ISIS hates pigeons

Yes, I know; first Patrick, then others, sent me the news that ISIS is now executing pigeon fanciers, some teenagers. I did predict it a few pages ago.

Long ago, I concluded that tyrants tend to get rid of pigeons. Not only are they a primitive form of clandestine, encrypted conversation; watching at them fly above the town is exhilarating, even subversive. If birds fly free, why not me? This proscription reached its zenith, or nadir, in Kabul under the reign of the Taliban, who made it one of their 16 precepts— y’know, no sorcery, abuse your wife, no shaving, no music, NO UN- ISLAMIC PLAYING WITH BIRDS. They killed every highflyer in Kabul in two weeks.

But ISIS or ISIL or whatever the desert plague is currently calling itself, just has to be more badass, as usual. Not content to kill the birds, they are rounding up pigeon fanciers, some under 20, burning their birds alive in sacks in front of them, and executing them.

“…  Have no truck with the senseless thing/ Order the guns and kill.” (Kipling) Which we may have no need to do. Right north of them is the most pigeon- mad country in the world, and nobody ever called the Turks or Kurds wimps. They may have had pigeons for 6000 years, and (Turks) claim to have brought them down the Silk Road’s precursor in carts behind their horses….

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” …

Photoblogging: Kurdish Turkey II: Village Life

Hounds, houses, house partridge, sheep, field pigeons…

 Partridge, called “Keklik” are kept as pets and for calling their wild relatives, which they catch with fine nooses… demonstrated below

 These “swift” pigeons are bred for show in the west but fly free here. The one on the ground had just evaded a wild Peregrine and was feeding on the ground again.

 The Lebanons below are big enough to eat though also handsome. They are probably ancestor to the Carneau, a squabbing and show breed, in the west.

A Familiar Place…

The road runs straight south from the ancient city of Sanliurfa in Turkey (actually “Urfa”– the title is a post- Ataturk designation) to a border, or, in our fraught times, perhaps, a BORDER, like our southern one.

 The land is almost flat, dry, but productive since the dam on the Euphrates, which drowned may old villages, allowed irrigated winter wheat to be grown. The drowned villages have been rebuilt. The people of the countryside are Kurds rather than Anatolians, with a leavening of Arabs near the border.

They are contentious, argumentative, overwhelmingly hospitable (one thing they do is continually roll you cigarettes; once I had one behind each ear I HAD to smoke, but sweet Turkish tobacco is not that bad). They drink endless coffee and not very hidden “raki”, the anise- flavored local vodka. One reason they do not have all that much visible alcohol is not Islamic; booze in Turkey is a state project, which means the Kurds would have to  buy it from a government they do not love, but I ordered and drank it every night in our hotel.

That road runs into Syria about thirty miles south of the city. On the other side… well, go west 40 more miles or so, turn left, and you can watch the seige of Kobani.

The people in Urfa fly pigeons; Turkey is the most pigeon- fancying nation in the world. Urfa is the only city I have stayed in that has large art- photo portraits of pigeons, signed by the photographer, in the lobby of its most prestigious luxury hotel. This one is a Reehani dewlap, with the inked label saying “Urfa Guvercin”– simply “Urfa Pigeon”.

In the countryside, people hunt, with gun and tazi and hawk.

They have flock guardian dogs too, though it is best to get back in the car if they get too close. This one was already starting towards me.

It can be a lot like here. I have often teased people with this next one, asking what part of New Mexico it was taken in. Most think maybe Taos though some go for Rio Arriba county.

There will be more. Strange how knowing a place just a bit makes your perspective so vivid…

Urfa Guverchin

Which means “Urfa Pigeon”. The ancient city of Urfa in Turkey may be the oldest- looking town I saw in that country, and the most pigeon- obsessed town in the most pigeon obsessed nation in the world– see the “links” post below. What other country has town councils soliciting funds to preserve rare breeds? And what other town but Urfa would feature a larger than life photo of one of its “feathered warriors” in the lobby of its fanciest hotel?
This black dewlap– photo taken across the border in Syria by Sir Terence Clark– is one of the breeds used in “pigeon wars”. (Turks and Kurds– Urfa is primarily Kurdish with a large Arab minority– use jewelry too).
The old court in Urfa, near the pool of the “sacred” carp. Urfa is a palimpsest of buildings and architecture from as long ago as Biblical times.
A cupboard loft in my favorite restaurant, with Ankut trumpeters (top and right) and Shirazi tumblers.
Evening from my hotel window, with the “war” flight still in progress over those hills, unfortunately not visible to my point and shoot’s resolution.
I’d go back in a second if I could do it on my own terms.