My wife and haven’t done anything special for a while, so I floated the idea of walking down to the new Antakya Archaeological Museum to have a gander. We’ve been there before, but as we purchased ‘Museum Passes’ last autumn, we can go for ‘free’. Of course it is not actually ‘free’, but more accurately ‘pre-paid’, but it feels free. Sometimes it is nice to go to a museum, and streak past many exhibits to spend time exploring, experiencing and enjoying just one particular aspect. The Museum Pass enables this. Summer has not yet come, and consequently, strolling in the afternoon is acceptable, so we decided to head out in the afternoon.
After lunch, we struck out, planning a fairly direct course as the museum is a fair walk away (3.3 kilometres there – oh, and then there is back).
This took us, naturally, to the dominate road in the old quarter of Antakya. This road is ‘Salvation Avenue’. Salvation can have a special meaning for Christians, but locally, it is probably a reference to the war of independence or some other victorious battle.
This ‘Salvation Avenue’ runs, straight as a die, through the heart of the old quarter. By examining street plans of the ancient city – and due to the mountain being a a fixed point, and the river (until recently crossed by the ancient Roman bridge) as another fixed point, you can discern where the ancient layout and the modern ‘old quarter’ coincide.
In ancient times there was a major street dissecting the metropolis. This was a unique, colonnaded street which hosted the first street in the Roman Empire to boast ‘street lighting’… a significant thoroughfare and as Romans tended to make, a very straight street.
It would appear that ‘Salvation Avenue’ follows directly on top of the course of this ancient thoroughfare. If archaeologists were to conduct a dig, it is extremely likely they will come upon the ruins of that ancient way just two or three metres below the road surface.
We headed off, our goal in mind.
As we walked along on the pavement, I noticed ahead, two men dressed in civil attire, but one had a distinctive radio hanging from his waist.
As we drew nigh, the one with the radio turns towards me, and pointing a single finger directly at me, directs me to stop. He looks like a policeman. His manner of stopping me was as one who has authority, very unlike salesmen and beggars.
Once stopped, he begins patting and examining his pockets until he finds his ID and produces it to officially declare that he is a policeman. His travelling companion did not do this – I suppose one is sufficient, would be the thinking.
He knew he had stopped foreigners, we are somewhat obvious, he therefore spoke in English, and asked for my passport.
Under the current conditions, I ‘never leave home without it’. I reached into my pocket and produced my passport. He looked at it and we then had a discussion on what made up the ‘United Kingdom’.
My wife, following our rules, ‘only do or answer what you are asked, volunteer nothing’, is standing there, passport safely stored in her bag.
He asked for her passport as well.
They took photos of both passports – the modern ‘smart phone’ at work in all its glory. Then they sent a text message or email with the salient information from the passport somewhere.
He asked what I do. I explained I ‘help a local church’. My belief is the truth will be spoken convincingly and comfortably – and is verifiable and hence is the best course to follow. Besides, Holy Writ instructs me that my ‘yes’ needs to be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ must mean ‘no’ – in other words be honest in my communications.
Which church?, and such questions naturally followed.
This done, they hold us there on the side of the footpath – it is not a wide footpath.
A man came up to assist, he identified himself as the local ‘muhtar’ (the elected head of a neighbour in a town). The two identify themselves as police (without showing ID) and the man beats a prompt retreat.
We are informed that we are awaiting a message – our details having been sent somewhere, are being scrutinised and a response will be forthcoming.
As we wait, the other policeman engages me in a discussion of religion – specifically, ‘Protestantism’ and ‘Evangelicals’. As we are chatting, the other policeman’s phone rings and I hear him talking with the person on the other end. He refers to me as a person with responsibilities at a church.
When the call was concluded, he, making no additional comment, gave us back our passports and sent us on our way.
So it was a ‘random stop and check’… he seemed to be at pains to point out that we were not the only ones so stopped. That, in itself is somewhat odd for me – why would you do that, unless…. it was not random, but targeted…. it is a path I use frequently….
Enough pointless and profitless paranoia…
There is a very important referendum on Easter Sunday – we will be celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, and the Turks will be going about their democratic duty voting in the referendum. This has probably resulted in some additional security checks.