Friday, October 26, 2007


In Turkey, everything is a crisis. People are so easily whipped up into a frenzy, and the news media here blurs the line between news and entertainment even more than in the US. Newspapers are full of luridly colored pictures that make USA Today seem like downright heavy reading, and TV news footage is often accompanied by a soundtrack. Wherever there are wailing mothers to be found tearing at their hair, the Turkish news media finds them.

I've seen a lot of these crises in the 6 years I've been here. Some were quite real, like the bombing of HSBC and the British Consulate. Some were less pressing, like when Ecevit's coalition all resigned on him, causing a brief economic crash. That day at work, we tuned into a live online currency converter and watched our lira salaries drop 30% against the dollar in a few hours before heading off to class. Then there are the fears that always lurk in the back of your mind, like Fear of Earthquakes and Fear of Bombs. They're there, but you get used to it. Fear of Getting Hit By A Bus is much more salient on a day-to-day basis.

A couple weeks ago, the crisis was the US House of Representatives preparing to vote on a bill labelling what happened to Armenians here at the beginning of the century a 'genocide.' There's a lot to be said on this, but I'll refrain from straying too much from my topic. In Turkey, The Armenian Thing That Didn't Happen is highly sensitive, and threats were thrown all around. I saw a press conference in which American leaders were urging the Turks "Don't overreact!" which is a little like telling a bear not to shit in the woods.

Now, of course, the crisis is the Turkish assault on PKK troops in Northern Iraq. Last weekend, the PKK killed 12 Turkish soldiers, so the retaliatory slaughter has begun. By the end of the next day, the Turks had killed 34 PKK soldiers, and BE and his family were watching the news tally up the deaths and cheering like they were scoring goals. The Americans tried to stop the Turks from invading Northern Iraq, but there's no stopping the Turks when the chance to kill Kurds arises. Again, I'll refrain from spouting my opinions on the Turkish/Kurdish issue because it's not really what I want to get into right now.

The Turks have been whipped into their predictable frenzy. Already there are reports of Kurds getting beaten on the streets. There are protests and demonstrations everywhere, even out in the sticks where I live. The city hasn't quite incorporated this area, so the Jandarma (military police) do a lot of the law enforcement instead of the regular police force. Every night this week there has been a huge demonstration outside the nearby Jandarma base. The first night, I was home alone, and had no idea what was going on. It sounded like Turkey had come in 3rd in the World Cup again. I called BE, and he said they were protesting terrorism. The exact goal of this protest is unclear to me, as I doubt the Jandarma like terrorism either, and it's not like they sit on their butts and let it happen. BE says it's about people's psychology, which is one of those catch-all Turkish explanations for a lot of things that can't really be explained.

The second night of the protest, I went out on the balcony and saw lights flashing on and off in many apartment windows. Again, I was home alone, and again, I had no idea why that was happening. Already feeling unsettled with recent events plus some unpleasantness with the in-laws the previous day, I assumed the lights were some kind of secret signal and that everything was sure to come down at any moment. A low-flying plane didn't help, but it woke LE and gave me an excuse to pick him up and hold him. I couldn't bring myself to put him down for an hour, sitting away from the windows just in case. BE later explained that this was a 'light protest,' and apparently the news had urged people to do this. I don't understand the point of this either, but it's apparently also related to people's psychology.

So Turkey's gearing up to enter the war with Iraq, and some preliminary border assaults have already begun. Every night, what sounds like hundreds of people (mostly young men with nothing better to do, I'm sure, from the sound of all that male barking) gather outside the Jandarma base to honk their horns and yell and whistle, and people (including BE) turn their lights on and off. It reminds me that it doesn't take much to make a place like this to return to a 3rd world mess. At the moment, the Friday ezan is being drowned out by a parade with lots of banging drums. Turkish flags fly from every apartment window, and the upcoming Cumhüriyet Bayramı (Republic Day) on Monday is feeding the flames.

Before I had a baby here, this kind of excitement was fun. It made me feel adventurous and energized. It felt good to take calls from family, and assure them that yes, things were happening but it was far from me and all was well. Now that's all different, with the baby. Now I just hate the PKK for being terrorists, and I hate the Turkish government for provoking them. I hate them equally and I don't give a shit about any of their reasons or justifications. Right now, Turkish nationalism is just a bunch of annoying noise and flags and words and oft-repeated stock phrases and I wish they would all get over themselves and shut up. LE is a helpless, smiling, perfect little being cooing in his crib, and I'm in charge of caring for him and protecting him, and all I can think of is the buses and trash cans and unidentified boxes that are going to start blowing up everywhere.

It's times like this that I'm reminded how much I'm an outsider here, and how I'm free to leave whenever it gets ugly. I'm reminded of how little feeling I have about Turkey and the Republic and its position in the world. I feel that I care nothing at all about anybody here except my son, and all the rest of them can go to hell for doing anything to threaten him. All of this has nothing to do with me. LE is as innocent as anyone can be. I don't care who's responsible. I don't care why it's happening. I just want it to go away.


paul said...

Thanks for the very interesting insight into what it's like to be in Turkey right now at this fractious time.

Stranger said...

And thanks for reading it! I'm afraid it's not very insightful actually-- just terribly selfish and I had to get it off my chest.

melissa said...

I can imagine how much more stressful it must seem with a baby. Give LE a big hug for me.

ms.bri said...

Hugs from me, too. It sounds scary and annoying. Be safe. Keep writing.

Stranger said...

Thanks, Bri & Melissa. Scary and annoying just about covers it. I've been cuddling LE so much he's sick of me and hits my face.

Yaramaz said...

I'm glad you said it- I tried on my livejournal today after a week of procrastination and still failed. I'm really annoyed these days. I just want to yell at people to get over themselves. More horns blaring already at 9:30am... Ugh.

Stranger said...

If I'd written the short version, it would've been 'Get over yourselves!' Today (Oct. 29) is BE heaven, as there's that all-day military display in Ankara on TV. He's making the baby watch it and bouncing him in time to the marches. The announcer says things like 'Mr. Gül is saying hello to everyone. He's waving. He's sitting down. Here is a flag.'

The good news is that they've closed Vatan Caddesi for some flag-waving nonsense, so traffic is fucked for the whole city, which means we won't have to visit the in-laws today, hehe.

Anonymous said... least the flags will be packed away for a while... or will they?

Great blog, soon to be featured on ELT World (I've moved to

David V.