Gaziantep castle: panorama and nationalism

Gaziantep castle (Gaziantep kalesi, also called: the panorama museum) goes a long way back: most probably the Romans already had a first fortress on this rock, followed by the Byzantines, Arab rulers, Selcuk and Mongol rulers and whoever passed by in this region: the list of different rulers is long. Going to Gaziantep castle means having a perfect panorama over the city. It is nice and well enough restaured for a good impression what the castle was like in the old days.
Moreover this castle is used as the expression of Antep’s heroism. The people of Antep played a crucial role in the War of Indepences in 1920-1921 and were honoured by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with the title ‘Gazi’: great, heroic. The war of indepence came after that the Osman emperor and its calliphate were defeated; Turkey was attacked from all sides, by the English, the French, the Armenians, the Greek, the Russians: they all wanted their share of the remains of Turkish territory. Under the leadership of Atatürk a war of independence started and they won. This is seen as the ultimate survival of Turkey – without this war, Turkey would no longer exist and Turks would not have a land of their own. Five or six thousand inhabitants of Antep lost their lives in that war but their role was decisive. The Gaziantep castle shows this history and the pride, the nationalism of this town. Lots of kids are visiting the castle to learn about the war but also many Turks from Gaziantep and elsewhere show indepth interest in the exposition.
All the written texts are in Turkish and English, the film is only in Turkish. If you want to understand the politics and national feelings of Turks in the past and the present, this is a must-go. gaziantep castle exposition
A disadvantage is that they feel the need to copy the fights. During the whole exposition, you will hear the sounds of guns and artillery; it can make you nervous and I do not see the purpose it serves. But apart from that, I’d recommend a visit. It is another, however non-critical example of how people interprete and write their history (see my blog about the Stockholm Museum), in relation to the actual context.
More on this subject: the War Museum (Savas Müzesi) in Gaziantep

Zeugma museum: presentation matters

The Zeugma Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey, is said to be the largest mosaic museum in the world. I am not sure whether that is true when it comes to the ‘amount’ of mosaics, but it certainly is the greatest mosaic museum when it comes to presentation. The finest mosaics of the region are shown here under perfect light, in a large and beautiful hall that is made in such a way that spectacular mosaics can be seen from nearby ànd above. This is how the best pieces of art are honoured; those who designed the Zeugma Museum were respectful to the mosiac works, visionary in what they wanted to created and ambitious in their goals. They have succeeded to give a life long impression to the visitors – who were almost exclusively Turkish by the way. I have not seen any other foreign tourist beside myself which is remarkable for a museum that deserves world fame. It must be its location, 30 miles from Syria, that is avoided rather than visited.
They got some cool stuff, for example this corner where you can see the mosaics better by the use of mirrors. Also they have touchscreens where you can look up the mosaic you prefer and watch it in detail; or another touchscreen where they show you ‘land’ and you have to guess which mosaic lies under the ground. The only thing lacking is the translation of Greek texts: some mosaics show texts and you’d like to know what they say. You’d expect a museum to explain that to its visitors…
As it is impossible to describe it all, here my top three of the many spectacular mosaics:
1. The Gypsy Girl, who has somehow become the symbol of Gaziantep; she is everywhere in the streets, in shops, on the airport. They gave here a special place in a dark room where no one enters without the presence of a museum guard. And there she is, in the dark, brilliant and mysterious in the same time, uniquer than unique among all the mosaics. Indeed it is a masterpiece. While I was standing there alone in the dark, she seemed to look right through me…
2. The Galateia mosaic, seen from above. Some mosaics have more worked out details or fuller images. I liked this one because of the balance and the colours. A description of the Galateia story can be found on the website of the museum (in English and Turkish, if you like), here

3.The out-of-the-box mosaic. I haven’t got a clue what it is but I adored it immediately. It is one of the more recent mosaics. Apparently, in that period, they started to put images in the mosaics just where they wanted – at random – no apparent rules were followed any more. I imagine that it was a breakout from all the detailed work that was done during ages; and how free it felt and how it was criticized by traditionalists and knowledgeable people and all those who feared that craftmanship was now about to disappear, to be replaced by art work that ‘even my three year old son can make’.

Gaziantep has a lot to offer, apart from the Zeugma Museum. Still, the Zeugma Museum is all by itself an excellent reason to go to Gaziantep. You will not be disappointed.

Link to my blog about the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the other mosaic museum with world fame and Zeugma`s competitor in volume – quality: Bardo Museum wowowow

Other interesting museums about ancient times in Gaziantep:
the Medusa Glass Museum (in fact a private archaeological museum)
the Archaeological Museum

1000’s of years old boots, toys, breast pumps…

3000 years ago someone made the ‘boots’ you see here; they are rhytons, drinking vessels or horns, and date from the Urartu (read more about Urartu here). You can find them in the Medusa Glass Museum, also called the Medusa Archeological Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. This museum is richer than most archeological museums, yet rather small in size and hidden in a back street.
If you look around in the Streets close to the Kale, the castle of Gaziantep, you can find it and most people know it so just ask around; they will show you. This museum is so much worth a visit! It is most wealthy in its collection; amazing both in the amount and the quality of its artefacts. These objects would be worth a national museum with lots of space for individual pieces. More than anything this museum shows the ‘normality’ of super ancient artefacts in this region.
If you think like me, that ‘old’ starts at least in the era BC, this museum is your place to be! Some examples: they got a range of children’s toys (‘cars’) from the early bronze age (3000-2000 BC). The picture shows 2 of them. They got lots of gold from 100 BC (Greek). While I was watching it, I looked around full of sorrow: was this place really well protected? The Medusa museum gives you the idea of a home, rather than a museum with full security equipment… I thought (you never know).

And what about this strange object that is apparently from a very old age; it is exhibited in between a marvellous Hittite stone piece and several tablets with cuneiform writing. Alas the lack of information makes you wonder without finding the answer…
Moreover there are some figurines from 6000-5400 BC; this means among the oldest findings ever. They reminded me of findings in Malta, where the same kind of mother goddess or fertility statues were found and nobody can explain what culture they belonged to, what they mean. There is a similarity with the figurines shown in the Medusa Museum which would support the theory that in ancient times certain places served religious rituals with regard to fertility and/or the female godess.
These are just some examples. The museum is full of comparable pieces, and glass work, stone and glass jewelry that I do not show here. To finalize: there is some amazing Roman stuff (more recent, 100-200 AC):
– ‘sexual objects’ that I do not show so you have a reason to go there.
– a breast pump (really!) made out of glass. All kind of ideas came to my mind when I watched it.
For those who love ancient times and who think `ancient` goes further back than the Middle Ages, the Medusa Glass Museum in Gaziantep is a dream – you have to go there. The title `glass museum` is misleading: there are indeed many glass objects, but even more impressive is the collection of unique non-glass pieces that deserve a full presentation (it reminded me of the Archeological Museum in Amman) – more room than there is now for them.

See also:


Visages villages: brilliance of the normal

In the film Visages Villages two outstanding artists, 88 year old filmmaker Agnès Varda and 33 year old photographer JR, show the brilliance of the normal in a way that has not been done before. In JR’s van that is equiped to produce on-the-spot photo posters they cross villages and a harbour in search of people to photograph – and spots to present them on. The effect of their method is outstanding from the point of view ‘art and creativity’ and most moving for the individuals that are touched by their initiative.

The woman ‘who was just a server in the restaurant’ becomes – through her poster on the wall of a house – the most photographed woman of the village; the wives of the tough men working in the harbour are drawn out of the shadow into the light, both vulnerable and strong; the only inhabitant left in mine workers houses, almost forgotten by the world, becomes a monument of resistance; and so on. What is absolutely unique about this road movie that could also be called a road documentary, is the normality  shown in its full brilliance. It shows that normality can be infinitely more interesting and great than the special.

While creating all this, the dynamics between Agnès Varda and JR in and outside JR’s van follow their own road, interesting in itself. These people that differ so much in age find common ground in ambition, personal traits and mutual respect. From a vivid wheelchair run through Musée du Louvre in Paris to sharing sadness and perspectives on life: it forms one breathtaking story for the spectators.
Visages Villages seems to be composed out of many different elements without too much connection. Yet this film shows you life like it is and life seated still sit in your cinema chair, long after the subtitles have gone; thoughtful, amazed, and happy.

Prix Festival de Cannes: L’œil d’or pour Meilleure Film Documentaire

Trailer Visages Villages

Other reviews


Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

  Today, November 12 2017, the well-known presentator Leila Prnjavorac read a great Good Night Story for Rebel Girls in a gigantic bed in the Public Library of Amsterdam. It was a great act to observe, especially at the moment that all the children imitate the ‘camouflage’ that Queen Nanny (1686 – 1733) taught the Marrons at Jamaica to protect themselves from the English ennemy. See and enjoy the youtube I produced about that particular story (in Dutch, click on the image):

The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has now been translated for Dutch children under the title Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes. The stories of 100 special women are described in a nice, easy-to-go way in combination with beautiful and colorful images.
Is it possible to be inspiring and practical on a simple page? Yes it is.
For example the book describes the story of an Irish girl who wanted to be a sailor and a pirate. When her father told her that her long read hair would get stuck in the ropes of the sails, she just cut her hair off, leaving her father no other choice than to take her onto the ship. Girls learn that there are solutions to problems they might face and that they can take action all by themselves. And they see what can be achieved. The Irish girl ended up being personal friends with the Queen of England she initially fought against. It is a joy to read the different stories of the book, with women from all over the world, from many cultures.
No shortcomings in this book then? Yes, but just one. The choice was made to describe also the stories of women still alive. That always comes with the risk that they might still do less heroic things after the story was written. For example Myanmarese Aung San Suu Kyi is in the book as a Nobel Price winning political hero. However at this very moment her Nobel Price is heavily discussed due to her negative role in the immense drama of ethnic cleansing of the Rohinya in Myanmar – not exactly the good night story one would choose for one’s kid to tell…
However, this is a minor shortcoming that still leaves 99/100 inspiring stories in the book. Therefor I warmly recommend it for all rebel girls >>> and their mothers!

Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes
Geschreven door Elena Favilli en Francesca Cavallo
Uitgegeven 2017 door Rose Stories

Kedi: movie about cats or humans?


The camera in the movie Kedi (Turkish for ‘cat’) follows many cats that walk in the streets of Istanbul/Turkey from the point of view these cats have of the city. This offers a great insight in their experiences. Overall in this movie, the camerawork is very special. Istanbul as a city and the inhabitants of Istanbul – especially the cat-loving inhabitants – are shown with warmth and beauty. Just the camerawork in itself makes the movie Kedi worth a visit.
But there is more to say. The core story shows us how cats conquer the people’s hearts. The cats choose who can love and feed them. And the people warmly respond to that wish. It is wonderful to see the different characters of the cats: from a clever thief to the psychopath of the neighbourhood, from the curious cat in the bag of organic tea at the market to the gentleman who never enters the place where he gets his food, but who simply scratches the window outside whenever he is hungry. The humans adapt to the cats; not the opposite. For cat lovers, watching Kedi is heaven!
And there is more to it. For those who love psychology and/or philosophy, Kedi has a lot to offer. People explain their relationships with the cats and come up with surprising remarks about what the cats mean for them: from finding money with the help of a cat to experiencing therapy by helping the cats. And what about these comments on the world:
– ‘cats absorb your redundant energy, just like earth does’
– ‘cats know about God, dogs don’t. Dogs think that humans are God but cats know that humans are an instrument in the hand of God to feed them’.
Just two examples, there are many more.
One last thing I liked a lot and that made me think is a remark made about freedom. I have written about cats in Istanbul in 2012. The perspective that humans should not take cats inside to keep them there because in doing so, they will make cats forget how to be a cat, is new for me. This movie Kedi clearly shows what is meant with this perspective. Freedom is everything, even when it comes with disadvantages.
Maybe you don’t agree. Well, all I can say is: go see it yourself. There’s a lot more in Kedi then I can show here and you will not regret. Enjoy!

In Dutch cinemas from 24 August 2017
More info and a trailer at


Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski is an amazing book that was given to me as a second hand book by a friend already years ago. It ended up at a pile and stayed there for years. However since I travel a lot for my work in the Middle East these days, I am reading book by book through that pile while waiting at airports or flying in airplanes.
Travels with Herodotus is one of those books that I should have read earlier and that I couldn’t let go once I started reading. It is not a new book (published in Dutch in 2005 already) but who cares, nor is Herodotus who lived in the 5th century BC.
Kapuscinki proves that Herodotus has not lost any of his actuality in 2500 years for 2 main reasons:

1. He is the first known author to check and double check his stories, indicating for his readers how (im)probable the history he offers would be; that is tremendously interesting. His way of operating is amazing, checking stories in the 5th century BC cost him years but that didn’t stop him at all. He must have felt that he was not just writing for his contemporaries but for the entire humanity. So as readers in the 21st century we can follow pretty accurately the games of power of the ancient world.

2. Herodotus shows with facts the extreme cruelty of the rulers of his time – and of their advisers, family and the like. They make you think of some 20th century dictators; indeed not mankind has changed but the possibilities individuals get to apply their cruelty in daily reality. Herodotus describes the cities of Athens and Sparta as cities with a democracy where power was limited or should we say: diffuse, divided; no one was able to rule through fear and cruelty to the extent that it was found among Persians, Assyrians, Parths and many other people where the power was in the hands of one person or family. Somehow it is the system that allows humans to be cruel – or stops them. In the light of today’s debate about the value of democracy, these are intriguing thoughts.
The division of power leads to endless discussions, even on the battle field where the Greek leaders fight although the Persians are near. It is fun to read for those who have experience with democracy; nothing changed in the ‘way it is done’. And the surprise is that small Greek states without apparent unity win the war over well organized Persians who outnumber them and do not loose time in discussions about strategy. The book proves that it would have changed the course of history in Europe, had the Persians won the war. It is an encouragement to proceed on the way of checks and balances in the institution and execution of power!

Travels with Herodotus is not just about Herodotus, it is also about the author Ryszard Kapuscinski himself. He interwaves his personal story as travel journalist with Herodotus’ book Histories in an interesting and also meaningful way. I think Kapuscinski saw this book as his personal life story. On his first foreign trip that he undertook while he had always lived in closed communist Poland, Herodotus’ book accompanied him and did so on many other journeys that followed. It was not just a source of inspiration but also a method and a continuous challenge for reflection. Kapuscinski shares a lifetime outcome of that with his readers; this book has a depth that is rarely seen. It is a gift for humanity: buy it, in a second hand bookshop if no longer available, who cares.

Travels with Herodotus is a must-read for anybody who is interested in:
– (the development of) democracy versus dictatorship
– Asian and European ancient history
– travel journalism, both content/stories and methodology
– philosophy, politics, culture and anthropology.

Useful links: (in Dutch)

De jacht op mijn vader / the hunt for my father

The hunt for my father is a very interesting documentary made by Gülsah Dogan. It is the second movie that I see from her and again I think her work is outstanding in many aspects.
In this documentary Gülsah Dogan follows the author Karin Amatmoekrim who is looking for her father Eric Lie in Suriname. Karin wants to write a book about her father; her mother left the country when she was still a baby and went to the Netherlands, apparently because she was not the only woman for Eric Lie. He as a famous Taekwondo champion and good looking man was popular among women. Thus Karin grew up without father far away, in the Netherlands and it is Gülsah’s quality to show the underlying feelings not by words, but in images. It is difficult not to feel some irritations during this documentary: in the title it is about the ‘hunt for her father’, however it is possible to conclude that it is more about the author herself than about the father.
The story takes place in the beautiful tropic context of Surinam and unfolds in interesting scenes and surprising pictures of the nature: from a cockridge defending itself against ants to trips on the river Marowijne.
Gülsah Dogan has produced another masterpiece after the outstanding documentary Naziha’s Spring. You can see it (in Dutch) Thursday 11 May 2017 at 22.55h on NPO2.

A link describing the documentary (in Dutch):

Hôtel Saint-Georges: I understood…

There is a very good bookshop just outside the kashba of Tunis where I found a pearl of Algerian-French literature: Hôtel Saint-Georges by Rachid Boudjedra. There were hundreds of books in that store so what made me choose this one? (by the way maybe they were all very good). Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t let go. It is very easy to understand the many different characters, the reader will love them all and wants to read their perspective on the life they live. This desire is largely rewarded by the author.
Also the book gave me new insights about Algerian family relations, for example I didn’t know that it is the role of the uncle from mothers side to be tender and show love (while the uncle from fathers side only gives ‘the name’). Boudjedra pictures Algerian family dynamics in such a way that you as a reader can feel like a family member. It also gives more insights in how the cultural notion of ‘collectivism’ works. Usually when people in the West discuss collectivism that exists in countries like the Maghreb, as opposed to individualism, they think a person can not be an individual due to the family relations. Boudjedra shows that within these collectivist families, family members have strong individual lifes and characteristics. The problem as pictured in this book is rather the impossibility within a collectivist structure to discuss what goes wrong and to ‘correct’ actions of individual family members, even heavy ones that really damage others. It is intriguing to read how the FLN (an army structure to oppose the colonial regime) is used to kill a family member who had an incestuous relationship rather than confronting him and seek justice in the system. The secret remains, the punishment is sought in different ways.
A very important aspect of this book is Boudjedra’s choice to see actual, cruel developments as an element of history: Algerian history since the independence in 1962, French history of colonialism 1830-1962 but also ancient history, medieval history. The 90+ year old family patriarch, Sidi Mohammed, who traveled a lot and speaks many languages, gives his conclusions of a lifetime: ‘J’ai compris aussi que la barbarie est le véritable patrimoine commun de l’Humanité. J’avais fini par comprendre que le propre de l’homme, c’est la cruauté’. (‘I have understood that barbarity is the real common heritage of humanity. I have finally understood that the characteristic of mankind is cruelty‘). From this point of view, it is not an optimistic book.
And there is something else to say about this approach. In the French literature of the Maghreb, some authors long for the colonial period of the French who introduced many good things that the countries still profit from today. Faced with the actual problems of incompetence and corruption on the one side and violence and radical Islam on the other side, authors like Boualem Sansal (le Serment des Barbares) give up hope for Arab leadership and think that the French offered more. Boudjedra shows how cruel the French regime has been in Algeria; even though that did not improve after the Algerian independence, that does not mean that he feels nostalgia for the French colonial times in Algeria, on the contrary: he is rather inclined to conclude that cruelty and barbarity is part of human history, in whatever shape or nationality.
Even though it is not a happy book, it is a very beautiful book in language, in themes, in richness – it is a book that gives you a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended!

I could not find a translation of this book. Also the links I recommend are in French only:



Portrait du décolonisé

In 2004, 1 year before the terrible riots in the French banlieues and 7 years before the Arab spring occurred, the Jewist-Arab-French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi writes a stunning picture about decolonized countries and the decolonized citizens, both local and emigrated, in his book Portrait du décolonisé.
Memmi describes on a factual basis the disastrous situation of many decolonized countries: the poverty, the corruption, the oppression and how these factors interlink and prevent the decolonized countries to develop and prosper. It is a sad picture that, however, can be recognized by many who worked and traveled in decolonized regions.
In 2004, the Portrait du décolonisé was not well received in France. It was criticized because Memmi wonders why the 100.000’s of deaths in several African conflicts get a lot less attention than the 3000 deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was accused of ‘Zionistic’ views, which would de-qualify the other 96% of his book – it must have shocked a free-thinking intellectual like Memmi who is pleading so warmly for universal values for all to live in freedom and prosperity. And the book was criticized because his portrait of the 2nd generation emigrants is one-sidedly unfavourable. He describes the migrants children that feel lost and end up in (self)destructive ideas and behaviours. It is true that the successful youth, committed to a prosperous society for all, is absent in his book – though very much existent in reality. Nevertheless what he describes has predicted many of the problems we face today in extreme forms.
His book was not translated into other languages – as far as I know – although his earlier book Portrait du colonisé was recognized by many and translated in 20 languages. Portrait du décolonisé could have supported many who wonder what happened, in the 2005 riots in the Paris banlieus, in the 2011 Arab spring, in this decade of (self)destructive terrorism.
I was speechless and breathless when I read his book, and sorry not to have discovered it earlier. Not only is it written in the beautifull, rich and touching French that Memmi masters more than hardly any other writer. He also answers many questions that arose after 2011, but he wrote this already in 2004. His language is never politically correct; he talks in clear words on every single page about the facts as he sees them. However he is never rude, never insulting people like others do who want to breach the politically correct discourse. He proves himself (again) an intellectual who dares to stand up for values and ideas, regardless the consequences.
It is difficult to understand why the world overlooked this precious contribution in a era where the need for insight in the ex-colonial world is predominant. Does this world only read the works that are either extreme or un-controversial? Does this world reject views that are confrontational just by their factional description? If you read in French, read this book. The language is superbe and it will both inform and surprise you – even if you are already knowledgeable in this matter.

Some valuable links about Portrait du décolonisé:


Anne Frank House Amsterdam: remembrance and reflection

Anne Frank House bookcase
2000 inhabitants of Amsterdam got free tickets to visit the Anne Frank House during evening hours without queues. I was lucky to be one of them: a great initiative, thanks! It was wonderful to wander through the ‘Achterhuis’ in a quiet and respectful atmosphere.
The Anne Frank House is not far from my home and I pass the long rows of tourists a few times a week or I better say: try to pass….It is always busy, noisy, not a place where you’d like to go as an inhabitant.
I think I went there once, as a child – I remember it quite well, especially the book case (on the picture) that served as protection from the entrance to the hide-out of 8 Jewish people. These people spent 2+ years there but were betrayed at the end and only one of them, the father of Anne Frank, survived the holocaust.
anne frank house quoteCompared to my childhood visit many elements were added in the ‘museum’; quotes on walls or on blinded windows – short video’s from witnesses, classmates of Anne and the like. They are very impressive.
What I remember most are the words of Otto Frank on his daughter’s diary. He always felt close to his daughter but when he read her diary after the war, he realized that she never showed the deep thoughts and feelings that she wrote down. Since that moment he thinks that parents rarely know their children to the full. I guess that could be true. The way he expresses is very refined and respectful towards his daughter. I cannot write it down, you have to go visit the Anne Frank House and see that movie to understand the impression it made. And then imagine that he read that diary when she had already died (when she had already been killed). He would never have the opportunity to ask her any question any more…
Anne Frank House opening hoursI really thank the Anne Frank House for this opportunity. I wonder why this does not become more usual in Amsterdam. As for me, it is not about the free ticket, but the fact that I could go at 21.00h (I came home from work only at 19.30 and had to have dinner first) and that I did not need to wait in a queue or go in with plenty of loud speaking tourists. Would it be financially difficult for musea to have similar evening offers or are they just not used to opening hours in the evening?
As for the Anne Frank House tonight, it left me with quite some emotions as we live in difficult times and the idea that ‘it could happen again’ is in the hearts and minds of many. A place for remembrance and reflection, most valuable.


Amsterdam Tower: a must-visit!

Amsterdam tower

It is new and it is brilliant, the Amsterdam Tower – a remake of the former Shell research labs in Amsterdam. I had a great time this week while giving a presentation about dealing with international business and culture in front of spectacular views over Amsterdam. Nevertheless my public was highly attentive, for a moment I doubted whether they would be with me at all but they did 🙂
If you look at the photo above and you see the 9 meter high windows in top of the building, that is where I stood – and here are some pictures of the views:

amsterdam tower  amsterdam toweramsterdam tower  amsterdam tower
The making of the Amsterdam Tower is a story out of a wizard book: three Dutch guys who were succesfull in the international music scene decided to cooperate in this and won the battle for the tower in competition with 34 other interested parties. They turned it into a combination of music company offices, a hotel, different bars, restaurants and clubs with a 360° turning restaurant in top: a music tower!
On top they offer a platform for all inhabitants of Amsterdam and our tourists to watch the spectacular panorama and to take a seat in Europe’s highest swing: the Amsterdam lookout. Alas I had serious business to do when I was there so I definitely have to come back to experience that swing!
Our city is blessed with these creative entrepreneurs who make such major contributions to the quality of life in Amsterdam: well done, thank you guys!
Last but not least an photo-impression (made with my phone, lack of quality, in reality much better) of the elevator going up: the music experience starts already from there…
amsterdam tower elevator  amsterdam tower elevator
Amsterdam Tower, a new experience not to be missed!