Guest post: Some time in Turkey

Originally a comment by What a Maroon on Not angels.

As many of you know, I spent some time in Turkey about 30 years ago. In total I was there for about a year, including a summer in Istanbul and about ten months in Ankara. While I was in Ankara, I also had the opportunity to travel around the country, and visited pretty much every region. I met a lot of wonderful people there and had a fantastic time, and have many cherished memories. Of course spending a year in the country three decades ago doesn’t give me any real insight into what is going on now, but the recent actions of the government have brought back some memories.

If you’re in Turkey, it’s hard to avoid Kurds, though you may not realize it. In Istanbul there was the shoeshine boy who wanted to clean my sneakers; impressed with his persistence, I finally agreed to him cleaning one of my shoes. In Ankara, I had several Kurdish students, though even admitting that was an act of trust on their part. One of them took me around one weekend to show off the apartment he had just bought (that was still under construction), and then brought me to the office of his uncle, a prosperous dentist in the center of the city. While we were there, his uncle took out some cassettes he had hidden away and played them for us. The music was fairly typical Turkish pop from the time, but the songs were in Kurdish, a language that was officially unrecognized and effectively prohibited. Again, this was an enormous amount of trust on their part.

In the summer we had about five weeks of vacation, so I took a long, slow tour around the country. Toward the tail end of the tour, I found myself in Diyarbakır, in the south, wandering around with some time to kill before my next bus. A kid of around 17 approached me offering to take me to a carpet shop. This was a fairly common occurrence in Turkey at the time, and with nothing better to do I agreed, though I made clear I wasn’t interested in buying anything. He took me to the shop, where the served me tea while a man roughly my age (mid-twenties at the time) launched into his spiel about how the carpets were woven while another man in his thirties or forties looked on. Eventually the older man left, and the tone of the younger man changed. He abandoned the spiel, explained that the older man was his math teacher and a Turk, and then explained that he was a Kurd, and denounced Turkey as a fascist state. Yet another act of trust.

I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw from these relatively random encounters, but I’m sickened by what the Turkish government is doing now in Syria, and by our role in it, and I want to believe that the people I knew thirty years ago would be sickened too.

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