Thursday, January 22, 2015
Today we enjoyed a traditional Turkish ceremony--a whirling dervish. After another late start and amazing breakfast, we all piled into the bus to drive to Galata Melivi Tekkesi Museum that houses the history of the whirling dervish and its connections to Islam. Our guide Saba laughed when he told us that "whirling dervish" is no where near the translation for what the Turkish call their tradition. To them it is, "sema," meaning "sky." This practice started in Turkey and moved to other Muslim counties in the Middle East. The whirlers enter a meditative state of praying, which is how they are able to keep spinning for long periods of time. They are able to turn for 2-3 hours if they are focused enough, which is incredible considering most people would fall down after 30 seconds! In the museum we saw examples of traditional garb and headpieces warn by the practicers, as well as a brief history. In an attempt to secularize Turkey, Atatürk banned religious practices like the whirling dervish in 1925, so it was practiced in secret until it was legalized again in the 1950's.
After the museum we walked through the streets and landed in the old Jewish neighborhood of Istanbul. This area also happens to be home to the Galata Tower, built in 1348 by the Byzantines as a watch tower. It was the tallest building in the city when it was built, and it still continues to cast a shadow on a good portion of the New European side of Istanbul. Because of this, visitors get a beautiful 360 degree view of the city, including the Asian side and the Old European side it was neat to be able to point out the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque from across the Golden Horn, as that it where we stayed in the city our first week here. It's incredible to be able to say we can find our way around a big, foreign city! The views were absolutely stunning.
When in the neighborhood we discussed our reading from the night before, which was about minorities in Turkey. Jews, like the Greeks, Armenians, and others, were way more heavily taxed by the government on a wartime property tax. This caused many minorities to sell their property because and move because they could no longer afford to live in their homes where their families had been living for generations. 97% of the properties sold at this time were owned by non-Muslims. Turkey is officially Turkish and Muslim in ethnicity, and these minorities don't fit into those categories.
A quick walk from the Galata Tower put us in the 500 Years Museum of Jewish history. The building used to the a synagogue but was turned into a museum in 1992 because there were not enough people to keep it running. 1992 is the 500th anniversary of the Jews being expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella during the Spanish Inquisition. The biggest fact I learned at this museum is that there has not always been strife between the Jews and Muslims--that is only recent in the Israel/Palestine fighting. The Ottomans actually sent their navy to Spain to pick up the Jews that refused to convert to Catholicism, and offered them refuge in their empire, which is a major reason why there used to be so many Jews in Istanbul.
Following the museum, we took a walk around the New European side of Istanbul so we could get a better feel for the area. After a week on the old side we were able to get around with relative ease, so we would like the same thing to happen with this side of the city too. We ended up at one of the best baklava places in the city, where our professors treated us to some baklava that dripped with honey; it was indescribably delicious. After crossing the bride over the Golden Horn that connects the two European sides, we were set free in the Spice Market for some shopping and dinner before the whirling dervish performance. Following this free time we walked to the performance space to watch 5 men perform this incredible tradition of spinning in circles to the beat of traditional music. There is naturally an entire ceremony that goes along with he whirling, as it is an 800 year old tradition. After praying and bowing, they spun in circles for minutes at a time: it is incredibly astounding, and a treat to see an old Turkish cultural custom. So now we head back to the hotel for sleep to get ready for our second-to-last full day in Turkey!
After the morning exploration, the group visited the Istanbul Modern art museum. Founded by a family who became wealthy through pharmaceuticals, the museum's goal is largely to put modern Turkish artwork in its rightful place among the world's best pieces. One of the exhibits on display was titled "Past and Future," and drew upon the museum's permanent collection to complete two objectives: first, to give a brief history of art in Turkey from the late stages of the Ottoman Empire to the present; and second, to usher in the future of Turkey's (and especially Istanbul's) modern art scene. It was very interesting to see the transitions in Turkish art over the past 150 years, and notice the parallels between the style changes in the works and the changes in the dynamic of the area over this time period.
In the late stages of the Ottoman Empire, the sultans would send artists to Europe in order to learn from the very best. However, from looking at the works produced during this time period, there is still a distinctly "Ottoman" feel to them. After the War of Independence and Ataturk's ascension to power in the first few decades of the 20th century, the style of art completely changes. At this point in history, Turkey is looking to become European themselves, and this largely continues for the remainder of the century. Turkish artists are still flocking to Europe to learn the trade, but they are now painting in a style that is no longer unique to the region. Instead, they are playing "copy-cat," trying to do exactly what the Europeans are doing, in order to be accepted as a European country. Therefore, one can clearly see a European artistic style to Turkish artwork during this period. Unfortunately, Turkey has been constantly rejected from joining the European Union, and since President Erdogan's current government came to power in 2005, there has been a significant shift in the Turkish view of the West. Instead of looking outward, Turkey has begun to look culturally inward, and this has clearly shown in its artwork. In recent pieces, there has emerged a much more unique "Turkish" style. The future of Turkish art, according to this museum, is to be uniquely Turkish, and will flourish regardless of whether it is similar to European artwork or not.
After the museum, we returned to the hotel for a presentation by Murat Ergin, Associate Professor of Sociology at nearby Koc University. His talk was titled "Turkey's Modernization, Culture, and Religion: Cultural Boundaries" and it focused on the changes in these areas of Turkey's background over the last twenty years. His findings were extremely interesting. In doing his research, Professor Ergin conducted a number of surveys throughout Turkey, asking questions about people's identities, their religions, their personal feelings concerning certain minorities or groups of people in Turkey, as well as their feelings on certain issues such as religious education in schools. He reached the conclusion that, while Turkey has grown significantly from an economic standpoint over the last twenty years, this growth has not coincided with significant changes in social development. Through his surveys, he learned that 66.2% of people surveyed would object to living next to a gay couple, and 49.0% would object to living next to an atheist family. Despite the secularization of the country nearly 100 years ago, 61% of those surveyed still chose that, if they were to choose one word to describe their identity, they would choose "Muslim" (the second place answer was "Turk," chosen by only 13% of people surveyed). Professor Ergin attributes these findings to two kinds of nationalism subscribed to by the current government administration. The first is neo-liberal nationalism, which equates national pride with becoming an advanced nation. The second is Islamic nationalism, which makes the argument that Turkey should be the leader of the Islamic world. These two forms result in a great push for economic growth, but does not push for social development.
At the conclusion of his research, Professor Ergin defined three types of people in modern Turkey. The first group, constituting, 25% of the population, he calls Engaged Cosmopolitans. These are the people who are extremely secular, Western-looking, and protest and against the current government. According to Ergin, they are "cultural omnivores," accepting and utilizing both domestic and foreign culture. The second group, called Engaged Provincialists, make up 30% of the population, and they actively reject Western consumption items. Other than this, however, they overlap considerably with the first group from a cultural standpoint. The final group is the disengaged, which makes up the rest of the population, and this group chooses not to participate in these practices. They differ culturally from the prior two groups, but tends to ally with the Engaged Provincialists on morality questions.
The findings of Professor Ergin, combined with what we learned from our visits to Taksim Square, Gezi Park, and The Istanbul Modern art museum, greatly helped to outline the dynamics of modern Turkey.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Today we were able to sleep in just a little as our start time was slightly later than usual. At 9:00, after breakfast, we had a class meeting in our hotel in Izmir to discuss what we have seen and learned over the course of our journey, but especially over the past few days in ancient cities. We discussed how Aphrodisias and Ephesus were given higher status due to the emperor's decision to allow them to build a temple in the emperor's name. We also discussed how stories are used to draw tourists to certain sites as well as how Turkey relates to its ancient societies. All of these subjects help us gain a better understanding of what it means to be Turkish in Turkey.
After this captivating conversation as a class we walked a short distance to Smyrna: an ancient city that is currently being uncovered in Izmir. Work on the site began in the 1950s before which time it was used as a grave yard; the removed headstones can still be seen on the site.The section of Smyrna that is currently uncovered is the Agora or market place. It was built by the Romans in the second century. The unique aspect of this market place is that it consists of two levels. The bottom level was likely used for storage while the upper level served as the shopping center. We were able to explore both sections.
In the bottom level we found some ancient graffiti (a painting of a boat) as well as inscriptions that seem to suggest that there may have been a temple dedicated to the emperor somewhere near this site though nothing has been uncovered to date. We were also able to see first hand how the Romans used arches in order to support the structure of this and many other buildings.
The largest remains of the upper level of the Agora are the columns pictured below. They give us an idea about the grandiose size of the building in ancient times.
On this site we were told the story of Saint Polycarp who lived in Smyrna. He was an early Christian who refused to denounce God. For this, he was to be burned at stake, but the fire did not hurt him. He was then stabbed in the heart and became a martyr for Christianity. This story relates back to our class discussion about what draws tourists to these areas; the stories create interest in the site.
As we have seen three different ancient cities over the past three days, we have learned about the religious and cultural diversity of the time. We have seen societies who worship Aphrodite, the Roman emperor, a mother goddess, a christian god, and many more. We have witnessed the spread of religion and culture through these ancient societies and are able to connect this with modern Turkey which shows both western and middle eastern influences.
Upon leaving Smyrna today we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and hopped on the bus to the airport. On the way, we drove by what our tour guide called the Turkish version of Mt. Rushmore with the first president of Turkey, Atatürk, carved into the side of the mountain. On the bus ride, we also got to hear some enlightening stories about our tour guide's service in the Turkish military; he was one of the first turkish soldiers to go to NATO. After a short flight we are safely in Istanbul ready to enjoy our last few days in Turkey.