Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Rihla (Journey 45): DİYARBAKIR, Turkey – In the Company of Gentlemen, Thieves and Watermelons.

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about the ancient city of Diyarbakır.

There is an exciting exhibition due to commence on the 11th July 2014 in the Chester Beatty Library, in Dublin entitled Chester Beatty’s A to Z: from Amulet to Zodiac. It is a curated exhibition of widely diverse but little known and seldom exhibited items from the huge Chester Beatty collection.

Beatty was a voracious traveller, and by this I mean that wherever he travelled he was on the lookout to add to his diverse but very important collection. One of the planned exhibits is a pamphlet entitled,

A new and large discourse of the travels of sir Anthony Sherley anight, by sea, and over land, to the Persian Empire. Wherein many straunge and wonderfull accidents: and also, the description and conditions of those countries and people he passed by: with his returne into Christendome.

The pamphlet was printed by Valentine Simmes for Felix Norton in London in 1601 and was,

Written by William Parry, Gentleman, who accompanied Sir Anthony in his travels.

Parry was part of Sir Anthony Sherley’s group of Elizabethan adventurers, dispatched by the Earl of Essex in 1598 to help the Duke of Ferrara in a dispute with the Pope only to find on arrival in Italy their services to be redundant due to the fact that the Duke had submitted to the Papal authority. Rather than return to London the adventurers went onwards, having concocted up a plan to establish diplomatic and trade links with the Shah of Persia, and borrowing money and credit along the way to enable this purpose.

On their return to London in 1601 William Parry rushed into print his account of the journey but in an introductory harangue against ‘home-bred vulgars’ who dismissed many travellers accounts as tall-tales wrote,

And as sure I am that many honest and true Travellers, for speaking the truth of their own knowledge (for in the world are many incomprehensible miracles of Nature) yet, because it exceeds the belief of the inexperienced and home-bred vulgars, they are by them concluded liers for their labours.

William Parry was not the only early 17th century traveller to suffer this dismissive fate, and it was to happen to a lesser or greater extent to a far more important ‘gentleman’ traveller, this time from the Ottoman Empire: Evliya Çelebi (1611- c.1685), author of a famous ten-book (five volumes) work, the Seyahatname, The Book of Travels.

Çelebi is the Turkish word for ‘gentleman’ – almost akin in application to hidalgo in Spanish influenced countries or Esquire in Anglo-Saxon usage – and thought to be a derivative of the Greek work kurios or kyrios: master.

Snowdrift clearance on road to Mt. Nemrud

These thoughts came to mind as I waited in my car beside the small ramshackle café-office that controlled the ferry river crossing on the Route 360 between Adiyaman and Siverek in April 2012. I had descended from the peaks of Nemrut Dag where snow-drifts had made access to the mountain-top temple complex impossible to the dry, intense heat of the river valley. 

The Ferry from Hutkoy to Firat Iskelesi across the Euphrates (Firat)

My slight irritation with chaotic queuing evaporated when I took in the scene before me of the lazy snow-fed brown-green waters meandering by. This was the Euphrates, the Akkadian Purattu, the Turkish Firat; one of the great rivers of the world and one of the arteries of western civilisation’s evolution. Kurdish families and tobacco traders with their vans piled high waited rushed to embark, sharing ice cream and excited chatter. 

Looking North along the Euphrates from Firat Iskelesi

I thought of these fellow passengers and the peoples who had crossed and re-crossed the great geographically defining river over the millennia; in pleasure or pursuit, in fear or in harmony: Neanderthal and sapiens, hunter gathers and pastoralists, Hurrians and Akkadians, Assyrians and Hittites, Uratians and Medes, Macedonians and Romans, Achaemenids and Selucids, Sassanids and Pathians, Bedouin and Kurd, Mongols, Tartars and il-Khans, Armenians, Georgians and Turkomen, Byzantine and Seljuk, Ottomans and Safavids, Sunni and Shia, Nestorian and Uniate, Crusader and Jihadist, traveller and trader.

Terrain of the route from Mt. Nemrud to Diyarbakir

Road Route from Mt Nemrud to Diyarbakir

Leaving this Irish traveller for one moment I want to return to Evliya Çelebi:

“Let it be known to you all, that the bearer of this present letter 
from our humble self, Evliya Çelebi by name, is an honourable, 
and a man of peace. He has the desire and inclination to 
be a world-traveller and to investigate places, cities, and the 
races of men, having no evil intention in his heart to do injury 
to or harm anyone.”

Letter of introduction from the Oecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul 
for the traveller Evliya Çelebi, circ.1667
Evliya Çelebi, was born in Istanbul in 1611. Known initially as Mehmed Zilli he was the son of the chief Ottoman court goldsmith and a relative of the later Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Melek Ahmed Pasha. Educated in the Palace schools he became an accomplished linguist, musician, a reciter of the Koran from memory, and acknowledged wit and raconteur. In his early 20s he was ensnared by the desire to travel, to observe and to describe the places and peoples of his world. Most of the journeys had some official function either for the army or as a diplomat but all involved diversions to try and satisfy his insatiable curiosity. Finally retiring from those travels in 1672 after a pilgrimage to Mecca and an exploration of the upper Nile he settled in Cairo and began to write his enormous description of those travels.

After his death Çelebi’s Seyahatname remained in the private library of Ozbek Bey, the Emir ul-Hac for Egypt until sent as a present in 1742 to the great bibliophile, Kizlar Agasi Haci Besir Aga, the ruler in all but name of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mahmud I between 1730 and 1746. Early translations of small parts of the entire work and its very unconventional style seemed to confirm the ‘home-bred vulgar’ suspicion that the Seyahatname was an entertaining fairy-tale, due in part to some of Çelebi’s ‘artistic’ exaggerations, but analysis by succeeding generations of scholars highlighting the amount of detail recorded and transmitted in regard to folk-memory, languages, buildings, administrative practices, and peoples has proven the Seyahatname to be the supreme source for Ottoman historical research.

Between April and May 1655 Evliya Çelebi stopped off in Diyarbakır, while journeying with his relative Melek Ahmed to Van, where Ahmed had been appointed governor and that was where I was also heading, 357 years later, once safely across the Euphrates.

Arriving from the Siverek road I booked into my hotel located near the northern gate, Dag Kapi (Mountain Gate) of the old city. In a scene reminiscent of Belfast in the early 80s I then had to dodge around police cordons and huge water cannon mounted armoured trucks to pass between the bastions of Dag Kapi before turning left to enter the old sixteen bastioned, four entrance gated citadel on the north-east corner.

Ruins of Roman building NE corner of Diyarbakir Citadel, overlooking the 
Secret Gate, Ogrun Kapi from Citadel to River Tigris below.

In the small tourist office I met by chance the very friendly manager of the restoration team. In my ignorance I cannot remember his name but he was a true gentleman so I will remember him as Çelebi, or Çel for short. Çel personally conducted me on a tour of the site, dodging the goats, including the beautifully restored St George’s Church, the old jail and the Artukanian palace in our perambulation. Afterwards he organised for tea to be brought and warned me in my travels in Diyarbakır not to wander too late into the Hasirli quarter of the city: ‘thieves live there’, he said. I burst out laughing, and Çel wondered why.

I told him that on the plane to Konya where I had started this particular journey to Diyarbakır I had told my next seat passenger, an off-duty Turkish Airlines pilot accompanying his elderly mother home from a visit to the city for medical treatment, that I was heading east. He said I should avoid the east because of the ‘Kurdish problem.’ Too many ‘thieves and scoundrels live there,’ he emphasised. Later still on the trip, while wandering around the ancient site of Harran with a local schoolteacher I also told him that I was heading further east. He told I should go wherever I want but to avoid Diyarbakır. ‘Too many thieves live there,’ he had grunted. I then said to Çel that now I finally made it to Diyarbakır he was now saying to me, like the pilot and the schoolteacher before, that the city was entirely safe except for the Hasrili quarter because of ‘thieves’. I’d bet, I said to him, that if I did wander deep into the Hasrili quarter some helpful local would then tell me the quarter is entirely safe…. except for one street or one particular house because ‘thieves’ lived there. Çel smiled and nodded, yet shrugged his shoulders in a resigned fashion before heading back to his office.

William Parry, the so-called "Gentleman" who had travelled in this part of the world in 1601 wrote with stereotypical ethnic ridicule,

“…we had six days’ journey to pass (ere we should enter the confines of Persia) through the Courdes’ (Kurds) country, which is by interpretation the thieves country. The people whereof are altogether addicted to thieving, not much unlike the wild Irish…”

I knew the Kurds and the ‘wild’ Irish would have a real affinity! However despite a real inclination to meet the mythical Ali Baba and his henchmen who had spawned such rumours that permeated across the centuries and the country I never did wander deep into the warren of high walled but very narrow streets that made up the Hasrili quarter. Only to say it is the only quarter in the city where the surrounding and enclosing basalt medieval walls have been torn down and not repaired!
On Gözlü bridge (c.1065) over the Tigris (Dicle)

Around the time that Evliya left Diyarbakır, another previous ‘gentleman’ resident of that city, the far more formal historian and geographer Kâtip Çelebi, known also as Mustafa ibn ‘Abd Allah or Hajii Kalfa(1605-1657) died in Istanbul. An accounting officer with the army he was as obsessed with collecting reference books and recorded knowledge as Evliya was with collecting stories. Also multilingual he spent the winter of 1626 and 1633 in Diyarbakır studying with the various religious authorities. His best-known book in the West is called The Balance of Truth, but from historical and geographical perspective his Tuhfat al-kibar fi asfar al-bihar (Gift to the Great ones on Naval Campaigns) and Jihannuma (Showing of the Whole World) are works of outstanding scholarship.

I am not sure if Evliya and Kâtip ever met in Istanbul or elsewhere, but they did have one teacher in common and Kâtip Çelebi was the accounting officer for the sipahis cavalry to which Evliya was attached. As Evliya had not yet committed his travel diaries and observations to an integrated whole when Kâtip died and Kâtip the scholar would not have been aware of the incalculable social and vocal history, that Evliya had recorded, albeit that of everyday life rather than the permutations of states.

Four-legged minaret of Seyh Mutahhar Mosque

As I wandered through the old town of Diyarbakır, I stopped to examine the famous detached ‘four-legged’ minaret of the Seyh Mutahhar Camii, built in 1512 at the request of Kasim Han. Locals believe that if one passes through the supporting columns seven times then their wishes will come through.

Decorative interior of Seyh Mutahhar Mosque

Stopping to have a strong coffee in a nearby café I and tried to imagine Kâtip and Evliya sitting there four hundred years previously arguing over the coffee the price of a good book or a watermelon. 

Diyarbakır is the watermelon capital of Turkey, if not the world, and the varieties have many names such as: pembe, surme, ferikpasa, yafa, kara, alaca and Melek Emir.

It is certain however that Evliya would always have been good company if somewhat too scurrilous for the bookish Kâtip. For example in Evliya and Kâtip’s writings they both always referred to the military campaigns that they had participated in as the “little Jihad” but thereafter they differed. Evliya, tongue in cheek given the fact he remained a bachelor, called the “greater Jihad” making love to one’s wife whereas Kâtip referred to the “greater Jihad” as his endless quest to acquire knowledge. Despite these differences in approach they both made enormous contributions to Ottoman history and social geography and the streets of Diyarbakır still resonate with that contribution.

Diyarbakır (the Land of Copper) or as Evliya punned Diyar-ı Bakir  (The Land of Virgins) [bakır is the Turkish word for copper and bakir for virgin! the I is pronounced e as in open, whereas i is pronounced ee as in feet. Atatürk changed its name from the former commonly used name Diyâr-ı Bekr (Land of the Bekr Tribe) in 1937, after expressing concern about the etymology of the name] still has its medieval black basalt walls. The blackness of the stone resonates with the long shadows of politics and fate that Diyarbakır has suffered, and continues to suffer as the ‘capital’ of the Kurdish area in Turkey. It is also a city struggling from a recent and enormous expansion with a current estimated population of 1.5 million souls it cannot cater for.

It is interesting to note from newswire reports in the past few days of Turkey’s willingness to recognise formally a Kurdish State, Kurdistan in Northern Iraq to thwart the ISIS (ISIL) fanatical new Caliphate Islamic State expansion, a willingness that is in complete contrast to sustained efforts by the Turkish state over the years to supress any notion of Kurdish nationhood.

Restored Interior of Surp Giragos Armenian Church (first built 1376)

Diyarbakır is also the only city in Turkey to have officially acknowledged and publically commemorated the Armenian Genocide of 1915. There is a memorial plaque near an old historic fountain in Anzele Park in the North-West corner of the old city which states in six languages,

We shared the pains so that they are not suffered again.

The newly-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate with their policy of Mongol-like barbarous terror and murder – previously visited on a previous Caliphate by Hidalgu and Tamerlane – of fellow Muslims have ignored this plea. I have a real concern that Diyarbakır will soon become the staging point for an all out war between the Kurds and ISIS.


Adapted Mirhab to Christian Prayer Niche in Mar Petyun
Chaldean Church, Diyarbakır

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The Irony of Summer

She took me there, and beyond
The forest canopy; nude
Silver bark, and tensile skin,
Pale in the frosted light.
Where Winter’s wide aperture,
Of shorn hedgerow, and exposure,
Lay trampled underfoot;
Cold comfort in the early night.  

She took me there, and beyond
Sylvan bower; fully dressed
Undergrowth, and freckled chin,
Darkened in an exuberant light.
Where the narrow aperture  
Of dense foliage, and privacy,
Has scent and sense surround,

In an irony of Summer’s right.

©R.Derham 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


(It hangs there by a thread, denser than thistledown,
Reluctant to fly, a weather vane that traces
The flow of cloud shadow over monotonous bog -
And useless too, though it might well bring to mind
The plumpness of pillows, the staunching of wounds,

Rags torn from a petticoat and soaked in water
And tied to the bushes around some holy well
As though to make a hospital of the landscape -
Cures and medicines as far as the horizon
Which nobody harvests except with the eye.)

Michael Longley
(Two middle verses of a four verse poem contrasting the 'poppies'
of war with the bog cotton of healing and reconciliation)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rihla (Journey 44): Killyleagh, Co. Down, Northern Ireland – Chocolate and Cuneiform: Hotbed of the Enlightenment.

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about the town of Killyleagh on the western shore of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.

A few years ago while travelling back southwards from participating in a golfing competition at Royal Portrush GC on the North Antrim coast I decided to make to make a non-golfing pilgrimage to Killyleagh on the western shores of Strangford Lough. Killyleagh had been home (the birthplace of one and the residence and final resting place of the other) to Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) and the Rev Edward Hincks (1792-1866), two of the most brilliant Irish minds of the Enlightenment and for a long time I had wanted to see this small town, which had influenced such inclusive scholars.

St John the Evangelist COI Killyleagh

Killyleagh is a small, pretty town, and coming in from the Lisburn direction on the western side of the town you arrive at a small green in front of Killyleagh Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. Built in a French Loire chateaux-style it hosts concerts (famously by Van Morrison) and offers accommodation in the turreted towers. Travelling directly east from the castle along Dufferin Place you cross the A22 and gently rise up Church Hill to the gates of St John the Evangelist, Church of Ireland on the apex of a hill that overlooks the harbour, Sir Hans Sloan Square, and Strangford Lough below. Attached to the church, is Church Hill House, the former rectory built on land given to the church 1733. The current building, where Edward Hincks and his family resided, was erected in 1812. Within the church graveyard are the tombs of Edward Hincks’ father Thomas Dix Hincks as well as Edward’s and also the gravestones of two of Hans Sloan’s infant brothers Henry and John. On the day I was there autumn gales were howling and it had an almost Brontesque feel to the place.

Sir Hans Sloane in addition to becoming President of the Royal College of Physicians in 1712 and Physician to King George II in 1727 also, in the same year, succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society. He had been an avid collector since childhood and had built up a large library and unique cabinet of curiosities of his own as well as inheriting or acquiring the natural history collections of many others. He bequeathed on his death in 1753 all of these to the nation, for a nominal sum to his heirs, and combined with the library of George II, and the Harley and Cotton collections, his bequest formed the basis for the foundation of the British Museum by means of a lottery (British Museum Act 1753 [26 G 2c 22]).

In his will of 1739 Sloane had stated,

“Whereas from my youth I have been a great observer and admirer of the wonderful power, wisdom and contrivance of the Almighty God, appearing in the works of his Creation; and have gathered together many things in my own travels or voyages, or had them from others, especially my ever honoured, late friend William Courten, Esq; who spent the greatest part of his life and estate in collecting such things, in and from most parts of the earth, which he left me at his death . . . And whereas I have made great additions of late years as well to my books, both printed as manuscript, and to my collections of natural and artificial curiosities, precious stones, books of dryed samples of plants, miniatures, drawings, prints, medals, and the like, with some paintings concerning them. . . . Now desiring very much that these things tending many ways to the manifestation of the glory of God, the confutation of atheism and its consequences, the use and improvement of physic, and other arts and sciences, and benefit of mankind, may remain together and not be separated, . . . where they may by the great confluence of people be of most use.”

In a codicil to the will in 1751 he reiterated,

“And I do hereby declare, that it is my desire and intention, that my said musaeum or collection be preserved and kept . . . and that the same may be, from time to time, visited and seen by all persons desirous of seeing and viewing the same, under such statutes, directions, rules, and orders, as shall be made, from time to time, by the said trustees . . . that the same may be rendered as useful as possible, as will towards satisfying the desire of the curious, as for the improvement, knowledge and information of all persons. . . .”

Sloane also introduced drinking chocolate to England from Jamaica and established the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was the first medical practitioner to be given a hereditary peerage and although his personal scholarship was limited in terms of scientific output (A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. of the Last of Those Islands, 2 vols. [London: 1707, 1725]) it was his altruistic foresight that allowed many following after him to flourish.

Growing up in Cork I was always fascinated by the somber-looking but disused Unitarian Church recessed behind wrought iron gating on Prince’s Street – until the 1750’s the street was known as Presbyterian Meeting House Lane – in the city. The church and attached residence was the birthplace of one of Ireland’s most brilliant scholars, Edward Hincks. Educated firstly at home by his father Thomas Dix Hincks – a future Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages in Belfast – he then attended Middleton School and entered Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15. Ordained an Anglican clergyman he left the University in 1819 to become rector of Ardtrea in Armagh ( a church living that was a sinecure of Trinity College). At that stage he was already recognized as an accomplished expert in Semitic and Oriental languages (Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and Sandscrit) in addition to German and French. In 1826 he moved to become Rector of Killyleagh, Co. Down, Northern Ireland and from his house at 14 Church Hill became one of the world’s leading, if not the most accomplished, philologist of all time. 

Behistun Inscription
Kermanshah, Iran.

In the space of 34 years Hincks first published in 1832 on Hebrew and then in 1833 the decipherment of the demotic language of ancient Egypt. He then partially turned his attention to Old Persian cuneiform and with Rawlinson and others was to be responsible for the understanding of the ancient texts. He also turned his attention with considerable accomplishment to the decipherment and understanding of Elamite, Akkadian and Uratarian cuneiform languages. One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing that cuneiform was developed by the non-Semitic Sumerians but was adopted by Semitic Akkadians around 2000 BCE. Even up to his death Hincks spent time studying and understanding agglutinative Mongolian and Hungarian languages to try and establish the origin of the Sumerian cuneiform scripts.

Immanuel Kant

The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone
can bring about enlightenment among men.
Immanuel Kant
November 1784
Berlinische Monatsschrift

Edward Hincks like Hans Sloane, and perhaps this is the true gift of Killyleagh, was the ideal embodiment of everything the Enlightenment hoped to achieve, at both a personal and societal level. He remained eternally generous with his talents with other scholars and even contributed across the religious academic divide in Ireland to the Catholic University’s The Atlantis journal.

His ‘decipherment’ conflict with Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, initially over the primacy of the latter's Behistun inscriptions in deciphering Old Persian and Akkadian is now well documented (see: Lesley Adkins’ Empire of the Plain & Kevin J. Cathcart’s Correspondence of Edward Hincks). Ironically the dispute was to culminate in the very institution that former Killyleagh parishioner Sir Hans Sloane’s will provided for: the British Museum. Rawlinson objected to Hincks being contracted by the Trustees of the Museum to catalog and decipher their cuneiform collection and in late 1854 attempted to block further access by Hincks to the inscriptions of the Museum.

Not exactly what Hans Sloane had in mind or what his will had mandated when the museum was established!

Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson

In fairness to Rawlinson, he had put in a huge amount of exploratory and physical work in the field and he, in very much the Empire spirit of the times, felt this ‘physicality of discovery’ somehow granted him a sense of proprietorship over the subsequent decipherment. Victorian ‘adventurer archeologists’, until the advent of Flinders Petrie, held onto what they had.  Theirs was a concept of finding a moment frozen in time and to get it moving again. That was the way of Empire.

Following Edward Hincks death in December 1866 Rawlinson however, to his credit, was one of the signatories on a petition to Lord Derby to try and obtain a pension for Edward’s widow Jane. In due course she was provided for and perhaps in the end the Killyleagh Enlightenment Principle shone through.

A couple of years later, while standing in front of Darius’ Behistun (Bagastan – Place of God) inscription in Kermanshah, Iran, I thought of the sweat and tears of Rawlinson crawling over the rock to take his imprints of the carvings while back in Killyleagh, in a land despoiled by the Great Irish Famine, a man who had never felt the desert air hunched over similar cuneiform inscriptions from Persepolis and already had solved the puzzle.