My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 8 November 2013

Pilgrimage to Armenian and Syriac Christianity in Eastern Turkey - children, cows, food, snow and rainbows!

the cathedral or Church of the Holy Mother of God
As with many sites we were to visit over the course of the next week, our group at Ani soon attracted the attentions of the young children of the area. Some offered their services as guide, some were selling items of hand knitted baby wear, some simply begged; “money, money”, but a casual shrug and smile usually sufficed to prevent any real pestering.

In the cathedral, (or Surp Asdvadzadzin, church of the Holy Mother of God - Cathedral here does not have the same connotation as many Christians are used to, denoting the seat of the diocesan bishop, but is simply a big grand church) we handed one lad a tube of polo mints. He tore off the wrappers, which were tossed on the floor, and proceeded to share the mints equally with another lad; clearly his senior, because he remonstrated with the younger boy about the tossed litter, picked it up and went to hide it out of sight within the crevices of the ruins!


Walking further along the path the same young lad saw some fresh cow manure in our way ahead. He promptly picked it up with his bare hands and threw it to the side on the grass,
where several cows were grazing, free to roam across the whole site. Clearly sweet wrappings are considered less offensive than cow manure!
At Ani - the "cathedral" and mosque in the distance
Whilst in the mosque, a small family group of muslims, female and veiled, asked to have their photo taken with me. They were so friendly. It made me reflect, as so often on this journey, that most of us, of whatever color or creed, simply want to get on with our lives in peace. We all have the same basic human needs of food, water, shelter, health and education. Most of us do not want antagonism and violence. Would that we could all learn from history. I believe it was the Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana who said: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Human nature being what it is, I wonder if it is really that simple?

A short walk away from the outside wall of this ruined city, just past the improvised and very rocky village football pitch, we found the restaurant. It is clearly geared for the coach loads of tourists that must visit the site in the more hospitable summer weather, and it actually had modern toilets in a new toilet block, although there was no water in the taps the day we visited!

As a vegetarian I sometimes found the choice of dishes available severely limited in this country of predominantly fish and halal meat eaters.
But I could always rely at lunch on the excellent local dish of Turkish omelette or menemen.  
This is simply a light juicy scramble of onions, tomatoes, sweet red peppers and eggs, and is actually a traditional breakfast dish for the Turks, who take this first meal of the day very seriously. All the restaurants we visited for lunch could rustle this up for me even if it wasn’t actually on the menu, and each chef had a different take on its presentation, giving me several variations on the same theme. However served, it was always delicious with the lovely fresh Turkish breads that were always provided generously at every meal. I look forward to recreating this simple and nourishing meal for my family back home.

Eating breakfast is an important part of Turkish family tradition. Pretty much the same breakfast is dished up across the country, which I find surprising given a culture which is rich in regional cuisines. Typically at breakfast the Turk will eat fresh white bread, Turkish cheese like the white cheese or "ka┼čar" (ka-SHAR'), black olives, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with honey or fruit preserves. We were to find this basic fare repeated in the monasteries we were to visit in a few days time, served with simply delicious fig jam. After we had eaten well, I watched the waiter curiously, as he was gathering up the glasses, throw any remaining water from them onto the carpets in the aisles between the tables. I read later that this is the custom at least in that part of Turkey. It is hospitable to offer water to visitors on arrival. The glass of water is offered to the first visitor, emptied of dregs, refilled and passed to the next person, and so on. Later in the week, when we arrived at some of the monasteries in the Tur Abdin, we were all given our own individual sealed plastic pots of water, before the glasses of cay came around!

During lunch at Ani a blizzard of driving sleety rain had blown up. It was bleak and grey and very cold and we were glad to have seen the ruins in the morning, and to be back in the comfort and warmth of our coach to continue our journey to our next overnight stop at Dogubeyazit, close to Mount Ararat. There was a couple at the restaurant who wanted a lift back to Kars. Since we had plenty of spare seats we were more than happy to oblige. As we approached Kars where turned left away from that town to take the road towards Igdir and Mount Ararat, our lucky hitchhikers left our coach just in time to catch the local bus on its way into Kars.

So we left Kars once more behind us, driving across the plateau in a south easterly direction, down towards Igdir, 170 kms away and nudging the Armenian border. The mist came down, so thick at one point that our driver struggled to slowly find his way. The sleety rain turned to snow and the black ploughed furrows on either side of the road glistened white with dustings of snow through the murky mist.

The bad weather looked to be set in, and we saw a herdsman bringing his huge head of cattle down off the plateau to lower ground and the relative shelter of the farm below. We came below the snow line again at Digor, and back to better visibility. But the snow pole markers by the sides of the road were evidence of harsh winter weather in this area.


this of course is not the rainbow in Turkey !
Then we saw the most amazing sight before us; a beautiful rainbow arced across the sky, brilliant in all its colors. How incredible was this, given that we were on our way to Mt Ararat, the traditional place where Noah's Ark came to rest after the great flood waters had receded, and when God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant with all living creatures that never again would he send a flood to destroy all life. 

Sadly I could not get a picture of it. 
So in my next post I shall write about Mt Ararat and our journey onwards to Lake Van...

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