The Story of the American Missionary in Ottoman Land
(Verbum Press No.7. May 2021)
The war years are a time of great sacrifice as well as years of great suffering.
These were the years when the American doctor Daniel Morrison Thom came to the Ottoman lands.
When Doctor Thom arrived in Mardin on November 14, 1874 as a member of the Protestant Board mission, the foundations of an American presence were laid in the city. An American hospital, two American boarding schools and a boarding house were opened in the Mişkinkapı (Diyarbakırkapı) area at the entrance of the city. Doctor Thom started to serve the people of Mardin as a medical missionary.
According to what we learned from Professor İlber Ortaylı, the opening date of Mardin American Girls’ School is 1864. There was also the American Boys School in the same area, and the number of students at that time was 37. But the opening of the American Hospital, which will have the greatest impact on the fate of the city and the region, coincides with the year 1880. Dr. Morrison Thom’s main place of duty was the American hospital and he would examine his patients personally.
The first Protestant school in the Ottoman Empire was opened in Beirut in 1824 and by 1886 this number had reached 400. In addition to the schools, there were social facilities such as hospitals, dispensaries and dormitories. These schools were mostly in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Çukurova and Mesopotamia. Regarded as a new state compared to the world history, the USA aimed to have a say over the Christians in the region and to gain reputation in the eyes of the local people by supporting Protestant schools.
Due to the lack of clean water, the most common diseases in the region in those years were contagious and fatal diseases such as bloody diarrhea, diphtheria and typhus. Women had birth-related infections, bleeding, and other diseases.There was a separate ward for women in the hospital and Dr.Thom with his team, took care of patients not only from Mardin and its surroundings, but also from Diyarbakır and Harput. Secondary surgeries could be operated in the hospital, but in larger cases, Dr. Thom was desperate.
The people of Mardin showed great interest in the hospital and Dr. Thom decided to enlarge the building and with the initiative of the American mission representation, the Ottoman State allowed this. Ottomans officially recognized Protestantism as a sect and the opening of the school and hospital in Mardin was immediately after that decision.
The American Hospital in Mardin was expanded in 1911 and the number of rooms increased. The upper floor of the building contained the operating room, dressing room, nurse’s room and women’s ward, and downstairs a large men’s ward, cellar, kitchen and Dr.Thom’s room. A pharmacy was opened at the entrance of the building. Thus, patients could both receive treatment and obtain their medicines free of charge.
Doctor Thom stayed in Mardin for exactly 40 years. He learned Turkish, Arabic as his mother tongue and communicated more easily with the local people. He has become a person loved by all. He lived in the land he came from as a missionary like a real Mardin citizen. He admired the ancient history of the city and whenever possible would go on horseback rides and go to nearby villages.
The grandparents of thousands of people living in Mardin today who lived two generations ago, probably owe their lives to this hospital and Dr.Thom.
The First World War, which disturbed the whole peace of the region, and the deportation decision taken a year later were the beginning of dark days for Dr.Thom and the Protestant minority in the city.
Deciding to take measures to reduce the non-Muslim population in the region the Ottoman Empire demanded that Dr.Thom and the entire Board mission leave Mardin in line with the deportation decision.
However, Dr. Thom did not want to return to America.
He took his wife and went to another Turkish city – Sivas- and continued to serve there informally. He hoped to return to Mardin again but could not.
Because he got the typhus.
He was 70 years old when he died on November 8, 1915.
I hope one day his grave will be found and honored and I want to send my good wishes to all healthcare people who work for humanity like Dr Thom.
(Verbum Press. October 2020)
Istanbul is not only the largest city of Turkey, a city which attracts attention by having an important date in the east-west axis.
Its conquest by the Turks in 1453 not only brought the end of the Byzantine Empire, it was accepted as the beginning of a new era for the Islamic world. However, at the same time, a printing press machine was found in Europe and a very important step was taken in order to reach the people of the noble and priestly monopoly knowledge by hand written and reproduced by hand in scriptoriums in monasteries.
The road from Gutenberg’s printing house to Zuckerberg’s infinite world was being paved rapidly.Istanbul, the city of ages and ambitions, witnessed the re-conquest of two important Byzantine churches in the last month. Just as the name of the Spanish re-conquered the Iberian peninsula as they put the name of reconquista, some Muslims in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia and Kariye Church to be re-converted into a mosque describes in this way.
Hagia Sophia, which was used as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks and as a mosque from 1453 to 1934, was converted into a mosque with the decision of the 10th Department of the High Court (Danıştay) after staying as a museum for 86 years. The historical temple was opened to Muslims again on Friday, July 24, with the Friday prayer, which Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also attended.
After this decision, Kariye Museum, another Byzantine church, was converted into a mosque again with the decision of the High Court and the Presidential decree.
Kariye Museum, located in Edirnekapı district of Fatih district of Istanbul, dating back to the 6th century and having a very important importance in terms of art history with its frescoes and mosaics, was transferred to the Directorate of Religious Affairs with the article published in the State Official Gazette. Chairman of Religious Affairs Prof. Ali Erbaş visited Kariye a few days ago and made observations. Thus, the service of two important buildings in the city, whose existence dates back to earlier times than the Turks, came to an end. It has not been prayed in Kariye yet, but it is considered certain that it is opened to worship with Friday prayer like Hagia Sophia. As is customary in all Islamic countries conquered with swords, friday sermons are performed by sword. The chairman of Religious Affairs went to Hagia Sophia’s friday sermon with a sword in his hand. Let’s see who will take the sermon of the Kariye Mosque with the sword?
Curtains (cencored) of Kariye and Hagia Sophia
I was around Kariye right after the decision to turn the museum into a mosque. As the restoration of the museum continues, the entire exterior structure was covered with wood and piers. The museum was open for those who wanted to get inside. National media outlets were broadcasting in front of the museum, reporting the latest situation.
Mehmet Emin Ertaş (42), the 22-year employee of the Pembe Köşk Cafe right in front of the museum, was excited. “We did not have such a mosque in the Kariye neighborhood. This decision made us happy” he says.
Ertaş agrees with the concerns that the decision will drive foreign tourists away from the region, but also states that all nations should respect the decision.
The grandfather of Murat Kansız (37), who has been selling souvenirs for 26 years in the same region, was a muezzin at the Kariye Mosque.
“We have been living in this neighborhood since 1934. We also saw that Kariye was a mosque and a museum. Our business will be negatively affected, we know this, but our state has made such a decision ”.
Both Ertaş and Kansız, as neighborhood tradesmen, underline that the mosaics in the museum must be protected. Kansız says: “As in Hagia Sophia, the mosaics of this place should also be preserved. Let it be closed with a curtain during prayer hours. Let the curtains be opened outside of prayer time. “
I am going from Kariye to Hagia Sophia.
The signs in the streets that appeared were changed. Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque was written instead of Hagia Sophia Museum.
The square is surrounded by police barriers. The police are looking for anyone who goes towards Hagia Sophia. Armored vehicles are waiting around the corner. The crowd waiting outside is waiting to enter, regardless of Covid-19. The Friday prayer has just finished and the carpets laid outside have not yet been removed. the visit will begin. As soon as the police open the door, those waiting fill in. The historical structure witnesses the hustle and bustle of curious Muslims.
Everyone inside takes pictures. Arabic speakers are the majority. There are people who come with the flag of a political party or those who pray with their children. Phones are working. Some of them connect to acquaintances and broadcast live inside Hagia Sophia. A prayer from Kagithane district from Istanbul is grateful to God while touring the interior with great curiosity. A Pakistani coming from Leeds, England, with his family refuses our request to talk about the re-conversion of the museum into a mosque.
I approach one of the few Western tourists I have seen inside. A tourist named Guiseppe from Bologna, Italy, is happy to see Hagia Sophia and adds: “The important thing is that anyone who wants to see it can see it.“
The picture of the Byzantine emperor at the entrance of Hagia Sophia and the mosaics of Christ and Mary inside the mosque are censored with curtains. Construction sounds we hear show that the restoration is ongoing. The area where the work continues is covered with a giant curtain with Ottoman monogram and crescent moon. It is forbidden to go to the upper floor of the museum. Entrances and exits are made from separate points. The floors are covered with turquoise carpet, so the floor coverings of thousands of years from Byzantium are no longer visible. While some of the visitors go out, new ones enter. This filling-emptying system lasts until the next prayer time. When the prayer time comes, Muslims are invited to worship with the call to prayer read from the four minarets of Hagia Sophia. Doors are closed to visitors, mosaics are closed to enthusiasts, and worship begins at the Mosque of Holy Wisdom. Prayer is now performed where the Eastern Roman emperors were once crowned.
All writers, poets and artists who came to Constantinople and Istanbul would visit Hagia Sophia. The voyagers, who had dinner in the Hipodrom Square, gazed at the silhouette of this large building illuminated with yellow lights from the windows of their hotel and dreamed histories.
In Baudolino novel, which is about the 1204 Latin invasion that devastated the whole city, Umberto Eco makes Niketas say: “Ah Constantinople, mother of churches, princess of religion, guide of perfect thoughts, source of life of all sciences, center of all beauty, you drink a glass of anger from God’s hand and you burned with great fire. “
Hagia Sophia and Kariye, which have seen many attacks and fires throughout history and changed hands numerous times, continue to stand up and be places for worship. What someone calls conquest, others call occupation or peace.
The sword is still drawn in the temple of a city that was taken with a sword 567 years ago.
I wish the Chairman of Turkish Religious Affairs had changed that tradition of thousands of years and showed a pen instead of a sword in the friday sermon in Hagia Sophia.
A pen would sign the guide of flawless thoughts and the source of life of all sciences.
CAPITALISM IS INCURABLE
The Western world and the capitalism had never been so helpless after the great industrial revolution. Europe is fighting its biggest war since the World War II. This war continues against a tiny and taunting virus: Corona.
The virus is so effective and aggressive that it alone does what the communist bloc led by the Soviet Union could not do with military force or even nuclear weapons during the cold war years.
Multinational giant companies are closing their worldwide stores one by one. Shopping malls, considered the temple of capitalism, have already drawn the flag of surrender. Tourism companies, five-star hotels, tour companies, agents, museum and exhibition halls do not know what to do. All sports competitions, including the Champions League, with millions of euros, were delayed or canceled. Banks have difficulty planning the future. Universities started using on-line connections under the name of distance education in order not to lose their students.
Food companies such as McDonald’s and Sturbuck’s, which are accepted as symbols of world capitalism, have lowered shutters all over the world. The glorious representatives of capitalism are desperate against the Corona virus. In some industrialized countries, especially Italy, production has been stopped completely. While the curfews announced have ghosted the whole world, it is worried that the number of patients reaching 1 million will increase more despite all these measures.
The issue under discussion now is: Is the end of unipolar global capitalism coming to an end? Does the world prepare its own end after the victory against communism in the 1990s?
So is the capitalist system defeated for the first time in world’s life?
Francis Fukuyama said that when communism collapsed, “we’re living the end of history” But it was understood that it was not so soon.
Now a tiny unstoppable virus, I think, will radically change the whole world.
95 YEARS of ART MAKING: HABIB GEREZ
muraterdin.com / 19 September 2019
Even those who had never heard of Habib Gerez’s name, walked through his house in Istanbul. His house is in historical quarter of the city’s; which through from Tünel to Galata down to the right of the slope. He is always painting or writing.
You can reach this open house to everyone interested in art by passing through a narrow corridor. Galipdede Caddesi, 68. Habib Gerez lives in this house with his pictures and books.
You can see him either at the top of his computer when you visit him or make a painting. He invite you in. You have to walk carefully in his house full of hundreds of paintings. In this house, we can breathe the multi-religious, multicultural atmosphere of Istanbul, especially the Jewish culture living in Turkey.
Habib Gerez was born in 1926 in Istanbul. He’s been painting and writing poetry for 60 years. Thirty-three solo exhibitions were held, thirty-three of which were held abroad. His paintings have been exhibited in France, the USA, Belgium and Israel; Selçuk Yaşar Museum and Edirne permanently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Turkey. Gerez, making the representation of the European Council, the European Academy of Turkey. Last year he opened his last exhibition in London. The name of the exhibition was “1492 Göke – Sefarad Artists Group Exhibition.”
We know Sefarad but what is Göke ? Göke is meaning:
One of the galaxies carrying Spanish Jews who had to flee from Spain to Istanbul was Göke. It was commanded by Piri Reisas uncle, Kemal Reis. The exhibition was named after this galley.
Habib Gerez is still painting and writing poetry. He is promoting Jewish culture to everone. He donated his house to the 500th Year Foundation – Turkish Jewish Museum. After he dies, the house will be converted into a museum by the foundation and will continue to serve as an open house.
Long live Habib Gerez.
THE ANFIELD OF ISTANBUL
halimiz.com / 25 April 2019
It is not one of Istanbul’s ordinary day when it comes my meeting with Turkish Reds.
Fenerbahce-Galatasaray match was considered one of the world’s greatest derby and Beyoğlu streets were full of Galatasaray fans. When I came to the James Joyce bar, hundreds of Galatasaray fans out there were singing the songs and in excitement, their centennial rival were to watch the match with Fenerbahçe. But I also came on the second flor and saw painted red with fans as Turkish Reds of Liverpool. Turkish derby did not concern them. They are waiting in Liverpool – Chelsea match as soon on Anfield Road.
When they saw me, they immediately came and surrounded my table. While Istanbul waiting for the Turkish greatest derby, I was among the fans of Liverpool.
Liverpool football club has 280 official fans in 90 countries. Istanbul branch is one of them. They were officially recognized in 2014 and have been watching every Liverpool match ever since. They are turning the place into Anfield Road.
One of the founders of the group, Mehmet Can Pulat (27) is a geography teacher. He explains how they are progressing:
“I have a friend named Ulfan Ismihan first opened a Liverpool fan page on Facebook. I started to make comments on that page and became friends with Ulfan. I was already a fan of Liverpool. When the interest in the page increased, we got support cards for 20 people and we had more than 50 members. We applied to Liverpool FC and the club formalized our support group in 2014.”
Over time, the group has increased. Wright now they have 8.447 followers on Facebook Liverpool fan page and 22.600 followers on Twitter.
The crowd in the bar they watch together is increasing in every match. There are also non-Turkish Liverpoolls among those who come and watch. The Ukrainian Aleksander Zemlyk (29) came to watch Chelsea match with his girlfriend. The young man said he didn’t know how to meet before he came and he was relieved to see fans in Liverpool wearing red and white shirts.
Tahir Karabaş, a 46-year-old brother of the group, produces textiles and runs a hotel in Balat, one of the historical districts of Istanbul. He explained how he was a Liverpool supporter:
“Everything has started in 2005, before the Champions League Final match with Milan in Istanbul. A phone called my hotel for a Liverpool fan group. Hotel prices were very expensive during those days. I gave them room for $ 40 and we made friends. We watched the match together. I admire their sport culture. Liverpool was 3-0 while defeated in Istanbul. Nevertheless, a single Liverpool supporter did not flop. Then the match was 3-3 and took the Liverpool trophy with penalties. From that day on, I became a Liverpool fan.”
Istanbul played in Istanbul, such as Tahir Karabas made many Turks Liverpool. But it’s not just him. Players Steven Gerard and Micheal Owen and Liverpool football culture as well as the influence of supporters. Mehmet Ali Ünveren (25) says:
“The love of Liverpool started with the match between Milan and Istanbul in 2005. I was very impressed by the fact that Liverpool was a socialist group of fans, not loving the Queen, and her stance against life. The fact that Takam was a supporter group in Istanbul drew me into them. They’re no like England. They have a very different sport culture, and that attracts me.”
Ahmet Saral (44) said Liverpool was a team of working people like him.
“We are the people who are dedicated to the working teams. I’m a laborer too. My uncle was a student of the Medical School and had the Beatles’ albums. I learned the Beatles’ music band from Liverpool. I love music and the the team. At that time, it was a love for our hearts, Liverpool.”
Saral has never been in England. His biggest dream is to watch a Liverpool game on Anfield Road. This dream exists in all Liverpool fans in Istanbul.
Fatih Kuroğlu (22), a student at Marmara University Faculty of Law, said:
“I have been a Liverpool Istanbul fan group for four years. Steven Gerard’s shirt is the first form my father bought me. Then I joined the group of fans and was more impressed. I’ve never watched Liverpool live. We’re watching TV here always. My biggest wish is to watch a match in Anfield or go to a away game with fans.”
Liverpool fans in Istanbul know all about the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 and the sad Hillsborough disaster that took place in 1989. They know everything about the history of Liverpool, and they are expressing them. Tahir Karabaş explains:
“The Heysel disaster has completely transformed Liverpool. They created a great football culture. The hooligan is no longer for them. These are all good things. Liverpool fans do not create any flooding. We’re like a family. We watch the matches as well. We know our families. Being something different is Liverpool. Wherever you go in the world, a Liverpool supporter will help you. You’re not alone. Liverpool is a different culture, more than a football. I love it and I’m glad to belong to.”
They do other than watching the match on TV. Sometime ago they visited the animal shelters in the city. Mehmet Pulat mentioned other projects:
“We want to help the village school in Turkey. We want to distribute Liverpool jerseys. This requires money support. Perhaps we can form an association as Liverpool fans. Our goal is to grow then in all of Turkey. We reach out to everyone through social media. We have Singaporean, Kazakhstan, Egyptian and Irish friends who reach us via the internet. We want to help them all.”
Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0 that day and continued the chances of a Premier League championship.
For each goal, the bar turned into Anfield Road. When I went out, the greatest derby has begun and Istanbul purely silenced.
But the happy fans of Turkish Liverpools, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” song from the second floor of the bar was reaching my ears clearly.
Halimiz.com / 25 Nisan 2019
Syrian family finds shelter, job in Mardin church
When you walk towards the backs of Gül Mahallesi, one of the central districts of Mardin, a little church appears: Mor Petrus and Mor Pavlus Church. The first thing you see at the outside of the main door of the church is the signboard has been attacked with a paint.
The door is closed. When you ring the bell, you wait for a while.
The door opens a woman named Neli Haddid.
48-year-old woman who had taken refuge from the civil war in Syria, Neli Haddid fled to Turkey.
In 2016, she came to Mardin with her husband, two sons and a daughter. With the help of Syriac relatives in the city, they took refuge in this church. Neli Haddid is now working as an officer of this church and is opening doors to tourists.
“We fled from war. We had no other choice. We came to Mardin, the closest place to live and study my children. We are safe here to have Syrian relatives. We’ve been here for two years and we do not think about going back” told Al-Monitor.
Neli Haddid is cleaning up the church and serving the congregation on Sundays. They live in a small house with two rooms in the churchyard. He does not have a specific salary. They live with help made. Haddid’s husband Sami Hannush is in Mardin and he is working temporarily jobs. Neli Haddid has two sons, one daughter. Her one daughter was married to a Turkish man. One of his sons is studying in college. The other is trying to go Europe. But she says, it’s not easy.
“Nobody gets us into citizenship,” she says. “If you are an engineer, a doctor or an artist or if you have a lot of money, you can go to Europe. But if none of them are, it’s imposible” says Haddid.
Mor Petrus / Mor Pavlus Church is the last church built in Mardin, 1914. After the date no other church was built in Mardin.
The church has a community of 50 people consisting entirely of Syriac Orthodox. Haddid knows all.
There were other Syrian Syrians who took refuge in Syriac churches in Mardin when immigration was intense. The churches have helped these refugees. But in time, these asylum-seekers have gone elsewhere. For example, some Syrian Syrians who had escaped to Istanbul took refuge in the guesthouse of Syriac Church in Samatya.
Gabriel Akyüz, the Assyrian Kadim Church Pastor in Mardin, explained that “when migration was intense, about 250 of the churches were abandoned and they helped them with their hands.”
“We have both placed our churches and provided financial assistance. We used the money belonging to the church foundation. We’ve handed out aids from some organizations. Some Syrians sleeped in the garden of the church.”
Akyüz says most of the Syriac asylum-seekers from Mardin emigrated to Europe:
“They used Mardin as a base. Many left, a few families left behind. The Haddid family is one of them. We continue to host them in the church house. If they want to stay, they can stay. “
Mehmet Baran, Former Vice-President of the Municipality of Mardin said: “The Syrians who passed the border in the first years of immigration came to the churches here. They received help from both the church and the Turkish Government. But it is not much left anymore” told Al-Monitor.
There are about 20 churches in Mardin. It seems that no one has lived in the church outside the Haddid family.
In Mardin, the contact centers opened for Turkish migrants by the Turkish government are not old. Unskilled migrants scattered in various provinces of Turkey. Most want citizenship but can not.
Mardin is trying to reduced the immigration waves to through to the common values of Mesopotamia; which makes itself a neighbor with Syria.
After even 7 years of the civil war began.
Iranian painter’s mouthless women speak volumes at Istanbul exhibition
We are on the second floor of an exhibition hall in Nişantaşı, one of the expensive districts of Istanbul. There is a new exhibition which is women figures are welcome to enter. These are not ordinary female pictures. Sensored her mouths and eyes closed with a veil. Some of them have no face. We see the most striking examples of Iranian female artist Maryam Salahi’s exhibition: “IDs Please”. I ask first of all why the mouths and eyes of the women are closed. “Because in our societies women speaks little. It is preferable to be so. People doesn’t want to speaking woman. But there is a volcano inside the silent women so that a killer will come out of it. This is the real situation in Middle East. Women lives under pressure. I also show it in my pictures” she says. Maryam Salahi living in Istanbul for 11 years. Currently, she is educating her doctorate at Yeditepe University. The doctorate is about identity. Subject: “Art pieces made and evaluated on common values (religion, language, race and identity) after the 70s.” “The Turks and the Iranians do not feel free in their own countries. So we have an identity problem” she says. “Iran is desperate case. In Turkey there are other kinds of problems. Can you write them? All unhappy people wants to flee to the Western countries. They are both angry at the West and want to settle in the West. No one is honest. ” Salahi beleives that religion and state affairs must be separated completely in Middle East countries to find their own characters and independent identities: “First, religious and state affairs must be completely separated from each other in Middle East. The President or the Prime Minister is not a prophet but an officer. Countries would not governed by the laws of religion. Technology developed so much, religion should not be spaced in your life. We do not live in the times of the Prophet. If there was no mullah regime in Iran, my country would be a very different country, even superpower. ” Maryam Salah was applied in order to receive citizenship from Turkey. But she’s still waiting. Everywhere she goes, she is bothered to ask herself “ID please”. This is another reason why the exhibition called “IDs please”: “I am still waiting to being a Turkish citizen. There is no priority to artists in Turkey. You will either get married or make big investments. Thats why the name of my exhibition “IDs please.” Whenever I go, people ask my identity, while renting a house or doing any business. But I do not care anymore. ” Salahi’s style is liked by observers. Painter and art consultant Figen Batı says she is a good expressionist: “Salahi is a powerful and dominant character. She expresses her dominant direction with her colors and brushes. You can see the troubles in his paintings. As an Iranian female artist, she made these paintings because everything is a life that goes on through identities. Our identities are not a piece of paper. It is something that needs to be put into question by much questioning. Incoming audiences like it too. Maryam Salahi reflects the Middle East identity crisis of its peoples. ” Journalist Özgur Yüce, who is visiting the exhibition, emphasies Salahi’s search for freedom: “There are serious prohibitions on painting in Iran and Salahi emphasizes this with paintings hidden under the canvas. There is a style that tries to tear a certain censor and tries to get out of the canvas. I interpret it as a rebellion. In general, there are censored women in the table, there are silhouettes. I see emotions hidden in the result of an artist who came here from Iran.” Before I left the exhibition hall, I asked Maryam Salahi ‘When will the women in the Middle East have their own identity?’ She looks desperate: “I wish I could have such a hope. May be if we reach an atmosphere where religion and politics are separated. We will have freedom when our people, educated, uneducated, peasant and urban people could understand it. Europe made it 500 years ago and was liberated. Whenever we do this, we can succeed if we distinguish between religion and state affairs. If we can do this, we will real owner of Middle East oils.” Salahi’s exhibition will remain open until 5th February at F Art Gallery.
Always the Champion: Turks pay homage to favourite race horse
Murat Erdin / Al Monitor / 9 January 2019
English racing horse Bold Pilot was a champion of the racetracks in Turkey, died in 2015. But he continues to be remembered as a movie star in Turkey.
“Horse, gun and wife,”goes a Turkish proverb, outlining the three essentials for a man. Horses have an exceptional place in Turkish culture, starting from the heritage of their nomadic ancestors from the Central Asia who passed a good part of their lives on horseback and slept on the saddle. One of the ancient sport, called Jareed – throwing long poles while on horseback – remained the ultimate demonstrations of agility, courage and sportsmanship for centuries.
Modern Turks, however, prefer the racetrack for showing their love of horse. According to the Turkish Jockey Club, there are about 4,000 licensed horse riders in Turkey, six thousand horse owners, 1,500 horse breeders and 700 jockeys.
The story of a record-breaking race horse, called “Our Champion” has now become a major film that has drawn in 1.6 million viewers since it came on the vision Dec. 7.
The film, directed by Ahmet Katiksiz, revolves around Bold Pilot, a thoroughbred born in 1993 and its racing career – as well as that of its famous jockey, Halis Karatas. A year after Bold Pilot started racing – it won Turkey’s most famous horse race, Gazi, with a record of 2.26.22. The record – still unbroken today – made Bold Pilot, or Boldie, one of the legends of the racetrack and a favourite of bets in the country for the next four years.
The film shows how Halis Karatas, an ambitious young man from the poor central Anatolian city of Sivas, manages to tame and develop a relationship with the this unusual horse, who hates rainy weather, short exercises and eventually, refuses to be mounted by anyone except Karatas his young jockey.
“He had incredible character. When he was taken to the race tracks, he would hate it if there was any noise – including applause – as he approached the start line. His fans would try to stop any noise, so he would not get nervous. Even those who had nothing to do with horse racing had heard the nema Bold Pilot – he was the star of the show, a true diva,” Karatas told in an interview with the Hurriyet newspapers in November 2018, shortly before the movie came out.
The film also focuses on the love affair with the poor jockey from Anatolia and the daughter of the horse’s wealthy owner, Ozdemir Atman. The diagnosis of Begum Atman, played by buoyant Farah Zeynep Abdullah, with cancer introduces a sense of tragedy to the movie, but for most part, the film is mainly an optimistic one. It shows how huge masses of people are moved by the success of this racehorse.
“1990s were a period of change in Turkey,” Hakan Cantinaz, the editor of Tay TV, a chain specialized in horse-racing, said in a 2018 documentary on the Bold Pilot. “People wanted something that would give them hope, something that would excite them, something that would unite them. Bold Pilot was a national symbol, everyone cheered for him.”
The winning streak of Bold Pilot continued but he had an accident that affected his hind leg in 1998 and he stopped racing. But after 15 years, the champion came to the Veliefendi Hippodrome for one last symbolic run.
“This was the first – and possibly the last- jubilee for a horse. When we arrived at the race track, thousands of people gave it a standing ovation and Boldie was aware of everything,” said Karatas.
Bold Pilot has died two years later – he was buried in the Atman-Karataş Farm in the Kaynarca district of Sakarya, east of Istanbul, where Karatas still visits.
Making the movie was not easy. “We had no experience in making a film about a racehorse,” explained Katiksiz. “We bought thirty racehorses for the film. Their training alone took four months.”
“I like the film,” said Zuhal Ersoy, 39, who watched the film in a cinema in Istanbul. “The horses are a person’s best friend.”
It was equally liked by animal rights associations. Adem Gunduz, the president pf Animal Protection, Survival and Rehabilitation Association (DOST), told Al-Monitor, “Turks love films about animals. In the past, films and series about Lassie, the dog, or Flipper, the dolphin, had been very popular. Most of the Turkish people love animals and also likes animal-themed movies.”
“For us, it is very nice that the film about Boldie was a success- as it demonstrated the love people had for that horse. I hope it becomes the top of the office box,” he said.