It is absolutely lovely: the church of Limnia (in Turkish Mormenekşe): Agios Nikolaos. Built in 1863, beautiful details can be found at the walls, in the tower, at the main porch.
It has been in use as a mosque and as far as I could see also as some kind of cultural house for the village. Whether that is still the case, was not clear when I visited; in other places churches are no longer used as mosques because new mosques have been built. Everything was closed, I could not enter the church Agios Nikolaos in Limnia and there were no people around to answer questions.
On the front side of the church, both the Turkish and the Turkish Cypriot flag were present which could indicate some kind of actual use. Alternative activities are not necessarily a disadvantage for a building, although I know that it is hard for Greek Cypriots to see their heritage used for other religious or nationalist purposes. When it comes to preservation, in Northern Cyprus churches that have been used or are still used, often show a much better state of affairs than empty churches that fall into the hands (feathers and dirt) of birds, rain and wind. Empty and deserted churches (since 1974 = for decades) have step by step fallen into decay – here are some examples.
There is a house next to the church Agios Nikolaos in Limnia, most probably some kind of dwelling for priests, that looks beautiful but proves the statement: it is empty and in a bad state that will not improve just by itself. The lovely details might disappear if nobody preserves this house or restores it.
Limnia was an all-Greek Cypriot village until 1974; the Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled to the South when the Turkish army entered Cyprus. Turkish Cypriot refugees from Southern Cyprus became the new inhabitants of Limnia and named it Mormenekşe after the village in the South they came from.
After the astonishing visits to the monument for Murataga-Sandallar and the Sehitler Müzesi, a last visit in this area remained: the finding place of the bodies of the Atlilar massacre. 37 people were killed and bulldozered into their grave in such a way that bodies could not be separated any more when the massacre was uncovered.
When I walked on that specific spot, the most striking aspect was the normality, the field-like aspect of the place. That spot looks like ‘the middle of nowhere’ and everybody knows nothing happens in the middle of nowhere. So how did these heavy things occur right here? It would be reassuring if a place where very bad things happen, had some kind of special sign or mark. But there is none. Of course now there is a monument and a man made statue in the former mass grave. Information boards tell visitors that abnormal activities took place here; but this information board is broken. Somehow, remembering does not seem to be serious business. It really irritates me to find broken information boards in memorial places like this, like I wrote in the blog about Murataga-Sandallar. How serious do officials take their own history? And how come locals don’t force them to do their duties and take care of the boards?
Also, we got more here about the ‘sehit’- approach (see my blog moving memories and then the last part) on one of the remaining, non-damaged information boards: ‘this monument was erected in memory of these 37 martyrs who did not flee from their village, and defended the honor of the Turkish flag on the cost of their lives‘. I found it difficult to read this text neutrally.
How can I describe a visit to the Atlilar monument? If you go there directly without visiting other nearby places, it might be very interesting. If you come to Atlilar after Sandallar-Murataga and the Sehitler Müzesi, the question is not so much to find something ‘new’, but to honour the dead, the individuals who died here without maybe even knowing why. If you do not care at all about any interpretation of what happened, you will feel just sad, maybe even overwhelmed by the cruelty and heartlessness of the events. And your understanding of the Turkish community in Cyprus and the role of Turkey will deepen.
Davet – Nazim Hikmet
Dörtnala gelip Uzak Asya’dan
Akdeniz’e bir kısrak başı gibi uzanan
bu memleket, bizim.
Bilekler kan içinde, dişler kenetli, ayaklar çıplak
ve ipek bir halıya benziyen toprak,
bu cehennem, bu cennet bizim.
Kapansın el kapıları, bir daha açılmasın,
yok edin insanın insana kulluğunu,
bu dâvet bizim….
Yaşamak bir ağaç gibi tek ve hür
ve bir orman gibi kardeşçesine,
bu hasret bizim…
In the Şehitler Müzesi that I found by accident (see blog 4 in this series) I bought a book that was published in 2015 under the title: 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide – Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar. It is a rather simple, straight forward book and therefor impressive. It contains the stories of survivors of the massacre in 1974 along with pictures of the victims. The stories are quite different, there is no sign of an editor or anything. They are not always logical or consistent and that gives it a pure and attractive style. It flows the way locals tell a story and you follow their story line without even breathing.
There is only one lesser thing to tell about the book, and that is the English translation. I am sorry that I did not buy the Turkish version because on several occasions the English translation is so bad that it is difficult to find out what was meant originally. I could have bought even both versions, for 10 TL per book it is very affordable. But I didn’t, alas. Now, I give you my analysis of some aspects of this book.
It matters to remember and to personalize the victims. A news item like “89 women, children and elderly were killed in Murataga – Sandallar” is terrible and then quickly disappears. This book shows the list of individual names and photographs of these 89 persons and those killed in Atlilar. It gives names and faces to the people we remember; it makes the crimes committed come much closer to our hearts and minds.
Most people on the pictures do not smile. Apparently being photographed was serious business at the time. This somehow increases the impression that is made on the observer. Some photographs are vague, it seems that that was the best they could find for the book. At least some memory is given to us, even though it is imperfect.
Remembering in this book is a mixture of photographs of those who were killed with the stories of the few who survived. This is an influential way of remembering. As a book, there are quite some technical failures – but that is maybe why this book is so interesting. It is pure and it is a direct message both from the deceased and from the survivors. There was clearly nobody ‘in between’ to interprete, to correct or to think about how to get the message across. The message is just the message. Remembering in this book is about hearing and listening to authentic stories.
Authenticity also means that memories differ. My impression is that some memories were influenced by actual events in the Middle East. For example two survivors say that they saw decapitated corpses when the victims were excavated. As said in an earlier blog, the corpses were bulldozered when they were buried. Other survivors say they saw loose body parts at the excavation, which is, combined with atrocities elsewhere in the Middle East, probably the explanation for the idea that there was decapitation. There are some claims that the attackers threw locals from the mosque, raped the women, dragged them on a rope behind a bus or burned the bodies. There are also claims that victims were buried while still alive.
Some survivors state that UN officials knew what was happening or even witnessed some facts; that they helped the locals afterwards but did nothing to prevent or intervene. Others do not speak about the UN at all.
This book is not a scientific study. The truth for all this is that we do not know exactly what happened. This book should be considered as a good start to deal with this past.
Peace, justice, nationalist and islamic influences
No one was punished for the massacres at Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar. In 1974 Cyprus was simply split in a Northern and a Southern part and initially it seems that people just wanted to forget about the past. Several victims that tell their story in the book call for justice. Others just rely on Turkey for protection. They feel that nobody except the Turks helped and will help them and this is more or less true with the exception of Kofi Annan who organized the 2003 referendum (where the Turkish Cypriots said yes to reunification but the Greek Cypriots said no).
All seem to agree that remembering the massacres is the only way to prevent that such cruelties happen again. The calls to remember go hand in hand with calls to be human:
“The struggle of Turkish Cypriot in order to exist in Cyprus has not finished yet. The form has only changed. Maybe, it is going to continue a few generations more. The thing to do is to reach the honoured peace and carry on this struggle, knowing the past by not forgetting it and, without being slave under the emotions of anger and hatred. Remembering the past is not for bearing a grudge to somebody, it is important to know who and how much we will trust in”. (p.122)
“I am giving this message to the youth. Do not forget your past and think your each step learning from the past. Do not be deceived. We are not trying to affect you to hate. Be kind and humanistic, and do not do anything Greeks did. Do not concede from your freedom and land. Live with your honour. This is the gift for you from our martyrs” (p. 193)
And there it is, the word ‘martyr’, in Turkish (and other languages in the Middle East): şehit. Talking ‘martyr’ instead of ‘victim’ has a meaning. Martyr is related to islam: he who sacrifices himself in the nationalist and islamist Turkish fight will go directly to heaven, a Grey Wolf adept explained me with enthusiasm: ‘me myself I have made many mistakes but if I fight in a war for Turkey and die there, they will all be wiped out’. In the 21st century narrative, the locals that died in this massacre, in my eyes as innocent victims – from a 16 days old baby to 95 year old elderly – become strong people who stood up for the Turkish flag and the Turkish identity and thus deserve martyrdom. The word ‘şehit’ is on the museum, on the graveyards, on the roadsigns and in the book. I like to refer here to the exposition I saw in the Stockholm National Historic Museum that questions who is telling your history. In Cyprus there is now a nationalist and islamist narrative in place that was not there 20 years ago. It is clear that the making of this book derives from that narrative, even though not every local in the book shares it. The question is why people interested in this narrative have taken on the making of a book about the Murataga – Sandallar – Atlilar massacre; it is worrying and likely to effect the peace process as well as the islamisation of Turkish Cypriot identity. However, the question is also why nobody in the 3 decades before was interested in the making of a book about the Murataga – Sandallar – Atlilar massacre and in justice for the victims….
“I was teacher in the semester of 1973-1974. I had twenty five students in the class. They were all murdered and martyred. I cried for them (…). There were two deaf students among the students in the class, one of them was a girl, and the other was a boy. I can’t forget them. (…)
I remember how Uncle Rüstem come back from captivity. He lost his wife and four children. Who would console? Everybody was wounded, and was so sad. We cried all together.
Then, all of us were unhappy in the village. We wanted to run away and be freed from all pains. Elder people in the village offered to go to Dörtyol, and we went together. It wasn’t like we thought, because our pains were with us, as well. There is still fire burning inside of us. It is something that will never end inside.
I hope that the ones, who hurt our hearts, are going to be punished. I really desire this.” (p. 162-166)
* 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar, published by MASDER, the association to keep alive the memories/martyrs. Published Cyprus 2015 (no ISBN)
A school serves as Şehitler Müzesi, the Martyr’s Museum for Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar where massacres took place in 1974. I passed this museum by surprise, on my way from the monument and mass grave of Murataga and Sandallar to the one in Atlilar. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a museum, maybe it is of rather recent date. It is quite small and somehow one of the saddest places I have ever been.
The school lies in a kind of courtyard where there is enough place to put your car. I was the only visitor that day and the day before me there was also only 1 visitor. As you can see on the picture, there are information boards on the left (in Turkish) and the right (in English) along the path to the Şehitler Müzesi and they are really good. Of course the perspective of the information is the Turkish Cypriot perspective; this is not the place for an interesting two-sided history. If you go to the Şehitler Müzesi, you look through the eyes of the locals of Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar. As their perceptions are rarely found in the news or other sources of information, I found it very enrichening for a better understanding of why things are felt the way they are in Northern Cyprus.
The school of Murataga-Sandallar was not very old. Until 1958, children used to go to the mixed school of Alaniçi (in Greek: Pigi Peristerona). There had always been some pressure on the Turkish Cypriot children but the heavy troubles of 1958 chased all Turkish Cypriot children away and forced the last Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Pigi Peristerona to leave and move to the smaller village of Murataga (in Greek: Maratha). Murataga welcomed the ‘refugees’ and built houses for them. At that time also a school and a mosque were made. Who could imagine that on August 14, 1974, 29 children (their names are in the picture) of that school would be killed, bulldozered and buried in mass graves?
However, what affected me most, was the guide of the museum himself… At the time of the massacre, most Turkish Cypriot men were in camps where the Greek Cypriots kept them as prisoner; some young men like himself had already gone to places where the fights took place, in his case Famagusta (in Turkish: Gazimagusa). While they were absent, the women, the children and the elderly were murdered. The men who survived and returned to Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar, found out that they lost almost everybody. For the museum guide this meant: his mother, his five sisters and his brother – you can see them in the lower row on the picture to the right – and his aunt and her seven children. Only his father who was a prisoner at the time of the massacre, survived.
Now, this man is every day in a museum that – compared to museums in Amsterdam where I live – has hardly any visitors and he stays in that school alone facing the pictures of his murdered family members and all the other victims every day…
The museum has a video (Turkish only) about the event but I didn’t watch it.
If you are interested in the history of Cyprus, I do recommend the Şehitler Müzesi even though it might cover you with a blanket of sadness; it will highly contribute to your understanding of the Turkish Cypriot soul, and why they put safety first in all the negotiations with the Greek Cypriots.
The Şehitler Müzesi has published a book under the title: 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide – Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar. I bought the book and will tell you more about it in my next blog.
89 inhabitants of Murataga and Sandallar were murdered on August 14 1974; the youngest was a 16 days old baby, the oldest 95 year old. Cyprus that got independency and a brand new constitution in 1963 had developed into an area of war. Not only had Turkish Cypriots been dismissed from government jobs, put into enclaves and the like; in 1974 heavy fighting was going on between different Greek Cypriot factions (related to the regime change in Greece November 1973). There was a general threat that ENOSIS, the annexation of Cyprus as part of Greece, would finally be realized.
On July 20, Turkish troops had landed on Cyprus to come to the rescue of the Turkish Cypriots as ethnic cleansing had become a fact of life for them. Two Greek-Turkish-British conferences in Geneva followed in order to try to solve the problems of Cyprus. But the negotiations in which the Turks demanded the lifting of the Greek siege of Turkish Cypriot villages were unsuccessful.
Buried with bulldozers
Then the Turkish army proceeded their operation in a new offensive on August 14 but at that moment they were not yet near Murataga and Sandallar. Most men of those villages had been taken as prisoners of war to Famagusta, a harbour city with strategic Greek installations. The men were helt there as a human shield to prevent Turkish bombing. In the absence of the men, Greek Cypriots from neighbouring villages most probably supported by national guards and Greek soldiers, came to Murataga and Sandallar. They gathered the women, children and the elderly villagers and brought them to a huge hollowed out pit in a field used for dumping rubbish. All were shot dead on the spot and subsequently buried with the help of bulldozers.
Buried in new graves
They were found only weeks later and dug up on September 1 under the surveillance of UN soldiers (photos of that day exist). Apparently the bodies were severely damaged by the bulldozers and difficult to identity. In a recent project to find the many people that were ‘lost’ in the 1963-1974 period – both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, see also this 2016 article – identification of the then found bodies has started. And here I stood, many years after these horrible events, at a cemetary that looks rather new. The dead of 1974 Murataga and Sandallar finally seem to get their own final grave to rest. The burial of 4 newly identified victims took place just a few days after I was there (see this article, in Turkish only). All the tombs are ready but most of them are still empty. They will probably be filled one by one.
Impressions on the spot
I found this place thanks to the indication of locals in Alaniçi after a surprising visit to the churches in that village (see my first and second blogs about this subject) and it impressed me deeply. A photo exposition gives some information about the events, and a marble sign points to the place of the mass grave. I went there. It has a marble monument next to the spot of the former mass grave and what really irritated me, an information board that has just fallen to the ground. On lifting it, the information was visible and no different from the information at the place of the tombs. But however, either you want to give that information at two spots, then take good care of it, or you just remove it from the second spot. A mass grave is not a place to be so disrespectful, that is really disturbing…
Next on my road was Atlilar, the 3rd village where a mass murder took place in 1974. But on the way to go there, I came across a museum, the Sehitler Müzesi (museum of the martyrs), another unexpected surprise that I will tell more about in my next blog.
* Harry Scott Gibbons – The Genocide Files – Charles Bravos Publishers UK 1997
After the visit of the 3 churches in Alaniçi I went to a coffeeshop in the middle of the village to find out more about the background of the extensive graffiti on those churches, mentioning EOKA, ENOSIS and more signs of a cruel past and ethnic cleansing in Cyprus. It was easy to get in contact with some elderly locals. They explained that they originated from villages in the Larnaka region, now in Southern Cyprus. When the Turks came to the rescue of the Turkish Cypriots in 1974, many Greek Cypriots flew to the south while Turkish Cypriots flew to the north.
It was a traumatic event where many inhabitants from both sides had to leave not just their possessions but also the neighbourhoods and the lands they deeply loved. Greek Cypriots have been mourning loud and clear ever since, asking back their belongings and the lands of their ancestors. The Turkish Cypriots have been mourning too, about a lost past. As their safety was at stake in the period of the conflict, they had no interest to go back to where they came from after 1974. They helt no political lobby and just mourned in silence. See also my blog about different perspectives on heritage between the north and the south.
Alaniçi (Peristerona Pigi) was originally a mixed village, with Cypriots of Greek and Turkish background. But already long before 1974, no more Turkish Cypriots lived in this village, an old man told me. They went to neighbourhoods further in the fields because they were threatened. Ethnic cleansing had an early history here (later I found confirmation of that story on this website). In 1974 the Greek Cypriots left Alaniçi for the south while Turkish Cypriots coming from the south were rehoused in empty Greek villages.
When I asked about the graffiti of EOKA on the churches, the locals became emotional and did not want to talk any more about this subject. It was only then that I realized that the places of the 1974 massmurders were here; I always thought they were close to Lefkosa (Nicosia) and had been looking without ever finding them. The locals were happy to show me the road to those villages: Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar; I think they were just happy that going there meant I would leave them alone. There was no anger or bitterness in their avoidance: just an immense grief. They would not express that in words. It was like a cloud that had covered them – and me, by the way.
The road went through fields where there seemed to be absolutely nothing. And then, suddenly, it was there. A monument, a graveyard that looked quite new, a short photo exhibition, a sign pointing at the location of a mass grave. It is difficult to imagine that there can be so much hatred in the wideness and largeness of empty fields… but it had been there. I stepped out of the car to take a closer look into the cruel past of Cyprus (to be continued in the next blog).
Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) has 3 churches that are not just monuments; they happen to wear the signs of a cruel past. I went to Alaniçi to see the churches and make some pictures to describe them in a blog as I did before with many other churches. See for example my blogs about the Panagia Eleousa church or the monastery church Antiphonitis. I didn’t know it was going to be a heavy day with a confrontation of violence and murder that took place particularly in this area in the years 1963-1974 (1974 is the year the Turkish army took hold of the northern part of Cyprus to protect the Turkish Cypriots, thus ending this type of terror). In this blog I describe the three churches as I searched and found them – it will have a follow up in the next blogs.
The first church is (most probably) named Agia Marina. It is beautiful but in bad shape. The doors are closed but entering through a large window is possible. Pigeons live there in large quantities so the dirt is obvious. Most of the church’s interior is destroyed; see for example the marble altar in pieces in front of the church choir. It is possible to go upstairs to the first floor; the stairs are intact but I didn’t risk to walk on the wooden balcony though. What surprised me however, was to find the words EOKA and ENOSIS on the outer walls of the church, along with other Greek writings I could not decipher at that moment. I was surprised because during my multiple visits to Greek churches in the North all over the Island I never found these on church walls: just once, on the wall of a churchyard at Agios Prokopios church. I took some pictures but didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Agios Anastasios: two churches
Next, easy to find when you just follow the main road through the village, was the enormous Agios Anastasios church, built in 1953. It is open and also the first floor can be visited. There is still a good impression of what this church was meant to be. The state of the concrete and several details does not look attractive at this moment but my opinion can be biased because I don’t like this kind of new churches.
The old monastery church that stands nearby is also open because a door is missing. There is nothing interesting left at the interior. I could not find any history about this church, whether and how it was used after the new church opened in 1953. A short look down the stairs lead to a small cellar under the church. Some buildings next to the church could have been sleeping places for monks or stockrooms. Nothing really left there either.
Just like the Agia Marina church, these churches had the words EOKA, ENOSIS, Kupros and Ellas and other Greek texts on the walls in large quantities, mostly with blue paint. Their visibility was limited because some white paint covered it more or less, but not enough. I was surprised and also a bit shocked because churches are religious places; it is difficult to see them related to political and ethnic violence. What had been going on here? And why were signs of a cruel past found on the churches here and not in other places in Northern Cyprus? I decided not to leave Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) immediately but to look for a restaurant or a coffee house. Maybe it was possible to meet with locals who could tell more?
You can read that in my next blog…
Info about the Agia Marina church (with a ? behind the name).
Info about the two Agios Anastasios churches: the new and large church, and the old monastery church.
Info about the population of Alaniçi – Pigi Peristerona (displacement and resettlement).
A kastel is not a castle in Gaziantep but a water distribution centre that has also sanitary and religious functions. Under the surface of Gaziantep there are large streams of water. ‘Nobody knows where they come from or where they go but we have always used them’, my guide said. He showed interesting parts of the extensive underground channel system. And we went into the oldest kastel, Pisirici Mescidi ve Kasteli from the 13th century. It looked very beautiful, well taken care of. In the different ‘niches’ you see on the picture above are toilets and baths where people could wash themselves. The water is very clean and also cold; it is not like a Roman bath where heating systems were in place. The roof was made so that good airconditioning for the kastel was secured, both in cold and in warm seasons, to have some kind of pleasant ‘average’ temperature continuously.
On the other side of the water reservoir room, there is a mescid, a room for prayer. They were often combined with the underground water reservoirs because it enabled believers to have their rituals in washing according to the islamic rules. Book shelves formed a small library in the mescid. Thus multifunctional centers existed already at very early stages in Gaziantep. Kastels are not very large and they won’t take a lot of your time when you visit them. But they are worth your visit as they are unique and refined in shape and light.
Minorities and Gaziantep: there is a painful past that remains untold. Armenians and Jews lived in this city, called Aintep or Ayintep in the old days, for over a thousand years. Going to Gaziantep castle / kalesi, the signs that tell you about the history of 1919-1923 narrate about the coalition between the French and the Armenians, thus reducing Armenians to the status of traitors of their city and their country. It is a convincing, consistent story for visitors who never heard about the period before. As the death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1914-1916 is even formally recognized by the Turkish government, a museum fails when it presents facts in this way.
Minorities Gaziantep heritage
Few signs indicate that Gaziantep once had thriving minority communities who largely contributed to the wealth of the city in trade, science and arts. The former synagogue has been restaured and is now a cultural center for the university. The former Kenderli church has also been transformed into a culturel center. The former Armenian Catholic Surp Asdvazdadzin church is now a mosque called the Liberation Mosque (Kurtulus Camii). In the center close to the castle there is a neighbourhood called Bey where the minorities used to live. It is full of cafes and hotels and also home to quite some Syrian refugees. The investment in restauration is strikingly less here than in other parts of the city. What is rebuilt, is the great Ottoman past. There is an inclination to wipe out a part of history that is more difficult to explain.
Local truths about minorities in Gaziantep
I asked around to see what locals would answer me. Where are the Armenians and the Jews? Where did they go and why? These are sensitive subjects but locals were not unwilling to shed some light on them. For the Armenians, I met with two kind of responses. Mostly and at first sight locals told me that Armenians cooperated with the French and that they left with them, in 1923. But other views were also given, and what surprised me is that they were given by very nationalist locals. ‘They got rid of them, yani…’ (and then a waiving hand symbolizing their disappearance). ‘You know there was freedom of religion in the Ottoman empire and we were living side by side. That was better’. ‘I do not respect the heroes shown at the castle (see my blog about that), you know what these people did, they used the situation to steal from the Armenians and enrich themselves. They have become wealthy by killing and looting. I would never go to the exposition in the castle, these people are not good’. This kind of responses by ordinary locals show me that on a deeper level, there is awareness of how the Gaziantep society deals with minorities and the historic narrative, even when you do not hear it in the daily narrative.
As for the Jews, it is difficult to get an answer from locals. ‘But the Jews, where did they go? They were not involved in the fight with the French. I saw the synagogue, they were here. So…?’ All but one I got there was a kind of blank look; locals staring at me with a look I can not interprete. Don’t they know? Do they think I am naive? Is there some embarrasment they do not want to speak about? On the subject of the Jews, they stayed silent. All but one. ‘I will tell you what happened to the Jews, and to the last Armenians that were here in Gaziantep. In the ’70s crosses were put on their houses to indicate that Jews and Armenians lived there. So they left, not all of them abroad, also to Ankara, to Istanbul. They didn’t stay here because they were threatened. People won’t tell you that but this is what happened’…. (another wave of the hand, to show how despicable the actions in the ’70s have been).
The new Syrian minority
Syrians form now a 20% minority in Gaziantep. Their migration has come up in just a few years time. They are called ‘brothers’ and that is not only because of the status of neighbours; they are muslims like the people of Gaziantep are. I can not prove it but walking and talking around I had a stronge sense that that matters more than ethnicity. Also, Syrians are seen as guests and their venue is expected to be temporarily, although maybe for ten or fifteen years. Future will tell how that develops.
Another thing that I can not prove, there is a new, cosmopolitan spirit in Gaziantep that would like to go back to Ottoman times where respect is shown for minorities, also religious minorities. Although there is hardly any Armenian and Jew left in town, this is always a sign of hope. We can not change the past but we might influence the future.
A very interesting blog about the Liberation Mosque, (Kurtulus Camii) and the Armenians in Gaziantep’s history: a beautiful mosque …
About the restauration of the Kenderli church:
Short info about the synagogue: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaziantep_Synagogue
Travelling in Gaziantep is very nice. Here are some observations about life in Gaziantep and some tips to enjoy yourself.
Craftmanship is of great value for Gaziantep. You can find high quality for food and drinks as well as for products. Gaziantep’s copper market for example is famous and more than just a tourist attraction with loads of stuff you don’t need. Beautiful shops for herbs, nuts, coffee and tea like the one on the picture above from Emir Musa that is close to the Millet Hani, on the opposite side at the end of Gümrük Sokagi (Street). In front of Emir Musa’s shop, you find Ramazan’s Sahlep Car. Sahlep is a milk drink on the basis of an orchid root. It is very healthy and helps you through winter times (in summer he must be selling some other drink). Ramazan serves his sahlep with cinnamon and pistaccio and it is the best sahlep I ever drank in Turkey.
A clean and accessible city
While walking or travelling through Gaziantep, you will find a city that is clean and well taken care off, with good public transport. The city is old (= oneven in surface) but on several places there are efforts to make it accessible also for people with a handicap. The Zeugma Museum houses an organisation for young people with a handicap. There are visible efforts for all to participate (except minorities from other religions, see a later post). Works are ongoing everywhere. Gaziantep is the 6th city of Turkey and the 3rd in wealth. The government invests actively in the development of the city: building and restauration, tourist attractions, parcs, trade, transport. As for restauration, especially remains of the Osman period get government attention as well as anything related to the War of Independance or remains from pre-islamic, ancient times. In an old Osman neighbourhood I had a guide who showed me around for a few hours and refused to accept any money as the government paid him for his job. This guide was well educated, he knew everything about his part of the city, also historical. His expertise, enthusiasm and honesty were impressive.
Walking and sports
Sports get some attention in Gaziantep. In general, people walk a lot in Gaziantep, much more than in other Turkish cities. They don’t seem to care and unlike other Turkish cities, nobody asks you `why you walk`. Most people in the streets look slim and fit. Last Sunday, there was an organised ‘Freedom Run’ through the city: 10 kilometers for professionals, 5 kilometers for amateurs. Loads of people participated, including children. To be honest, in the way it was organised it looked a bit chaotic – on certain crosspoints many took different directions – but it was a real sportive challenge and fun in the meantime. A great event that got the right attention.
Something else, in the streets I saw no women wearing a skirt or dress, apart from the long, covert dresses that veiled women wear. I wonder whether that was because the city is overall rather conservative or just because women were cold as it was winter when I visited. I also noticed skinny jeans are the general fashion for those who do not cover up completely. I`d like to know from someone who visited the city summertime, if `not showing legs` is usual or seasonal and how that relates to skinny jeans. Feel free to comment.
Tourism and (security) problems
Last but not least, there are only few visitors from abroad in Gaziantep, all tourists are Turkish. I myself got several warnings beforehand not to go to Gaziantep that would be dangerous because of the Syrian border nearby and because of the political situation between Turkey versus the Netherlands and Germany: the Turks might arrest me. Except from normal security matters there are no specific dangers in Gaziantep, on the contrary: the great hospitality in Gaziantep means that all want to help you for whatever you need. There has not been one single prejudice about me being Dutch and the political blabla. I do not consider Gaziantep more or less dangerous than Istanbul, Izmir, Paris or Rome. Don’t let nervous comments prevent you from visiting Gaziantep!
The city is big, two million inhabitants, but has the character of a provincial city. That means that many people only speak Turkish and their knowledge comes from Turkish speaking media which is, compared to international cities, limited. The struggle for daily life is predominant, global issues such as sustainability are rather unknown. Refusing a plastic bag in a shop ‘because you already have a bag’, to save the environment, is not understood, it is not within their frame of reference. Shop keepers will feel that you do not let them take good care of you and get disappointed. This is a gap you might not bridge during a simple visit. I just took the plastic bags and stayed friends with the locals. As for the language, try to learn a few words, it will be highly appreciated. Be aware when you try to explain something, that people with no experience in second language learning usually do not understand your problems such as `looking for words’. If they don’t help you in expressing yourself, that is the reason. Use objects to show what you want and see the humour of the struggle. Gaziantep locals have a great sense of humour and creativity. As long as respect is shown, all problems will be solved.
More tips for travelling in Gaziantep
For tips concerning Gaziantep museums and other touristic destinations:
and other blogs on this site. Enjoy!
The 500.000 Syrian refugees form an important part of the actual population of Gaziantep. In western countries people feel that the amount of Syrian refugees form a burden: 1 million on 80 million in Germany, 60.000 on 6 million in Austria, 70.000 on 17 million in the Netherlands. They resist against the in their eyes large numbers of refugees.
Gaziantep is a town of 1,5 or 2 million people, and this town has received 500.000 (!) Syrian refugees. Think about this, compare it to the western countries I mentioned here… What is the feeling of a town where every 1 out of 4 or 5 persons is now Syrian instead of Turkish? There are several sides to this question.
Answer 1: the principle
I have found no one in Gaziantep to discuss the principle that the Syrian refugees are there for a reason and that Gaziantep should offer a shelter to them. All share that idea and find it normal to host the Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, even when it comes with a (huge) price. They see Syrians as their guests who lost everything. They see them as brothers they want to comfort in difficult times. The amount of 0,5 million refugees is seen as a heavy burden that is there to take – just like that. Already before the Syrian war, life was a struggle for the ‘ordinary’ Gaziantep-inhabitant. That life has become even more difficult. It is seen and taken as a fact of life. No one blames the Syrians for it. The Gaziantep-inhabitants have to live with it and they do. Helping Syrians is their duty and their pride. Just like that.
Answer 2: Daily practice
Syrian refugees in Gaziantep are very visible. You see them in the streets, in restaurants and coffeehouses, in the Zoo and around the shops. They do or do not work: that differs. They get loads of help in food, housing, clothing and the like. When they work, they do not pay taxes or health insurance. The Turks say: ‘your country is a mess, your house has disappeared. You are our guest. Keep your money for the day you can return – you will need it’. The ordinary, often not very wealthy Turks, pay for all the costs that the Syrian refugees bring. Moreover, they work for low wages so that ordinary Turks see their position and their income threatened. ‘Life was always difficult here, but now it has become even more difficult’, locals told me. But they do not complain, they are rather proud of the sacrifices they bring. ‘This is how we are, we want to help, look at the state of these poor refugees’.
When Syrians drive a car in Gaziantep, they get a special numberplate. It will show M when the car was bought in Turkey, and SA when the car was imported from Syria. Syrians must be recognizable because they are not insured for damage done. If they cause an accident to someone else, that person has to pay for the damage. So: you drive on a road, a Syrian does not pay attention and hits your car and you have to pay for all the damage. Gaziantep-inhabitants call this ‘absurd’ but they still accept it as a fact of life. They try to avoid Syrians on the road as much as possible.
Answer 3: personal feelings
In an apparently strange contradiction to the first two answers given, I have not found anyone in Gaziantep who liked Syrians. Syrians are called ‘our guests’ and ‘our brothers’ but they are far from popular. There seems to be a consensus that Syrians have no pride and ‘no values’. They fight a lot and show no respect to each other or to the Turks.
Moreover they cause problems in the streets. Thefts have increased and shopowners explain you (softly, when nobody can hear it) that these are Syrians; they have to keep a very close eye on their business when Syrians are around. Syrians also like to go out and make a lot of noise in late hours – note that the average hard-working Turk ends the day at 22.00h. Young Syrians commit robberies, destroy public objects and make the streets of Gaziantep unsafe. I haven’t heard inhabitants blame the police because ‘so many things happen, the police can just not keep up with it’. I witnessed myself a robbery with knifes, and vandalism.
Still, no one wants to ask the Syrians to go back to Syria because there is nothing to go back to and they are our guests – in Middle Eastern hospitality you don’t ask the guests how long they will stay. It is intriguing to see that the Turks offer, even sacrify, so much to people they do not like and that that goes for them without saying.
All in all, I think the Turks and especially the people of Gaziantep deserve our deepest admiration, respect and support for their enormous contribution to the Syrian refugee crisis.
The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep has a large and most interesting collection, starting with fossiles and ending with islamic artefacts from the Osmanli period. The start of the museum shows all the periods of Gaziantep history and their timelines; with the last period, the Turkish Republic, as the greatest. The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep is well designed and well organized. The objects are presented beautifully and all signs are in Turkish and English.
The collection is overwhelming in variety and quality. If you go to a Western Archaeological Museum, most of the collection derives – legally or illegally – from other countries. Not here…. Gaziantep is one of those places where civilization started at a very early age. The collection derives not even from ‘Turkey’ as a whole but from the region. Locals told me that they grew up with archeological artefacts; just by playing outside, they would regularly find old stuff. It is everywhere. So nobody will tell you about the beauty of the museum: locals consider this richness as a normal status!
You can easily spend two hours at the museum. If you can only endure one hour at most (like many people do), chose your period in advance and go to the part of the museum where that can be found.
Choice of masterpieces
I give you here some pieces that I found very interesting – remember that it is a choice out of thousands of artefacts so go and see for yourself what you like.
Neolithic prehistory: it is always nice to find a lively scene at the entry of a museum. Many evidence of early settlers (10.000-5.500 BC) were found in the Gaziantep region.
A grave that dates from the Iron Age, with gifts that indicate a belief in life after death. The necropolis at the Euphrates in Nizip showed that graves were reused multiple times throughout the years. ‘Old’ bones and their ornaments were just pushed aside to make room for the newcomer.
Kuttamuwa Stele, used in a temple where sacrifices were brought for the death. There is a video in the museum that revives the temple and the ceremonies, very nice!
Steles from the Hittites. Depicted is Teshup, the God of the Mountain, of Trade etc. Wonderful pieces!
Banquet Staged Stele, also Hittite period: if you see this 2800 year old picture, you can imagine that you would have a nice night out dining with a Hittite friend. There is no time-gap in pleasure…
Karkemish is on the border with Syria; half of the ancient city (antik kent) lies in Syria (Jarablus). I wanted to visit this but it is still closed due to the situation in Syria. Still there are active excavations and the Turkish government is preparing to reopen Karkemish as soon as possible.
The pieces are absolutely unique. For several objects, there are texts on the back side in hieroglyphs or cuneiform (both were used) and they are translated in Turkish and English on signs: extremely interesting.
Red polished ceramics of the Urartu; perfection of craftmanship and the ability to organize trade for it 2800 years ago. Design used not just by royals, also by ordinary folks. Just wow.
Urartu bracelets, have a look: the same type of bracelets can even be sold today. They have designed jewelry that passed through the ages…
Roman bracelets, made out of glass. They are so beautiful! I’d love to see those reproduced in the actual days (maybe an idea for the Murano factories in Italy?).
Notice: I skipped fossiles, beautiful iron objects, dramatic Urartu weapens, Persian statues, Commagene objects, golden jewelry… it is just too much to show here. So: go there and see for yourself.
How to get there?
Be aware that there are 3 museums in Gaziantep about antiquities. This is information that is hard to find on internet and locals generally do not know the exact details.
* Medusa Glass museum with glass and many ancient artefacts, this is a private museum next to the Castle/Kale in the center.
* Zeugma Museum for mosaics, seen from the center it lies on ‘the other/outer side’ of the former train station, a 2-3 kilometers walk from the Castle/Kale.
* Archaeological Museum, next to the Stadion (locals know the Stadion best so ask for that location). Organisationally Zeugma and Archaeological Museum belong together, in distance there is about 1,5 kilometer between them, both on another side of the former train station. Archaelogical Museum is about 1-1,5 kilometer walk from the Castle/Kale.
Both the Archaeological and Zeugma Museum have a beautiful museum shop with original products, prints of museum artefacts on magnets, booklets, cushions etc, handwoven high quality shawls or handmade bags and so on. The books they have about archaeology, economy, trade and local life are most interesting but alas only in Turkish. The cooking book of the Gaziantep kitchen would deserve a translation in the first place as this excellent kitchen is attractive for many nationalities, not just Turks. Note that the shop in the Archaeological Museum is at the entrance but they lead you out through the cafe, so for the shop you have to walk back to the entrance to find it; in Zeugma museum shop and cafe are combined at the exit (and they have good coffee 🙂