Wherever we lived, Mark was always on a city league soccer team, and in Ankara he joined the joint team of the British and Irish embassies. He played two matches a week, one competitively (for points in the league), and another on Monday evenings just for fun. One time, at a break between matches at a tournament in the city, Mark noticed that his team’s goalkeeper was wearing a Galatasaray shirt. Galatasaray is a famous professional Turkish soccer club from Istanbul.
Mark told me: “I asked him in English if he supported Galatasaray, and he said, ‘Yes it’s one of my teams.’”
“What do you mean, one of your teams?” Mark asked him after a minute.
“Well,” the goalie said, dragging on his cigarette, “Gençlerbirliği, Galatasaray, and then Trabzon Spor.” (Gençlerbirliği is one of Ankara’s professional teams, founded in 1923.)
Mark told me, “At that moment, I realized he meant teams he played for. This guy is a really good goalkeeper. And anyway, nobody has three teams they support. So I asked him if he played for Galatasaray.”
“I played for them in the Champion’s League against Chelsea,” he said. Actually, Mark clarified for me, he was on the reserve squad and did not have playing time against Chelsea, but still, Mark was happy as Larry, as they say in his country, to be playing on a city league team with a goalkeeper with these credentials.
One Monday evening that fall, Mark came home after his soccer match when the children were asleep. I was sitting on our rental sofa in our empty living room watching TV on our new television. I had been aimlessly switching channels, and smoking the second-hand smoke that always found its way into our apartment, in particular in the front room near the TV, from the downstairs neighbors. (The other thing that found its way into our apartment from theirs was the sound of a very unhappy young woman who often shouted in an angry and accusing voice. Sometimes she cried. A husky male always responded, more calmly than her, but still loudly. That is all we knew.)
I had stopped changing channels momentarily to watch what I thought was a slightly dated Anatolian soap opera in which a macho-looking man in tight jeans with bushy black hair and mustache stood next to a car talking to someone. When I turned the volume up I was startled to realize that it was Burt Reynolds playing an ex-CIA hit man in the movie Malone from 1987. Mark came in and put his gym bag down.
“All right?” he said, smiling at me.
I turned down the volume again and turned to him.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“It was weird,” he began. “When I was walking to the car park, I saw a group of Americans,” he said. He had been at Balgat military base with his team, and was clearly not talking about the match.
“They were gathered in a circle, and one of the men was reading from the Bible, and everyone was praying intently. I felt like I was in another country,” he said, “and it wasn’t Turkey.” I laughed.
I hadn’t thought of it until then, but it occurred to me that you don’t see Christian churches in Ankara, and those that exist sit on embassy grounds out of public view. This gives them something in common with their secret underground predecessors, before Islam when the early Christians lived in fear of the Romans who in turn loathed the Galileans, as they were sometimes called, as a deranged sect of incestuous (“love thy brother”), cannibalistic (bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus) subversives. Ankara did become Christian, I learned later, when Hellenism finally gave way to monotheism, even among the city’s pagan elite, probably by the early fifth century. For centuries thereafter, Ankara had a bishop, even after the city had become predominantly Turkish and Muslim and until the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece after World War I. I understand it also had churches and monasteries from the fifth and sixth centuries, but none survive.
At the American military base there are several places of worship, including a Mormon church and a Protestant chapel. On the British Embassy compound there is an Anglican church, St. Nichols. There is St. Clemens, an Orthodox Church, at the Greek Embassy, and the Chapel of St. Paul at the Italian Embassy, presumably Catholic. The Temple of Rome and Augustus in Ankara was converted into and used as a church for a time. It is one of the few remaining Roman ruins in Ankara. Archeologists believe the temple was where the mostly Phrygian and Galatian locals worshipped the Roman emperors as gods during the 200 years or so that the Romans ruled the city. (Whether or not the locals actually believed the conquering Roman emperors were gods is another thing, but it must have been the safe thing to do, politically, as an expression of loyalty to Rome.) One of the ruins is a 50-foot high marble column. It has come to be known as the Column of Julian.
Flavius Claudius Julianus, Julian’s full name, was Roman Emperor for only a few years, (r. 361-363), before he was killed at age 32 by an arrow to his side on campaign in Persia. He was the nephew of Constantine the Great, and is primarily remembered as the last non-Christian Emperor of Rome. Though the column bears no inscription, it dates from the fourth century, and was probably dedicated to Julian when he stayed in Ankara as emperor. It is near Ulus and in good shape, if not particularly relevant to the city, which leaves it alone as it drives and walks around it.
I found out later that Galatasaray, the famous Istanbul soccer club, means Galata Palace in English. Saray means palace in Turkish. It is used a lot, like when we stayed at the Lale Saray (The Tulip Palace Hotel) in Cappadocia that September. Galata is the old name of a neighborhood on the northern shore of the Golden Horn in Istanbul that Galatasaray calls home. The name dates from when it was a Genovese colony, which it was from 1273 until 1453, when the Ottomans under Mehmed II conquered Istanbul. There’s more than one theory about why the area came to be called Galata. One is that it was named after the Celtic tribes who camped in the area on their raiding parties into Asia Minor from Thrace: the Gauls. Twenty-thousand Gauls invaded Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor from Thrace over two years in the late third century B.C.E., and they came to be called Galatians to distinguish them from their French cousins. After being routed by a king from Pergamum, the Galatians were forced into Central Anatolia, to Phrygia, and one of the Galatian tribes, the Tectosages, who were originally from around Toulouse, settled in Ancyra. Galatia, the region encompassing Ancyra as its capital, did not originate as a Roman province, but became one, and in spite of the Phrygians outnumbering them, the Galatians became the ruling elite there, and in time aligned with the Romans.