Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kapadokya, Hittites and Current Events

Again, mayaculpa for the delay in blog posts. Since the last post I've gotten the chance to visit the Hittite capital in Boğazkale and revisit Kapadokya, both fascinating trips. Also I'd like to write a bit about some current events, including the tragic bombings in İstanbul Sunday night.

Revisitng Kapadokya was certainly more interesting than I expected. The last time I was there I saw most of it, but admittedly our tour guide was not so great. This time around the tour guide (an almost unavoidable attaché in Kapadokya) was much more knowledgeable and made for a more enjoyable trip. I visited many of the same sites as last time, the fairy chimneys, rock churches in Göreme, Uçhisar etc., but I also got to check out some old rock villages cut into hillsides around the area that were actually occupied up until the early 60's. Both Christians and Muslims lived there until the Republic was established and the population exchanges took place. Many Muslims remained there until landslides and earthquakes posed such a threat that living there was impossible. In all, a very interesting trip, and certainly a place I wouldn't mind seeing a third time.

About two to three hours northeast of Ankara by car is the ruins of the heart of the Hittite Empire. This ancient Anatolian superpower existed 4000 years ago, were contemporary rivals of the Ancient Egyptians and Mycenaens, and are one of the main focuses of Anatolian archaeology today, second only to Classical period Greek sites. It was truly amazing to check out these foundational structures and their artwork that is contemporary with the Pyramids. Aside from Stonehenge, these ruins are the oldest things I've every seen. We were thankfully accompanied by the head of the Archaeology department of Bilkent Üniversity Thomas Zimmerman, and he certainly made the trip far more interesting than it would have been otherwise. As a fervent student of all things Anatolian, the Hittites were probably the civilization I knew the least about, and now I have a fair grasp on the basics and am thankful for that. In all, these sites, while quite large, are mostly in poor condition with only the foundations of the once mud brick buildings remaining. Some rock-cut carvings remain, especially in the old religious sanctuary of Yızılıkaya. It really is sad that this civilization is so understudied, and that we tend to only teach our kids about the Egyptians if we cover anything in grade school (which is mostly because of the glamorous nature of the pyramids and their strong presence in the Torah). I think that one place to start pushing our children's education outside of the Western-European mold is to teach them something about this civilization which among other things was instrumental in the first recorded peace treaty (a copy of which stands in the UN) and other sorts of ancient geopolitical events.

Sunday night tragedy struck the residential community of Güngören in İstanbul. 17 were killed, including a toddler who would have celebrated her 3rd birthday today, and dozens more were injured in back to back bombings. The youth wing of the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), in fact the same organization responsible for bombings the last time I was here, has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is truly a sad event and the whole country is in mourning over it. In fact I saw something rather unbelievable in the newspaper today. Despite the fact that many Turks are wary of the intentions of their current government, PM Erdoğan visited the site yesterday and while attending the funeral assisted in carrying one of the caskets into the mosque. Truly this is a sight you would never see from an American President or the head of state of any other Western superpower. It truly is heartening that with all the skepticism and suspicion surrounding Turkish politics today, their leaders at least are not want for true compassion.

Aside from the bombings, the Constitutional Court began hearings yesterday on the AKP closure trial and a decision may come as soon as Friday. For the sake of Turkish democracy I hope they are not closed, while I do share some of the skepticism of the secular left here, closing a party that has the support of 47% of the population is a recipe for political chaos.

Also I'd like to comment a bit on the American Presidential race. International news is not a very dominant topic in the Turkish Press these days. My host family watches the news constantly and had no idea the Olympics were starting in 10 days, and have little news coverage of events in Europe unless they have something directly related to Turkey. That said, the Turkish press has had more or less constant coverage of Barack Obama's campaign since his visit to the Middle East and Europe. Slowly they are becoming more and more familiar with him, while they know absolutely nothing about his opponent John McCain. It seems to me to be mostly unprecedented for a Presidential canidate to amass as much clout in the international arena in as little time as Mr. Obama has. You would think that Mr. McCain with his long tenure in the Senate and heavy concentration on foreign policy would have more solid and healthy relationships with these leaders and the people of the world. I understand that many in the states may look at this trip as one giant photo-op that would not change his views (remember though, he was chided into the trip by Mr. McCain himself, who has also now all but endorsed a 16 month withdrawal plan as of last nights Larry King), but the respect and clout among leaders and the people here he has garnered on this trip would be a great asset for a President Elect next January. Certainly it would have helped our current President if he had done the same eight years ago.

Well, that is all for now. İstanbul is on tap this weekend and expect a post next week about that trip and whatever happens in the Constitutional Court this weekend.