Forty kilometers east of the Turkish city of Kars, high on the windswept steppe, is piece of land jutting into Armenia like a dagger. Surrounded on three sides by deep, nearly impassable chasms and the barbed wire fence denoting the still closed border between Turkey and Armenia, lies the ruins on the ancient city of Ani – the one time capital of the greater Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages.
[quote style=”1″]”Let guns be silenced and politics dominate. The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders … It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” – Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the PKK[/quote]
Thursday was Nevruz, the traditional Kurdish New Years. In the past few decades the holiday has taken on extra meaning, as Kurdish rebel groups would use the celebration as a time to make announcements or enumerate their goals. This past Nevruz announcements were again made; however, this time Members of Parliament read out the message to tens of thousands in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It was a hopeful message of a possible peace with the PKK.
The ancient holiday of Nevruz/Nowruz (نوروز in Farsi) is coming up either this weekend or next, depending upon who you ask. Being very curious about holidays and the like – as well as being super excited to jump over some bonfires – I asked a Turk I knew about the celebration of Nevruz in Malatya. I ended up with this Turk’s view of Nevruz:
I don’t personally believe this story, but some Turkish people do. A long time ago, I don’t know when, the Turkish people were actually stuck in a valley surrounded on all four sides by tall mountains. The Turks couldn’t pass over the mountains for a long time. They were stuck there, in this mountain valley.
Last weekend I ventured down to Şanlıurfa again, although this time Danielle and Fabio were in tow. Although I had managed to see the majority of the sites within Urfa itself when I had gone there by myself, the city seemed to beckon to me and I was excited to see it again in large part thanks to the posts by Kim on her fantastic blog Turkey With Stuff In. The first day we arrived in Urfa, we spent the majority of the day seeing the touristy religious sites that the city is known for – and that I’ve blogged about here. Seeing the sites again was magical, but the main impetus for my return was the ruins of Harran.
Aside from a brief trip to Kadıköy with Jen while in Istanbul, I had never managed to find myself on the Asian side of Istanbul for any particularly long stretch of time. Although the vast majority of all touristic sites are on the European side – the original site of Constantinople and old Istanbul – the Asian side still always had a certain allure to it. Maybe it was just something as simple as the fact that, although the Asian side is a different continent, it is still completely visible.
Regardless of why I was attracted to this side of the city, I managed to get my wish to explore it in detail after I returned from Germany. I had a one day stop-over in Istanbul before continuing on my way to Tel Aviv the next day, and I was very kindly welcomed to the city by an old student of my mom’s – Umut. Although we had never met before – we had only ever e-mailed each other – Umut and his family instantly and happily took me in and gave me a bed to sleep in for my night in the city. They even lived on the Asian side – lucky me!
When Jen came to visit Istanbul – over a month ago, as hard as that is to believe – she had one major goal for what she wanted to see in the city: the Aya Sofya. Although Istanbul is a magnificent city worth much more than it’s well known tourist draws, Jen was right to have that be her goal. One should not go to there and not bother seeing the Aya Sofya and the old city where Constantinople, and Byzantion before that, once stood. So, on Jen’s last day in the city, we set out to see the touristic Istanbul.
Seeing Istanbul by night from the Galata Tower really inspired me for the travels I later took in Germany and Israel – specifically, I developed the philosophy that if there is a hill or mountain behind any sort of city or town, climb it! The views offered in reward for this are almost always worth it.
The first iteration of this rule in practice was the climbing of Schlossberg behind Freiburg with my mom. Although we had no idea what was at the top of the hill, we were treated to fantastic views of the city at the top. Also unbeknownst to us, but heavily implied by the mountains name (Schloss means castle in German), was the old fortifications of Medieval Freiburg – awesome!
I am generally terrified of heights. It’s something that I’ve been trying to overcome for the past couple of years, with increased vigor here in Turkey so I don’t miss out on anything worth seeing; which is a lot! Civilizations just love to build tall monuments on top of even taller mountains. It was with this mindset that Jen and I set out to reach the top of Galata Tower a few hours before our New Year’s festivities were to start (you can read about those adventures here).
I’ve noticed that the more I travel the more interested I become in smaller intricacies of each city I see – particularly graffiti. Having just come back home to Malatya from almost three weeks of traveling in Istanbul, Germany and Israel, I am amazed by the amount of amazingly artistic work I saw and the range of topics covered. Particularly interesting was how a large portion of all the art was in English – I guess the world of graffiti is flat.
Today I will start my adventure in the Holy Land. I’ll be visiting my great friend Mike – whose also a fantastic blogger that you should check out here – in Tel Aviv, where has has also been teaching English since September. Although the plans for our trip are still a bit up in the air, he has to work unfortunately while I’ll be visiting, I think the Bahai Temple in Haifa and Jerusalem look in the cards for us.
Today I’m kicking off close to three weeks of traveling to mark the end of my first term teaching English in Malatya, Turkey. For my first stop, I’m heading to Munich to meet up with my mom – from there we will travel to the Black Forest region together and explore Southern Germany for around a week. After this, she’ll head back to America and I’ll continue on my travels… Expect awesome blog posts when I get back at the end of January!
As 2012 wraps to a close, I feel compelled to give a special post of ‘Turkey in Review.’ I’ve been extremely fortunate with the amount I’ve been able to travel and see within the past four months and, although I’ve missed a lot, I can’t help but be happy with what I’ve seen. So, without further ado, here is a quick and dirty review of some hot-spots in Turkey for any of you thinking of traveling in this amazing country.
Visiting Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı) was my first major Turkish excursion, and it also featured prominently on my life bucket list. Built as a burial mound on top of one of the highest peaks for the king of the Commagene Kingdom in South Eastern Turkey, the mountain is definitely worth a visit, though maybe not necessarily for the reasons you may think.