Hatay | Turkey

Hatay Province (Turkish: Hatay ili, pronounced [ˈhataj]) is a province in southern Turkey, on the eastern Mediterranean coast. The administrative capital is Antakya (Antioch), and the other major city in the province is the port city of İskenderun (Alexandretta). It is bordered by Syria to the south and east and the Turkish provinces of Adana and Osmaniye to the north. The province is part of Çukurova (Cilicia), a geographical, economical and cultural region that covers the provinces of Mersin, Adana, Osmaniye, and Hatay. There are border crossing points with Syria in the district of Yayladağı and at Cilvegözü in the district of Reyhanlı. Sovereignty over the province remains disputed with neighbouring Syria, which claims that the province was separated from itself against the stipulations of the French Mandate of Syria in the years following Syria's independence from the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Although the two countries have remained generally peaceful in their dispute over the territory, Syria has never formally renounced its claims to it.

By the time it was taken from the Mameluks by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1516, Antakya was a medium-sized town on 2 km² of land between the Orontes River and Mount Habib Neccar. Under the Ottomans the area was known as the sanjak (or governorate) of Alexandretta. Gertrude Bell in her book Syria The Desert & the Sown published in 1907 wrote extensively about her travels across Syria including Antioch & Alexandretta and she noted the heavy mix between Turks and Arabs in the region at that time. A map published circa 1911 highlighted that the ethnic make up (Alexandretta) was majority Arab with smaller communities of Armenians and Turks.
Ethnic groups in the Balkans and Asia Minor, early 20th Century, Historical Atlas, 1911

Many consider that Alexandretta had been traditionally part of Syria. Maps as far back as 1764 confirm this. During the First World War in which the Ottoman Empire was defeated most of Syria was occupied by the British forces. But when the Armistice of Mudros was signed at the end of the war, Hatay was a still part of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, after the armistice it was occupied by the British forces an operation which was never accepted by the Ottoman side. Later like the rest of Syria it was handed to France by the British Empire.

After World War I and the Turkish War of Independence, the Ottoman Empire was disbanded and the modern Republic of Turkey was created, and Alexandretta was not part of the new republic, it was put within the French mandate of Syria after a signed agreement between the Allies and Turkey, the Treaty of Sèvres, which was neither ratified by the Ottoman parliament nor by the Turkish National Movement in Ankara. The subsequent Treaty of Lausanne also put Alexandretta within Syria. The document detailing the boundary between Turkey and Syria around 1920 and subsequent years is presented in a report by the Official Geographer of The Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the US Department of State. A French-Turkish treaty of 20 October 1921 rendered the Sanjak of Alexandretta autonomous, and remained so from 1921 to 1923. Out of 220,000 inhabitants in 1921, 87,000 were Turks. Along with Turks the population of the Sanjak included: Arabs of various religious denominations (Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Greek Orthodox); Greek Catholics, Syriac-Maronites; Jews; Syriacs; Kurds; and Armenians. In 1923 Hatay was attached to the State of Aleppo, and in 1925 it was directly attached to the French mandate of Syria, still with special administrative status.

There has been a policy of cross border co-operation, on the social and economic level, between Turkey and Syria in the recent years. This allowed families divided by the border to freely visit each other during the festive periods of Christmas and Eid. In December 2007 up to 27,000 people crossed the border to visit their brethren on the other side. In the wake of an agreement in the autumn of 2009 to lift visa requirements, nationals of both countries can travel freely. However, out of 50 agreements signed between Turkey and Syria in December 2009, the Hatay dispute stalled a water agreement over the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Turkey asked Syria to publicly recognize Hatay as a Turkish territory before signing on to the agreement.

Apart from maps showing Hatay as Syrian territory, the Syrian policy has been to avoid discussing Hatay and giving evasive answers when asked to specify Syrian future goals and ambitions with regard to the area. This has included a complete media silence on the issue. In February 2011 the dispute over Hatay was almost solved. The border separating Syria from Hatay was going to be blurred by a shared Friendship Dam on the Orontes river and as part of this project the two states had agreed on the national jurisdiction on each side of the border. Only weeks before the outbreak of the Syrian uprising and later war, groundbreaking ceremonies were held in Hatay and Idlib. As a result of the Syrian war and the extremely tense Turkish-Syrian relations it brought, construction was halted. As part of the ongoing war, the question of the sovereignty of Hatay has resurfaced in Syria and the Syrian media silence has been broken. Syrian media began broadcasting documentaries on the history of the area, the Turkish annexation and "Turkification" policies. Syrian newspapers have also reported on demonstrations in Hatay and on organizations and parties in Syria demanding an "end to the Turkish occupation". However, although the Syrian government has repeatedly criticized the Turkish policies towards Syria and the armed rebel groups operating on Syrian territory, it has not officially brought up the question of Hatay.

Hatay is warm enough to grow tropical crops such as sweet potato and sugar cane, and these are used in the local cuisine, along with other local specialities including a type of cucumber/squash called kitte. Well-known dishes of Hatay include the syrupy-pastry künefe, squash cooked in onions and tomato paste (sıhılmahsi), the aubergine and tahini paste (Baba ghanoush), and the chickpea and tahini paste hummus as well as dishes such as kebab which are found throughout Turkey. In general the people of Hatay produce many spicy dishes including the walnut and spice paste muhammara), the spicy köfte called oruk, the thyme and parsley paste Za'atar and the spicy sun-dried cheese called Surke. Finally, syrup of pomegranate (nar ekşisi) is a popular salad dressing particular to this area.

Antakya (Arabic: انطاكيا‎, Anṭākyā from Syriac: ܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ‎, Anṭiokia; Greek: Ἀντιόχεια, Antiócheia) is the seat of the Hatay Province in southern Turkey.

In ancient times, Antakya was known as Antioch, and was for centuries one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. It was an influential early center of Christianity. It has a population of about 250,000. Most of the population speaks Turkish as their native language, while a minority are native Arabic speakers. Antakya is situated in a well-watered and fertile valley.

Although the port city Iskenderun has become the largest city in Hatay, Antakya is a provincial capital still of considerable importance as the centre of a large district. The draining of Lake Amik and development of land has caused the region's economy to grow in wealth and productivity. The town is a lively shopping and business centre with many restaurants, cinemas and other amenities. This district is centred on a large park opposite the governor's building and the central avenue Kurtuluş Caddesı. The tea gardens, cafes and restaurants in the neighbourhood of Harbiye are popular destinations, particularly for the variety of meze in the restaurants. The Orontes River can be malodorous when water is low in summer. Rather than formal nightlife, in the summer heat, people will stay outside until late in the night to walk with their families and friends, and munch on snacks.

Its location near the Syrian border makes Antakya more cosmopolitan than many cities in Turkey. It did not attract the mass immigration of people from eastern Anatolia in the 1980s and 1990s that radically swelled the populations of Mediterranean cities such as Adana and Mersin. Both Turkish and Arabic are still widely spoken in Antakya, although written Arabic is rarely used. A mixed community of faiths and denominations co-exist peacefully here. Although almost all the inhabitants are Muslim, a substantial proportion adhere to the Alevi and the Arab Alawi traditions, in 'Harbiye' there is a place to honour the Alawite saint Hızır. Numerous tombs of saints, of both Sunni and Alawite, are located throughout the city. Several small Christian communities are active in the city, with the largest church being St. Peter and St. Paul on Hurriyet Caddesi. With its long history of spiritual and religious movements, Antakya is a place of pilgrimage for Christians. The Jewish community of Antakya had shrunk to 14 members in 2014. It has a reputation in Turkey as a place for spells, fortune telling, miracles and spirits.

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