Somaliland:An Ottoman city in Africa: BERBERA
We are in Somaliland and leave Hargeisa, heading for the city of Berbera.
By Saim Orhan
There are 150 kilometers between Hargeisa and Berbera, and our trip takes us around two-and-a-half hours, which is more than this distance would normally take, but the roads are in terrible condition. Like the city of Zeyla in Somaliland, Berbera is also an Ottoman city. We are very excited to see it, situated on the coastline.
There are around 50,000 people living in Berbera, though this number drops in the summer months, when people head for cooler spots.
One of the first people we encountered in Berbera was a man frying fish, wrapping them up in newspapers, and selling them to passers-by. He’s got lots of customers, it appears.
We see lots of people sitting in cafes and chewing “ghat” here. We also see some ghat sellers; the people of Somaliland are serious about their ghat; it is a crucial part of their lives.
Berbera is a beautiful city, with an endless coastline; the water is enticing, and the beach is sandy. You could swim year-round here if you wished. But it is also one of the hidden gems of the world. Berbera is also a busy port city. Goods are constantly being transported to and from loading docks that are bustling with trade.
You can also see fishermen returning to shore with giant catches from the bountiful waters. We spend quite some time just taking in this incredible view but when our car finally arrives, we hop in.
The Ottomans left behind many buildings in Berbera. The large mosque in the center of the city is from the Ottomans, and is called the Mecid-i Turk. It is a functioning mosque that was built between the years of 1840 and1850. The courthouse next to it was also built by the Ottomans where the city’s governor now resides.
The Ottomans arrived in these lands in 1804 and ruled for 80 years, when their reign ended in 1884. While in Berbera, we also discovered that the docks and lighthouse here were built by the Ottomans. Though the length of their reign was relatively short, the Ottomans left behind more structures in Berbera than in any other state under Ottoman rule. In fact, thanks to the Ottomans, this became a prosperous and well-developed area.
‘These are your works’
There are ethnically Turkish families living in Berbera to this day, though they have forgotten how to speak Turkish. The local people recognize the works left behind by the Ottomans and were quick to mention this when they learned we are from Turkey, telling us, “These are your works.”
One local citizen comes up to us and starts to tell us that there used to be just one small mosque before the Ottomans arrived, noting, “But then the Ottomans came and built us a beautiful large mosque. They were the leaders of all the Muslims. They [paved] the way for the Islamic world.”
Another citizen stops his car to talk to us, expressing great praise for the Ottomans and the Turks. He says, “It was the Ottomans who ruled here, and we lived then under Muslim leadership.”
A region part of Berbera where Ottomans constructed a water channel.
Another Ottoman contribution to Berbera was a water channel built from the skirts of a local mountain all the way to the city of Berbera. The Ottomans also built a castle at the head of the channel, with the sole purpose of protecting the channel and its water.
The local valley became green and lush because of the water from the skirts of the mountain; it was filled with date trees here. For the Ottomans to bring this valuable water some 15 kilometers was a great service to the city of Berbera. After all, in these hot lands, cooling water is a great blessing, which is why local people also never forgotten this contribution by the Ottomans.
We return from our explorations to the city of Berbera; it’s a Friday, and we’re determined to make it to prayers at the Turkish mosque in the city center.