Affinity Intercultural Foundation conducted its 7th annual Spirit of ANZAC Tour in April, 2012.
This year, our guests were treated to explore the culturally-rich places of Istanbul, Canakkale (which houses the Gallipoli Peninsula), Izmir and Bursa.
While the grandeur of Istanbul leaves one marvelling at both its natural and man-made masterpieces, , its size and population overwhelms the individual. It is mind-boggling to think that approximately 15 million people manage to lead an observably normal life in the heavily-populated city. One can note the huge strides taken in developing the city to make this happen. Many transport projects such as the underground tunnel connecting the Asian and European sides of Istanbul are progressing well. There is a beautiful synergy between the modern buildings like shopping and entertainment centres and the historic monuments that the city houses and that are being protected for future generations to appreciate.
Our guests were treated to many delights, of which only one has gained world-wide renown as ‘Turkish Delight’. The menu that Turkey serves up is as rich as it gets, with a variety of soups and other entrées, main course meat and vegetarian platters, main and side dish pastries, dips, salads and, to top it all off, the Sultan of all desserts – Baklava. There are arguably more variations of Baklava pastry than there were Sultans throughout Ottoman History.
On the first day of the tour, we visited the historical Sultan Ahmet Square, the heart of the “Old City”, where grand monuments such as the Hagia Sofia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Topkapi Palace, Byzantine Cistern and Hippodrome still stand alongside the 2 columns – The Obelisk of Theodosius and The Serpentine Column. The vignettes are mesmerising and leave you pondering about how life was lived in this part of the world throughout the different civilisations that called it their headquarters.
One of the key highlights of the Spirit of ANZAC Tour was the visit to ANZAC Cove for the Dawn Service. This year’s commemoration hosted a number of Federal MPs, which included our Prime Minister. Her speeches delivered at both the Dawn Service and Lone Pine were moving and efficacious in capturing the tribute paid to the fallen. She also expressed gratitude to the Turkish Government’s hospitality in their unique approach to allow countries, who once upon a time came to invade their lands, to now as they come in peace to respect their fallen.
The visit to the timeless city of Ephesus was breathtaking as always and the visit to the little house up the hill, in which the Virgin Mary was reported to have spent some days, was equally spectacular. The pilgrims who frequent the place seem to walk away overwhelmed and uplifted. This area, which is not too far away from the Aegean Sea, was host to a major civilisation some time ago. The city was very advanced for its time.
Witnessing the hypnotic Whirling Dervishes was a highlight when visiting Bursa. Their trance seemed to have captivated the audiences and taken them on a journey far far away. The visit to the historic ground of the Council of Nicea was symbolic of new beginnings because it was the place where the Christian world assembled to decide the theological fate of their faith.
On our return to Istanbul we visited the Writers’ and Journalists’ Foundation to hear about intercultural work inTurkey. We were able to hear about the opportunities and challenges Turkey was facing with its mosaic social fabric. We also had an opportunity to visit the Kimse Yok Mu (Isn’t There Anyone?) philanthropic organisation to hear of the relief work they are involved in as well as Samanyolu TV station. Samanyolu has been increasing its audience base and its services to include Kurdish Azeri language broadcasting. An official during our visit to Zaman newspaper, which is the highest circulating paper in Turkey, explained the current affairs of Turkey and the challenges it faced in trying to normalise democracy to a standard that is on par with the leading Western nations.
Our guests also visited some educational institutions to review how the private and public school system is faring and to hear their achievements, aspirations and challenges. It was a good opportunity to review some of the programs that have been implemented by Turkey’s Department of Education in an attempt to increase the students’ academic performance.
The other key highlight of the tour were the home visits. These visits allowed first-hand exposure to the life of an ordinary citizen in Turkey. Hearing first-hand about their occupation or business, our guests were able to hear what life was like for them during their working day. This, along with how they perceive Turkey’s status quo and the progress it has made to date, allows for true intercultural dialogue, which would not otherwise present itself. We met an array of families from businessmen to academicsto solicitors, etc.. The broad exposure gave our guests a more rounded experience of life in Turkey than what they may have had experienced prior to the trip and allowed them to hear about the aspirations of our hosts for tomorrow’s Turkey.