(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 June 25, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here. The video was taken on June 4, 2010 during the funeral of Furkan Dogan in Kayseri.)
Furkan Dogan had just scored so high on Turkey’s rigorous college entrance exams that he could have attended any college of his choosing. But before he started school, he did what a lot of high school graduates do: He joined a humanitarian mission to help people less fortunate than him.
His choice of charities was fatal.
“He was not a political activist,” said his father Ahmet Dogan. “He was just a volunteer, a humanitarian who wanted to help people. He wanted to study to be a doctor, an eye doctor.”
Furkan was killed during the Memorial Day raid by Israeli armed forces on the Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and, according to flotilla organizers, deliver humanitarian supplies to the embattled region. When the Israelis boarded the boat from the air and by motor boat, fighting broke out, and Dogan was shot multiple times in the head and chest, according to an Anatolian news agency.
Israeli government officials claim that their soldiers were ambushed not by peace activists, but by people ready for a fight “This was not a love boat, but a hate boat,” said . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In June 9 interview on the Colbert Report, Israel Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said, “The people on this particular boat were 70 hired thugs from a radical Islamic organization.”
But, for the Dogan family and their friends, these characterizations don’t match the man they knew. Furkan was not a paid member of the The Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, the aid group which helped organize the flotilla.
Dogan was chosen by IHH after entering an online lottery to serve as a volunteer on the Mavi Marmara. Nine other residents of his hometown in Turkey, Kayseri, joined him.
Dogan attended one of Turkey’s competitive “science high schools” where students prepare for careers in medicine, engineering, and other sciences. Furkan was an honor student and recently completed college entrance exams where he placed high enough to enter any school of his choosing. Furkan took the exam as a foreigner because he was born in Troy, NY in 1991 while his father studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Furkan is a citizen of both the U.S. and Turkey.
“He was thinking he’d like to go to America for university, and was looking forward to going back to Troy to see his homeland and improve his language skills,” said his father Ahmet.
In 1993, Dogan’s father brought his family back to Kayseri, where he teaches economics as an associate professor.
Seniye Vural, an English literature professor and family friend said that Furkan’s father was often helping students, particularly a theater group in the economics faculty. Vural dismissed the idea that Furkan could have learned any radical theologies at home.
“I’ve never seen him [Ahmet Dogan] as an activist,” said Vural.
In fact, Dogan, like his son, looked positively on his time in the US.
“I had a great impression of America,” he said, “I was especially impressed with how Americans were so sensitive to issues of human rights and individual freedom.”
The family said their son went with those issues in mind, and wanted to take the opportunity to help people he saw as suffering. He joined the 600 people on the Mavi Marmara with his American passport in hand believing that it would be the best protection.
“Furkan thought that his American citizenship, his American passport, would protect him,” said his
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffery reportedly spoke to Ahmet by phone in early June, promising Furkan’s father he would find out what went on in the Mavi Marmara. The U.S. State Department has not asked for an independent investigation.
On June 1, U.S. President Barack Obama said he supports “a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts.”
Meanwhile, the Dogan family continues to mourn the loss of their youngest son. Ahmet says his son died a martyr doing God’s work, and at the funeral on June 4, thousands of residents in Kayseri came out waving signs supporting that idea.
“We want to show the world that he was innocent, that he lived a life of dignity,” repeated his father, “We also want his life to be dedicated to humanity’s
The city plans to name a street after him, and his high school is dedicating a gymnasium to him. A creative writing professor plans to write a book, play, or movie about Furkan, while another group hopes to establish a cultural center named after him.
Jim Buie,a freelance journalist living in Kayseri, contributed to this report. View his blog and coverage of the story.
Suds, bubbles, and Bobby Darin’s “Splish, splash” are typically what come to mind when I think about taking a bath. Turkey has turned that upside down.
Turks continue a long standing tradition of bath houses that first came to prominence in the Roman Empire. Today, these bath houses feature hot rooms of marble where men and women wash themselves and are washed by attendants. Today’s baths mostly come from Turkey’s Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires where an emphasis on purity and cleanliness made hamams extremely attractive.
Last week, three friends and I visited one of Turkey’s traditional hamams (bath houses). The nearly eight-hundred year-old Seljuk hamam in Kayseri’s city center was simple, but it certainly didn’t miss any services of a traditional Turkish Hamam. Most of its visitors are not tourists but instead the working men of one of Turkey’s most traditional cities. There is a woman’s side of the hamam as well, but I can’t say much about that. Our hamam was separated into three different areas: a drying and dressing room, a wash room, and a sauna.
Stone steps descending from the sidewalk led us to the entrance and into the drying and dressing area. Furnished in wood, it reminded me of a cedar closet. Each of us were given a key to one of the 20 or so dressing booths lining the room. Meanwhile, men just out of the bathing area sat in plush chairs reading the news or watching Turkish TV while drying off, some of whom who were also enjoying a full rub down at the chair. After dropping everything but a thin plaid towel provided to us by the hamam, I was ready for the cleaning of my life.
After entering the main bath room, the first thing I noticed was the room’s humidity. It wasn’t necessarily hot, but sweat immediately starting building on contact with the air. Orhan, my friend and “hamam guide” laughed at my reaction to it and said, “Today, for the first time, you will be really clean!”
The room we were in was furnished with marble floors and benches along the wall, and a mini-waterway system guided runoff splash water down the bath’s drains. The room had four smaller rooms in each corner (one being a sauna) and in between the corner rooms were spigots and sinks running along the wall with metal pans for individual bathing. On a busy day, the benches would be full of men sitting, chatting, and then pouring warm to hot water over themselves. The four of us (one Turk, two English teachers, and one Chinese teacher) sat in the center slab of the room admiring the historical nature of the building, while also frankly, sweating like pigs.
After about 15 minutes, Orhan suggested it was time “to get very hot” in the sauna. The sauna was the hottest room I’ve been in even for a sauna. Thankfully it was extremely dry. Inside, we met Ali, a tall Turkish man who was a bit off according to Orhan. While sitting down, Ali got up and started haphazardly flicking the sprinkling hose left and right. I jumped when the “cold” water hit us sitting on the bench and said, “Hey, stop.” Ali responded, “I’m making steam. I’m making steam.” We had no problem with the steam, but asked if he could make it where no one was sitting. The sauna was too much for me, so I left. From the outside looking in, I watched Ali playing with the hose from the door window. When my friends came out before Ali, Jim the American teacher said that Ali mentioned,Turkey and America are friends, “but Turkey is stronger.”
After the sauna, we were finally ready to be cleaned according to Orhan. Two men standing by the entrance were rubbing and soaping men lying down
on marble benches on the side of the walls. The first step was the kese. The kese is basically a large, rough edged glove, reminiscent of the gloves I’ve used to groom my dog. The burly and bald bath attendent (also known as a tellak) rubbed it all over my skin. The glove pulled away at all the dust and dead skin on my body and the remnants of which were left looking like wet rolled up pieces of paper. After the process, he poured water over me using a small silver bowl filled with lukewarm water. My skin felt raw, but also extremely clean. But the experience wasn’t over as the attendant asked me, “Do you want soap massage?”
Saying yes, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had such a thorough wash down since I was an infant. The “massage” got a bit brutal especially towards the end when he worked on my back. The attendant was excited to talk to an American in Turkish, and kept asking how the country was. I responded that Turkey is wonderful, the peopler are great, and the food is tip top. I would often find myself saying, Turkey is çok guzel (very beautiful). He would laugh and as he pressed his hands hard into my back, he shouted, “Çok guzel!” After a final rinse, I was able to head over to another side of the hamam where I could gently rinse with my own little bowl of warm water.
After we all finished with the attendants, we headed out of the hamam and took a seat in the chairs. We were given lemonade and soda while we rested and just let our bodies rest after the thorough cleaning and pounding.
For those few hours, it was interesting to have such a personal and thorough cleaning. Spas are not usually my thing, and I can’t say I’d go back to hamam on a regular basis. But, when you’ve been travelling and you just want to get completely clean and relaxed, it’s a great start. Some people say you can feel like the Sultan, and I can see why. From the minute you enter until the minute you leave, the hamam is all about your needs, nothing else.
As for the price of this full service, the bath will run you about 35 Turkish Lira or $23.00 US Dollars.
“Why Kayseri?” is one of the most common questions asked to me by neighbors, students, and other Turkish friends, including residents of Kayseri. With ocean front and cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya, and even a bustling capital in Ankara, my students are always curious how I ended up in what many people view as a kind of no-man’s land.
The simplest and easiest answer to this question is, “It wasn’t my choice. I chose Turkey, but not Kayseri.”
However, this comes off a little harsher than it should. Although it’s true that I had no control over where I would be placed, I’ve enjoyed my year in one of Turkey’s fastest growing cities.
Kayseri, my home for nearly 8 months now, is located in practically the geographic center of Turkey. It lies
between Turkey’s green, but bustling Western shores and the eastern wilderness beyond the mountains. What was once a sleepy backwater of 65,000 in 1950 has grown into a city approaching one million. Particularly since the Turkish government began opening up more opportunity’s for private companies in the 1980s, Kayseri now serves as one of the major industrial centers in Turkey. Economists refer to Kayseri as one of Turkey’s “Anatolian Tigers” continuing to provide a powerful surge to the Turkish economy.
The position as economic power player is not a strange one for Kayseri. Kultepe, a 4,000-year-old settlement located next to Kayseri, served as one of the major commercial settlements of the Hittite empire. Turkish historians have referred to the site as “one of the world’s first cities of free trade.” Kayseri’s location also puts it right along the Silk Road. For this reason, the city would remain an important one for the Byzantine Christians and Seljuk Muslims who would later rule. Churches, caravanserais, madrassahs, mosques, and an old fortress still stand as relics from those empires.
The city continued to rise and fall over its four-thousand year history. Kayseri holds many names including Mazarca, Eusebia, Caesarea Cappadociae, Kaisariyah, and now Kayseri in the Turkish Republic. For a long time, it remained a diverse city with a variety of Muslims and Christians living together including significant Armenian and Greek populations. However, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the chaos that ensued would ultimately eliminate Kayseri’s ethnic diversity over time. Today, the city is well over 90% Muslim like the rest of Turkey.
Moreover, Turks identify Kayseri as one of the country’s most conservative locations. Which brings me back to the initial question: “Why Kayseri?” Many Turks would ask me if I liked Kayseri, if I found it a good place to live, and if the people were “nice there?” Imagine a foreigner coming to live in the US, and their destination is Utah or Mississippi. In the eyes of many, that’s the equivalent of my move to Kayseri.
There is no question that Kayseri is conservative, at the outset. There are only two bars in the city that I know
of (I haven’t really been looking), and the restaurants and shops are usually locked up and shut by 10pm, even on Friday and Saturday nights are usually. The cities most famous citizen is the current president of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, who belongs to Turkey’s conservative leaning Justice and Development Party.
But, living in the city, particularly at the university, has led me to see Kayseri in a different light. Yes, religion is practiced more in Kayseri than in Istanbul. However, this isn’t special to Kayseri, and in fact, most Turks I’ve met in Anatolia (Turkey’s Asian plain) have been more religious. But, they’ve also been respectful and tolerant of differences. I am occasionally asked if I’ve considered becoming a Muslim by friends, but after sharing my thoughts, we almost always move on to other topics with ease.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that students from Kayseri are as tolerant of differences as most other Turkish students . Last February, I wrote an article about Turkey’s ideological split regarding the wearing of headscarves where five students from Kayseri explained how they may have one belief, but don’t want to force it on another. For my more religiously observant students, they’re seeking equality more than conformity.
With that said, not all of Kayseri is as forward thinking. Some families and dormitories impose curfews for their daughters and female students as early as 7pm. Issues including ethnic differences and sexual orientation are certainly still taboo in many circles in this city, but I’ve yet to see how the issues in Kayseri are different from Turkey’s capital of Ankara, where I also lived. Ankara’s size and position of capital does mean more diverse groups of people live there, but the culture is extremely familiar.
In Anatolian cities like Kayseri, I’ve met extremely friendly people. People who have invited me into their homes for dinner. People who have driven me 25 miles outside the city in order to learn something about their history or their family. People who have helped me find the things I need to manage my life in the strange but increasingly modern and westernized city of Kayseri.
I think the fears of a conservative revolution emerging from Kayseri is a bit overblown. Its residents will continue to hold on to traditional values that have been apart of their lives for generations. But, Kayseri is an emerging city with plenty of room to grow. Turkey remains a youthful nation, over half the country is under 25. The students here are looking forward, and hoping to find successful careers in the global marketplace. Kayseri is ever evolving.
This is “why Kayseri” is a interesting place to be.
(For all of my photos from Kayseri and Erciyes University, check out the photo gallery.)
Turkey has hosted many kings and empires during it’s 5,000 plus years as a cradle for human civilization. Included in its history is one of the world’s most famous conquerors, Alexander the Great. Alexander would rule an empire that spread from what is now Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and beyond. Many ancient cities in Turkey have at least one monument to King Alexander, and Alexander founded dozens of “Alexandria’s” including a coastal city in Turkey now known as “Iskenderun” (City of Alexander).
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because this week I was lucky enough to
host an sharp, young journalist whose eight month mission will be to WALK King Alexander’s journey to Babylon (Iraq). My friend, Theodore May, will start in Iskenderun where Alexander began his war with the Persian King. Babylon represents Alexanders final victory over Persia.
May’s trip, as planned, will take him through Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Iraq. He hopes to shoot video, photos, and report not only on Alexander’s history, but also on current political and economic issues facing the areas he visits. You’ll even be able to track May in real time through a GPS he carries, May has some great experience, spending two years in Egypt working as a journalist for foreign and local newspapers.
I was able to teach May a little about Anatolian culture, and give him a briefing about Turkey. We dined over Manti (Kayseri Ravioli) and Pastirma, two famous Kayseri foods. The next day, we were able to visit Kayseri’s old citadel and the last surviving church in Kayseri. Ofcourse, I made sure to introduce May to Turkey’s delicious Iskender Kebap (Alexander’s Kebab).
I really think May is going to do an excellent job, and whether or not you are a history buff, May’s journey will offer a unique look at the Middle East region. You can follow his journey at www.alexanderglobalpost.com. The link is also available under the “Other Bloggers in Turkey” tab on the right side of the page.
While living abroad, the biggest shock to my system has been getting used to not having the food I used to eat regularly while eating foods I never knew existed until arriving in Turkey. One thing I’ve done to lessen the culture shock is to find foods in Turkey that resemble some of my favorite foods back home. One of my favorites is Pastirma (Pahs-teer-ma), or what I lovingly call, Turkish Bacon.
Pastirma is a cured meat, usually beef although some sources also indicated mutton and goat have been used in its history. You’ll never find Pastirma with Pork as Turkey is 98 percent Muslim. And, even some less religiously inclined Turkish friends have admitted to me that they view the pig as an disgusting animal and wouldn’t eat it if they had the choice.
Pastirma has a rich history, and it’s origin according to the Turkish Cultural Foundation goes back hundreds of years when Turkish horseman would pack the meat in their saddlebags. The meat would be “pressed” during the ride and ready for consumption by the time the rider was ready to eat it. Pastirma comes from the Turkish word “to press.” The Pastirma from Kayseri, my home city, is the center of Pastirma production for Turkey. Someone once told me that the Greeks would visit Kayseri for their “pastirmaki.”
Today, the Greeks and Italians have developed their own style of curing the meat and call it…pastrami.
Pastirma can be prepared as sausages, fillets, or in paper thin strips resembling, you guessed it, bacon! There are between 19 and 26 varieties of Pastirma cuts depending on the animal. The meat is cured with salts and then in a smelly reddish spice called Çemen (chey-men). The Çemen has a strong smell that many warned me about long before my first taste, but unlike garlic, it’s a smell I’m easily willing to endure for the delicious product at the end. The meat takes about 30 days to prepare for eating, but once ready, it’s a deliciously spicy meat that soothes my bacon-aching stomach.
The 17th Century Ottoman (Turkish) traveler Evliya Çelebi (Chey-leb-ii) praised Kayseri’s production of the meat in his journal, saying “(Kayseri) has produced an enviable reputation around the world with its Pastirma.” The legacy continues today with two major producers of Pastirma in Kayseri, Şahin and Başyazıcı.
Pardon the pun, but in terms of Pastirma, living in Kayseri has been a treat.
I thought nothing would out do my two Thanksgivings last month, but I found myself in a Christmas marathon last December. And unbelievably, it was in Kayseri where the number of people who celebrate “the December 25th Christmas” can probably be counted on two hands. Note: not a scientific or accurate measurement by any means.
I say “December 25th Christmas” because there’s a need to do it in Turkey. When I informed my students they wouldn’t have class on Friday because of the Christmas holiday, they looked very confused.
Finally, one asked, “But teacher, Christmas is next Friday (New Years Day).”
For those who don’t know, Saint Nicholas was born in Myra, now Demre, Turkey. He served as the bishop there and is well known in Turkey for his generosity to the poor and to children, as he is around the world. Turks love their “Noel Baba” and celebrate him on New Year’s Day. Some take part in the tradition of giving presents to children in honor of him. In fact, you can find malls and cities decorated with Christmas Trees, snowmen, and Santas during New Years. Turkey has adopted many of the non-religious aspects of Christmas.
All this leads to their confusion. Since many Turks, especially those outside of Ankara and Istanbul have little contact with non-Muslims; many assume our Christmas is celebrated on New Years.
After explaining Christmas and its meaning to several of my classes, it was time to begin my Christmas spectacular. Jeff Turner, a friend and Fulbright from Ankara, was visiting Kayseri for Christmas. Together, we enjoyed three parties in three days.
The first was hosted by James Patton, another friend and Chinese student at Erciyes. I first met James last Thanksgiving. James’ father is American and his mother is Turkish. He grew up in both Kentucky and Turkey. Erciyes English teacher, friend, and neighbor Maria Iskenderoglu hosted the Thanksgiving dinner where I met James. Maria, her husband Orhan, and daughter Sofia were the “guests of honor” at James’s Christmas Eve shin dig.
That night, I had the chance to celebrate the holidays with a group of students and teachers. In a modest living room, we sat together on pillows and couches to a home cooked meal by James. Maria brought two wonderful apple pies with snow angel shapes and a Christmas tree built into the crust. From Turkey to apple pie, it was a delicious way to start the holiday.
Early next morning, Jeff surprised me with the greatest gifts of all in Turkey: bacon and maple syrup! I know Ankara is a great place to buy unusual items, but never thought I was going to see bacon.
“They kind of kept it hidden in the back of the freezer, so no one would accidentally buy it,” said Jeff when I asked how he got it.
We dashed over to Maria’s apartment where a hearty breakfast was already in the making. Home fries, caramel French toast, and a delicious quiche were waiting. We added pancakes topped with real Canadian maple syrup and fried bacon. The smell was heavenly.
During the day, Jeff suggested heading to the top of Mount Erciyes to have a “white Christmas.” Orhan, Jeff, and I drove to the top of Erciyes where brown foothills gave way to snow topped peaks after what seemed like only minutes of driving. Jeff skied from the top of the volcanic crater while Orhan and I tried sledding instead.
On our way to the top, we met Sean, a U.S. Air Force officer from Virginia stationed in Turkey. For a couple hours, we all enjoyed the deserted slopes since everyone else in the city was working. With Americans nearly matching the number of Turks on the summit, it didn’t feel like Turkey, never mind Kayseri.
At night, we were invited to party #2 hosted by Donna Ozcan, another teacher at Erciyes from Minnesota. Donna, her husband Servet, and three children welcomed all of us for Christmas dinner. The party had everything you’d want in a Christmas dinner, delicious food, wonderful stories told by friends (some funny, some disastrous), and even a little child drama at the end. Watch out when you mix one toy, plus two four year-olds!
The last hurrah of my Christmas weekend was when all the foreign teachers came together in Maria’s cozy apartment for the “lighting of the Christmas pudding.” I never participated in this before, and was excited to see it. Unfortunately, the lighting happened very quickly, and I missed it!
However, it was great to finally meet the two Japanese teachers, the Russian couple, the Korean couple, and the Bulgarian who all teach classes at Erciyes. As a yabanci (foreigner) in Turkey, life is sometimes difficult. For example, the bureaucracy is a mess at times, and for a foreigner who can’t speak the language that can mean long waits with hours of nothing getting done.
My colleague David Bradt refers to it as “the Castle” from Franz Kafka’s book about a man who struggles to obtain legal residency from mysterious authorities that live in a puzzling castle. Coincidentally, I finally have my legal residency in Turkey after six months of trying to process it. Normally, it should have been in my hands within a month of my arrival.
Outside of navigating Turkey’s Castle, life has been wonderful and the holidays were special this year. I’ll always miss my family and friends across the Atlantic, especially during the holidays. Still, I’m thankful to have so many friends here in Turkey who helped make the holidays seem like home.
Cheers to 2010!
(For all the photos from my Kayseri Christmas, check out “Christmas in Kayseri” in the photo gallery.)
Last week, I celebrated Thanksgiving not once, but twice. With Plymouth rock over 5,000 miles away, my expectations for Thanksgiving in Turkey were low. Not many Turks know much about the holiday, if they know of it at all.
“It’s the day when you sacrifice a Turkey, right?” said one of my conversation students.
Ironically enough, this year’s Thanksgiving happened the day before Kurban Bayrami, the Sacrifice Holiday. For Muslims, it’s a day when they sacrifice livestock, usually a goat, to remember the sacrifice of Abraham (More on this later).
Returning to Thanksgiving, the first dinner took place at the university in Kayseri. Maria Iskenderoglu, an American married to a Turk, invited myself and several other Americans and Turks to her house for a traditional thanksgiving. I contributed apples for two delicious apple pies (another food I didn’t expect to have much of while in Turkey).
It was indeed a very traditional Thanksgiving: at least 15 people trying to cramming themselves into a small dining area, Turkey and gravy being passed every which way, cranberry sauce and cornbread on the table, and there was even a “pin the hat on the Turkey” game which the adults found more amusing than the kids.
After the meal, my friend David passed around a story, “How the Turkey got it’s name.” It told the story of a professor who sought out name’s origins. According to the story, a smaller and more delicious bird lived in Turkey called the “chulluk.” The bird was popular in England well before the discovery of America. When the colonists arrived, they mistook America’s bird as a relative of the “chulluk.” Turkeys are known as “Hindi” here because, at the time, people believed Columbus had landed in India.
Five days later on November 26, I found myself at another American gathering in Ankara. Together, with other Fulbrighters and their Turkish friends, we celebrated another traditional thanksgiving. The living room was a bit bigger for this one though! At the table, we each went around and said three things that we were thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Although only celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving is a holiday that easily crosses over. In my conversation classes last week, I explained the traditions behind Thanksgiving: the ideal of coming together with family, sharing a huge meal, and being thankful that everyone is still around. Many asked me if the holiday had a religious connotation. I said the holiday is adopted by many of the religions in the U.S. as a day to celebrate, but the holiday is a national one. Whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, etc, Thanksgiving is a holiday you can celebrate. All that’s needed is food and good company.
Once introduced, Thanksgiving seems to be a holiday that everyone can appreciate, especially if you ask Orhan Iskenderoglu.
“I have an idiom for Thanksgiving,” said Orhan, “I wish it could be Thanksgiving everyday.”
Imagine watching a Whopper commercial on TV. You sit on your couch drooling over its char grilled deliciousness, your eyes watering at the sight of the flying onions on screen, and your stomach rumbling, crying for the special sauce. Then, imagine being able to pick up the phone, and call it in. A dream you say? Not in Turkey, here it’s reality.
Yes, Burger King delivers, as does McDonalds, and nearly every other Turkish restaurant in major cities. The delivery service, known as Alo Servis (literal translation, “Hello Service”), usually uses mini bikes with an enclosure strapped around the rear wheel to hold the precious cargo. Some restaurants use fuel-efficient vans to bring orders from door to door.
Last Wednesday, I had the good fortune to show off the Alo Servis to Bonnie Haupt, an American visitor from Kansas City, Missouri.
“You can order from Burger King!” exclaimed Bonnie after I asked my friend Orhan to call 444-KING for me.
Bonnie is in Kayseri visiting her daughter, Maria, and her husband, Orhan Iskenderoğlu. Bonnie sat, seemingly awestruck, as Orhan dialed the number and spent a few minutes with the operator giving my order and location.
“What a hoot,” was all that Bonnie had to say after Orhan hung up and told me the order would be coming within the hour.
When our trusty deliveryman, Ali, arrived, he came decked out in full travelling gear. He wore a heavy, wind resistant bike suit and stood at attention like any good soldier. (Almost all male Turks serve in the army for at least a year, so he’s probably had the practice) The suit was black and red, and his badge was the Burger King logo stamped across his heart.
I explained to Ali that Bonnie was visiting from America where Burger King doesn’t deliver, and said she wanted a picture. In reality, I wanted the picture.
Aside from the convenience factor, Alo Servis is probably used in Turkey because cities are spread out and many residents don’t have cars although more are buying each day according to commerce statistics. Gas is extremely expensive in Turkey at about $9.00 a gallon, so the mini bikes are an obvious choice.
And that’s this week’s delectable find.
Last weekend, I traveled to Kayseri, Turkey to visit Erciyes University, where I will be teaching this fall, and also to get my first look at Cappadocia, one of the most fantastic regions in Turkey. I was treated wonderfully and had some great experiences (stories coming soon). However, one thing surprised me so much in Kayseri, I just wanted to quickly post the video. I’ve always heard the the fish was amazing in Turkey, and very, very fresh. In fact, most places in Turkey don’t even scale their fish, and I have seen grocers literally gutting the fish in the morning and shortly after putting them on the stand to be sold. However, I never expected to walk down a street in Kayseri (which is a land locked city by the way, no ocean for at least a hundred miles) and see fish so fresh they were flapping on the street. I’m not exaggerating either. See for yourself.
WARNING: This video is not suitable for all stomachs.