In our previous two sequences, I have given you a relatively detailed account of all the places we visited in Istanbul during our first two days in Istanbul. This gives you a good account of the basic structure of all our days in Turkey.
We spent another day in Istanbul, but this time a little less focused on sightseeing. We did, however, start out with the enormously large and affluent Dolmabahaçe Palace, the White House of the Ottoman Empire since 1853. I have traveled a fair bit in this world, but I had never seen a palace of this grandeur before. It made me wonder why it was first during graduate studies at Heidelberg University that I learned something about the Ottoman Empire. Why was its history not taught in high school during social studies or history? Looking back, it is sometimes hard to understand how much our curricula did not cover.
Later that same day, we were received by Dr. Ahmet Muharrem Atlið of the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul. Over coffee and cake, we engaged in an interesting discussion on the nature of interfaith dialogue. Dr. Atlið shared a moving story with us that can serve as a base line for many of our interfaith endeavors. Having been robbed once, he asked Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the Turkish interfaith movement, whether this would not require revenge. “Yes,” said Dr. Gülen, “but your revenge shall be that you contribute to society.” In other words, Dr. Gülen encouraged the victim to view the robbery in a larger context, as an act against society. From this vantage point, the best revenge is, indeed, to do the exact opposite, to live a life of contribution to society.
Many of our interfaith efforts suffer from the narrow-mindedness and the parochialism still prevalent in our cultures. Listening to Dr. Atlið, I wondered whether we could not apply a similar conclusion to the hurdles of interfaith dialogue and collaboration: more criticism requires more efforts towards reconciliation and understanding. It’s a rather simple concept, if you think about it.
In the evening, we visited the Istanbul headquarters of the famous newspaper, ZAMAN. Talk about avant-garde architecture! Mr. Abdullah Bozkurt, the Executive Editor of TODAY’S ZAMAN, received us in a beautiful and modern conference room. We talked about the economic situation, the special challenges all newspapers face in the digital age. Some time into the discussion, I asked Mr. Bozkurt about
ZAMAN’s general position regarding the new acts of war and violence in the Gaza Strip and Northern Israel.
He said that, regardless of which side caused the aggressions, ZAMAN would focus on the human tragedies. “Casualties” he said, “is a term that does not make sense, and we need to point this out to our readers.” And I recognized the same principle that was behind Imam Atlið’s anecdote: the more violence we experience, the more we need to talk about human suffering and pain.
I would like to conclude my travelogue at this point. Much more could be said. After all, we visited several other cities on the Mediterranean coast: Izmir and the ruins of Ephesus, including the House of Mary; Antalya, and Bursa where the Silk Road begins. But it is time now to let some of the pictures speak for themselves. For our travel group it was in many regards a life-changing journey. Our understanding of culture and civilization suffers great loss if we do not take Turkey into account.
Turkey Travelogue – Part II