Friday, August 03, 2012

Turkey 5: Muslim Nation, Secular State

Turkey has a secular state.  Indeed, through much of its history, Turkey has had an aggressively secular state. With an Islamist party in power, the state is more accommodating of religion.  On the other hand, the Turkish nation is very Muslim.  The call to prayer sounds in every city.  We were in Konya, perhaps the most important Muslim site in Turkey, when Ramadan began, and the town came alive when the fast was broken.  One rich symbol of the pervasiveness of Islamic culture in Turkey was this sticker.  In hotel drawers you will not find a Bible, provided by the Gideons.  You will, though, find a kible, marking the direction to Mecca.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Turkey 4: Coffee

The Turks gave coffee to Europe. Turkish coffee is made by pouring very hot water directly on to finely ground beans in these small cups. It is bitter and strong, but surprisingly addictive.  They normally ask how much sugar you want in it. It is available everywhere. In the non-tourist places I had it, the consumers were overwhelmingly men.

This is the leading Turkish coffee chain that offers Starbucks-like coffee drinks, heavy on milk and sweeteners. Not surprisingly, I only saw them in tourist and international business districts.

Ataturk drinking coffee (inside a Kahve Dunyasi store).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Turkey 3: Hittites

I spent two weeks in Turkey with the Brown Fellows, Centre College scholarship students.

The Hittites were a Bronze Age people who flourished in Anatolia (the heart of modern Turkey) in the centuries around 1500 BCE. The modern Turkish state has embraced the Hittites to a surprising degree. This headpiece, featuring the Hittite bull god, was adopted by the city of Ankara as its symbol.  A large sculpture of this piece stands in the middle of town.

The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, sometimes called the Hittite Museum, has the best collection of Hittite artifacts in the world. The museum was created early in Ataturk's reign. It helps foster the idea that Anatolia has had many civilizations, including important non-Christian and non-Muslim ones like the Hittites.  All of these civilizations are honored by modern Turkey - and none define it. This uncaptioned picture of Ataturk inspecting the collection is posted amidst the exhibits.

Ataturk's image and signature, which are everywhere in Turkey, hang from a banner in the Hittite Museum, above the treasures from King Midas' tomb. The civil religion of modern Turkey embraces the Hittites as part of the useable history of the many civilizations that have existed in Anatolia.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Turkey 2: Three Interesting Things About the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

I spent two weeks in Turkey with the Brown Fellows, Centre College scholarship students.
The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) was built as a church, which is why the center window faces Jerusalem. When it was converted to a mosque, the mihrab (the gold niche, above) was made a little off-center, to point to Mecca. The secular Ataturk government converted the building to a museum.

The Sultan Ahmed, or Blue, Mosque, is the greatest Islamic landmark of Istanbul. The current prime minister heads an Islamic party, but the state is resolutely secular. How does the prime minister associate himself with this great Islamic site without implicating the government?  By personally giving the mosque a model of Medina.

The Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque are neighbors, sharing a plaza. The trinket sellers in the plaza, wanting to serve all markets, offer Koran verses, Christian icons, and evil eyes. On the same sales rack.