When visiting Cappadocia, it’s almost impossible NOT to imagine hobbit-like creatures living in the caves that have been painstakingly carved out of the rock. Hundreds upon hundreds of caves dot the area, and even the most unimaginative among us will begin to create stories about the inhabitants. Who are these people, and where did they come from? What do they look like? Why do they live in caves? How does their society work? Voila, instant fantasy novel.
But Cappadocia isn’t a fantasy; it’s a real place with real people who just happen to live in fairy chimneys. I was invited to dinner by one of them. Seeing the trenches chiselled out for electrical wires and the makeshift wooden steps that led from one level of “cubbyholes” to the next juxtaposed with stainless steel appliances in the ultra-modern kitchen was interesting, to put it mildly. For this family, their rock home is their greatest asset, a part of their heritage passed down through the generations.
Cappadocia was the centre of Hittite power in the Bronze Age, then passed through the hands of King Croesus and Alexander the Great, among many others. It has belonged to Persia, Rome, Armenia, the Ottoman Empire and finally Turkey. The earliest Christians lived here, hiding in a network of underground caves when persecuted. This place is a living history that spans more centuries than my Western mind can comprehend. When added to the surreal landscape, Cappadocia feels peopled with ghosts.
But the real ghosts in Turkey are elsewhere, about a thousand kilometres away in Kayaköy. The very name of this place, the Ghost Village, is evocative. Its place in history is important, devastating, and unfortunately, predictable.
During the early twentieth century, Kayaköy was home to approximately 2000 Greek Orthodox Christians. In 1923, at the end of the Greco-Turkish War, all of the inhabitants were sent back to Greece as part of a “mutually agreed expulsion” between the two countries. The population exchange was based on religious identity, with 1.5 million Anatolian Greek Orthodox Christians sent home in exchange for 356,000 Muslims from Greece. Visiting Kayaköy now is an eerie experience. The crumbling, abandoned homes still show traces of cheery blue paint, left from a happier time. Secret gardens flourish in bedrooms.The church is empty.
(As a point of interest, I’m reading Louis de Bernières’ 2004 novel Birds Without Wings as part of the aftermath of my Turkish adventures. Kayaköy was the inspiration for his fictional village of Eskibahçe.)
All this has made me think about the different kinds of homes we live in today, and the number of people who have no home at all, whose roof is the sky or a borrowed tent. 10,000 years from now, what stories will the future tell of our homes, and our lives within them?