Posts filed under ‘Turkey’

Teaching Turkey: A New Adventure

We leave this morning to begin a new adventure. Our ten UNC students should be meeting us in Istanbul over the next few days for a summer field seminar, Turkey: Layers of Identity. I have met these students only briefly, so, in addition to the excited anxiety that comes at the beginning of each new course I greet, I also get to contemplate seven weeks abroad in daily contact with nine strangers (and two friends). My hope is that, by the end of our stay, we will have cohered into a group of learners and teachers–and that we will all have learned an enormous amount about travel, about working together, and about the fascinating and complex society, polity, and culture of today’s Turkey.

This is a Burch field seminar, an innovative combination of study abroad and research sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Instead of the students attending various courses or going on a guided tour, the program encourages students to work with faculty on a topic central to the professor’s research. My current research is on the creation of collective identities in the Middle East. Although I’m concentrating on the 1920s and 1930s, our summer project both draws on that research and, I hope, will contribute some insights to my work. At the same time, it offers students an opportunity to focus on a particular topic while exploring a new world area. In theory, the Burch seminar program embodies the best of the “research university”–a place where teaching enriches research and research informs teaching.

William and I leave in a few minutes to get to Istanbul a few days before the students arrive, a little time to make sure we can find their apartments and walk through their neighborhood. I’m carrying the books I will need to write lectures, but mostly, I think, Istanbul will be their text. It is a remarkable city, and I can’t wait to share it with these students. My first visit was more than 25 years ago, and it hardly seems foreign. It will be fascinating to watch these students experience it for the first time. Another adventure, and I approach this one with anticipation, anxiety, curiosity– and excitement.

The new blog: Teaching Turkey

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May 13, 2008 at 1:10 pm 1 comment

Eid Mubarak!

Eid al-Adha started on Wednesday in Aleppo, as people began visiting family and large numbers of sheep appeared in the streets. Katie tells me that in Istanbul people buy shares of cattle, and that there are specific places in which ritual slaughter is acceptable, but in the old city of Aleppo, it seems, anywhere is OK. In both places, one is to keep some of the meat, share some with family, and distribute the rest to the poor.

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A few years ago, Turkey and Syria agreed to a holiday exchange to allow visits to family members who had ended up on the other side of the border. This year, Syrians went to Turkey on the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Turks came to Syria for this Eid.

That explains why Katie was unable to find a bus or train seat to Antakya until Thursday. When I crossed the border into Turkey on Friday morning to meet her, I was stunned to see the huge numbers of vehicles, stretched across all available “lanes,” bringing Turks to Syria. Our minibus had to wait until police opened one lane so cars trying to get into Turkey could get around the press of vehicles trying to get into Syria! The vehicles all had large yellow flyers in the front windows announcing they were participating in the exchange, and their passengers already had their permission to enter the country, having been vetted days earlier.

When we pulled into Turkish customs, there were large piles of tea, sugar, and biscuits on the curb. Food is quite a bit cheaper in Syria, and the Turkish customs officials were clearly trying to prevent holiday-makers from doing imports.

I found Katie in Antakya, where we ate terrific Iskender kebab (unavailable just across the border) and kunefe, then walked to find the lot where there are usually many drivers trying to find passengers to fill their cars heading to Aleppo. This day, the area was mostly deserted–all the vehicles in the area had left many hours earlier, that large contingent I’d seen at the border.

We finally found our transportation, and arrived in Aleppo quite late for our wonderful going-away party. (Nadine, our French housemate, Makiko, our Japanese housemate, and William had all cooked wonderful food, and even our friends from Damascus came to wish us goodbye!)

The next morning, we decided it was finally time to see the citadel, but couldn’t get close to the ticket booth. The entry was jammed, and Turkish was the only audible language. The suq was similarly full of visiting Turks, and suddenly the linguistic border seemed to have moved. (I looked unsuccessfully for the numbers of Turkish visitors. Please post if you find them.)

December 26, 2007 at 7:29 am Leave a comment

Assad Library, Access to Information

We spent two wonderful evenings with Raghda and Faraj, another of UNC’s terrific group of 2004 Humphrey Fellows. Faraj works as a consultant based in Ramallah, and, as many Palestinians, is “stateless.” He has no passport, and has to work out “coordination” with other governments in order to travel abroad–a bit of a challenge to anyone, especially a consultant who works internationally. The Syrian government refused his recent request, so to see him, we decided to go to Amman again, where he was training teachers in new reading techniques.  When Faraj returned to the West Bank, we left for Damascus.

In addition to the Turkish newspaper published in 1930s Antakya (currently housed in the Antakya public library–I’m still awaiting Turkish government permission to read it) there was also an Arabic newspaper. Hoping to get access to at least one of the newspapers, I took a taxi to Assad National Library, directly opposite the Opera and down the road from the University. I showed my passport to the guard at the security gate, and walked into library, a very modern four-story building. The woman who took my bag sent me to the second floor, where the reference librarian used a computerized catalogue to find not only al-Uraba, the newspaper, but a variety of other books and documents about Antakya, Turkey, and the French mandate.

I had a bit of trouble finding the microfilm collection around the construction of the fourth floor, and when I arrived, the librarian looked at the print-out from the reference desk. She unlocked a microfilm reading room, set up the reader, and told me what kind of information they would need if I wanted copies (3 l.s. a page). I was disappointed to find that the newspaper (which the French shut down in early 1938 after only 117 issues) had many editorials but little actual news and no photographs. I gave the librarians a list of the pages I wanted copies of, and asked where I might find the two other items I was interested in. Sawsan, one of the librarians (the great majority of the library staff is women) walked me from floor to floor, staff member to staff member, trying to help me find out how I could find the materials. When we finally got to the right reading room, the librarian told her that I needed a card.

Oh, no! After repeated requests and months of waiting over the years for permission to use various libraries, I feared this had been too easy. Now they were going to ask me for an application and tell me to wait.  Instead, the library manager, another woman, filled out a slip of paper, told me I could copy some pages but not entire books, and sent us back to the reading room.  Sawsan left me (I was quite grateful for all her help!), the library staff soon brought the books, and I worked for a few hours.

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I wanted to make sure I got to visit the history department at Damascus University, but when the driver let me off, I was very unsure which way to go. I asked directions from a young woman wearing a pink coat, white pants, a pink headscarf and sandals (the weather in Damascus has been warm and beautiful!). Hiba is a student in the English faculty, right next to the History faculty, and she took me all the way into the building and up the stairs. There I met a young professor, Mahmud, who teaches Ottoman history, Ottoman paleography, and modern European history. He offered me tea, explained that the rest of the faculty members had already left for the day, and suggested I return the next day, when he took me to the library, found me an MA thesis on my topic, and introduced me to some colleagues.

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Damascus University is enormous, many thousands of students spread over both academic and professional schools. There seem no real gathering places except an outside park in the center of campus, which was alive with small groups of students walking, sitting, and talking. I am quite grateful to the two women and my new colleague for their help getting through the day.

I have found myself musing intermittently over the past few months on the nature of open societies and police states. Now I have another confusing example: democratic Turkey tightly controls access to information, even published information in public libraries. Syria, on the other hand, allows free public access to published information in public libraries. Turkey blocks wordpress blogs, while Syria blocks blogspot blogs (and for a few days recently also facebook and skype).

December 2, 2007 at 4:22 pm 1 comment

Istanbul

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Istanbul

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It’s difficult to write about Istanbul. I arrived for the first time 25 years and one month ago as a graduate student on a Fulbright scholarship hoping to carry out dissertation research in the Ottoman archives. I’m sure that I was struck then by the strangeness of the city, the challenge of the language, the confusion that results whenever such large groups of people share the same space, to say nothing of the frustration of the bureaucracy that refused me access to the archives for three months, and the remarkable camaraderie and generous assistance of all twelve of the regulars in the Ottoman reading room when I was finally permitted entrance.  (The archives some years ago moved to a larger location with better light, and when I last visited, almost 100 researchers were working there.  Some things haven’t changed–I’m again waiting for research permission, this time to use published newspapers in a public library.)

I’m no longer struck by the city’s strangeness, which may be partly because Istanbul has changed; it’s probably more because I’ve fallen in love with Istanbul over the years, and perhaps because I’ve now spent time in places even less familiar.  

Istanbul is beautiful, stunning, shockingly appealing. We approached it this time from Anatolia, riding the train for many kilometers from the furthest suburbs into the heart of the city, then taking a ferry across the Bosphorus to the old city. The skyline has changed in the past 25 years–sort of. To the right, there is a second bridge connecting Asia and Europe; straight ahead there are large skyscrapers jutting above the older buildings. To the left, though, are those seven hills and their spectacular domes and minarets. At the risk of sounding like one of those nineteenth-century Orientalist travelers, I admit that the view of the old imperial capital from the water is breathtaking.

I had three goals for this trip. I wanted to spend time with Katie, who is teaching English in Istanbul; I needed to talk with colleagues about some research questions before finishing the last chapters; and I planned to make some logistical arrangements for the student group I hope to bring with me to Turkey for seven weeks this summer.

Katie is wonderful. So is her school. The day after we arrived, she took us to see the place she works, and rumors circulated that Katie’s mother was visiting! I was reminded of that first time, when Katie was a toddler, that I heard a child’s loud whisper in an auditorium, “That’s Katie’s mom!” I’ve been quite delighted to be “Katie’s mom” ever since. Now some of her more courageous young students stood outside the door to the English department office, trying to catch a look. Two actually came inside, probably 4th graders, who ventured to answer my questions about their names and their favorite football teams. (Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray have been engaged in fierce competition this season.)

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We saw her house, up five longer-than-usual flights of stairs in an old building on the Asian side of the city, in the not-yet-gentrified outskirts of Moda. Her house is in the process of becoming heated and furnished, and the neighborhood is terrific. She walks through a wonderful fish and vegetable market on the way up the hill every day as she returns home from work. She has developed a new set of friends, partly through work, partly through old friends (Katie came for the first time 21 years ago), partly through the local couch-surfing group.

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William and I were staying far from the real world of Istanbul, in the part of the old city near the great monuments most frequently haunted by carpet dealers. Within five minutes of stepping out, someone finds a new and creative way to suggest you go into his shop to look at his rugs. As I found myself warning new tourists about these men, I realized that I must sound quite like them when I suggested that the new tourists go to my long-time carpet-seller friend instead to look at his carpets!

William has been sorely missing the NFL season, and we were delighted when Katie invited us to visit one of her friends and watch a Packers game. Our Turkish host was little interested, but William was thrilled.

The rest of my time was spent walking, drinking Turkish tea, talking with friends about my book, and making arrangements for the summer. That summer plan made it just a bit easier to leave Istanbul this time.

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November 20, 2007 at 12:52 pm 1 comment

To Istanbul

We decided to try the train to Istanbul, but the closest place to get it is Adana. The bus ride from Antakya to Adana took me through places I’d been reading about for years, the mountain pass town of Belen, the port city of Iskenderun/Alexandretta, Dörtyol right on the previous border between Syria and Turkey. We got to Adana just in time to eat some spicy kebab, try the locally-favored beverage (salty turnip juice), sit in the “wait foring room,” as the sign read, and chat with the staff before boarding a sleeping car for the 19 hour trip.

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The trip was so wonderful we decided to return by train, too. We were accompanied by a large group of women on their way to an Amway convention in Istanbul. They had brought huge quantities of their own food, and took over the dining car and kitchen, laughing and talking as they prepared a spicy bulgar/vegetable/hot pepper paste dish I had never seen before.

The scenery was spectacular. I’d once driven through the Taurus mountains, but was so nervous about the trucks that I didn’t appreciate it as I should have. This time, we sat watching out the window (when we weren’t watching the food preparation).

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November 19, 2007 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Antakya/Antioch

Our driver began speaking Turkish with me immediately. I asked how he knew Turkish. “I’m a Turk,” he answered. As we made our way through Syrian customs and passport control, he spoke Arabic with the officials. Back in the car, as we crossed into Turkey, I asked when he learned Arabic. “I’m an Arab,” he responded. We arrived in Antakya (Antioch) two hours after leaving Aleppo, half of it at the border. Before the city became part of Turkey in 1939, no border crossing would have been necessary.

The book I’m working on tells the story of how Antakya and the province around it were detached from Syria and joined to Turkey. But it focuses largely on national identities, how people decide to which national group they belong. Our driver made it quite clear that no choice actually needed to be made. He claimed that 70% of the people of Antakya spoke Arabic in addition to Turkish. Since only Turkish is taught in schools, however, many remain illiterate in Arabic.

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The city seems much more than a few kilometers from Aleppo. The color is striking on the Turkish side of the border. Syria has a monochromatic color scheme: the streets, the buildings, the walls, are all made of stone, and everything is white. Turks paint their houses, sometimes outrageous colors (lavender apartment blocks?). Turkish signs and billboards are all in Latin characters. And most women don’t cover their heads on the Turkish side of the border. Turkey’s enforced secularization actually prohibits women students and state employees from covering. Women at Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya stop at a phone booth right inside the gate to remove their scarves as they enter campus. I waited to make a phone call as one student checked her hair in the little mirror above the phone. She giggled when I asked her if the mirror was hers. Apparently, it is a collective mirror for use after removing scarves on the way in and replacing scarves before going back into the street.

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Our days in Antakya were enlightening and enjoyable, thanks largely to our “host,” Koray Cengiz. He runs the local university’s international exchange programs. I found him through “couch-surfing,” a movement my daughter introduced me to. Koray made us a reservation at Mustafa Kemal University’s guest house, scheduled appointments for me with local historians, introduced us to some of his friends, and walked and walked through the city with us. By the end of our visit, we had learned about the Erasmus program, teaching English in Turkey, the city, and the university. He had learned more than he had probably ever wanted to know about Antakya between 1936 and 1939.

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  William consults on 1936 map: Where are they now?

William and I walked the routes of the myriad demonstrations during that period, nearly all of which focused on the bridge over the Orontes River. We found the best Iskender Kebab in town (maybe even in Turkey), and sat looking at terrific photos of Antakya in 1940. Our waiter called the phone number attached to the photos, and soon we sat in the office of the photographer looking through prints he had made of his first professional shots, when he was still in his early 20s.

By the end of our stay, I became convinced I had never seen such a bi-national city. On one hand, Turkish flags and pictures of Ataturk were everywhere. I was surprised by the huge number of flags displayed, and Koray explained that flags were flying throughout Turkey in response to the recent attacks on Turkish soldiers further east. There were few remaining signs in Arabic, even fewer than we had seen in the summer of 2001 when we stayed in the city for just one night.

On the other hand, the bazaar looks and sounds like Syria’s suqs, though more of the shops have glass fronts. There is a distinctive smell in Aleppo’s markets that I noticed in Antakya, too, some combination of cardamon-flavored coffee beans, roasting nuts and corn, grilling meat, and open barrels of spices.

On the bus back to Antakya from Istanbul, we sat in front of a father and son whose conversation mixed Arabic and Turkish within sentences. As we stood waiting for our bags in Antakya, I greeted the man, explaining that we were living in Aleppo for a few months. He immediately responded with a dinner invitation, which I was sad to have to decline. The amazing propensity toward hospitality seems as ubiquitous among Turks as among Arabs–no national choice necessary.

 Thanks to Russ for posting the previous three entries.  WordPress.com really is blocked in Turkey!

November 17, 2007 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

Party!

We had many things to celebrate, Masayo’s birthday, William’s birthday, and Ahmad’s marriage. And one thing to party over, though hardly to celebrate. Masayo’s internship is over, and she is returning to Japan.

Ahmad’s sister Intisar came Friday morning, bringing her 12 year old daughter and some very large pans. We were expecting more than 20 people, and Syrians do not like to run out of food. Intisar showed me how she wanted the zucchinis and eggplants cut, what to do with the potatoes and tomatoes, how to make potato kebab, and how to spice the mixed vegetable stew. Within an hour and a half, we had prepared two dishes, each large enough to feed an army. By the time I left to meet my Arabic teacher and pick up the birthday cakes, two of Ahmad’s brothers had dropped off their wives’ specialty foods and various desserts. Makiko and her husband made miso soup and sushi. (The Syrians found the sushi a bit strange.)

I left to meet Hala at William’s favorite café, a place called T-Square in Aziziyeh. I wanted to buy him one of their logo baseball caps as a gift, but they insisted on giving me both the cap and one of their insignia mugs. By the time I returned, the place was set up and all the food was ready. (The taxi driver I came back with was a first–he is a Kurd from a neighboring village who thinks George Bush is terrific. I wonder if sociologists do polls of taxi drivers.)

People are prompt for Ramadan dinners. Food is served when the sun sets and the cannon or muezzin sounds, around 6:30 these days. We had our Damascus friends here, along with Hala and some of the people she had introduced me to, our friends from Sebastian’s, many of the Japanese staff of the JICA office where Masayo had been working, and various Ahmad friends and family. Ahmad served the wine he made from the grapes that grow over our courtyard, we had Egyptian beer, some raki, and lots of fruit juice. The food was terrific, the kind that one doesn’t get at restaurants here. (There seems to be a division of language between formal and colloquial and a division of food between home and restaurant. Restaurants serve salads and kebabs; home cooking is a variety of stews. Kibbe is ubiquitous, fortunately.)

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The party was enormously fun. People danced in the courtyard until they got tired, then one or another would begin to sing. A couple of the women were quite wonderful singers; one grabbed the top of a cooler and used it as a drum. I found it striking that everyone seemed to know all the songs–were these like Beetles songs we sang at parties in the late 70s?

So sad to see Masayo leave, delighted to welcome Diyala, Ahmad’s new wife. It was fascinating to watch friends from one circle interact with friends from another. Maher from Damascus is very funny, and seems to break down all barriers. We got to see him and others from Damascus the next night, when worked on finishing the leftovers.

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October 2, 2007 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

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