Through a glass darkly – 97


On Tuesday we went with Elizabeth and with Juanita to Anitkabir, undoubtedly the major tourist attraction in Ankara. Elizabeth is the doyenne of the congregation at St Nicolas, married to a Turkish geologist, and has lived in Ankara since the 1970s. Juanita is a Ghanaian, who trained as a doctor in Kiev, in the Ukraine. but teaches here in a primary school. Anitkabir is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Everything is on a gigantic scale.

When Atatürk died in 1938, in Istanbul, his body was brought here and placed in the main hall of the Ethnography Museum. In 1941 a competition was organised to design a fitting memorial, or mausoleum. The Mausoleum sits in a Peace Park of some 750,000 square metres, containing almost 50,000 trees donated by some 25 different countries. Approach to the Mausoleum is via the Road of Lions, a 250 metre pedestrian path flanked by 12 sculpted lions in Hittite style. This path leads into the Ceremonial Square, built to hold some 15,000 people. The Museum comprises some of Atatürk’s belongings – ceremonial daggers and swords, expensive pens, military uniforms, pyjamas and dressing gown [everything except his truss and his tooth-brush]; lively paintings and representations of the major battles of the War of Independence; and an exhibition of some of the major achievements of his presidency. We paused at this point for coffee in what may be the world’s most chaotically organised museum cafe. Presided over by two charmless young women.

The culmination of the tour is the Hall of Honour. You mount 42 steps from the Ceremonial Square to enter a rectangular building. with an elaborate 17 metres high ceiling. The hall is empty except for a massive 40 tonne red marble sarcophagus. And crowds of Turkish families taking photographs on their phones. The intention is that every Turk should visit the Mausoleum, at least once. Atatürk was undoubtedly as great man, who made possible the emergence of modern Turkey.  But it all smacks of emperor [ancestor] worship. The whole complex looks like an Osbert Lancaster cartoon [from his Pillar to Post] to illustrate ‘Monumental Totalitarian Architecture’. 

Election time

There are big posters on the streets for next month’s elections. Both municipal and presidential. For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the coming election is of major importance. This year, 2023, is the centenary of the creation of the secular Republic of Turkey under the direction of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. If Erdogan wins, he will be empowered to put even more of his stamp on the government; to break with Atatürk’s heritage and to press for an increasingly conservative religious model. It is not clear to me whether Erdogan is a genuinely religious man. Or just a politician who wants to play the Muslim card to his advantage.The results of the election will have a significant impact on Turkey’s role within NATO; on Turkey’s future relationship with the States, the EU, and Russia; and on Ankara’s policy towards the war in Ukraine. 

There are four presidential candidates. The main challenger to Erdogan is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, nicknamed the’Turkish Gandhi’, who is promising big changes. The opposition is confident it can unfreeze European Union accession talks — at a standstill since 2018 over the country’s democratic backsliding — by introducing liberal reforms;  in terms of the rule of law, greater freedom for the media, and depoliticisation of the judiciary. In the event of a close result, it is not clear whether Erdogan would willingly stand aside. We shall see soon enough.

On the streets

It seems to me that there are fewer police on the streets than three years ago. And that they have swopped blue blouson jackets for all-black outfits. By contrast the vast number of taxis are an almost luminous orange. The taxis have vigorous competition from what seems to be an efficient bus service and a network of dolmuss, communal mini-buses. Few people talk on the bus, though some whisper into their phones. Young people are quick to offer a seat to Susie and to me. For which we are grateful. The driving is mainly aggressive with much use of the horn. It is quite common to see a car with its bonnet up at the side of the road with four or five men peering at the engine. And perhaps an older man as back-up on his mobile phone.

The pattern of commerce, of shops, is puzzling. On Rabindranath Tagore Caddesi., the nearest shopping street, there are innumerable cafes and restaurants, most of which are generally empty. And there are numerous ‘[super]markets’, with a limited stock of cold drinks and some basic groceries. There are several pharmacies and two flower shops. And a sprinkling of shops that sell electrical appliances and mobile phone covers and mobile phone chargers and similar accessories. But there is nothing that looks like a traditional baker’s or butcher’s shop.  

Yesterday was the end of Ramadan, a holy day for Muslims. There were crowds of people in town; families with children, gangs of young boys, gaggles of young girls. In the sunshine it felt like August Bank Holiday. And there was free travel on the buses. Tomorrow we shall be back in church for the third Sunday of Easter. The gospel reading is the encounter on the Emmaus Road. Which for me is one of the most evocative of all Bible stories.

April 2023

Published by europhilevicar

I am a retired vicar living on the south side of Edinburgh. I am a historian manqué, I worked in educational publishing for 20 years, and after ordination worked in churches in the Scottish Borders and then in Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes. I have a lovely and long-suffering wife, two children, and four delightful grand-children

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