This is the plan: take a leap into the unknown & see what comes of it
22.03.2010 - 02.04.2010
I've never gone on a trip where I have planned so much, and yet still know so little about my destination. There just haven't been many Western tourists heading to Mesopotamia in the past couple decades, and half the guide books to Turkey simply omit it, as if the Southeast simply didn't exist. There's not much information out there, and a lot of it is conflicting. Lonely Planet has failed me, and I'm learning far more from the Turkish Ministry of Culture's Portrait of Southeastern Anatolia, a small handful of Thorn Tree forum members, and the French Guide-Martine.
And yet this is where it all started. Wheat was domesticated here. It was the first Garden. Gilgamesh ruled here. Abraham was born in these hills. Alexander and his army swept through bringing Hellenic culture to Asia. St. Paul walked the other way, bringing Semitic religion to Europe. Anthony and Cleopatra married here. And then there were two thousand more years of generals and emperors and sultans.
It's not like I'll be the first or anything.
Going off the top of my head, Southeast Anatolia has been ruled by Akkad, Sumer, Babylon, and the Hittite Empire. The successors of Alexander set up their Greek kingdoms here, and then it was the volatile frontier where the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines fought with the Persian Medes and Achaemenids, often with the Armenians in the middle. When Byzantium lapsed into civil war the Arab armies of the caliphate moved in. When the Caliphate faded they were replaced by White and Black Sheep Turcomen, Artukids, Seljuk Turks, Saladin, and finally the Ottoman Empire. At some point in there the Mongols invaded, the Armenians set up a southern kingdom, and the Crusaders established their doomed states.
And then came the bloody 20th Century and the Armenian genocide. The Cold War shut down some borders, and the Iraqi War some others. The Turkish army fought a civil war against the Kurds, Kurdish militias harassed and killed the Assyrians, and even now peace seems fragile.
So like I said ... it's a bit of a leap into the unknown here. Curiosity, meet the cat.
This much is definite: I fly into Mardin after four days in Istanbul, and then fly out of Antakya (Antioch) 11 days later. In between there are towns carved of golden stone overlooking the Syrian plains, crumbling castles on the Euphrates, Silk Road inns, a 10,000 year old settlement on the Tigris, two of the world's greatest collections of Roman mosaics, a temple 6000 years older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, a megalomaniac's altar on a remote mountain, Syraic monasteries, the birthplace of Abraham (and fourth most sacred city in Islam), an un-excavated Roman-Persian battle site, and a medieval walled city.
They also invented baklava.