23 March 2009

Frederick Burnaby, Greeks, Armenians, old cemeteries and snails, of course

Frederick Burnaby was definitely a crazy chap; would a sane person with no obligations—unless he was spying on the Ottomans under orders from the British Government, travel on horseback in the dead of the winter of 1876 from Istanbul all the way to Iran and back? Burnaby did. Not only did he survive but he also wrote a great book about his adventures: On horseback through Asia Minor.

This is from chapter XIX:

There is one peculiarity about the Armenians and Greeks in Yuzgat [Yozgat] which attracts the attention of the traveller, and this is that many of them cannot write their own language, although they employ its characters. Their conversation is almost invariably in Turkish. In corresponding with a friend, both Armenians and Greeks will write in Turkish, but with the Armenian or Greek letters. The schools, which are encouraged by the Mohammedan [Muslim] authorities are improving the Christians in this respect. The present generation of children can most of them speak, as well as write, in the language of their ancestors.
That the Anatolian Greeks conversed in Turkish, which was their native language, and wrote it using Greek characters (Karamanlica) is well known. However, I hadn't heard about the Armenians' version of it until I noticed that paragraph in Burnaby's book. I don't know if there are any surviving examples of Turkish written with Armenian characters.

Speaking of Armenians, the ones in Istanbul appear to be hard at work destroying their own heritage. Turkish news sources (here and here and elsewhere) are reporting that an old Armenian cemetery in the Ortaköy district of the city is being replaced by luxury apartment buildings. And who was at the ground-breaking ceremony with a shovel in his hand? Why, the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, of course.

Picture from armahaber.

Sources are reporting that the previously undeveloped lot overlooking the Bosphorus had originally been designated a "green area" closed to development. Once again, however, corruption seems to have overruled everything else and the developers were able to obtain the necessary permits. What about the Armenian graves? According to this article, only 5 graves were transferred elsewhere, but the contents of the rest (although it's not stated how many) were dumped to a rubble field outside the city.

Money makes the world go round. Who cares about some musty, old bones when there is moolah to be made? Those who lost their ancestors' graves are apparently getting their share of "luxury condos" from the deal.

Hey, if they had their Patriarch's blessings, who am I to complain? I am not even Armenian. I couldn't care less about some musty, old bones either. What makes me sad is that one less cemetery means one more habitat lost for the native snail fauna of Istanbul. As I have pointed out in this post, old cemeteries are great places to preserve the native snail and other faunas of otherwise rapidly developing areas. After all the cemeteries are gone, what will we be left with?

Only the distant memories of the loved ones we lost.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, old, somewhat unkempt, slightly overgrown cemeteries and graveyards are wonderful places for snails. When I was mapping the non-marine molluscs of Britain for the 1st edition of the Michael Kerney Atlas, I was living on the edge of the fenland in East Anglia, England. Almost every scrap of land in the fens was under intensive agricultural use. The fenland churchyards served as refugia for several species that were very hard to find anywhere else, including Discus rotundatus which was quite rare in the fens, although very common everywhere else in Britain except for the highlands of Scotland.

Best to you Aydin,

Susan J. Hewitt