From 24-28 March 2011 I was with my wife Pauline in Tirana for a conference of the Hizmet movement also known as the Fethullah Gülen network for education, social emancipation and interreligious harmony. In various short stories I will record some impressions of this most interesting and revealing trip.
On Sunday 27 March we were, in a group of some 12 congress participants who would stay at least one day longer, taken to the harbour town Dürress and the beautiful old town of Berat, located in the south at a place where a river narrows and the two sides come together in a quite small valley with steep high walls on each side.
Our lovely guide that day was Birol Inaltekin, Principal of the Turgut Özal Memorial International School of Tirana. Birol is born in Istanbul, served as school teacher in Georgia and Macedonia. He married a wife from Kirgyzia. The couple has three boys who also joined us on the trip. First some pictures of the Inaltekin family:
The absolute top of this day was the old town of Berati, already mentioned in 216 BCE as Antipatrea. In 200 BCE the Romans called it Albanorum Oppidum because of the white colour of its stones. It has very old manuscripts, some with rich golden and silver illustrations. For some time it was a kingdom of its own, it was ruled by the Bulgaroians and since 1455 by the Ottomans. The West side of the old town is still mostly Christian, the East side is mixed with a Muslim quarter down, close to the river, but uphill the old town is mostly Christian. The museum with some nice icons from the 16th century by its most famous painter, Onufri.The guidebook listed some 17 churches and some ruins of mosques and the palace of the Turkish Pasha. In 2005 Berat has been listed as a world heritage site by Unesco.
This is the dormitory of a tèkè, so it looks like the dormitory of a pesantren in Indonesia, beautifully restored in the lower part of East Berat.
I asked several people in this town about this new building: a mosque? an orthodox church? Some suggested that it would become a grand church plus mosque, side by side. Birol suggested that it would become an orthodox university, or a common private university owned by an Orthodox, but it might be a Muslim as well. Things can be easily combined, until now at least!
Above a rare picture of Mrs and Mr Steenbrink together in front of the former Cathedral of Berat, now the Museum.
Well, let us conclude with the statue of big and great Constantine and a quote from Fethullah Gülen, according to Greg Barton:
State Islam – ‘Lausanian Islam’ - a product of the philosophy behind Turkey’s revolution
‘State Islam’ in Turkey was based on the conviction that the state was able to control religion – that it could shape and direct religious practice and belief through the application of law and institutions.
This meant that the state felt that it needed to maintain control over religious expression in the public sphere. This is accepted as a fact by Fethullah Gülen. He does not try or even hope to establish a totalitarian state where religion or religious leaders should control all aspect of political, social and individual life.