Hand(s) Across the Bosporus

By Jheri St. James

Dear Gary,

I have posted the soil today with DHL. Sorry again for the delay.

I have taken soil from under the Bosphorus Bridge at the European side of Istanbul. Istanbul is the only city in the world that connects the European and the Asian continents with a bridge. This bridge is also a symbol of the cultural connection between East and West with Turkey being the only Islamic democratic republic in the world. As all of Istanbul is historically important throughout world history, all soil here is crucial actually. But I thought the soil referring to the bridge has a more modern meaning in the sense of peace and understanding between the cultures of East and West.

Attached I send you some pics. If you have further questions or need more info just let me know. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to your great art project.

Kind regards,
Simin (Gurler), Kiziltoprak, Istanbul, Turkey

* * *

     And so begins another journal entry on the Common Ground 191 website. Ms. Simin Gurler, who first read about the project in the online Angel Therapy Newsletter posted by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D., has chosen the Turkish soil she thought was most important, put it by hand into the plastic bag, placed the bag into the small cardboard carton previously sent to her by Gary Simpson, taken it to the DHL office and returned it to us, including the Volunteer Information Sheet containing her name, address, phone, email address and soil source location, date and significance site data.

On its travels, the innocuous carton of dirt, jostling among the many other much larger and probably much more “valuable” ones, passed through Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and finally entered the U.S.A. (having received its authorization from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture), where it traveled to Wilmington, Ohio, then finally to Hawthorne, California. Gary drove one hour to Hawthorne, California, picked it up and brought it back to the studio in Laguna Beach. There, the soil was removed by hand from the plastic bag, put into the jar labeled “Turkey” and placed on “The International Wall of Soils” beneath its own flag.

With this sample, another piece of our Abstract Expressionist “patchwork quilt” is in place. Every step of the process is monitored as carefully as if the contents were gold, not dirt. And there are always the uncertainties as to whether a collector will follow through on the initial contact, even after the carton was prepaid and shipped overseas; which was the earlier case with the Turkish collection.

     This photo of the wall was taken before any of the jars were filled. At this writing, there is soil in about 80 of the 191 jars, ready for the fresco—the 50’ by 50’ installation containing all the soils combined with colors, metals and other artistic additives. The project was initiated on September 11, 2001, and the impetus continues to grow, thanks to efficient international shipping, the internet, and “Earth Angels” like all our previous collectors, Doreen Virtue and her readers, and people like Simin Gurler. As in Turkey, we say “tesekkur” in thanks and appreciation.

* * *

     The Republic of Turkey has a magnificent past and is a land full of historic treasures from 13 successive civilizations spanning 10,000 years. It is located in the Eastern Mediterranean on two continents, Europe and Asia. The European part of Turkey is called Thrace and the Asian part is called Anatolia or Asia Minor. Anatolia was the cradle of ancient civilizations, dating back to at least 7000 B.C. Its famous sites include Troy, Ephesus, and the Hittite capital of Hattasus. Turkey was, successively, part of the Hittite, Persian, Roman, Seljuk, and Ottoman empires. Its western coast was for a time the site of the some of the most brilliant city-states of the ancient Greeks, including Halicarnassus and Miletus. The Ottoman Empire, with its center in Turkey, was founded in the 13th century and endured until it was formally dissolved after World War I, many centuries.

Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the Anatolian remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire by national hero Mustafa Kemal, who later was honored with the title Ataturk or “Father of the Turks”. Under his leadership, the country adopted wide-ranging social, legal and political reforms, ranging from changing the alphabet to emancipating women. After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democratic Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and intermittent military coups (1960, 1971, 1980), which in each case eventually resulted in a return of political power to civilians. In 1997, the military again helped engineer the ousting of the then Islamic-oriented government. Turkey military intervened on Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island and has since acted as patron state to the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which only Turkey recognizes. A separatist insurgency begun in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—now known as the People’s Congress of Kurdistan or Kongra-Gel (KGK)—has dominated the Turkish military’s attention and claimed more than 30,000 lives, but after the capture of the group’s leader in 1999, the insurgents largely withdrew from Turkey, mainly to northern Iraq. In 2004, KGK announced an end to its ceasefire and attacks attributed to the KGK increased. Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy, enabling it to begin accession membership talks with the European Union.

     Turkey is located in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia (that portion of Turkey west of the Bosporus is geographically part of Europe), bordering the Black Sea, between Bulgaria and Georgia, and bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Syria. There are seven main geographical regions in Turkey, the first four of which are given the names of the seas adjacent to them: Black Sea, Marmara, Aegean and Mediterranean. The other three regions are named in accordance with their location in the whole of Anatolia: Central, Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia. Asian Turkey is mountainous inland and has an extensive semiarid plateau giving way to narrow coastal lowlands. Mt. Ararat, at 16,945 ft. is Turkey’s highest peak, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers rise in the east. Earthquakes are frequent. European Turkey, which is actually eastern Thrace, is fertile hill country and the site of the city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. The climate is Mediterranean around the coastal lowlands and the European section, but drier and subject to greater extremes inland on the Asian side, with harsh winters toward the northeast. Turkey’s strategic location controls the Turkish Straits (Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, Dardanelles) that link the Black and Aegean Seas; Mount Ararat, the legendary landing place of Noah’s Ark, is in the far eastern portion of the country.

   Rising up to a height of 5,165 m, Mt. Agri is the main peak of Turkey, and the symbol of the city of Agri. This snowcapped volcano is the famous biblical Mt. Ararat, the legendary site of the second beginning of the world. It is believed that Noah’s Ark came to rest in the mountains of eastern Turkey, and the wide plain of Igdir at the foot of the mountain is the first place where Noah set foot after the disaster. A geological hollow near Uzungil village has the shape allegedly of the ark, and it is a place often visited by tourists as a resting spot. A dessert Asure is served in the region, known as “Noah’s Pudding.” The name Ararat as it appears in the Bible is the Hebrew equivalent of Urardhu or Urartu, the Assyro-Babylonian name of a kingdom that flourished between the Aras and the Upper Tigris rivers from the 9th to the 7th century BC. Ararat is sacred to the Armenians, who believe themselves to be the first race of humans to appear in the world after the Deluge. A Persian legend refers to Ararat as the cradle of the human race.

* * *

     The shape of Turkey on a topographical map somewhat loosely resembles a hand, reaching from Asia to Europe, with the Bosphorus outlining the thumb. Turkey has given much and Turkey has taken much. Countless cultural gifts of Ottoman-dominated regions were given to the world—art, music, architecture, and literature, to name just a few. And many lives were taken by Turkish militarism.

What’s not destroy’d by Time’s devouring hand?
Where’s Troy, and where’s the Maypole in the Strand?

(Rev. James Bramston 1694-1744).

* * *

     Hands grasp and pick things up—cups of coffee, tea, or playing cards. In Turkey, traditional fortune tellers use coffee, tea, tarot cards, playing cards, or even computers as divining tools for interpreting dreams, making contact with supernatural beings, reading others’ thoughts, influencing another’s faith, destiny and luck, and making wishes. The website www.kulturturizm.gov.tr lists many traditional and popular Turkish practices such as blessings, curses, spells, spirits and other beliefs common in Turkish culture.

     For example, the Hand of Fatima protects people from the Evil Eye. Throughout northern Africa, Turkey and in other parts of the Middle East, Muslims wear the necklac and “Hand of Fatima” as jewelry and for superstitious

protection. Fatima was the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad, who married Ali, the nephew of the Prophet. From their descendents, Shi’a Muslims claim a direct line of authority over Muslims. Miracles were attributed to Fatima, such as when she prayed in the desert, it started raining. She is described as a faithful, holy woman. One day Lady Fatima was cooking halvah (sesame seed candy) in a pan in the garden when suddenly the door opened and her husband, the caliph Ali, entered along with the new bride (Islam allows a man four wives), a concubine (slave-girl). She was deeply grieved and in confusion dropped the wooden spoon from her hand. Unaware, she continued stirring the halvah with her hand. Because of the grief in her heart she never even felt the pain of her hand mixing the hot halvah. However, when her husband hurried to her side and exclaimed in surprise, “What are you doing there, Fatima?” she felt her hand burning and the pain. Thus it is from that day on the hand of the Lady Fatima has been used by girls and women in the Islamic world as a symbol of patience, abundance, luck and faithfulness.


     Next Ali as the groom and his new bride go into their wedding room. The house is wooden, and Fatima cannot stop herself from looking through a tiny little hole of a room on the second floor. And when Ali leans over the bride, from that tiny hole, Fatima’s tear drops onto his shoulder, which stops him. So the evil eye amulet of Fatima, popular in Islamic countries, is formed of glass shaped into a teardrop. This icon is seen on many types of jewelry.

     There is much right hand/left hand magic in Turkey. The left hand is for doing bad things; it also protects against the evil eye if you put it palm up in front of you, so that’s an insulting thing to do to someone, implying they have the evil eye. These hand gestures have been around since before Islam.

    Although many spells involve reading extracts from the Koran, magic is prohibited in Islam. Still spells are cast to bring rain, or people draw circles around the places they live and accompany this with prayers in the belief that the circle will act as a wall to protect them from wild animals. There are black and white spells; white for beneficial results; black for evil. In Turkey, spells are used to make a man more attached to his family or to moderate his behavior in some way, to make someone love someone else, to find an object which has been lost, to defeat the enemy.

     Superstitions have existed since the earliest days of mankind. Although they may sometimes appear illogical or unreasonable, superstitions are still an integral part of Turkish peoples’ hearts, brains and minds.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism website continues: “Curses are an essential component of everyday life, and an important element of popular wisdom. The anger, wrath, rancor or hopeless resistance felt by the old towards the young, the young to the old, or the infuriated towards each other are all reflected in these sayings. They are free of nonessentials, natural and quite transparent . . . a mixture of hope and despair, fear and joy, anger and regret.

In addition, there are many superstitious gestures and rituals surrounding the most important moments of human life—birth, circumcision, marriage and death. If a pregnant woman eats bitter food, she will give birth to a girl; sweet food and liquids raise chances of having a boy . . . She is expected to: look at the moon and beautiful people, smell roses and eat quinces, apples, green plums and grapes. The birth of the child is a time of many other cautionary tenets. After cutting the baby’s fingernails for the first time, his hands are put in a sack full of money. If a boy, the money he takes from the sack is used for the capital of the business he will later set up; if a girl, the money she takes is kept as money for her dowry. The evil eye comes up again in regard to children, who are deliberately paraded around dirty, have a spell read over them by someone who is believed to have healing power, or are taken to places of pilgrimage as forms of protection from this malefic orb.

The hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
                  William Ross Wallace d. 1881

* * *

     Were the architects of Turkey, whose hands designed and built the bridge across the Bosporus, the narrow strait separating European and Asian Turkey and joining the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara using curses and superstitions to build this important link between waterways and continents? If so, the end result is surely a blessing, not a curse. Today’s modern Turkish economy is a complex mix of modern industry and commerce, along with a traditional agriculture sector that in 2004 still accounted for more than 34 percent of employment. It has a strong and rapidly growing private sector, yet the state still plays a major role in basic industry, banking, transport and communication. The largest industrial sector is textiles and clothing, which accounts for one-third of industrial employment; it faces stiff competition in international markets with the end of the global quota system.

Anatolia possesses a wide range of clothing. Turkish hands make clothing and jewelry, which signify class, social and economic structure of the wearer. Clothes indicate whether societies are settled or nomadic, and are a source of information about historical events and ethnological origins. Daily, work and special day clothes are different. In the markets, it is easy to identify in which village one lives by clothing. Men who leave their villages to do military service or to take up employment adapt to city culture in their garb. In rural areas, women generally have little contact with the outside world and dress in conformity with lifestyle and traditions of the community of which they are part. The concept of the evil eye is widespread in this area as well, and one can observe many amulets to ward it off in peoples’ clothes and hair.

The automotive and electronics industry sectors are rising in importance within Turkey’s export mix. Real GNP growth has exceeded 6% in many years, but this strong expansion has been interrupted by sharp declines in output in 1994, 1999 and 2001. The economy is turning around with the implementation of economic reforms, and 2004 GDP growth reached 9%. Inflation fell to 7.7% in 2005—a 30-year low. Despite these strong economic gains in 2002-2005, which were largely due to renewed investor interest in emerging markets, IMF backing, and tighter fiscal policy, the Turkish economy is still burdened by a high current account deficit and high debt. The public sector fiscal deficit exceeds 6% of GDP—due in large part to high interest payments, which accounted for about 37% of central government spending in 2004. Prior to 2005, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Turkey averaged less than $1 billion annually but further economic and judicial reforms and prospective EU membership are expected to boost FDI.

* * *

     Pictures from the Romany Folk Culture Photography Exhibition – Gypsies using their hands as pictured in 2000.

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of death and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

                                                           Dylan Thomas 1914-1953

* * *

     So many hands working together, the hands of strangers—many miles apart—to create a dream: hands typed the online newsletter, other hands filled out the volunteer information form. Hands picked up the soil, shipped and received it. (Tesekkur, friends!) Hands bless and curse, strike out and soothe; hands built an ark which carried hooves, claws, and paws and Common Ground 191 is a bridge to that dream. Each human being has two hands, symbolic of the ambivalence of human life, made up of so much that is good and evil. Turkish history and culture are so ancient, so vast, and so beautiful; they are nearly incomprehensible. Turkey is after all in two geographical parts, and lives within a mixture of modern life and ancient practices. The hands that write this journal entry extend from one person with a human dream, composed of the highest aspirations of mankind. Common Ground 191 is part of that dream. The word for peace in Turkey is Baris

The eye of man hath not heard,
the ear of man hath not seen,
man’s hand is not able to taste,
his tongue to conceive,
nor his heart to report,
what my dream was.

William Shakespeare,
Much Ado About Nothing.

Post Script

Simin asked us to include the following list of Facts About Turkey, and we are very happy to accommodate her wishes to enlighten the world about her country.



Turkey has been the homeland of the Hattis, Hittites, Assyrians, Urartans, Phyrigians, Lydians, Persians, Trojans, Ionians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans.

Mesopotamia, the fabled ‘land between the rivers’ Tigris and Euphrates lies in southeast Turkey.

Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey on the Agean coast is the birthplace of Homer.

The legend of Chimera, the fire-breathing monster and Bellerophon took place in Antalya.

Daphne was turned into a bay tree by Zeus to escape the amorous advances of Apollo in the Mediterranean region near Antalya.

Mark Anthony once gave part of Turkey’s southern shore in Antalya and Side (Turkish Riviera) to Cleopatra as a wedding present.

The Virgin Mary is believed to have spent the last days of her life in a chapel near Selcuk (Ephesus).

St. Paul who came from Tarsus preached in the great theatre in Ephesus and traveled and lived around Turkey for years.

St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) once lived in Demre (Myra), south of Turkey, and is burried here.

In the 13th Century Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi, a mystic poet whose tolerance and humanity were quite exceptional for his age, founded the Whirling Dervishes in Konya, central Turkey.

Yunus Emre a Turkish humanist and a contemporary of Mevlana, much like his European successors Erasmus and Martin Luther, sought to modify man’s traditional concept of himself and the world.

Sinan, the greatest of all Ottoman architects was a worthy rival of his near contemporary Michelangelo.

Nine thousand different species of plants grow in Turkey and 3000 of these grow only in Turkey and nowhere else in the world.

In the 16th century, Busbecq the Ambassador in Istanbul of the Habsburg Emperor first introduced the tulip to Europe from Turkey.

Agatha Christi’s famous story ‘Orient Express’ was mainly written in the Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul between 1926-32.

The card game Bridge was invented in the 1860’s in Istanbul and named after the Galata Bridge.

The recent movie “Troy” is based on the legendary tale told by Homer in the Iliad and the real Troy is located in Turkey on the Dardanelles Straits, the meeting point of continents.

The Christian church first took root, grew, developed and spread throughout the world from Turkey and Turkey is referred to as the Cradle of Christianity.

Many of the Old and New Testament stories happened throughout Turkey and therefore it is often referred to as the "second holy land".

After the flood, Noah's Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey.

The rainbow first appeared at Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey (Gen. 9:12-15).

One of the oldest known human cities, Çatal Höyük, is in Turkey and was the largest and probably the earliest example of a Neolithic Anatolian village about 9000 years ago.

Atatürks’ adopted daughter Sabiha Gökçen was the world’s first female combat pilot in the 1930’s.

Almost one and a half centuries before the history of flight began in 1783, the Turkish scientist Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi (1609-1640) flew across the Bosphorus from the Galata Tower.

Aphrodisias, the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love, is located near Izmir.

Famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti was originally born in Turkey.

Europe’s second oldest subway ‘Tunel’ was built by the French in Istanbul 1875.

The horse carriage statues on San Marco square of Venice once adorned the Emperor’s box on the Hippodrome in Istanbul.

The grave of the famous Carthaginian commander Hannibal is located in the town of Gebze on the northern shores of the Marmara Sea.

Simin Gurler, Soil Collector from Turkey






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