Ghost Towns in Turkey
Today most people think of Turkey as a holiday destination with its beautiful Aegean coastline and myriad islands sparkling in the azure seas.
Everyone is welcome and the tourist resorts are packed with eager Europeans keen to get the most for their pound or euro against the Turkish lira. Cheap food and cheap drink attracts millions each year but so does the lure of ancient archaeological sites, of Thrace, Galicia and Lykia. Troy and Ephesus and Mount Ararat where Noah’s Ark came to rest. Turkey, now a Muslim country, had a pivotal role in the development of Orthodoxy with its capital in modern day Istanbul, and Christianity with the early Christian churches set up and tended by letter by St Paul and other disciples.
Religion and history combined to give Turkey its turbulent past and it may yet prove pivotal in relations between Christianity and Islam, standing on the crossroads between the religions of Europe and Asia.
Turkey is a huge country, standing part in Europe and part in Asia, straddling the Bosphorus. Its development saw the growth of both Roman and Greek towns and cities. These have survived architecturally intact in many cases and in some, the Greek population lived and thrived whilst the nation of Islamic Turkey grew around them.
So it was that in butterfly thronged valleys and on pine clad hillsides, Greek communities thrived, living in gentle peace with their Turkish neighbours until war upturned their lives and banished them to the poverty and suffering of refugee status for the rest of their lives.
Turkey records one of the earliest settlements of humans in the world with Çatalhöyük and other settlements being continuously inhabited since pre Neolithic times. Troy itself was first settled in the Neolithic period. Many anthropologists believe that the majority of Europeans developed out of Turks who continued moving west and north to find new lands. The country was settled by the Greeks from 1200BC, falling to defeat at the hands of the Persians in the 6th century before being recaptured by Alexander the Great who Hellenised the region once more. The population of the country grew once more with the migration of the people who were to become the Turks, after the defeat of the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuks at the Battle of Manzikert. These people ruled Turkey until the rise of the Ottomans under Osman I. At the height of the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th century, Turkish controlled lands extended into central Europe including Hungary and Austria and at one point were close to Italy. When the Ottomans chose the wrong side to support in the Great War and ultimately suffered defeat, allied troops occupied part of the country and many regions and towns were returned to Greece to redress land grabbed by the Ottomans in previous incursions. This led to a population swap too under the terms of the treaty, with whole Greek villages in Turkey being told to pack what they could carry and leave on buses to be repatriated, whether they wanted to or not. Many villages, although aware that repatriation was becoming a more likely option, were still only given little more than a day’s notice and many of the abandoned villages bear testament to the hastiness of departure. Turkey has many difficulties still to bear which have had an influence on the population of towns and villages both within and immediately outside its borders. A long running struggle continues with a group which forms 15% of the population. The dispute with the Kurds who want an autonomous homeland near the border with modern day Iraq, has led to many deaths and abandonment of villages. Equally, Turkey is accused of genocide of the Armenians in another hotly contested dark period in history. Elsewhere the Turkish invasion of Cyprus has created ghost towns in the North as Greek Cypriots leave their homes to move to the Greek controlled south. Varosha, near Famagusta is a renowned ghost town brought about by the actions of Turkey. In Turkey itself, the government is accused of thousands of human rights violations meaning that in parts of the country, many people and communities live in fear.
Whilst life in Turkey today is generally benign and peaceful, many reminders still remain of conflicts past and present giving the visitor wistful reminders of the past in wind blown streets, tinkling bells and dripping water cisterns, all used no more and decaying slowly, erasing the past.