Anatolian Express XIII: Fethiye and Karmylassos

Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Sunday was a long day. It started off in Gaziantep at four o'clock in the morning with my alarm clock ringing. As fun as my trip through the southeast had been, it was time to get moving. I had a plane to catch in a couple of hours.

When planning this trip, the idea had been mainly to see places I'd never been to before. I therefore ended up seeing some places--like Sivas--that some might consider just a wee bit prosaic, while other destinations during this voyage--such as Urfa and Mardin--are fascinating but off the beaten track, at least as far as Turkey is concerned. After the past few weeks of travel, however, I figured I could use a little time resting and relaxing in the sun. That is what has brought me here to Fethiye.

I think Fethiye is actually a bit farther east than this map indicates, but you get the general idea

My plane out of Antep was scheduled for 6:30 am, so I had to be at the airport shuttle by five. The Antep airport is very small and there aren't a lot of flights leaving, so apparently the shuttle trips are timed specifically to accommodate certain flights. In any case, I got to the airport without incident and even had enough time for a short breakfast at the airport. I flew first to Ankara, then caught another flight to Antalya in the southwest of the country.

From the Antalya airport I caught a bus to the central bus station, then looked around to see what was available. I had a few ideas in mind, and wasn't feeling very picky about where I ended up that night. All I really wanted to do was take a large bus, rather than a little minibus, because I was tired and didn't particularly feel like dealing with the constant starting and stopping of a cramped little vehicle. Arriving at the Antalya bus station, I was told that a bus to Fethiye would be leaving in about forty minutes. That sounded good enough to me. 

The trip from Antalya to Fethiye took about three hours

Fethiye! I think the last time I was here was in 1994 or so. It's changed, of course, but even then it was, at first glance, a silly little place. Nevertheless, it seemed like as good a place as any to relax for a few days and swim in the sea, particularly at the famous beach at Ölüdeniz, located just ten miles away.
Little boats parked in Fethiye


On Tuesday, I visited a ghost town called Karmylassos. This used to be a Greek village until 1923, when a population exchange agreement was signed as part of the peace treaty ending the war that had taken place between Greece and the forces of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the aftermath of WWI. The exchange is usually discussed in terms of nationality, e.g. as a "Greek-Turkish" exchange, but in fact it was based upon religion. Greek Orthodox Christians living in most parts of the newly-created Republic of Turkey (excluding Istanbul and the islands of Bozcaada and Gökçeada) left for Greece, while Muslims in Greece (except for those living in eastern Thrace) were similarly obliged to leave Greece for Turkey.
City of the Dead

In Turkey--and this was also the case with the friendly young guy working the ticket stand outside the open-air museum that Karmylassos has become--people describe the exchange (or at least the Muslim side of it) as a process of "Turks coming back" to Anatolia. While many of the Muslims who came to Turkey in 1923 were, in fact, ethnic Turks, many others were not. Rather, they were the descendants of Christians who had, at some point during the course of centuries of Ottoman rule, converted to Islam. As was the case with Muslim refugees streaming into Turkey in the 1920s from elsewhere in the Balkans and the USSR, however, all of these newly-arriving Muslims would become recognized as "Turks" both with respect to citizenship and ethnicity.
Abandoned church at Karmylassos

Little wonder, then, that the country soon adopted the slogan "how happy is s/he who calls her/himself a Turk," which I discussed briefly last week during my trip to Mardin. Implicit in the phrase, it seems, is an understanding that many of these people were not, in fact, Turks. Just call yourself a Turk, the state seemed to be telling them, and we won't give you any additional reasons to be unhappy.
The number of Greek Orthodox Christians leaving Anatolia totaled about one and a half million, while the number of incoming Muslims from Greece was considerably smaller--about 350,000. In many cases, incoming Muslims simply moved into villages that had been left empty by the departing Christians. For instance, I was told by some of the old ladies operating the cafe where I had lunch that their families had arrived from Thessaloniki. In other cases, however, the old Greek villages were simply left empty. That was the case with Karmylassos, which has now been transformed into an open-air museum.
In all, I found the visit to Karmylassos a reminder that the recent history of even silly little resort towns like Fethiye can be sad and meaningful. Less than a century ago, Anatolia was a war zone. The forced migration of these beleaguered populations set off a series of consequences that continue to effect both Greece and Turkey today.
While most of the popular treatment of the exchange tends to describe this insane attempt at social engineering as a logical move that helped avoid future ethnic conflict, nobody knows what kind of countries Turkey and Greece would be today if the exchange had never been undertaken. Indeed, both countries may have been able to profit greatly from the existence of more diverse and difficult-to-assimilate populations within their borders. What was once perceived as a weakness (ethnic minorities!!!) may have actually ended up being a strength.
We'll never know, of course. For now, all we've got left are the ghost towns, and ghosts. 
More pictures from Fethiye, Ölüdeniz and Karmylassos are on display in the Borderlands Lounge.
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