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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Kutahya: A City That Has Triumphed Through It All
February 26, 2000

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It was getting colder by the second, on this ride from Thrace to Anatolia. But Jazzy hadn't seen anything yet!
As we hopped on the ferry from Thrace, the European side of Turkey to Anatolia, the Asian side of Turkey, I giggled to Abeja. "Welcome to Asia, Honey Bee!" Before now, Abeja had never been to a country in Asia. This was her first time and it started us thinking: Turkey is on two continents. Minutes ago we were in Europe and just like that we're in Asia. Wow! "Who decides these things?" I wondered. "When were these boundaries drawn?" Will it still be this way when my grandchildrens' children come to Turkey? Will there still be a Turkey by then or will we all be one global society?

Anyone have any skis we could borrow? This bug isn't going anywhere soon!
Questions like these always remind us of the importance of history. History is the story of the great circle of life. It tells the tale of change and evolution. Just imagine, you are history in the making. What story will your life tell? Your story will naturally begin with your family's history, and the history of your town. But it goes back even farther than that. What about your country's history? Can you think of what it was like before your country was a country? Histories are stitched together creating a beautifully woven pattern that connects us all. I used to think of history as boring dates and events that had nothing to do with me. But now I realize that history is as cool as any new movie. It's full of drama and adventure, suspense and thrills. Only it's better because it's all real and it brought us to where we are today!

Take Kutahya for example. This small, seemingly uninteresting town has a thrilling history that kept me on the edge of my seat for hours. I began to read about how Turkey became a republic a few weeks ago -- my timing was perfect. Just as the tale was winding to a dramatic close, we were arriving to the place where one of most important battles was fought, Kutahya. It was apparent however that before we could explore any of Kutahya's historical sites, we would have to fight our own battle. The weather in Kutahya, and all of Central Anatolia at the time, was harsh and cold. Monica and Andrew were snowed-in in Ankara. I hoped Abeja and I wouldn't suffer the same fate.

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This proud shop owner even gave me a copy of his framed letter from former US President Dwight Eisenhower who once visited the shop

This proud shop owner even gave me a copy of his framed letter from former US President Dwight Eisenhower who once visited the shop. Kutahya streets are lined with tile shops and factories where people spend days creating these prized pieces of earthenware. So I stopped by a local shop to learn a little more about the cherished art of Kutahya's faiance, or tile work. I didn't have to go far before I was instantly greeted and pulled into a cute little shop by a proud shopkeeper. He explained to me the complex and laborious process involved in creating a single piece of work. I've studied ceramics and even taught an introductory class to ceramics, but I've never seen anything like this.

He explained that there are different grades of craftsmanship. The higher the grade, the greater the quality and the more you'll pay. A finely designed plate or vase could easily cost $300 US dollars. The first is a low grade ceramic that is quickly painted to basic designs. It's known as "tourist quality" and is usually what small shops like his sell. Then there's good quality or "normal" work that is painted by apprentices as they study under masters. Finally you have the master's own work, or "special" works. One piece can take up to five days to paint and a master's piece is usually a signed work of art.

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Many imitations copy these original designs which are only found on display in the Kutahya Tile Museum

Many imitations copy these original designs which are only found on display in the Kutahya Tile Museum. The designs are intricate Turkish patterns that were originally inspired to represent Allah's (or God's) creations. While most art during the time period (the 1300s) featured icons, Turkish designs stepped away from the norm and began a tradition. Designs include flowers, colorful patterns, and beautifully inscribed Koranic verses. A true master is said to develop his patterns from deep meditation and reflection.

You will be glad to know that your long suffering Trekkers would cross the widest seas and push through the roughest storm to get you the story. This time was no different. We even found the time to make snow angels and get in a few snowfights with the local kids (all on your behalf of course). The city itself is set at the base of a hill and it was completely buried under snow. But not even nature's pure white ice-blanket could hide the easily distinguishable, bright colored tiles that speckled buildings, monuments, and the streetsigns everywhere. These tiles are the signature products of Kutahya dating back to the 14th century. This famous art form has been deeply rooted in Turkish history ever since it's inception during Ottoman times. It is a respected tradition that has endured through the good times and the bad.

Kutahya has surely come a long way. Most of the beautifully tiled buildings we saw were a result of years of redevelopment after wars nearly destroyed the town. During the height of WWI only two artisans survived to keep the tradition alive. Ahmet Sahim and Hakki Ciniciogulu are national heroes and will go down in history for their selfless contributions to Kutahya faience and to their country. Still no man will be as hallowed as Mustafa Kemal, better known as Attaturk (Father Turk), the man who engineered Turkey's victory in the battle of Kutahya and won Turkey its independence. Statues, street names, and plaques recognize him as the Father of the nation. It's nearly impossible to find a city, town or village that doesn't memorialize and honor him.

Attaturk first gained attention and recognition in 1915 during WWI. After developing some very courageous plans of attack, his troops prevailed against British, Australian, New Zealand, and Indian troops at the Battle of Gallipoli (look for Brian's upcoming dispatch on the Gallipolu Battlefields). His most cunning strategy, however, was executed years later during the Turkish War of Independence. It was 1922 and Greece had advanced inland as far as Izmir. They were strong and showed no signs of falling back. Turkish armed forces had managed to check Greek military twice but to no avail. Greece pushed through and created strongholds at Afyon and Inonu, just outside of Kutahya. Up until this point Turkey had been fighting a defensive battle, hardly managing to counter Greek attacks. Thousands lost their lives, and so would countless more before the war ended.


cunning - crafty or sly
regiment - a military unit consisting of batallions
devise - to plan
relentless - to never give up
laborious - difficult
faience - earthenware decorated with opaque colored glazes

Then in a stroke of genius, Attaturk devised a surprise attack. He called a top secret meeting of all of his generals. At this meeting, they organized a strategy. As not to call attention to his plans, he and his generals met at a secret location... the local football game! He was wise and figured that Greece would never suspect top-level meetings to be taking place at a football game. He was right and it worked. Greece didn't suspect a thing. Once in action he ordered his troops to be moved into place at night. To conceal their attack and avoid being discovered by Greek spies, the Turkish forces hid and rested under trees and houses during the day. Even more, the generals sent out small armies to kick up large clouds of dust as if the full regiment was out and moving according to their usual plan.

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This hilltop fortress ha been a vantage point for nearly every ruler who reigned in Anatolia
Greek forces were so convinced that nothing was going on that many of the Greek officers attended a party on the night of August 25, 1922. They were awakened to a risky and thunderous attack that took almost half of the Greek army. By 9:30am Turkish forces had a clear advantage and had taken two of three of their hilltop objectives. Attaturk and his generals took full advantage of their success and relentlessly pushed into the Greek second and third lines of defense. Numerous Greek soldiers were killed or captured. By the day's end Greek forces were badly injured, never to recover. The battle at Dumlupinar was the turning point of the war. On October 29, 1923, the name of the new state was officially declared by the National Assembly to be the Republic of Turkey. Thus was born the first republic on the continent of Asia or Africa. Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha (also known as Attaturk) was elected president and his influence on the state and the party was always strongly felt. His legacy will always be remembered.

Related Links:

Pictures and description of Kuthaya
Article on the tile
National Geographic map


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Monica - Tea Time Is Not Just at Four O'Clock Anymore!
Andrew - Innocents Abroad: following Mark Twain's Footsteps through Istanbul
Brian - Check it Out!
Jasmine - Dare to Dream!

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