Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Visit to Ankara

Anit Kabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

It seems like an eternity ago that we were in Ankara, but as promised we are going to try to write about our adventures there. The trip was organized by the Fulbright Commission in an effort to get all of us Fulbrighters together in one place so we could meet, mingle, and learn about how to survive in Turkey. Considering that the Fulbright grant holders are stationed in several far-flung locations in Turkey this year (a big change over past years), it was an interesting meeting. We have colleagues, mostly fresh from undergrad degrees, teaching English, as well as university professors who are involved in a professor exchange program between the U.S. and Turkey and are teaching college courses in various disciplines in not only Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Denizli but in other less-well-known locations such as Konya, Balikshehir, Gaziantep and Erzerum. The Turkish Fulbright Commission considers this a big step forward for the program, to break out of placing people in the usual large cities, and to introduce Americans to other parts of Turkey, as well as to introduce Turkish students in more rural areas to American language and culture. It does mean, however, that some of our colleagues may feel a bit more isolated than others.

There are 7 of us total who are based in Istanbul. Most are fresh university graduates who are here to teach English to Turkish students headed to university, and to learn what it's like to live in a foreign culture. Of the others, one is a recent MA grad in architecture researching the use of "green" and eco-friendly architectural technology here in Turkey (there's not much of it), and one is a college professor teaching English literature and Theatre. Now that's a difficult job -- teaching Shakespeare to someone whose native language is not even English. But he says he's having a good time doing it.

There are other interesting people in the larger group spread around Turkey. One is a geology professor studying earthquakes, which is of course a very important topic in this country. Another is a grad student researching a dissertation on folk remedies for diarrhea -- again, a very important topic, but not the easiest one to discuss in a group. We felt very sorry for her when we met with the Ambassador -- over lunch -- and he asked us all to go around the table and fill him in on our research topics! Oh, and there is a professor from Baylor University, Candace's alma mater, who is writing a book on Ataturk. He and his wife are both very friendly, and they will be visiting us in Istanbul at some point, so we look forward to that.

Most of our four days there were spent in meetings. We had panels with talks given by various members of the American and Turkish Fulbright offices, as well as from the U.S. State Department, and a few by Turkish professors from universities there in Ankara. They were of, shall we say, varying quality. We did acquire some important information, however. For instance, the Cultural Affairs Officer from the US Embassy informed us that a poll conducted last year showed that the United States is ranked dead last in terms of the Turkish public holding a positive view of us. We scored only a 9% approval rating, below even Palestine! However, most Turks separate American individuals from their perception of the US government, and organizations such as the Fulbright Commission are working with the State Department continually to help promote a positive view of the US, since Turkey is an important ally for many reasons. One of the ways that the Fulbright program would like to promote a better understanding of US culture and Americans in general is to have their grantees travel within Turkey and present talks, not necessarily academic, on topics relating to American culture -- baseball, movies, etc. They asked for volunteers who are willing to go to high schools and universities to give such talks, and Candace has put her name in, so we'll keep you posted on that.

We also had briefings on Turkish culture and politics. We learned important things like why we should not call the AK Party (the current ruling political party) the "Ak" party, but rather the A.K.P. unless we really agree with their politics -- the word "Ak" means "pure," so even though it is a common way to refer to the party, it implies that the speaker approves of their pro-Islamic stance. In addition, we had security briefings that mostly boiled down to not being stupid -- not carrying lots of cash, not traveling into areas controlled by terrorist groups close to the Iraqi border, not getting into cars with strangers or petting stray dogs -- nothing particularly new. In general, Turkey has very low crime rates, so we are probably safer in Istanbul, for the most part, than in L.A.

We did manage to have some fun while in Ankara. The first day we arrived, we visited Anit Kabir, the mausoleum of Ataturk, constructed in the 50s as a memorial to the father of the nation. As mentioned in a previous post, Ataturk is absoutely everywhere inTurkey. He's inescapable. But his mausoleum -- now THAT is really something to see! When you enter the grounds you walk down a long pathway that is "guarded" on either side by lions that look very much like the ancient stone guardian lions set up on either side of Hittite ceremonial ways and gates. This is not surprising, since Ataturk was a vehement supporter of the reclamation of the Turkish past, which of course included the Hittite kingdoms. The buildings in the complex are also covered with low-relief decorations that while very much in the style of fascist art (celebrating the nobility of the Common Man and Woman), also reference Hittite reliefs of gods and kings as still extant on the stones of some of their sacred sites such as their capital at Hattusa, not far from Ankara. The buildings surrounding the central square, including the one in which the body of Ataturk is buried (the building at the top of the stairs in the picture), are extremely reminiscent of Egyptian temples (and, somehow, of Greek architecture as well), and are quite imposing and beautiful. In the buildings are displayed Ataturk's personal effects (clothing, pipes, a rowing machine(!)), and dioramas (the Turks do love them) of the decisive battles he directed during the war for independence. We both feel that we now understand much more the love of the Turkish people for their greatest hero. It would be difficult to visit the site and not come away impressed with the life and persona of Ataturk.

After that grand introduction to modern Turkey, we headed to the Old City of Ankara, which is at the highest point in the area. Candace had been before, last summer, but since this time it was nearing sunset during Ramadan, this was a very different experience. The neighborhood is a fairly economically depressed one, and most everyone had gathered in one area for a communal iftar meal (the breaking of the fast). Because we did not want to interrupt, we were not able to walk through the neighborhood completely, but it was interesting to see a local event instead of just the usual tourist shops, etc.

The next day (after hours of informational panels), we had our big reception at the Ambassador's house. His residence was impressive, although we did not get to see much of it. We did have the opportunity to speak with quite a few members of the State Department stationed there about topics such as careers in the Foreign Service (hmmm...). The Ambassador, Ross Wilson, is quite friendly, and a huge supporter of the Fulbright program. He served previously as Ambassador or Consul General in Azerbaijan, Melbourne, Prague, and the USSR. He has been the Ambassador here since 2005, but will be done with his tour in November, after the election. Candace had an interesting political discussion with him, and he said that the greatest thing about holding his post has been his ability to be involved in most of the important International Relations issues that the US has dealt with in recent years. Besides, obviously, the war in Iraq, he has also been heavily involved in the decision-making processes concerning the oil crisis, the ongoing prevention of terrorist activity in the Middle East, and of course relations between Russia and Turkey (and, therefore, the West). No one knows better than he how true it is that Turkey is the bridge between East and West. Both conversation with him and the talks we heard over the course of the week really highlighted how important the role of Turkey is, and will increasingly be, on the world stage. It is truly an exciting time to be here!

The day after the reception, we had more talks and informational meetings, then a guided tour of the Archaeological Museum (the picture below is of its ceiling). Although a bit dated in terms of its displays, the museum houses and extremely important collection of artifacts including prehistoric wall paintings and other objects recovered from mounds, or Hoyuks, around Anatolia (here are some objects dating from ca. 7,000-5500 BC!).

This Bronze Age decorative emblem, dated ca 3,000-2,000 BC, has become one of the symbols of Ankara and is reproduced on a monumetal scale in one of the city squares. Also on display are artifacts from the "Tomb of King Midas." Although it may not in fact have belonged to the historical King Midas, ruler of ancient Phrygia in west-central Anatolia in the 8th century BC, the great tomb excavated at Gordion, the Phrygian capital (and where Alexander the Great famously cut the Gordion Knot), housed extremely well-preserved examples of wooden furniture, metalwork, and other luxury goods. Here are a few Phrygian bronze pitchers dating from 1200-700 BC. The museum also has a collection of Greek and Roman art from sites around Turkey, but it is not the focus of the collection. In the background of this picture you can see the newest acquisition the museum has made in that collection -- a Hermes statue excavated from the site of the Roman baths near downtown Ankara. Last year it had just been unearthed when Candace visited the museum, and one of the archaeologists at the British School in Ankara told her to ask to see it. She was shown it in pieces, lying in the back garden. This time she mentioned to the tour guide that she was happy to see it in one piece and out on display, and he insisted that she could not have seen it last year because they had "just found it." He refused to believe it was the same piece, but here's a year-old picture to prove it! (and because she thinks it looks quite aesthetically pleasing in its former, un-reconstructed state).

The real pride of the museum is its collection of reliefs from various Hittite sites, such as this one, from a late Hittite period (1200-700 BC).

After the museum visit we rounded out our tour of Ankara by getting caught in a sudden, torrential downpour, very unusual for the city. It stopped raining by that night and we had a nice dinner out with some of the other Fulbrighters, and then the next day it was 6 hours back on the bus to Istanbul for one day of rest and preparation for the trip to Ephesus, which will have to wait for the next installment...


Christina said...

Wow! What a trip! Isn't it just like the Turks to insist that you couldn't possibly have seen something? Just part of the experience I guess. As always, looking forward to more!


Dan N. said...

Green abounds! Just look at all the roof mounted solar hot water heaters! And of course all the concrete. Awesome thermal mass properties.

I'm really too tired to make a good comment here, but the tomb of Ataturk looks really impressive. Like a mid-century take on the Temple of Hatshetsup. I'm still envious. If they are handing out foreign service jobs put in a good word for me. ;)