I arrived back in Amman a few days ago from my second regional travel experience to Turkey, and what an experience it was. This time was quite different from the trip to Egypt, as I was traveling alone and in a country where none of the languages I speak seemed to be of any use at all. It made me a little nervous but in the end I had no real issues with getting myself where I needed to be. The only real disadvantage was not being able to have discussions with the locals, since most people in Turkey don't speak any language other than Turkish.
Turkey was a huge contrast to Egypt. It has a booming, and almost criminally neglected, economy. I could count on one hand the number of beggars I encountered. Construction was everywhere and the place was clean. All in all, it felt just like Europe, but it wasn't. As I stated before, I thought Turkey was important because it was a crossroads between the Middle East and Europe. Well, that turns out to be true, and and can be very easily seen in the fact that Turkey is a secular Muslim country. This is a huge idea. Even in Jordan where the mood is quite progressive, Islam is still a part of government. Turkey is different in that when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey he made clear that the state would be completely secular, and that the army would serve as the protector of this secularism. Therefore, any attempt on the part of religious parties to inject religion into law are routinely squashed by legal code, and any idea of revolt is met with the reality that a very large army stands ready to prevent such a thing.
So here's the ICT FAO perspective on a visit to Turkey. At the street level, most Turks are quite happy being in Turkey as it is and don't see a need to be a part of anything larger, particularly the EU. Everyone I asked agreed on that statement. The people are very friendly and have found an admirable balance between their religion and cultural tolerance. If there could be a template for cultural change in other countries, I think Turkey would be it. Turkey is also a strategic parter of the U.S., as a member of NATO, with the second largest air force therein. They are militarily quite capable and except for internal issues in the east of the country with the Kurds they do not face much in the way of threats. They use mandatory military service as an opportunity to build national pride and expose young men to other regions of their country by purposely assigning them to different geographic regions from where they came from. Turkey also has a very delicate relationship with a number of regional players, particularly with Russia and Iran in the energy market. As such, Turkey routinely must play all sides of the court in order to maintain a political position that mirrors its geographic position. Events in the Middle East do not have as powerful an effect on the Turkish people as in other countries. The connection to the Middle East and particularly to issues in Palestine is still there, but it is much more subtle due to the secular government and the fact that Turks are not Arabs. Finally, there is still a lingering sense of pride in the fact that the Ottoman Turks once ruled a great empire for such a long period of time.
My trip looked like this: Three days in Ankara for tours of the city and embassy briefings, overnight sleeper train (saved on hotel expense and airfare) to Istanbul, three days in Istanbul touring the city, flew to Izmir where I was met by a tour guide and driver (thought I was going to be part of a group... I was wrong), drove to Ephesus (capital city of Asia Minor during the Roman Empire and the place where John took Mary after the crucifixion of Christ in the Christian faith), drove to Bodrum (Halicarnassus in ancient times), spent two days touring the city, flew back to Istanbul and back to Amman. A lot of moving around but nothing out of the ordinary. I really enjoyed the sleeper train experience and I was able to see two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on this trip: The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. There was honestly so much history and archaeology experienced on this trip that I can't cover it all here. Suffice to say that I was more impressed with what I saw in Turkey than what I saw in Egypt, as I felt I had a much more personal connection. Particularly at the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus... wow!
As great as the seeing all those things was, I am always glad to be back in Amman. Now I can truly focus on getting to those countries in the Arab world that have a direct impact on my future career. I was planning on heading to Syria next month, but it looks like there may be issues getting a visa in time. Therefore I think I am going to hop on a trip to the United Arab Emirates with Kyle, and Tom may be joining us from Egypt. We shall see!
Me and all that remains of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The column you see behind me was made from pieces of different columns to give an idea of what one would look like. Today there is a swamp where the temple stood, as I found out when I walked down to inspect the column. The towers to the left of my head are St. John's Basilica, built upon his arrival to Ephesus in the 1st century A.D.
All that is left of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The rubble was actually as high as the position of the camera until the Knights of Rhodes used the remains of the mausoleum as a source of stone to repair the fortress in the harbor in the early 1500's. Now very little remains to be seen. The Knights lost the fortress soon after the Turks arrived.
The House of the Virgin Mary. Strong archaeologic evidence supports that this was where she spent her last days. But more intriguing than that is the story of how the house was discovered.
Protestors in Istanbul... I was caught between this and a soccer rally. You can't see the phalanx of riot police behind these protestors but they were there in case anything got out of hand. The fact that open protests are allowed says a lot about basic liberties in a country. I was actually happy to see this.