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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the June 12, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Turkey: Cultural Crossroads, Political Ally

I‘d have to say I’m no different than Ariadne and her

ball of string — the more research I do, the more research I do,"

says author Joy Stocke. The mythological Ariadne was the daughter

of Pasiphae and King Minos and lived at the palace of Knossos. It

was Ariadne who used her ball of string to safely guide Theseus into

the labyrinth so he could slay the dreaded minotaur that dwelt within.

Such references come naturally to Stocke, who has been traveling to

Greece and Turkey for more than 20 years. From her very first visit,

in 1982, Stocke says she was struck by the way people in both countries

still live their mythology.

"As I traveled, I’d be told, `This is where Apollo chased Daphne

and turned her into a tree.’ People spoke of them as if they were

their sisters or cousins — their stories were immediate and real,"

she says, in an interview from her home in Stockton. "I began

to think that this was something that was missing at home."

Stocke set out to remedy this lack of connection with her own writing

and research, and with a public discussion series on World Culture

that she has hosted at Barnes & Noble, Marketfair, for the past five

years. This week she begins a three-part summer series on the history

and culture of Turkey.

The series begins on Tuesday, June 18, with "Along

the Lycian Coast," a presentation on the coastal region where

the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean, with discussion of the intrepid

British woman explorer Freya Stark. In July, the topic is "Who

Were the Ottomans?," with discussion of the Ottoman Empire, the

fall of Constantinople, and its continuing legacy in world affairs

with discussion of "Lords of Their Horizons" by Jason Goodwin.

And in August, the subject is "The Jews of Turkey," with a

talk on Jewish settlements that date back to the fourth century B.C.E.,

and its later role as a haven for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain

in 1492.

Stocke is the author of "The Cave of the Bear," a bi-lingual

volume of poetry in English and Greek (Pella 1999); "Ugly Cookies,"

a novel (Pella 2000); and "Meridian Bound: an anthology (Pella

2001). She has taught creative writing at the Community College of

Philadelphia and is a co-founder of the Meridian Writers Collective,

also in Philadelphia. She is currently researching her next book,

with the working title "Anatolian Days and Nights: Two Women Journey

through Turkey," a literary travel book co-authored with Angie Brenner

of San Diego.

"I first went to Greece for fun in the sun — but something

got me right away. I felt a connection," says Stocke. "I started

where most tourists start which is at the Acropolis. My family had

never traveled. I didn’t have a point of reference, it was pure discovery."

After 20 years of observation and research, she says, "I feel

that world history is all of our history."

Stocke, who describes herself as "typically Midwestern" in

appearance, grew up in Milwaukee and earned a degree in journalism

(her parents’ practical choice; she would have preferred an English

degree), with a minor in French, from the University of Wisconsin

at Madison in 1979. She traces her intellectual curiosity to her college

experience, a place, she says, that "fostered inquisitiveness.

It was a great place for an exchange of ideas."

Some of this curiosity has been directed toward her own family roots.

"There are many unanswered questions in my background," says

Stocke, whose father, now retired from the record marketing business,

is a Polish Catholic, her mother a German Lutheran. She grew up close

to her grandparents who immigrated from Germany to work in Milwaukee’s

factories. The oldest of four children born in less than five years

and all raised Catholic, Stocke has two sisters, a nurse and a teacher,

and a brother who works in the record industry. Her father moved the

family to New Jersey when he went to work for the record company that

has become Time Warner. Her parents are now retired and living in

Morristown.

Married to Fred Young, also from Milwaukee, since 1984, they are parents

of Sarah, now 16. The family lived in Philadelphia until five years

ago when Young’s job with First Union Bank brought them to Stockton.

Stocke has taken her daughter on her travels since she was a baby

and says that traveling with a small child has been a boon.

"That’s another thing that has endeared me to both countries,

traveling with a child I have been treated like royalty — we’ve

both treated with respect and affection and I never feared for my

safety, ever," she says "When I travel, I will go where angels

fear to tread." She will not put herself in danger, but says she

will sleep anywhere, stay anywhere that her research leads her.

Stocke was working as a church secretary in a liberal Presbyterian

church when she began to have questions about faith. In the early

1990s, she was living in Philadelphia but enrolled in a two-year weekly

symposium on "The Evolution of Consciousness" taught by William

Irwin Thompson at the Cathedral of St. John Divine, in New York City.

Thompson is a cultural historian and philosopher of culture. Founder

of the Lindisfarne Association, he is also a prolific author, a poet,

and a visionary.

"My interest is in asking the great questions in history, how

religion works as part of a power structure. Who is god? Why do we

always invoke god? — even our legal contracts refer to `acts of

god,’" she says.

Learning the language was the first imperative for Stocke

who arrived in Greece after her college graduation. Today she describes

herself as a student of Greek and an amateur student of Sanskrit.

She is now working toward learning both Arabic and Turkish.

"I felt it was critical to learn the language and because, as

a writer, my interest is in how language affects the way we think,"

she says. "My real interest is in root languages. Greece holds

the key, its root is Sanskrit. Arabic and Turkish are also old languages."

She started going to Turkey by ferry from Greece, beginning with the

island of Crete, an island that was part of Turkey up to the 19th

century.

"Turkey was intimidating to me at first, until I started to see

the connection between Greece and Turkey," she says. "The

political divisions were more recent, and I started to see that the

actual human connections were more direct."

Traveling by boat along the Lycian coast of Turkey, she saw tombs

along the edge of the sea that looked like small Parthenons. Right

away she wanted to know more about the connections between the Lycians

and the Greeks and the trade routes to Egypt.

Known as "the crossroads of civilizations," Turkey is a nation

of 65.5 million people. Surrounded by sea on three sides — the

Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean — it also has land

connections to three continents — Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its

numerous bordering countries are Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia,

Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Northern Cyprus.

Stocke says the many questions evoked by the terrorist attacks of

September 11 one of the reasons she chose to focus her discussion

series on Turkey. "People were asking me, where is this part of

the world and what is this part of the world about," she says.

"Most people are unfamiliar with anything east of Greece."

"I think one of the reasons people want to ask questions and get

answers, the sense of America as a separate entity has been shattered.

The world isn’t so secure any more. And before, this part of the world

didn’t affect us in our day to day life. I think now it’s imperative

that people know about this."

As she made plans to travel to Turkey this April, a friend asked Stocke,

"Do you feel safe going to an Arab country?"

"I said, `I’m not going to an Arab county, I’m going to Turkey.’

This was the home of the first Christian church, the Church of St.

Peter, in Antioch, a highly sacred place to Catholics. St. Paul was

born Tarsus. Turkey is also a country that had a thriving Jewish culture."

Stocke’s next book will be a history and geography of

Turkey through storytelling. "One of the things that I have found

is that people will sit and tell you their stories. Every day in Turkey

becomes an adventure of sorts. And through travel you see the connections

and migrations of people."

Since September 11, Turkey has become a more urgent cause for the

author who continues to battle American insularity.

"People should particularly know about Turkey because we need

Turkey to be strong and stable. It’s an ally of America, a NATO member,

a secular Moslem republic, that could provide a model for other emerging

republics. There, Christian, Jew, and Moslem, and goddess worshipers

can all make contact with their religious history and the foundations

of their belief. In Turkey, you can do it all."

Along the Lycian Coast, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair,

Route 1 South, 609-897-9250. Author Joy E. Stocke gives the first

of three talks on Turkey, on the Lycian Coast where the Aegean Sea

meets the Mediterranean, with discussion of British explorer Freya

Stark. Free. Tuesday, June 18, 7 p.m.

Who Were the Ottomans?, a talk on the Ottoman Empire,

the fall of Constantinople, and its continuing legacy in world affairs,

with discussion of "Lords of Their Horizons" by Jason Goodwin.

Free. Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m.

The Jews of Turkey, a talk on Jewish settlements in Turkey

dating back to the fourth century B.C.E., and discussion of John Freely’s

book, "Istanbul, the Imperial City." Free. Tuesday, August

20, 7 p.m.


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