Malaysian jetliner downed over eastern Ukraine: What next?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, we've been closely monitoring the big news surrounding the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine. People are still trying to figure out the facts, of course, but at this point it looks like separatists in eastern Ukraine likely brought it down. 

Flight path of the doomed jetliner













The Borderlands Lodge rises up from the ashes...

July 9, 2014

Well Borderheads, it's been a pretty wild few weeks, that's for sure. The Borderlands Lodge has been the site of some major brushfires lately, all of which are at least partly of my own making. That's life in the borderlands, I guess. 

The work began immediately after my return from Turkey in the second week of June. I'd had a great month of vacation, and came back to the Bozone feeling pretty refreshed. And then I got the copy-edited version of my manuscript. 

So, my life was pretty much taken up with my book until about one week ago. In fact, it was Independence Day that I sent off my final version. I'll have a look at the proofs later this summer, so I've been told, but all substantial changes have been made. 

I feel good about it. Writing a book is a totally stressful process. It's also been fun, but putting the finishing touches on something that's been part of your life for more than a decade isn't easy. I got interested in the pan-Turkists at the end of my second year at Princeton, back when I was an MA student. I started learning Tatar in the summer of 2002, at Kazan State University. That was also my summer researching in government archives for the first time. I got my feet wet at the NART archive in Kazan, then had an absolutely humiliating experience in St. Petersburg--where the Russian state history archive (known as RGIA) had been transformed into a netherworld dystopia in the months prior to its move from the embankment.

RGIA was a bit intimidating back in 2002














Who's got İhsanoğlu-mania?!?

June 17, 2014
The opposition parties in Turkey have chosen a presidential candidate: it's Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu!

Who? What?  
The first round of the election will be on August 10, and will proceed to a second round if no one wins more than 50% of the vote. While Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has not yet formally declared himself a candidate, pretty much everyone expects him to run--and win. 















Misreading Iraq, reading the world

June 15, 2014
One of the many unpleasant aspects involved with reading about the current crisis in Iraq undoubtedly relates to having to subject myself to American press coverage of the Middle East.

Such was the case with a video appearing in the Washington Post the other day. The video, produced by senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung, purports to 'explain' the 'Sunni-Shiite divide' in the span of just a couple of minutes.

Predictably, the story it recounts begins a long, long time ago....

Media coverage of non-western countries tends to focus upon the alleged timelessness of contemporary conflict. 

The Iraq Crisis: What it could mean for US, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan

June 13, 2014
On the flight back to the Borderlands Lodge from Istanbul yesterday, I read with great interest about the recent developments taking place in Iraq. To say the very least, it was very disturbing.  
From the accounts I've seen, fighters from ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also sometimes known as ISIL—the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) had overrun Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and an important oil-producing center. And now they are apparently advancing on Baghdad. 
















Anatolian Express XVI: Back in the City of the Sultans

June 11, 2014
My day started very early in Bodrum on Monday, with the night clerk at my hotel calling me at 5:30 am to wake me up. I had a shuttle bus to the airport to catch in forty-five minutes and had barely slept a wink the night before. I blame this condition on a lack of alcohol, as I'd refrained the night before from indulging in the rakı and watermelon fest that had typified the rest of the evenings on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. Figuring I had to get up early, I'd toned things down a bit, but then wasn't really all that tired by the time my head hit the pillow. Serves me right for trying to organize things too much.


The empty streets of early-morning Bodrum

Anatolian Express XV: Bodrum, Gümüşlük & Yalıçiftlik

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I rolled into Bodrum on Friday after a three-hour trip from Marmaris. It was easy traveling on a little (one-buttock seats) but uncrowded bus. The weather was sunny and warm, and we drove through a nice new highway that took us through the mountains. As was the case with most of the trips I've taken during this past month, the ride was considerably shorter than my guidebook, published just seven years ago, indicates. It's testament to the degree to which Turkey's infrastructure has been developing in recent years.


From the bus as we pulled into Bodrum

Anatolian Express XIV: Marmaris and İçmeler

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Wednesday morning I got up early-ish and had my final breakfast in Fethiye before hitting the road for Marmaris. Fethiye had been fun. I'd like the place where I was staying, especially as they had a nice veranda that had a view of the harbor and the hills beyond. I'd gotten into the habit of drinking rakı and eating watermelon there at night. Of course, people in Turkey would usually include white (feta) cheese as well, but I guess two out of three wasn't so bad in this instance.


Rakı, white cheese and watermelon: a nice way to cool off in the summertime evenings

Anatolian Express XIII: Fethiye and Karmylassos

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sunday was a long day. It started off in Gaziantep at four o'clock in the morning with my alarm clock ringing. As fun as my trip through the southeast had been, it was time to get moving. I had a plane to catch in a couple of hours.

When planning this trip, the idea had been mainly to see places I'd never been to before. I therefore ended up seeing some places--like Sivas--that some might consider just a wee bit prosaic, while other destinations during this voyage--such as Urfa and Mardin--are fascinating but off the beaten track, at least as far as Turkey is concerned. After the past few weeks of travel, however, I figured I could use a little time resting and relaxing in the sun. That is what has brought me here to Fethiye.


I think Fethiye is actually a bit farther east than this map indicates, but you get the general idea

Anatolian Express XII: Feeling nutty in Antep

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Those of you who know me are aware of the fact that I'm not much of a 'foodie.' Something about that term has always rubbed me the wrong way. I guess I've just met too many Americans whose only interest in foreign cultures related to eating.

In a place like Antep, however, eating is the thing to do. The place is widely considered to have some of the best food in Turkey.


Antep is also known as 'Gaziantep' thanks to the role the city's inhabitants
played in holding off the French during the War of Independence

The Geziversary: Taksim Square and Turkey one year later

Saturday, May 31, 2014

As many of you know, today marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Gezi Park conflicts. The actual sit-in began earlier in May of last year, but May 31 was the day that the police cleared the park for the first time, setting the stage for the counter-attack by the protesters and three weeks of a cop-free zone in the city-center districts of Taksim and Beyoğlu.

Long-time readers of the Borderlands will remember that I was in Istanbul at this time last year, and wrote quite a bit about the protests and police riots that took place in the ensuing weeks. Even as the protests were taking place last year, I had mixed feelings about what happened. A year later, my attitude towards the events is still pretty ambiguous.

On the one hand, this blog has often been critical of the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Indeed, one of the reasons I started posting here in earnest was due to my frustration with what seemed to be the fundamentally incompetent treatment of Erdoğan's administration by most of the US and European-based journalists, bloggers and experts writing on Turkey at the time.

Anatolian Express XI: Amazing Mardin

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yesterday was one of the best days so far on this trip. I traveled the furthest east and south that I'll go during these travels, and also felt like I'd come the closest to accomplishing what I'd set out to do in embarking on this trip--putting the past couple of years behind me and beginning the process of thinking about what I'd like to do next with my life. I also saw some beautiful sites and met nice people. What more could you ask for in a daylong excursion to Mardin?



Anatolian Express X: The Haunting Euphrates

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The last couple of days have been really busy. On Tuesday I visited Göbeklitepe and Harran, and today I went to Halfeti. All of these places are within a couple of hours of Urfa.

Göbeklitepe is an apparently revolutionary archeological find. It's thought to be a temple of some sort dating back more than eleven thousand years. This is what a National Geographic article from a few years ago had to say about it:

Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple. Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were
erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.

Anatolian Express IX: Urfa

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My day started early, at 5.45, with a call from the front desk at my hotel in Malatya. It was time to start getting ready to head to the bus station.

For some reason, it's difficult finding transportation between Malatya and Urfa--a first, frankly, for me in Turkey, where it seems like it's almost always possible to find transportation at the ready between any two points. Yet I'd been having trouble, in my one night in the Apricot City, finding a bus leaving at a decent hour. The closest I'd managed was a small (one-buttock seats) bus to Adıyaman with an outfit called 'Petrol Turizm,' with the assumption that I could eventually find another small bus taking me the rest of the way to Urfa. In the end, I opted for the big bus leaving at 6:30 am. At least I'd end up having more time in Urfa, I figured.

Post-election Ukraine: Staying focused on Kyiv

Monday, May 26, 2014

Now that the presidential election has been held in Ukraine and the so-called 'Chocolate King' has apparently won in a cakewalk, the news regarding Ukraine seems--at first glance--to be getting somewhat better. After all, it appears that Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled back forces from the Ukrainian border. Has Russia indeed 'lost' in eastern Ukraine?

That seems to be the conclusion of some observers. In a recent article in Forbes, one Paul Roderick Gregory writes glowingly on this topic, and even seems to be encouraging the Ukrainian government to try to re-take Crimea. Gregory writes that 'there is growing consensus that Vladimir Putin has abandoned his campaign to take control of east Ukraine."


All may not be sweet in the upcoming months for the 'Chocolate King'--incoming Ukrainian president billionaire Petro Poroshenko