Back from Sultan City N & P

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you folks, but I had a pretty great New Year’s break...and I think that means it's time for some New Year's N & P!

Mutlu Yıllar, my friends!


After submitting my grades in the second week of December, I spent a couple of weeks in Bozeman. I did a little bit of skiing, but mostly I was writing. Ski season started slowly this year at the Borderlands Lodge, with only about twenty inches of snowpack on the mountain. It was probably just as well, though. In any case, there will be plenty of time for skiing in the second semester.

On the 23rd I headed off to Ann Arbor, and five days later traveled to Istanbul. It was a short trip to Turkey—only twelve days—but it was much needed and very welcome. I managed to get some important things done—mainly meet up with a couple of scholars with whom I just can’t communicate by email as well as find some materials that I needed which are unavailable to me in the US—but I think the best part of the trip was simply being in Turkey again. It had been a while, nearly a year and a half, since I’d been abroad, and being in Istanbul over the past couple of weeks reminded me of why I do the things I do. I came back to the US feel refreshed and recharged, not to mention several pounds heavier from stuffing myself with Turkish food.

Things in Turkey hadn’t changed much, at least politically. The Ergenekon steamroller continues—just last weekend İlker Başbuğ, the chief of staff of the military until last year, was arrested on charges of “heading a terrorist organization and planning a coup.”

Now, a government prosecutor is even making noises about lifting the parliamentary immunity of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP and the country’s main opposition leader, for "trying to influence a judicial process" (here in Turkish).  

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is only the most recent critic of Tayyip Erdoğan to be harassed through the judicial system. 

I’ve written about all of this many times, and don’t feel much need or desire to write much more. The message is clear, anyway: if folks like this can be put behind bars, anyone can be

Not surprisingly, these arrests were made in the wake of an announcement that the two surviving coup leaders from 1980, including former president Kenan Evren, would be put on trial for crimes they committed during the period of military rule in Turkey. This is a popular move, of course, one which was made possible by the referendum of late 2010, which both permitted Turkey’s AKP government to pack the country’s constitutional court and made it possible to try the old coup generals—a move which previously had been ruled out by Turkey’s coup-era constitution.

That’s the way it goes with the AKP—the trials and power grabs are couched in the language of “civilianization” and of finally chasing the military out of politics. Chasing the military out of politics is something most people generally support in Turkey, so one-two punches like the ones we’ve been seeing since the New Year in Turkey have become commonplace. Appeal to the electorate by slamming the coup-leaders of 1980, then come down even harder against your opponents today whether they be officers, journalists, university presidents, or civil society figures. Create English-language media outlets to sell it all to the rest of the world, and count on no one caring so much. Done, done, and done.

Oh, and by the way: the rumors in Turkey are that Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan is suffering from colon cancer. AKP cheerleader Today's Zaman sez no.

But there are other things also taking place in Turkey. Being there revives me, reminds me of why I went into academics in the first place. It’s great talking to people, meeting old friends and making new ones, and walking around the city.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of vinyl, and I’m pleased to report that the Vinyl Revolution has spread deeply into Turkey. The last time I was in Istanbul there were just a couple of places selling records. This time I counted five or six. It’s definitely going mainstream, even if the only record players available are old and beat up. If I were more entrepreneurial, I’d start importing into Turkey the cheap but serviceable audio-technica turntables that I use.

The trip back from Istanbul was taxing. Flying Delta—undoubtedly one of the most wretched airlines in the world—we had no in-flight entertainment, no lighting, and apparently no heat, either. The cabin was freezing cold, with passengers huddling up against one another to keep warm. Of course there was no free booze—that’s a given—and none given out to make up for the terrible conditions. Arriving at JFK to change planes, I was confronted with typically crumbling infrastructure. Flying in from Istanbul Ataturk Airport, which isn’t particularly fancy but at least isn’t a prehistoric dump like JFK, the difference arriving in New York was stark. I had just left a country where every political party, no matter what issues they may differ upon otherwise, supports the development of public infrastructure, and had arrived in the United States, where we let our public infrastructure crumble in the name of starving states and municipalities of their tax base.

Americans, most of whom know little about the rest of the world, assume they’ve got it the best. It’s a complacency not unlike that held by Soviet citizens, who knew next to nothing about the rest of the world and thought they had it the best but at least had the excuse of living in a society where access to information about other countries was restricted.

I don’t mind flying bargain airlines domestically and forgoing meals on board, but I do mind when I feel like I’m being taken advantage of by a company. Like when Delta blares advertisements at top volume to a captive audience of passengers, or when passengers are left on their own to sleep in airports because of delays. Two years ago, I was flying from St. Petersburg to Istanbul via Moscow, but missed my connection due to a late start caused by weather conditions in St. Petersburg. I was delayed six hours in Moscow, an inconvenience which, according to Russian law, entitled me to a meal voucher and even a free hotel room. This is in Russia, a country where people routinely get shafted by the powers that be. In the United States, Americans just take the shafting, again and again, and I think one of the reasons for this is because we’re both smug and ignorant, unable to imagine that things could be better or that we could learn from other countries.

Take security, for instance. At Atatürk airport in Istanbul, everyone has to go through a (relatively quick) security check at the entrance to the airport. You have to put your things through an x-ray machine, but there’s no taking off of shoes or anything. Then, after going through passport control, there’s a more thorough security check at your gate. Of course, having security at the gate costs a lot more than just having one security checkpoint that everyone has to push their way through.  So, in security-obsessed America, my experience has been that the degree of scrutiny with which my bags and my person are checked decreases in inverse proportion to the size of the crowd pressing at the security gates. Today, in Detroit, there was hardly anyone at security, and my bags were checked carefully along with everybody else’s. On other trips, when the lines are long and people are pressing, I’ve often left all of my fluids inside of my bags—a security point I routinely forget—and nobody says anything. But hey, at least we check everybody’s shoes---unless, for some reason, you’re under the age of twelve.

In any case, it’s good to be back, and I’m excited about the upcoming semester. There’s a lot of work to do—I need to write my book!—so I’m bringing this post to an end as I hasten back towards home and the Borderlands Lodge. 
For now, enjoy some photos from the City of the Sultans!

On the way to the morning ferry in Arnavutköy


Fish market in Beşiktaş
My office at the Urban. 
Nighttime in the A-köy
From the Beşiktaş-Kadıköy ferry
A windy and splashy ride
The Fish Market behind the Çiçek Pasajı
Record store near Cihangir


Kickin' it modern 

 That's all for now. I'm back safely in the Borderlands Lodge. Can't sleep, still on Istanbul time. I think it's time to make myself a margarita and try to beat this jet lag once and for all.... 
More shots can be found in the Borderlands Lounge on FB...

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