6 hours ago Allie Kay Spaulding / Looking Around
Before we left for Turkey, there wasnt time to bone up on history, but it soon became vital to get a basic understanding of the geography of Turkey and the chronology of the various civilizations that had held sway. How could we understand the ruins of a temple, an archway, an amphitheater without at least a rudimentary understanding of who had built, then abandoned these places? Guided by Tom Brosnahans entries in the Lonely Planet:Turkey while we were there, and Serif Yenens Turkish Odyssey after we got home, fragments of information came into focus.
The geography is fascinating. A small section of Turkey, called Thrace in an earlier time, is in Europe. By far the larger part is in Asia, and roughly the southern half of the Asian part was and still is called Anatolia. The Sea of Marmara, with the Straits of Dardanelle connecting it to the Aegean on its southern end and the famous Bosporus strait connecting it to the Black Sea on its northern end, separates the European and Asian sections. The city of Istanbul straddles the Bosporus and is half in Europe, half in Asia.
Not only is Turkeys two-continent location unique, its position as guardian of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelle straits is extremely strategic. Ships from the countries bordering the Black Sea Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia as well as Turkey must pass through the straits and the Sea of Marmara to get to the Aegean Sea and on into the Mediterranean and thus to the big oceans of the world, and Turkey controls who goes in and who goes out.
Getting a grip on the chronology of the civilizations that dominated Turkey is daunting. There is evidence of human habitation in Anatolia as early as the Neolithic Period, 7000 years BC. The Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC) brought the Hittites, familiar to us from many references in the Bible, and the rise and fall of Troy. The Iron Age (1200 to 700 BC) brought the Aeolians, the Ionians, the Urartians, the Phrygians, and the Assyrians. Then came Anatolias Dark Age, 700-490 BC, when King Cyrus II of Persia came roaring out of the east to defeat King Croesus in western Anatolia in 546 BC, ushering in a period of Persian domination.
Serif Yenen, author of Turkish Odyssey, writes of this period: After 2,000 years of great civilizations, the eastern world fell into the dark ages in 8C BC. This was the time that civilizations passed to the western world.
But as day follows night, the Classical Period followed the Dark Ages. In 334 BC., Alexander the Great marched out of Macedonia from the west to cross the Hellespont (as the Dardanelles were called then) and attack the Persians, eventually bringing about the fall of the Persian Empire.
From 300 to 133 BC Greek and Anatolian influences merged to form a new kind of culture, to become known as Hellenistic. Next came the Romans, dominating from 133 BC to 395 AD Antony and Cleopatra got married in the Anatolian city of Antioch. We saw arches and the ruins of gates and temples built by Hadrian; Constantine changed the name of the city of Byzantium, named for the ancient Greek colonist Byzas when he had established it as his capital, to Constantinople and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. St. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Anatolia.
One of the longest lasting empires in the world, the Byzantine Period lasted from 395 to 1435 AD, during which time Anatolia was besieged by Arabs, Bulgarians, a series of rampaging Crusaders including, once again, the Persians, namely Darius and Xerxes.
The historian Herodotus, who, although Greek, was born in Turkey in the Aegean coastal city of Halicarnassus, now called Bodrum. He is the source of our information about this period of history, including a colorful episode in the career of the Persian leader, Xerxes.
Xerxes was the son of Darius. Darius had previously come through Anatolia on his way to try to conquer the Greeks and failed. So when Xerxes assembled the largest army the world had ever known and marched through Anatolia headed to Greece, he was carrying a little personal history with him.
In order to get his huge army from Anatolia to Greece, he had to cross the Hellespont (the Dardanelles). He positioned his triremes (boats) side by side, lashed them together, and made a bridge so that his men and horses could cross over. Alas, a storm came up and scattered the boats. Xerxes was so mad at the Hellespont that he ordered his soldiers to take whips and wade into the water and give it 300 lashes, after which he had them brand it with red-hot irons. To his credit, he built another bridge and got his troops across.
Meanwhile, from Mongolia and Central Asia, nomads called the Seljuk Turks invaded, defeated the Byzantines, and ruled from 1071 to 1243. In 1299 another Turkic people, the Ottoman Turks, began to dominate the area. By 1453, the Ottoman Empire was in full swing. It took their defeat in World War I as allies of Germany to bring this powerful empire to an end.
In 1923 a hero of the defense of the Gallipoli peninsula, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, led a struggle for national sovereignty, and the nation of Turkey came to be, with Ataturk its first president. No more Persians, no more Greeks, no more anyone but Turks. Ataturk called all the Turks home who were living in Greece and sent home all the Greeks who were living in Turkey.
The similarity between Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and George Washington is striking. Both men led their countries to independence. In every shop in Turkey, a framed photograph of Ataturk has prominence. Moreover, it is against the law to disrespect either the man or his photograph.
It is clear that independence and democracy do not come in one size.
Next Week: Kayaks, the Bosporus, and a taste of Greece.