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Before I tell you where we went today to discover Turkey's past, I thought I'd rant a little about Turkey's present and future.
This country has experienced rapid change twice in the past 90 years. The first was in the years right after the Turkish Revolution from 1921 to 1935. Ataturk changed the language, the alphabet, and the calendar. He also abolished the Sultantate, instituted universal sufferage, and decreed that all turks must have surnames. In the last ten years, the country has seen another period of rapid change. Just yesterday, the country adopted the limited smoking restrictions of the EU countries. That is enormous in a country in which 40% smoke. Most of the changes are being brought about by Turkey's yeaarning to become a member of the European Union. Turkey has agreed to transition itself into investment paradise, and to adopt its culture to as close to European standards in order to make it easier for foreigners to operate here. The tension between what its politicians want to accomplish, and what its religious leaders will tolerate, is the most important issue in the country now. The current government is being tried by the military council which is empowered to oversee the legacy of Ataturk's work. The entire nation is awaiting their decision.
But the pace of foreign investment, construction, and generational acquisition of power will continue no matter what they decide. It is clear that the generals and world economic forces had decreed that this country is up for sale as long as it remains secular. And the future of east-west geopolitics in the region hangs in the economic balance.
All over Turkey, as we pass through villages and towns, the most common sight we see is men sitting together drinking tea and talking together. The retirement age has been 40 for men and 39 for women for 50 years. It has accomodated the needs of Turkey's 50% of the nation under 25 very well. Recently,the government ordered to raised to 60 for women and 65 for men.
Both of our guides (educated young men with ambitions far beyond being guides) could not be mistaken for religious conservatives, and they are worried about a religious backlash. They are worried that Turkey's moves to completely and quickly accede to the EU's requirements will lead to political turmoil. They have hope that their country can continue its strong economic growth,but fear it is at the expense of national independence and autonomy. Allowing foreigners to buy every commerical resource, asking people to work longer with fewer benefits, and increasing private and public debt to fuel the economy is hard for them to reconcile with the dream of a strong nation put forth by that young military officer so long ago.
Turkey has become one large caravan saray. As in the 12th century Seljuk empire, trade is insured safe, accomodations for traders are comfortable, everything is for sale, and the customs are completely negotiable. The question is whether Islamic leaders and their devout followers in Turkey can be resist the forces which find that inconsistent with their beliefs.
So, what did we do today? Only go to Ephesus. Where St Paul stirred up the worshipers of mother goddess Artemis (Cybelle), the temple of whom is one of the seven wonders of the world. When the romans took over the place, she became Diana, and Ephesus became the roman provincial capital. It has the largest amphitheatre in the ancient world, the largest cathedral in the ancient world, many huge gymnasium and baths, and one of the most impressive, residentail and commerical marketplaces ever constructed. On the hill above it stands the house that the Virgin Mary spent her last years.
We ended the day at Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey. The city rivals any major city in the world for beauty and charm. Some of our group are leaving us tomorrow morning, and we move on to explore Pergamum and Troy. We're only four days from the end of this first tour, and we've begun to firm up plans to transition to the cruise on the 12-passenger gulet (two-masted sailboat) on the Mediterranean coast.
For a look at the day's photos, click on: Turkey Tuesday May 20