Trip to Turkey was an eye-opening experience

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This week I give you a taste of Turkey. No, it’s not the large tasty bird of Thanksgiving and other occasions. I am talking about the country of Turkey.  I cannot fully share this eight-day Turkey experience in these few paragraphs. All I can do is give you a taste of Turkey in no particular order.

The first taste was seeing Staff of Moses, the Sword of David, the Turban of Joseph, the Bowl of Abraham and the Footprint of Mohammed, relics from five of the most memorable religious leaders. It was very moving.

The second taste is the historical places of Istanbul, a city of more than 14 million, which left a deep mark on my mind. The Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the underground Basilica Cistern, and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora were just a few. The power of religious art was evident in each.

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The third taste is the hundreds of small hotels with 15 -25 rooms. It was revealing. Each one was a cross between hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. I immediately saw the tourist possibilities for the Alabama Black Belt and other rural areas.

The fourth taste of Turkey is Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern, built by the Romans to provide water for tens of thousands. It was a stunning marvel.

For my fifth taste of Turkey, I give you the City of Ankara, the capitol of Turkey with a population of 4.5 million located in the nation’s interior. It was so different from Istanbul, which is located on the coast and surrounded by the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea and divided by the Bosphorus Strait. Turkey has a population of 75 million, 99 percent of whom are Muslims. However, we saw very few women with their heads covered throughout our journeys.

The sixth taste is the workshop of the Ankara Bar Association’s eighth International Law Congress, where Faya Rose Toure’ presented on “Children are Precious: Justice for Children.” It was informative and moving.

The seventh taste was a workshop where the journalist Mustafa Balbay made a very interesting presentation. He had been in jail for five years just for writing about certain governmental and political activities. It was another glimpse of Turkey’s legal system.

The eighth taste was my presentation on the opening day of the Law Congress. It took the form of a one-and-a half hour interview before a sizeable audience. It included a thoughtful question-and-answer session from a moderator and audience and was followed by the Law Congress’ Gala where we visited with more Turkish and international leaders one-on-one.

The ninth taste is the Bazaar of Istanbul, a market where 27,000 people work and up to 400,000 shop each day, is a unique experience.

For the 10th taste, I present dinners with Turkish food, song, music and dance are a hallmark of Turkish hospitality. We did not understand the culture so we ate too much from the initial plate that had seven different foods. It turned out to be just the first of multiple courses. Faya Rose danced and danced. I watched and watched.

The ninth taste is when we enjoyed a special visit to the home of Mehmet Beyazit Boran, a retired Turkish judge who had increased the rights of women with his decisions. The conversation and traditional Turkish food were great. His daughter will soon graduate from the University of Virginia Law School, and he and she may visit us in Selma.

The 12th taste is geography. The country, located on two continents – Asia and Europe – has such varied and unique geography. Turkey is bordered by eight countries – Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is bordered by four seas – the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

The 13th taste is the history that comprises the country. The rich history of Turkey includes the Hittites, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Ottomans and many others.

For the 14th taste, I present hospitality. The hospitality of the Ankara Bar Association in general and Gökhan Candoian, Esin Btak and Deniz Ozasalon in particular was exemplary. Turkey was such a rich experience, and they made it even richer. The young attorneys who were involved throughout the Congress were also incredibly helpful and impressive. A delegation from Turkey visited Selma last year. Faya Rose and I, as well as attorney Sharon Wheeler and her mother Carolyn Wheeler. They were invited to the 8th International Law Congress as a result of that visit.

The 15th taste is the region of Cappadocia, with its magnificent natural rock wonders and early Christian history. It was a sight to behold and experience.

These tastes of Turkey that I have shared are just little appetizers.

Perhaps I will share the full meal with some of you in the coming days. There is nothing like seeing for oneself.

The reality of Turkey was so different from what I had read, heard and observed. Come to think of it, that is not just true of countries and nationalities, but individuals as well.