Friday, August 21, 2009

A Ring and A Story - Damascus

( I wrote this piece 2 years ago after a trip to Syria, and as I was wearing my ring today, I remembered and wanted to share it with you...)

I bought a ring from a souk in Aleppo. On it’s round silver surface, a sentence from Koran engraved in Arabic with a beautiful calligraphy. It says, ‘everything will die/change except the face of God.’

Deaths, funerals and cemeteries have always created different feelings in me. On the one, hand there is the feeling of loss and the end, and on the other hand the feeling that I don’t have to take myself and what I have too seriously, as everything will end one day and the urge to fully enjoy every remaining minutes of my life.

I felt those feelings in the most acute sense when I lost my father. One part of me was senseless due to pain, but the other part was urging me to f… the problems at work or the boy friend who was not calling and telling me that everything will change, and I have to start living and do whatever I want to do as soon as possible.

Since then, those feelings have remained with me. I always know that happiness or sadness, whatever it is, will pass one day, and I try not to indulge myself to either of them strongly.Those feelings were with me in a small cemetery in Damascus. There is a small Ottoman cemetery near the Takıyya al Sulaimaniyya, the current day military museum. There are 40-50 graves here belonging to some dynasty members as well as the Ottoman rulers of the period. One of the graves that is the most important one historically but the most unpretentious one, is belong to the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Vahdettin.

Vahdettin was 57 years old when he ascended the throne on July 4, 1918. He waited this moment long enough at his house at Çengelköy. And that day, he first reached to Sarayburnu pier with a steamboat.. Ministers, members of the parliament and all the staff of the Topkapi Palace were waiting him in an orderly way at the gilded door of the palace. Vahdettin along with Enver Pasha who was escorting him in his car, got off from the car in the most dignified manner, and walked to the Baghdad pavilion

He rested at the pavilion for a while, then he took Abdulmecit, the son of his uncle Sultan Abdülzaziz, the new heir of the Empire and they went to the Babüssade and he sat at the emerald throne according to the Ottoman customs.

At the same moment, cannon fires were announcing the ascending of Vahdettin while all the Ottoman Princes, leading religious, civil and military figures, were offering their loyalty to the new Sultan.

The next scene is from villa Magnolia in San Remo, Date was, May 15,1926. Eight long years and lots of events passed since that day. After a while he called for Nevzat Kadıefendi who was always around him, and asked for a bowl and said he has pain in his gall, and vomited a little. And then said,’ Oh! Throw this immediately so that it won’t stink. After Nevzat Kadıefendi cleaned the bowl, he found the lifeless body of the Sultan Vahdettin in his deck chair. Those were the last minutes of the last Ottoman Sultan.

The debtors and bankruptcy officers prevented the removal of the body for 4-5 days in San Remo. When they broke into his bag for money, all they found were medallions and decorations, stripped out of their diamonds and valuable stones long ago for the expenses. While the households were negotiating with the debtors in the living room of the villa, Prince Omar Faruk and Tahir bey, secretly loaded the body to a horse cart at the back door, hidden under heavy carpets and the funeral reached to San Remo station.

That was how the body of the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire kidnapped from the debtors, whose predecessors ruled and protected numerous kings and shahs through the centuries and regarded as the ‘holy emperor’ of the all seas and lands in the world. A cart pulled by a single horse moved slowly in the streets of San Remo and the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was starting his last journey.

Vahdettin who was coming from the bloodline of the likes of Fatih the Conqueror and Sulaiman the Magnificent, buried in Damascus that is the closest Islam land to the city that he was born. This is a story that I will remember every time I wear my ring.

I roughly translate italic parts from the book of Yilmaz Cetiner, Last Sultan Vahdettin.


  1. I dunno. But I feel that traditional burial grounds have a sense of haunting peace with them.. Nice post.
    My Travelogue

  2. I just love your blog. I have a fascination with the Ottoman Empire and everything Turkish [modern or historic]

    So.. whenever I come here it is a feast for my eyes and my heart. Great post. I've had many of those 'aha' moments when you know that this life needn't be so serious. Unfortunately they don't stay with me in the present moment. But you can keep reminding me.. haha

    Have a great weekend. Julie

  3. Very nice again.
    Its nothing for me and my family to go around the grave yards and look at old tombs and headstones.I miss my love ones, But at the same time I would hope they are in a better place.Its the living we have to worry with.XXOO Marie Antionette

  4. What a touching story of your ring and of the last Sultan. I still get too caught up in the immediate moment, and forget to realize it is fleeting and so insignificant in the big picture. Your story will help me remember.
    Have a lovely weekend.
    xxx kim

  5. i feel the same way about life

    best enjoyed in an open hand..

  6. Such a beautiful story and so very true. Your posts are always so meaningful and make one stop and think....
    I am off to the Finger Lakes tomorrow and will really be in the moment and enjoy every minute as time goes so very fast.

  7. I love this post. I enjoyed reading the history and learned something about you too.

    First time commenter. You were a banker and so am I. Thanks for becoming a follower of my blog.

    I read some of your prior posts. That kitty was so cute!

  8. It was an impressive story...

  9. You have such a range of interesting posts!

  10. Wonderful post! I've never been to Syria...

  11. Thanks for teaching me about Vahdettin. He must have become sultan just after the end of the long Ottoman rule of the Holy Land.
    Scandal how they did not release his dead body.

    Descendant of Suleiman?! I will remember your story and your ring next time I walk down Suleiman the Magnificent Street in east Jerusalem.

  12. Great post again.. touching story of the sultan and yea whatever comes has to go, be it sorrow or happiness, good times or bad times all will have to pass on.

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