Empires, religion, and massacres seem to go hand-in-hand. Şanlıurfa (often referred to as Urfa) has a long and complex history; it is the alleged birthplace of the Armenian language and the biblically tormented Job, the site where King Nimrod threw the prophet Abraham into a pit of fire, the city where Zengi slaughtered nearly every Syriac Christian inhabitant during his takeover in 1145— and so much more. As Urfa is tied to many Christian and Muslim prophets, it is considered a major holy site in Turkey.
According to legend, as Abraham was burning, the flames were turned into water and the coals into fish. The fish that you see today in Balıklıgöl are believed to be those coals, and it is forbidden to catch or eat these fish. By the side of the pool, you can buy little dishes of fish food from vendors, and incite a feeding frenzy in the green water.
Deep purple and lilac headscarves, embroidered with dainty white flowers and patterns, are wrapped around the heads of many of the women and men who promenade the park around Balıklıgöl. I've asked several people in Urfa about the meaning behind this unusual style of scarf, but I've never been given a clear answer other than "tradition". The checked keffiyeh however, was often explained as belonging to Kurds if they are black and white, and Arabs if they are red and white— though I met a Kurdish man who wore the red and white keffiyeh, and a Kurdish woman who wore a lilac scarf.
Balıklıgöl's park is a wonderfully peaceful place, the shade of its trees offering much-needed sanctuary from the sharpness of an intense sun. Thoughts bubble up and drift away in its quiet.