A thousand kilometres across Turkey, and the layout of every Turkish town and city becomes familiar. As you get near, the market gardens providing vegetables, the army barracks. The scruffy outer suburbs littered with plastic bags and bottles. The packed minibus dolmuses. Maybe an out-of-town shopping center near the new smart estates, the sites, with just a token guard at the entrance. The smart avenue leading to the centre of town, often called Atatürk Bulvarı, starting from the smart traffic island with the statue of Atatürk. And there will be İstıklal Caddesi, Independence Street, an Inönü Caddesi, after the second president of the Turkish Republic, and now that the disgraced Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, deposed in a military coup in 1960 and hanged the following year following corruption charges, has been rehabilitated, there are plenty of Adnan Menderes Caddesis.
Along the Atatürk Bulvarı we find the Benettons, clothes boutiques, smart hotels, mobile telephone shops, Starbucks and Mado ice cream parlours. And nearby the tea garden, probably part of the park, maybe leading to the castle, where couples stroll at night, admire the view, drink tea and smoke the nargile water pipe.
The town council offices, the belediye and the main post office will be central, maybe next to the Archeological Museum, as here in Antakya, formerly Antioch, one of the largest and greatest cities of the Roman Empire, and now a relatively recent addition to Turkey, having been a French protectorate from 1918 till 1939. All have played a central role in the integration of Turkey as a modern state: the belediye to exert control over some remote rural areas; the post office to facilitate communication; and the archeological museums to stress the relation of modern Turkey to the ancient Turkic peoples, the Hittites and Selçuks, emphasizing that the concept of Turkishness has always existed. Many of the museums house Greek and Roman mosaics, as does the Antakya museum.
I have not forgotten the mosques. The central mosque may be called the Ulu Cami, the High or Sublime Mosque, with its courtyards, fountains and disactivated medresse, Islamic school, for such schools have not been allowed in the Turkish Republic. It will usually be near the bazaar, or pazar in Turkish, for it has traditionally earns money by renting out stalls and shops. A few shops near the mosque may sell Islamic souvenirs – Korans, pictures of Mecca, prayer mats and beads, but most will sell cheap clothing, the there will some shops selling conservative Islamic clothing for ladies, shoes, plastic kitchen and bathroom goods, many of which are exported to Russia and the ex-Soviet Republics. Indeed, “sacoleiro” shoppers come to İstanbul on charter flights with a ninety kilo allowance from Uzbekistan and Krgyistan. The traditional Turkish bath, the haman, will also be nearby. To a great extent they are now a thing of the past, or a tourist attraction as nearly all houses now have modern bathrooms. Then we move into the area of taps, bathroom appliances, mobile phones, electrical appliances and tools, then maybe the jewellry district, especially gold and silver.
Fruit, sold from barrows, varies according to the season, and now the stalls are overladen with cherries, peaches, apricots and heavy sweet water-melons. There will be plenty of places to eat: the fluffy börek pastries are made in large pans over heat; as are the sweet and stick baclava sweets. Some shops specıalize in a wide variety of nuts and dried fruits, especially in the east of Turkey. You can see the bakers at work taking freshly cooked flat loaves out of the open ovens. And not to forget the omnipresent kebapcıs, the kebab sellers. And the spice sellers add colour for the photographers with their different shades of dark red paprika, thyme, mint, and brown tea.
There are still a few memories of the crafts of yesteryear. Metal workers hammer out pots and pans in tin and copper. But the Arabic inscribed bowls I buy come all the way from Syria, well, it is just down the road…
At about one fifteen the muezzin calls the faithful to prayers, many of the businesses shut for some twenty minutes, and the old men shuffle over to the mosque for midday prayers from the public garden or the kıraathanesi, the cafe where they spend most of the day drinking tea, playing cards, backgammon and another domino-like game.
But like everywhere else habits are changing. Super and hypermarkets are found in everywhere medium-sized town. The car-owning middle-class prefer its Migros or Carrefours, and there are signs that the downtown market, as in the huge İstanbul Kapalı Charsı will become more of a tourist attraction and curiosity as serious shopping is done at the out-of-town malls.