A Turkey diary
By M. J. Akbar
WAS Noah a Turk? The question has to be asked. When God’s chosen creation, Man, succumbed to Original Sin, Paradise was lost. When Man indulged in not so original sin he was punished by the great flood. When the Holy Lord decided to give mankind, and womankind a second chance He sent them to Turkey.
Noah may have set sail from somewhere near Sodom and Gomorrah (probably near Beirut if you ask me) but his landfall was on the top of Mount Ararat. That is where God showed him a dove and that is where the animals came out two by two (unless of course they had become two by three inside the ark).
Mount Ararat is in Turkey. By any logic this makes Noah a naturalized Turkish citizen. The world may have been born in Paradise but it was reborn in Turkey. The Turks are good with rebirth. They can pick up a dying empire and breathe a second life that lasts a thousand years. That is how they served Islam in the second millennium.
You may raise an eyebrow or even two over Noah’s citizenship but there can be no doubt whatsoever about the man who infused a new dynamism into Christianity. Paul was only a saint, not a prophet but he possibly did as much for the new faith as Noah did for the old one. Paul has been made synonymous with Antioch but he was not a Syrian. Since he wrote in Greek the Greeks have tended to co-opt him into their lineage. But Paul was Turk.
He came from Adana in southern Turkey (Austrian Airlines now has a direct flight from Vienna to Adana). Most of Paul’s missionary work was done in western Anatolia and Konya, and those he converted created the base, the foundations at the people’s level for the greatest Christian empire in history, the Byzantine Empire which started with Constantine, founder of Constantinople and lasted till the Ottomans conquered the greatest city of the past thousand years in 1453. Those who have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians may know this. Or not.
A Turk was responsible for both the first and the second world war. The first world war took place around 1250 BC when Paris, son of Priam, king of Troy (or Troye) abducted a Greek princess who proved to be worth a thousand ships, ten years of war, two generations of warriors and an epic poem. Paris was a Turk. Helen of Troy was really Helen of Greece. At least the Turk had an excellent reason for starting a world war. The love of a woman is always worth a war. It was a love war not a hate war.
The relationship between Turkey and Greece, the India and Pakistan of history before India and Pakistan were born, has followed a sort of Iliad pattern since the wars described by the blind poet Homer. More or less each time, the Greeks got the poetry and the Turks got the woman. Given a choice which would you prefer? Poetry or love? As victories go, poetry is pyrrhic while love is, I suppose, priapic. Both words are of Greek origin, deriving from Pyrrhus and Priapus, but an English dictionary will do for further details.
Incidentally, while Homer went on a bit about what everyone else and his uncle had to say about that war of heroes, we do not know too much about Helen’s views on the subject. Maybe as a beautiful woman who had abandoned a boring and possibly foul-mouthed hero-warrior-husband for a charming and invigorated lover, she may have wondered what all the fuss was about. You only lead one life.