Shenshashional Sanliurfa

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our bus to Antakya, Turkey, leaves at the anti-social time of 4.30am, perhaps to avoid traffic at the border.  Each time we cross a border here in the Middle East, the new country looks very different from the last.  Maybe I was just ignorant about the region in assuming that Jordan and Syria would appear fairly similar and that Syria, in turn, would look similar to Turkey, at least in terms of the landscape.  What a surprise then to see, the moment we cross into Turkey, green hills, cultivated farm land, animals grazing and people making use of their land.  The Turks have long used irrigation to harness the water from their various rivers.  I would understand the Syrians' inability to do this if the two countries were not right next door to each other or if Syria didn't have its own access to water, but that millenia old civilization looks like they are content with their desolate rocky landscape. 
Mind you, Turkey tends to get lumped in with Europe more than the Middle East these days, so maybe that explains its look of verdant prosperity.  Any European ambitions that Turkey has appear more political than cultural; apart from the German cars and Roman script, this part of Turkey feels very Middle Eastern. 
Turkey had a bit of an economic crisis a few years ago but Europe, aware of Turkey's strategic importance, helped bail them out and its economy could now almost be described as thriving.  This is reflected in the price of everything.  A big bottle of water costs 50 percent more than it did in Egypt or Syria and a bus ride that would have cost $5 in Syria costs $25 here - even with a phoney student discount. 
Our first stop is Sanliurfa, a recommendation from our fellow Jordan travellers Hamish and George.  The town's main tourist attraction is nearby Mount Nemrut, atop which are a bunch of statue heads.  Somewhat like Stonehenge, no one is sure how these large monuments made it to the top of the mountain.  At $30 for a tour to the top, however, we aren't really that interested.  Fortunately the town is very attractive in itself, with a beautiful central park, fountains and picnic tables that surround a nice mosque and are overlooked by a sturdy citadel.
Three Aussies that we meet on the street show us to the pension they've been staying at, an unmarked little house run by an old couple, Aziz and Farida.  Farida busies herself by scooting around cleaning everything several times while Aziz preys on sleepy tourists fresh off the bus down at the station.  We get talking to Aziz after dinner and the subject quickly turns to Iraq, Turkey's eastern neighbour.
"Bush makes war there only for religion!" Aziz shouts as a little vein appears on his forehead.  "He wants the whole world to be Christian.  I know these things.  I read a lot."
"Are you sure that oil has nothing to do with it?"
"Oil? Why oil?  If Bush wants oil he can invade Norway.  Or Canada.  Bus doesn't like Muslims.  He said that all Muslims are terrorists.  But if he tries any shit with Turkey we will give him a good war.  In Iraq he pays Iraqi people to give up.  Here that will not happen.  We have 70 million people here and we will fight.  He will get good war from us."
We ask Aziz his opinion on western lifestyles, given that Turkey is becoming more and more influenced by Europe.
"Is okay.  But western people have too much sek-is."
"Too much what?"
"Sek-is.  You know . . ." and then he makes this full-body thrusting gesture that clears things up for us.  "Western people have sek-is with many people before marriage.  In our culture, no.  If you have sek-is with many people, you become like this."  He illustrates what he means by squashing a piece of watermelon into many little pieces.
"How is that different from a Muslim man being allowed to have three wives?"
"Is different."
"But why?"
"Koran says so."
"Do you think it is fair that a man can have three wives but a woman can only have one husband?"
"Of course."
"How is that fair?"
"Is in the Koran."
This is why it is so difficult to reason with religious people about religion.  You throw an obvious inconsistency at them and they simply respond by referring you to their holy book, or claiming that God works in mysterious ways. 
- Why do some women have to cover their heads?
- Because it is in the Koran.
- But what is the reason it is in the Koran?
- We do not question the Koran.
How can anyone still believe that God created the earth in the face of so much evidence supporting the Big Bang theory or that the first man and woman just appeared one day when there is such proof of evolution?  All of the world's major religions are so inflexible and I can't understand how people still believe the words of books written thousands of years ago without questioning or revising them.
To get Aziz's vein popping a bit more, Jane broaches the subject of homosexuality.
"What would you do if your son fell in love with another man?" she asks.
"Man have sek-is with another man?  Very bad!  First of all I would cut his throat with a knife!" Aziz says loudly, making a throat-cutting gesture for the sake of clarity.  "Then I would shoot him with a gun!" he continues, with a comical Three Amigos-type gun-in-each hand motion.  As if to emphasise the point, he adds "and he would no longer be my son."
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reshok on

About believing in Koran & God
It is true that, espessialy on Eastern parts of Turkey, people still live according the Koran. As you you move more west, the tendency to live according the Koran gets lower. There are many reasons of that, which may become a long arguement, but just geographically think: the tendency to believe on religion (whether Muslim or Christian or Jewish), grows as you move to east, and to the middle east.

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