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The Turkey of Asi and of Demir


In conquering the world Alexander the Great had as assistants the inevitable Generals. One of those Generals, by the name of Seleukos the Nikator ["Nikator", meaning the "ever victorious"], following the example of Alexander, his former boss, decided to build a city that Alexander intended to build in the Mediterranean part of Asia. So, Seleukos built the city 23 years after the death of Alexander (in 323 B.C.) and exactly 300 years before the birth of Christ. Seleukos, as a pious military General, named his new city in honor of his father, Antiochos. So, the city was named Antiocheia [anglicized to "Antioch"].

 

From Antiochia to Antakya 

Antioch evolved to one of the most important cities in human history. There are 28 cities and towns in Asia named Antioch, plus one Antioch in California, which was named so,  for religious reasons.  

The original Antioch lasted for 900 years, from 300 before Christ to 600 after Christ. In 1517 Antioch was taken by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks, to their credit, retained the Greek sound of the ancient Antiocheia by naming it "Antakijeh" or "Antakia" ["Antakya", in its present spelling].  

In the Greek language the word for Greece is "Hellas". No one knows where the word comes from. Also, no one knows where the Latins found the word Graecia that served as a root for the French Gr'ece, the English Greece, etc. The time interval of about 300 years, between the death of Alexander, in  323 B.C., and the occupation of Egypt by Rome, in 30 B.C., is known in History as the "Hellenistic Age" [the "Greekish Age"]. 

One can say that the main characteristic of the Hellinistic Age was the spread of the classical Greek culture to most of the then known world. Greek became a world language. Antioch was a "product" of the Hellinistic Age. 

During the early centuries of Antioch's existence its people, mostly Greeks from Crete, Cyprus, the west coast of Asia, Syrians, Jews, etc, were cosmopolitan, refined, scandalously fun-loving and noisy, granted asylum to the persecuted, had an advanced irrigation and flood control system, had an excellent library and a museum. 

It is not an exaggeration to say that Antioch was the place where one of the most important developments of the last 2,300 years of History took place. Here is a description of that development:

"And when he [Barnabas] had found him [Paul], he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." [ "The Acts", 11:26. The Bible: King James' Version, emphasis, added]. 

Finally, it was also natural for Saint Paul to have his headquarters in Antioch and from there spread Christianity to the heathen Greeks, Romans, and other lesser humans. However, although the piousness of Christianity was there, the population of Antioch, normal people and Christians, continued to live their noisy, luxurious, full-of-fun life with dance, songs, fests, and all kinds of debaucheries. 

Antioch was considered as one of the most beautiful cities of the world. At various times it was called the Athens , or Rome, or even the Versailles of the East. The size of the city was measured by  the fact that it took 5 hours to walk the entire length of its perimeter. Its population was around 500,000. 

On May 20 of the year 526 AD [anno Domini], a big earthquake razed Antioch. There were 250,000 (two hundred fifty thousand) dead. This number of dead classifies that quake among the worst ones ever. The existing documents mention that the soil was "boiling". Which means that there was liquefaction of the soil. That is, for a fraction of a second some buildings of Antioch were resting on a liquid. For one year and a half after the quake there were secondary quakes. The reader should stop here and do some thinking. The survivors, according to some texts, were a minority of the total population. Who and how removed those dead? Are these 250.000 skeletons still there? 

During the first six centuries of the Christian era there were 10 major quakes in Antioch. Of course, the quakes are still there and waiting to hit again.

 

Asi and Demir 

Having gained a glimpse of Antioch since 300 years before the birth of Christ, it is interesting to "see" what life in Antakya is today. 

This we can do by following the story of two young people, Asi and Demir, in a Turkish serial named "Asi". In its turn that pursue, leads to another path: the need to compare the Turkish society of Asi and Demir to the society of the US. 

The river through the city of Antioch, in the Hellenistic period, was called Orontes. The Turks named the river "Asi", which means "rebel" in Turkish. 

Asi is a young woman in her mid-twenties, was born in Antakya, graduated as a veterinary, works as a vet in the area that her family has a farm, works even manually in the farm, is honest, kind and rational. Physically she has the dark complexion of the Mediterranean woman prevalent through the millennia. 

Demir is a young man in his early thirties, was born in Antakya, he is the son of a former laborer in Asi's family farm who committed suicide, when Demir was five or six, by drowning in the Asi river, because Asi's paternal grandfather accused her, falsely, as a thieve and drove her away from the farm. Demir was raised by his mother's sister in Istanbul, he works as a land developer, is honest, kind and rational. However, his mother's tragic lose, has turned him into an introvert, who strives to solve all problems by himself. Physically he has an intensely dark complexion of the Mediterranean man. 

Demir, as an adult, returns to Antakya to avenge the evil done to his mother. 

Asi and Demir meet, are attracted to each other and feel that they can live all their lives together. 

In any female-male relationship the physical part is rather uncomplicated. The real problem Asi and Demir face, as all humans do, is the agonizing search to understand if one's mate is worthy of respect as a human being. This search by Asi and Demir is the core-theme of the Turkish serial. Also, a component of this search, inevitably, is the "baggage" that each person carries from his or her family. 

This being a fictitious story, which as a TV-serial of 71 episodes lasts for about 4 months, unavoidably it has a commercial parameter which can not be ignored. So, inserted in the story are various incidents that keep the viewers alert, interested, etc. 

Here enters a matter of paramount importance: the insertion of hate in art, especially in movies. The Hollywood trick is to incorporate in the story a character that is so obnoxious, cruel, perverted , etc that the viewers' hate gets off the chart. Then, toward the end of the story the hateful character is punished always in a childish and vulgar manner that has a lot of gore, or fire, or drowning, etc. The hate that is "forced" to fill the mind of the viewer, even from a fictitious situation, is poisoning his or her mind, as it seems that our mind is programmed to be duped, at least temporarily, for some biological reasons for survival. However, there seems to be an aftereffect or residue of hate that keeps bothering the viewer's mind. The punishment trick, is even worse, especially for the very young mind, as it justifies violence and presents cruelty as acceptable. Hollywood is the "producer" par excellence of this kind of dangerous garbage [see below]. Of course, academia speaks of the classical Greek "catharsis" [cleaning the "garbage" in the mind], meting out justice, etc. 

In the Turkish serial the hate inserted originates with the evil of people around Asi and Demir, even relatives of theirs, who do their utmost to interfere and hurt them. 

The main source of evil comes from a regular heel by the name of Ali, the young son of a rich Turk who has a wine business in France. Ali grew up in France as a playboy, with fast cars, the arrogance of the wealthy, etc. He is treacherous, hypocritical, immoral, with good manners, and rotten to the bone. He charms Asi's mother and assorted females in the story, and even kills a jailed man through a proxy in a prison. 

The script for "Asi" was written collectively by three people, Guel Dirican, Nese Cehiz, and Sebnem Citak. A big bravo is fit for them. The hate created by Ali, the jerk, lasts for quite long in the serial, yet I think that the writers of the script found the best solution for the problem of the "punishment": they just ignored the jerk.  

There are two more characters in the story that create hate in the viewer's mind: Asi's grandfathers. 

The paternal grandfather is a rich farmer, an arrogant, and extremely mean person whose acts influence and determine the lives of almost all the persons in the story. He appears in the serial for only a few seconds. 

The maternal grandfather is a former smuggler who became rich, is cynic, scheming, loud, ruthless, and has no morals, but he is a patriot, a nationalist, and he is interested in the archaeological history of Antakya for … nationalistic reasons. The actor, Tuncel Kurtiz, who impersonates this unbelievably obnoxious character is a great artist. I cannot tell if the script-writers and the film-director, Cevdet Mercan, chose this bastard to touch upon one of the most important problems of humanity; the automobile. The rich uncouth geezer is enamored to the luxury automobiles of the cultured West. This is not the place to dwell on why the expression "most important problem" is used in this article. I suggest to the reader to read the book: "Asphalt Nation", by Jane Holtz Kay (Crown 1997). 

Antakya is part of the story of Asi and Demir. The narrow streets, the old houses built with masonry walls,  the interior of those old houses, the old shops, and finally the ordinary people of the town depict the reality of life not only in Antakya but they describe the life of all the people living along the rim of the Mediterranean.  

Asi and Demir get married. Soon after the marriage they are separated for five years. 

They meet again. There is a scene in one of those narrow streets (Episodes 66-67), with Asi leaning on one of those masonry walls of a house and Demir facing her. The potency of the scene is unbelievable. There is a dialogue between the two humans from the ultimate depths of their minds. Suddenly, there is a group of tourists following a tour guide who interrupts the dialogue of the couple and the guide is heard talking about the Hellenistic Antioch. Quite a few episodes back there was a scene of a similar tour, again in one of those narrow streets with the masonry walls of the houses, of a lady architect listening to a guide, mentioning the quakes that have hit Antioch, even kind of joking about it. 

Antakya is part of the story of Asi and Demir. The narrow streets, the old houses built with masonry walls,  the interior of those old houses, the old shops, and finally the ordinary people of the town depict the reality of life not only in Antakya but they describe the life of all the people living along the rim of the Mediterranean.  

The, above mentioned, Asi-Demir conversation was, in essence, continued much later in a hospital. It lasted about 160 seconds. Any comment on the value of those seconds as art and as statement for the possible profundity of a relationship between two humans, would be too weak.  

Demir a young man of dignity and integrity, personified perfectly by the actor Murat Yildirim, uses the spoken word infrequently. His means of communication are the eyes, in contrast, say, to Marlon Brando, of the  NewYork School of "The Method", who uttered a couple of words per hour, and that was that. Murat Yildirim, as Demir, is a credit to the male population of Turkey, Greece, the Aegean and beyond.  

Asi, actress Tuba Buyukustun, the female counterpart of Demir in dignity and integrity, exudes an intense yet modest and soft femininity. Although she is a modern woman and a vet, she shuns modernity and by living close to the soil in a farm, she consciously follows the life of a farmwoman at the laborer level. She dresses as the Mediterranean village women do, who work in the open in all kinds of weather, by wearing multiple layers of cloths. I was lucky to have lived with both my grandmothers, Greek village women, who were dressed in that manner. What impressed me, as a child, was that when the occasion demanded, over all those layers they wore a rather more refined covering dress, so as to appear clean and dignified. In some scenes, Asi is wearing such a light and refined cover. However what really earns the sympathy of the spectator for Asi, is her worth as a human in the story.   

Asi and Demir have a daughter who is five years old, born at the time they were separated. They marry for a second time. 

The Turkish cinematographers use sound in a sparse but tremendously effective manner. For example, during the ceremony of the second marriage Asi is heard giggling in a suppressed kind of way. This almost imperceptible sound is an expression of the thoughts and attitude of Asi about the second marriage ceremony and the long history that had preceded it. Also, one of the most beautiful and warm moments of this months-long serial is when the five-year-old daughter of Asi and Demir, very early in the morning jumps on the bed of her still asleep parents and dives between them under the bed-cover. Just before the dive the kid is heard grunting twice, full of happiness and full of affection for her parents.  

I feel that the only way to really experience what is described here is to see the Turkish serial. 

The powerful and beautiful music that accompanies the serial, composed by Nail Yurtsever, has its roots in the millennia of the history of Antioch and even in the music of the Greece of Pericles, of Persia, even of India. The same roots have nourished the greatest music of the 20th century; the music of Mikis Theodorakis. [Disclaimer: The reference to Antioch, Greece, Theodorakis, etc is simply indicative of the geographical, chronological, or historical factors in this matter and has nothing to do with race, nationality, etc. This music is born in some geographical place but belongs to all humanity.] 

As expected, the serial does not touch politics, except in one case where Asi's father, a farmer, complains about the indifference of the government in relation to the irrigation of farms. On the other hand, a positive aspect of the serial is the almost complete lack of any interest of the people of the story about TV. Also, we cannot ignore the fact of the intrusion of the American "culture" in the upper levels of the Turkish society. 

Asi visits Istanbul for the first time in her life. She is taken by Demir to an upper-class club or something and she meets "sophisticated" westernized Turks. She almost pukes and leaves the place.  

The theme of the story, the realization of the theme by the director, actors, etc describe in depth the Turkish society that Asi and Demir live in. A healthy, humane, and warm society that contrasts radically to a society of the West or more accurately of the US, as most societies are inundated culturally by the US. 

The majority of the US people, the ordinary normal people,  unfortunately live in a very harsh society, full of fear, hate, and violence (extreme violence), domestic and foreign. In contrast, the life of Asi and of Demir in the society of Antakya is a decent, benign and mostly placid life. 

 

P.S. 

It seems a bit unfitting to write in  the Athens of today, about movies. It is not, if one takes into account that the Greek society is forced to be a copy of the US society. Anyway here is a brief summary of the situation in Greece: 

- As mentioned in a previous ZNet article of mine the West will initiate a kind of latter-day Marshall Plan for Greece to stop the Greek Left from winning the next parliamentary elections. That is what is happening today. There is some money that is trickling down to Athens, so that there is some relief of the pressure in the red-hot boiler of the Greek misery. As an instrument for that enterprise the West has chosen Samaras, the present Greek prime minister. A man whose curriculum vitae, personal and political, is well-known to the ordinary Greeks and the US WASPs. It is hilarious to follow the praise, the honors and adulation heaped by Merkel, various Krauts or Brits on Samaras, so that the Greek Left will be stopped.  

- The Nazis seem to have orders by their "puppeteer" to spill blood in Greece. My opinion is that the ordinary Greeks, children and grandchildren of the Greeks that fought the Nazis in the Second World War, will teach them a severe lesson. For the time being, the Greeks are silent. 

-  The intervention by the Germans in the Greek government is at least obscene.  

-  The solidarity among the Greeks towards their suffering brothers is heart-warming.  

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