Harran: nothing to see!? (1)

harran

In the middle of the wide, flat plain 40 kilometers south of Şanlıurfa lies Harran. It is confirmed that this Harran is indeed the place where Abraham went when God told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, as the bible book Genesis tells us. Therefor I had to go there and experience it! Moreover, Harran has ruins of a medieval islamic university: a period when Islam prospered in combination with science. People warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ but I love places without anything to see. So I found myself in fields where nomads seem to live the way Abraham did as a nomad 4000 years ago, overlooking empty plains far into Syria.

Harran Aleppo gate

The dolmuș that brings you from Urfa to Harran stops where the four kilometer long city walls of ancient Harran begin. Some parts of the walls have recently been restaured, more restauration projects will follow. The walls are impressive. I passed the gate of Aleppo, the only gate that remained from the originally six gates (opening the road to Anatolia, Arslanli, Mosul, Baghdad, and Raqqa). In front of me lay a long road going over a hill. Far away on the left, the shade of a tower that could be the spectacular leftover of the medieval university, renowned and successful for hundreds of years.

harran

Up the hill were active excavations in what is called the ‘mound of Harran’. It has a 9000 year old history and thousands of artefacts were already found. Spectacular are the Stèlès from the 6th century BC that are exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Şanlıurfa; look at the pictures and imagine them here in this spot, overlooking the plains.

6th century BC steles found in mound of Harran, exposed in Arkeoloji Müzesi Șanliurfa
tumulus

Today’s Harran is a small provincial city but it had a central place in early history during thousands of years. Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ayyubids, Ummayads: Harran was a mighty town for many different powers, until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.

harran tumulus

It never recovered from that and did not regain its central position in the middle-eastern history.
Harran is only 15 kms away from Syria and some actual (December 2018) hotspots in the Syrian war. But Harran is totally quiet. People here fear more an inner war in Şanlıurfa region than a possible attack from Syrian groups to Turkey (‘they do not dare that because we will fight and die for our country’). Read more about these tensions in this blog.

harran

It is true there is not so much ‘to see’ here but the visitor walks over grounds of 9000 years of civilisation and that is a great experience in itself! Moreover the idea that Abraham was here, and his father Thera, his wife Sara and other members of his family. It is an experience not to be missed and a feel of ancient times that brings history closer to understanding.

harran

I followed the path and came to the site of Harran university. It was closed for restauration purposes but I could still have a good impression of the enormity of the complex. Although this university is usually presented as an islamic achieval, it was already active as a study center during many centuries before the arrival of islam.

harran

Harran was originally the core centre of the worship of Sin, with a central place for the god moon and practices in following the sun, moon and planets. Sciences like astronomy were well developed and early Greek works like Aristotle had been translated to Syriac, local language. These efforts opened the Greek world to Arabs later on and it made the rule of the Abbasids flourish, a period called the islamic golden age.

harran tower

Under pressure of the Ummayid caliph Marwan II in 744 the local pagan scientists called themselves Sabeans as this was a religion accepted by islam. Thus they escaped accusations of paganism and possible penalties like exile and hanging. Sabeanism seem to have had the worship of Sin but that was also the religion originally practiced in Harran. Stories are contradictory here, I could not find out what was the difference between the old practicesin Harran and the Sabean practices accepted under islam pressure. Some say it was about cruel blood offers of young people that had to be abolished under islam, but I could not find formal sources for that. The same goes for the story that Sabeans had adopted a ‘book’ – the Corpus Hermeticum – to be accepted by islam.

harran ruins

Most probably the Sabeans are related to the Mandaeans, a now Iraqi minority that lives in the marshes between the Euphrate and Tigris – they might even be descendants of Sabeans who had to flee when islamic religious pressure became too strong to uphold their own religious practices. Today Sabeanism a ‘religion of nature’ that survives in Turkey, though very much underground, waiting for better days to come.

harran

I was surprised to discover that.12th century traveller Ibn Jubayr places the location of the temple of Sin originally on the spot of the university. The tower that in modern literature is described as an islamic built minaret belonging to the mosque built here in the 7th century, is the only left over of that temple. Turkish sources deny that but it is probably true. Anyway ‘stories’ seem to flourish more in Harran than well researched facts. I found Harran a place where there is still a clash of different ideas, although rather hidden than outspoken. The people who warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ were right and still I am very happy I went there – Harran in all its desertion influenced my perspective as much as Urfa did.

harran dolmus stop

How to go to Harran
I had a lot of trouble finding out how to get in Harran without taxi so I explain it for you here if you like to go. There is a dolmuș going to and from Harran every 15 minutes until 17.30. In Şanlıurfa it starts in the new Otogar that lies outside the center (1 hour walk but there are city-busses and dolmuș-busses on that road). Upstairs are the intercity busses, downstairs the dolmuș-busses like the one to Harran. You can also go to the Nevali Hotel, a high building visible from far away. Follow the (car) road sign to Harran, just 50 meters and that is a spot where the dolmuș stops, right in front of the ‘Urfa Anadolu Lisesi’ sign on the picture above. There is no bus-stop sign but if you lift your hand when you see it coming, it stops anyway. It takes about 1,5 hours to go (as the driver looks for passengers) and 1 hour to return. In Harran, it drops you off at walking distance from the antiquities.

Read also part 2: Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past


Graves near Abraham’s cave

graves near Abraham's cave
“my misery was not finished but my life was”

Graves near Abraham’s cave
‘You can’t go there, it is dangerous’, the man told me while I was walking on a beautiful path amid hundreds of graves. I had come half way the graveyard, enjoying the tranquility and reading the names and comments on the stones. ‘Really’, the man said and he pointed towards one of the exit porches, ‘you are walking here alone and furtheron it is dangerous with drugusers and the like. I can not let you continue, you understand that’. He looked at me in the genuine hope that I would understand indeed.

Graves near Abraham’s cave
Graves near Abraham’s cave

Political correctness exists in many countries, also in Turkey. Here in conservative Şanlıurfa, they find it difficult that a woman wanders all by herself without a clear and useful purpose such as doing shopping, and even then she is usually not alone. Women are not present when their beloved ones are buried; in the best case, they watch from a distance while the men do the ceremony. And here I am, crossing all the lines by walking freely over the graveyard, uncontrolled by a man, undefined by any purpose.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

Political correctness means that the man does not tell me directly to go away because I am a woman, alone. He is aware of western values and my possible ignorance about the middle-eastern ones. Therefor he tries to convince me on the grounds that are always used everywhere in Turkey in cases like these: he tells me that it would be dangerous not to listen to him. I give it a small try, by showing a shocked face when he mentions drug users on this rainy Monday morning ‘oh, do you not have police officers to come and do something about it?’ ‘Yes, of course, they will be here when there is an incident’, is the answer I get, ‘please Madam, follow me’. I decide to give up, it is not that important anyway, and follow him on the way out.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

I was on my way to Abraham’s cave when I saw the immense graveyard and decided to have a look. Is it a coincidence to find so many graves here? I don’t think so. All these people have found a last place to rest in the very neighbourhood of the holiest place in this region. The very very lucky ones have conquered one of the rare spots next to Abraham’s cave and the Mevlid-i Hilal mosque, see the picture on the right. It was taken from the road to the castle (Kale) that looks down on the Dergah Complex. In many places, like Rome and Jerusalem, people get buried close to holy places (Saint Peter’s church, Mountain of Olives) to be the first one to witness on the last day, on Judgement Day. I do not know what is the thought of being buried in graves near to Abraham’s cave: there will be no resurrection of a holy person there because Abraham was buried in Hebron, not in Şanlıurfa, and it is not the spot where a prophet will reveal himself on Judgement Day. There must be a thought that I missed (feel free to comment below if you know how this works).

Graves near Abraham’s cave

Another interesting story here is the grave of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî. If you are in the court that gives direct access to Abraham’s cave, look opposite to the entrance to find a special chamber for Bediüzzaman Said Nursî. He is presented as a Muslim scholar and commentator of the Quran and the author of the Risale-i Nur collection. In Western Europe he is known as the founder of the so-called Nurcu movement.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

A sign mentions that he always longed for Şanlıurfa and asked to be brought there when he felt death coming. Thus he spent his last three days in Urfa lying in a hotelbed, surrounded by praying students ‘from all the corners of the country’, then he blew out his last breath on March 23 1960. They buried him in front of Abraham’s cave. But a few months after the military coup of May 1960, officials dug up his body and transported it to another place, unknown until today. So what you look at in the chamber is an empty grave. The fight between secularism and fundamental islam is older than just the 21st century…

You may also like these blogs:
Graveyards as symbol of ethnic conflict
Graveyards: Northern Cyprus heritage

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Balıklıgöl in Şanlıurfa is like a place deriving from the stories of 1001 night… or like one of the best places we have in the Netherlands, the Efteling. Balıklıgöl means fish pond and it contains more carps than you have seen or will ever see again in your life. Equally interesting is the story of the sacred fish pond’s origin. Balıklıgöl is not just very beautiful, it is also very holy part of the Dergah Komplex around Abraham’s cave of birth.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Once upon a time there was the cruel King Nimrod and the first monotheist in ancient times Abraham. King Nimrod had not succeeded to kill Abraham as a baby because his mother had given birth in a cave and hidden her child there during many years. So now King Nimrod, a worshipper of idle gods, had to cope with Abraham who resisted against existing religious practices. There is only one God, Abraham claimed and indeed he was pushing to have his point taken. King Nimrod got very annoyed with that man and decided to throw him into the fire to get rid of him once and for all. But Abraham had God on his side! God changed the fire into water for Abraham to make a soft landing and God changed the pieces of wood into carps. This is how Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond was created and Abraham survived to fulfill his precious work of the introduction of monotheism. Rumors say by the way that this is a story with roots in Jewish scriptures rather than Islamic scriptures but conservative Şanlıurfa is not the best place to discuss this sensitive type of rumors so I didn’t. Feel free to comment below if you have good knowledge about this, though.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Today Balıklıgöl is a favorite place to go for people of all ages. They feed the carps who will show up with hundreds – no exaggeration! – and squirm up, over, under each other to pick up the food thrown in the water. You can buy special food for 1 lira from sellers in boots next to the pond. And always remember this is a holy pond: if you try to eat one of the carps, you will become blind.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the west side of the pond is the Halilur Rahman Mosque, another mosque that was built on a former church, a fact supposed to symbolize perceived holiness since many ages. The Halilur Rahman Mosque dates from early 13th century but the minaret, squarish in shape, is said to date originally from the church. I did not see the inside because it was closed for restauration purposes when I visited (Dec.2018). 

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the north side is the 18th century Rızvaniye Vakfı Mosque and Medrese complex, open to all visitors. 

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the south side is a great parc with trees, very green grass to my surprise (because of exceptional rainfall), restaurants and several canals used to bring up the young carps as you can see in the picture below: the young ones are also countless…

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

The parc ends where the rocks of the castle, the Kale, begin. To the east is Abraham’s cave of birth and the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque and beyond that the grand bazaar. But I’d say that the Balıklıgöl is worth a visit just by itself. It is wonderful to see both in daytime and in the evening!

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque: do as you like…

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque was built in the 19thcentury next to Abraham’s cave in Șanliurfa, Turkey’s South. Therefore it is a well frequented mosque. Especially in the period before the hadj to Mecca starts, many believers gather in this mosque to be blessed before their journey. 

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque inside

The Mevlid-i Halil Mosque is beautiful and peaceful. The grace and harmony that one feels already upon entering the courtyard welcomes the visitor who goes into the mosque. Rules like dresscode are strict in this holy place but that included the mosque is open for women who want to have a look around (‘yes of course, please come in and do as you like’). Most people do as they like, by the way. Men were hanging around, sitting against the wall talking or studying Quran. One man walked around to put some stuff from a stick to everybody’s hand – I got some too, no clue what it was or what it should bring, please comment on this blog if you do! – then he lay down somewhere in the middle of the floor to sleep. One guy asked him some questions but when the man didn’t respond clearly, he left him to do what he liked. Some men came in hastily, in modern suits, doing their prayers and leaving after that. The elderly were often dressed as classic Kurds, with shalvar and headscarfs or smaller caps or even a turban and seemed to pass a part of their social life in the mosque.

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque inside
Mevlid-i Halil Mosque dome

Look at the dome, the windows, the magnificent crystalline in the middle and the different stories with their arches: this visit will leave you with a great impression of fine art and passion to offer the best and if you are a believer, certainly even more. If you want to know the names of the makers of Mevlid-i Halil Mosque, read this Turkish blog.
This blog says one other interesting thing. It seems to prove the holiness of the spot next to Abraham’s cave by telling that it had always been a religious place there: a mosque dating from the 16th century before the actual mosque, before that a Byzantine church, and before that a church dating from 150AD. That church was built on the rests of a synagogue and the synagogue was based on a pagan temple. Well that’s history!

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque

Of course this place as Abraham’s cave is not uncontested: archaeologists in the 19th century have marked a place in Iraq 600 miles away as the real Ur of Chaldees. Others say there is no mention of the place where Abraham was born whatsoever in holy scriptures. And again others say there is no proof at all that Abraham was a real and living creature instead of a myth so that would leave us without any place of birth… Now Abraham’s cave is so holy because Abraham is considered as the man who fought idolatry and introduced monotheism. So why would pagans have built a temple next to his cave? Would they not have hated Abraham rather than loved him? The ‘proof’ introduced in that blog lacks a bit of logic… but if there was indeed a synagogue here and a very early church, that is more convincing than 19th century theories of guessing archaeologists (see this blog for extensive and detailed comments).

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque
Mevlid-i Halil Mosque

Anyway you do not need to know the exact truth to enjoy your visit of Mevlid-i Halil Mosque. Go in the evening as well as in daytime for different impressions and bring back your own stories!

You may also like the blog about the many graves near Abraham’s cave or the blogs about Harran where Abraham went when he left Ur of the Chaldees.

Abraham’s cave of birth

Abraham's cave

Abraham’s cave in Șanliurfa is considered as the place where Abraham was born. His mother gave birth to him and hid him during ten years as King Nimrod had ordered to kill all newborn children when he heard about Abraham’s appearance (and yes this looks like another famous biblical story). Abraham’s cave is an impressive religious place ot visit.


Abraham's cave entrance
Abraham's cave Selcuk objects

Abraham’s cave is surrounded by a large parc with a pond and several mosques. However the cave itself is quite small. You enter it while bowing under a low doorpost, after passing a room with some 12th century religious objects, most probably belonging to the Selҫuk period, and then you find yourself in a kind of open space with carpets to sit on and pray. The core part of the cave is protected by glass: you can have a look in it but not enter it. 

Abraham's cave, the very inside

As it had been raining for a while when I visited, an exceptional event in ever-dry Șanliurfa, the cave was full of water and the glass quite wet – this is why the picture is unclear. Most probably there are several measures to be taken on the background to prevent that the water rises too much, making visits impossible.

Abraham's cave guarded by a man in the evening

Oh and by the way, my comments are made from a female perspective only. Women enter through the left side where the guard is a woman in daytime and a man when it is getting dark (a fact I understood for practical reasons in a conservative city like Șanliurfa but not for religious reasons). As for the male side, you have to go there yourself to know what it is like…
Visitors to Abraham’s cave were few when I came in on a rainy December-day. The silence gave every possibility to let the holiness of the place sink in.

Abraham's cave by night

Abraham is worshipped here for introducing monotheism in the world 4000 years ago, when idolatry was the norm. Don’t confuse this with the respect Arabs pay him for being their ancestor: for Turcs he isn’t. This is about the holy introduction of one God, one book, one truth to mankind, about saving mankind from a loveless, ignorant and barbaric empty life.
A popular story they love here is about Abraham destroying a bunch of statues that symbolized idol gods. When people find out about the statues, they soon know where to search: this must be the work of that rebellious Abraham! They go and find him and bring him to the statues: ‘look what you’ve done’, they shout at him. But Abraham denies it: ‘I did not do that, that guy did’, pointing at one of the statues that is undamaged. The people protest, ‘what a fool you are, how could that statue do something, it can do nothing at all’, they snare at Abraham. Abraham shrugs his shoulders, because that is exactly what he had been telling them for a while already. ‘Well, if it can’t do anything, why do you worship it?’ Thus he made his point and introduced monotheism step by step, until it was there to stay. 

You may also like the blogs about Harran, a city where Abraham and his family spent quite some time: Harran: nothing to see?! and Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Bilqiss: the chance to be the one I should have been

bilqissBilqiss is about regrets and hope for the chance to be the one you should have been. Living in a burqa is more than just having some inconvenient clothing; it is the expression of a patriarchal society where women live within the boundaries men grant them. Individual men have the right to totally suffocate the women they live with. You might be bored when I write it like this but reading Bilqiss will not bore you.

Bilqiss: resisting boundaries
Saphia Azzeddine is a very talented writer. The language she uses is beautiful, rich and harmonious: a pleasure to follow, to listen to with your soul. Her main character Bilqiss lives the reality of these boundaries from the moment she was born – and she resists. She has kept an independent mind. Her inner voice of self confidence never stopped. Whatever happened in her life, she reinvented herself and kept hope to ‘be someone’ at last (p.185). Bilqiss is a moving character who uses her strengt hand intelligence to be an individual, to learn and discover. She is a proud woman who refuses to be treated unequally, be it by men in her society or by Western women with their feelings of pity and compassion.

Bilqiss: challenging boundaries
Bilqiss has done the unthinkable: she as a woman has climbed up in the minaret of the mosque and woken the village by singing the morning prayer. While doing so, she added some tweaks in the way she as a true believer sees muslim faith. Her acts are received in the village with indignation and horror. She will be stoned to death as a punishment but before that, she will be heard in a courtcase. She defends herself without advocate in clear and eloquent wording. Many things happen during that period. The judge seems to listen and prolong the time of the courtcase. Meanwhile he starts visiting Bilqiss in prison every evening, probing her ideas and appreciating exactly that what society expects him to annihilate with his judgment. Just like Mandela once said, he is a prisoner of his own system and also unable to be what he should have been.

Bilqiss: a big cry to resist
Different views and perspectives on what happens to Bilqiss and why are intertwined naturally in the story and give it depth. More and more foreign attention is attracted as videos about the court case appear on youtube. An American-Jewish journalist, Leandra, comes over to follow from nearby what is happening. Leandra is welcomed the way people in the Middle East welcome their guests. It takes some time before Leandra finds out that this is not because the locals like Americans so much… However, she stands as a character and surprises with her calm and truthful reactions until the very end of the book. I found the end surprising and one big cry to continue resisting patriarchy and the form of islam that serves it.

Some quotes that you will find more meaningful in the full context of the book

> About the lost past of the Andalusian spirit of curiosity and learning for all
“Il était loin, le temps où la valeur spirituelle d’un musulman se mesurait à la quantité de livres qu’il possédait, où les bibliothèques champignonnaient comme des minarets, loin aussi le temps où les mosquées, au-delà des salles de prière, abritaient le savoir que les hommes et les femmes pouvaient venir goûter sans distinction” (p. 150)

> About being a subject in a book
“Leandra s’était jetée sur mon histoire pour l’écrire avec ses larmes teintées de mascara. Peut-être même que, un jour, je me retrouverais en tête de gondole dans les boutiques d’aéroports ou de gares au milieu d’autres best-sellers pour divertir ou émouvoir d’autres voyageurs des long-courriers selon qu’ils aiment les femmes ou détestent les musulmans. Je refusais d’être une intermittente de leur spectacle”. (p. 154)

> About denial of responsability
“Une vilaine habitude philologique de notre langue voulait que ce soit l’extérieur qui nous frappe et non l’inverse. Ainsi nous ne disions pas ‘J’ai attrapé froid’ mais ‘Le froid m’a frappé’, ‘la fenêtre m’a cogné’, ‘la soupe m’a brûlée’. Jamais nous n’étions responsables de ce qui nous arrivait”. (p. 160)

> About the gap between us
“J’aurais voulu être elle (Leandra) pour avoir une chance d’être celle que j’aurais dû être si j‘étais née ailleurs. Celle que j’aurais pu être si l’on ne m’avait privée dès le plus jeune âge de la plus infime liberté. J’aurais voulu être celle qui éprouvait de la pitié plutôt que celle qui en inspirait. Leandra n’y pouvait rien et c’était son plus grand tort”. (p. 176)

Useful links about this book and the author:
* https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saphia_Azzeddine
* https://nathavh49.blogspot.com/2016/08/bilqiss-saphia-azzaddine.html
* https://en.qantara.de/content/book-review-saphia-azzeddineʹs-bilqiss-just-being-born-a-woman-is-a-provocation

Find other books to read in these blogs
* ‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
* Simone Veil: une vie
* Portrait du décolonisé

‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal


Since I went to Tunis two years ago, I became a fan of Arab-French literature again. This started as a student of French many years ago and got lost during the years… until I found the brilliant bookshop in Tunis, simply named Al Kitab. It has a diversified collection that reminds more or less the inspiration of Al Andalus: the time when cultures and religions lived next to each other and arts and science flourished. Al Kitab made me discover the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal. The first book I bought was Le serment des barbares (see a short note in this blog), and on my return to Tunis I found 2084 and Le village de l’Allemand in the shelves.
Boualem Sansal is a unique writer. When he wrote his first book Le serment des barbares, he was still working in a high position of Algerian industry. Boualem Sansal is an engineer and an economist. Since he started writing, he won many prices: many French ones, but also this German price. His books are not easy to read or light lecture. He is writing about the sharpest sides of humanity: the massive violence, cruelty, corruption, treason and dictatorship. Free thought and free speech are continuously in danger, as well as sincerity, trust and integrity. His books have a theme and an agenda. Boualem Sansal, although rather pessimist in his books, is a strong defender of enlightened mankind and for that he uses magnificent language skills.

Le serment des barbares (1999)
(The oath of the barbarians > only translated into Spanish?)
This was Boualem Sansal’s first book that brought him several prices. Boualem Sansal shows here the power and richness of his language skills in describing his country, Algeria, in decline. Thirty years after the independance of Algeria, the wounds of the fierce war they fought are still there. Factions of the army for freedom FLN, islamists and maffia-type politicians lead the country into a downward spiral of poverty and corruption while distrust shapes the day-to-day relations.
The leading story is about detective Larbi who starts the investigation of the murder of a poor guy, Abdallah. While doing so, step by step the actual way of life and the status of Rouiba, once the prosperous industrial suburb of Algiers, is revealed as if you walked there yourself. Le serment des barbares does not end well and that is a logical consequence of the story. When religious fanatism, anger, madness and greed reign, there is no hope.
Links you might want to read:
https://www.babelio.com/livres/Sansal-Le-serment-des-barbares/30900
https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/le-serment-des-barbares_804680.html

Le village de l’Allemand, ou le journal des frères Schiller (2008)
In English: The German Mujahid
I found this a very good book, I could not stop reading. It is less descriptive than the other two and the plot is impressive. Malrich Schiller lives in a banlieu in France. His brother committed suicide six months earlier and left him a journal. The book develops over the gradual lecture of the journal. There is a lot to discover. Malrich finds out that his parents who lived in a village in the south of Algeria, were killed in one of the terrible raids of GIA islamists.
His father, a German, was a hero who fought with the FLN (freedom army) against the French for independance but was killed with all the others in their village. Then he finds out that his father was a former Nazi; his brother who had to clear the house of the parents, describes in the journal how he found multiple objects and memories of that period. Their father never destroyed them but hid them in a safe corner. This comes with so much guilt and also identity problems; who was my father? who am I? And it comes with resistance and anger as islamists are already active in the banlieu and are organised to take over. And with despair about the ever repeted cruelty and the mass killings: ‘My God, why have you created mankind like this? Who can save them?’ This book is the dark history of mankind made personal – and reverse.
Links you might want to read:
http://eveyeshe.canalblog.com/archives/2015/12/01/33008684.html
https://vmesny.wordpress.com/horizons/romans-contemporains/le-village-de-l’allemand-boualem-sansal/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6570427-the-german-mujahid

2084 La fin du monde (2015)
In English: 2084 The End of the world
2084 is very descriptive. It tells about L’Abistan, a world that is stable and closed in itself. Religion is dominant in every aspect of daily life. To instaur the system, the past where this religion was not dominant has to be forgotten and free thought is seen as a major threat to the system. So there are many ways to check and control what people think and do. Every answer is given to the people. There is no reason for them to ask questions. However the book’s main character Ati got somehow ‘enlightened’ during a sick leave where he had time to think and to meet different people than usual. From that moment he is in constant danger.
I found the story of the book slow to go, too slow actually but I did continue reading because I wanted to know how it would end. Especially when Ati discovers a ghetto where life is more free, it becomes interesting. Step by step Ati finds out that l’Abistan is not the entire world as it pretends to be. And he does find his way out. I like books with a good ending and I did not persevere in vain, there is hope in the end.
https://la-plume-francophone.com/2015/11/02/boualem-sansal-2084/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/10/2084-boualem-sansal-review-timely-tribute-george-orwell
https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/book-review-boualem-sansal-s-2084-the-bestselling-novel-where-isil-is-in-charge-1.90285

You might also like this blog about Albert Memmi: Portrait du décolonisé
Or this movie, playing in Algeria: Loin des hommes

Apostolos Andreas Monastery – Northern Cyprus heritage (21)


The Apostolos Andreas Monastery lies in the Karpaz, the rather deserted and naturally beautiful northern peninsula of Cyprus. Historic sources tell that the Apostle Andrew landed here for a moment on one of his travelings through the Mediterranean. Since very old times this place was considered as a holy place and visited by many pilgrims. However, christians were not the first people to visit the Karpaz; not only remnants from the Roman period were found, also from the far earlier Iron Age. 
The actual Apostolos Andreas Monastery dates from 1867 and rest partly on walls of a 15th century chapel. The former cells for the monks lie empty around the complex that is guarded by one or two priests only. President Erdogan visited the region in 2011 and promised to cooperate for a UNDP project to renovate the church. Most of the work has already been done by a combination of Greek and Turkish Cypriots (or their companies), with nice results, worth a visit. Some adjacent buildings are still being restored.

Monastery in a divided island
Since Turkey took hold of the northern part of the Island, there has been a lot of hustle and bustle around this holy place. For the restoration, cooperation of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot community did not come just by itself: UNDP had a strong role in that. Anyway it is the Greek-Cypriot hope to get back not just the monastery but the whole Karpaz peninsula once that peace negotations have finally proven successful. And the Turks do what they always do in areas that might be disputed. They keep investments low > the last part of the road to go to the monastery is the worst road of Northern Cyprus. And they show their power by calling the primary school of Dipkarpaz the ‘Recep Tayyip Erdogan School’ and the large square in front of the Apostolos Andreas Monastery the ‘Bülent Ecevit Square’; Ecevit was the Turkish Prime Minister in 1974 who decided to send the army into Cyprus to help the Turkish Cypriots. It is a strange pattern since over 40 years now of Greek Cypriots Always complaining as if they have no role whatsoever in what is happening, and the Turks showing muscles instead of empathy.

Useful links

Other blogs you might like:
Sourp Magar, Armenian monastery in Turkish Cyprus
Monastery Antiphonitis in Turkish Cyprus
Monastery Pandeleimon in Turkish Cyprus

Church of Saint Helias, Mutluyaka (Stylloi) – Northern Cyprus heritage (20)

 

The church of Saint Helias in Mutluyaka (Stylloi) is rather new: it was opened in 1953 by president and head of the church of Cyprus Makarios; the sign to remember that moment is still on the wall inside the church (see the photograph on the right). In 1974 the Island of Cyprus was divided in a Northern and Southern part. The Greek Cypriots inhabitants of the village that then was called Stylloi, went to the South while Turkish Cypriots who lived in Mouttagiaka / Mutluyaka, an old Osman village in the very South of the island, resettled in Stylloi in the North and renamed the village of Stylloi after the village they left.
As the church of Saint Helias is quite new, there is not a lot to tell about it. The amount of concrete used is too big to call it ‘lovely’ like many other Greek churches still are. Inside, it was stripped of almost all objects, as you can see in the photograph I took.
Outside, around the church of Saint Helias, is a graveyard that has been destroyed. The best comment I can make about that is to refer to the blog I wrote before and the publication of M. Thorsten Kruse from the university of Münster in Germany. The strange thing about villages like this is that they changed from completely Greek Cypriot to completely Turkish Cypriot – the actual Turkish Cypriots living there left an all Turkish village behind. The grief and the nostalgia on both sides must be enormous, and maybe also the bad feelings or even hate.
The church of Saint Helias in Mutluyaka is deserted and you can visit it without any problem. I tell that here because people have asked me during the last years what happens when they go visit and look around. I have visited many churches in Northern Cyprus by now, as you can see in the range of blogs on this site and I have never been bothered by locals (or the army); whenever I needed help, I got it. The climate in Northern Cyprus is peaceful and friendly; do not worry and just go for what you want to see or know.

Some useful links about the population issue:
http://www.prio-cyprus-displacement.net/default.asp?id=409
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mouttagiaka

Other blogs you might like:
Ermelaos and Lapta – Northern Cyprus heritage (4)
Agios Nikolaos in Limnia (Mormenekse)
Agios Mamas church – Northern Cyprus heritage (15)

Agios Nikolaos in Limnia (Mormenekşe) – Northern Cyprus heritage (19)

agios nikolaos limnia
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, agios nikolaos limniaat 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.

Useful links:
http://www.cyprustemples.com/templedetails.asp?id=535
http://www.prio-cyprus-displacement.net/default_print.asp?id=592

You might find these blogs also interesting:
Abadi church: Northern Cyprus heritage (17)
Agios Prokopios – northern cyprus heritage (9)
Gaidhouras – Northern Cyprus heritage (8)

Alaniçi: visiting Atlilar monument (6/end)


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…

 

Alaniçi: moving memories of 1955 – 1974 (5)


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.

Remembering
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.

Different memories
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)