Çok mutluyuz. We are very happy about our three days in Selçuk, Turkey.
We were welcomed to the Bella Hotel by Nazmi and Erdal, who remembered us from visits years ago (four of us have been there before). The rooms are sweet, decorated with carved walnut furniture, but the crowning glory is the third floor lounge replete with Turkish cushions and pillows. It overlooks the ruins of St. John’s Church and the Ayasuluk Citadel, a castle-looking fortress.
Our upstairs lounge looked out on a stork nest across the street. The huge nest was like a haystack, shared by many smaller birds nesting in the mass of sticks. You can see bird nests hidden beneath Papa Mama?). Mangy in any case.
Because of the April 23rd Children’s Day holiday, most public buildings were festooned with huge flags and pictures of Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. This area of the country is very liberal, supporting secular government over the now-ruling AK Party, which promotes an Islamic government. I expect big changes ahead, as secular mayors have been elected in Ankara and Izmir, and many of us hope that this is a precursor to a broader shift in government. We will see.
Our first trip was to the House of the Virgin Mary on Easter morning. I used to think it was bunk, but I’ve come to believe that she did, indeed live there. Apparently she fled Jerusalem to save herself and was taken by boat to Ephesus, far away from Roman soldiers. John lived in Ephesus, and he had promised Jesus to protect her. He arranged for the building of a sweet little three-room stone house in an idyllic setting on top of a mountain near Ephesus. There’s some proof that she lived there, and visiting it is a moving experience. Apparently she lived 11 years beyond the death of Jesus, so she would have lived 64 years. She was betrothed at 12, and Jesus lived to 41.
Our next stop was Ephesus, one of the world’s finest Roman ruins. You may know that Ephesus is the city criticized by Paul in the book of Ephesians for the people’s decadent lifestyle. It’s a stunning place even now, and we were fortunate to get there before the Easter crowds. Our guide, Rabia, was not only knowledgeable but took wonderful care of us.
This was once a port city on the Aegean, but the waterway has been silted in over the years, with the sea receding a full 5 kilometers. Eventually the entire city was abandoned. The upper part of Ephesus was a ruling class area, a center for government and municipal control. They had sophisticated sewer systems, beautiful homes, and stunning marble structures. Little remains, of course, but archeologists are gradually rebuilding some of the structures and columns.
After Ephesus we were treated to a lunch of mezes and grilled meat before heading up to St. John’s Church, right across the street from our hotel. Gorgeous.
That afternoon our host, Nazmi Bey, treated us to a carpet show followed by a feast of mezes and his homemade wine. We were pleased that his wine was actually quite good—unlike many homemade wines. I think the Turks are getting better at winemaking. It was never their forte (my uneducated opinion, of course).
The next day we drove up to the picturesque village of Şirince, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It was once a Greek village, and because it’s very much out of the way, it hasn’t been too commercialized.
You can still stroll by chickens, goats, and horses as you meander along the stone-paved streets, and women sell hand-made wares, spices and foods along the street. Sadly, many of the homes have been made into hotels and b&b’s, but I guess the world just can’t resist the charm of this lovely village.
In Şirince we were treated to a meal of gözleme, which is a thin flatbread cooked like a quesadilla with potatoes, spinach, cheese and meat inside. Yum!
Tuesday was Children’s Day in Turkey, a huge holiday for everyone. After breakfast on the terrace we were all free to visit the local shops, the archeological museum, and a tile-painting business down the road. A good time was had by all.
Here I am, back in my Home Away From Home, eager to share it with nine friends. More had planned to come, but a few had to cancel. Maybe next time…
At the last minute we were rerouted to the New Istanbul Airport, reputed to be the largest in the world.
Shiny doesn’t even begin to say how stunning it was, but this new airport is a full 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the city center, which made it a LONG drive to our hotel, particularly during rush hour (which it was). I think it took us an hour and a half. Everyone was impressed, though, with our charming little hotel, the Kybele. It’s right in Sultanahmet, the historical part of the city. I’ve always been in love with this hotel’s countless hanging lanterns and antiques, even in the basement breakfast room.
On the first evening four of us walked around the block to the Mozaik Restaurant, where Sally ordered a testi kabob, a hot dish baked in a closed clay pot that’s broken open at the table. The waiter brought it to our table in a flaming tray, and he handed Jini a knife to help him pound on the pot until the top exploded off. Jini’s comment was, “You can sure tell this isn’t Germany!” She’d just spent three weeks in Germany, and apparently she found the Turks a bit more enthusiastic and engaging than the Germans.
Breakfast the next morning was heavenly (except for the Nescafe coffee from a machine). I had all the olives I could eat (20?), along with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, dried apricots, juice, yogurt, cereal, bread, and menemen (scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions and peppers). Most everyone slept well—everyone except Tony and me. Three hours after a long overseas flight. Sigh…
Our tour guide, Gökçen, was incredible. She was patient with us and very kind, bringing snacksand cookies to share with us every day. She carried a little child’s umbrella for us to follow, with some unidentifiable critter on it. Part elephant, part cat, and who-knows-what-else. The best part, though, is that she’s an historian—a genius.
Our first visit was to the Hippodrome, which the Byzantine emperors established as an arena for chariot races and other events. It features a monument from a German kaiser as well as two obelisks, one taken from Luxor, Egypt in AD 390. I’ll never understand how they transported a 30-foot marble obelisk, but somehow they managed it.
Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is under renovation. Actually, everything we saw was under renovation, which makes me both glad and sad. Glad that they’re keeping these things up, and sad that we couldn’t see them in their full glory. Oh, well…
Our final stop for the morning (an overfull one, I must say), was the Haghia Sophia, also under renovation. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world, and understandably. The first church there was built there in 360 AD, but it was destroyed by fire. The existing structure was completed in 537 AD under the direction of Emperor Justinian. On the second floor we saw Nordic runes, the signatures of Vikings that had visited the church long enough to leave their graffiti in its marble railings. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, its stunning gold mosaics were plastered over and the building was converted to a mosque. Then in 1937 Ataturk converted the building to a museum, ordering that the mosaics be uncovered.
On our second day we toured Topkapi, the Ottoman palace from the 1450’s until 1853 . It’s a resplendent edifice, and there were no holds barred in its construction. We were awed time and time again by the ornate rooms we saw, decorated with tiles from Nicea (Iznık), abalone, marble, and finely-crafted woods. Its 174 acres are beautifully tended with stunning trees and flowers. Amazing!
The only problem with the palace was the throngs of tourists–OMG! By the time we left, we had to push our way out the gate, single file. There were hundreds of students piling into the entrance. We were more than glad to be leaving, believe me!
Gökçen had arranged a fabulous lunch for us in the Yildizlar Restaurant on the lower level of the Galata bridge. Talk about LUNCH! We had delicious mezes, a delectable fresh sea bass, and a dessert of fresh fruit. Heaven! Our grilled sea bass was light and moist—even the skin was delicious.
We also watched the burning and opening of a salt-baked fish for another group—amazing. The waiter brought it out flaming, then tamped out the fire with a rubber hammer. After that he used a knife and the rubber hammer to break open the salt crust, then pried it open to reveal the fish, which he then divided and served. My goodness!
After lunch we boarded a ferry for a Bosphorus tour, thankful to rest our weary feet as we marveled at the sights along this waterway that connects the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Seas with the Black Sea.
We finally headed back to the hotel, though a few hearty souls took a side trip to the Spice Bazaar. I was done, done, done. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the hotel dining room after an hour or two of cocktails in the lobby. And then—to our rooms. Ah, sleep!
We’ve just finished a few weeks in a new world, at least for us. A world of no final s’s—the morning greeting in Puerto Rico is not “Buenos dias” but “Bueno dia.”
A ROCKY START
After an easy few flights, Jerry and I landed in San Juan at 10 PM, enveloped by muggy heat and eager to pick up our air-conditioned car. My son Ross and his girlfriend Shanna offered to meet us at the airport, but since they were a half hour away, we decided to just use my phone’s google maps to find them. Big mistake. There are numerous streets called Calle Coral, and we navigated to the wrong one, miles from Shanna’s apartment. My phone died as Ross tried to orient us, so there we sat, lost in a strange city at midnight. I finally discovered a usb port in the car and had Jerry pull over so I could jump out to get the charging cable from the trunk. Whew! Communication restored.
We finally met Ross and Shanna, only to discover that my wallet was gone. Probably dropped on the side of the road when I hopped out for the charger. At 1:00 AM we all backtracked to cruise the side of the highway for my lost wallet. Nothing. Shanna prompted, “You need to think like a Puerto Rican. We will find it. Let’s try a second pass.” Ross and I scoured the roadside with our cell phone flashlights, and at long last—there it lay! HOORAY!!! Disaster averted.
Ross and Shanna, the reasons for our visit.
Thanksgiving felt odd in San Juan’s 85-degree, 95% humidity, but I was with my son and his Puerto Rican loved ones. The company was delightful and the food fabulous. Shanna stuffed a turkey with tantalizing yucca root mashed with garlic and herbs. YUM! The turkey fell apart in the pan, so we served ourselves from there. Sweet potatoes, a cold bean and vegetable salad, and the most delicious beans and rice I’ve ever tasted filled out our Thanksgiving repast. These people know how to do garlic. In fact, you can buy peeled garlic cloves in the store. Heaven!
And of course, there was football.
I braved the heat with multiple trips to the pool, thanks to Shanna’s son Bayoan, a 10-year old charmer who worships water. Me, too. That evening we piled into Shanna’s new car for a beach sunset, where Bayoan romped in the waves, launching himself into each swell as it crashed on the beach.
OUR AGUADILLA BEACH APARTMENT
The next morning Ross led us to our home for the next few weeks, a beach apartment he’d rented a few years earlier in Aguadilla Pueblo. Our dreams of air conditioning and wi-fi were dashed. We did, though, have huge open windows overlooking the Caribbean. The waves served as our lullaby, both for daytime naps and nighttime snoozes.
Ross mopped the floors and headed off to get us more fans, dishes, linens and a coffee pot while we came to terms with our humble abode. It had electricity, a nice couch and chairs, running water (cold only), a functioning microwave, and a few electrical outlets. We were welcomed by a resident cat, Mira (Spanish for “Look!”), because she meows incessantly. “Look at me! Look at me!” She marched in and made herself right at home, and she got lots of love from Jerry. Even though I’m allergic to cats, I found her amusing.
We grew accustomed to our humble dwelling (a cold shower is easier if you wet your head first), and enjoyed exploring the area. One evening we happened on a community celebration with live bands and free food at a local restaurant. Though we’d already eaten, we shared a plate of tantalizingly spiced pork with beans and rice as we sipped on yet another beer and enjoyed the scene.
Everyone in PR talks about Hurricane Maria. It’s deeply etched into everyone’s psyche and there’s evidence everywhere of devastated buildings. One woman we met at Jobos (pronounced Hobo), Ross’s favorite surfing beach, said that she hadn’t liked the U.S. until after the hurricane. A massage therapist, Christina said she was literally starving for weeks until U.S. organizations brought in food and water. She didn’t have much to say for Trump (everyone in PR seemed to despise him), but she was thankful for the generosity of Americans who donated to help PR. Sadly, too many corrupt officials stockpiled donations of food, water, and building supplies in warehouses to sell later at a profit. At a time when every Puerto Rican was scrambling to survive and to help each other, that behavior was unconscionable. Shanna said that in order to get water, her friend was required to sign off on getting 16 bottles when she was only given seven. If she didn’t sign, she got nothing. We seldom talked with anyone who didn’t need to share their Maria experiences. Heartbreaking.
Many private homes and businesses have been or are being repaired, while government buildings still sit in disrepair, some deserted. Just blocks from our apartment was an abandoned beachfront school and an abandoned government building. A park and sports arena at the south end of the town, once beautiful, look like a dumping ground of broken equipment, overgrown weeds, and piles of trash and leaves.
On the other hand, the entire country is brightened with street art—murals everywhere!
We spent our week visiting beach after beach, snorkeling, swimming, and exploring—and learning about currents. Beware the rip tide.
The second weekend we ferried over to Vieques (fare a mere $1 for seniors), a small island east of Puerto Rico, where we’d rented a lovely airbnb. Our host picked us up at the ferry pier in a dented-up old jeep. Michael was a delightful guide, an Irish/American/Puerto Rican who’s lived on Vieques for fifteen years. Our upstairs apartment, Casa Mama, was gorgeous—tastefully decorated and stocked with fresh baked bread, a pitcher of cold mango and papaya juice, eggs, fresh milk, coffee, and jam. Definitely a step up.
Ross and Shanna joined us Saturday morning, and after a hearty breakfast we explored the island, discovering a 375-year-old ceiba tree. We also visited a sacred Taino aboriginal site and marveled at the scores of horses that roam the island. (2000, according to the internet.) Michael had warned us to beware of horses on the roads at night.
Ann Marie and Jerry pose under the 375+ Ceiba Tree.
Horses, horses everywhere on Vieques
The highlight of our weekend was a bioluminescent tour on Mosquito Bay. Twenty of us boarded a rickety school bus in downtown Esperanza (a three-block beach metropolis on the south side of the island) and bounced our way through the jungle to Mosquito Bay, the world’s finest bioluminescent site. It was totally dark as we hopped on kayaks and proceeded to paddle out into the bay, mesmerized by the glowing water when we dipped our paddles. Soon we spotted luminescent figures darting through the water—fish. Mosquito Bay is replete with dinoflagellates, tiny plankton that protect themselves from predators by enlarging themselves and emitting a blue-green light whenever they’re disturbed. We giggled and screeched at each new discovery. When we sat still without paddling, the water was filled with tiny star-like dots. Then when fish swam by, their disturbance lit the water around them. Ross loved the glow of huge tarpon swimming low in the bay, but my favorite was the needlefish that skimmed the water, creating a stroke of lightning across its surface. My camera didn’t capture the action, but I found this little video, just in case you’re curious. Mosquito Bay has the highest level of dinoflagellates in the world, according to our guide
We’re on our way home now, bracing ourselves for snow shoveling, skiing and snowshoeing. In the words of Johnnie Walker, “KEEP WALKING, PUERTO RICO.”
A note: There are NO plastic bags in Puerto Rico (as of December 30, 2016)
I’ve been in Norway a week now, though it seems longer—so much activity, so much beauty, so much information!
I came for a family reunion of the descendants of Johannes Olsen, my great-great-great grandfather. Not just me, but my brother Steve and sister Laura (and their spouses) as well as my niece Cortney came as well. Sadly, my husband Jerry had to cancel at the last minute because of a serious back problem. It broke both our hearts, as the second week was a planned kayak trip around one of the Lofoten islands. Sigh…
After a lonesome night at a Bodø B&B, I hit the road for Bø i Vesterålen, a 6 1-2 hour drive including a ferry ride. I got up at 5 AM to be sure I caught the ferry, then sat in the ferry line playing sudoku on my phone as I waited. Another sigh…
I found my way to the village of Bø (in the kommune of Bø), and turned in to Bøhallen, the community center. You can probably figure out the meaning. In spite of a light rain, the parking lot was packed with LOTS of people who look like me (and my uncles and aunts) grilling hot dogs and speaking Norwegian. I found my way to the registration table and picked up our t-shirts and a schedule.
Marit, one of the organizers, made a big fuss over me, hugging me like an old friend. She hunted around for her brother Øyvind, who had instigated and planned the whole event, and he welcomed me with a brilliant smile and another hug. It wasn’t long before Laura and Rob found me. Whew! English.
After milling the crowd a bit, they drove me to see their sweet little room in a boathouse B & B down the road. Then we found our way to the afternoon event, a fishing boat ride out to the island of Gaukværøya, which used to be a fishing village. We asked our captain (a fisherman named Tom, also a relative) to wait for our niece Cortney, who was minutes away. Since it was a small group, he agreed. Lucky Cortney. Lucky us.
Arne, a local historian, shared the history of Gaukværøya, settlement that began in the middle ages and lasted until the early fifties, when hundreds of residents had to dismantle their homes and move them to the mainland (also an island). Everything in Vesterålen is an island. Go figure. The entire area is an archipelago, I guess. The government wasn’t willing to run electricity or offer government services to such remote residents, so they offered them a payment in exchange for giving up their rights to return to their little island, which is now littered with foundations, both ancient and modern (stone and concrete).
Anyway, it was fascinating to learn about life on Gaukværøya. In addition to Arne’s descriptions, Tom’s father Arne shared stories about growing up there. Luckily, Ingor sat beside me and translated; most everything was in Norwegian. The island is rugged— all rocks and bumpy ground, so apparently the children had a heyday while their parents worked. They attended school on the island when it was convenient, because they often had to help with fishing and household responsibilities.
My brother’s family and I were hosted by my fourth cousin, Sonja Klaussen, and once we finally got home after dinner, we sat up until the wee hours talking. It was light all night, and it’s energizing. The whole time I was with family I was up until 2 AM. (At home I start yawning around 9:00.)
Saturday morning we woke to see four moose grazing in Sonja’s back yard. They’re smaller than our Minnesota moose, but delightful to watch nonetheless.
The day was filled with reunion events—an orientation, a coffee hour, a presentation on the lineage from our great-great-great grandfather, then photos outdoors.
They organized a group photo for the descendants of each of Johann’s twelve children, then we had a mass photo of all 300 relatives. Shocking. It was fun, though, to see who had descended from my great-great grandmother Johanna Sophie (1818-1889).
Too much information, I know.
The day ended with a catered buffet banquet and a dance at the community center. Pretty much the kind of music my grandparents liked dancing to, but we did our best. I needed the exercise.
On Sunday my sister Laura, Rob and I skipped out to go on a whale watching tour in Andenes, at the north end of Vesterålen. The drive was spectacular, and the event started with a museum tour that astonished and enlightened us. We learned how the whales use sonar, and that only male whales come up north. The ladies stay behind in the mid-Atlantic raising their young and waiting for the next round of mating.
Oh, I nearly lost my finger on the boat, too. After we got on we were standing along the side of the boat, and I had my hand over the edge. Little did I know there were huge plastic bumpers that meet the edge of the boat at low tide. ARAUGHHH!!! I screamed when I felt my fingers squeezed, then yelled for everyone to PUSH! People came to my rescue, and I was able to extricate a very smushed finger. By the end of the ride it had recovered.
The captain of the ship wears headphones to pick up the clicks of the whale’s sonar system, then he follows them until the whale surfaces for air. Amazing.
We got to see a whale surface twice. He’s a local resident sperm whale, and they call him Glenn. Imagine a boat with 60 people who’ve waited hours to see a whale, everyone with their cameras at the ready.“People at the railing bend down so everyone can see!” (in Norwegian, German and English) This old lady ended up sitting on the deck with my camera, snapping, snapping, snapping photos of Glenn as he spouted over and over and finally dove. So who got the best photos? My sister Laura, who pulled out her iPhone at the last minute and got spectacular shots of the flukes as Glenn headed down. Go figure!
We rented a stunning 3-bedroom airbnb on a peninsula between mini-fjords, just down the road from Bøhallen.
It was a joy to have time with my siblings to process the information about our ancestors. Our second cousin AnnBjorg invited us to her house for a reindeer feast on Monday, and it ended up being an eight-hour affair, including a delectable meal, a visit to my great-grandparents’ graves, and a long drive to Nyksund, a restored fishing village about an hour from AnnBjorg’s house.
We also learned that AnnBjorg’s house stands beside the one where my grandfather grew up. Who knew?
The next day Laura and Rob left, and Steve, Ann and I walked to the Bø historical and outdoor museum. Fascinating. It included a famous statue of a man holding a crystal that catches the light from the midnight sun and the northern lights.
After that we rented kayaks to paddle along the coast by our house.
That night we were treated to a brilliant sunset, and here in the land of the midnight sun, it lasted about three hours. What a show it was! Once again, I got to bed around 2 AM. Oh, well.
On Wednesday morning we parted ways after a walk to the end of the road. Steve and Ann were heading to Trømsø, and I was heading for Reine on Lofoten. My drive was supposed to take about 4 1-2 hours, but I’d decided that I would stop at some of the waysides to take photos. I did it a lot. So much that my drive took seven hours, especially since it was the first totally sunny day since I’d arrived.
I stayed in the Lofoten Bed and Breakfast, which wasn’t as nice as I’d expected—and it cost nearly as much as our beautiful rental in Bø. It was just a room with a few chairs and little hot pot. Luckily, there was a refrigerator outside my door to store all the food I’d purchased for my week alone.
It was a long, lonesome day. After I checked in I walked through the town of Reine, which is lovely but a bit too congested and commercialized for my tastes. They’ve stuck with the red boathouse theme, so it’s cute, but a little too busy.
I was thankful that the rest of my stay would be in Å, the town at the far end of Lofoten. More about that later.
Here is yet another post from my (understandably) anonymous friends in Turkey. I appreciate their understanding of this disturbing result. Measured optimism? See for yourself.
A Pyrrhic Victory
Pyrrhic victory: a victory that is not worth winning because the winner has lost so much in winning it. (Cambridge Dictionary)
The Turkish referendum of 2017 is over and, according to semi-official figures, the ‘Yes’ vote to giving unprecedented powers to the office of the President squeaked out a narrow victory of 51.4% to 48.6%. Lest our readers, especially those of you viewing these events from afar, think that Turkey has now entered definitively onto the road to dictatorship, we will argue that the referendum results should not be read in this fashion. In our opinion, the razor-thin margin of victory should be seen as a Pyrrhic victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party. What do we mean by this?
First, let us remind our readers of the conditions under which this referendum was held: the shameless and scandalous use of state resources and services for the ‘Yes’ campaign; the total domination of the media, print and broadcast, by the government with no equal time for ‘No’ campaigners; the jailing of leaders of the opposition Kurdish-based HDP party which made it impossible for them to mobilize support for ‘No’; the slandering of ‘No’ supporters as traitors and terrorists; thug attacks on ‘No’ events and cancellation of their venues for spurious reasons; and the conducting of the referendum while Turkey is under a State of Emergency where intimidation and fear has put a damper on freedom of speech, the press and assembly. These were the obstacles facing ‘No’ supporters. RTE, the AK Party leadership and the allied nationalist MHP leadership threw everything they had at ‘No’ supporters and still only managed to win by a mere 1%, a true Pyrrhic victory.
The ‘Yes’ camp was hoping for a minimum of 55% in their column. Not only did they not reach that goal, they managed to lose Turkey’s three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as well as such major urban centers as Adana, Antalya, Mersin and Diyarbakır. (RTE even saw his Istanbul home district of Üsküdar go ‘No’ and then the entire city, where he had been a popular mayor.) In other words, most of Turkey’s financial, industrial, political, educational and cultural centers opted for ‘No’ in the referendum. These results can scarcely be read as a resounding victory for the President and the ‘Yes’ camp. The weak and divided ‘No’ supporters faced off against the ‘Yes’ Goliath and fared well. The HDP showed via the strong ‘No’ vote in the largely Kurdish southeast and in the major cities that, in spite of government pressure and dirty tricks and even though it was not able to wage an effective ‘No’ campaign, it retained the support of its voter base. No small achievement when the government has been clearly out to demonize and destroy it.
The one big loser in this referendum is the nationalist MHP, whose leadership entered into an alliance with RTE and the AK Party for the ‘Yes’ vote. They simply did not deliver. It is estimated that some 80% of MHP supporters voted ‘No’, following the lead of a group of dissidents who had been expelled for opposing the ‘Yes’ alliance. The MHP’s fate is now uncertain as it may soon face the emergence of a new nationalist party.
In the aftermath of the vote we can now expect a number of legal challenges to the results, based on how the referendum was conducted, major irregularities in the vote tabulation process and allegations of outright voter fraud. In the past, senior dogs have always been comfortable with what we saw as the overall fairness of Turkish elections and we’ve always had confidence in their results. Unfortunately, we don’t think that this is any longer the case. The widespread instances of manipulation, pressure and outright vote-stealing being reported must now be added to the litany of reasons why the results must be considered illegitimate. Since the ruling party controls the appeals process, it is, however, hard to be optimistic that the results will be overturned.
Be that as it may, in our opinion, the referendum’s results were a Pyrrhic victory for Erdoğan, highlighting not his unbeatable power, but rather his weakening grip on Turkish politics. If he cannot deliver – i.e., reinvigorate Turkey’s ailing economy, show something positive for his intervention in Syria, put a stop to the attacks which have crippled tourism and foreign investment, and offer more than a military solution to the ‘Kurdish question’ – we suspect we will see more erosion of his popularity in the period ahead, as the new executive super-presidential system takes shape and he prepares for his run for president in 2019.
In the meantime, we are hopeful that the post-referendum period will see more self-confident opposition forces emerge, raring for a fight back, a result of RTE’s ‘victory’ he didn’t count on. On the evening of the election, he uttered an antiquated Turkish saying, Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti (He who grabbed the horse has passed Üsküdar, roughly meaning ‘I won, and everyone will just have to learn to live with it.’). But then again, we saw that in fact, he didn’t even get past Üsküdar.
Once again, I’m compelled to post a missive from my dear—albeit anonymous— friends in Turkey. They remain anonymous with good reason.
As you may know, Turkey faces a referendum that will strengthen the power of the president, effectively weakening the country’s parliamentary system and the government’s checks and balances. President Erdoğan, now in his fourteenth year in office, could remain in power another 13 years. He has already used the coup attempt as reason to close down liberal newspapers and television stations and jail hundreds of military and education personnel. He has unabashedly used government funds to promote his move toward dictatorship for Turkey. Frightening.
Here’s the news from my friends on the inside:
No! No! A Thousand Times No!
The cruise missile attack by the Trump administration on a Syrian army base this week, in addition to further delaying an end to the slaughter and destruction in our neighbor Syria, has added another layer of anxiety here in Turkey as we head toward next Sunday’s referendum. The attack has put more wind in the sails of our President, who has been militating for the overthrow of the Syrian government since 2011.
We suspect that our readers by this time have heard about as much as they can take about the Turkish referendum. The authors of this newsletter have certainly had enough and can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Fortunately for our sanity all campaigning has been banned during the coming week leading up to the vote. We’ve been suffering from a form of political bi-polar disorder – one day hopeful, next day down in the dumps. So we will not belabor the point. Our final appraisal is this: Should ‘Yes’ win, the results can have no legitimacy in the eyes of any impartial observer. Why?
1. The referendum is being conducted while Turkey is being ruled under a State of Emergency, giving authorities limitless powers to intimidate and crack down on free speech, the media and the right to assembly.
2. The third largest party in Parliament, the Kurdish-based HDP is under severe attack, its leadership in jail, and the municipalities it administered seized and placed under receivership. Even their ‘No’ campaign song in Kurdish has been banned. (Probably because it’s cute and catchy, anathema to most Turkish politicians. Plus, you don’t need to know Kurdish to get the message.)
3. The President and Prime Minister have unabashedly used the resources of the state, paid for by the taxpayers, to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote.
4. The media, and especially the TV networks, have shamelessly favored the ‘Yes’ campaign in their news coverage, and this in a country that has the highest level of TV viewing in the world.
5. Thug attacks on ‘No’ proponents and their meetings have placed serious restraints on the ability of the naysayers to campaign. No wonder so many people say they are undecided in poll surveys.
6. And finally, the yea-saying government has total control over the entire referendum process, including ballot counting and handling of any challenge to the results that might arise.
In spite of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s apparent total dominance, most opinion polls say it’s still too close to call. Whatever the official results on April 17th, Turkey will remain a deeply divided country with an uncertain future. However, should a ‘No’ vote prevail against all odds, it would mean a humiliating defeat for those who have been curtailing the most basic democratic rights and closing down political space for those struggling for social justice.
We say No! No! A thousand times No! in the referendum and No! to the continuation of the war in Syria.
* * *
As a follow up to our ‘Turkish Hairlines’ newsletter posting, we can’t hold ourselves back from reporting that the Turkish President, during a ‘Yes’ campaign rally at the presidential palace entitled “‘Yes’, of course, for a beautiful Turkey”, signed a decree under the State of Emergency (!) authorizing beauticians at beauty salons to do laser hair removal. This is an extremely popular procedure among Turkish women which was formerly restricted, for safety and health reasons, to dermatologists in government-approved hospitals and clinics. Was this an indication of the kind of Presidential decrees we can expect if ‘Yes’ prevails on April 16? Another reason to vote ‘No’.
I just received this message from friends in Istanbul and wanted to pass it on to Turkophiles like myself. They prefer to remain anonymous.
“On Sunday, April 16th, Turkish voters (including yours truly) will go to the polls to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the package of constitutional amendments that, if passed, will change Turkey’s governing structure from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Supporters of the ‘yes’ vote say that a president with strong executive powers will mean a strong and stable Turkey, be good for the economy and put an end to terrorism. Supporters of a ‘no’ vote claim that the kind of presidential system being proposed would severely weaken parliament, increase political pressure on the judiciary and open up the country to the real possibility of authoritarian one-man rule. (We won’t have any pesky judges, for example, overruling presidential executive orders since the president’s influence over high judiciary bodies will be greatly enhanced.)”
And they continue,
“The campaign will most likely be a very intense – and ugly – one. Both the president and prime minister have drawn a virtual equal sign between voting no and supporting terrorism. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been advocating the change for some time now, his ruling AK Party and the nationalist MHP will be going all out for a ‘yes’ vote. The main opposition CHP and the Kurdish-based HDP, the other two parties in parliament, are strongly opposed to the amendments. Current polls predict a tight vote. The fact that the referendum vote is taking place during the State of Emergency and with the main leadership and much of the secondary leadership of the HDP in jail on charges of supporting terrorism means very tough going for the ‘no’ vote campaign.”
I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to influence the vote, but it’s important to keep informed. If you have contact with Turks, it might behoove you to do some campaigning to keep the country secular and the courts strong.
I spent some amazing years teaching in Turkey, and I’d be happy to send you copies at a discount. Contact me to share this tale with friends and family. And if you haven’t read it yet, well, prepare to be surprised. Five Stars on Amazon with 53 reviews. Order before December 15th, because I’ll be off on yet another adventure.
Many people have asked me how things are in Turkey since the coup attempt. In addition to a devastating downturn in tourism, life has changed—a bit for some and incredibly for others. My favorite ex-pat couple wrote a blog about Turkey for years, but because their interests lean toward the political, they’ve shifted it from the web to an e-mail format. Sad, but understandable. They’ve given me permission to share their most recent missive, though they asked that I not use their names. Sad again, especially since Turkey was lauded as a secular democracy. Was.
Here’s their update on how things are going:
HAIL TO THE CHIEF
If anything would stimulate a person’s desire to turn on, tune in, drop out and forget about it all, it’s some of the happenings this year in Turkey. What with suicide bombings, seemingly endless internal and external savage war, the July 15th summer surprise coup attempt and the resultant mass exodus of tourists and foreign residents, the temptation to seek comfort in strong liquid refreshment is compelling.
However, that outlet is not considered available for observant Muslims. But just to be sure, the governor of the central Anatolian province of Yozgat recently announced that under the authority of Turkey’s State of Emergency imposed after the coup attempt, he was closing all places serving alcohol as, in his opinion, they constitute a threat to the family. Although he subsequently backed off of a blanket shutdown of every single such place, we’re certain that it will be even harder to enjoy a drop in Yozgat than before, and even then it was a pretty dry place.
The State of Emergency (OHAL) in Turkey, recently given a 3-month extension, has become a source of major trauma for a huge number of people in Turkey. More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs, many of them teachers and other public employees, all of them alleged to have either links to the Gülen movement, blamed for the coup attempt, or to the PKK. Hundreds of businesses have been confiscated by the government due to supposed links to the Gülen movement. Dozens of media outlets have been closed, including many pro-Kurdish or left-leaning newspapers and TV stations, on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Finally, more than 30,000 people have been jailed, including a number of prominent journalists, intellectuals and authors. To make room for them, an equal number of prisoners were discharged from the prison system. All of these measures have turned the OHAL into a powerful tool for the gradual consolidation of power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka ‘the Chief’), who has declared that even a year of emergency rule may not be sufficient.
Getting back to our Yozgat governor, an understandable resultant side effect of this massive purge has been the spectacle of Erdoğan loyalists falling all over themselves opportunistically trying to outdo one another to prove their devotion to the Chief. Pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak columnist Aydın Ünal writes of the emergence of individuals and groups who he describes as sycophants and flunkies who declare themselves “the most pro-Chief,” “the genuine pro-Chief,” “the essential pro-Chief people.” These self-promoters do all they can to criticize and taint others by calling into question their devotion to the Chief.
Where is this going? Hard to say, but we would guess that one outcome may be that we’re headed for a new constitution which includes a change to a ‘Turkish-style’ Presidential system with, you guessed it, the Chief at the helm. Barkeep, another round, please! … Barkeep! Uh, barkeep?
I extend a HUGE thank-you to my dear expat friends. Good information, delivered with a touch of humor. Love those guys! By the way, they make the best martinis on the planet. If they can find the liquor.
It’s the truth, according to my friend Uygar. To control Turkish students “you must only to love them.” He was right, and his ungrammatical advice is the title of a new memoir about my years in Turkey—finally, finally, finally finished! Complete! Finito! Bitmiş!
I must admit, I wore rose-colored glasses much of the time, but this book does explore some of the darker sides of my experience, too, like being caught in a big demonstration with riot police:
And then there was the disastrous soccer match–Oh, my!
And believe me, it’s honest. You’ll see when you read it. No holds barred on this one.
If you followed my escapades over the years you might find this account a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t, perhaps it will pique your interest in Turkey, a country I grew to love—deeply.
Turkey has a wealth of history, amazing edifices and artifacts, and astounding terrain, but the true beauty of the country is its people. I hope I’ve shown that in my stories.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. In fact, I’d love for you to read it. The e-book is under four dollars, and it’s also available as a paperback. Reviews so far have been excellent, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Click on the book below to transport yourself to Amazon:
And if you’d like to try something new, there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for the book through May 16th. Here’s the link for that.