Welcome back guys!
I was pleased to see so many of your comments and questions that you had about Turkey and Istanbul. I think there will be no shortage of topics to talk about!
In order to be able to get a decent enough amount of info, I’m going to try and put maybe 2-3 topics in each post (if this doesn’t work out, we can always mess with it!)
So the most noticeable thing that is going on right now in Turkey is the Kurban Bayramı (Feast of the Sacrifice). It is a holiday across all of the Muslim World by various names (Eid-al Adha in arabic), but it is meant to commemorate Abraham’s almost-near sacrifice of his son Ishmael. During this feast, there is a lot of family gatherings, a lot of food, and for many people a chance to get away from the cities and go to the coast or somewhere warmer. But as just as many people are returning to their ancestral homes, many are coming into Istanbul! The main street in the center of the city is Istiklal Street, leading to the main square, Taksim. This street has musicians, street performers, and people from every corner of the world.
But the center point of the celebration, is the lamb! According to the story from the Koran/Bible/Torah, instead of sacrificing his son, Abraham, God had told him to sacrifice a lamb. And this is what keeps the butchers in business these 5 days of celebrating! The traditional custom is to have your lamb divided into 3 portions: one portion is for you and your family to pig out on, one is supposed to go to your neighbors and loved ones, and the last is to be donated to the poor and hungry.
For many Muslim this holiday is a time to visit their non-Muslim neighbors and friends, invite them to dinner, and tell them a bit about the holiday. Some friends and I will take a trip tomorrow to the Black Sea town of Şile, so I will have something new outside of İstanbul to show!
Atatürk: The Founder of the Republic
I know from many of your introductory posts, you are curious about how culture and life is in Turkey today. However, it would be a impossible to describe modern Turkey without looking at it’s recent history. Before 1923, Turkey had been known as the Ottoman Empire, a large swath of land that spanned from the Balkans in Europe, through most of the modern Middle East and Northern Africa.
The capital of this empire was Constantinople, which became Istanbul. Some of you might know the song that came from this historical name-change, if not, you can listen here. From this city, the sultan ruled over his huge empire, and served as the Caliph – the symbolic head of all Muslims of the world (think kinda like the pope for Catholics).
After the end of the First World War, the Empire was left weak and bankrupt. After a lot of fighting within the territory, a soldier from the Ottoman Empire decided to make the area we now know as Turkey a modern republic. This man was Mustafa Kemal, later named Atatürk – meaning “the father of Turks”.
Atatürk wanted to have a country that was modeled after the countries in Europe, and move away from the more traditional, religious based rule of law that the Ottoman Empire had upheld for centuries. Some of the major reforms he made were:
1. He abolished the sultan as head of the country and as head of Islamic faith. Instead, the new nation of Turkey would be ruled by a parliamentary democracy with citizens electing their leaders.
2. A new code of law based after the French Civil Code was established. This replaced Sharia Law, a code of laws from the Koran based on the prophet Muhammad.
3. There was a strict separation of religious and state matters. This is known as laïcité, from the french term. It is a little different from the separation we have in America, where religion is seperate but can do more or less as it pleases within the law. With this new law basically the state laws trumped all religious laws and orders. Because of this, Muslim clerics “imams” are appointed by the state, women were not encouraged to wear the veil, and could not hold state jobs if they did (ie. police, teachers, civil jobs etc)
4. Perhaps most impressively, Atatürk decreed that the national language would be changed to modernize it. This happened in two ways. Previously in Ottoman times, the Arabic script had been officially used for writing, which made it difficult to translate into spoken Turkish (Arabic and Turkish are actually nothing alike in nature). Atatürk decided to adopt a Latin based alphabet that fit to spoken Turkish better. He also expelled many of the Arabic and Persian loanwords to have more “pure” turkish words in the language. At the time, 80% of the new citizens lived in rural areas and were not educated. These new reforms helped charge literacy rates and educating people. Below is an example of the old and new script
5. The last main point I’ll touch on is one of identity. From the map you can see that the old Ottoman Empire was quite large, full of all kinds of different people. When Turkey was founded, everyone was to think of themselves as “Turkish” and learn to speak and read the new turkish language. This brought the country into a kind of unity, but it has been problem-some for those who are trying to preserve their own unique identity.
The remarkable thing today is that Atatürk is still very much beloved by most of the people. You will see his portrait in ever child’s classroom, from buildings, and people talk about him very fondly. It is actually a law forbidding anyone to talk badly of him or the Turkish state in public, and the punishment for this has been severe in the past! Many authors and journalists have been imprisoned for criticizing the government for the way it may have handled a certain situation.
So my questions to you guys this week are:
1. What did you find interesting about this week’s topics?
2. What is your favorite holiday and why
3. What did you find interesting about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk? If you were in his place, would you have done something differently?
Oh and here’s the cat photo of the week!
These two guys “live” practically on my front door step. In the morning and evening, they are always huddled up together! We even gave them names.