It’s Xmas day 2022. The world, irrespective of faith inclinations, is in the year-end and new-year festive mood. With due respect, Turkey culture has a lot to discover around this season. Imagine, even the famous Father Christmas, Santa Claus, was born there in the south of Turkey where he is referred to as Noel Baba in Turkish with all the fun that accompanies this now global phenomenon.
Incidentally, when I was winding up this analysis, a report arrived on my desk quoting the president of the Antalya Cultural Heritage Preservation Regional Board, Prof. Dr. Osman Eravsur, making a shocking revelation that finally scientists might have discovered the real tomb where Santa Claus is actually buried beneath the floor of a church in Turkey. What a worthy 2022 Xmas present?
But, may be worth a mention at this juncture for the unfamiliar is the unique traditional way in which this essentially Muslim country literally ‘celebrates’ the Xmas Day world-famed “Noel”, on the New Year’s eve and the fact that despite the central role of Constantinople (the present Istanbul) in the spread of Christianity, which is not a subject matter of this analysis, Xmas remains just a normal working day in Turkey.
There is indeed a lot to decipher about the Turkey-Christmas links, without forgetting the turkey meat dish delicacy. But this year’s (2022) Xmas had more than what meets the eye of a cultural lover –something demanding deeper scrutiny. Two stories landed on my desk. One from Turkey about peaceful, carols-packed midnight and early morning church services and another from France about street unrest after three people were gunned down at a Kurdish cultural centre in central Paris. And both centered around Xmas.
This sent my mind wandering and wondering. I imagined: “Suppose the stories would have come without a dateline. And I was asked to assign one to every event, one report from southeast Turkey (the land of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party — PKK) and another from Paris, (the historical nucleus of every socio, political economic renaissance), what could have possibly been my answer? Chances are, I would have assigned unrest to Turkey dateline and carols to France.
But alas; the stories just turned out to confirm the wisdom behind two African indigenous knowledge cautions: “Ow’otakiha niwe akikora” – translated, it is the person, whom you don’t suspect, who does it; and “ak’ogaya niko kabutosa” warning against human disrespect to the bee which is the maker of the unmatched sweet honey.
“With prayers for world peace, Turkey’s Christians celebrate Christmas”, said headlines from the media across the country. The stories reported on “…services praying for unity, solidarity and world peace. Hymns and prayers (being recited) in Syriac and Turkish. In Istanbul, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew led the mass on Sunday which started early in the morning at the Hagia Yorgi Church in the patriarchate’s garden. In addition to Greeks living in Turkey, people from other countries also showed interest in the ritual in which candles were lit, prayers were offered and hymns were sung.”
The country’s northwestern province of Edirne was another scene where Christmas was celebrated with rituals and prayers. Christians living in Bulgaria and Edirne attended the mass held at the Sveti Georgi Church in the Barutluk neighbourhood. The participants prayed for tranquility and peace for all as well as friendship and fraternity among people.
At this point in my reading, I wished Turkish moral philosopher Said Nursi were around to hear about his people distinguish between peace and tranquility. I knew Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen living in exile in the US would sigh with relief to learn about his people back home coming to a stage of drawing the narrow line between friendship and fraternity. That they had come to grips with the fact that sympathy had to go an extra mile to enter the arena of empathy in order to deliver community goods efficiently.
Then I read something sounding like a miracle. “Meanwhile”, says a story, “people also gathered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin. Rituals were held in the historical churches in central Artuklu and Midyat districts of the province.” Of all things, “the service prayed for unity, solidarity and world peace. Later hymns and prayers were recited in Syriac and Turkish, while those who attended the service were blessed. Participants underscored that wars and intolerance damage humanity adding that love, peace and solidarity must be strengthened among people along with world peace and tranquility.”
“…The southeastern Hatay province was another province where people from different ethnicities and religious beliefs live in solidarity also celebrated Christmas. Hatay is the city of fraternity and friendship for centuries. Participants stressed and said they wish the city would set an example for the whole world. Christmas was also celebrated in another southeastern province of Diyarbakir in the Church of the Virgin Mary (very central to Xmas) in the historical Sur district. Sweets were distributed at the end of the ceremony where the Syriacs lit candles and made wishes.” Residents of this area literally have nothing left to share in terms of national welfare. For about four decades, war is all they have known. Imagine the congregation of that kind on that kin d of day sharing sweets!!
This sort of summarizes the needs of the majority of the people residing in this part of Turkey, which has been a bone of contention for the country’s politics, and more so under the grip of President Erdogan. The Human Rights Solidarity could not have put it better this Xmas when it said: “Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in power since 2003. Torture and ill-treatment have risen during his time, with prisons filled with political opponents and journalists. He has used refugees and asylum seekers as weapons against Europe….”
And what was President Erdogan’s response? “In line with the values of the civilization to which we belong, we consider the existence of different religions and culture as a richness. This understanding which is the basis of the peace and security, unity and solidarity of our nation is our most important power that will enable us to live together peacefully in the future.” In his own words, he said. “I hope that the Christmas, which our Christian citizens celebrate in accordance with their faith will further reinforce the climate of solidarity.”
If anything, Erdogan’s words reinforce what Istanbul Christians gathered at St. Anthony of Padua Church for. Namely, “to offer prayers for the safety of their loved ones.” This rings the bell of operations against people affiliated with the Gulen Movement which are used to create a sense of security threat to crystalize public support around President Erdogan. This is done through an application of Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent – the laws that I had chance to refer to as not vague but rather diabolic.
Images from Paris showed participants wearing jerseys with the face of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan gathering to take part in a tribute to three Kurds killed by a gunman on the Xmas eve. “This is PKK in France”, Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin tweeted, posting images of overturned and burning cars in Paris. “The same terrorist organization you support in Syria”, he wrote in an apparent reference to the YPG, which Turkey takes as an offshoot of PKK.
One thing worth raising an eye brow at in respect of Kalin’s statement is: “Why have the people of Kurd origin taken refuge or sought asylum in France? Isn’t it because the Erdogan regime has refused to take the peaceful negotiation path and instead held on to the Roman imperial pattern of ‘Si vis pacem para bellum’ meaning if you want peace prepare war? The bullet can only spill blood, which is directly opposed to the peace and solidarity climate the Erdogan regime dreams of.
In essence, who is responsible for the problems of the Kurds at home, internally displaced or in exile? PKK or Erdogan or both? Pegged on the around 2022Xmas events in Paris, could the Turkish foreign ministry have been right in summoning the French ambassador in Ankara over what it called “anti-Turkey propaganda”, alleging French officials did little to stop the killing …?