Who are we? Where do we come from? What and who made those invisible borders between us? Why do we hate each other, and why do we love each other? What kind of passions and desires are living in humans that make them so inexplicable? These are questions that I ask myself every day. Because I can’t understand why we are constantly building walls around ourselves. I am fortunate in that all of my friends are distinct individuals, with all their wonderful qualities. And here I want to share with you the unusual memoirs of my friend, Vahid Hodzic, who has visited places in the east of Turkey, places that are neither peaceful nor democratic.
Who is Vahid?
Vahid’s story began on March 8, 1988 when he was born in Novi Pazar, a city that is now part of Serbia. He has said that he grew up in a religious faith, where he was taught to be tolerant and to show respect to everyone, with no difference. As Vahid has said, if he hadn’t grown up in a multicultural area, as a Balkan, he probably wouldn’t have become the person he is today.
After he finished high school, he ran away from home, to another, different world, that he scarcely knew existed, to Turkey. Living away from home wasn’t so easy in the beginning, but in time, he realized he had gained more than he lost. Turkey awakened in Vahid a hunger and a desire for knowledge.
– I got a chance to meet with people who were part of nations I didn’t even know existed, hear languages I had never heard before, eat food I had never eaten before. And all of it had its magic. We have a saying „If you want a secure future, you have to know your own history“, and there, in Turkey, I realized that my history was our, human history.
I visited many cities in Turkey, but I couldn’t leave Turkey without visiting the East. Where civilization was born. In school all the stories that I heard seemed unreal, and now I was there with a chance to discover reality for myself. I wanted to see, feel, and discover the secrets of the mysterious East.
And here Vahid’s fascinating journey begins, here you have the opportunity to read about his amazing experiences in the East.
My trip started in Diyarbakir, which is the capital city of the non-existent state of the Kurdish nation. The city occupies a position of strategic importance overlooking the Tigris River, which has served as both gateway and highway throughout Diyarbakir’s history. At the airport I found a bus which was going to the center of city, and to my great surprise the driver of that bus was a woman. I should mention at the outset that I am human, after all, and I had heard a lot of negative things about this part of Turkey, but my stay there proved the opposite of what I had heard. The truth is that incidents do happen, just like every place else. And disagreements between Turkish and Kurdish people are an old story, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t find those who are getting along well, as I could readily see. My first impression was, normal, I didn’t see or feel anything to back up the media’s stories and interpretations.
I took a walk down the streets and found the Safa (Parli) Mosque. It was built in the 16th century. The unusual thing about this mosque is that, while they were building it, they mixed mortar with different nice fragrances, so the mosque would always smell good. I talked with the Imam of the mosque and learned that around 800 000 people live in the center of the city, together with 4 more municipalities with another 800 000 people that are part of greater Diyarbakir. Most of the population are Kurds with minorities of Turks and Zaze.
Who are the Zaze? I had never heard of them.
Taken from the Internet: The Zazas, Kird, Kirmanc or Dimilis are an Iranian people whose native language is Zazaki, spoken in eastern Anatolia. They primarily live in the eastern Anatolian provinces. Almost all speakers of the Zaza language consider themselves to be Kurds. The name Zaza is mentioned in the Bible too, where it means – abundance.
After Safa I visited the Ulu Mosque, which is the 5th most important mosque in the Muslim world. Originally it played an important role in spreading Islam. It was a church before the Arabs invided Diyarbakir, and it is now the oldest mosque in Anatolia. Its architecture was inspired by the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, which is particularly important for both Muslims and Christians, because there is a story that in that place when Judgment Day comes, Jesus will appear.
During my long walk I met an old man, Catin Yilmaz,a Protestant, who has lived in Diyarbakir for 35 years. He was a very nice and polite man. Together with him I went to visit the Protestant church, which was built more than 12 years ago. In the church I met a few people, we had a nice talk, and they were interested and surprised; who was I, how did I come to be in Diyarbakir? One of questions was: did anyone help to pay for my trip, as I said no, they gave me 50 Türk lirası, to have it, you never know.
Their gift reminded me of when I was kid, when guests would come to visit, they would always bring presents for the children, or leave us some money. This always made us infinitely happy.
So my next step was with the kids I met in one old Mahallesi – neighborhood in Turkish. They reminded me of my own childhood. I couldn’t believe that I was seeing kids in this century playing outside with each other, and playing Klikera- taws-. Because today, we in the west know only computer games, playstation, GTA, PES ect.
With my already mentioned 50 TL, I bought a bag full of sweets and went back to share with the children. In the beginning they looked scared. But soon they realised I was not joking, the sweets were for them, and soon they were smiling, laughing, you could feel the warmth coming from them. For me that honest happiness was enough. With that they conquered me, and I conquered the world.
During my visit to Mardin, one night I was attracted to the sounds of music that I could hear from my motel. I went out to investigate a nearby bar. The music that I heard there was the most interesting music that I had heard in a while. It was rock’n’roll, but hell’s version of rock’n’roll.
In Mardin you can find many nations, including Arabs, Kurds, Turks, so the music was a combination of all of their languages. And they were sitting there together, playing it together. It is kind of funny when I think of it, I had never thought to look on YouTube for an arap or kurdish rock song… So many prejudices around us… I asked a guitar player if I could play something, with a smile on his face he gave me his guitar. And there I was, in an Arap-Kurdish -Turkish bar playing a guitar. I sang two songs, one in Bosnian, one in English.
What an experience! When I think of all the places and people that I met, it seems that I must be dreaming. I am trying to put everything down on paper, with photographs, but it is impossible. There will be places and people that will stay in my memory, never told.
After I played, the whole bar knew where I was coming from, and they greeted me with loud applause.
The next moment I was in a place where you could hear silence, there were no people, no celebration, nothing.
Stop! Who came from the West to ruin my silence?! Who are you?!
East! I came so you could teach me peace!
You came to ruin my silence!
East! I came so you could teach me peace!
So, there I was, sitting down with the East. I was observing the beauty of the East, and I let the East teach me peace. For a moment I felt how I was part of the West, but part of the East, too. Then I felt how the Earth is round, and Space is, too.
I attended services at the Syrian Orthodox Church
Taken from the internet:
The old Syrian Orthodox Church is known also as the Jacobite church. After the persecution at Antioch (the Arabs conquered Antioch in 638 A.D.), the Church relocated its headquarters to Mardin (in Turkey today), then to Homs (in Syria), and in 1959 to Damascus. Syrian Monophysites serve the Liturgy of St. James in Syria. The seat of the Church is still in Damascus.
The service was in Arabic, Syriac. One prayer ritual particularly attracted my attention. Hands in the air, in the way the Muslims pray. They were repeating the prayer word for word. The service was attended by about 60 people.
In this area you will see where one of the earliest collisions of the three largest monotheistic religions took place. Many of the early places of worship and the important historical sites are preserved. People still use them for services, and for prayer.
As I left Mardin, children ran behind me waving their hands. I knew then that I had passed my exam.
People here are different from those in Diyarbakir. The culture is different. There are more covered women. Ninety percent of the old people wear traditional Indian trousers and red, black or other scarves around their heads. You couldn’t see that in Diyarbakir, because Diyarbakir is a more modern city than Urfa.
I went to Balikli Gol (Fish lake). There you can find an old bazaar and fortress, the place is a tourist attraction. Beauty is in the old inns, the old mosques, the lake, and a little cave where Ibrahim – known in the West as Abraham – was born.
At the end of my conversation with Vahid he said of Turkey: „Turkey is one very colorful country, where many civilizations began, and through which many passed. A country rich in its culture, religions, traditions, languages, food, literature, music, and art. Sometimes I think that Turkish people don’t realize what a rich country they have.
„The Turks are hospitable and polite, and I have great respect for them, their country, and their culture. They taught me many things. However they are not really ready to talk about history, and historical facts. They are scared to admit, and see the beauty in, their multiculturality. They fear that the multicultural realities within Turkey will destroy their country.
„My memoires are not adequate to describe my happiness. My trip to southeastern Turkey was the first fairy tale I was ever part of. There are so many things I couldn’t put down on paper. But those I have included try to describe the beauty of East. I hope you can at least partly see it, and enjoy it.
„In the hope that I am giving you a point of view that you can’t get elsewhere, I take pleasure in sharing, retelling and writing these stories. Natural, realistic stories, stories without manipulation, stories about people, that are coming from people, and are the voices of people.“
Follow Vahid’s blog in the Bosnian language for more inspirational stories and breathtaking photos.