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Arch Network CHIST
Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism
Turkey 11th – 18th May 2012


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The ‘Gypsy Girl’ Mosaic – Gaziantep Museum

Christopher Waddell
National Museums Scotland
June 2012


Introduction and background

Between the 11th and 18th May 2012 I was able to participate in Archnetwork’s CHIST (Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism) exchange programme which took me and other heritage sector professionals to Southeastern Anatolia in Turkey.

Essentially, this trip was to focus on the sustainable tourism of the area, to look especially at how the local produce and cuisine has emerged as a cultural identifier for the region. However, the scope of the trip proved much broader than this, encompassing elements such as history (10,000BC – 20th century!) music, traditional dance, handicrafts, architecture, museums and interpretive processes, agriculture, commerce and the function of NGOs. This meant we experienced a very comprehensive and exciting programme.

My travelling companions on this trip were:

Libby Urquhart – Archnetwork Co-ordinator
Alison Rae – Learning Officer – National Museums Scotland
Cara Jones – Archaeologist – Archaeology Scotland
Bridget Turnbull-Brown – Senior Planner – Aberdeen City Council
Leanne Muldowney – Catering Manager George Hotel Inverary / Volunteer Events Officer – Auchindrain Township
Filiz Hozukoglu – Programme Co-ordinator in Turkey
Erdem Hozukoglu – Translator and programme assistant
Mehmet – Driver
Ahmet – Driver

The result was a week filled with experiences both incredible and unforgettable. South-eastern Anatolia is an area which, although rich in material culture, is not an immediate or obvious draw for tourists visiting Turkey.  Consequently, this programme offered the participants a valuable overview and important insights were gleaned into the workings of this fascinating region. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and it is certain that without the expert planning of co-ordinators in both Turkey and Scotland, we would not have been able to take full advantage of the myriad wonderful experiences.

Most important perhaps, was the exchange of ideas and knowledge which occurred on this trip. Ideally, all participants – Scots and Turkish – who took part in the programme will have – at the end – acquired a far greater understanding of the cultural workings of the others’ countries. Similarly, it is to be hoped that this exchange of ideas can be translated into tangible results for tourism and develop further opportunities for contact and collaborative works between the two nations.

Whilst in Turkey, I kept a rough journal of notes detailing the activities we participated in each day. I have decided therefore to present this report in a similar form, taking a simple day by day approach rather than placing information under subject based headings.


I would like to acknowledge the hard work of both Sheila and Libby from Arch network, these are fantastic programmes and I’m sure countless industry professionals have benefited over the years, I know I certainly have. Also, the Leonardo da Vinci Programme, it is their funding that really makes these exchanges viable. To our Turkish colleagues, Filiz, Erdem, Mehmet and Ahmet for looking after us I extend the warmest of thanks. And finally, to all of the wonderful Turkish people we met who made the trip so interesting and offered such hospitality and warmth, many thanks.

Day 1 Saturday 12th May 2012

Having arrived in Gaziantep the night before, we awoke to the news that Filiz – our guide, mentor and mother figure for the week – was unhappy with the hotel. Personally, I felt that while average it was adequate and certainly no more than I expected on a grant funded trip (but then, as the only male on the trip, I wasn’t sharing a room or a bed!)

Therefore, before we got started on our activities for the day a move to a new (and extremely luxurious) hotel was necessitated. Now this might all seem a bit tedious and irrelevant, but I wanted to relate this little tale to give any readers an immediate sense of the sort of person Filiz is. She is clearly a person who is passionate to the core about her country and its culture and who places great importance on how these are perceived by foreign visitors. It also served as an early indication of the care and hospitality that we would be met with throughout our trip.

Ensconced in our new lodgings, our activities got underway in earnest. Our itinerary for the day would take us from Gaziantep; eastwards along the Silk Road to Şanliurfa, lunch there and then out to Gobeklitepe, back to Sanliurfa to see the sites with a guide and then return to Gaziantep in the evening.

Upon accessing the road – which is in fact the Second Silk Road – we were greeted with a series of statues depicting a caravan complete with goods-laden camels, donkeys and fierce looking traders. This hinted at the historic significance of this route which originally began in Antakya (Antioch) to the west and went eastwards through Turkey, central Asia and ultimately to China. Although overlain by a modern motorway (which like most of the large roads in Turkey was in great condition and made us Brit drivers quite envious!) I still felt that this was part of a land of historic enormity. This route – which was ancient and had borne witness to hundreds of years of trade and movement of peoples – was still in use. I started to feel part of a historic thread stretching into the past. This was not a ruinous castle or defunct church which I had paid money to enter and photograph, but a functioning modern roadway – a continuing part of an ancient yet on-going tale.

On route to Şanliurfa, I took time to look at the enfolding countryside. The agriculture was dominated by pistachio orchards and olive groves, with evidence of horse power being very much still in use. Wild flowers were in spectacular evidence everywhere and I spotted woodpeckers, kestrels, swallows and swifts as we drove along. The country gave way to a region of mixed pasture and arable which looked stony and arid with a rich red soil. Grain fields lay alongside small orchards with goats grazing beneath the trees. I noticed that many of the flat-roofed farmhouses had a milk-cow tied up in the yard. This appears to be a land of smaller scale, more intimate systems of agriculture, more similar perhaps to that of Western Europe prior to WWII.
On arrival in Şanliurfa we dined at a hotel restaurant (Cevahir Konukevi). A beautiful stone courtyard covered with an awning greeted us as we entered and removing our footwear we were led into an upper storey room. Here, the bare stone walls and vaulted ceiling meant it was cool and comfortable. We sat on the floor an enjoyed an excellent lunch, the highlights of which for me were the borani – a yoghurt salad – and a robust lamb soup which included bulgur balls, chard stalks, black eyed beans and spices. As with every meal we encountered, there was masses of food and we had to take our dessert away. I was becoming aware of how keen the Turks are to share their culinary heritage, and the reputation for hospitality I had been told about was very much in evidence.

After lunch we drove on to the archaeological site at Gobeklitepe (which translates as ‘pot-bellied hill’) about 15 km northeast of Şanliurfa. I was very excited about the prospect of this visit. This is a site I had read about, a place now considered pivotal by some historians in how we view the development of mankind and where agriculture and religion sit in that chronology. The approach to the site was via a track-road, the countryside around worked by people I believe to be Kurds. They looked rather impoverished and operated in what appeared to be family groups, cropping by hand and herding dairy cattle.

Gobeklitepe was as fascinating as I had anticipated. A local Kurdish man – in perhaps his late teens or early twenties – acted as our guide. For some time, he had been shadowing Professor Klaus Schmidt, the leader of the German-Turkish project to excavate the site. This, along with his own studies had made this young man very knowledgeable of the site and his enthusiasm for it shone through. As well as acting as our guide for the dig site, he took time to capture and show us a small snake, and then forage for some aromatic wild carrots!

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Monoliths at Gobeklitepe

Standing at Gobeklitepe, looking down into those excavations, it is staggering to think that these monoliths, carvings and reliefs were constructed 12,000 years ago. One gets a sense of the enormity of this site, the sheer significance in historic terms and its place in how we came to be here in the 21st century. Here, animistic folk beliefs of Stone Age hunter gatherers were tangibly formalised into organised religion. This is the oldest temple site ever discovered, mankind’s most ancient holy space. Some historians and archaeologists now believe – as a result of studying Gobeklitepe – that religion now came before farming in the cultural development of man. They now believe that the religious significance of sites like this made early people focus on certain locations and their nomadic hunter gatherer lives gave way to primitive farming and it was upon this that our modern notion of settled civic society was founded.

And the staggering age of this site! Arguably, the most famous Neolithic site in the world is Stonehenge in England, the earliest phase of which is thought to date from around 5000 years ago. Yet, Gobeklitepe is more distant in temporal terms from Stonehenge than the Wiltshire site is from us in the 21st century.

The young guide’s attitude to this site seemed to go beyond healthy enthusiasm. It was more like love – a deep and profound connection that was apparent through even the linguistic barrier. This surely was genuinely sustainable management of a heritage site – people benefiting at a local level. On leaving, we presented our young guide with a few small gifts and the gratitude of this young man was apparent in the glowing smiles and handshakes. I suspect he wasn’t thanking us for the gifts, but for simply being there. This was clearly not a man from a privileged background and he seemed to be immersing himself entirely in this site and the opportunities it was offering him. His younger accomplice – a boy who manned the souvenir stall – was moved almost to tears when presented with some sweets and a few pencils. This was a moment ripe with emotion and it clearly affected the members of our party. Driving away from this astonishing place, I spotted grey shrikes, crested larks and beautiful black-headed buntings.

Back in Şanliurfa we met Fatiya our guide. She took us to the Lake of Sacred Fish. It is said that Abraham was condemned to death by burning for his monotheism by the wicked King Namrut (Nimrod). He foiled the King’s plan by transforming the flames into waters and the brands into the overfed and over-friendly black carp which populate this lake. An Anatolian writers’ festival was taking place. A band played sonorous traditional music which was accompanied by solemn singing. Five Sufi Holy men performed a dervish dance, the skirts of their robes forming perfect wave patterns as they spun in a calm trance like way. I found this an oddly moving spectacle – I am not a person of faith – but despite the sunshine and noisy crowds, it had a solemnly spiritual feel.

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Lake of Sacred Fish: Şanliurfa

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Sufi Clerics performing a Dervish dance
A tour of the market followed, copperware, pepper/spices and silk being very much in evidence. After this we took tea and coffee in a wonderful café square (Gümruk Han) where men played backgammon and scruffy cats mooched around. We ate our dessert from earlier and taking our leave of Fatiya, headed back to the bus.

We dined later at the town of Birecik on the banks of the Euphrates at a fantastic open air restaurant. Galataseray had won the Turkish league this evening and Erdem – our Fenerbache supporting translator and Filiz’ son – was in reflective mood. The singing of frogs in the surrounding wetlands was soon superseded by the singing and dancing of the locals, largely it seems, celebrating the football result. Dinner was characteristically good and the party atmosphere gathered momentum. Turkish women and girls perform a strange but uplifting ululating cry when greeting people or in celebratory mood. With this sound ringing in my ears, we ended a remarkable first day.

Day 2 Sunday 13th May 2012

This was a day of intense museum visiting! Our first port of call was the Gaziantep Museum where we viewed the trans-located mosaics from the Roman site at Zeugma (a former settlement on the Euphrates at Nizip, not far to the East of Gaziantep) These were in a building created specifically to house them less than two years ago. As well as the mosaics, there are also statues, including a particularly fine bronze of Mars, and various wall sections and building remnants. From a professional viewpoint, the interpretation lacked slightly in the translation to English, but not to the degree that any meaning was lost. Various touchscreen interactives were very popular and worked well. Masses of noisy children brought the museum to life (masses of noisy children being music to the ears of a museums’ learning officer!)

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Zeugma Mosaics in the Gaziantep Museum

The presentation of the mosaics along with the associated lighting and walkways showed them to optimum effect and it’s easy to see why the Turks claim these to be the best in the world. One in particular – that of a maenad – has come to be known as ‘The Gypsy Girl’. Some scholars speculate that it may in fact represent Alexander the Great. Whoever he or she may be, this image has become almost totemic in the minds of the locals who are clearly very proud of her, housed as she is in a gallery of her own. She (lets decide she’s a girl!) appears everywhere – on tourist literature, souvenirs, posters – there was even a large painted reproduction in the lobby of our hotel. It was quite heartening to see this level of ‘buy-in’. Surely this represented a socio-economic strand to the idea of sustainable tourism? This image had become iconic (I feel I can use that term with some accuracy in this instance!) and now safely preserved in the museum is helping provide an income for countless people locally (and indeed regionally, her enigmatic stare being spotted well without the boundaries of Gaziantep). Interestingly, this medium sized museum supported three separate gift shops.

After lunch we visited the Gaziantep Culinary museum which was housed in the childhood home of an esteemed local politician who had helped set it up (Filiz too, had been heavily involved in this museum since its inception, her knowledge of regional cuisine undoubtedly proving invaluable) Despite the bad mannequins (a phenomenon common in museums globally) this was an excellent little site. To a degree, this was a folk-life museum. Its range of functional domestic objects represented a disappearing near-past in an increasingly westernized modern Turkey. This along with its promotion of local produce and traditional cuisine reminded me a little of my own workplace. I found this attachment to folk culture very heartening and it was good to see groups of young people there, absorbed in the displays and exhibits.

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Various styles of quern on display at the Bronze Statue of Mars: Gaziantep Museum
Culinary museum

Next, we visited the museum at Gaziantep Castle. In truth, I didn’t enjoy this. It focussed on Gaziantep’s role in the 1920s Turkish War of Independence against the French. I’m never easy with jingoism and regardless of the language it is presented in, it always seems very detectable.

Quite apart from this the exhibition was in its entirety, one, long linear display housed in a darkened, almost subterranean, passage of the lower castle. It felt quite oppressive and I was glad to be out again into the sunlight. Interestingly, once outside, some teenage Turkish girls asked to have their photos taken with us. I was beginning to realise then how much we stuck out among the locals and indeed, we did seem to prove a bit of a wonder wherever we went! Its perhaps a grumpy facet of my advancing years, but Turkish children and teenagers seem much more polite, friendlier and generally well behaved than their Caledonian counterparts! Bah! Etc.

In the early evening we visited the apartment home of Mr. Aykut Tuzcu, the hereditary owner of the largest local newspaper ‘Sabah’. It was his paper which first brought to the attention of the world, the plight of the Zeugma mosaics through the proposed flooding of the Euphrates valley where they were located. He informed us that only around 11% of the site has been excavated so far and it is only this area that is due to suffer the rising waters. Therefore, it seems that the future of the greater site and it’s as-yet undiscovered treasures is secure. Mr Tuzcu managed to catalyse international interest in Zeugma through helping to secure a feature in the New York Times about its threatened status. The resultant interest from the global archaeological community (and particularly that of Italy) helped fund and support the first tranche of excavation and save the mosaics currently in Gaziantep Museum.

Now, to those of us viewing this from a western liberal perspective, this seems like a very cavalier attitude for a nation to take towards its cultural heritage. However, Aykut then went on to point out the region’s educational deficiencies with a few facts and figures, hinting perhaps that this is why an area of international archaeological importance was almost turned into a reservoir before any excavations were made. For example, Gaziantep has the lowest university pass rate of any of Turkey’s 81 cities. 64% of women in Gaziantep are illiterate, while 40% of the entire population is considered illiterate. Compounding this further, the teaching profession is very poorly paid. This painted rather a bleak picture but perhaps the economic value that is now becoming apparent in relation to the mosaics (i.e. the museum, the commercial ‘iconography’ of the gypsy girl) may help to redress this in future in a way that represents truly sustainable heritage management. One can only hope that this will be the case.

We completed our day enjoying the hospitality of Mr Yilmaz Kale and his wife. Mr Kale was a retired professional musician. He played the Ney (a traditional reed flute) and the oud – a lute-like instrument. His wife accompanied him by singing. At 72, Mr Kale came across as very youthful, charming and funny. A moment of nervous hilarity ensued when he passed me one of his collection of 25 shotguns to examine. (His wife is the regional clay pigeon champion) Unsure of the etiquette of being handed a deadly firearm in someone’s living room, I raised it to my shoulder and looked down the sight in such a way that I hoped it looked as if I knew what I was doing! The accompanying shrieks and knocked over chairs indicated Leanne and Bridget’s frightened exit from the room, only coming back when Mr Kale took the gun from me)

Much singing, dancing (a splendid turn from Ms Rae) and eating later, we said our goodbyes, bringing a jolly end to another fascinating day.
Day 3 Monday 14th May 2012

Another day in Gaziantep. We started with a visit to the business premises of Mr Cevdet Güllü. We met him first in one of his cafes in the spice and fruit market and from there on to his bakery to watch baklava baking demonstrations (baklava is a Turkish speciality – a very sweet pastry flavoured in these parts by the abundant pistachio harvests) About a dozen men worked here, engaged in various stages of the process, they all displayed an immense level of skill and concentration. Cevdet informed us that five years training was normal to become a baklava baker. No other products were made here, only baklava which indicates its importance to the culture of the local cuisine. The most senior of his workers had been with the firm for 50 years. The thinness of the worked dough is truly remarkable, a characteristic displayed by holding a Turkish flag behind which we could clearly see! At one point, an older gentleman in traditional dress visited with an urn-like object on his back. From this, he dispensed a black liquorice flavoured drink which the bakery workers drank readily. We also tried a glass each. I believe it is what is often referred to as ‘an acquired taste’. I finished mine with a display of some gusto, politely declining another glass.

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Patriotic Pastry at the baklava bakery!

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Baklava being filled with pistachio and sealed

Back at Mr Güllü’s café we sampled three kinds of baklava. Diamond shaped (fistili yas baklava), triangular (sōbiyet) and a rolled version, green with pistachio (doloma). These were accompanied by zahter, a thyme tea which magically changed colour when a few drops of lemon were added. The baklavas were served in 60 year old copper dishes, objects of which Mr Güllü was clearly very proud.

He then went on to discuss the pistachios used in the process. The nut is the mainstay (along with olives) of the local agrarian economy and is used in numerous ways in a myriad dishes. He explained that these were locally grown nuts, something he insists upon and consequently a sustainable use of a local crop. The growers were helped in maximising yields (and therefore profits) by TEMA, a governmental agricultural body. This is done in partnership with Nestlé (a company – let us be honest – not known for the socialising effects of its global empire). However, credit where it is due and here in Anatolia at least they are providing aid and investment to the farming community. Cevdet also told us – with deserved pride – that this was one of two cafes, it was 150 years old and represented 6 generations of the family business. The sepia images of his baklava baking antecedents looked down on us from the walls.

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Baklava served in antique copper dish

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Liquorice drink vendor in traditional dress

After this we had lunch at a very stylish restaurant called Orkide. We were joined for this by Seda, the wife of the proprietor and Ms Funda Suran, General Secretary of the Gaziantep College Foundation. Lunch was a lavish affair; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more colourful display of dishes. We then decanted to the restaurant kitchens to watch a demonstration (although display might be a more appropriate term) of katmer preparation, katmer being another sweet pastry dish. The dough in this instance looked even thinner than that seen in the baklava demo earlier. The chef threw the large sheet of dough in great arcs around his head to stretch it further (producing oohs and aahs from us like kids at a firework display!) This fellow was clearly showboating a bit, but why not! It was an amazing thing to watch.

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Colourful cuisine at Orkide

After lunch we went to the local headquarters of GEGED. This is the Gaziantep Training and Youth Organisation; a body which operates a youth exchange programme. It brings young adults to Turkey from around the world and trains them to work with disadvantaged youngsters on a series of activity based programmes. Target groups include the socially disadvantaged, immigrant children, hospitals with long term sick and interestingly, children with unusually high I.Q.s who experience difficulties integrating with their peer groups. After a talk from the GEGED supervisor, each of our own party gave presentations about what we did professionally and how we are involved in community and sustainability projects.

We rounded off the day’s activities by visiting a Women’s Co-operative which specialised in producing craft items for sale. Established in 2006, this now supported 23 workers, some of whom worked from home. The produce – mainly Anatolian embroidery items – is sold from the premises. A further 25 women are involved in supporting the initiative, ironing and packing the goods. The primary purpose of this project is to empower women – especially housewives – by offering opportunities for social and financial support. This is not something which is universally endorsed in Turkish society, which of course still retains a strong traditional Muslim influence in everyday life and the inherent gender profiles that this incurs.

Day 4 Tuesday 15th May 2012

Today we drove to the city of Kahramanmaraş (Maraş for short). Lying at the foot of the Dibek Mountains, this is a city of just over 400,000 people. On arrival we visited the home of Sabahat, Filiz’s friend and fellow food writer who welcomed us warmly into her home and treated us to a cookery demonstration. After this we had an excellent lunch which she had prepared and talked us through each of the dishes as they arrived; their ingredients and preparation methods. After lunch we went into the centre of Maraş, Sabahat acting as our guide.

We visited a café which specialised in goat’s milk ice cream; dovme dondurma. This was an unusual but not unpleasant food experience. Texturally, this local speciality is very different from the ice cream we are familiar with. Stretchy and stringy, it is eaten with knife and fork and has the ubiquitous sprinkling of crushed pistachios on top.

After the ice cream (for which Maraş is famed regionally) we visited the headquarters of BORSA in the Chambers of Commerce. This is a trade organisation which has helped transform Maraş from an agricultural town into one of the ‘Turkish Tigers’, those cities which have flourished economically in recent decades. We met a representative and he pointed out that investment in cotton production in the 1980s had catalysed this boom in Maraş, and along with the famous ice cream, pepper spice and tarhana (a form of ready-made yoghurt soup) had put the city on the map economically. It now produces 40% of Turkey’s entire finished cotton output. The agrarian element – production of raw cotton – has regressed in the region, farmers having been unable to cope with the moves towards mechanization which the boom would have inevitably spurred. Now the finished textile is the economic mainstay, with imported raw cotton from India and the United States being used. Other important local products include steel home-ware, wrought gold (the second biggest producer in the country after Istanbul) and ladies footwear, produced for large international brand names under contract by local leatherwork companies.

We later went for a walk through the old market. Maraş struck me as less traditional than Gaziantep. Filiz suggested this might be due to the economic boom and presence of a very large and popular university. A long drive back to Gaziantep brought a tiring but very full day to an end.

Day 5 Wednesday 16th May 2012

Today started with a visit to the pistachio research centre. As previously mentioned, pistachios are vital to the local economy. The centre comprised a nucleus of research buildings set in an acreage of orchard land capable of sustaining 8000 trees. We were met by Mr Kamil Sarpkaya, a senior researcher. It was evident from the start that Mr Sarpkaya bore the sort of enthusiastic eccentricities we often associate with academics who specialise in one particular field. A larger than life character and a bit of a human dynamo, Kamil started by informing us that his nickname was…Pistachio! He then proceeded to deliver a very interesting and entertaining talk on this inoffensive little nut and the silviculture of the region. By the end I had come to realise that there was probably no one anywhere in the world who knew more about pistachios. I felt strangely privileged.

The institute researches pistachios, walnuts and grapes but mainly pistachios. All of these crops form an important economic element in South-eastern Anatolia (or Upper Mesopotamia, as Kamil insisted) Indeed, it was here that they originated as cropped plants. Pistachios developed in two main regions globally – Anatolia – and further east in Central Asia where they appear as a large component of wild primary forest. There are 11 species in the genus. Pistacia terebinthus and P. vera are wild species used for rootstock to the cultivated plants. Interestingly, P. terebinthus had given the word ‘Terebantine’ – a wild pistachio gatherer. Pistachios have been cultivated since around 7000BC and individual trees can be productive for 100 years (some olive trees in the region are known to be 1300 years old)

The first fruits can be taken 12 years after planting (under arid conditions). Inter-planting with grapes allows farmers a quicker economic return. After 25 years these vines are replaced with further pistachio rows. This area of South east Anatolia has very low humidity, meaning winters can be surprisingly cold and snowy. If temperatures drop below -7, olive crops can be killed off (olives also routinely being inter-planted with pistachios, but unlike the grapes, they are retained to provide long term mixed orchards) Olives in the region have been adapted through breeding to withstand drops to minus 10 or 11.

The physiology of the pistachio is very different from that of other nut trees. Solely wind pollinated, the embryo remains dormant for two months while the outer hard shell forms. Thereafter, the embryo starts to grow and the kernel forms. One month later the first harvests take place. This early green fruit is used in baklava, katmer etc. and gives the distinctive green hue to much of the cuisine of the region. The later harvests of older, drier nuts are the snack food we are familiar with. Turkey is the third largest producer of pistachios after the United States and Iran.

After a brief look around the orchard we took our leave of Kamil and drove onto Gaziantep University. Here, we once again delivered our presentations, this time to a class of tourism students. The talks were – happily – well received and a group of the students joined us for lunch in the refectory. Afterwards, we walked through the beautiful modern campus. It was very refreshing to be surrounded by young enthusiastic people who felt their studies would take them into desired careers and better lives. I hope they retain this enthusiasm and drive, cynicism comes all too easily. Their humour was infectious and soon we all laughed and joked. I reflected with Ali and Cara upon the notion that it wasn’t all that long ago we were like that! Over coffee, we asked the young people about their career aspirations. ‘Travel guide’ and ‘to go travelling’ came up several times. It struck me that Turkey is a very outward looking nation and that Turks are very comfortable around foreigners and other cultures, as had been evidenced by the continuing interest in our part wherever we went, and indeed by the generosity and warmth shown to us by everyone we engaged with. I was saddened therefore to learn from the students how difficult it is for Turks to travel within Europe. Exclusion from the European Community means securing visas is very difficult.

On leaving the campus, taking leave of our new young friends, I felt very heartened and hopeful. Perhaps we were witnessing a gradual recession of the educational deficiencies we discussed with Aykut Tuzcu earlier in the week. I mentioned to Filiz that I believed these youngsters – future industry professionals, bright, enthusiastic and dynamic – represented the real future for sustainable tourism in South-eastern Anatolia. I do hope this is the case; that opportunities for travel present themselves leading to experience and learned skills being brought back to the region by this, the greatest of its assets.

From here we went to meet with Mr Halit Kankaya, a director of the University and founder of the Handicrafts Protection and Development Centre on the campus. This was a voluntary organisation subscribed to by some 500 students, who, in their own time produced amazing works, derived from the traditional Ottoman and Seljuk craft skills of the region. Textiles, metalworking, woodworking; these were all very much in evidence in the Centre’s workshops but it was the numerous examples of mother of pearl inlay-work which really grabbed my attention. Mr Kankaya described these as going beyond mere apprentice pieces; these were individual works of art. I think he was absolutely correct.

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Mother of pearl inlay work: handicrafts centre, Gaziantep University

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Mr Kankaya brandishing a scimitar made by a student, background – further examples of work

That evening we went to Mr Şirvan’s kebap shop where we participated in sessions preparing lahmahcin (Turkish pizza) and watched bread being prepared and baked. Afterwards we had kebap outside for our evening meal, Mr Şirvan himself delivering a master-class on how properly to eat them. I knew the Glasgow method of wandering home with one after the pub wasn’t correct!

Day 6 Thursday 17th May 2012

Our final full day in Turkey (tomorrow being reserved for travel) We started today back at Mr Şirvan’s kebap shop, to present him with a gift after he very generously decided not to accept payment for last night’s meal. We went on to Orkide once again to see Seda and meet Mustafa her husband and thank them for their previous hospitality. They are an admirable young couple, Mustafa stylish and dynamic, Seda serenely beautiful in her traditional scarf, suit and designer sunglasses. They took tea with us and presented us with gifts from Orkide’s dazzling confectionary counters. We learned they were due to attend a charity event that morning, hosted by a local NGO and intended to raise money for poorer students unable to afford the costs of their education. We decided to pop along to this event to take a look. We met up with Seda and Mustafa again there.

The event was hosted in a very lavish modern function building (designed by Mustafa’s architect brother, as it transpired) Conspicuous wealth was very much on display here, indeed it was all a bit ‘Sex and the City’ with sale items prepared by beautiful Turkish women in designer frocks and – I’m assured by my female colleagues – Louboutins, a type of obscenely overpriced ladies shoe. In my jeans, tee-shirt and increasingly battered straw hat, I felt like a farmer who had come to make a delivery and had walked through the wrong door! All this seemed to indicate a buoyant economy and large amounts of disposable wealth, but then Gaziantep is another ‘Turkish Tiger’. I wonder now, do the Turks look at their Greek neighbours and consider themselves to have had a lucky escape from the economic mire that the Eurozone is descending into? Reality was quick to bite however, going back to the minibus we saw two street children ‘raking in a bin for food’ as Leanne prosaically put it. She was visibly upset and rushed to the bus to get her purse and offer them money, but they had disappeared by the time she got back to them. This incident, and the contrasts which had just been presented to me, left me in a pensive mood as we set off for Kilis.

Kilis is a city near the Syrian border. It has a population of around 70,000 people. It was extremely hot when we arrived. It felt different, more ‘Arabic’ perhaps than the other cities we visited. Maybe its location so near to Syria accounts for this with a greater crossover of cultures.

We attended a CATOM. These are women’s centres which operate throughout the region under the auspices of GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project) a regional development administration. Vocational training is organised for disadvantaged women who subscribe to the scheme. It encourages entrepreneurial skills across a gamut of spheres and specialisms. This has led apparently to some very tangible results and measured successes in terms of life improvement of the women involved. It operates as a semi NGO; it does receive some central funding for leaders’ salaries etc. This is a highly beneficial set-up – it means they can retain a degree of autonomy in decision making yet still approach the government for advice.

On a daily basis, the centre operates a crèche, effectively eradicating childcare concerns and allowing the women to participate as fully as possible in the programme. CATOMS are designed to operate in areas of greatest need and feature other services such as literacy programmes and health visits. Yearly statistics from these programmes feed into GAP to facilitate needs analysis. Another delicious lunch was provided by the women of the centre after which we looked at the craft items they produced as part of the programme. This allowed our group to purchase gift items.

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Lunch at the CATOM

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Village women baking bread on earth oven
Kemal Ataturk – the founding father of modern Turkey – claimed that farmers were the foundation upon which society was built. This was our final afternoon in Anatolia and it transpired to be the most exciting and interesting for me, the highlight in fact of the whole trip (and that is not meant to detract from a week of amazing experiences).

We left Kilis and travelled to a small rural community virtually straddling the Syrian border, which was just a few fields away. With us had come some of the CATOM women, their infant daughters and Hassan, a young man who was grandson to the village headman. We attracted quite a crowd when we arrived at the settlement and were immediately ushered through a steading and into a house, where, seated on carpets, we were given chilled goats buttermilk. I enjoyed this much more than I expected, it was refreshing and tangy although it did have that unmistakeable goaty odour than some people find off-putting; it doesn’t bother me at all. The villagers asked questions about farming in Scotland and how it compared. Chris’s moment to shine! I hope I did okay! In truth, the whitewashed buildings, deep walls, and small stock in byres were not entirely unfamiliar; this was all reminiscent of the crofts of our past.

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My new best mate! Hassan and me

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Interior of byre with goats and sheep

I was given a tour of the farm, looking at the headman’s goats, sheep and outbuildings. He was especially proud of his fat healthy sheep. I think I didn’t embarrass myself too greatly in foiling the plans of a would-be escapee goat (they are stronger than they look, those little goats!)

Village women in traditional dress cooked huge flatbreads on earth ovens in a stable and we dined on these, Turkish tea and erik, a sort of very sharp wild plum. I showed the elders photos of Wester Kittochside, our steading, stock and machines. These elders were genuinely interested and I felt a connection with them. Theirs was a hard life, harder than anything I’ve ever known or will ever know. Yet, sitting there, enjoying a simple meal in their courtyard, it struck me how content this large extended family were. This contentment seemed to spread to our group. I feel very lucky indeed and privileged, to have had this enlightening experience. This was the last item on a long itinerary which spanned arguably the most fascinating trip of my life, but sitting there in the evening sun, surrounded by a family I had only just met had the most profound effect on me. It was this moment which would remain fresh long after the memory of the others starts to fade.

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