(For a news source that requires a username and password, use "thelofty" for both.)
(* means blog has been updated recently)
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
Where In The World Is Kris Lofgren? Part II
Last weekend was Sanliurfa and it proved to be the best time I've had so far in Turkey. I learned a ton about the Kurds, saw things I never would have thought I would see and again, stayed in a nomad's house. That's an oxymoron if I ever saw one.
I think the best moment may have been the Three Kings Moment. We were flying down the road in Aziz's tiny Renault 9 with the windows all the way down, headed to the Syrian border, with cotton fields as far as the eye could see - but with a Bob Marley tape blaring. Perfect.
But this weekend aims to make Urfa look like a mere good time. We're headed to Dogubayazit, a town about 30 clicks from the Iranian border. I'd give you some background on the place, but last time I got it wrong, so this time I'll refrain. Anyway, should be a great time.
Why does anyone care about what David Blaine does to himself? First there was the ice gimmick, now he's just plain starving himself. Where's the magic in that? The floating thing was awesome, but this, this is just stupid.
What is this? Now Bin Laden is weighing in on our budget?
"In an audiotape broadcast Saturday by the al-Jazeera television network, the al-Qaida leader lauded reversals he said the United States had suffered since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"They also witnessed a budget deficit for the third consecutive year," bin Laden said, erroneously referring to the two straight shortfalls now recorded. "This year's deficit reached a record number estimated at $450 billion. Therefore, we thank God."
Bin Laden of course is wrong here, but you knew that. Evil people tend to get things wrong. The problem is that he's taking credit for this huge deficit that he had nothing to do with. What a megalomaniac. The deficit wouldn't be out of control if there weren't horribly timed, grossly unfair tax cuts being perpetrated on the United States Treasury.
Sorry Osama, that ego of yours is getting in the way of the facts again.
"WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.
"News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.
"Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."
I had a great time in Sanliurfa this weekend. I was wrong in my pre-departure post - the city is overwhelmingly Kurdish. There is hardly any Arab presence. Nevertheless, I learned more about Kurdish culture than I ever could have by reading a book or watching the news. While my view of Kurds is probably a little biased by the fact that all my information was coming from a wonderful Kurdish man, I tend to put my faith in the group that isn't being oppressed and wants to just live in peace and not the one that stifles and snuffs out culture through blanket Nationalism. Was that harsh enough of an intro?
When we arrived in Sanliurfa and hopped off the bus my first thought was, "How in the world did I ever get to this place? Out of all the places in the world, how am I in Sanliurfa, Turkey?" It's a question that would come up in my mind time and time again the whole weekend.
As Pete and I walked up to the Otogar (bus station) to get a confirmation of what time our return bus would be leaving, we were inundated with bus ticket salesmen hawking every location in country, and some beyond. It was somewhat difficult conveying what we wanted to know to the attendants at our bus company's counter, but then came Aziz (for his safety I won't divulge his full name).
Aziz is a Kurdish man in his mid-60's who has managed to learn english just from the various guests he has hosted at his charming pension. After helping us get the information we needed, he politely offered to put us up at his pension. He quoted 12.5 million lira (~$8.50) for bed, breakfast and dinner - an offer impossible to refuse.
As he drove us to his pension and led us up a dirty stone road to his home, Pete and I exchanged glances that mixed the earlier, "Where in the world are we?" amazement and excitement with, a bit of "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?" When we got up the hill we were pleasantly surprised. Aziz's wife, Fahrida, greeted us warmly and welcomed us into their humble home.
The home consisted of three enclosed rooms across an uncovered dining area from the door. The kitchen had an electric hot plate, water drained across the floor of the uncovered central area. The bathroom consisted of a squat toilet and a makeshift wooden door. Up a narrow concrete staircase was a patio with four or five twin beds - covered from the sun and rain by poles and peices of hefty cardboard. From this rooftop outlook, we could see not only the houses and minerets on the adjacent hillside, but we were also able to look down into the other, similarly untopped concrete block houses where small children would stare, smile and wave at us.
We slept on the floor on well padded blankets in one of the rooms. In the morning Fahrida would whip up a wonderful display of tomatos, cucumbers, bread, and homemade yogurt and cheese. And of course there was the çay. It was sweet, flavorful and wonderful. While Turkey manages to have amazing consistency on its national drink, Fahrida managed to create an even better cup. It was a sign of things to come.
Before setting out for the day we chatted with Aziz and Fahrida over breakfast, and wow, did we ever learn about things we probably had no idea even happened. It turns out Aziz and family (there are seven children) were nomadic until just twelve years ago as he chased migrating honey bees across parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran as a bee engineer. He showed us the hooks he used to use to both prod on his camel and to pitch camp at night. We were amazed. The irony of being able to say we stayed in a "nomad's house" was more than enough to keep our minds occupied, but it would only get better.
Since we arrived in Sanliurfa ungodly early, we had a full day to see the city, and Aziz was all too willing to guide us around the sights of his birthplace and his retirement hometown. He first walked us down to the site where every religion's favorite prophet, Abraham, had a brush with God. As legend has it, Abraham was busy destroying pagan gods one day when Nimrod, the local king, saw this and had Abraham arrested and ordered him burnt to death. Instead, God intervened, changed the fire to water and the coals into fish. In the course of events Abraham was thrown off the hill above but landed safely in a bed of roses.
Today there is long and winding pond filled to the brim with hearty, well-fed fish that have benefited from the belief that anyone who attempts to catch one of the fish will go blind. Therefore, today, there are probably more fish in those ponds than there are in all of Sanliurfa. The ponds, the mosque that now covers the spot of Abraham's landing, and the nearby çaybahçe (tea garden) provide a perfect spot to sit and ponder life's deepest questions.
Aziz kept us moving and next took us to the nearby Ulu mosque that has a section in it that leads visitors to the very cave where Abraham was born. Wow. The common link to three of the world's largest religions started life on this spot.
We next moved into the Sanliurfa bazaar. Istanbul may have claimed the title of "Grand Bazaar," but I'll take a true bazaar like Sanliurfa's any day. It is a real, functioning center of commerce, unlike Istanbul's where the only goods sold are imitations pawned off to tourists. One alley-way would be children's tee-shirts, the next would be filled with metal work shops with men pounding silver, bending molten iron and tapping out intricate designs in brass plates and serving dishes. This was a real bazaar.
By the afternoon we needed a rest. We took a seat at a table in the large courtyard amid some of the buildings near the bazaar. It was adequately shaded from a few large trees and we relaxed and played dominos for an hour or two. What a great time.
Aziz left us to our own adventures in the late afternoon and Pete and I climbed the stairs up to the ruins of Rome's ancient imperial presence (from which the picture in the previous post is taken from). We got there just in time for the late-afternoon prayer call began just as we reached the top and it echoed across the city. A moment to remember for sure.
That evening Fahrida had prepared a delicious, traditional Kurdish dinner. It was then that the real discussion began. I was curious about how much things had really changed for Kurds in the past few years as Turkey has loosened up its oppression of Kurdish culture as a step towards European Union acceptance. Aziz described how just two or three years ago someone found playing traditional Kurdish music on a guitar would have their guitar smashed and would probably be taken down to the station and be roughed up. But today Aziz says a Kurd could go down to the police station and play his music on the front steps if he wanted to. Way to stick it to The Man.
"We love America and Europe. They make Turkey stop hurting our culture." He clearly loved the blackmail nature of the European Union's requirements on the Turkish government, for they were freeing Kurds of years of oppression and letting them live their lives according to their own culture and not in a restricted Turkishized way.
While some limits have been placed on the Turks' ability to keep the Kurds in place, Turkish authorities still persist in restricting the extent of public Kurdish culture. For example, Aziz has an official name, 'Izzeddin', the Turkish version of 'Aziz', which he must use on official documents, including his national identification card. To friends and family he is 'Aziz', but to those in Ankara he is not a Kurd, he is a Turk named Izzeddin. Turkey has a way to go.
On Saturday Aziz drove us 50 kilometers south to Harran, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world. There have been people living in Harran, without fail, for the past 9,000 years. Harran is known for its cone shaped mud houses that are still used today. Perhaps more recognizably though, Harran is mentioned in Genesis 11:31 as the pitstop spot for Abraham's familiy on its journey from Ur (in southern Iraq) to Canaan (in modern Israel). Harran also boasts the world's earliest known university, where the huge tower still stands amongst piles and piles of archeological wonders.
Upon special request Aziz drove us the last 10 kilometers south to the Turkish-Syrian border. There's not really anything to see there, but being able to hear the call to prayer from the Syrian town across the border and seeing a "Welcome to Syria" sign in both english and arabic with Bashar al-Assad's mug shot right in the middle made it worthwhile. It's not every day you get within a few feet of Syria.
On the drive to and from Harran and the Syrian border Aziz played some of his Kurdish music in the car. He sang along for some of it and I asked him what the words were.
"She sings that they take Kurdish man from Diyarbakir to Ankara and he hasn't come back. Where is he?" he says. Other lyrics he described as a simple Kurdish yearning for a place to call their own. "She sings there is no peace and prosperity for our people until we can call Kurdistan home."
I certainly understood his views, but in light of the E.U. process life has gotten much better for Kurds and they have been much freer to express their cultural heritage. Just the night we were there we were able to hear Kurdish wedding music that only a few years ago would have led to unspeakable consequences. So, I asked, if Kurds are able to live free to express who they are, is a physical state still as important? "Yes," was his sharp response. "We are peaceful people. We want a place to call our own, where we can be our own people."
His statements struck me as very early-20th century in their desire for a nation-state founded on ethnic and nationalistic grounds. But then that probably follows from the Kurds' image since the dark days of the Treaty of Lausanne when Turkey's victorious War of Independence led to a last minute alteration of the regions borders and as a consequence left the Kurds without a state and spread amongst a quad-state area.
The last 80 years have repeated the same struggles for the Kurds. What is your identity when you belong to an ethnicity of 20 million people, but must conform to an artificial state nationality that attempts to redefine your nature?
This weekend made me think about the Kurdish question quite a bit and I'll be writing about it in more depth later this semester.
Aziz showed us the other side of the coin. Commentators in the U.S. tend to speak about the Kurds as a people to be contended with in northern Iraq and to be neglected elsewhere. That shouldn't be. The Kurdish struggle has been on-going for too long. It's time we look at these people and see what they deserve.
They are some of the kindest, most giving and most knowledgeable people in the world. While cultural centers in Turkey limit their literature and displays to turkish and english, the Kurds' new cultural center in Diyarbakir has a language for everyone. They want everyone to know they exist - that they are still struggling.
As we left Aziz reminded us, "We are still here. Go make the world listen."