Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13, 2010 – Istanbul Journal

Last night just before posting my travel journal on my blog, I wrote that, for Armenians, Istanbul is “a city, easy to love, in a country with policies that strain that relationship. “ I wrote this knowing that I would feel this more as the initial euphoria of first being here wore ebbed. I wrote this as a prelude to commentary I knew I would have to address later this week or in my April letter. I did not know I would be addressing it at 6:30 am, a mere seven hours later.

As I do not understand Turkish, all I could do was watch the video of the headline news. The headlines this morning were of the meeting yesterday of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. Actually, I watched these two leaders shaking hands over and over again along with the obligatory pregnant pause that allowed the cameras to take close-ups of their hands. I decided to look at the New York Times on-line. There was no coverage as yet. I looked at CNN.com, there was a story on their home page reporting that the Turkish Prime Minister will not support US led proposed sanctions against Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear programs. Embedded in that story was a reference to the Erdoğan trying to navigate carefully to push his point on Iran without irritating the US House of Representatives to the point where they pass the Genocide Resolution.

It will be interesting to see how this colors my day and impressions of Istanbul.

As it turns out, it had zero influence whatsoever. I am sure, though, I will reflect on this later.

It was another great and last day of being a tourist. This morning I went with Siragan to Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and saw the obelisks. Aya Sophia is a most impressive space. This building first a church and then converted into a mosque with the conquering of Constantinople is a most impressive space. It was built by the Emperor Justinian and opened in 537. I was simply amazed that they built such a large space with such an amazingly large and high dome with no machinery. I was thinking that the local residents of Constantinople had to be simply astonished at this great building when there was nothing to remotely compare it to. Siragan and I were impressed even though Istanbul is full of large and larger buildings old and new. There were two other churches built on the same spot but had burned down. The edifice has grown over the years as structures to buttress the building for both earthquakes and to help the structure to sustain its own weight. The Ottomans added most of these fortifying structures as well the minarets, a women’s gallery, the sultan’s loge, and an ablutions fountain which made the church into a mosque. As the walls and domes are being cleaned, they are also restoring the Christian artworks that have been long covered.

I heard there is a movement to make Aya Sophia into an active mosque again. I would love to see this grand building become a religious center again. I will reveal my complete naïveté and total optimism by wishing it could be both. I would love to see the Greek Orthodox and Moslems using it for high holidays. It would be great but I realize the very low probability of that happening.

We next ventured to the Blue Mosque. It is also called the Sultan Ahmet Camii for the Sultan who commissioned it. Silly me, I thought there were three significant historic mosques in this Sultanahmet region of the city until I realized that the Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmet were one in the same. Unlike Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque is an active mosque. When we went in, we had to take off our shoes. The interior is beautifully and decorated with blue Iznik tiles. It is quite serene. Being fully carpeted, the noise is also dampened which definitely contributed to the serenity. The mosque was designed by the imperial architect Mehmet Agha and to me is in a style complementary to Aya Sopia creating a Byzantine/Ottoman form.

The Obelisks were nice. There were three. I thought the Ottomans brought them to Istanbul but they were, in fact, Byzantine plunder. The Egyptian Obelisk, circa 1500 BC, stood outside of Luxor until Constantine had it shipped to his new city. This one piece obelisk looks brand new. I wonder how they shipped this gigantic stone statue in the 4th century AD. And I think I am a logistics expert! The Serpentine Column, 479 BC, was at Delphi and commemorated the Greek defeat of the Persians. The last is the Brazen Column as it was coated in Bronze. It is the worst looking of the obelisks down to the base bricks. It is because the Janissaries used to scale it to show off their bravery.

There is another Ottoman architect of great renown: Koca Mimar Sinan (1491 – 1588). I only saw the exteriors of his great works such as the Sülemaniye Mosque in the Bazaar Quarter. Sinan was a Christian. I understan the Ottomans would regularly round up Christian youth who showed talent and bring them to Istanbul for further training and, I suppose, Islamification. Armenians all believe Sinan was an Armenian and claim him as our own. He was named imperial architect and then mentored and funded by Süleyman the Magnificent. As a result, Sinan was prolific and built 131 mosques and 200 other buildings. He is known as the Ottoman Michelangelo or Michelangelo is known as the Italian Sinan… depending on your point of view. The architecture college next to Dolmabahçe is named for Sinan.

My last truly touristic activity was to go to the old Bazaar. It is the oldest and probably largest of its kind. It is a maze of old narrow streets walled and covered and filled with shops of every kind. It was set up by Mehmet I in 1453. Today it is full of jewelers, rug merchants, and souvenir stores of every price range. I went there to see the place and to buy gifts and a few CDs. My friend Mike Isberian gave me the name of a family friend, Erol Kazanci, the owner of Gallery Shirvan inside the Bazaar. We stopped to see him. Erol was a gracious host. Siragan and I spent two hours drinking tea and discussing the relationship of Armenians and Turks, life in general, and looking at some beautiful Armenian pieces that Erol has collected in his storied career. Like Cengiz yesterday, I made a new friend in Erol today. In fact, I put Erol and Cengiz together as Erol has some antique ouds he wants to have appraised. It is a most wonderful thing to experience this kind of slower paced, get to know each other well, style of business and friendship.

This evening I met with Funda Eresken. She is the contact and coordinator of Bosporus Conferences which is the company hosting the Supply Chain Summit that I am speaking at tomorrow and the Supply Chain Workshop I am presenting on Thursday. It was nice to finally meet her. I guess I am back to work tomorrow, but truly it is an extension of this great adventure.

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