Final Words from Turkey and the Balkans

As expected, the headscarf ban was lifted. Turkish girls can now study at university wearing a scarf lightly tied under their chin. My ex-students at Bogazici will no longer have to wear their hoodie woolen hats, and change at the kiosk every time they enter the university. The argument is clear. People should be allowed to wear what they want, and the prohibition was preventing quite a large number of covered girls from studying at university. No burkas or niqabs that cover the whole face will be allowed. It seems the backlash from the disapproving army will not come. The secularists, or rather the doomsday fundamentalist secularists, warn that this is the beginning of the end, and the stable door has now been opened. The next will be schools, and girls who don`t wear the headscarf will feel an overwhelming pressure to do so. Probably nothing much will happen. A few secularist professors will have to swallow their pride.

I think of certain moments of the trip I made around the Balkans. The patriotic flag wavers in Podgorica, Montenegro, on 6th January, orthodox Xmas Eve, so proud of their great nation… of 685,000 people, less than the population of the district of São Paulo in which I live. A certain worry and fear of what the mysterious Albania would be like; then discovering it was messy, but a very pleasant and easy-going place completely free of hassle for the visitor. Even the usually miserable border guards seemed pleased to see me! The ways old ideas die hard. The Turk is still the barbarian, as Sixten in his or her comment suggested. Public School philo-Hellenism is still strong and kicking. Greek culture is still the basis of all Western culture. The Turk is dangerous and treacherous. Don`t let him into Europe.

I made a short trip to Edirne, Adrianopolis, now a town on the Greek and Bulgarian borders, but once, when the Ottoman Empire stretched right to what is now Hungary and covered nearly all of the old Yugoslavia, once of the most important cities in the Empire. It was first captured by the Ottomans in 1361, and was the capital of the Empire for some fifty years before the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Many of the Sultans came here to rest, hunt and build mosques. Sultan Selim built a magnificent mosque named after him and opened in 1575, which is not outdone by any of the Istanbul mosques.

One of the most interesting places is the is the Sultan Bayezid Hospital Complex, built by the son of Mehmet the Conqueror, and first open to the public in 1484. The mosque provided food for the poor, as most mosques did and many still do, medicines for the public, and the complex contained 15th century psychiatric hospital, which is now a museum. Those suffering from psychiatric problems were treated by what we now call aromatherapy, the sound of fountains, occupational therapy, a special diet, and the music of a twelve-piece orchestra. And apparently the hospital treated both rich and poor. Some of those interned were lovers whose parents were probably against their marriage. The famous Turkish traveller, Evilya Çelibi, visited Edirne in 1652:

“When the lovers, who fell into the love sea of Edirne, increase in number in some rooms during crazy spring time, they are brought to this madhouse upon the order of the doctor, chained to their beds with silver and golden chains and each one lies on his/her bed just like roaring lions. Some of them grumble certain words while watching the pool and the fountain, some others listen to the countless songs of birds in the rose garden, vineyard and melon field around that arched dome and start screaming with the tuneless voice of a mad.

In spring time, various flowers such as jasmine, carnation, tulip and hyacinth are given to the patients and by the odor of them patients are healed. However, when these flowers are given to the mad, they either eat or step on them. Some of them watch the fruit trees and grass by crying out various meaningless sounds such as ah daha hel hope pe pohe peko.”

The presidential elections have been held in Serbia. Boris Tadic, the pro-European candidate, just won. His nationalist rival, Tomislav Nikolic, a crony of Milosevic, wanted a reapproximation with Russia. The European Union is relieved. But Tadic says he will not give up and let Kosovo go without a fight. The noises any Serb President must make maybe. And today Putin has accused Europe of double standards and said that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. But Kosovo independence seems a fait accompli, particularly after the horrors of the attempted ethnic cleansing, when Serbia lost all moral authority, and especially with their powerful US friends, above all Bill and Hillary, and the declaration of independence is expected any day now.


2 Responses to “Final Words from Turkey and the Balkans”

  1. Gisele Wolkoff Says:

    Thank you once again, John, for such masterpiece!
    Hope this is the start of many other journeys to be registered…

  2. Petia Botovchenko Says:

    Thanks for the ride, and the lessons implied in your open-minded understanding of different cultures. Please do follow Ms. Volkoff’s advice. We are eager to learn about new ancient lands; sorry for the oxymoron. Actually I had never heard of “doomsday fundamentalist secularists”, but suppose they are as insufferable as all the other doomsday fundamentalist.

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