The holy but empty shrine

The holy but empty shrine

There is a Turkish proverb, “The sheikh doesn’t fly, his followers make him fly.” The meaning is clear. People often attribute such extraordinary virtues, values and capabilities to religious or political leaders, or their bosses at work, that are hard to take seriously on sober or intellectual consideration. They may do this for religious or political reasons, or for some other reason. These are the bitter realities of the opportunistic human character.

In Ankara’s Yenimahalle district there are a number of small ateliers where highly skilled craftsmen produce monumental marble gravestones and tombs, which look very much like shining versions of the sarcophaguses used in ancient times. Such marble work is often very expensive.

There was once a man who ordered one of those elaborate tombs to be carved in a block of marble for his beloved mother. What happened to the man? No one knows. Did he die? Did he move to another city or abroad? For whatever reason, the man never turned up to collect his order, and the craftsman moved the huge one-piece marble tomb to the unused second floor of his shop, which was the first floor of the building from the backstreet because of the street’s slope.

The tomb was so elaborate, ornamented, and nicely engraved that word started to circulate that it hosted remains of a great Islamic scholar who devoted his entire life to spreading the message of Allah. Soon, people had turned the shop into a kind of a shrine, appearing there in hundreds every day, particularly on holy Fridays.

The shop owner quickly got fed up with this. But at the same time there was an incredible increase in his work and sales because people started to attribute all the marble worked on at his atelier with a kind of holy value. 

Years passed. One day, the municipality decided to include the neighborhood in a so-called “urban transformation plan” aiming to get rid of all the slums. It was no problem to demolish many people’s homes, but neighborhood residents and people from far away, who had been praying at the shrine from the street outside the first floor of the atelier, staged an incredible resistance. After days of standoff, the municipality gave in to the demands and the old atelier was officially given the status of a shrine…

Have you ever been to the Ulus area of Ankara from the Hacettepe University road? Is it not awkward to see a tomb in the middle of the road in front of the municipality building?

In the Kurtuluş district of Ankara, in the heart of the city, there is a complex of three apartment blocks. They are mostly occupied by retired soldiers, lawyers and current or former middle or high-level bureaucrats. Between the blocks there is a plot that was allocated as a green area while construction was being planned in the early 1960s.

That allocated green area never actually became a green area. Ever since the construction began, it was used as a parking lot for the three blocks, which housed over 100 families. With over 100 cars using the carpark every day, the manager of the three blocks decided to take some measures in order to avoid congestion.
He gave the tenants remote control devices controlling an electronic gate, thus closing the parking lot to non-residents. But the problem continued. He then had the lot asphalted from one end to the other, and got a painter to paint allocation lines so that cars could be parked in an order. But the problem continued. Eventually, the manager decided to build a roundabout in the middle of the plot. As a result, while people were prevented from parking randomly at the center of the lot, entry and exit could be arranged with established traffic rules. Entry would be from the right, exit from the left. That was it.

The roundabout was about a meter high and four meters wide. The manager then decided to turn it into a fountain. The parking lot suddenly became a nice place. 

A while later the manager saw some strange activity in the parking lot: A group of old men and women were turning their faces to the fountain, praying. They had also tied pieces of cloth to the iron fence at the entrance. The manager called the janitor to ask what was going on. The janitor smiled in reply. “They are coming to pray at the fountain,” he said. “They are throwing in coins. Apparently they believe there was a shrine somewhere here. If this continues long enough, I’ll buy a new car with their coins…”