As we left Cappadoccia behind us by passing Mt. Erciyes, one of the dormant volcanoes responsible for Cappadoccia's unique topography, we entered the Tahtali Mountains and broke free from the dry steppe environment. For the rest of our trip, the term "fertile crescent," as learned in 6th grade History class, rang true. It was a long day of driving, but we were able to stop in Gaziantep for their famous baklava made from Antep pistachio nuts, and Maras for their famous icecream made from goat's milk and orchid root. The icecream is so thick, you have to cut it with a knife and it won't melt on the hottest of summer days. At sunset, we crossed the Euphrates River in a town called Birecik. We were now officially in the fertile crescent, the cradle of civilization. We arrived late at our pansyon in Sanliurfa, or Urfa for short. Our hosts were an older Kurdish couple, Aziz and Ferida, who had been waiting for us to serve dinner in the courtyard. After dinner, Aziz taught Christy backgammon and me a few Kurdish words. The next morning, Christy and I drove 45km southeast of Urfa near the Syrian border, to the ancient settlement of Harran. It consists of beehive-style houses made of mud and grass, and has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years. Today, it is inhabited by Arabs and is rumored to be involved in illegal drug trafficking since it is so close to the border, but the apparent poverty made it hard to believe anyone was profiting from such a market. The village has Biblical links: Abraham was described to have dwelt in Harran on his way from Ur to Canaan. It is one of the oldest settlements on earth. Pre-Christianity, it was a site for worshipping the god of the moon, called Sin. Christy and I wandered into a "Culture House," and met some sisters who were our age. They were running this museum and gift shop of folk arts. Everyone we met on this trip wanted to know if we were married (it is extremely uncommon for women to be traveling without men), and so did these women. We asked the question in return, and learned that one of the women was not, because she was waiting to meet someone she loved. We found that pretty sweet, but in the town of Harran, seems like it'd be purty slim pickin's. As we walked around the site, many children begged us for money, our earrings, and pens. The most impressive of the remains was Ulu Mosque, built in the 8th century. During this trip, I loved the layering of peoples, cultures, and religions. In this one site, people came and went, some worshipping the moon, some Allah. That afternoon, we drove back to Urfa, and wandered around the old city. A little bit about Urfa: most of the population is Kurdish, an Ethnic-Iranian group mostly inhabiting parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Eighteen percent of Turkey's population is Kurdish, according to the CIA World fact book. They are a nomadic people and consist of clans which speak different dialects of the Kurdish language. Kurds form the largest minority group in Turkey, and they have posed the most serious and persistent challenge to the official image of a homogeneous society. Several Kurdish revolts in the 20s and 30s were suppressed by the Turkish government and more than one million Kurds were relocated during that time. The use of Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned and the Kurdish-inhabited areas remained under martial law until 1946. When our host, Aziz, introduced himself to us, he told us both his Kurdish and his Turkish-government given name. His culture was also the main topic of our conversations, as he was very proud and eager to share. Ferida, his wife, wore henna tattoes on her face, and both wore their headscarves differently from ethnic Turks. Urfa is also a Biblical site. According to both Jewish and Muslim sources, it was while living in Urfa, that Abraham received his summons from God to take himself and his family to Canaan. The Prophet Job was also a resident of Urfa for awhile, and there are even claims that the Garden of Eden is located somewhere nearby. The first residents built a citadel on the site of Urfa around 3500BC, and the citadel was the first site Christy and I wandered about. Next, we visited a mosque and medrese complex (religious school) named after the prophet Abraham. There are many pilgrimages made here to visit the Cave of Abraham. According to legend, he was born in this cave, and spent the first 10 years of his life in hiding because a local Assyrian tyrant, Nemrut, had decreed that all newborn children were to be killed. Although I could not take pictures within the cave, here are some of the medrese. The pilgrims come from all over Turkey; we stood out as the only blue-eyed tourists. However, once covered up with headscarves inside the cave, a group of young women approached us and asked in Turkish where we were from and if we were Christian. All the women eagerly lapped up the sacred water from the tap inside the cave and read from their Korans prayers. But there was a feeling of mutual respect and gladness to share this prophet amongst both our religions. Next in our wanderings, we visited the old bazaars. The coppersmith's bazaar and other bazaars were left over from the time when camel caravans moved between Urfa and other cities, including Baghdad. At one point, Christy stopped to buy red pepper from a spice seller, and the next thing we knew, we were sitting in the shop sipping tea with the spice seller and two of his male friends, who were very excitedly trying to explain something to me in Turkish, and though my Turkish is improving exponentially at this point, he had to pull up Google translator, and this is the English translation that appeared. Now I am not sure what a "former stud farm" is, but I am picturing old, fat Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, and so I think I'm more interested in a current stud farm. The Copper Bazaar was a trip! Total cacophony:
This is the nice man who made the copper plate I bought, and here's my plate.
This is kunife, the best Turkish dessert. It looks like shredded wheat, has honey drizzled over it, and in the inside there is cheese. It's baked. I had mentioned to Ferida how much I love lahmacun, a thin-crusted pizza with spicy meat which Urfa is known for, and she made it for us our second night. She made the dough, etc. in her kitchen, but then Aziz walked with us to the neighborhood brick oven, where all the locals were dropping off their evening meals to be cooked in exchange for buying a couple loaves of bread. Amazing. The boys working there were full of bashful smiles at Christy and I waiting for our lahmacun to cook. After dinner, Aziz took us out on the town to hear some live Turkish/Kurdish music and have a drink. On our way home, he popped in Bob Marley and blasted reggae through old Urfa. Even in southeastern Turkey, nomadic mountain people are hippies. The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard, before saying goodbye to our nice hosts. Next stop: Mardin.