Sunday, April 25, 2010

Goodnight Istanbul, Good Morning Ankara

After our sojourn in Istanbul, we finally left to see the western part of Turkey. Our adventure started with the night train from the train station on the Asian side to Ankara. We had a sleeping compartment where the seats turned into bunk beds, a refrigerator that didn’t refrigerate but held two juice boxes (cherry juice), two packages of crackers, two candy bars, and two containers of water--a veritable minibar, except it was free. We also had a small sink. There were two toilets, one at each end of the compartment. At one end it was a sit-down type and at the other, what Mine, our guide calls a “squatty potty.” Guess which one everyone chose.

Some of our group got a good night’s sleep, some not. We were in the latter group. I slept fitfully. Still, it was an experience and certainly better than the night train from Sochi to Tbilisi in 1988. Breakfast was cheese, bread, cucumbers, olives, tomato, and still hot hard-boiled eggs. Peter got up in time for the bread. Afterward arriving in Ankara we stopped at Starbucks (Turkey is their fastest growing market), for coffee and something else to eat.

Then it was on for a little culture. Our stop was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. The collection, much too big for the 15th century han (house, caravanserai) that houses it, is material from the Paleolithic period through the Romans but is particularly rich for the Hittites, who were the main settlers in the area. Peter is very interested in the tablets in Hittite and, unlike our first visit in 2005, my camera was good enough to take decent pictures of some of the tablets with writing in Hittite this time. There are some beautiful artifacts there as well and the building itself is very interesting.

Afterwards we went to see the mausoleum of Müștafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s national hero and the new War Museum, which open after our visit in 2005. The new museum is very interesting; the first part is devoted to Ataturk and the rest to the story of WWI, and the Turkish fight for independence. While some of the art seems to mirror the heroic style of an earlier era and there is certainly an overtly nationalistic message, the early parts of the museum leading up to independence are very effective. The later parts, describing Ataturk’s achievements, are presented in a less interesting style but the recreation of his library at the end is fascinating, at least to a former librarian.

Ataturk is hailed as a great reformer, and he undoubtedly was that. But his followers have tried to keep everything just the way he left the country when he died in 1938. I wonder whether he would have continued on a reforming track if he had lived. Would the country have moved on a different, more progressive secular course? Would the past eventually have been accepted in a different way so that it would not be roaring back now as almost glamorized “golden age”? I wonder what he would think about the struggle going on between the military and the religious party now.

Keep an eye on Turkey in the coming years as it tries to come to terms with its past and its efforts to work with both the east and the west. I certainly will.

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