Growing CLiGS Global Programs in Turkey

By: Michael Mortimer

As our flight arcs up the Bosphorus on the return to Istanbul, wrapping up a week in Turkey, I can’t help but notice how close Europe and Asia are at this one point where the water narrows — and yet how far apart they can seem from one other. Turkey has long symbolized this intersection — geographic, political, and religious.  Our expedition here to scout for partners, locations, and projects for CLiGS and our students has provided a glimpse into the whirling forces that comprise modern Turkey.  Istanbul presents a microcosm of that contrast for any traveler fortunate enough to spend even a little time in this most intriguing of world cities.

While we began our journey by enjoying a few days drinking in Istanbul’s charms, our focus soon turned to the Capadocia region in central Anatolia. Capadocia is a cradle, a living landscape, and a palpable experience of the reach of Turkish history as it mingles with the grip of 21st century challenges.  Everything in Capadocia seems alive.  The arid landscape, shaped by volcanoes, sees the perpetual rise and fall of otherworldly stone faerie chimneys battered by water and wind; even as tourists gape from the balloons gently grazing this stony skyline.  The temperature extreme between summer and winter can range 80 degrees and further contributes to a harshness — and natural beauty — that defines the region.  This is a region that spawned the Hittite Empire millennia ago, that sheltered early Christian refugees and scholars in sprawling underground cave cities, and a region that now grapples with tourism as a means of rural economic development in a place that seems worlds apart from the glittery economic engine of cosmopolitan Istanbul.

Is Capadocia a suitable addition to the CLiGS portfolio of international work sites?  Water scarcity seems to stalk the region like a spectre, acknowledged but in whispers.  Small villages struggle to define themselves as tourist destinations, while risking tearing rich cultural and natural fabrics. Climate change moves like a puppeteer, challenging agricultural practices, recreational aspirations, and government resolve alike.  And at the same time infrastructure demands, needs for policy innovation, and a striking lack of a vital civil society call into question the sustainability of the current development strategies. Can CLiGS learn here? Can we both share in and contribute to the stories of this region?  Yes.  Turkey is an iconic paradox; at once exhibiting longevity — home to Byzantine and Ottoman Empires — but at the same time showcasing economic and social transitions in real-time. In Capadocia we can look forward to opportunities to contribute to this amalgam of the enduring and the changing.  Indeed, an intriguing place for Leadership in Sustainability.