Eastward bound…

This is the second of my posts from Turkey, made after I arrived in Ankara. Prior to my arrival, I met with Turan Ceylan, the manager of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Istanbul. He’s a Kurdish success story, one of many in Istanbul where many Kurds have settled after the PKK troubles in the southeast during the 1980s and 1990s. I didn’t get much to get out of the interview, except that he is pro-EU (he’s a businessman) and he believes that discrimination against Kurds is blown way out of proportion by Western press (which is easy for him to say; he comes from a rich family that runs one of the largest construction firms in Turkey.)

This was an attitude I discovered among many middle-class Istanbul residents. Aydin Kudu, my original fixer before he suffered a hip injury, had me over for dinner and during the post-prandial tea, he and Raia, his girlfriend and sometimes partner-guide, said the same thing: There is no discrimination in Turkey; Kurds can do whatever they like, as long as they don’t break any laws.

On one level, they have a point. At least one president of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, has claimed Kurdish ancestry and Istanbul has seen a number of Kurds other than Ceylan rise to success in the business world. But there is a great deal of unknown truth in the statement that “Kurds can do whatever they like, as long as they don’t break any laws.” But until recently, it was illegal to be Kurdish. It was illegal to teach or sing in Kurdish. Yes, Kurds could succeed in Turkey, but only if they assimilated and acted Turkish. And even then, if someone’s ID card listed them as hailing from the southeast, they would often be greeted with suspicion and had a harder time finding jobs in the more cosmopolitan western part of the country.

At any rate, this gave me much to think about. So after a couple of days, I took a bus from Taksim in Istanbul where Aykut Uzun, my fixer, met me. After five hours on the road in Turkey, I was glad to see him.

From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Fri Jul 5, 2002 10:39:41 PM America/New_York

The call for prayer is echoing outside my window, here in Ankara. The sun is slipping between the high-rise apartments in this former squatters’ ‘hood in which I’ve found myself. (Now, it’s expensive apartments owned by Ankara’s yuppie class.) I’m staying with Aykut and his wife, and I’ve just seen on the news that the UN has failed to reach an agreement with Iraq on the return of arms inspectors and that the NYTimes has published a front-page story outlining plans for a three-pronged attack on Iraq.

Fucking hell. I’m going to be there in a week.

But, at last, it begins. The “failure” of the UN to reach an agreement will be the green light the US is looking for to begin assembling coalition forces to invade. I won’t be surprised to find a number of Americans in southeast Turkey, all with good posture and no hair.

This is most inconvenient. And just think, two days ago, I was walking along the Bosporus with Tuba, a pretty Turkish student who was helping me with the problems of administration at Bogaza’i University, buying grilled fish, freshly caught, from a boat bobbing along the rim of Europe and then sitting in a caf’ high on a hill watching the boats pass up and down between the Black Sea and the Sea of Mamara.

And it’s not just inconvenient for me. Aykut, my fixer, is in the tourism business, and he estimates that the rest of this year and most of next is shot to hell with the Americans running about and shooting things. War zones don’t attract tourists much. (And worse, the ones that do come don’t spend any money.) As we spoke his wife, Muhabbet, rubbed her forehead and looked worried. She’s a schoolteacher and together, they have a 5-year-old daughter, Zeynbe, to raise. If the tourism business falls off — again — then things will be very tight for them.

Now, we’re off to Diyarbakir on Sunday after we’ve had a chance to touch bases with the local Iraqi opposition groups in Ankara. Also, HADEP, the Kurdish party here in Turkey. They’re all made up of your usual suspects of leftists, radicals, ethnic nationals. These people will never accomplish anything in a military state with their approach, sadly.

Today, I also registered with the US embassy in Ankara. Somehow I expected something a little, well, nicer. I mean d’cor. Instead it was all ‘Fortress America’ and grim concrete walls, scuffed linoleum tiles all lighted by flickering fluorescent tubes hanging from the ceiling. Honestly, who wants to apply for a visa under those conditions? The people were quite helpful, if somewhat alarmed when I casually mentioned, ‘I’m thinking of going to Iraq, any law against that?’

Well! that sparked some interest in the bored Citizens Services drone behind his bulletproof glass. A Turk, he went and got a smooth talking American. Turns out it would be against the law, sort of, for me to go. But I’m an accredited journalist on assignment, so it’s cool. Well, ‘cool’ isn’t the word that Chris, the smooth talking American, would use but not illegal. (By the way, I would need a special passport from the State Dept. if I weren’t an accredited journalist.)

Anyway, all is well here, but complicated and trying. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with a feeling that I really want to go home and forget all this adventuring business. Phones work weird, Turkish is very difficult and it’s hot. But people have been most friendly, pretty honest and Anatolia is a beautiful landscape, all rolling hills and maple trees. Oh, and the food is good.

So that’s it for now. Will try to write more as I can, but for now know that email might be more rare until I return from Iraq on July 21. Try not to worry.