Day 17 Istanbul


Istanbul is a magnificent city that has seen the rise and fall of civilizations for 3000 years.  It was called Lygos when inhabited by Thracian tribes between the 13th and 11th centuries BC. It was colonised by the Greeks in the 7th century BC.  When the city  fell to the Roman Republic in AD 196 it was named Byzantium.  In 330 AD it was renamed Constantinople and made the new capital of the Roman Empire.  It is the birthplace  of the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1453 Constantinople then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Its inhabitants have worshipped the plural gods of antiquity, The God of Christ, and The God of Mohammed.  Roman bricks still line boulevards, and spice is still sold in baskets the markets.  Laws and leaders have been shaped here. Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565) extended the Byzantine Empire to its largest boundaries spreading from Palestine to the tip of Spain. He built the Hagia Sophia church and the organized law system called the Codex which was completed in 534.  Emperor Constantine reinvented the city as a thriving center of Christianity. On 29 May 1453, Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror”, entered Constantinople after a 53–day siege during which his cannon had torn a huge hole in the Walls of Theodosius II. Istanbul became the third capital of the Ottoman Empire.

After the First World War, the Armistice of Mudros decreed that Istanbul would be occupied by Allied Forces. Occupation of Constantinople by Allied forces ended on 23 September 1923.  Six days later the Republic of Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Since 2002, the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won pluralities in every general and local election. The current leader is Turkish President and former AKP Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  In the Machiavellian style of the emperors and sultans before him, he is eliminating his opposition.  Kurds, DAISCH, and other groups are speaking through violence.  Last year they targeted Istanbul Atatürk, the eighteenth-busiest in the world.

I last went to Istanbul to depose a key Iraqi witness in a case.   Albert, the witness, bravely boarded an airplane for the first time in his life to fly away from his family and to give testimony about the abuses of an U.S. contractor.  He boarded he plane in Irbil, Iraq, and landed at Ataturk in the dark.  He had to fly at night so his plane would be less likely to be shot down.  And he did this all with faith in a stranger a million miles away to help right wrongs.

We brought Albert to the hotel where he would be deposed.  Albert thought that the minibar stash was a gift, and he took lots of bottles home to Irbil as the fridge was replenished mysteriously by maids every day.  He wandered Istanbul for a day and brought presents for his wife and daughters.  His eyes were alive with the thought of what it would be like to live in peace and safety for his family.  After the case was long over Albert and his family were able to make it to the U.S. where they now live in Detroit.

The Bosphorus River runs through the city, and it is a deep blue.  Walking along Roman roads, the smell of roasting lamb, diesel, and spice takes the mind back to a place and time it knows, but has never been.

Orhan Pamuk wrote Snow. This story follows Ka, an expatriate Turkish poet, as he wanders around the snowy city and gets caught up in the muddle of aimless Islamists, MPs, headscarf advocates, secularists, and a number of factions who die and kill in the name of highly contradictory ideals. Pamuk said:

I strongly feel that the art of the novel is based on the human capacity, though it’s a limited capacity, to be able to identify with “the other.” Only human beings can do this. It requires imagination, a sort of morality, a self-imposed goal of understanding this person who is different from us, which is a rarity.

Among the markets old and new, the seven lane highways, and the political violence, a spirit of  Rumi and his Sufi order  who whirl to remember God.  Reading Rumi shows us that ideas are universal.

Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself

از جمادی مُردم و نامی شدم
وز نما مُردم به حیوان سرزدم
مُردم از حیوانی و آدم شدم
پس چه ترسم؟ کی ز مردن کم شدم؟
حملهٔ دیگر بمیرم از بشر
تا برآرم از ملائک بال و پر
وز ملک هم بایدم جستن ز جو
کل شیء هالک الا وجهه
بار دیگر از ملک پران شوم
آنچه اندر وهم ناید آن شوم
پس عدم گردم عدم چو ارغنون
گویدم کانا الیه راجعون‎
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless’d; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return

Thirty-eight people were killed and 136 were wounded on Saturday in two explosions.  One of them was a car bomb outside a stadium that targeted police officers on duty for a soccer game. The second explosion was in a nearby park, and may have been a suicide bomb.

This is the most recent violence, and a continuation of the unrest.   On July 15, 2016 elements of the Turkish armed forces attempted a coup d’état,.  On July 21st, the Turkish government declared a State of Emergency in the country, giving the president and other top leaders extraordinary powers. Now Turkish authorities are carrying out a large-scale purge of people whom they suspect of having felt sympathy for the coup attempt and for allegiance to Fetullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher and business and education entrepreneur.

Gülen teaches a Sunni-Hanafi version of Islam.  Gülen believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations.

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures.

At this time Turkey has demanded extradition of Gülen, but the U.S. so far has refused to honor the request.  What will Trump do – align with the purge?  Promote tolerant Islam?  Bridge between religions?

Tolerance and peace are the highest and hardest works of humanity.  The only place to begin is to “identify with ‘the other.’ Only human beings can do this. It requires imagination, a sort of morality, a self-imposed goal of understanding this person who is different from us.”  Today is a good day to start.


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