Photograph: Mustafa Soyer - Galip Kürkçü
Ankara’s inheritance is not of the kind that can be disdained; it is an accumulation of civilizations strained through thousands of years.
ANKARA HAS BEEN the capital of Turkey for almost ninety years now. Geographically, it is situated close to the centre of the country. It is quite understandable that such a city, constantly going through political and administrative changes on one hand and having to cope with rapid population increases on the other, should have identity problems. For years, Ankara’s greatness was promulgated, books were filled with praises of this ‘unique city’, to use the words of the famous Ankara March. For decades Ankara was seen as a city that was ‘created from nothing’. This love for Ankara gave the impression to new generations that Ankara barely existed before the Republic. In reality, Ankara’s inheritance is not of the kind that can be disdained; it is an accumulation of civilizations strained through thousands of years.
HACI BAYRAM RECITES HIMSELF
Nowadays, it is called ‘nostalgia’. Before, it used to be called ‘home sickness’ or ‘missing home’. Home is not just the hometown; it can easily be the home country. Of course, hometown or home country are not just material things. Moral elements and cultural values can also be ‘home’, because when we lose them, we start missing something. In that sense, when we lose our cultural values, our home gets smaller and we have – as it were - nowhere to live. In fact, what makes our material country important and what makes it valuable are these moral and cultural elements.
It is not easy to talk about feeling homesick for Ankara. It has always been considered that such emotions can only be prompted by Istanbul. During period in which he used to commute between Istanbul and Ankara, our great poet Yahya Kemal remarked: “What I like best about Ankara is returning to Istanbul!” This is a pleasant witticism from an Istanbul poet, and a Western Ottoman.
For centuries Anatolian cities have been calm and quiet but recently there has been an obvious awakening in these cities. This regional silence could have been excused for Ankara’s similar silence, but what cannot be excused is the denial of the modest presence of Ankara.
Nowadays, Ankara is a big city with a population of four million. I don’t know why, but I always tend to think that the big city has gained ground against the old, small, Anatolian scented Ankara. It is this homesickness and my desire for the general acceptance of the old Ankara that is pushing me to write. By talking about Ankara, in a sense, we start talking about a big holy figure, who is in every way part of each cell of the city. What we have written so far, sooner or later addresses this great person:
Hacı Bayram kendi banlar
Ol şarın minaresınde . . .
‘In the old town’s minaret, Hacı Bayram recites himself …’ It is rare that a city is so intertwined with the name of one person and . Talking about Ankara requires a definite mention of Hacı Bayram Veli’s name. Those who mention Hacı Bayram will definitely mention Ankara, too.
It is remarkable that a person from a city, whose population never rose above fifty thousand, can still influence people five hundred years later. This person was neither a head of state, nor a glorious commander, nor a wealthy and powerful man.
This man from Ankara became a symbol of how a man should be, planting and ploughing, building and producing, with the typical modesty of Anatolian people. This holy person who earned his own bread from the fields that he ploughed and who distributed anything above his meagre needs to other people, who lead his followers to plough their own lands and to learn arts and crafts. Hacı Bayram was known to have shown every effort to encourage his followers to be productive. It is also known that the modest mosque which today bears his name was built by Hacı Bayram and his followers, from bricks, stone and wood.
Those who start their tour of Ankara from Hacı Bayram see a magnificent sanctuary of the late Pagan Roman era. The great man addresses us from his modest mosque, with words that are centuries-old:
Nagehan ol şara yardım
Or şarı yapılır gördum
Ben dahi bile yapıldım
Taş ü Toprak arasında
Help immediately came to that town /I watched that town when it was built/Even I was built/Between stone and soil
Building a man while a town is being built…How beautifully, profoundly and sincerely the poet is expressing the meaning of construction as the formation of a spiritual identity! He continues;
Hacı Bayram kendi banlar
Ol şarın minaresinde...
Hacı Bayram recites himself, / from that town’s minaret
SELÂTIN MOSQUE OF ANKARA
Selâtin is plural for ‘sultan’, meaning ‘sultans’. ‘Selatin Mosque’, then, means Sultans’ Mosque. No one could even imagine that there might be a mosque for Sultans in Ankara, but there is. Alaeddin Mosque on the other hand is in İç Hisar (Inside the Walls), its south wall adjoining the castle walls. When the population of İç Hisar is considered, it is truly a gigantic mosque; it is a mosque for a Sultan. This magnificent mosque has guarded the castle gates and witnessed the history of Ankara with its minaret popping up through the castle walls since 1198.
While visiting mosques on Fridays and experiencing different pleasures in each one of them, Alaeddin mosque struck us as different. Perhaps because it was a very hot day. On a scalding Friday, escaping from the bustle of the Ankara roads, we were refreshed by the breeze while climbing up to the castle. How tremendously affected we were by the breeze, the relief, and the beauty of the spacious building aloft!
Ankara was an important centre for the Seljuks, whose capital was Konya. It is understood that the Seljuk royal heirs lived in Ankara from time to time. The mosque which we now know as Alaeddin Mosque was built by one of these heirs during his stay in Ankara. The name of this Sultan was not Alaeddin, but Mesud. Why this mosque was called Alaeddin, and not Mesud, frankly, I do not know.
Alaeddin mosque was repaired and re-built several times. It is also understood that its place was changed more than once. Still there is something exciting about this spacious and bright mosque and its grand view. The only remaining Seljuk part of this gracious mosque is its pulpit.
This hand engraved walnut pulpit is both very old, and a work of art in mint condition. Today’s craftsmen and artists can spend days trying to understand the construction technique, the engravings, designs and lines of this pulpit.
I feel as though this pulpit is the mosque’s memory. I think of the pulpit witnessing believers praying in this mosque for hundreds of years. Their number must reach tens, may be hundreds of thousands. I think of the pulpit as witnessing the prayers of all the people that prayed before and of all those that are going to pray in the future. Being among the community of such a mosque has a different meaning for me.
THE BIGGEST MOSQUE IN OLD ANKARA
Still, Alaeddin Camii is not the biggest mosque in Ankara. The big mosques, no matter which city they is in, were built by emperors, aghas and pashas. Perhaps the only exception is in Ankara.
The biggest old mosque in Ankara was built by an Ahi Sheikh. This covered mosque, which is constructed around four wooden pillars and is called the ‘Aslanhane Mosque’, connects Ankara to Turkistan, architecturally. Besides its huge size, its ceramic tiled altar, engraved wooden pulpit and roofing system add to the architectural value of the mosque.
The person who had this mosque built was Ahi Şerafeddin, whose tomb lies in the north side. Who was this Ahi Şerafeddin? History books say that after the collapse of the Seljuks, Ankara was for a period independent of any Beyliks. This mosque was built in that period, which is regarded as the ‘Ahi Republic’.
THE CONQUERING OF ISTANBUL AND ANKARA
Ankara had connections with İstanbul before its Ottoman and later had it registered Müderris (Professor) Numan from Ankara, after meeting Sheikh Hamidüddin (Somuncu Baba), was named ‘Bayram’. After making his pilgrimage with his Sheikh, he was named ‘Hacı Bayram’. His awakening breath is felt in Ankara, which is one of the Ahis’ own. He was the follower of two grand spiritual ways: through his practices, the Nakşibendi and Halveti ways turn into the Bayramiye way.
The era was that of Murat II. The number of Hacı Bayram’s followers increased together with his fame. Those who could not cope with his spiritual powers sent a message to Sultan Murad II saying that ‘this Sheikh has an eye on the throne’.
Murad II had just lived through a period of turmoil. It was not possible for him risk a second one. For that reason, he asked Hacı Bayram to be brought to Edirne, which was then the capital of the Empire. His purpose was to see with his own eyes what this man did, measure him up and make a decision for himself.
Hacı Bayram was accepted at court. The Sultan did not have difficulty in realizing that this man had no earthly ruling ambitions. Hacı Bayram started to give speeches in the Muradiye Mosque, built by Murad II and in the Old Mosque. The Sultan was now sure of Haci Bayram’s spiritual powers. He asked him the question which all Ottoman Sultans had asked: Would he be able to conquer İstanbul? Once, twice, three times he asked, he kept insisting.
This question was addressed not only to a spiritual leader whose powers were unquestionable, but also to a leader who kept in close contact with his people. Hacı Bayram, after analysing the structure of Anatolia and the existing material and spiritual powers in the land, expressed his thoughts: ‘The honor of conquering İstanbul will be Mehmed’s and of our baby-faced one (Akşemseddin) here.
Saying this, was Hacı Bayram too far sighted? Or, was he pointing at Sultan Mehmed, who was then a child?
SEARCH FOR THE SOUL WITHIN THE SOUL
Had Hacı Bayram of Ankara, the holy man with spiritual powers, really attained the secret of victory?
The myth goes that he did. Hacı Bayram should have attained the secrets of several conquests, and of many human or material transformations. It is told that he changed many tough characters into kind hearted people. Akşemseddin was one of them.
Not mentioning Akşemseddin while talking about Fatih Mehmed (the Conqueror) would be like ignoring a whole army of conquerors. Hacı Bayram and his follower (later his Khalif) Akşemseddin remind us that during the conquest, there was another squad of people, besides the armed forces. Like the training of these armed forces, the training of this special squad took many years: years of
spiritual training and cleansing.
Hacı Bayram not only gave the good news of a future victory to little Mehmed, but started preparing the spiritualist squad for it as well. In the holy army of Fatih, Akşemseddin was not the only follower of Hacı Bayram. Well known names such as Akbıyık Sultan and Molla Zeyrek, whose names were later given to several districts in İstanbul were from Hacı Bayram’s dervish lodge. How about those whose names are not known at all? The 20 thousand strong army of dervishes, specially organized and prepared for the conquest consisted of Bayramis (followers of Hacı Bayram)
Hacı Bayram Veli, while constructing his modest mosque, laying bricks and cobs, laid down the secrets of conquests and structures. And as he put bricks and cobs side by side and on top of each other, the knots of conquest were also secured.
Hacı Bayram could not promise Sultan Murad an army of conquerors, but he believed that his followers might have prepared an army for Murad’s son. The honor of victory was Fatih Sultan Mehmed Han’s and that of his armies.