In gesprek met mijn moeder is een roerende en persoonlijke bundel van Manola Sint Jago. Met prachtige teksten en beelden neemt zij ons mee in het grote gemis van de geliefde moeder die zij nooit heeft gekend. Daarmee opent zij haar ziel voor degene die haar bundel inziet en brengt zij verbinding tussen zichzelf, de lezer, haar moeder, alle moeders en talloze dochters. In gesprek met mijn moeder is een werk met grote verfijning.
“Het drong pas tot me door op de kleuterschool. Mijn eerste kaart voor moederdag. Je was er niet, maar ik dus wel. Het was heel vreemd, ik was de enige die jou niet had.“ fragment uit het gedicht ‘Bestaat er een hemel en een hel?‘
Manola Sint Jago werd geboren op Aruba. Haar moeder overleed kort daarna. Behalve een foto heeft zij geen herinneringen aan haar moeder. Dit gemis ging ‘als een rode draad’ door haar leven. De gedichten die Manola Sint Jago door de jaren heen over haar moeder schreef, vormden een vorm van gesprek met haar moeder. Na jaren van schrijven en het creëren van prachtige verbeeldingen, is dan nu deze ‘verhalende gedichtenbundel’ verschenen, zoals Manola de bundel zelf noemt.
‘Lieve moeder, ik heb van die dagen, dan Google ik je naam op internet in de hoop dat ik die vind met je adres of een verhaal met foto’s over jou.‘ fragment uit het gedicht ‘Lieve moeder, ik heb van die dagen‘
Van de vele mooie kunst van Manola Sint Jago ben ik al langer een fan. De variëteit is enorm: etsen, schilderijen, houtwerk, sieraden, vazen, kunstkaarten, en al deze werken vanuit een waanzinnige variatie aan materialen. In gesprek met mijn moeder heeft afbeeldingen van diverse prachtige kunstwerken die rond het thema moeder zijn gemaakt. Daarbij toont Manola zich ditmaal dus ook als iemand met de gave van het woord. Ik wil, kan, mag geen volledige gedichten citeren hier. Daarom beperk ik me tot de aanbeveling van enkele gedichten met beelden die ik het mooist vind: Zomaar een dag uit mijn herinnering, over een bezoek aan moeder’s graf als zesjarige; Begrip en vriendschap, over de onzekerheid in het menselijke contact van geven en nemen; Verbonden, de bijzondere afsluiter van deze bundel die ons verbindt met de maker.
Salamis was a city with 100.000’s of inhabitants in ancient times. Only a small part of the city has been excavated, showing Roman and Byzantine remains. Much more is to be discovered as Salamis was founded already in the 11th century BC, ruled by Assyrians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians and Alexander the Great.
Salamis lies next to the sea, at a not very proper but well accessible sand beach. As temperatures can be quite high here in the summer season, this offers a great opportunity to combine a visit to hot Salamis with a good swim to cool down. The site of Salamis is a deserted place. The first excavations here date from 1880 and all excavations stopped after the division of Cyprus in a Turkish and Greek part in 1974. The largest part of Salamis is still covered under sand and bushes. Visitors are scarce.
The part I liked most is the bathing complex from the 1st century BC, as it has several statues around it with the beautiful dark marble statue of Persephone (on the right). Salamis prospered during 15 centuries until it was destroyed by earthquakes and tidal waves in the 4th century AD. Only some Byzantine activity persevered in Salamis but Arab raids in medieval times brought islam and made an end to christian domination. Many stones from Salamis were used to build Gazimagusa (Famagusta) and other buildings all over the island. All other remains were covered under sand dunes and bushes.
Worth your attention is also the 6th/7th century AD Basilica of Campanopetra. Cyprus was a very early christian island, as the apostle Saint Barnabas was born in Salamis from a Jewish family. There was a large Jewish community in Salamis, most probably due to its nearby location to Israel. Saint Barnabas spent time in Israel, became a christian and an active apostle, traveling to major 1st century cities. He returned to Cyprus together with the famous apostle Saint Paul in 46 AD.
The gymnasium of Salamis was among the largest of Roman era. Byzantines rebuilt it upon an older complex, destroyed in 4th century AD earthquakes. The marble columns do not match with the capitals on top, most probably the rebuilders just took pieces from elsewhere in the Salamis ruins. To be honest, the gymnasium itself is not very special to visit except for the impression of the large size; however the 44 (!) latrines where people would sit side by side in a semi-circle is a unique place to see.
They had good plumbing systems to secure hygiene, fortunately, that are still visible here. Note the funny sign in Turkish, Antik Tuvalet = antique toilet.
Particularly interesting are the roads that have been excavated. They show how well the roads were made, and also how large the city of Salamis must have been (for example in the 1st century AD it problably had 350.000 inhabitants).
Here some pictures of beautiful streets.
However, the best may still be uncovered here. Salamis has known Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian and Greek times: all I saw were the much more recent remains of Roman and Byzantine times. The nearby Royal Tombs and other excavations show that deep down there is more to see; much more. Salamis is waiting to be discovered.
Royal Tombs dating from the 8th and 7th century BC can be found in Northern Cyprus. The burial practices offer a good insight into ancient rituals just like Homer described them in the Iliad. However, it is more the knowledge about the Royal Tombs than the visit to the tombs themselves that is interesting.
Homer describes in the Iliad how kings and other noble personages were buried. His words are confirmed by the discoveries at the Royal Tombs in Northern Cyprus, although there are also archaeological theories about Homer being first to tell and invent and then the rituals on Cyprus following his epic narrative.
It is easy to find the Royal Tombs. If you go to the grave or the monastery of Saint Barnabas, north of Gazimagusa / Famagusta, you will see them along the road in the fields. Most objects found are in the Cyprus Museum in the South of the Island; I have not been there yet but it seems interesting as findings include chariots, a throne, incense burners, ivory objects, bronze horse bits and decorated breast plates, pottery and amphorae that contained oil and wine. Kings were buried with lots of grave goods.
On the location of the Royal Tombs however, only the stone buildings of the graves remain as well as the skeletons of horses: try to see one behind the glass on the picture (left). I am not sure if the glass ‘protection’ is helpful; most of them were so humid on the inside that it was impossible to see anything or take pictures. How can a humid glass house be protective for such old remains? My visit was December 2018; maybe it is dryer and more clear in summertime.
Burial in the era of the 8th and 7th century BC did not just come with the above mentioned grave goods but also with sacrifice of horses, donkeys and even humans. Archaeological research only started in the ’60ies here and gave a wealth of information. Whoever thought that Homer just made up his stories in the Iliad, found out that his description of burial practices was very accurate (unless you support the theory that the rituals were only shaped under the influence of Homer’s stories).
Most probably (part of) the Royal Tombs were used during many ages. Saint Catherine’s Tomb, number 50, for example, had a chapel on top that dated from the 4rd century BC. Archaeological research in the ’60ies revealed that the chapel was built on a tomb dating from a thousand years earlier than the 4th century chapel. By the way, the chapel was used for Saint Catherine’s veneration even in 1950 BC! So this location was special to many people during at least 2600 years…
Not everybody could afford a Royal Tomb. Next to the Royal Tombs lies a necropolis of hundreds, or even thousands of graves. Just like the nearby ancient city of Salamis and the nearby Bronze Age city of Enkomi, only a minor part of the fields have been unearthed. What has been excavated, shows us tombs people could go to by steps downstairs that were cut in the rocks. Large stones sealed the entrances of the burial chambers that were used almost continuously from 700 BC until 400 AD.
The picture on the right shows the immense fields with so much left to excavate. Further on you can see the grave and monastery of Saint Barnabas between the trees. Next to the chapel of Saint Barnabas’ grave there are also findings of burial chambers. Maybe that is just ‘the other end’ of the same necropolis….
Like the Royal Tombs, there is not so much ‘to be seen’ here. Nevertheless in the same time it is an exciting experience to stand there and oversee the place and consider that all you see might have been part of an immense necropolis, used during more than 10 centuries by hundreds of thousands of people. Neither in the nearby cities of Salamis or Enkomi nor at the Royal Tombs or Cellarga necropolis any excavation took place since 1974: the year that Cyprus was split in a Turkish and a Greek side. But nothing stops you from visiting the sites already now: you can feel the vibe of Homer’s Iliad here quite clearly!
The Saint Barnabas Icon and Archaeological Museum in Northern (Turkish) Cyprus houses many beautiful artefacts: especially pottery dating from 2300 BC till 475 years BC. It was a pleasure to walk through the two different exposition rooms. The icon part of the museum is disappointing; rather new (19th/20th century) and mostly bad quality. But I do recommend a visit to other parts!
Next to Saint Barnabas’ grave lies a (former) monastery – the last monks left in 1977. Nowadays it is the residence of the Saint Barnabas Icon and Archaeological Museum: the banner above this blog notices the opening in 2017 but I remember a visit in the ’90ies when both icons and archaeological artefacts were already exposed. Most probably a more formal status was given to this place to attract more attention and thus visitors.
You can enter through the gate where you pay a small entrance fee and find the church of the monastery immediately on your right hand. It houses the Icon Museum but that is not an interesting place to visit. There are no valuable old icons and the quality of the icons is poor. It looks as if the Turkish-Cypriot government didn’t know what to do with the church and some icons found and decided to combine the two into a museum.
Just pass by the church to find yourself in the beautifully kept courtyard. The Archaeological Museum is housed in (several different) buildings that surround this courtyard. It is a simple museum, just showing objects as they are in showcases, with little signs for explanation in Turkish and English. The charm lies fully in the tranquillity of the place combined with the quality of the artefacts. This is not a modern, fancy museum, but a museum that you like if you like the unusual. Like in other blogs, I can only show here some highlights: there is much more to see. Some examples I liked:
Red polished double spouted bowl with plastic decoration, early bronze age, 2300 – 2075 BC, says the sign. Someone, living 4200 years earlier than us, decided to decorate a red pot with humans lying against or climbing up the sides of the bowl: how moving is that! What a brilliant artisan…
And then this pottery: how can I describe it? The sign says ‘white painted ware and red-on-red flask, early bronze age 1900 – 1625 BC’. The description does not do justice to the originality and variety in shapes. Endless is my admiration for the artisans who made this in a period when they had ‘nothing’ compared to the instruments and techniques we have.
Late bronze age pottery – 1450-1225 BC: amazing in its simplicity. Or is this late bronze age design? Amazing….
I adore the warrior in this chariot: although he seems to be too small for the size of the chariot, he looks proud and confident. This is just one of a collection of very special terracotta figurines in this museum, from the archaic period 750-600 BC.
Among a series of terracotta heads, also from the archaic period, my eye fell on this one because his eyes fell on me. A strong and in the same time quiet, confident expression. Very nice to see. I was walking out of the museum when I passed by this one and he stopped me 🙂
Saint Barnabas’ grave lies on the northern (Turkish) side of Cyprus, in the cellar under a small chapel. Although this saint’s grave is a major ‘asset’ for the status of the Cypriot-Orthodox church, no signs of love or care can be found.
I expected to find a place with worship and deep veneration but the grave of Saint Barnabas bears hardly any signs of that. To my surprise, street dogs were walking in and out of the chapel. The grave cellar contains just a few cheep pictures and a candle here and there. Whoever saw the decorations and worshipping around the graves of for example Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint John can not believe his eyes in seeing the treatment of Saint Barnabas’ grave.
Saint Barnabas was an apostle who worked a lot with Saint Paul. He was the one who introduced Saint Paul who was converted only after having persecuted the Christians, to the apostles who still feared that man. Barnabas convinced them that Saint Paul’s conversion was truthful. Saint Paul and Barnabas traveled together from Antioch to Tarsus to Jerusalem, from Cyprus to Pamphilia. The couple spread early christianity every where, until they fell out and split. After that both went their own way.
In 46 AD Saint Barnabas returned to the city of Salamis in Cyprus, the Island where he was born. The Bible does not mention what happened to him after that but Christian tradition dating from the 3rd century already has it that he died as a martyr there in Salamis (c. 75 AD). His remains are buried in a small grave cellar under a chapel not far from that ancient city on the northern side of Cyprus. As said the chapel is open for everybody, even dogs. The interior contains nothing special. Just take the stairs to go down and see the coffin in the cellar.
The fact that Cyprus ‘has’ Saint Barnabas is the main reason that the Cypriot-Orthodox church is an ‘independent’ church. Unlike what many people think, they do not belong to the Greek-Orthodox or similar orthodox churches. Of course they do have strong ties but the Cypriot-Orthodox church makes it’s own policies, can go it’s own way. This was particularly clear in the ’60s and ’70s when archbishop Makarios was president of Cyprus. Religion and politics intertwined and there was no way to stop Makarios in his policies to let Cyprus become one with Greece (‘enosis‘) and oppress the Turkish-Cypriot community.
During 30 years it was not possible for Greek Cypriots to go to the North and for Turkish Cypriots to go to the South but there is again free access already since 2003. You’d expect an investment by Greek Cypriots to make Saint Barnabas’ grave a respectable place of veneration. Or have they gone beyond the point where that matters – how proud are the Greek Cypriots of a church that is still a major factor in blocking peace processes in north-south negotiations?
Anyway, I found it painful to see the status of Saint Barnabas’ grave. Whatever today’s politics are like, he lived in a different turbulent period and did his upmost to create something new and good he believed in. He suffered for that and deserves a better memorial.
Huis van Hilde, in english Hilde’s House, ‘is home to a spectacular exhibition of the archaeology and human history of Noord-Holland’: thus the introduction of the museum website. Nothing in these words is exagerated. Huis van Hilde is a fascinating museum where old findings are combined with new technologies in a way I didn’t see before in archaeological museums. That makes your visit a high quality experience!
Heavy fighting of the people of Holland with the people of Westfrisia in 1297 has left traces in bones that were found in the medieval village of Vronen, close to actual Alkmaar. They prove that the fighting was not just about winning but also about setting an example, learning the Westfrisians a lesson once and for all. Traces of stabbing with swords show the cruelties committed.
That history is the first thing you see when you enter the museum part of Huis van Hilde. It is intriguing to learn that in the 13th century there were both women and men in the fight. Every artefact shown in Huis van Hilde can easily be looked up in the tablets: this really opens a complete collection without being boring (if you’re not interested, you just don’t look into it).
Screens on the walls show videos with more historic background or archaeological research. Findings of skeletons are used to bring people back to life, like the Archaeological Museum of Haarlem had done. The skeleton on the left here belonged to a man from the stone age (2500BC). The picture below shows the man as he must have looked in real life.
Models of farms show how people lived during different ages. And so on. Huis van Hilde is a very rich museum and very capable too: they know how to show you their treasures. Languages used are Dutch, English and German; the tablets are Dutch only but very clear, you might be able to understand stuff. I can only show some of the artefacts I liked here: there is a lot more to see. Artefacts I liked:
Two wooden canoes Found in the soil of Noord-Holland.
On top is a canoe from Uitgeest 600 BC
Below is a canoe from the Wieringermeer polder 3300 BC.
Sacrifice and ritual Very interesting objects found in a sacrificial site at Velserbroek. During ages, starting at Iron Age, people threw objects in the bog such as jewelry, human bones, coins and pots. The presence of animal skulls – horses and dogs – and spearheads indicate worship of the Germanic god Wodan.
Flutes Amazing to find a flute and a pan flute in the vitrines. The flute was found in Broek op Langedijk. It was made out of the ulnar of a crane. Information in the tablet says that flutes in this part of Europe go back to 36.000 years, but this one is from 0-300AD. The pan flute is made out of boxwood. Only 4 pan flutes were found in Europe and this one from Uitgeest is in the best condition. It was probably imported from the Mediterranean 150-250AD.
How to get there Huis van Hilde in the village of Castricum has easy access. Officially coming by car is not encouraged but you can find enough parking spots at walking distance from the museum. Coming by train is indeed very easy: Huis van Hilde lies right next to the trainstation of Castricum. From Amsterdam Central Station, a train leaves every 20 minutes; traveling time is 25 minutes (from Alkmaar, trains also leave every 20 minutes and traveling time is 10 minutes).
You may like other blogs I wrote about archaeological museums:
Shoplifters is a movie about purity of characters and personalities. I didn’t know I like Japanese movies but now I know. Shoplifters is a wonderful work of art. If you do not know whether you like Japanese movies, go there – because you do like them. You certainly like Shoplifters.
Shoplifters starts with the ‘finding’ of a little girl, a 4 or 5 year old kid that is suffering from violence in her family. She is happy to go with her finders and live in their place. It is an environment of love and respect. In her new family, people are careful in handling each other’s feelings. Her new grandmother takes care of her food and clothing. A boy, maybe 8 or 10 years old, is there to do games with her, to show her around in her new world and indeed… to teach her how to work in shoplifting.
Nobody in the little girl’s new family is really family – as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that every family member has its own history – and its own grief and failure. Very strong in this movie are the images shown: feelings are not explained but filmed. The emotion derives from what you see. With shortcoming and weakness comes nevertheless a transcendent purity. The characters are not perfect but very honest and absolutely fair in their behaviour; much more than in the world of the average.
When the movie ends, it is the little girl that pays the price. The officials find her and bring her back to her original family, where she was treated badly. She is unhappy and very lonely in the end of the movie. She pays the price of the general myth that a girl needs her mother and that she is best off in her ‘own’ family, much better than in a family of shoplifters. Japanese society is ruthless towards kids in order to uphold the myth of nice families who are the cornerstone of society. It has a certain, idealist, perception of a family and is blind towards the true meaning families can have. Is that only Japanese society or also yours?
Go see this movie. It is something completely else. Uncomparable to other movies. A combination of art, beauty, emotion, societal relevance, love and excellent story-telling.
Cats in Șanlıurfa do not have a real good or a real bad life. It depends a bit where they are, whom they meet and what the weather is like. I saw happy and unhappy cats, and locals who were nice to them or unpleasant. Following my statement that the way people deal with cats says something about their level of development, I’d say Șanlıurfa is somewhere ‘average’ compared to Turkish levels.
Cats in Șanlıurfa are not difficult to spot.
Especially in tourist places like the parc around the Balıklıgöl close to Abraham’s cave and the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque cats are very present. Although no one will give them fish as the thousands of carpers in the Balıklıgöl are holy, the parc with it’s many visitors must be a great place to find food. However, the cats in this parc were merely unhappy as it was raining a lot when I visited. Some cats were totally soaked and moreover dirty.
They had difficulty to cope with the circumstances, even though they got some help for food. Most people leave the cats alone. They do not pay any particular attention to them and they do not bother them. A negative exception I saw was in the Grand Bazaar where a cat was begging and the two owners of a shop wanted to kick the cat. The good news is that they are aware kicking is a no-go.
Their feet were already ‘hanging in the sky’ when they noticed me watching them. The feet stayed for a moment up where they were, then they stood on two legs again, grinsing in my direction. Without awareness of considerate animal treatment, they would have continued their initial movement and kicked the poor cat. The cat learned his lesson and escaped quickly between the stalls of the bazaar. A positive exception I saw was in the Freedom Museum and Müslüm Gürses Museum where the museum guard had a warm relation with Keto, a true museum cat.
Finally three more pictures of cats in notable places:
Traveling in Şanlıurfa is a great idea but not easy. Here I give you some tips. Do not worry about food or pickpockets. Buses and taxis make your transport easy if you do not want to walk. Your problems are different in this conservative area and mainly concern ‘the rules’ and personal safety.
Conservatism and safety Traveling in Şanlıurfa is traveling in a conservative place. The general norm here is orthodox Islam and it is known that radical elements are also here. Be aware that the center of the ISIS-calliphate was next to the province of Şanlıurfa (so-called capital Raqqa only 70 kilometers away). A friend of mine who visited 2 months before me noticed quite some Dutch license plates on cars (‘Syrië-gangers’), radicals who had fought in Syria and passed the border to be more safe in Turkey as they were loosing the fight in Syria. I myself didn’t see them by the way. However, conservatism can be felt in many aspects.
I got loads of questions as a woman traveling alone. Locals can get quite irritated because they feel you cross the line – you break the rules just by doing so. On the other hand, comments can be tackled with friendliness and compliments; locals are sensitive to that. Be aware that you can not change the world. Do not go into discussions you can’t win and that might bring you into safety problems. Confirm what is OK in the culture to support your safety.
For example I was in a dolmuș-bus and after the other passengers had left, the driver started to criticize me for traveling alone as a woman, and how that problem should be solved now. I responded that there was no problem because Turkish hospitality is unbelievably wonderful and that everybody is willing to help me as a guest. He immediately confirmed my view, yes, Turkish hospitality was beyond what any country had to offer (Turkish nationalism is always strong 😊). Then he frowned, I think he understood that after his praise of Turkish hospitality, he couldn’t go back to the subject of me-alone being a problem.
Conservatism means people want to play by the rules, and they do not think about the meaning of rules. They can not discuss them. For example at Göbeklitepe I first went up the hill with my ticket to see the temples but I came down because the weather was very bad. I entered the building downstairs for a coffee and audiovisual show. After an hour, I decided to try again and they wanted me to buy another ticket because I went up already. Note that all were shivering, and they knew I did not go on the temple hill itself. The keyword here is patience. Arguing doesn’t work because the basis of the rules is not argumental for them. Just stand there, telling that you already bought a ticket and wait. They started to discuss among themselves about my problem and it ended so that one guy came out, waved to me and let me go to the road up the hill again. Some others watched, maybe unhappily because the rules were broken but without further resistence. You will find yourself in situations like that. Keep smiling (not too much because you are a woman in a men’s land), wait and let others solve the problem. A key problem in islamic conservatism is the lack of critical reflexion. Do not think that a simple visitor can change that. Just find a way to travel with it when traveling inŞanlıurfa.
It is unusual for women to be on the street after sunset, unless accompanied by men. For safety in general: if you are not used to travel in risky, unsafe areas, do not go to Şanlıurfa on your own. There are group journeys, although not many because companies can not always deal with the risks of this region either. Be vigilant: personal safety is your main concern here, 24/7. Certainly do not go to places outside Şanlıurfa city or Göbeklitepe site without anybody knowing that you go there and without knowing who is your protection on the spot when problems occur. Generally speaking in places like Harran and Sogmatar you are unprotected unless you organize it and speak the language (Turkish or Arab).
Concerning robberies and the like, you are very safe traveling in Şanlıurfa. Look at the jewellers: they all have their door widely opened to the public, during day time and even after sunset. ‘We all know each other here’, a local told me. Anyway stealing is considered as a very bad thing. If you have to pay something, you could give your wallet to the person you have to pay to – and it will be dealt with correctly. Nobody grabs your bag in the street. As a woman, I was maybe judged a lot but I was not at all harassed, not one single time. Anybody you ask help from, will help you. First of all Turcs love to help someone out, second they have a culture where everybody is used to ask little services, third you are a guest and hospitality is key, also in Şanlıurfa.
Questions Question number one they ask you is: do you have children? This question will come to you at least ten times a day, from the hotel reception to the bakery, from the cashier at the restaurant to the woman that helps you find your way in a mosque. Not having children here means your life was useless (and that maybe you are useless, too). Either talk about your children, real or phantasy, or give ‘kismet’ = ‘fate, destiny’ as a reason for not having them, they will stop asking. Unless you like long and uneasy discussions, of course.
Question number two they ask you is: are you married? Not being married also means missing out the meaning of life. This is one of the regions in Turkey where girls are married at the age of 14 or where a position as second wife is accepted, rather than risking a life as an unmarried person. Question number three is: what is your name? Three identical questions asked all the time and in that order. The good news is: you can be prepared 🙂
Food and drinks Food and drinks are excellent. Go to the local restaurants and eat a great meal for just a few euros. Men have their own room, usually downstairs. Some restaurants have a place upstairs for mixed groups or women and children. It took me days to find a women-friendly restaurant – in western terms. Finally, unexpectedly, in the banking district I found an open restaurant where women walked in as much as men, some of them veiled, others unveiled. It didn’t matter there and that is rare to find in Şanlıurfa. But it exists!
Alcool and drugs There is no alcool in average public places in Şanlıurfa for religious reasons. Don’t be the troublesome tourist to push for it. This is not about your safety but your waiter´s and it’s serious. Strange enough there are drugs in Şanlıurfa, at least soft drugs and maybe more, and availability might not be difficult. One local showed me a photograph of himself in front of what I’d call a cannabis tree (!) in his own garden. Also, after sunset in darker places, there is some illegal activity. Not recommended and be careful – there is no forgiveness for foreigners.
Feel free to approach me if you will be traveling in Şanlıurfa! I enjoyed it and wish you an equally good or even better trip.
500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa, that is really a lot for an existing population of 2 million. Turkey is doing a great job for the children of Syrian refugees in Șanliurfa but the integration of the adults seems to fail. Although most people support the shelter given to Syrian refugees, they worry about the consequences of housing 1 refugee on every 4 inhabitants in the province of Șanliurfa.
500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa, that is really a lot for an existing population of 2 million. Turkey is doing a great job for the children of Syrian refugees in Șanliurfa but the integration of the adults seems to fail. Although most people support the shelter given to Syrian refugees, they worry about the consequences of housing 1 refugee on every 4 inhabitants in the province of Șanliurfa.
Turkey’s effectiveness to deal with a refugee crisis Turkey has set up very good provisions for its refugees. In Europe one can hear sometimes remarques of doubt about the seriousness of Turkish expenses for refugees (EU gives billions to Turkey to shelter refugees in the region) but everybody traveling in the south can see that Turkey makes a serious business of good shelter. I saw that last year in Gaziantep and wrote a blog about that and I see it now in Șanliurfa. It is impressive and worth our support.
Problem 1: Competition for ordinary workers So what is the problem? Well, the problem is not that Turkey is not taking care of the refugees but that they are different and they are many. First of all, there is a competing situation for workers, especially in the low cost areas. Turkish poor work for little money and now Syrian workers have arrived and take their jobs for even less money. More than anybody, it is the workers who pay the price for 500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa. They lost their jobs that brought already no more than poverty or they kept their job but their wages have gone down.
Problem 2: lack of integration, fear of ethnic conflict Second, there are worries about long term effects of the lack of adult integration. Șanliurfa has camps and neighbourhoods that are Syrian dominated, for example in Harran exists a refugee camp that is almost a city in itself with 30.000 refugees (note that we do not talk tents and the like but normal housing and other infrastructure). This allows for targeted efforts such as education and association. Children are doing fine, they are learning Turkish and as a consequence also other lessons at school. But the adults do not seem to learn a lot. It is not clear why that is: do they still expect to return to Syria at short notice, are they too traumatized to learn, are they just not interested or not capable? On the other hand all-Syrian associations are developed in isolation of Turkish society. Some individuals are optimist and think that this is because the Syrian refugees want to return and they are succesfully preparing for that. However, general opinion is pessimist, that Syrian refugees are creating a state in a state with their own clubs and political parties that will form a danger for the status quo in Șanliurfa.
Opinions about Syrians in Șanliurfa Șanliurfa is a province with a strong Arab minority. People here judge milder about Syrian culture than in 114 kilometer far Gaziantep. Nevertheless the inhabitants here consider themselves fully as Turcs and are as nationalist as other Turcs. They do admit cultural differences between themselves and Syrians, notably the fact that Syrians do not seem to love their country and fight for it, that there are thefts and cases of begging and child labour and that they lack in contribution to society as a whole, being rather passive towards organisation of work, education and other daily business issues. All express their worries that in the long term, if the Syrian war does not end and the refugees do not go back, there will be big problems in Șanliurfa.
Șanliurfa under occupation… One man told me even that 500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa means that ‘Șanliurfa is under occupation’. He is sure that President Erdogan will give citizenship to the refugees so that they will stay in Turkey for good. He thinks the risk of ethnic conflict is huge. ‘Every Syrian who is able to do something went to Europe’, he said, ‘we know that the Syrians who are stupid, unemployed and uneducated came to Șanliurfa’. They get so much aid in Turkey that their life has considerably improved compared to their status in pre-war Syria. ‘There is no reason for them to go back because their life has never been better than nowadays. It is not just that they have nothing to go back to because the war destroyed it all, it is because they simply didn’t have anything’. He told me that already 100.000 Syrian babies were born in Șanliurfa and explained that many Turkish citizens of Șanliurfa worry about these high Syrian numbers of birth.
North-Syria as the solution? Several people I spoke to consider the Turkish military offensive in Syria, first in Afrin, now soon to come East of Euphrate, as a way to re-house Syrian refugees. They think it can be a solution for the increasing tensions between Turcs and Syrian refugees on Turkish soil. Occupying Syria’s North entirely, like the Ottomans used to do, seems a good idea to them as the Turkish army will surely create a peaceful North-Syrian region where the population can start rebuilding a future.
Turkey has shown great hospitality and also wonderful capability in infrastructure to house so many refugees in a human and dignified way. Now, after the efforts to deal with the crisis, the long term issues become more urgent every day.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
Bilqiss 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)