Sunday, October 4, 2009

Summer 2009 Part Two

Part Two of the Summer Series
The First Trip: Canakkale

Moving beyond Istanbul, is similar to moving beyond New York, and in some senses Tel Aviv. The urban bubble which I have chosen to close myself in –at least for now- is hard to exit. I find myself stuck within clear cut borders unable to exit. Since being in New York for example, I never venture beyond a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan. My only exit is the airport, and usually this is to fly to Istanbul. And, even when I fly to Tel Aviv, it is now via Istanbul.

During the last few years that I lived in Istanbul, I remained mostly within Sisli-Taksim-Tunel districts. Even to go to Besiktas seemed out of the way. However, during my first two years in Turkey, I lived in Ankara, and was able to travel around to such places as Cappadocia (one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen) and to Ayvalik, where I was studying Ottoman Turkish in a summer program. There was also the one summer that I went to Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Hatay. Yet for three years, I had not gone father than Kadikoy, a neighborhood which entails crossing the Bosphorus to get to.

My first trip this summer, when I would exit Istanbul, was to Canakkale, with the students of my study abroad course. One major component of this course, entitled Narratives of Turkey: Making History Making Memory, is to question how national narratives are created through monuments, art, museums, and music. Therefore visiting the war memorials, housed in the mass graveyard of Gallipoli where easily 100,000 soldiers died fighting in one of the most drawn-out and bloody battles of all times, seemed appropriate. Particularly interesting to me, was to see the different war monuments of the ANZAC and Turkish contingents so close to one another, situated just a few miles from one to the other. This in some sense reminded of war monuments in Israel, where in the Galilee the Jewish villages/cities have their monuments with the names of their martyrs placed in the center square, and then just a few miles away you can find monuments commemorating the Palestinian martyrs placed in the center of the Arab villages or cities.

Undoubtedly, the Turkish war monument is overpowering in size, which in scope resembles Anitkabir, Ataturk’s tomb in Ankara. Directly across from the monuments are the symbolic graves, which I am sure most forget that there are actually no bones within this exhibit. The yard housing these massive graves are organized by region and city of the once Ottoman Empire: names from Jerusalem, Damascus and Beirut can be found near those of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara. Quickly, one can identify the names of Jewish and Armenian soldiers who died along side of their Muslim counterparts, ironically at the same time that the fate of Armenians in the Ottoman lands would be sealed forever.

Like any war monument, whether in Israel or the US, Germany, Russia, or Japan, these architectural structures shape our identity, and are essential in forming some longing camaraderie with those soldiers who died for different realities and under different circumstances. Historically, for the students it provided them time to reflect about World War One in general and at the same time politics of monuments. I was indebted to Cigdem, our guide, who in addition to my lectures, provided us with the different and even counter narratives. For me, the trip was important since as a historian of the late Ottoman period, I was able to come to one of the many spots that would change Turkish and Middle Eastern history forever, and would play a major role in the construction of a modern Turkish identity. Recently, in one of my classes at Brooklyn, a student reminded us that with history we should not ask ourselves “what if” questions. However, when writing about any great battle I think we all are tempted to ask, what if this had turned out differently!

next entry: From Kars to Trabzon


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  2. Planning for spending Summer is exciting especially when you are flying for different and historical places. jfk airport parking deals