Sanliurfa

The Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan are gathering in the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, south of the ancient city once known simply as Urfa, less than forty miles north of the border, looking south, and southeast, where a Kurdish Syrian town is besieged by an ancient enemy with a new face, one seen on social media everywhere these days. Nothing between Urfa and the border but irrigated wheat fields and a barbed wire fence… and south of that border, the black flags, black masks and headcloths of our latest fast- moving plague of wanderers and nomads, happy to exterminate anything that does not have its cultural DNA. Kurds who have retaken their towns report that the wandering “State” killed all their livestock and even birds….

Cat sent me a touching video of refugees with a  segment of a kid who had saved his pigeons, against the will of his father–who finally relented– and probably wisely. After all, the Taliban made killing domestic pigeons one of its sixteen commandments, along with banning shaving, music, sorcery, kites, and uncovered women. A week after they took over, they purged every rooftop pigeon loft in Kabul, virtually destroying the ancient local highflyer breed. Isis apparently thinks Al Qaeda and the Taliban are too moderate and compromising.

The video of the Kurdish refugees is here, and the kid comes in about at 1:40.

Urfa may be the most ancient city I have ever stayed in, allegedly 9000 years old, with three real Neolithic sites in it. You cannot dig for construction without finding a structure or artifact of interest to archaeologists. Among the legends is that it is the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees and the birthplace of Abraham (probably neither), and that it is the birthplace of Job. It apparently was where the Armenian alphabet was invented, though the Turks purged all the Armenians in the first two decades of the twentieth century; mentioning that genocide is still a  criminal offense there. Perhaps one reason for the Turkish unease with the Kurds, today’s dominant population locally,  is that they are honestly if horrifyingly uninhibited on that question; one quite civilized Kurd I know said he hated the Turks for not being grateful enough for the Kurds’ help in killing the Armenians! Though they are pretty rough on each other– Achmed would get in long shouting matches with his relatives, then turn to me with a smile and say “I am sorry– the Kurdish problem is not yet solved!”

 But it is a magical city, built on steep hills, with its skyline of churches repurposed as mosques (some have switched back and forth three times); its minarets, its hundreds of contending pigeon flocks every dawn and dusk, its pagan remnants. The sacred carp pool belongs to Jewish, Christian, and Moslem tradition; in all three, Nimrod tried to immolate Abraham in a gigantic pyre there, and God turned the fire into water, the
burning coals into fish. But it is an open secret that infertile women still take water and fish from it to change their luck. Urfa is a palimpsest of buried and not- so- buried civilizations.

Artsy effect unintentional, light rain on my lens
 I don’t know whether these photos will be sharp enough to show the pigeon flocks…

But it is a city of pigeons. There may be  sixty flocks in the evening sky above, all competing. They even had a cupboard loft in the entry of my favorite rooftop restaurant, to entertain me when I ate.

A city of birds and ruins, some even inhabited…

A city with bazaars that were built before Columbus, still bustling…

  Where you can buy anything from a rug to a hammer to an iron collar…

To a pigeon of course…

 It is worth re- visiting my hotel, to see that art photo of the Ur Pigeon of Urfa, wearing the pigeon jewelry that pigeons have in the Middle East for centuries..

Another, a Mssawad , a breed which I saw in Urfa, with jewelry, though this was taken by Sir Terence Clark in a village in Syria. I wonder if it still exists…

Because somewhere south of Urfa is a whirling void, the kind that has come like a storm out of the desert before, and  flattened many other “old civilizations put to the sword” …

2 thoughts on “Sanliurfa”

  1. Thank you for this. One of the things missing in the coverage of ISIS is the ancient nature of this sort of goings-on. The region has seen so much war, so many hordes boiling up out of the steppes and deserts. And yet the works endure…

    Jim Cornelius
    http://www.frontierpartisans.com

  2. When I first read here of PIGEONS being banned, I thought, "whythe hell?"–then I remembered how other cultures' views of various creatures can be polar opposite of ours. I don't know if this might pertain to Islam particularly, but the tribal area where I was in Tanzania many years ago–despite professing to be mostly a variety of Islam–people there still practiced lots of unislamic tribal traditions and ceremonies, including quite a bit of "voodoo" stuff. There were "good", "white" witch doctors, and "bad", "black" witch doctors. And guess what the animal familiar of an evil witch doctor was? A white dove! Exact opposite of this bird as a peace symbol with most of us westerners!…..L. B.

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