Çok teşekkür ederim—Thank you in Turkish

As Susana reported here a couple of days ago ("Olives for breakfast…", 2011.1.8), our travels through Greece and then Istanbul culminated in a reading in that city from my novel, A Gift for the Sultan, before a literary circle of the Alumni Association of the Middle East Technical University (METU), a prestigious Turkish university serving the whole Middle East and where the language of instruction is English. This group of alert, widely-read professionals engaged me in a lively discussion from which we all learned some surprising things.

Even the history buffs present were surprised by some of what I told them about this crucial period, the tumultuous years of Ottoman and Orthodox Christian relationships just prior to Mehmet's conquest of Constantinople. Collaboration of all kinds, including marital, was at least as frequent as conflict. When I said that I thought that what had really happened in 1453 was that Constantinople had conquered the Ottomans, they understood what I meant and I think at least some of them were inclined to agree with me. What I meant was that, by seizing that great city and making it theirs, the Ottomans turned themselves from a mostly nomadic and anti-urban force into the great cosmopolitan polity that eventually extended over three continents and ruled in splendor for over 400 years.

Miniature of horse-archer, Topkapi Museum
And I learned that the meaning of "gazi" has changed dramatically since then: in the time of my novel (beginning of the 15th century), it was a heroic term that a warrior had to win in battle, used by fiercely independent war chiefs who were leaders of their own mounted bands. Today it means simply a wounded soldier, not heroic at all.

Though it was a cold and rainy night and off their usual schedule, we had a crowd of over a score of people who came directly from work for dinner and discussion. I have to thank — çok teşekkür ederim — a whole daisy-chain of METU alumnae for making this happen; Lale Eskicioğlu, who lives in Canada and hosts the Read Literature website; her former classmate in Istanbul, Zeynep Karaburcak, a businesswoman with great organizing skills, and Yasemin Civelekoğlu, moderator of the literary group, who distributed the pdf of the novel to the members.

I now know something more about contemporary higher education and about the literary establishment in that fascinating country, and began friendships that I hope to continue.

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