MUSINGS ON THE OLD ANKARA FORTRESS
After writing on this website so often about Turkey and then inevitably also about the government’s unfortunate push for membership into the European Union, I feel I should also show my appreciation for a great number of things Turkish.
My five years in Turkey will remain with me like a treasure. My feelings of empathy led even to a small bundle of free verse in Dutch language “Anatolische Tekens” (Tokens from Anatolia).
My Turkish adventure started even before Turkey, namely in Beograd, my first diplomatic post.
I would not begin the day without a rapid walk through the vast fortress on the hill at the confluence of the great rivers Danube and Sava, called “Kale Megdan”. “the fortress place” That is also the fortress where Kara Mustafa was strangled on orders of Sultan Mehmet IV after the failed siege of Vienna.
In summer evenings when a breeze was in the right direction I loved to hear in my apartment the roaring of lions in the fortress moats, when they were claiming for their food.
Add Istanbul where a quarter of a century ago, I was a regularly visitor and where with my family I returned recently to celebrate old and new year with Turkish friends. I remember having been involved when the little chapel in the Netherlands Consulate General (the former Embassy palace when ambassadors resided in Istanbul, not in the little provincial town Ankara) needed a new pipe organ. When funding was discussed by telephone between Istanbul and Ankara, I suggested to the Consul General that he might sell the old pipes one by one against a generous contribution. Who else in the world has a a real organ pipe on display in his drawing room?
Add the Lake of Van where I saw the heavy daily train cautiously moving from terra firma unto a large pontoon for the trip over the lake. On the other side I walked along the ancient inscription laden fortress walls. A red fox surprises by my visit escaped nearly between my legs. It was a red flash lasting less than a second.
Close by was the forlorn place where the Armenians had their town. Their wooden houses may have been burned, but the stone base was still visible amidst high grass infested with snakes. I walked there with many somber and angry thoughts.
In that time I had a commercial assistant whose grandfather, a local governor, dared to resist the murderous orders of Thalaat Pasha. His courage did not hurt his career, since later he got even the governorship of Jerusalem. Some appreciation for courage is also part of a Turkish heritage in civil adminstration.
Add Ankara with its old Kale fortress where I loved to stroll. The old Kale I could see with the red flag in top from the attic of my apartment.
The sight put me in the early morning already in touch with the countrys’ rich history.
Add the Italian Embassy where I read on a Sunday in public the letter of St Paul to the Galatians, the earlier inhabitants of exactly that region. Present inhabitants might not rememebr St Paul but they still had the blood in their veins of Galats, Phrygians, Lydians, Hittites, Greeks and Romans, who had inhabited Anatolia.
On a Saturday I was invited to carry the Thora around the congregation. The fervent Jews came foreward to kiss the slips of the rolls which rested on my shoulders. Great, exhilarating moments and meetings.
Add Gordion where I was a regularly visitor. The tomb under the hill still had the strong massive beams which had been placed there two-and-a-half millennium before. Looking down on the weapons, the ustensils, the vases of the tomb, the question occurred to me where the remains of King Midas might be found. Years past without an answer to that question. But then thanks to a discreete signal from a famous archeologist I was able to see King Midas’ skull in a cigar box in the office of a professor in paleanthropology. That was an adventure perhaps worth telling another time.
But today I would like to finish this note with a short reference to Ataturk whose image is still everywhere on the walls and in the hearts. When I look at a portrait of him, I see a great and also dangerous man. Clearly the bearer of a great adventure in the creation of a new state, perhaps of a new nation. That creation went in the beginning along with some erring and seeking for new ancestors. The Sumerians were tried but discarded. Other regional roots were also dismissed. Finally the Father of the Turks recognized the sons of the wolves from central Asia as the better find. Do we recognize something of the wolf in his eyes ? It would not be strange.
Delving into my recollections and readings on Ataturk may be for another time. But today I keep turning around a question which was put to him, namely what was it that he most appreciated and liked in women. His answer was a short single word, and that word was “availability”
We may smile at that short answer and think of the various meanings which are implied. Certainly the word conveys a notion of physical availability and there we may have the “Pasha and the Odalisk”. That would be quite understandable.
But another meaning of that single word is not excluded, namely: spiritual availibility, found in maternity, but also found in men in various important vocations in society. Without those different shades of availability the world would be the poorer and perhaps would not even be posible.
If we think of that possibility the short gruff reply “availability” becomes a linguistic and cultural feat of the first order. That Ataturk used that one word is another token of a great man, a supremely able, sometimes dangerously able man.
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