From The Holy Mountain

From The Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple Read Free Book Online

Book: From The Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Dalrymple
Tags: Travel, Non-Fiction
(there is even a glossy called Harem; one notices these things after a week in the celibate purity of Athos). The most striking change of all, however, is the rise of the Islamic right, which this sort of thing has helped to bring about. On every wall are election posters for the hardline Refah party, which recently won the municipal elections both here and in Ankara; there is now serious talk of them sweeping into power nationally at the next election. In the meantime many of the young men have taken to wearing thick, moustacheless Islamic beards, while their womenfolk are increasingly shrouded in veils.
    In many ways, Turkey's development since the Second World War seems to have followed exactly the opposite course to that of India. There Gandhi tried to wean the whole country onto dhotis, non-violence and spinning wheels; the result was crass materialism and the almost daily burning of brides in 'kitchen accidents' if they fail to deliver the new moped or colour television promised as dowry. In Turkey Ataturk tried the reverse approach: he banned the fez, outlawed the Arabic script and tried to drag the Turks kicking and screaming into Europe. The result: a resurgent Islamic movement, mullahs being cheered in the mosques whenever they announce that the earth is flat, and the sophisticated career women of Istanbul competing with each other to wear the most all-enveloping veil or medieval-looking burkha.
     
     
     
     
    I stanbul, 17 J uly
     
    This afternoon I walked along the Golden Horn to the Phanar, the oldest surviving institution in the city and the nearest thing the Greek Orthodox have to a Vatican. For in a series of humble buildings surrounded by a modest walled enclosure in Istanbul's backstreets lives the successor of St John Chrysostom, the senior Patriarch to millions of Orthodox Christians around the world.
    The Patriarch's secretary, to whom Fr. Christophoros had given me an introduction, was out. So while I waited for him to return
    I drank tea in a small, dark chayhane nearby: sawdust on the floor, the acid stink of cheap Turkish cigarettes stinging the nostrils, the incessant thump of heavy hands on wooden card-tables; unshaven, unemployed men playing game after game of poker. Outside a man in a waistcoat, flat cap and dirty apron pushed a handcart of fruit along the cobbles. It could have been a Bill Brandt photograph of the London East End in the thirties.
    I walked back to the Phanar an hour later. The Patriarch's secretary had still not returned, but this time I did manage to speak to a member of his staff. Fr. Dimitrios was initially suspicious and evasive, but after reading Fr. Christophoros's letter he took me up to his office overlooking the Patriarchal church. There we talked about the city's dwindling Greek minority, the last descendants of the Byzantines left in what was once their capital city.
    According to Fr. Dimitrios the population of Istanbul was still almost 50 per cent Christian at the end of the nineteenth century. The tumultuous events of the first quarter of the twentieth century - the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish victory in the 1922 Greco-Turkish War and the expulsion of all the Greeks in Anatolia in exchange for the Turkish population evicted from Northern Greece - did not alter this. By the terms of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the 400,000 Greeks in the city and its suburbs were specifically allowed to remain in their homes with their rights and property intact.
    All this changed in 1955 when Istanbul played host to the worst race riot in Europe since Kristallnacht. In a single night, with the police looking on, thousands of hired thugs descended on the city's Hellenic ghettos. Almost every Greek shop in the city had its windows broken; cemeteries were desecrated; the Tombs of the Patriarchs were destroyed; seventy-three Orthodox churches were gutted.
    'I was still a baby,' said Fr. Dimitrios. 'The rioters came into our house, but my mother had wrapped me up in the

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