Tonight at work, after I left the staff room, the guy leaving behind me called to the others, “Gute nacht!”
I instinctively responded, “Kali nikhta!”
He asked me what that meant, and I replied that it meant good night; upon further questioning, I revealed the language to be Greek.
“Where do they speak Greek?”
“Greece and Cyprus. I don’t think they speak it anywhere else. There used to be Greek-speaking people in Turkey for 3000 years, but not anymore.”
“What were Greeks doing in Turkey?”
I replied that they had moved there 3000 years ago, and that they’d been living there for 2000 years before the Turks showed up. Turks, I said, are from Central Asia, and there are still Turkic-speaking people in China. They live in a place called Turkistan. I explained that many of them leave China and move to Turkey, where they find that they can communicate quite well. I reiterated the idea that the Turks invaded Asia minor in the 1000s and that there were Greeks living there until relatively recently. By this point, we had gone all the way around to the front of Chapters (at night we leave from the back), at which point he went to Starbucks. Just before going in he said, “I wish I knew this sort of stuff. I should take the history courses you take.” I informed him to think about Greeks and Turks over his coffee.
Of course, he has knowledge that I don’t, since he studies poli-sci and I’m a Classicist.
But I got to thinking about my knowledge of the Greeks and Turks. From whom did I learn this? Well, I certainly learnt about the Greek colonies in Asia Minor in my ancient history courses. And I got the information about the Turks coming in the 11th century vaguely from history books (except they’re very careful not to actually be explicit that the Turks were foreign invaders) and courses, most specifically from The Fall of Jerusalem. Now, as to their Central Asian roots, I think that was in The Crusades by Terry Jones (yes, the Python) and Alan Ereira, which I read when I was still living in Alberta. As for Turkistan and the Chinese Turks, I learnt that from a Chinese guy I did Bible study with in Cyprus.
One other story came to mind after this. After the Greeks and Turks traded peoples (Greeks to Greece, Turks to Turkey [I am opposed to the modern concept of the nation-state]), some of the Greek churches in Ionia were knocked down. Some of these were really old churches. Yet to this day, people still hear churchbells on Sunday mornings, even though there’s no building. That was a piece of information from Kyriacos C Markides’ book The Mountain of Silence, but just now I remembered that it’s reminiscent of the concept of a thin place, and idea I first heard about in Cyprus during a presentation about Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem put on by an Anglican deacon. A thin place is a place where the supernatural and the natural, the metaphysical and the physical, the heavenly and the earthly, the spiritual and the temporal are closer. Sort of like churchless churchbells.
Brains are cool.
My brain did all that stuff. It synthesised information I had picked up from readings, university courses, and talks and conversations from over the course of a decade and produced the above. I wasn’t consciously thinking about putting it all together. It just formed itself in my mind. “Greeks and Turks.” And out came all this information from disparate sources yet all related, the new knowledge filling in the blanks left in my former knowledge and coming closer to a coherent whole.
I’ve also started having thoughts about thin places and an NT Wright lecture I once heard, but I’ll desist. Yet if you ever visit Smyrna, Priene, or Nicaea, Tarsus* listen for those old church bells ringing in the worship of Almighty God in heaven.
*Izmir, GÃ¼llÃ¼bahÃ§e, Iznik, Tarsus