14 August 2007

1870) On The Roads Of Anatolia And Thrace Antakya, Samandag And The Museum Of St. Peter Church


August 7-9, 2007

When the owner of a restaurant along the shores of blue Mediterrenean Sea in Samandag was asked his opinion on the tall towers with wind turbines on the hills accross, his comment was ‘’The wind roses look beautiful.’’ The silhoutte of the magnificient hills are changing with the tall towers as electrical energy is being harnessed from the blowing wind on the sacred mountain, true to the scientific phenemona that has been known for hundreds of years. . .

I visited Hatay (Antakya) and the region twice, first time in 2006, after trying to read a book by Franz Werfel, ‘’Forty Days at Musa Dag.’’ There are many sacred places around the hills and many visitors come to see the historical city of Antakya and the Monument Museum of St. Peters Church, the site where the believers of Christ were firs called ‘’Christians.’’


While looking at the map of Turkey, one of our colleagues, who happened to be British, made an interesting comment and asked why the Hatay region was not part of Syria. After a brief history about the region and how the name Hatay was given to the region by Ataturk and the region became part of the Turkish Republic (after hundreds years of administration under the Ottoman rule and a short period under French mandate), he nodded his head and agreed. We drove from Adana airport to Antakya in about two hours. Along the way, the Iskenderun Iron and Steel factory and several small industrial parks indicated the ongoing developments in the region.

Hatay has a very long and interesting history. The first settlements in the region were in Celtik area of Hatay and dates back to 5500BC. The region was first dominated by the Akadians in 3000 BC and by the Hurris in 2000 BC. After coming under the rule of Egyptians, the Hittites, Assyrians, the Greeks founded the city of El Mina in the delta of Asi river in the 8th century BC and the area was administered by the Macedonians after Alexander the Great’s invasion in 333 BC.

Antakya (Antioch), the City of Many Religions

The history books tell us that Antakya (Antioch) is a 2500 year old city originally founded on the north side of the Asi river by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Seleucus Nicator I in the 300 BC. He gave his father’s name, Antiochus, to the city (1). After the death of Antiochus IV in 163 BC, the Seleucid Dynasty ceased to be a world power and started to decline. The city was occupied by the Armenian king Tigranes II between 83-69 BC and Romans came in 64BC (2).

Byzantines took control of the city after the crusades but it went back and forth between the Memluks and the Mongolians and Hatay was finally annexed by the Ottoman Empire during Sultan Selim’s reign in 1516. The city came under French mandate after the First World War following the signing of the Treaty of Montreaux in 1918 until it gained full autonomy. Finally, Hatay sate was incorporated into the borders of Turkish Repulic as a province on July 23, 1939, after the death of Ataturk

St. Peter the Apostle came to the city and preached Christianity between 29 and 40 AD, making the city an important center of Christianity. In 256 the city was captured by the Persians and later came under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire until the Muslim Arabs conquered it.

Samandag, or Musa Dag (Mount Moses)

Samandag is a small town along the sea and also the name of the mountain where many villages are located. One of the villages on the hills of the mountain is Hidirbey which is believed to have been visited by Prophet Hidir and Prophet Moses, now inhabited largely by Turkmens. Hidirbey is famous for the plane tree which the locals believe started growing after Prophet Moses left a mug foll of water along the path, considered to be over 2000 year old.

Vakifli Village

Another village off the manin highway between Antakya and Samandag and high on a hill is the ‘’Vakifli Village’’ which has been home to Armenians for hundreds of years. The road to the village is asphalt and water has been brought, which had been a problem earlier. During a visit to the village last year, a couple that I had met had told me that the population of the city was around 165 who live in 23 houses. One of the livelihood of the villagers is growing oranges. . There is a beautiful church overlooking the hills where every year in August a ceremony takes place commemorating Virgin Mary which is attended by the Armenian patriach and others.

40 Days on Musa Dag, a book by Franz Wefel

When Samandag, or Musa Dag is mentioned, most people who are involved in the Armenian issue remembers ‘’40 days on Musadag.’’I first read the book more than 25 years ago, skipping some of the pages due to its difficult to understand prose and conbstatnt repetitions. Unfortunately, this is one of several books including Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story that deceives the American public on what actually happened during those terrible war years. Many articles and commentaries have been written on the book which states that fifty thousand armed Armenians ascended the summit of Musa Dag with daily attacks on the rear of the Ottoman armies. When the Ottomans discovered the fortifications, they could not invade it for 40 days, hence the title of the book. Later it was learned that the Armenians were seduced by Russia with promises of an independent state on lands where they were not the majority. The thousands who occupied the Musa Dag escaped by descending the mountain by the ancient Roman water tunnel which still exists today. Franz Werfel later admitted that he had never been in the region and written the book based on what his Armenian friends had told him. (4)

Several references have been made to the so-called genocide reparations that includes Agri Dagi, Ani, Hopa, Ahdamar and Musa Dag. Recenly many edtorials have also appeared referring to the death of Armenians as geonicide without mentioning the Armenian rebellions which resulted in the death of thousands of Turks, also ignored in this book.

Turbe, the Tomb of an Arabic Religious Leader

A white domed tomb sits high on one of the hills of Musa Dag, not too far from the ruins of the St. Simon Monastry located on another hill. When I walked into the tomb, a family from Syria was praying and nearby, a family with many children were having a picnic (Photo 2.)

Mosques in Antakya

There are a number of ancient mosques in Antakya, the oldest being the Seljuk Ulu Cami. However, the most interesting is the Habib Neccar Camii, which was closed due to restorations duyirng our visit. This was a crusader church, that was converted to a mosque after the fall of Antioch to the Mamluks and a minaret was added in the 17th century AD, taking its name from the mountain in the north of the city. The Moslem clergyman for whom the mountain and the mosque is named also has a shrine in the cave that he inhabited in the mountain, knwon in ancient times as Mount Silpis.

The Monument Museum of St. Peters Church

Following the death of Prophet Jesus, St. Pierre came to Antakya and performed first religious ceremony at a cave, where the reference to ‘’Christians’’ was first mentioned. The church has actually been carved into the mountain which is 9.5 meter wide, 13 meter in length and 7 meter in height. When Antakya was taken over by the Crusaders in 1098, the front was extended and a facade was built (Photo 4.) Following the restoration by the Turkish Ministry of Culture in 1997, the church was turned into a Monument Museum. (Photo 3). Accoring to the local nerwspaper ‘’Atayurt’’, over 60,000 visit the Museum.

Haron (Charonion)

There is a huge human bust of Chronian carved into the rock along with insciptions that were believed to have the power to prevent death during a plague that ravaged the city during the reign of King Antiochus, according to legend (Nowadays, people of Ankara go to mosques to pray for rain.) Haron, also known as ‘’The Sinner’s Bath (Gunahkarlar Hamami) is about three hundred feet from the Museum of St. Peter’s Church.

The Museum of Archeology (Also known as the Mosaic Museum)

The museum, established during the French mandate, has the second richest collection of ancient mosaics in the world, which have been dated from the second century AD to the sixth, almost all floor mosaics, with origins in Antakya, Daphne and other coastal sites.

The First Meeting of Civilisations in Antakya

Between Sept 25 and 28, 2005, the First Meeting of Civilisations was held at the Mustafa Kemal University in Hatay where muslims, christians and jews have lived together for centuries. The opening ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Minister of Cultuýre and Tourism, Istanbul Patriach of Christian Orthodox Church Bartelemos amd other relgious leaders. Among the presentations were ‘’The contribution of Relgions to Cilisations’’, ‘’Culture and Identity in Antakya’’, ‘’The Collexctive Living Experience in the Otttoman Society’’, ‘’Dialogue and Culture’’ and many others.

The People and the Votes During the July 22 Elections

We stayed at SAVON, the old soap factory turned into a beautiful hotel and many people from the city and the villages. Most people that I spoke to in Antakya told met hat they had voted for the CHP of MHP, but in Vakifli village, the majority voted for AKP, the rulimng party which is again having difficulty in electing the 11th president of the republic of Turkey.
A country so rich in history, cultute and natural beauty is in turmoils, sos ad to say.

1. Antioch was known as ‘’Antioch on the Orontes (Asi river) to distinguish it from Antioch of Pisidia, located in Yalvac in the province of Isparta, which was also established by Seleceus I and named for his father.

2. Holiday News from Turkey, No. 15, July 2003

3. Antioch was also chosen as the name for a colege founded in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1860s. After 140 years of service to the community and undergraduta studies for students from around the world, including this writer, Antioch is closing its doors later this year.

4. For a detailed commentary on Franz Werfel and his book 40 Days on Musa dag, please visit www.tallarmeniantale.com/musa-dagh.htm

Yuksel Oktay, PE
August 15, 2007, Istanbul


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