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Technical issues resolved

CIZRE, Turkey — Thanks to the extremely helpful folks at Iridium, the sat phone is again working. Sorry for the radio silence, but it finally ended on a hotel’s rooftop in southeastern Turkey after Ilfan, the bellhop/electrical engineer (I’m not kidding), spliced an extension cord to provide power while I alternated between cursing the cruel fates for creating satellite technology and calling Iridium and talking to either Chad, Adam or Karl. We’re on a first name basis now. Adam finally found the magic formula and we’re back up and running. Thanks also to J., who has some experience with Windows machines.
It’s now very late. Tomorrow is a big day. More reports will be forthcoming.

Diyabakir sadness

DIYARBAKIR — Sunday night in Diyarbakir is actually a lot more entertaining than it sounds. Emre has become our constant companion, translating for us, joking with us, showing us around. And while J. and I wait for our press passes, Emre decided to cheer us up by taking us to a Kurdish bar. Leading us down rickety wooden stairs, as soon as he opened the door, the zinging sounds of the saz and the wailing, eerily beautiful singing style of the musician swirled around us.

DIYARBAKIR — Sunday night in Diyarbakir is actually a lot more entertaining than it sounds. Emre has become our constant companion, translating for us, joking with us, showing us around. And while J. and I wait for our press passes, Emre decided to cheer us up by taking us to a Kurdish bar. Leading us down rickety wooden stairs, as soon as he opened the door, the zinging sounds of the saz and the wailing, eerily beautiful singing style of the musician swirled around us.
Emre and I sat and talked while J. luckily found a friend in a Kurdish engineer. While they happily discussed Diyarbakir’s building codes and earthquake preparedness, Emre told me about the music.
The singer played a saz, a lute-like 7-stringed instrument with a long neck and deep body. With the addition of electronic distortion on the sound, the strumming and picking took on a droning, trance-like sound, almost like a bull-roarer but higher pitched. A backdrop of green and red fairy lights, the Kurds’ national colors, framed him. The bar itself was low, covered in Kurdish weavings, the walls covered by muslin. Above my head hung an ancient rifle.
“As I walk over the snows…” sang the musician, and groups of young men rose to clasp hands, link arms and joined in the traditional circle dance called the halay. They jumped and stomped in complicated unison, as the performer sang of love, fun and freedom.
“This is a song of freedom,” Emre told me. It sounded sad and longing. Only the men danced and sang on this one, and some in the audience even held their lighters aloft. I giddily thought of rock and roll shows in America. On the other songs, women joined in.
Freedom for Kurds seems always to be a dream for this people, and it’s a sad one for seemingly being out of reach. There’s a wistful tone when they speak of northern Iraq, which they never call Iraqi Kurdistan, as if they can’t bring themselves to say the word for fear it will disappear in a cloud again. The Kurds of Iraq have created something wonderful the Kurds in Turkey feel, but it is a fragile thing, protected only by the United States and Britain for as long as it’s useful to them. After Saddam is gone, what then?
Turkey has massed thousands of troops on the border, and every day seems to bring new confusion from Ankara as to whether Turkey will or won’t reinforce its troops in Iraq — said to number between 3,000 and 17,000, although Mehmet, the journalist, told me 13,000.
If the Iraqi Kurds are allowed some measure of autonomy in a post-Saddam Iraq, some Kurds in Turkey worry that the Turks will move in after the Americans leave, to “preserve security” as the government says every day.
And so they sit in a smokey bar in Diyarbakir, drinking chai, surrounded by the smells and sounds of a nation without a country. Their songs of freedom are songs of mourning, both for what never was and likely will never be.

Chris is experiencing technical difficulties

Chris apologizes for the lack of updates over the past few days, but he’s been having some technical difficulties with the satphone he’s using. He is working on fixing these problems, but is having little luck so far. He is healthy and safe, though, and thanks you for your understanding.
On a lighter note I don’t guess he will give this model of satphone a very good review.
Michael

Paperwork dreariness

DIYARBAKIR — I’m reading reports that the U.S. assault is taking a week’s pause to toughen up the supply lines to the front units as they prepare to hit Baghdad. Also, everything is bogged down thanks to problems with the Fedayeen militia and other harassing Iraqi units, that Iraqi resistance is tougher than Rumsfeld & Co. expected. Maybe these reports are true, maybe they’re disinformation from the Americans in preparation of a lightning assault.

DIYARBAKIR — I’m reading reports that the U.S. assault is taking a week’s pause to toughen up the supply lines to the front units as they prepare to hit Baghdad. Also, everything is bogged down thanks to problems with the Fedayeen militia and other harassing Iraqi units, that Iraqi resistance is tougher than Rumsfeld & Co. expected. Maybe these reports are true, maybe they’re disinformation from the Americans in preparation of a lightning assault.
I do know this, however. In Diyarbakir, the IV Press Corps has ground to a halt.
This place is crawling with journos, all looking for the same thing: A way in. Until that can be procured, Diyarbakir has turned into a press town in a wartime economy. Tempers are flaring. An italian camera-woman berated the poor desk clerk at my hotel yesterday morning because something (I’m not sure what) wasn’t cleaned in the morning.
“And I asked for it to be cleaned this morning and it wasn’t!” she snapped, jabbing her finger at the clerk like it was a stiletto.
But luckily, J. and I caught up with Beth and Rita again, and this time, the conversation was much more pleasant. I also discovered that since it looks like we may be here for a few days, I need to get a Diyarbakir press credential. I had to do this last year, but the region was still under special military rule. This time, I wasn’t planning on staying more than a day and I wasn’t going to be working, so I didn’t feel there was a need. Au contraire! If we want to travel around the region south of here, which, aside from the northern half of Kuwait, may be one of the most militarized places on the planet, we need those cards. So now, I’m waiting on a letter to be faxed from a U.S. Embassy to my hotel so I can present it along with my other bona fides. Bother.
Thus, this will be but a short update. We’ll be wandering around the Old City today, although not taking pictures. Without the press cred, there’s a good chance a cop will see us and make trouble for us. While it may seem cowardly, I don’t want to risk that. It would be pretty stupid to have the Back to Iraq mission end early for a reason like that. Once the credentials are secured, however, we should be OK. Unfortunately, the waiting is the hardest part.

The Dreams of a Kurd

DIYARBAKIR — Ah, Diyarbakir. This is an ancient city, almost 4,000 years old, one of the oldest on the planet. Last time I was here, the oppression stuck to my skin like humidity in a rain forest. Armored personnel carriers roamed the streets and the cops beat the hell out of a crowd of Kurds when they came to a cemetery hoping to memorialize a democracy martyr’s death from the early 1990s.

DIYARBAKIR — Ah, Diyarbakir. This is an ancient city, almost 4,000 years old, one of the oldest on the planet. Last time I was here, the oppression stuck to my skin like humidity in a rain forest. Armored personnel carriers roamed the streets and the cops beat the hell out of a crowd of Kurds when they came to a cemetery hoping to memorialize a democracy martyr’s death from the early 1990s.
This time, however, the APCs were parked off the streets. There is a notable lack of gendarmes, Turkey’s internal security police and the primary force responsible for keeping order in the southeast for the last 15 years. The sidewalks are cracked but bustling. Merchandise — whole fish, shoes, scarves and fabrics, toys and sweets — spill out onto the sidewalks, forcing older women in headscarves and traditional dress, men in kafiyehs and the Kurds’ trademarked baggy trousers to compete for walking space with teenagers in Nike sweatshirts and young men in leather jackets trying to look tough. Or they could take their chances in the street with the taxis, zooming madly, beeping their horns in staccato blips as warnings. The cacophony is thrilling, exhilarating, and even now as I sit in my hotel room, I can hear the merchants in the bazaar calling out, the horns, the traffic, snippets of conversation that echo up the alley walls and slip into my room.
Turkey lifted the emergency rule a few months ago and the difference, to me, is dramatic. This is a city that feels newly alive.
But not so to some of the younger Kurds. Emre, a 17-year-old English student, found me as I was trying to reach the KDP’s Damascus office. Slight, with delicate features and a mustache that was shyly announcing itself, he was interested in my satellite phone. As we struck up a conversation, he took to a caravansarai — a trading post built 500 years ago by the Seljuk Turks — that now served as a tea garden. It also served as a mini-bazaar, with merchants in each corner running shops selling carpets, silver-work, scarves, kafiyehs and even old Iranian rials.
Sitting down among intricately knotted carpets exploding with color — note to self: come back and ship one of these home when you come back through — that hung from the walls and ceiling supports, Emre, J., myself and Emre’s friend, Necati, sat down to some of the ubiquitous tea.
He was against the war, of course — basically everyone in Turkey, 94 percent, is against the war — but I asked him if things were better now that emergency rule had been lifted. He said it was only a little better. I asked him if the Turks were justified in worrying about its own Kurds attempting to break off and dash for independence if the Iraqi Kurds over the border attained their own country.
“Let me answer your question with a question,” he said. “In America, there are, what, 50 states? Does the black man want his own nation? Does the brown man?”
I said no.
“And why is that?”
J. spoke up. “Because they don’t have to. They are happy being Americans.”
Emre said that was his point. “If I can speak my own language, learn Kurdish in school, listen to Kurdish music and have the same democratic rights as the people in the west [of Turkey], why would I need my own country? We want the same economic development as in the west, too, we want to be as rich as they are. If we had all this, why would Turkey’s Kurds need their own country?
“But if we can’t have that,” he warned. “Yes, I want my own country. Yes, I will want a military to protect myself.”
*Technical notes*
I’ve since found out that some donors have been getting the B2I-Dispatch hours after it’s gone up on the Web site, which is exactly backward from the way it’s supposed to be. I’m truly sorry and I apologize. I will see what I can do about that. I’ve also discovered that I grossly overestimated the bandwidth available on the sat-phone. Which means there may not be many pictures until I get back. I haven’t taken many, however, since my focus has been on traveling, but perhaps Diyarbakir would be of interest to people.
Also, I read every comment that people make on this site, as well as all emails. However, because of time, bandwidth and other considerations, I may not be able to respond to everyone. Please don’t take it personally. I really, really appreciate everyone taking the time to write, and your notes of support keep me excited about all of this.
As for donations, I also don’t often have time to thank you all personally, but I have been forwarding your email addresses (as per PayPal) to Mike for adding to the list, which he is doing. So while you might not get a personal thank-you note, you are being put on the list. And allow me now to thank you all very much for your continued support.