This post is a rewrite of something old, more than a dozen years. I wanted to write this again since the original slide show is no longer visible, and has not been visible for many years. It is both for the record and to restart the conversation about preserving the character, texture, and history of cities and towns which has been considered highly dispensable in Turkey.
Back in 2003 Jan and I took the train from Istanbul to Adana like I used to do in my childhood. The distance is about 600 miles and most people would take either the plain or drive. These modes of transportation would take far less than what it took us, about 23 hours. But, I enjoyed looking out, remembering my childhood, and old memories. You can see a series of photographs I presented as a portfolio, Passing Through Anatolia.
We arrived in Adana in the middle of the blossoming of the citrus trees of all kinds. I remember the smell very well and it was a welcome whiff as we disembarked the train, a highly enjoyable experience indeed. Then in the next few days we saw the old friends, family, visited several kebab houses and took photographs. Seeing the old houses I knew very well in a total disarray, disrepair, and total neglect disappointed me immensely. The city I used to know was gone, its character mostly erased, its texture disconnected from history. The houses I found and photographed reminded me of wounded soldiers in a battlefield, laying down and asking “help me or kill me!”
On a dark, overcast day I visited the house where we lived for several years, where I started elementary school. It belonged to a wealthy landlord. One could still see the signs of good taste and high quality in the remaining parts like the wrought iron railings of the balcony or in the intricate woodwork around the supports below it. Inside, it was the same. The current tenant, a small workshop where they made men’s shirts, did very little to make it presentable. I remembered the stairs going up and how the lower level would be flooded when the Seyhan river rose. The wooden clogs would float. The semicircular opening decorated with a fancy iron grill reminded me of the camel caravans going by as I used to watch them from there. I continued the trek to other parts of the town where more such houses were left to die. Strangely, many of these buildings were “under the protection of law” that prevented the owners to raze them for other purposes. But, leaving them to die on their own, out of total neglect was perfectly fine!
Nostalgia aside, I found it hard to believe that a rich town like Adana which produced many wealthy landlords, people of national significance, local heroes, could not claim ownership to its past and allowed its history be more or less erased. The orange groves on the banks of the Seyhan river were gone, cotton fields were no more, the old landmarks like Hilal Han, Evrendilek, Gumusay disappeared along with people who would even remember their names. All this, in the name of “modernization” by erecting apartment buildings.
At the time when I first wrote about this, I sent an e-mail to the publishers of a Website about Adana and its culture. The site domain still exists but it seems to be dormant. For the benefit of Turkish speaking readers I am sharing a a copy of my letter to the editors of Acili Birbucuk Website. They published it and I received many “thank you” responses. But, that’s all!
A few weeks ago, I read a post on a photography site I visit often. It was about a photographer reproducing the works of another who photographed New York in the late 19th century. It was remarkable to see how little New York had changed in over 100 years. Kudos to the people of New York for preserving the character and texture of their beloved city. I wish I could say the same for Adana; or for that matter, Istanbul, Ankara, …