South Eastern Turkey feels like another country. While much of the rest of Turkey is modern and economically developed, the South East has been crippled by a decade long civil war for Kurdish independence. Perhaps as a result of this, Sanliurfa, the historical Ur, has far more of a more of a Middle Eastern feel to it. The maze of crooked lanes in the old town looks much more like ancient Jerusalem than it does Istanbul.
There are also far fewer tourists, and I have myself become a bit of an attraction. Its impossible to walk a block without someone shouting hello to me. A man named Mehmut took this to an extreme, spending the entire afternoon with me, desperate to practice his english. His english was good enough for us to be able to converse and he showed me all of the sites and invited me to his friends house for tea.
Of the sites, the most impressive was the old fortress perched on top of the hill overlooking the old town. The views were of a mile of ancient homes clustered tightly together in the valley below. Apparently, the fortress is famous for views of another sort, as well. Several men walked about the grassy plateau, as if in silent contemplation, and Mehmut looked at them disapprovingly. “They come here to see girls.” I looked around and saw nothing but a couple of goats. After I gave him a questioning look, he pointed into one of the homes a ways beneath the plateau. In the courtyard there was a woman doing the family’s wash, still veiled but apparently quite stimulating to some. “He’s looking at the woman?” Mehmut nodded and muttered, “It’s very bad.” “Why doesn’t he just watch TV?” I asked — to me an obvious question, since surely he could find something more lascivious on there. I got no answer, as Mehmut somewhat inexplicably burst into hysterics.
“And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.”
And so did I, at least for a very enjoyable morning. These days Harran is a short bus journey from Sanliurfa. For 5,000 years Harran has been a tiny backwater. I’m sure the village’s mayor would finally love to change this with some tourist development, by exploiting its most famous inhabitant, Abraham, the grandfather of Western religion. It certainly has potential, since the village gives an overwhelming sense of antiquity. Adding to its interest, in more recent times the villagers have taken to living in strange beehive houses (like those in Syria), supposedly because they had no wood with which to construct a roof.
As soon as I emerged from the bus the entire student body of the Harran elementary school flocked to my side. One boy, Ibrahim, who spoke a few words of english thrust himself to the fore and proclaimed himself my guide. I had no interest in a guide nor a choice in the matter and he followed me through the spectacular ruins. Harran was a silk road outpost, and another impressive fortress is still to be seen, in ruins from a purported Genghis Khan attack. “Caravanserai”, said Ibrahim pointing to the lower level. “You know Caravanserai? Camel Hotel.”