Winter Travelz

Monday, December 28, 2009

Well, I've finished my first semester as an assistant professor!  Actually, I taught my last class on the eleventh, but the semester didn't officially finish for me until Sunday night of last week, when I submitted my grades. 

It's not easy leaving beautiful Bozeman...

















On the Kurdish and Armenian initiatives...

Sunday, December 13, 2009
One of the biggest stories to have emerged from Turkey this year was the so-called "Kurdish initiative" (Kürt açılımı, or Kurdish 'opening'). 
The "Kurdish opening" was announced in the Spring of this year, but has actually been around for a while. On January 1 of 2009, the Turkish government set up TRT 6, a television channel which broadcasts in Kurdish. Then, during the municipal election campaign earlier this year (nationwide municipal elections in Turkey are treated as referenda on the performance of the sitting national government in a manner similar to midterm elections in the United States), Prime Minister Erdoğan went even further in his efforts to woo Kurdish voters to his party. Prior to the March 29 elections, Erdogan not only promised that he would allow Kurdish-language radio, but also spoke Kurdish himself publicly at a campaign rally--something which is actually illegal in Turkey. 

Princeton talk & NYC fun

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009
 
I spent last weekend in Princeton and NYC, and had a really good time. The point of the trip was that I was giving a brown-bag talk at my old department, Near Eastern Studies. But it was also great to catch up with some old friends. 

Everything started with a 5 a.m. wake-up and a snowy and dark drive to the airport, courtesy of my faculty mentor at MSU (I signed up for this mentorship program, which pairs new professors with more senior people in other departments, without knowing how much it would save me in taxi fare. Having a cool mentor is a really good thing). I flew into Newark, then took the train down to Princeton. 

Princeton was slushy and rainy and nasty when I arrived. I met up with my friend Farrell, whom I knew back when I was an MA student at Princeton, and who is spending the current semester at the Institute for Advanced Study.  We had dinner and drinks, and even though we had a good time it was difficult to escape the conclusion we'd made so many times nearly a decade ago: no matter what the weather, Princeton is a pretty crummy place to spend an evening. 
















 
Princeton's Firestone Library under brighter skies Sunday morning

Yellowstone Shotz

 Saturday, November 21, 2009
A couple of weeks ago a friend came out to visit and we went down to Yellowstone Park together. We saw elk, buffalo, deer, wolves, and went swimming in an amazing spot at the confluence of a cold river and a hot spring. It was a really interesting combination of warm and cold, and was kind of like swimming in a giant Irish coffee.

The trip was a blast. Here are some of the shotz:  















On the ride down to Yellowstone we stayed at a hot spring near Chico. This was the view from our room.

Role reversal in Turkey

Sunday, September 13, 2009
The Doğan (pronounced "Doe-on") Media Group, which is the largest media group in Turkey (controlling Hüriyet, Milliyet, the Turkish Daily News, CNN-Türk, and a number of other media outlets) has been hit with a $2.5 billion tax bill. This penalty could very well put the company out of business, and the Turkey-watching punditry is wondering what this event could mean for freedom of the press in Turkey.

Concern regarding the government's motives in assessing the media company stems from the very public personal animosity that has been brewing for over a year between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erd
oğan and Doğan Group owner and political power-broker Aydin Doğan.  While the Doğan-controlled media actually used to be rather cozy with the AK Party government, this all changed in late 2008. Many people think that this is because of Doğan media outlets aggressively covering the Deniz Feneri corruption scandal, which implicated many people in the AK Party. (In my personal opinion, this reporting was clearly an important step in the feud but who knows what actually kicked it off--I'm sure there's plenty about the AK Party-Doğan Group relationship that we know nothing about). 

Ergenekon, the deep state and the crimes that get lost in the shuffle

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The other day, the Turkish newspaper Taraf ran a story about the efforts of Mesut Elfeti to justice the people responsible for his father's death. The body of Elfeti's father, Abdullah Elfeti, was found two months after he was detained by the local gendarmerie in March of 1995.

Elfeti's death is one of twenty-five killings for which Colonel Cemal Temizöz, commander of the gendarmerie for the district of Kayseri, is being questioned. Temizöz is currently being held in a military detention facility. 












The killings--all of which occurred in the southeast of Turkey, where Temizöz was then stationed--are thought to have taken place within the context of a pattern of illegal behavior undertaken by Turkish military and security forces. Nobody knows for sure how many unsolved mystery killings could be traced back to state authorities, but estimates range in the tens of thousands. Recently, Ahmet Türk--leader of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), a party associated with issues pertaining to Kurdish rights--said there were 17 thousand such cases in Turkey.
The ostensible rationale behind the emergence of state-sponsored death squads in Turkey was the Turkish government's battle against the PKK in the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, however, it also seems likely that much of this activity amounted to free-lancing on the part of local authorities, who were allowed to shake down businessmen for personal profit without having to fear that they would be held accountable for their actions. 

When I was living in Istanbul in the 1990s, the Susurluk scandal briefly opened a window onto these activities. Susurluk is the name of a town in western Turkey where a car accident in November of 1996 revealed that a member of parliament, Sedat Bucak (who survived the crash), had been riding with a wanted assassin named Abdullah Çatli (who died in the accident). In the car were also a number of government-issued weapons, silencers, thousands of dollars in cash, and numerous green (privileged) passports issued to Çatli in a variety of aliases--all of them signed by Mehmet Ağar, who was then Turkey's Interior minister. (Here is something I wrote on Susurluk back in the 90s, and here is a more recent discussion in the context of the Ergenekon trial).

The investigation into the "deep state" (derin devlet, the term employed by people in Turkey in reference to state-sponsored crimes of this sort) eventually ran aground when parliament refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of Bucak and Ağar. Before long, political instability and the emergence of a government dominated by the Refah Party of Necmettin Erbakan turned people's attention away from the scandal, as did the Turkish military's intervention into politics and the establishment of what became known as the "February 28 process" in Turkey.

The window onto the deep state was again briefly opened two years ago, when government raids on a house in the Umraniye district of Istanbul appeared to produce a list of assassination targets--in many cases, Kurdish businessmen and politicians. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, who in the following months would be targeted by government prosecutors in an effort to close Erdoğan's AK Party, gave an interview with Hakan Çelik of the newspaper Posta, in which he hinted at the significance of the Ümraniye findings as part of a larger effort to defeat the deep state. "Look and see where the Ümraniye events lead to. Whose names will emerge from them? These things are very interesting. Who did the bombs which were discovered belong to?"

As I've written about in numerous posts on this blog, the Ergenekon investigation--which is what emerged from the Umraniye raid--has taken a strange path indeed. What began as an investigation into the state's role in extra-legal killings has been turned into a search for coup plotters allegedly seeking to overthrow Erdogan's AK Party government. Mustafa Balbay, the Ankara bureau chief for the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, has been in prison since March 5 of this year, joining the ranks of dozens of academicians, journalists, and civil society figures who have likewise been implicated, detained, and imprisoned. Meanwhile, seemingly obvious candidates for police questioning into deep state matters (like Sedat Bucak of Susurluk fame) remain free.
Coup plotter? Former Istanbul University Rector Kemal Alemdaroğlu
When you look at Turkish newspapers these days, there's a truly sad tendency to tell only one part of this story. Taraf does a great job of relating stories like that relating to Elfeti, but for whatever reason is strangely uncritical of the overall direction that the Ergenekon trial has been taking. To read the pages of Taraf (which, as I've discussed elsewhere, is an influential news source for foreigners who write on Turkey professionally), one would never get the impression that the focus of the Ergenekon investigation has changed dramatically over the past eighteen months, or that the timing of this shift coincided with the beginning of the AK Party's struggle for survival against closure.
Meanwhile, opposition newspapers like Cumhuriyet and the various Doğan Group papers (including Hürriyet and Radikal, whose owner has recently been the target of a major tax investigation) write frequently on the dubious direction of the Ergenekon investigation but relatively little about the horrible and intolerable crimes which prompted popular desire for an uncovering of the deep state to begin with.  Opposition leader Deniz Baykal of the Republican People's Party (CHP) has denounced the Ergenekon investigation as "a political trial, not a legal one."
Amid the politicization of Ergenekon and fears that the government has been abusing this investigation to go after its political rivals, the crimes that are allegedly connected to the state may end up getting lost in the shuffle. 

Genocide and the Borderlands


Tuesday, June 2, 2009
It's been a busy week or so since getting back to Istanbul last Sunday. I'm heading off again for the United States on Thursday of next week, so basically I've been hitting the archives, seeing friends, and trying desperately to finish up some work that I'd really like to complete before leaving Turkey. I hope to spend most of this summer working on a manuscript for a book, so before getting back to Michigan I hope to be able to mail off an article that I've been kicking around for the last few months.

Caucasus Journey XVI: Back in Istanbul

Monday, May 25, 2009
I arrived back in Istanbul yesterday, flying back from Van on Sunday morning. Now that I've had a day or so to get connected again to Istanbul I've put up photos from Kars and Van. The page takes, in some cases, a few minutes to load because I've posted so many photos over the course of this year. All the same, I think a lot of the photos from Kars and Van are really beautiful and invite people to check them out--scroll down about two-thirds down the page to find them more quickly.
It's good to be back in Istanbul. Just about wherever I've left over the course of this past week, I've been sorry to leave: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Kars, and the Turkish southeast were all places where I felt I could have spent at least a little more time. And now that I'm back in Istanbul with less than three weeks until I'm due to return to the US, I'm feeling a proactive sense of longing and sadness that I won't be here this summer.

Caucasus Journey XV: Visiting Van

Saturday, May 23, 2009
During the course of seven years living in Istanbul in the 1990s, I traveled very little to the east of Turkey. Sure, I'd been to Adıyaman in order to visit Nemrut Dağı, but instead of venturing further east had simply turned right and gone south, down to Hatay and İskenderun.
Partly it was because of the weather--I worked during the school year and had summers off, and didn't feel like baking in the 100 degree-plus temperatures that can be typical in the southeast in July and August. And frankly I wasn't very enthusiastic about visiting the east, and the southeast in particular, at a time when the PKK was a lot more active than it is today. But mainly I think that, since I was already spending the entire year in Turkey, I liked the idea of going someplace different in the summers. So usually in the summer I'd take my backpack and travel for five or six weeks through the Balkans, Central Europe, the former USSR, the Middle East, or some other place, and then take a quick ten days or so on the Aegean coast somewhere before starting work again at the end of September.
Thus, when I started thinking about how to get back to Istanbul this year after researching in Georgia for the past six weeks, it wasn't long before I began contemplating a visit to Kars and Van. Kars was attractive because I've been reading so much about Kars, and people from Kars, in my research over the past couple of years. And Van is a city I've wanted to see since my earliest days in Turkey when, visiting a friend's house, I saw photographs of Lake Van and first heard stories of the bizarre Van Cat, a (frequently) swimmer with one eye that's blue eye and another yellow.  











Van Cat in the water (not my photo)

Caucasus Journey XIV: In Kars

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 
On Tuesday (yesterday) I took a bus from Artvin to Kars. The trip was long--about six hours--and felt even longer because so much of it was on road that is under construction. Calling the surface washboard-like would really be too diplomatic.











Caucasus Journey XIII: From Tbilisi to Artvin

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
It's been a busy few days. My own fault of course. Rather than doing the sensible thing and flying directly from Tbilisi to Istanbul, I came up with the idea of traveling overland to Van, Turkey, then flying back to Istanbul from Van next Sunday. What can I say? I'm a sucker for stretching things out. 
The road back to Istanbul begins here
It was a beautiful morning in Tbilisi when I set off Saturday morning for Kutaisi. My landlady, Lalli, who lives in the apartment next door, came by with some snacks for the road, and then I took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver was a guy who'd taken me to the archive a few times, and when we arrived at the station he flagged down a marshrutka that was just pulling out. They were heading to Kutaisi, and stopped to pick me up.

Caucasus Journey XII: Last days in Georgia


Friday, May 15, 2009

These are my last days in Georgia, and I can't say I'm very happy about it. As is just about always the case, it's really a bummer to leave.


On Friday I spent my last day in the archive. I have to say, the Georgian Central Archives really impressed me. The director of the reading room is an 89 year-old woman named Christina who is about four feet tall, constantly wears a little white beret, and is sharp as a tack. She's stern--one day she really tore into someone (not me) who was secretly taking photos of documents with his camera phone (digital photos of docs cost about $3 per photo, so there's an obvious incentive for people to sneak their own). But she's also very nice. As is often the case in archives in the former Soviet Union, there are dozens of rules that inhibit things--here, for example, you're only allowed to order ten documents a day and the reading room is only open from eleven to four. But I tried to make up for the order limit by balancing requests for big files with small ones, and was lucky enough to receive permission to work from 10:30 to 5, so everything worked out fine.

The physical condition of the archive leaves a lot to be desired, even though the reading room was refurbished last August. While the temperature is quite warm on the street (in the low 20s, Celsius/in the 60s Fahrenheit), it's considerably colder in the reading room--that's the magic of Soviet architecture (I'm sure it's broiling hot in the summer, hotter than it is outside). In the mornings, I'd take a taxi to the archive wearing long underwear and a thermal shirt underneath a t-shirt. I'd wrap my computer in a sweater inside my shoulder bag, then break out the sweater after an hour or so inside the reading room. By the end of the day, my fingers would be stiff from the cold, and then I'd leave the archive at 5 and I'd see what a nice, warm, sunny day I'd been missing. By the time I got home (I'd take the subway back), I'd be more than a little sweaty from all of the layers I was wearing.


Borderland Roundup: this week's news and propaganda

Sunday, May 10, 2009

  • Yesterday, May 9, was a holiday in the countries of the former Soviet Union marking the end of the Second World War. The end of the war in Europe is celebrated on May 8 in western Europe and the United States, but because of time zone differences at the time in which Germany's surrender was concluded, the event is celebrated one day later in the lands of the former USSR.  

Tatar veteran at Victory Day celebrations in Kazan
















Tensions rising in Tbilisi

May 7, 2009
Six policemen and several protesters were injured in a confrontation which took place outside the headquarters of the Tbilisi police department on Wednesday evening. The protesters had gathered outside the police station to protest the detention of three individuals who had been arrested on Tuesday for having assaulted Nika Avaliani, a news reader on a morning television program. The television studios where Avaliani works is one of three places in Tbilisi--along with the parliament building and the presidential residence--where protesters have been picketing since April 9.




















Up until this week, the protests were mostly low-key and uneventful. But things seem to be heating up now.

Mutiny reported at base outside Tbilisi

May 5, 2009
A mutiny reportedly took place at a Georgian military base about six miles outside of Tbilisi this morning. According to a report in the New York Times, Georgian forces surrounded a tank that was accused of being part of the plot, with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili entering the base to personally negotiate the unit's surrender. The base commander has apparently been arrested.

I'm not sure if this is correct or not, but I heard from a number of people this morning that major roads leading into and out of Tbilisi had been closed. 

The mutiny comes just a day before NATO exercises are to begin in Georgia. The exercises will be held from May 6 to June 3, and will include troops from
Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Spain, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.

Turkish roundup: this week's news and propaganda

Sunday, May 3, 2009
  • One of the biggest news stories from Turkey this past week was the holding of May Day demonstrations on Taksim Square for the first time since 1978. In 1977, a demonstration drawing tens of thousands of people ended in pandemonium when unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd, killing thirty-six individuals.
While public events were held on May 1, 1978 to commemorate the deaths which had occurred the previous year, public demonstrations were banned in Taksim on May Day in 1979 and 1980. After the military takeover of September 12, 1980, May 1 ceased to be an official public holiday in Turkey.


Taksim Square: site of one of the most notorious crimes in modern Turkish history, the 1977 massacre of 36 May Day demonstrators

An Obama hand in Turkish-Armenian talks?

April 29, 2009
Hürriyet is reporting that it was a threat from Barack Obama to use the word 'genocide' in his April 24 speech which prompted Turkey to close the deal in agreeing to a 'roadmap' for normalizing relations with Armenia.  
According to Hürriyet, during Barack Obama's visit to Turkey in early April of this year, Obama threatened to make good on his campaign pledge to recognize as a 'genocide' the events of 1915, in which at least several hundred thousand (and possibly more than one million) Ottoman Armenians perished. Every year, the president of the United States makes an address on April 24, the day in which these events are commemorated, and every year there is speculation over whether or not the word 'genocide' will be used in the address. In not using the word 'genocide' in his address, Obama was sharply criticized by Armenian groups and others for having 'turned his back' on the pledge. 










    


Caucasus Journey XI: Second week in Tbilisi

April 28, 2009

Things are going pretty well in Tbilisi. In general, I like Georgia a lot. The people here seem very laid back and friendly, and the food is really good. None of this is a surprise after my experiences in Russia with Georgians and Georgian cuisine, but all the same it's nice to have my expectations in these regards confirmed.
The archive here has really been a pleasant surprise. When I was first advised by Robert Geraci five years ago to come and research, I had no idea what a great font of information this archive would turn out to be. I'm finding a great amount of material and am really glad that I was lucky enough to get funding to come here. The archive also has a small library, which is open for two hours after the archive reading room closes. Today I worked in the library for the first time, making use of their extensive holdings in late nineteenth century regional government publications.

April 24-25: two days of remembrance

April 26, 2009
April 25 (yesterday) is a holiday in Australia and New Zealand known as Anzac Day (which stands for Australia-New Zealand Army Corps), which commemorates soldiers who died in the British-led invasion of the western Ottoman Empire in 1915. On April 25 of that year, thousands of troops from (mainly) Britain, Australia, and New Zealand began what would become an eight-month siege of Çanakkale ("Cha-nak-ka-le"), on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu, in Turkish) peninsula between the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. Gallipoli is the entry point to the Dardanelle Straits which lead, through the Sea of Marmara, to Istanbul--the capital of the Ottoman Empire.












The Sea of Marmara is directly below Istanbul, and is connected to the Aegean (and through the Aegean, the Mediterranean) by the Dardanelle Straits.

Turk-Arm II: A Legacy of Pain and the Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement

April 23, 2009
Like a lot of people, I'm glad to see that the Turkish and Armenian governments have apparently made some progress recently in their relations with one another. As I wrote in a post last week, leaders of the two states have been making quiet steps towards a normalization in their relationship since the fall of 2008. In September of last year, Turkish president Abdullah Gul made a quick trip to Yerevan to attend a soccer game, and since late 2007 delegations from the two countries have been meeting regularly in Geneva in an effort to come up with a means of developing their relations.














Turk-Arm III: Opportunities and Risks in Turkish-Armenian rapprochement


April 23, 2009
In my previous post, I talked a little bit about the issues that have been dividing leaders from Turkey and Armenia since Armenia became independent in 1993. Now I'd like to discuss some of the pitfalls that the normalization process needs to avoid.
Following Armenia's independence from the USSR, Turkey and Armenia never established diplomatic relations. In 1993, Turkey sealed its border with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan, against whom the war over Nagorno-Karabakh had begun to turn. Thus, while it is possible to fly directly between Turkey and Armenia, the fact that the border between Turkey and Armenia is sealed means that ground traffic between the two countries must be transited through Georgia.
Perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the United States, oil--and the Baku-Ceyhan ("Jay-han") pipeline in particular--also runs through Georgia, as neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan would countenance the possibility of the pipeline running through Armenia. (Is anyone still wondering why the neo-cons were so quick to decry Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Hitler--the position's been open since we hanged their last 'Hitler'--during the Russia-Georgian conflict last August?)











It's a long way from Baku to Ceyhan, especially if you have to get there via Georgia

Caucasus Journey X: First Week in Tbilisi

April 22, 2009
So far, things are going pretty well here. As I mentioned in a recent post, I arrived in Tbilisi from Kutaisi last Tuesday night, then headed into the archive on Wednesday. On Thursday, I rented an apartment.

My view of the recent crackdown on the DTP in Turkey

April 21, 2009

Jenny White has a good piece in her blog regarding recent developments in Turkey pertaining to the Democratic Society Party (DTP in Turkish), a party associated with the Kurdish rights movement.  Earlier this month, over 50 members of the DTP--including 9 provincial and 5 district party chairmen--have been arrested by Turkish security officials on the grounds that they support the Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK.
The DTP is simultaneously fighting efforts, initiated by Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya (who also filed a closure case against the ruling AK Party last year), to close the party. Currently, there are 21 DTP members of parliament in Turkey, and the party controls seven municipalities.
Here are a couple of points which I think should be kept in mind when considering the recent arrests:

1) In the municipal elections of March 29, the DTP received just 5.42 percent of the vote nationally, but won big in the southeast of Turkey--which is largely Kurdish. Of the seven municipalities that the party controls, four were won for the first time in the elections of last month--and all four were taken from the AK Party. The AK Party fought hard to win Kurdish votes in the southeast, and the AK Party and DTP are by far the two most important parties in the region. At the beginning of 2009, the government launched a state-run television station, TRT 6, which includes evening broadcasts in Kurdish,  while the AK Party governor of the province of Tunceli attempted to distribute more than 5 million Turkish Lira's worth of applicances and electronic goods in the run up to the March elections until the undertaking was shut down by the electoral commission. Ten days before the elections, Prime Minister Erdogan promised that he'd set up a Kurdish-language radio station and even spoke Kurdish himself at TRT 6's opening ceremony. During the election campaign, the AK Party put up advertisements in Kurdish in order to remind voters in the east of the country which party had given them state-run Kurdish television.


A Kurdish-language banner prior to the recent elections. On the far left side of the banner is the AK Party logo, a yellow light bulb, to the right of which is the logo for TRT 6


Turk-Arm I: Quiet Steps forward in Turkish-Armenian Relations

April 18, 2009
Turkish members of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP in Turkish) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have recently visited Azerbaijan to attend a meeting called  "Azerbaijan-Turkey: Common Interests and Problems." At the meeting, the opposition MPs made a point of criticizing the recent efforts of Turkey's AK Party government to take some steps towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. 
Referring to Armenia's occupation of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, CHP representative Sukru Elekdag was quoted as saying "Turkey wants peace, tranquility and security to prevail in the Southern Caucasus. However, peace and security cannot be ensured in the region because of the ongoing Armenian occupation." 











Thousands March in Ankara to Protest Direction of Ergenekon Inquiry

April 18, 2009
The Istanbul daily Cumhuriyet is reporting that "tens of thousands" of individuals marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as part of an organized protest against the path that the Ergenekon investigation has taken (an AP story estimated the crowd at 5000). Meanwhile, Deniz Baykal, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, has denounced the Ergenekon inquiry as "a political trial, not a legal one." 










 
Protesters in Ankara. Photo courtesy Radikal

Caucasus Journey IX: Getting Settled in Tbilisi

April 16, 2009
It’s been a busy few days. After working all day at the Kutaisi archive on Monday, I went out to dinner with Nino, a professor at Kutaisi State University that I had met at the archive that day. Then, the next morning, I had to return to the archive in order to pay my 20 tetri  [about 13 cent] per document fee for using archival materials. The process was pretty straightforward. I went to the bank, waited in two lines, signed my name to four sheets of paper, had each of them stamped twice, then took them back to the archive to prove that I’d paid. Couldn't have been any simpler, really.
After paying my debt to the archive, I headed back to the apartment where I was staying and picked up my things. The family I was staying with was friendly, as was their little dog. We bid our farewells and I took a taxi to the bus station.
The trip from Kutaisi to Tbilisi took about three and a half hours, and was gorgeous. For much of the journey, there were long rows of snow-capped mountains on either side of us. The regions we passed through were pretty populated, with one small town our village pretty much blending into the next. Traveling from the second largest city in the country to the capital, the road was two-lane and badly potholed until about twenty miles outside of Tbilisi.

Ergenekon, and on and on

April 15, 2009
I don't have much time, so I'm going to quickly post a excerpt from Hurriyet newspaper's English-language site relating to the most recent arrests in Turkey's ongoing Ergenekon investigation. Pay particular attention to the last three lines of this passage, beginning with "Things that the professors had in common."
Police detained 29 people, including three former and two incumbent university rectors, in the 12th wave of the Ergenekon probe. Police searched 83 different places, including the offices of the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life, or CYDD, in the operations that were held simultaneously in 18 provinces. Professor Mehmet Haberal (Baskent University in Ankara), Professor Osman Metin Ozturk (Giresun University in the northern province of Giresun), and former rectors Professor Fatih Hilmioglu (Inonu University in eastern province of Malatya), Professor Ferit Bernay (Samsun University in northern province of Samsun), Professor Mustafa Yurtkan (Uludag University in northwestern province of Bursa), who is also the deputy chairman of the Kemalist Thought Association, were taken to Istanbul for interrogation. Things that the professors had in common: They were all against freedom of headscarf at universities, they were all appointed by former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and they are all known for their Kemalist thoughts.

Caucasus Journey VIII: Leaving Kutaisi


April 13, 2009
I woke up on Sunday to beautiful clear weather. It was so clear, in fact, that on my way into town in the morning I realized that Kutaisi was surrounded by snow-capped mountains I hadn’t seen the previous two days. Since I hadn’t been able to see the mountains during the course of Saturday’s excursion to the Bagrati Cathedral on the bluff overlooking Kutaisi, I decided to hike up there again in order to get some better photographs.
In the afternoon, I went out to Vani, about 25 miles southwest of Kutaisi. Vani is an ancient city, established in the 6th century BC. I took a marshrutka out there, with the hour-long ride taking me through some really gorgeous scenery.  
Vani and the Mountains

 










Caucasus Journey VII: Cruisin' Kutaisi and Environs

April 12, 2009
Today (Saturday) was a lot of fun. It was raining and nasty out in the morning, so until about one o’clock I just screwed around with my computer, working on my photo album for this trip. In the early afternoon, however, the sun came out and I decided to check out the sites. I’m really glad I did. 

The first place I went was Bagrati Cathedral, which dates to the eleventh century. The cathedral is located on a hill overlooking the city, and the views of Kutaisi are really great from there. Most of the cathedral itself is undergoing heavy restoration so isn’t too much to look at right now.

Caucasus Journey VI: From Batumi to Kutaisi

April 11, 2009
Despite all my plans to leave Batumi on Thursday, I ended up staying an extra day. There were two main reasons for this. First, there were anti-government demonstrations taking place all over the country on Thursday, and a number of people had warned me that the roads between cities might get closed if the protests got too large or unruly (after all, it’s been just five years since street demonstrations overthrew Georgia’s last president), and in any case I didn’t feel like getting caught up in the middle of a protest while trying to find a hotel and get into town from the bus station. Secondly, it had been pouring rain in Batumi for two solid days, and most of my clothes were soaked. I decided to stay in (the archive was closed anyway because of the state holiday). I rigged a clothesline by tying the six-foot long electrical cord from the spanking-new television (mounted near the ceiling in a corner of the room) to the wardrobe by using a small portion of dental floss. I had to do it this way, because the only heat in the room came via a small electrical fan on the wall, which only warmed things directly in its path. While my clothes dried, I worked for several hours on an article of mine that I’ve been meaning to send out for publication.
I spent the whole day indoors, listening to the rain pour down incessantly. Finally, in the evening, it let up a little bit and I decided to go out and get some dinner. The plan was to just grab something light, then head back to the hotel and get some sleep.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Sitting alone at dinner, I was adopted by the group sitting at the table next to mine. We spent the next several hours talking and pounding shots of homemade vodka. This was followed (stupidly) by more drinking of homemade wine. By the time I got up to leave and looked at my watch, it was almost two o’clock. 

Caucasus Journey V: Batumi Marathon

April 9, 2009
Wednesday was another long day in Batumi. Actually, I’d planned on being out of town by Tuesday morning, but my research detained me. Even though the folks at the archive had declared two of the files I wanted to look at [from the 1880s] “top secret,” there was still a lot for me to look at. As is usually the case with archives, once I thought I was out, I got dragged back in. So, to make a long story short, I ended up working there not only on Tuesday, but also all day Wednesday.
At your service: the staff of the archive reading room

Caucasus Journey IV: Batumi by Day, Batumi by Archive

April 7, 2009
So far, I’ve been having a really super time in Georgia. Frankly, I feel rather coarse saying this, because so many people here are obviously hurting. All the same,  I’m really glad I came here.
After crossing the border on Saturday afternoon I had the taxi driver take me to a hotel I’d found in Lonely Planet. The rooms looked pretty good and I took one quickly, since I was jonesing pretty bad to get out and see the sites.

Caucasus Journey III: Crossing the Border

April 5, 2009
I woke up Saturday morning in Trabzon at about eight o’clock. After grabbing a couple of poğaças and some morning tea from the local pastane, I returned to the Nur Hotel, packed up my stuff, and headed off to the train station. It was time to head to Georgia.
Black Sea on my left en route to Hopa










 




Caucasus Journey II: The Long Road to Trabzon

April 3, 2009
Thursday started early, with the alarm clock at 5am. I had an 8:30 flight from Sebiha Gökçen airport on the Asian side of the city, and needed plenty of time to get there. From Arnavutköy I took a taxi to Taksim, where I caught the 6 am Havas airport bus to Sebiha Gökçen. I made it in plenty of time, arriving at the airport at about 6:45.
I'd never been to Sebiha Gökçen before. Istanbul’s main airport, Atatürk airport, is on the European side, and that’s still where all of the international and most of the domestic flights leave from and arrive into. But Sebiha Gökçen opened in 2001, and has gradually been picking up more and more domestic flights. They’ve got an international terminal as well, but it appears to still be under construction.

Caucasus Journey: Getting Started

April 2, 2009
On Thursday, April 2, I'm beginning my Caucasian odyssey with a flight from Istanbul to Trabzon, a city on the Black sea coast of Turkey. After spending a day or so in Trabzon, I'll travel by bus to Hopa, just across the border from Batumi and about three and a half hours from Trabzon. From Hopa I'll take a minibus to the border, and from there plan on walking across the border and then taking a taxi into Batumi.
Batumi, I think, will be pretty cool. Despite my years of education in Russian and Ottoman history, I really don't know much more about the city than what is written in its wikipedia entry. I'd known, for example, that Batumi had been part of the Ottoman Empire (indeed, the city has been an important part of my research here in Istanbul), but I hadn't known that Batumi, which I've been looking at mostly in the context of the late nineteenth century, had been part of the Ottoman Empire for so long (1627-1878). Since I've been spending a lot of time looking at issues like smuggling, illegal immigration, and other forms of cross-border travel, I really hope to get the chance to do some archival work when I'm in Batumi. 

A few comments on the Turkish election results

March 31, 2009
On March 29, nationwide elections were held in Turkey for various offices in provincial, municipal, and neighborhood government. I'm sure many of you have already seen the headlines regarding the election results, so I'll jump quickly to a few points that interested me.
  • This was the first time since the AK Party was founded in 2002 that the party has lost votes from one election to the next. In the last local elections, held in 2004, the AK Party received 41.7% of the vote for city mayors. In the last parliamentary elections in 2007, the AK Party won 47% of the vote. This year, the party won a little less than 39% of the vote--a disappointment, but still more than the 34% than the party one the first time it picked up a parliamentary majority in 2002.

Eurasia and Steve Kotkin's "Ab Imperio," Part deux

March 30, 2009
In my previous post, I summarized Princeton historian Steve Kotkin's important article, "Mongol Commonwealth? Exchange and Governance across the Post-Mongol Space." 
As someone who works primarily with Turkic and Russian documents with respect to issues spanning Central Asia, Russia, the Caucasus, the Ottoman center and the Turkish Republic, the question of what to call the region I work on is something that I've put a lot of thought into over the years. Originally, I tried to get out of the question altogether by simply describing myself as a "modernist historian," but people always wanted me to be more specific than this. In just about every job interview I had, someone from the hiring committee asked me to describe the region that I work on.  

Eurasia and Steve Kotkin's "Ab Imperio," Part I

March 28, 2009
As some of you may have noticed, I've recently been playing around with the name of this blog, switching from something that was totally generic to something using the name 'Eurasia' to something else. And ruminating about what to call my blog [I ultimately decided to switch away from "Eurasia" but not because I think it's a bad name for an academic subfield] got me thinking again about Steve Kotkin's 2007 piece "Mongol Commonwealth? Exchange and Governance across the Post-Mongol Space," which I first read closely when I was in Ufa last summer. 

In this piece, which was published in the journal Kritika (which is itself devoted to "Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History"), Kotkin takes on the concept of "Eurasia" and its use by North American academics to describe what once was called "Russian and East European Studies" (or variations thereof). "Suddenly," writes Kotkin, "Eurasia is everywhere."

Decision 2009: The Race for Muhtar

March 25, 2009
A fair bit of attention is being paid in the international media these days to the upcoming municipal elections in Turkey. On March 29, cities across Turkey (and “boroughs” inside major cities like Istanbul) will vote for mayor. One of the major questions of the day is whether or not the AK Party, which also holds power nationally in Ankara, will be able to receive more than fifty percent of the vote nationwide. While reaching fifty percent will have no practical impact on the status of the ruling AK Party in Turkey (except, of course, with respect to election returns), given the dominant position of the party in Turkish politics these days the "fifty percent or more" question is one of the only mysteries left.
And certainly, during a time when the state (meaning departments of the permanent bureaucracy which have, over the last six years, come under the effective control of AK Party appointees) is taking on not only major figures in the military and the opposition, but also the media, any convincing mandate in elections would be of major importance to the AK Party. Moreover, the fact that US President Obama is coming to Turkey immediately after the elections could also conceivably make it more important for Prime Minister Erdoğan to put in a good performance, particularly in light of recent American criticism (in the form of a State Department-produced human rights report) on freedom of expression in Turkey (although the report tended to focus upon issues for which Turkey is criticized every year, like Kurdish-language issues, rather than for the media crackdown that has been taking place specifically under Erdogan). 
One aspect of the upcoming elections that hasn’t received so much attention is the elections which are also taking place at the muhtar level. In Turkish villages, the muhtar is the most important administrative figure, the head of the village council who oversees most of the village administration. In big cities such as Istanbul, each neighborhood also has a muhtar (but not a council). In the 1990s I lived for five years in a mahalle (neighborhood) known as Muradiye (located between the larger neighborhoods of Teşvikiye and Beşiktaş). The only time I saw my muhtar was when I needed paperwork related to my residence permit. When I first moved in to the neighborhood, I went to the muhtar in order to register. I showed him my passport and lease and he wrote my name and information into a thick book. In following years, I was sometimes asked to produce a slip of paper from the muhtar when I renewed my residence permit.
Muhtars do more than just register people (Turkish citizens and foreigners alike) in their neighborhoods. They are also responsible for helping people obtain other important documents, like birth certificates. Moreover, in both cities and villages alike, they can lobby higher-up officials for improvements to their areas. In the Izmir district of Bornova, for example, a candidate for muhtar is campaigning on the promise of erecting public toilets. Candidates for muhtar often focus on issues like improving public transportation to and from their neighborhoods, increasing trash collection, and, in the Seyrantepe district of Sivas, encouraging the production of women's handicrafts.

In Istanbul, the muhtars are often shopkeepers who conduct their muhtar duties in their workplaces. Abdullah Bey ("Mr. Abdullah"), who was the muhtar that I always dealt with in Muradiye, owned a small grocery store across the street from Beşiktaş Pazarı. His office was located in the back of the store which he ran with his kids. When I’d go in to get a paper from him that I needed to show to get my residence permit renewed, he’d often be in the middle of selling a newspaper or bread to somebody. His kids would run the register while he was in the back filling out my paperwork.
The muhtar’s term in office is five years, and the elections for muhtar coincide with municipal elections, which are always held simultaneously across Turkey. Unlike candidates for municipal elections, however, candidates for muhtar do not run with a party affiliation. The last year I lived in Muradiye, Abdullah Bey did not run again as a candidate. The two candidates who ran to replace him were Ahmet Abi (“Big Brother Ahmet,” which is what everybody called him though this moniker did not appear on his campaign literature), who ran a grocery just up the street from me on Göknar Sokak, and the young woman (I think her name was Arzu) who ran the pharmacy one street parallel to mine.
It was quite the campaign, not least of which because Ahmet Abi’s campaign posters featured a photograph of him wearing a flashy suit and tie. Ahmet Abi’s opponent, the pharmacist, had posters printed which described her as “contemporary, hardworking, and güleryüzlü,” the last of these adjectives being a Turkish word means “someone who likes to smile.” Everyone, it seemed, had decided in advance that Ahmet Abi was going to win the race, but in the end the smiling pharmacist carried the day. I guess the voters of Muradiye felt they were in need of a smile.
This year in Arnavutköy, meanwhile, the race is between Terzi Hikmet (“Hikmet the Tailor”), and Sedef Hanım ("Mrs. Sedef"), the incumbent. Sedef Hanım doesn’t apparently have a job other than that of muhtar, so she carries out her duties in an office that she rents across the street from the big Greek church. Terzi Hikmet’s shop is on the main road running perpendicular to the Bosphorus.
What can Terzi Hikmet do for you? 
Terzi Hikmet is campaigning aggressively, plastering the neighborhood with campaign posters. Sedef Hanım's campaign, meanwhile, is decidedly more low-key. The only poster of hers that I've seen was right outside her office. Then again, she does have the power of incumbency on her side. 
People that I've asked in the neighborhood tell me that, despite Terzi Hikmet's full-fledged campaign, they think the race will be close. Most people don't think that all of the posters are going to make much of a difference, since everyone in the neighborhood knows the two candidates well, anyway.
In any case, given the sorry state of the opposition Republican People’s Party (in Turkish, CHP) these days, the muhtar races might well end up providing most of the real excitment on election night this year.