They say: ‘If you want to know yourself, just hit the road.’ I suddenly hit the road one day when I found myself in Mardin. Although it is part of my job to constantly be on the move, I was not sure why I decided on Mardin: it just called me to go. Listening to my gut, I felt as if I needed to go there.

I remember like it was yesterday that the first thing I felt when we landed at Mardin Airport was discomfort in the face of the terribly hot weather, and I asked myself why on earth I came here, but then I tried to comfort my soul, saying: ‘you came because you want to know yourself, my dear Hande.’ Yes, the weather is warm, rather hot, but the streets, the nice people, and the garbage donkeys of Mardin that are official, permanent staff of the municipality and subject to public service legislation no. 644 were warm, too. They were so sweet that I could not help myself laughing out loud and staring at the donkeys until I saw the warning: ‘There are civil servants before you, so please be serious.’ 

When I go somewhere new, the first thing I do is to roam the unfamiliar streets. The unknown always appeals to me. I hadn’t booked a hotel nor had I brought detailed information. I just stepped into the unknown: Mardin, ‘the Pearl of the Southeast.’

Let’s agree on something first: Einstein must have developed his famous theory of relativity in Mardin. Time does not appear to go by on the streets of Mardin. Minutes drag as if they are caught on the roofs of those houses.

People are good-humored, nice, and they seem to challenge each other on how best to host you there. I felt a priceless emotion when they took me to the best restaurants in Mardin, saying: ‘Oooh, our hostess girl has come from Istanbul!’ I was invited into the homes of our Assyrian citizens. The Muslims and Christians live together here in peace. I don’t know if I was deceiving myself, but 3 years ago I had the feeling that Mardin is the proof that living together is so easy when you are friendly and gentle. Are you still like this now, Mardin?  I don’t know whether your streets are still friendly or the sweet donkeys still collect your garbage. But this is how it was 3 years ago and I am telling you my memories, after all. 

There are houses in Mardin. ‘Yes, there are houses everywhere!’ you may say. No, sir! We are not living in houses. We just continue to take shelter in boxes, rehearsing for the cemetery, unaware even of who our neighbors are. There are HOUSES in Mardin. Houses with huge courtyards, bow windows, and from the lace-adorned windows relief and peace spread. When you look at those houses you promise yourself you will live in a house with bow windows when you are retired. Every single door of these houses is decorated with different knockers. Have I told you that every knocker has a specific meaning?

I was really fascinated when I heard about this. At the stone houses inhabited by Muslims, the thick knocker on the left side of the door had a more sonorous sound and hearing this, the household would know that the guest was a man, so a man of the household would answer the door. The knocker with a higher pitch on the right side would indicate that the guest was a woman. If there is Arabic writing or a picture of Kaaba on the left, right, or above the exterior door, then it means that the owner of the house is a pilgrim. The bird-shaped knockers of the Assyrian houses are a sign that Muslims can freely go in and out of the house like a bird. Can you imagine this decency, this beauty, this harmonious way of living? 

Was I fascinated only by the houses in Mardin? Of course not. There is the Kırklar Church; what a gorgeous example of stonemasonry it is, how elaborate are the walls. How can such a little church have such glory and meaning? You must go and see it. You will undoubtedly get the shivers and take off your hat in front of the wall art. 

There are so many places to visit and see in Mardin that I am not sure which I should tell you about. Deyrulzafaran Monastery, which was built in the 5th century and is one of the most important centers for Assyrians, the Dara Ruins, known as the ‘Ephesus of the Southeast,’ the Kasimiye Madrasa with 7 centuries of history, the  Zinciriye Madrasa, which was built in the 14th century and attracts attention with its spectacular stone carvings, Sabancı City Museum, where the city formation and culture is exhibited, Mardin Castle, known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest,’ and many more besides.

If you are looking for a mosque, then you will hear the call to prayer from the most beautiful mosque. If you are searching for the sound of a bell, it echoes around from the most beautiful church on the Mardin streets. When the evening adhan starts to be recited from the Cami-i Kebir mosque (Mardin Grand Mosque) located on top of the hill to embrace the whole of Mesopotamia below it, darkness falls on the oldest civilization in history. You cannot help but get sentimental in the face of the glory of Mesopotamia that hangs around you like a necklace, with the sound of bell on one side and the adhan on the other. As the saying goes, ‘Mardin is a place to see during the day; a necklace by night.’ It really is. I was moved to tears, though I did not know the reason why. You just feel strange when confronted by such beauty.

I could not take any more emotion and fell greedily into the arms of the local dishes. Is there anything in this world as good as eating? :) Should I talk about Mardin çiğ köfte, or kebap to make you crave it and lick your lips? I gorged myself on everything in a fit of gluttony. I guess most of you know the bitterish but stomach-friendly coffee mırra that is served at the end of a meal. There is a well-known proverb: At a pre-marriage ceremony, the bitterer the coffee is to the bride-to-be’s taste and the more the future groom drinks of it, the more long-lasting that marriage will be. :)

While I was passing the Coppersmiths Bazaar in Mardin, they made me believe for 3 days that I would be protected against evil by purchasing the fine handiwork filigrees and the evil-eye talisman with a Basilisk figure. I am not sure if I did find myself in Mardin, but it reminded me how peaceful life could be. 

Those who want to know themselves, hit the road.

Greetings to all who want to find themselves.

Footnote: Do not go back home before trying the sweet Mardin sausage. Buy kilos of it and bring it home, making sure you bring some for me. :) 

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Emir Can Kılıç