Saturday, 4 May 2019

Why ten weeks in Turkey? Blame Ataturk and the Ottoman Turks!


Spending ten weeks in any country outside your own is a commitment. It costs money, requires energy and, most importantly, the country must tickle your fancy. And, it uses ten weeks of your life – time which can never be recovered!


Our journey starts in Istanbul and gradually moves eastwards until Kars. Along the way we take in one city on the Black Sea coast, i.e, Trabzon. Finally, from Kars we head back to Istanbul via Ankara on the Dogu Express train. 
But why Turkey?

I first visited Turkey in 2003. Following that first trip, I continued traveling to Turkey at regular intervals, including twice by train from Istanbul to London, Britain and an Istanbul to Tbilisi, Georgia by rail / road journey in 2018.

However, my relationship with Turkey started much earlier and it was due to a gentleman called Mustafa Kemal (1881 – 1938) aka Ataturk.

In my youth – and in my family (as was the case with many Pakistani families) – Ataturk was revered as a modernizing Muslim leader, on par with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Muhammad Iqbal. Here was a leader destined to pull the Islamic world towards progress following centuries of decay and stupor. He was a uniting force in a world where Muslims were (are?) torn, divided and at the mercy of Western nations.

To be sure, for millions of Muslims around the world Ataturk inherited the honorific leadership position held for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan in his capacity as Caliph of the Sunni Muslim world. Ataturk, however, not only inherited the leadership title, he earned the respect of millions through his exploits as a military officer during World War I and the ensuing Turkish War of Independence.

Postcard depicting the 'Sick Man of Europe' being devoured by other European countries (Circa: early 20th century)
When World War I ended in 1918, the defeated Ottoman Empire's carcass was being devoured by victorious European colonial powers, i.e. Britain and France. Istanbul was occupied by French and British forces. Izmir was to be handed over to the Greeks, Armenia and Russia were encroaching on eastern Anatolia with only a small rump in Anatolia allocated as living space for Muslim Turks.

Ataturk, the hero of Gallipoli and the father of modern, Republican Turkey was the military leader who - with some good fortune and masterful leadership – saved Ottoman Turkey from the devouring colonial powers. Ultimately, through the 1923 Treaty of Laussanne the Allies recognized modern Turkey and its present borders. In return, Turkey renounced all claims to former Ottoman Empire territories, including in the the Middle East.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the saviour and founder of modern Turkey (Photo: Wikipedia)
Students of history understand that history is like a cyclone. Once you get caught in the torrents of history the only way forward is by going deeper towards the center. That's what happened to me. After studying Ataturk it became obvious the man had to be placed in the broader context of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

So it went, from studying the Mogul Empire I turned to the Ottoman Empire. I've not looked back since then.

Finally, in 2003 I became just one more number in Turkey's tourism statistics with my maiden visit to Istanbul. Since 2003, Turkey has been on the travel agenda regularly, though in fits and starts. Recently, it became apparent that if I am to deepen my relationship with Turkey I must broaden it beyond Istanbul. Moreover, I've already paid my respects at Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara so it's time to move into the Anatolian heartlands.

That's where we are today, Turkey for ten weeks, including two long stays in Istanbul (arrival and departure) plus three to five nights in each of the following cities: Bursa, Eskisehir, Konya, Adana, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Van, Agri, Erzerum, Trabzon, Kars and finally Ankara.

By the end of this trip, not only should I speak a smattering of Turkish words but also have a better understanding of Turks and Turkey. At least, that's the hope!

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

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