There are only three places in the world where pistachios are grown: Turkey, Iran, and California – but that’s where they originally came from.
At four in the morning, a strange strummed melody enters through the open window of my bedroom. I draw the curtains and, looking across the blue-lit street, I see a man standing in an undershirt on a balcony with an oud in his arms playing the first tentative notes of the makam hicaz. And then the Azan starts, followed by a rooster somewhere singing the dawn. Welcome to Nizip, where the urban and the rural mix and mingle in strange and alluring ways.
Few or no tourists come to Nizip, a half hour drive northwest of Gaziantep. We wouldn’t have come either if we hadn’t received an invitation for a henna party. After arriving by bus via Antep for a sleepless night from Istanbul, a taxi takes us from the Nizip bus station to a dusty field, lined with fig trees and I-shaped houses. There, men and women dance on de old wedding songs from a group of three musicians (saz player, synth and singer), the women all dressed in long dresses, scarves and gold amid hot swirls of mahalla dust.
It’s our second night in Turkey and things are already moving. Hadice puts on all her gold and ornaments, binds her hands and dances halay with the rest of the invited women. I sit with the men, watch the guests throw money at the bride and the davul and zurna player, the boys scrambling to pick up the stray tickets. An old man with white hair pulls a pistol out of his pants and shoots a few bullets in the air. Curious neighbors peek out the windows at what’s going on, and no one cares.
The next day we have the chance to visit the town of Nizip a bit, 100,000 inhabitants, pistachios being one of the biggest sources of income here. It is an unlikely destination for a tourist. The old Ottoman buildings of çarşı are decrepit, throwing themselves on top of each other and barricaded. There isn’t a single nightclub or cinema in town, no western chains and malls. What Nizip has is a busy, half-Arab street life.
Perhaps a hundred years ago, the people of the West headed East, fleeing the greedy, hectic and rushed life of Western civilization for the dreamy and sleepy East. Today it has turned out to be the other way around; the West – especially Berlin (where I’m from), has become slow and lethargic, and Turkey the land of turmoil.
This is largely thanks to Syrian refugees eager to earn money. The Syrian border is only 30 kilometers from Nizip, and just outside the city limits is one of Turkey’s largest Syrian refugee camps – rows of rows of small container houses and a mosque with a green minaret protruding from the back.
Many of Nizip’s stores are run by Syrians and display Arabic script on their storefronts. You can easily spot the Syrians; the majority of women are covered, sometimes all in black, wearing the niqab; older men wore long caftans and distinctive Arabic headdresses. During the week, you can see groups of Syrian itinerant workers, squatting in rows in the çarşı, waiting for someone with a job to organize.
There is, of course, some resentment here in Nizip towards the Syrians. They say the crime rate has increased dramatically since their arrival, and it is alleged that some Syrians are bringing drugs, in particular, a potent chemical concoction made in Syria called “Fire and Ice” Ateş ve Buz. However, there doesn’t seem to be as much outright racism. Islam is the glue that holds this society together – as in Ottoman times, as in Turkey today.
Hadice and I are staying with in-laws in Nizip. The husband is a doctor, the wife takes care of household chores 24 hours a day, salça – tomato paste – and cut green peppers for the dolma.
It is through the intermediary of the wife that I meet, probably the only German of Nizip. One afternoon, she comes for tea and tells her story.
The woman – Melek is her Muslim name, Stephanie, her Christian first name – met her husband a few years ago in a small village in Lower Saxony, where he worked at a local McDonalds. The two hit it off. She took up Islam, they got married and opened a kebab shop. The husband was from Nizip and they would come back to Nizip periodically for vacations. Gradually they started spending more and more time here, until they decided to make Nizip their permanent home. The idea was to bring up the children in a Muslim environment, a place where Azan could be heard on a daily basis.
It may well be that Melek’s husband is domineering and controlling, but her household chores keep her stress-free, she says. That, and the constant ebb and flow of neighbors and in-laws who come to visit her, keeps Melek active and makes life interesting for her. It’s not like Germany, where you are often alone and prone to depression; here there are constant diversions.
A striped hyena
On our second day in Nizip, a relative comes to offer to take us to see some of the local sites. His name is Mehmet, he speaks spotty English and his dream is to start a local travel agency, showing local sites.
We get into his new white Opel hybrid model and set off. Soon we are in low rolling hills covered with pistachio plantations as far as the eye can see. It is harvest time and here and there the workers sit on plastic sheeting in the cool shade of the trees laden with nuts.
“Fıstık” is the Turkish name for pistachios. There are only three places in the world where they are grown: here, Iran and California – but this is where they originate from.
Currently, real estate prices are very high in Nizip due to the cultivation of pistachios. It is a much more lucrative business than real estate. “The ground here is gold,” Mehmet says.
Our destination is Birecik, a historic town twenty minutes from Nizip on the Euphrates (Firat), the dividing line between Turkish and Kurdish Anatolia.
Before 1958, there had been no bridge across the Euphrates at Birecik. People who wanted to cross the river had to rely on the men on the ferry to cross them. Until the day the bridge was built in 1958. The men on the ferry were suddenly put out of work. Furious, they got together and conspired to kill the engineer who built the bridge.
“This traffic is like Calcutta,” Mehmet explains, as he scrambles for a room in the street, competing with motorcycles, entire families in the saddle and horse-drawn carts.
Birecik is all fuss. Its narrow, steep streets require the use of horse-drawn carriages as well as motorcycles, which are adorned with colorful strips of Turkish rugs.
Narrow, windy streets rise up to a ruined fortress on a limestone rock. No one knows the history of this castle, only that it predates the Turks and the Kurds.
Although Birecik is largely a Kurdish town, Mehmet says the original inhabitants were not Kurds, “but another people, who had blue eyes, white skin and blond hair, had long faces. and did not speak Kurdish “.
After packing some melted ice, we paid a visit to Birecik’s only claim to fame: the birds of the Bald Ibis. From Birecik, these rare birds with black plumes and long arched beaks migrated every winter to Egypt. The problem was that the Bedouins in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia continued to hunt the bird. The municipality has therefore installed a large, imposing aviary for the birds so that they do not have to make the perilous journey south.
We cannot look closely at these particular birds, perched because they are far away in their cage. The best clue to what they looked like are the plush examples in a small adjoining museum, where other rare animals native to the area are on display, including a fun-looking softshell turtle, a lizard resembling an iguana and a striped hyena. . I am particularly intrigued by the hyena, which I previously thought only existed in Africa. Mehmet informs me that he can also be found in some of the more secluded parts of the region, where he hunts at night.
We escape the keeper, who instead tries to whip memories with the Ibis logo on it and set off again through the low, rolling pistachio-covered landscape on a road the Germans built 23 years ago. I gaze at the dry, arid hills and try to imagine the hyenas prowling the pistachio groves at night. The land is dry and arid and it feels like the great deserts of the Middle East are not far away now.
Source: TRT World