Costume party meets Turkish dance
As many people searched for local parties or exotic destinations to ring in the New Year, the boyfriend and I headed to southeast Turkey for a costume party.
When I told a few local friends we were going to Diyarbakir for a so-called costume party, they responded with utter confusion or complete silence. See, Diyarbakir is in the Kurdish region of Turkey (in the eastern area that borders Syria and Iraq) in which many Turkish people have never traveled and if they have it’s due to fulfill the Republic’s military obligation. The major insurgent group operating in Turkey is allied with the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK, which is a branch of the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) that is based in Diyarbakir. It just so happens the PKK consists of Kurdish nationalists that have been
The road to Mardin
waging a war in the region, around Turkey and neighboring countries for over 3 decades to establish a Kurdish territory. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world that exists without a country of their own. I don’t support violence, but I support the desire for these people to gain autonomy for the sake of allowing a culture to flourish as opposed to being decimated. I could explain the nature of this conflict or you could just Google it as that will prove more useful than my candid, media-based and various first-hand observations. Generally speaking, many Turks associate the term “Kurd” with “terrorist” the same way many Westerners assume all Muslims are terrorists. Thus, when I suggested we should visit our dear friends Can and Seda to celebrate the New Year in the nest of the enemy, the boyfriend was apprehensive. A bit of convincing (and nagging) later, we were off to the land of even more mystery and conflict than the “civilized” part of this country where I live.
Our flight was delayed because of fog, in which I replied, “What the fuck. Planes fly through clouds, but not fog?” Apparently there is a difference. I learned this as we drove though dense fog over the next few days. My educated opinion says that clouds are fluffy and fog is not.
Our friend Can (sounds like Jahn), 1 half of our wonderful guides and dear friends, told me days in advance to arrive hungry. A beer and half a grilled cheese sandwich at the airport would have to suffice. Turns out he should have told me not to eat a fucking week before! Straight from the airport we went to a typical business meeting/family restaurant with big tables and rounds and rounds of food. Appetizers (meze) consist of a variety of 4 salads, sauces and delicious yogurt and green veggie or salad-like item combinations wherein you dip bread and fill your belly. Then a massive plate of kebab comes. A slab of minced lamb covered with a sliver of delicately sliced lamb cuddled by tomatoes and sumac drenched onions arrives in which I try to burp and fart at the same time, quietly,
obviously, to make room for what I should ingest. In Turkish culture it’s rude to not eat or drink what is given. My acid reflux can stand up in court to support this. I ate until I couldn’t feel my legs then tried to pawn the rest of my plate off to the table, as usual.
The beginning of the journey started excellent despite being overstuffed. There was a quick run down of politics and violence (lack of) in the area, but as I ask so many questions stories would come.
What I remember of the costume party, it was amazing! When I meet someone new and talk about everything under the sun within minutes, I consider myself privileged. It
Costume party insanity
doesn’t matter whether there is delectable food; pristine cocktails or pleasurable music, if the people are palatable then the day is successful.
The following days consisted of the perfect cheese, fruity wine, and scorpions. The cheese is from Iran, Tabriz cheese, which is like cream cheese without the plastic quality typical cream cheese has; wine made by the Syriac Orthodox, people who were some of the first Christians and have been living in the area since the 1st Century AD, and Akrep or “scorpion”. These are mini-tanks police use in Turkey to drive though anything in their way or to fire tear gas at protestors and which seem to be driving around the city and surrounding areas day and night. The armored vehicles are becoming a common sight in cities around Turkey displaying the reality of an inevitable police state.
Delicious wine, the most perfect cheese in the world, and police tanks. This is southeast Turkey. And I loved it!
This could be a highly politicized, good vs. evil, ethnic conflict kind of piece, but I’ll save that conversation for nights drinking Raki. I prefer to speak about the delightful food, pleasant and welcoming people, and Middle Earth environment.
After sobering up enough to function the following morning, Can, Seda, Cem and I crawled into the car and headed for brunch with local friends Leyla and Omer. This is where I discovered the most mouth watering cheese I’ve met. The other 22 plates on the table filled with salty, sweet, and meat infused flavors disappeared. My hung over memories consist of fresh bread, the cheese and I.
After the indulgent brunch, we took a tour of old Diyarbakir, which hosts a wall, built in 367 AD, that surrounds the old city and continues today nearly unbroken for 6 KM (3.7 MI). As I peered out at the cityscape scenes along the wall, I was transported to Beirut with colorfully painted walls of crumbling, abandoned and destroyed homes with slivers of historical
greatness intertwined in the form of buildings and residual energy. Once I saturated my mind with politics, humanitarian crises and forgotten lives, I turned to regional flavors that would enlighten my soul.
Just so happens tranquility came in the form of menengiç kahvesi, which appears like coffee, but apparently is not. It’s made from wild pastachios and appears like milk mixed with finely chopped coffee beans and a splash of mocha lovin’. There were slimy pieces of what I assumed was tree matter that would occassionally make their way into my mouth. After the intial shock of floaties and explanation of the warm drink, I was as happy as a clam, hand embracing my new friend and speaking of yes, everything under the sun aside from sex as men were present, sipping warm deliciousness and plotting the next adventures.
Revolutionaries and martyrs sewn into mini carpets, Diyarbakir
One of our local guides, Omer, fell ill, so we were stuck with our darling Can and Seda to explore the terror-ridden region. The first stop on Friday was Hasankeyf, an ancient town, roughly 12,000 years old, sitting peacefully next to the Tigris River. On the way to Hasankeyf, we passed through Batman, pronounced baht-mahn, which those that know me know I love bats and can imagine my excitement of going to Batman! Turns out Batman is a typical border town drenched in black market goods and mafia types. Alas. Perhaps a superhero really is needed. Turns out superheroes come in the form of tanks and akrepler (scorpions) coming and going from the Syrian border.
Castle built for a princess
A slight drizzle welcomed us to the decaying bridge, cave homes, and homes under construction wherein the locals will be forced to live before the dam is built aka the town of Hasakeyf. There was a young man more than eager to be a guide, speaking with stuttered confidence in a mix of English, Turkish and Kurdish. Seda didn’t understand the Turkish version and I only understood “finish” in the boy’s spiel, so we bought a book translating the history of the area. Long story short, a dam is being built upriver wherein the ancient city will be flooded and history will be nearly forgotten. There is construction of an underwater museum in the works, but if I understand modern day Turkish construction as I think, the museum is a farce in order to paint a nice façade on the Republic’s scarred face.
Among the history in the village, there is a castle built for a princess, a castle for a king and numerous cave dwellings surrounded by green grass, small boulders and sheep shit. It’s very much like
Cem in Hasankeyf
Cappadocia, but more welcoming. Imagine Middle Earth without the Eye of Sauron watching over as much. The exploration through the homes and ruins were closed by the government to discourage any more tourism, so a few calls were made and a few back roads were taken in order for us to see the grandeur of the establishment. It was a fucking cool experience, but too short to absorb all of the majestic abilities within the area.
New housing in the background for when the waters rise; stork nest is on top of the minaret on the left
The highlight was the stork nest on top of the major minaret in the town. Apparently there have been 3 generations of storks occupying the same nest. Legend has it when the stork leaves the nest the town will be covered in snow. I’m not there currently so I can’tcomment on the local weather, however photos in the tourist book prove this folklore to be true.
Seda with our guide, Hasankeyf
My darling Seda
Off we headed on the dark and winding rain drenched road to Mardin with a pit stop in Midyat. Pit stop translates into Seda and I shopping for handcrafted silver and locally produced Syriac wine. The sweet wine is made by Syriac Christians that have remained since the dawn of Christianity in this area. They sell wine from behind counters filled with stunning silver threaded, plated and coated jewelry for whatever one may desire. As if I didn’t already have a crush on this region. Wine and jewelry. Yes please.
Dinner in Mardin was hands down the best meal I’ve had in 5
Dinner at Cercis Murat Konağı, Mardin
years of living in Turkey. The flavors of eggplant, zucchini, chickpeas, olives, dill, mint, yogurt, lamb, and so many other earthly delights roasted, mixed, pureed and served in silver spoons convinced me food really is the best albeit simplest pleasure in life. The medieval décor and cutlery reeked of touristic indulgence, however my taste buds never noticed the overpriced dishes and iPhone selfies of patrons in the restaurant. Bellies full, off we went in an attempt to see the glory of Mardin. Turns out with dense fog and no moonlight, there was fuckall to see. I hear the
architecture, history, culture and culinary delights in Mardin are wonderful. I’ll check in the daylight and get back to you. I can say the food is an amazing representation of Middle Eastern meets Turkish.
Sugar coated almonds, Mardin
Fast forward to the road to Gaziantep. As it turns out, I was actually in Middle Earth. Fields of
Halil Usta, Gaziantep
pebbles, stones and boulders imitated the typical fields of wheat, corn and sheep in Anatolia. Dense fog, a recurring theme in this area, mixed with stone fields and a 2-day hangover created a surreal backdrop to my journey in the mysterious East. An early afternoon nap solved the issue of the hangover for the most part, so I awoke in Antep fresh-ish.
My first perception of Gaziantep was eh. It’s a typical Turkish city with typical roundabouts and typical shitty drivers. Somehow I convinced myself I was going into an enigmatic and lawless region of southeast Turkey, however it turns out to be a typical border town region with history and culture that doesn’t match the Islamic culture most people are taught in schools in Turkey. I won’t get into politics, religion and other dividing bullshit issues, but there is air to breathe on the borders of eastern Turkey. Unlike Diyarbakir and Mardin, which are recognizably different than most Anatolian cities, Antep is like Konya, Eskisehir, Izmit, any small city with an
Poseidon mozaic, Gaziantep
aboveground train and street side cafes.
We went to Halil Usta’s restaurant for the best kebab in town. The chaotic atmosphere unfolded with loads of waiters in white shirts constantly delivering pewter bowls of salad, lamb and bread in a whirlwind similar to dervishes, but with less Allah and more gluttony. The lamb is special because of the cut, something I don’t listen to intently so I can’t explain it fully, and the salad was a perfect balance of local herbs, spices and veggies. The vinegar and oil soaked salad helped me work down the chunks of delicate meat. My stomach and intestines were in meat overload by this point, but as I couldn’t bear the shame of not finishing my plate, I again ate until I couldn’t feel my legs.
The Mosaic Museum (the largest mosaic museum in the world) is a slice of history displaying mosaics uncovered in the
Buying baklava at Koçak Baklava, Gaziantep
area that date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Poseidon, Zeus, Hera, Athena and so many other mythical goddesses, gods and creatures are represented in tiny tiles laid together with immaculate design. They were the first graphic designers some may say. I say its amazing people just uncovered these artworks less than 15 years ago. Men have gone to space yet thousands if not millions of discoveries have yet to be uncovered on Earth. Go figure.
My highlight of the city was, yep, food. Baklava from Gaziantep is officially protected by the EU and recognized as the true baklava.
Apparently the quality is declining as some shops are buying pistachios from other countries instead of buying locally grown nuts. Regardless,
the honey soaked phyllo dough sweet treat was fluffy and indulgent.
We made a mad dash back to Diyarbakir as we had dinner plans and a flight to catch back to Ankara. I was awake this time to see the massive refugee camp outside of Gaziantep. Though it is clearly well organized structurally, I thought of the cold mothers and children running about aimlessly with men playing simple card games by improvised fires.
Yesterday I saw on the news that refugees from Kobane are going back home. They fled the town of Kobane, due to the recent conflict between ISIL and the resident Kurdish community, into Turkey. Refugee camps and scorpions are common scenes in this part of the Republic as I imagine most border towns near countries with prolonged conflict endure similarities. If only the international community of fuckery could lessen the hardship for refugees globally I believe there would be more peaceful actions in hotspots around the globe.
The Last Supper
As it turns out, I felt safer in southeast Turkey than I’ve felt in many places I’ve lived in or traveled to in this region. A village mentality exists everywhere in the country, but is less threatening in actual villages I suppose because the villagers retain some form of innocence.
Needless to say, 2015 will be full of adventures as every year has been since I was conceived. My curiosity and fascination with the unknown continues!
Our friends and guides Seda and Can, Mardin