[Job] (PBUH) meditated in the neighboring mosque. Entering the cave of Ayub made me reflect upon the story of Job, and how the story of Job relates to the suffering one can go through-and with patience-come out as an even better person afterwards. I said the shema
[a Hebrew prayer], did some Islamic-style prayers, and meditated in the cave, and I must admit that it was a somewhat transcendent experience. Whether or not Job/Ayub even existed, it was still a unique experience being in the cave. Adding another layer to this inter-faith experience, I then visited the nearby mosque and saw young children reciting the Qur’an.
The next town I visited was Sanliurfa, which is supposedly the birthplace of the prophet Ibrahim [Abraham] (PBUH), and the site where local and Islamic legend says he faced the evil king Nimrod. According to the legend, Nimrod tried to burn Abraham, but God intervened and turned the fire into a lake and the wood into fish. The lake and fish are still in Urfa, but one must be careful not to eat one of the fish-or you may become blind. In Urfa I also visited the cave where Abraham was born, walked around exploring some beautiful mosques, and climbed up an old fortress to watch the sunset over Urfa.
After Urfa I went to the village of Midyat and visited two Syriac monasteries, most notably the monastery of St. Gabriel. These monasteries have been around since the days of early Christianity, and they are some of the longest-lasting monasteries in terms of activity in the world today. I saw beautiful ancient churches and incredible landscapes. It was also interesting to see the Syriac language, an ancient Semitic language similar to Hebrew that is used in the Syriac Monk’s liturgies, still in use. It was like stepping back in time to visit the Assyrian Christians, a way to appreciate the ancient heritage of early Christianity being kept alive in the present.
Town of Hasankeyf. Photo by Aaron Lerner
My trip was not all nice, however. The town of Hasankeyf, an ancient city that is home to beautiful ruins, will soon be flooded by a dam that the Turkish government is building on the Tigris river. I met several Kurdish kids there who will soon be forced out of their homes when they become flooded. For the first time since being in Turkey, I was exposed to a direct injustice the Turkish government was committing against the Kurdish people in the name of development. I can only imagine what it must feel like for them. It is such a tragedy that a treasure that is home to such amazing ruins will be lost forever.
The culture of the Southeast region of Turkey was very different, being much more conservative than I was used to. Yet it was also very welcoming, especially in the city of Mardin, which has not changed since the Ottoman era. In Mardin I saw Syriac Churches next to Muslim mosques and a Jewish cemetery, a visual and architectural representation of the co-existence of different faith traditions in the region. Mardin is changing very quickly, and the region has seen much conflict and hardship over the past century from genocide to Kurdish revolts. I will truly miss Southeastern Turkey, having never been to such an amazing place before in my life.