In my book, “Culture Smart! Turkey” (Kuperard Publishers, UK, 2005), I explain the importance of Turkey’s strategic location. When you look at a map you will see that Turkey is situated at the corner of Europe. The country straddles the straits that divide Europe and Asia -- the Dardanelles and the Bosporus -- as well as the Sea of Marmara. Three percent of its landmass lies in Europe, giving it borders with Greece and Bulgaria, while 97 percent lies in Asia. The enormous Asian part, known as Anatolian, shares borders on the east and south with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. As a result, traces of centuries of history remain to be found. The region has been under the control of many, including Mongols, Romans, Iranians, Arabs, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks, Russians and Turks.
When back in the US, I meet people who have read “Culture Smart! Turkey.” Friends back home who have forgotten their geography lessons on the Middle East always comment on the fact that they had not realized Turkey is surrounded by so much water. It seems that many Americans often tend to think this part of the world is all desert. In my book, I explain that Turkey is bounded on three sides by water: the Aegean Sea to the west, the Mediterranean to the south and the Black Sea to the north.
The most densely populated part of the country is European Turkey. In Anatolia, the population is densest in the west, in urban centers such as İstanbul, Bursa, İzmir and İzmit, and decreases steadily toward the east. For example, in the interior, the population is concentrated along the paths of rivers and in towns such as Ankara, Eskişehir, Konya, Erzurum, Malatya and Kayseri. Most of the Central Anatolian highlands consist of undulating hills and broad, high plateaus from which mountains occasionally rise. The population of the south coast is massed on the fertile plains of Antalya and Adana, as well as in the province of Hatay, with its port of İskendurun. There is a steady trend of people moving into cities from rural areas.
I am always surprised by the number of American servicemen who served in military in Turkey on the Black Sea or around Izmir especially back in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, these days millions of foreigners spend their holidays on the Mediterranean Sea.
Enclosing the Central Anatolian highlands are two great mountain ranges: the Pontic Mountains in the north and the Taurus Mountains in the south. The famous Mount Ararat in the east stands 5,137 meters and is near the border with Iran. According to the Bible, it is where Noah’s Ark landed. Whether or not Noah’s Ark is there, I have always wondered why some developer does not capitalize on the theme and develop it into a proper tourist site. I guess this is the American coming out in me -- make it a type of Disneyland experience. But this has not yet happened.
The most important rivers in the region, the Tigris and the Euphrates, each have their source here. Visiting out east gives you a different perspective on life. The pace is slower and the terrain different. When I visited this area a few years ago, I found it refreshing to sit on the river banks and imagine all that had gone on there. I believe it was Winnie the Pooh who said, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.” Sitting on a river bank can have that effect on one.
One of my favorite places to visit out east is Doğubeyazıt. I love it for its natural beauty and rich history. If you have some knowledge of the history of the area, you will know that many battles have been fought in this part and there has been much bloodshed over the centuries.
A couple of reminders of this history are İshak Paşa Sarayı (İshak Paşa Palace) and Mount Ararat. The ancient ruins of İshak Paşa Sarayı, which is sometimes referred to as a fortress, castle or even mosque depending on with whom you talk, is situated about five kilometers outside the city. You can visit the tomb of Ahmedi Xani, the famous poet and philosopher, and abdigör köfte is the specialty of the town. If you make it out to the east of Turkey, don’t miss this treat!
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org