Sivas: Party Time!

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

I stopped in Sivas as that was a very important city with regards to the history of the modern Turkish Republic. It was the site of the Sivas Congress. (The Sivas Congress was one of the assemblies convened by Ataturk in the run up to the Turkish War of Independence). Once I got oriented it was easy to find my way to a hotel at which I had stayed on a previous pass.

Late in the evening I went for a walk, specifically to visit the castle, which I had not seen before. But by the way in which I approached the hill I came upon two restored Ottoman houses apparently serving some municipal function. It was just after dark and the first one was closed. But at the one across the street a large gate was open, giving entry into a garden. Lights were on in the building and through a window I could see the lower legs and feet of a man. So I proceeded around to the back, where in fact the entrance was. Outside the door there were about three gentlemen who noticed my approach immediately. And, obviously noting I was a foreigner, one spoke to me in English.

It was a little bit of an awkward situation, but I asked if the building was a museum and if it was open. Or some such question. The gentleman himself made an inquiry, then proceeded to lead me into the house. Right away I saw a tray of food and got the idea that I had stumbled into some function taking place. Nevertheless, the fellow proceeded to take me to the several rooms of the house. Ottoman houses seem to be pretty spare, and sometimes it's not easy to distinguish any differential functionality between one room and another. They are open, and ringed with benches and cushions.

As the tour seemed to be concluded my guide opened one last room in which several men were sitting--around the perimeter on the benches and cushions. He made an inquiry if I could be invited to join the group. I was welcomed in . . . . to what I knew not.

Well, from what I could gather from the restricted English of two of the participants this was a mixed group. One portion were, I think, of faculty and administrators at the Turkish National Military College in Ankara, and the other portion were functionaries of the City of Sivas hosting them. The Ankara fellows were apparently doing something like I was, making a tour to significant sites associated with Ataturk's May 19, 1919 landing at Samsun to begin the war for Turkish independence. Samsun was my objective after Sivas.

When, shortly, things got going each man of variously 25 to 30 or so of the men around the room each made a personal introduction to the assembly. In my turn I tried in sketchy Turkish to present myself.

The Sivas hosts had provided a musician, a single saz player, for the evening's activity, which was to lead the group of men in singing Turkish folksongs, a list of which had been seemingly chosen by one of the English-speaking fellows who stayed at my side. He had a briefcase of pages of song lyrics, which few seemed to need. But at one point he held a sheet before the two of us, and I tried to follow and sing along. This was noticed by the Sivas host and favorably commented upon.

At another point my neighbor read a poem; and another fellow recited a poem. I liked hearing the poems. But, frankly, the saz and a bunch of men singing folksongs wore thin to me after a while. And while interesting, the evening got to be fairly boring for me after a while, despite the food and tea offered. There was no alcohol.

But I felt compelled to stay with it to the end, which came at about 11:30 with concluding remarks from each party . . . . including something from me in thanks for being included in the evenings' events, and my appreciation for the importance of Sivas in the national history.

I'm sure whatever I did say was not quite as elaborate or fulsome as just the above sentence. And then, I was out on the street, walking back to the hotel.
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