It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog, and it’s mainly because I haven’t lived in Turkey since June 2010. I’ve been back in the United States working on a Master’s degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. However, being back at the university has allowed me to make some new Turkish friends who are studying at SU. Along with Backgammon, tea, and really great conversation, several of them are teaching me how to “cook” my favorite Turkish foods.
I’ve decided to post the experiences and recipes here in a new segment I’m calling “Turkish Delights.” I hope you enjoy, and maybe even cook some of these great meals yourself.
Menemen (a classic Turkish breakfast dish)
INGREDIENTS (this recipe serves 2-4):
- 1 onion (soğan)
- 2-3 peppers (biber), we used Hungarian peppers. I’ve also tried Italian peppers.
- 2 tomatoes (domates)
- 2-4 eggs (yumurta)
- Vegetable or Olive oil
- 1 small-medium frying pan
1) Dice the peppers, onions, and peppers and put them on the side.
2) Heat up about 1/8 cup of oil in the pan at medium high
3) Stir in diced peppers and sauté for about 1-2 minutes
4) Add diced onion, continue to sauté for another 5-6 minutes until well cooked, add oil as needed
5) Add diced tomatoes, cook until like a sauce.
6) Add a dash of salt
6) Drop in eggs directly over the pan, stir them in if you prefer them scrambled. We scrambled them.
7) Once well cooked or blended, remove from heat and let cool.
8) Serve directly from pan with plenty of fresh bread!
Afiyet Olsun! (Turkish phrase for “Enjoy your meal.”)
(This article was first published on December 25, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
DEMRE, Turkey — When journalist Francis Church replied to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” he could have added: “in Turkey.”
Hundreds of Orthodox Christians and other pilgrims descended on the village of Demre, Turkey, to the St. Nicholas Church where St. Nicholas served as the Bishop of Myra from 325-350 A.D.
The church still stands today, but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. St. Nicholas was martyred here and buried under the church until his bones were stolen by Italians in 1087 and taken to Bari, Italy, where they remain.
“We’re lucky to still have this church intact,” said priest Vissarion Komezias, who was one of the celebrants at the 2009 celebration of St. Nicholas’ feast day, which is marked by Christians around the world on Dec. 6.
“At best, they become museums [like this], at worst they are abandoned or destroyed,” said Komezias.
For the last three years, the Turkish government has allowed the Eastern Orthodox Church to once again celebrate a mass in Nicholas’ church. From 2002 to 2006, the Turkish government had organized its own “prayer for peace” instead.
During the 2009 liturgy given in both Greek and Turkish, celebrant Hrisostomos Kalaycı from the Istanbul Patriarchate thanked the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
“The people of Anatolia have been famous since ancient times for their diligence, their faith in God’s orders, their honesty and modesty,” Kalayci said. “I pray to God for love and peace in our country. May St. Nicholas help us all.”
Kalayci, Komezias, and other priests from the Orthodox Church served the wall-to-wall
crowd. Candles flickered against the crumbling walls of the more than 1,500-year-old church while pictures of John the Baptist, Jesus, Mary and child, and Saint Nicholas himself adorned the altar. The saint’s image was brought to the center where a candle and the bishop’s mitre (traditional headdress) rested beside it.
The crumbling pillars next to the altar symbolized the church’s tumultuous history that includes earthquakes and war. The church underwent several restorations including by the Romans in 1043, the Russians in the 19th century, and more recently with the assistance of the small Greek island of Megisti.
“Our people rebuilt this church,” said Megisti resident Evangelia Mavrothalassitis.
Turkish officials gave the 73-year-old Mavrothalassitis and her son free admission to the church for the labor her island contributed during the last restoration. Megisti, or Kastellorizo, sits just a few miles off the coast of Demre. In 2006, the Turkish Ministry of Culture made a $40,000 investment to restore the church’s roof.
Saint Nicholas, known commonly for his generosity to children, is actually patron saint to the most causes and people — among them: sailors, bakers, thieves, Greece, Apulia and Sicily. Nicholas was first named a patron to sailors after a legend emerged that he appeared to seamen caught in a tempest and guided them home.
“We grew up in Germany knowing the legend of St. Nicholas,” said 58-year-old Erica Venna. “We wanted to see the origins for ourselves.”
Germans, Greeks, Russians and Italians were among the countries represented at the service. A group of German university students came with their Turkish-born professor as their guide.
“Our aim [today] is to present Santa Claus as a real man who helped poor people,” said Ismet Yenmez. “We also want to introduce Turkish culture to the students.”
One story tells of a man in Myra who had no dowry to offer any of his three daughters. Without a dowry, historians say “women were sold into slavery or worse.” According to the legend, St. Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the man’s window on three different nights. Some say the bags landed in a stocking or shoe, which is where the European tradition originated. Three separate historical accounts tell this story differing only on the number of women or amount of gold, according to the Saint Nicholas Center.
Thirty-two countries from around the world have distinct traditions devoted to Nicholas, including Muslim Turkey.
“All of us love Noel Baba [Father Noel],” said 44-year-old Demre resident Nurhan Kale. “He is from here. He has his own culture here.”
When asked why Turks love St. Nicholas, Kale said that St. Nicholas was “good to
children.” In Turkey, some parents give their children presents on New Year’s Day in honor of the mythical gift-giving Noel Baba. The holiday is celebrated without any religious references.
“We tell the children he was an important man and this is why you are receiving the gift,” Kale added.
Whether you know him as Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Noel Baba, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Kris Kringle or Belsnickle, the legend will always have its origins along Turkey’s Mediterranean seaside.
(This article was first published on September 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
KAYSERI, Turkey — Before dawn, dozens of dusty trucks roll into a vacant lot and bring it to life. It’s Saturday, the day when village merchants come to Kayseri’s Talas district to sell fresh fruit and whatever else they have.
“One Lira, one Lira! Over here, one kilogram, one Lira!” shouted 13-year-old Hasan Erol from behind his father’s fruit stand.
At the market, shoppers find an array of fresh fruit for sale laid out neatly in colorful rows on tables under patchy burlap tents or sometimes just exploding from trucks. Gargantuan cabbages and melons roll on the dusty ground while a cornucopia of seasonal fruit and veggies including fresh tomatoes, eggplants, carrots and bananas wait to be sold.
Turkey’s 13 percent unemployment rate coupled with its rural poor makes markets like this crucial to most merchants’ livelihood.
“The supermarkets are hurting us badly,” said Aydin Topbas as he shared a cup of Turkish tea. Major European chains including Migros, Kipa and Carrefour have moved into most large Turkish cities.
Topbas left high school 12 months ago to start work in the market. Topbas and his father work together selling spices in empty parking lots like this across the region. Topbas is pessimistic about his chances of continuing the family business, and he’s not alone.
“Some days are good, but others are really bad,” said Baki Kara, a 27-year-old merchant who started working with his father at the age of 16.
Kara works one of the many fruit stands in the market. He lives on a farm just outside
Kayseri with his family, including his 10-year-old son, Yunus, who now helps his father at the market. Yunus serves him tea while Dad grabs one of the blackened kilogram blocks to balance fruit on a scale.
Kara’s 62-year-old father, Omer, still visits the market although he’s technically retired. Turks used to retire and collect social security very early, some even retired as early as the age of 40 just 10 years ago.
Today, however, younger Turks have to wait until they’re at least 62 to retire, while some older Turks can still collect in their early 50s.
Omer and his wife watch their son and grandson carry on the family business while strolling around the crowded bazaar. Although development has drawn people away, the market continues to fill up every Saturday morning with older, more traditional-looking women from all over the city. At a market where two pounds of carrots can cost you less than 75 cents, the price is right for many Turkish families and penny-pinching students.
Towards the far end of the market, shoppers can find a treasure trove of random goodies. Factory rejects, knockoff shirts and sweatpants, cheap Chinese-made toys and household supplies, and even a vendor selling scarves and sewing supplies for the massive “Teyze” demographic. (“Teyze” is a word meaning maternal aunt, but is also traditionally used as a term of endearment for elder women.)
Whether or not this village tradition will survive the rapid pace of development that some economic experts foresee, for now these markets remain the only sources of income for hundreds of families. Moreover, Turkey needs all the jobs it can generate for such a young population eager to work.
At the end of my “bazaar day,” I left with a broom, a pound of carrots, a plastic dish-drying rack and a spatula. All bought for less than five Lira, or $3.50.
Oh, and, of course, two cups of tea. No charge.
(This article was first published on August 3, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
KAYSERI, Turkey — Rows of homes that used to be part of Kayseri’s Armenian quarter and housed up to 400 families are now dilapidated and lay empty or are filled with squatters. The district is a symbol of the tragic history between Armenians and Turks during the last century, a history plagued by animosity and violence.
But in the center of that district stands a 900-year-old Armenian church, defiantly active and restored as a reminder of the better days of Armenian history in Turkey.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement in remembrance of the Armenian “Great Catastrophe,” calling it “one of the worst atrocities in the 20th century.” According to various estimates, 300,000 to 1.5 million Armenians died during World War I after being forced from their homes by the Ottoman Empire, now modern Turkey. The Armenian National Committee of America said the president made the “wrong choice” in not using the word “genocide.” Armenians have strongly pushed the United States to officially recognize the events in Ottoman Turkey as a genocide.
However, one group of Anatolian Armenians (from Turkey’s Asian side) prefers to look beyond the polarizing rhetoric in an attempt to preserve what remains of their history in Kayseri: their 900-year-old church.
“We try to remember the importance of religion. It’s our most important cause. Our foundation doesn’t think about politics,” said Garbis Bagdat, director of the St. Gregory Church Foundation.
Hidden behind a ten-foot stone barricade, the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church is one of only seven Armenian churches still functioning in Anatolia.
“When we visit, our old Kayseri neighbors are always asking us why we left and why we don’t come back,” Bagdat says. “Most of them say they would like us to come back.”
Bagdat prefers to remain with the majority of his community now in Istanbul, but his foundation is determined to preserve the pieces of history remaining in his former home.
The Kayseri Church has added importance because the community believes St. Gregory passed through the city and established an earlier church constructed of wood in the same location. St. Gregory was the first leader of the Armenian Church and is credited for converting the pagan Armenians to Christianity during the fourth century. Kayseri served as a major Armenian center for centuries before losing prominence in the late Ottoman period.
Bagdat’s group recently completed interior restorations. They revitalized old frescoes, furnishings, and statues. The community capped off the efforts with an inaugural service last November with the Armenian Patriarchate presiding. Since then, the church has seen regular Armenian visitors from Istanbul, Armenia, Europe, and the United States, including a group of Istanbul Armenians now living in Los Angeles.
“Having this church here, the only church, is very symbolic for us,” said Sylvia Minassian whose grandfather came from Kayseri, “We would like to preserve it as much as we can, as long as we can because it shows there was a Christian life here.”
Minassian grew up in Istanbul. For her, Turkey is home. She watches Turkish television, speaks to her mother in Turkish, and feels less animosity towards Turkish people.
“Our feelings are not as strong as some of the other Armenians whose families went through certain disasters and tragedies and they ended up in other countries,” Minassian said, “We never knew about [the other] history because our parents never taught us those things.”
Bagdat believes the Kayseri Church can serve as a reminder the city’s Armenian past for future generations. Bagdat says the Turkish government has been extremely helpful and has never stood in the way of his group’s mission to restore the church to its former glory.
“We are on a good path,” says Bagdat, “Twenty years ago, the situation was much worse. Nobody would speak about Armenians, and we wouldn’t speak because of Armenian terrorism outside of Turkey. We were afraid.”
But now, he says discussion are more open and he has had visitors from the Turkish government who want to learn more about the church.
For the last few years, Turkey has worked to normalize relations with its Armenian neighbors. Some feel that one of the key provisions for normalization would be an independent examination of the historic tragedy.
Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke to reporters with hope about the future.
“As Turkey, we are ready to share the pain of our Armenian neighbors,” said Davutoglu.
However, he preferred to use the word pain versus genocide in his remarks.
Turkey continues to see the deportations, what some Armenians view as death marches, as tragedies during wartime. Turkish historians often refer to Turkish losses in Gallipoli and in its eastern provinces as equivalents.
It’s an issue that continues to agitate, and even Minassian believes this remains the biggest obstacle to more normal relations between non-Turkish Armenians and Turkey.
“What hurts them [Turkey] the most is the non-accepting of what happened,” said the visiting Minassian. “I think that if they accepted it a long time ago, nobody would have blamed the new generation because it happened in the old empire.”
Bagdat says he prefers to “close his ears” to the issue because he lives in Turkey.
For him, Turkey is his home. He chooses to stay, and lives among many Turkish friends. Politics isn’t his issue. He chooses to keep his heritage by protecting the Kayseri church.
“The church is the life of the Armenians,” Bagdat says. “Every Armenian is attached to their church.”
With one year left as foundation director, Bagdat will continue his restoration campaign. The next step is to revitalize the church’s large courtyard.
The church will continue to hold four services each year when approximately three to four hundred Armenians are anticipated to worship behind those cobblestone walls like their ancestors did for over a thousand years.
For the Kayseri foundation, the church remains a chance to keep history alive.
(This article was first published on July 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
PAMUKKALE, Turkey — At the edge the Pamukkale village, visitors encounter a mesa covered in a white rock that I still can’t convince my parents is not ice.
For 400,000 years, the edges of these naturally made white “pools” of rock appear to spill over like beer foam on the brim of a glass, one after another cascading down the steep hills overlooking the houses below.
These white rock formations, known as travertines, are unique in the entire world. Steamy hot water spews forth from a spring and other fissures at the top and flow downhill. Emerging from the earth at temperatures between 95 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the waters cool on their way down leaving hardened white calcium deposits in their wake. The Turks gave the formation the name Pamukkale, or cotton castle.
We made our off-season hike up the travertines on one of Turkey’s cooler days. We began our shoeless ascent up the ivory cliffs feeling a chill in our bones. Turkey banned shoes to protect further degradation of the deposits. However, that chill didn’t last as we crossed two warm sapphire pools. Staring into these placid mirrors, you could see the village and mountains behind you.
It’s no surprise why the Greeks and Romans believed that Pamukkale imparted supernatural healing forces. During our climb, we spent nearly half an hour letting our feet dangle in a rushing current of thermal water that felt better than any Jacuzzi.
The Pamukkale’s rock is not smooth, but layered over and over similar to the thin pieces of bread Turks pile on top of each other to make a dish called Borek. But it’s also hardly rocky or sharp, and the ridges of the deposits make climbing the cliff easier.
During peak season, the travertines are filled with tourists in bathing suits (sometimes revealing more than the eye would wish to see). During a later visit, my fellow climbers included U.S. exchange students visiting Turkey on a Rotary Club tour.
At the top of the cliff, you can see all of Mother Nature’s patient creation. The white rock stretches out for nearly a mile, and the village below seems helpless in the fact of the tide of white approaching it.
And the top of the plateau is no less disappointing. The 2,200-year-old city of Hierapolis provided a stunning finish to the 600-foot climb.
Archeologists say the city became a healing center due to the thermal waters pouring from its natural fissures. The massive cemetery in Hierapolis suggests that many terminally ill people came to the city in hopes of a miracle, according to researchers. An antique pool is located in the center of the city where steamy waters continue to pour in. It is still in use today by tourists and locals.
“When you bathe in the waters of Pamukkale, your body is healed,” said village resident Mehmet Guleç, “Our waters are special.”
Pamukkale’s waters continue to flow, with the deposits inching further downhill every year. In 1988, the site became a UNESCO World Heritage site in order to protect the travertines from excessive damage by tourism and development.
Today, people still come from all reaches of the world to see and experience the waters of Turkey’s Cotton Castle.
With any luck, the tradition will continue for another 2,200 years.