stems from their religious beliefs and values.

Current Location:

Chris got in about a week ago and I spent the first few days taking him around to the main spots of Istanbul. I was actually starting to feel like a local as I took him to, not only the tourist spots, but also some of my favorite Turkish hangouts of Istanbul and even the Galatasaray Adesi (a man made floating island beach club for the Galatasaray Football Club - which we were supposed to pay an arm and a leg for, but in typical Jon and Chris fashion just walked right in).

And it probably comes as no surprise, but we didn't really have a plan for what to do after Istanbul and decided relatively last minute to opt out of the touristy west coast of Turkey and instead travel along the Black Sea to Trabzone, then head to Mt. Ararat (one of the locations thought to be the final resting place for the fabled Noah's Arc), and then to Lake Van. We currently just got into Van after seeing a couple surprisingly interesting sites including a Monastery high up in the mountains outside of Trabzone and the final resting spot of Noah's Arc which is actually quite a believable story in person. I especially like the old man that lives at the site and his self-proclaimed title of "Guardian of the Arc."

We'll probably stay here in Van for a couple nights and then head back to the good old Diyarbakir area for a little bit before heading to Iraq.

Women pray at the Eyup Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

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Mykul Wuderd | July 14, 2008 4:13 PM | Reply

Woot. Thanks for updating man, always exciting to read and phenomenal photos yet again. You know what I find absolutely amazing about this site? When you look throughout it you can see an evolution in your photography, and that evolution is only surpassed by your wealth of experiences and knowledge. Kudos my friend, Kudos.

dig girl | July 14, 2008 4:37 PM | Reply

Cano, when in Diyarbakir, remember the Nubian baby!

Nick Schaadt | July 14, 2008 4:40 PM | Reply

Wow! Man, sounds like quite an experience. Thanks for keeping us updated and stay safe.

Koko | July 14, 2008 7:03 PM | Reply

Before we left we noticed 5 broken arms and three eye patches...koko smash

fatma | August 2, 2008 11:42 AM | Reply

Hi Jon!!
Great to visit your page fullof travels...At the personallevel Iamınterested in your Turkey travels and "A few things that I have already known about Turkey and a few things that came to light on this tour" and article 3 related to broken arms!!! I am honoured to be the first broken armed in Turkey:))) I can not inagine it was 50!!!Congarts:)))
hope to see you and Sara in Istanbul again ....be safe in Iraq!!!

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