Cape Breton Post, Canada
Aug 11 2007
Istanbul: bridge between East and West
Still not much is being said about Armenian genocide
The Cape Breton Post
(Garry has recently returned from a sea cruise in the Mediterranean.
This is one story from that trip.)
Our most significant and intriguing stop was Istanbul. I have visited
much of continental Europe. Buildings dating to the Renaissance
period are considered old. Buildings and ruins dating to the
Mediaeval period are considered ancient. And of course the
cobblestone roads built by the Romans predate Christ. But all of this
isas a newborn next to the antiquity of Greece and Turkey.
Turkey is the only country and Istanbul is the only city to be
located on two continents, Asia and Europe. Although the area was
occupied since about 4000 BC, recorded history starts around 700 BC
when it was settled by Byzas, a Greek. He modestly named it Byzantium
When history books tell us an occupied land was settled by someone,
this usually means the original inhabitants were enslaved or
murdered. However, settled sounds ever so much more civilized doesn’t
it? The city has a population of 17,000,000 or about half of Canada.
It boasts mosques, minarets, obelisks and other architecure of
amazing size skill and beauty. Particularly striking was the Hagia
Sophia. It was built as a Christian cathedral between 532 and 537 AD
using 20,000 slaves. The work went on 24 hours a day, no time off. It
was the largest most impressive, church in the world for over a
thousand years until St. Peters was built in Rome.
Istanbul lies at the mouth of the Bosphorus strait. It has long been
the port where goods from the Silk Path in Asia crossed paths with
goods from Europe. In 306 AD, Byzantium was seized and `settled’ by
the Romans under Constantine. He called it guess what?
Constantinople. It was to remain a Christian city for centuries,
competing with Rome for dominance. The top priest or pope in each
city excommunicating the other. In 1453 the Ottomans seized control
and the city was returned to Islamic rule.
Fast forward almost 500 years to 1923 and Mustafa Kemal. Turkey as a
modern Islamic democracy owes its present status to this towering
military visionary. Mustafa Kemal with other military officers
plotted and succeeded in overthrowing the despotic rule of the
Ottomans. He was determined not only to liberate his people, but also
to educate them. He abolished Islamic religious law and introduced a
parliamentary system that maintained a separation of mosque and
state. Women were given equal rights in law including the right to
vote. Primary education was made compulsory for both sexes. He
reformed writing to incorporate the Latin alphabet with Turkish.
Agriculture and technology were subsidized. And all this was done
between 1926 and 1938.
Obviously he was way ahead of his time. He achieved all this progress
ruling as an autocrat. But at his death, he left behind a country
with democratic institutions, a vibrant economy and a sense of pride.
In a twist on the practice of naming a city after oneself he was
named after the country. He is known now as Ataturk – the father of
Turkey. All Turks revere him.
One thing stood out on all our travels in places of ancient
civilizations. The people all have an intimate and deep knowledge of
their own origins. This is both blessing and curse. Blessing for the
cultural richness and sense of identity; and yet a curse, for almost
every ancient civilization has a history of murder and subjugation of
or by its neighbors. The collective memory of events is almost always
very subjective. And for many there is neither forgiveness nor trust.
His voice rising with righteous anger, our tour guide told us that
Istanbul had been invaded 18 times since 4000 BC. Among others, the
attackers included Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Christian
crusaders, Ottomans and Russians. He didn’t mention the Turkish
genocide of the Armenians. I think it slipped his mind.
Garry Hamilton is a Cape Breton artist. We welcome your comments on
this column or any other material appearing in the Post. You can
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