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Turkey: Poems and Genocides

By on March 23, 2021

by Uzay Bulut*

From December 7 to 17, Turkey celebrated the “Week of Mawlana,” marking the life and legacy of one of the world’s most popular poets. Jalal al-Din Rumi, also known as Mawlana, was a 13th-century Persian poet and mystic philosopher. Born in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), Rumi authored thousands of Persian language lines of poetry, sermons, and letters. His popularity has become a global phenomenon, and his works have been widely translated. As Rumi died on December 17, 1273 in the city of Iconium (now Konya in Turkey), he is particularly popular in Turkey. His legacy is annually commemorated on his death’s anniversary in Konya, and a full week is dedicated to his annual remembrance.

One of the Turkish officials who issued a commemorative message was the governor of the city of Kirklareli, Osman Bilgin. Referring to Rumi as “the flesh of compassion and mercy,” Governor Bilgin said on December 2 that Rumi “tried to guide people through his words centuries ago in order to establish a world free from hatred, violence and arrogance.”

He continued: “Mawlana enlightens our hearts through his life, his works and his teachings that go beyond centuries. He sows the seeds of unity, solidarity, love and tolerance in our hearts and tells us that a world of peace without discrimination based on language, religion and race is possible. The greatest message of Rumi is love and unity, and at the same time, he is a symbol of peace and brotherhood.”

Yet, one hundred years ago, the governor’s city, Kirklareli – like the rest of Turkey – witnessed one of the world’s most heinous crimes against humanity. This genocide that wiped out the ingenious Christian peoples – Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians – from their ancient homeland. Today, Kirklareli has no Christian residents left.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (now Ayasofya Mosque), one of many former Greek Byzantine churches across Turkey converted to mosques, is located in the ancient Bizye, present day Vize, in Kırklareli

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (now Ayasofya Mosque), one of many former Greek Byzantine churches across Turkey converted to mosques, is located in the ancient Bizye, present day Vize, in Kırklareli

Saranta Ekklisies – Kırk Kilise – Kırklareli

Among Kirklareli’s indigenous peoples the Greeks called the city “Saranta Ekklisies” (Σαράντα Εκκλησιές), meaning “Forty Churches.” After the Ottoman Turks invaded the city in the 14th century and captured it from the Greek-speaking Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, the name of the city was translated into Turkish as “Kırk Kilise.”

Then followed the Republican era with the establishment of Turkey in 1923. In the early years of the republic, Dr. Fuad Umay, who was a member of the parliament, presented a proposal to parliament to change the name. The city was then named Kırklareli, meaning “The Place of the Forties.” Thus both the Greek name of the city and its Turkish translation were erased by the Turkish government.

Not only the Greek name, but also the Greek inhabitants of this ancient city of eastern Thrace were also wiped out from their homeland during the 1913-23 Greek Genocide in Ottoman Turkey. According to the Greek Genocide Resource Center:

A report from Constantinople dated 8th of September 1915 stated that all the villages of the district of Kırklareli had been emptied of their Greek inhabitants. From Yenice (Gr: Skepastos) 3,000 Greeks were deported toward Tekirdağ. On the 8th of September 4000 inhabitants from Sophides were evacuated. The Greeks of Demirköy (Samacovo) in the district of Vize (5,000 inhabitants) were also deported around this time. Tourla and St. Stefano of the Vize district (3,150 inhabitants) were surrounded by Turkish gangs and no one remained.

Yet, the “Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Mosque,” one of many former Greek Byzantine churches across Turkey, is located in the ancient Bizye, present day Vize, in Kırklareli. And it stands as a testimony to the Greek Christian history of the city. According to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, Bizye was a capital of the last dynasty of the Odrysian line and the home of Tereus who in Greek mythology was king of Thrace.

The Department of Art History and Archeology at Columbia University has carried out an archeological project entitled “the Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia at Vize in Turkish Thrace,” which states in part:

Located in the ancient Acropolis of Bizye and often identified as the town’s episcopal church during the Byzantine period, the former church of Hagia Sophia at Vize — also known as the Ayasofya or Süleyman Paşa Camii — occupies an important, if somewhat ambiguous position in the history of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture.

Despite some early hagiographical references mentioning the episcopal (Cathedral) church of Bizye, historical information about the building is scant until the late nineteenth-century, when several Greek authors mention the church and its dedication to Hagia Sophia.

The co-organizers of the project, Franz Alto Bauer and Holger A. Klein, also wrote:

The ancient city of Bizye (modern Vize) is well known not only as a place of exile during the early Byzantine period, but also as the home and cult center of St. Mary the Younger, a pious woman of Armenian origin who died there in 902 and was subsequently buried in the city’s cathedral…. Cyril Mango was the first to suggest that the Byzantine church still standing on the acropolis of Vize, now known as Ayasofya or Süleyman Paşa Camii, should be identified as Bizye’s Byzantine cathedral and location of the saint’s first tomb as mentioned in her Life.

The former church was restored by Turkey’s General Directorate of Foundations in 2007 and is still open as a mosque, according to the official website of the Kırklareli Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism.

Turkish state authorities often talk of “tolerance,” “democracy” or “coexistence.” However, in the 1913-23 Christian genocide, which Turkey still aggressively denies to this day, Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians were largely exterminated. According to scholars Colin Tatz and Winton Higgin,

Turkish paramilitaries dealt with the three Christian minorities (Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians) through pogroms, deportations, and other atrocities laced with spectacular and gratuitous sadism. The Turks deployed concentration camps and special killing units; they engaged in massacres, public butchering, drownings, and poisonings; they employed elementary gas chambers, medical experiments, starvation, and death marches. (A quarter of a century later the German Nazi regime would assiduously replicate all of these genocidal methods.)

Professor Hannibal Travis also nother that during the genocide,

Greek men became victims of murder, torture, and starvation; Greek women suffered all this and also became slaves in Muslim households; Greek children wandered the streets as orphans ‘half-naked and begging for bread’; and millions of dollars’ worth of Greek property passed into Muslim hands.

Until the Turkish government officially recognizes the Christian genocide and puts an end to its abuse of churches and other non-Muslim places of worship, Turkey can never be a truly civilized and democratic country. No fancy “cultural event” including the “Mawlana Week” can rid Turkey of its moral responsibility of acknowledging historical truths and its crimes against humanity.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. 

The article was first published at jihadwatch.org

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