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Kurdish Turkey
By Gregg - 31 Oct, 1999

Page 3 of 5

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Sanliurfa—'Glorious Urfa'—is a Kurdish city, steeped in biblical history. Abraham, it is said, was born here in a cave. After smashing King Nimrod's statues (in the name of anti-idolatry) he was thrown from the mountain here into a fire. But the fire turned to water and the burning wood to fish, symbolised today by the idyllic Balikligol (pools of sacred carp) at the Rizvaniye Mosque. Urfa remains largely untouched by the westernization seen throughout much of Turkey—at least within the corridors and caravanserais of the Sipahi Bazaar.

We arrived Urfa without a suitable guidebook and hadn't a map or a clue as to where we were going. But not to worry, the guys at the tourist police were plenty friendly and had some rough listings of the handful of hotels in town. One spoke French so Evelyn fell into conversation with him and we soon knew which direction to head. As we walked through the streets, numerous people called out greetings to us and offered help in finding our destination. Finally, a school teacher lead us there.

Over the next day and a half we were introduced to Turkish hospitality. Everywhere we went people wanted to talk—regardless of the fact that we didn't share a language. We were surprised at the willingness and ability of the local folds to sit with us and engage us in a conversation of sorts without the benefit of a shared language.

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Aside from the sanctity of the mosques and their surrounding gardens, we especially enjoyed the bazaar in Sanliurfa. This is the last great bazaar in Turkey—somewhat reminiscent of the colorful souqs of Aleppo in Syria to the south but less chaotic and with a more welcoming air. Seven caravanserais are found within the bazaar. Entering one of these is like stepping back in time. Men in caps and sports jackets idling away the hours—hunched over small tables playing cards and chess. On a second floor, wrapping around a stone balcony overlooking the courtyard, tailor after tailor hand-making trousers; taking a break for a cup of sweetened tea. The whole scene imbued with the graininess of an old film.

From Urfa we travelled northwest and then east to Kahta. The circuitous route is necessary because of the Great Ataturk Baraji—the fourth largest dam in the world. A third of the Euphrates River is redirected to Turkey's Harran Plateau. That's a third less water for Syria and Iraq further downstream. In his book "The Ends of the Earth", Robert Kaplan quotes the dam's manager. "Water is a weapon. We can stop the flow of water into Syria and Iraq for up to eight months without overflowing our dams, in order to regulate the Arabs' political behavior."

Construction of the dams and accompanying irrigation tunnels is ongoing. The GAP project (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi) is an attempt by the state to address Kurdish complaints that government expenditures for services in the southeast have been far lower than in the rest of Turkey. The planned irrigation tunnels will be the largest in the world and will continue a trend that is radically altering the landscape of the region. The amount of arable land and corresponding crop yields will increase exponentially. New lakes will produce an abundance of hydroelectric power as well as tourism and fish raising.

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Kahta is not much to speak of; a one road town with tractor shops, eateries and markets—and an increasing number of hotels. The mountain tourist site of Nemrut Dagi is just up the road. We left Kahta at 3am to catch sunrise on the mountain top. As the sun's light appeared , giant stone heads were revealed—the towering, headless bodies looming above them. We were before the legacy of the 6th century BCE Commagene King, Antiochus.

Kahta is no place to linger. We were on a bus out of town before noon, heading for Feribot—the aptly named village— where we would catch a ferry across the great lake created by the Ataturk Dam. We were going to Diyarbakir.



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