Today is our fifth day in Ankara and what a packed few days it has been. My general reflections and perceptions are as follows:
-The Turkish people are extremely hospitable and friendly. We have been struggling through meals with a language barrier, but everyone has been so helpful and even apologetic to us for not being able to understand English. They have also brought us tea and coffee to our classes. In fancy tea cups. Served to us at our desks. It was incredible. And just a normal part of their lives to give as much food and drink to their guests as they can.
-As far as the language barrier, I find it difficult and unfortunate that we cannot communicate better. It makes me feel ignorant that I can’t communicate especially when the Turkish start apologizing to us, when it should clearly be the other way. It is also very hard to feel absorbed in the culture and like I am learning as much as I can when I can’t fully integrate myself.
We visited the Hacettepe University the second day and heard a lecture on the current political climate of Turkey. Politics in Turkey are anything but simple- and although this is the third time I have heard some of this information, it is still pretty convoluted. However, they served us tea and coffee in our class, which was quite a treat. The most simple way I can try to explain Turkish politics is that there is conflict between the “secular” military and the “secular” government that is currently led by the Islamist AKP party. Quotations are used because while the constitution established after a military coup in 1980 established the Republic of Turkey as secular state, it is currently controlled by an Islamic party. Quotes are also used for the military because increasingly the military is using Islam as a call to serve in the military. The military is particularly unique in Turkey because there have been numerous coups over the years whenever the military felt that the government was gaining too much power or acting contrary to the people’s wishes. What is ironic is that the military views itself as above the people, and thus cannot really know what the people want.
We visited Ataturk’s memorial and tomb. Ataturk is literally “father of the Turks” and started the Republic of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire following WWI. He instituted a number of westernizing changes including instituting the use of the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic alphabet, a secular state, and encouraging Turkish people to adopt more western dress and other practices. Ataturk is perhaps the most revered figure in the history of Turkey, statues of him are all over the city glorifying him for what he did for the country.
We also visited the biggest mosque in Ankara. Built between 1967 and 1987 but modeled after the older mosques, it was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t know this, but the style of mosque that most people are familiar with is actually modeled after old christian basilicas- the dome structure was taken from basilicas and the towers, called minarets, were added to call followers to prayer.
Yesterday we also had the chance to visit another association- this time it was a women’s group that works to educate both men and women about the true meanings of the Quaran, mainly about equality between men and women. Often times the perceptions of Islam regarding the relations between men and women stem from cultural and societal norms and not in fact what the Quaran instructs people to do. It was very interesting hearing these women, all of whom wear a head covering, talking about how they are able to get the leaders of their mosques to agree to reeducate men about the true meanings of the Quaran. The women also pointed out how people take different interpretations to use in their arguments for diminishing the roles of women in society. The best quote from these women came at the end when one of them said, “God is the biggest feminist.”
In the afternoon we also took a tour of parliament, which was also pretty interesting to hear about the different political parties and some history of the Republic.
Today was an experience in and of itself, so that will have to wait for another post, but in summary, Ankara has been interesting and good, we head to Istanbul tomorrow.
Photos: inside and outside of the mosque, panoramic view of the Ataturk Memorial, my first Turkish coffee (super strong, but overall pretty good), Tyler visiting Parliament (notice orange seats, who knows why they’re orange)