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 not sweet for the 'Chocolate King'











Anatolian Express VIII: A taste of Malatya

Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's been a long day, one that started early in Sivas. I ran out of my hotel, grabbed a couple of poğaças and a newspaper, then ran back and had breakfast before my taxi came. I was on my way to Malatya. 








 

Anatolian Express VII: Sivas and Divriği

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I had three great days in Kapadokya, but it was time to move on. As awesome a place as Kapadokya is, I also wanted to spend some time in some real places in Turkey--actual cities where normal people live, rather than just tourist enclaves. While Kapadokya is an amazing place that I totally recommend seeing, it wasn't the only sort of place I was looking to spend time in this summer.

I got up at seven in the morning on Friday and had one last breakfast at the Paradise Hotel, watching the hot air balloons float over the fairy chimneys. I then packed up my stuff, walked to the bus station and headed to Kayseri. We were in a little minibus, and I sat up next to the driver. He was a wrinkled white-haired dude named Vahdet who had retired two years ago from a career as an Army officer. As we chatted, he asked me the usual questions--where am I from, am I married, how old am I, etc. It turns out he was one year younger than me.
After an hour on the road, we arrived at the Kayseri bus station, where Vahdet dropped me off. I bought a ticket forward to Sivas for a bus leaving about forty-five minutes later. Within a few hours of driving through austere terrain, we arrived in Sivas. 

  










Anatolian Express VI: Encomia for Kapadokya

Thursday, May 22, 2014 

I woke up early on Tuesday morning in Ankara, freezing cold in my room. Ankara was nice, but damp and chilly. May 19th—a national holiday—had been a fun time to be in the capital, but I was ready to leave. Kapadokya was calling.








Anatolian Express IV: Thinking Beyond Erdoğan

Monday, May 19, 2014

Well, it's certainly been an interesting first several days in Turkey this year. As was the case last year, when my arrival in Turkey coincided with the explosion of a peaceful sit-in at Gezi Park into a nationwide series of protests, my visit this year has been met by yet another instance in which the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, appears to be coming apart at the seams.

So much drama, so much unnecessary strife. Now, not only has an aide of Erdoğan been photographed kicking a protester in Soma just days after the mine disaster there, but the good Prime Minister himself has also been accused of punching a protester in, of all places, Soma.

Anatolian Express V: Ankara Getaway

Monday, May 19, 2014 
It's been a fun first week back in Turkey, with the first four days spent in Istanbul. But as great as Istanbul is, I also needed to get away from there. One thing I really wanted to do this summer was travel, rather than just hang out in one place the way I usually do when I'm researching. After the last eighteen months or so, I'm interested in catching my breath and spending a bit of time by myself thinking about what to do next. So, after passing a bit of time in the City by the Bos, I decided to head east, to Ankara.

Ankara? Really?

Yes, really.


Greetings from Sunny Ankara!
     













Anatolian Express III: Istanbul Shotz

Sunday, May 18, 2014

This is the first time since 1997 that I've actually paid my own plane fare across the Atlantic. Everything else over the years that have passed has been covered courtesy of whatever university I was affiliated with at the time, or else by organizations like Fulbright, ARIT, IREX, NCEEER and other institutions whose funding has been slashed in recent years and no longer give out money the way that they used to.

I'd actually applied for some grants earlier this year, and have still yet to hear from a couple. But I couldn't wait any longer. I had about a month between sending off my manuscript and getting it back from my copyeditor. I really felt that I needed a holiday, but wasn't sure about where I should go. It seemed kind of silly, at first, coming to Turkey for a vacation. After all, I come here every year. Wouldn't it make more sense to go someplace like Vietnam or Costa Rica?

Anatolian Express II: Soma and Toma

Saturday, May 17, 2014 
It's been a busy few days in Istanbul since I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I haven't been doing anything particularly touristic, at least with respect to sightseeing. Basically, I've been seeing my friends, people I've known, in some instances, for over twenty years. Others are folks I've met along the way during the course of all the trips I've taken back to Turkey since returning to live in the US in 1999--I think I've come to Turkey every year since then. Some people, meanwhile, are new friends, as it seems like every time I come here I meet someone new that I end up keeping in touch with.

Almost all of my friends--and particularly the ones I've been hanging out with this week--despise the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan. Like many other people in Turkey and elsewhere, they're appalled by Erdogan's reaction to the Soma mining disaster.

Anatolian Express: Back in Istanbul

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I arrived in Istanbul yesterday after a long flight from Bozeman, with stops in Chicago and Frankfurt en route. It was a good trip, and it's great to be back in the TC.

The trip was exhausting, of course, but even on the final leg I was chatting away a mile a minute with Alp, a dude I met on the plane to Istanbul. I had meant to sleep, but frankly was too excited.

It's exhilarating to be here on vacation, rather than having to work. This is the first trans-Atlantic plane ticket I've actually had to pay for myself since 1997, and I'd forgotten how liberating it can feel to actually pay your own way once in a while. Not that I'm against receiving free airfare for research, mind you.

Getting Ready to Roll

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lately, the Borderlands Lounge has been a hotbed of activity. Now that most of the work related to my book has been finished and the semester is over, I've been able to turn to other things.

For one thing, I've managed to spruce up the Borderlands a little bit. During my earlier years at MSU, and especially over the past year and a half or so, it's been hard for me to write much. Unless there was something more pressing going on, I felt like I couldn't really justify writing stuff online when I had a book to write.

That was an unfortunate decision, I think, because it's good to have hobbies, and this is something I like doing. Nevertheless, I found it hard to justify spending a lot of time in the Borderlands, so I mainly just pounded away at the book. I think that's probably one reason behind the recent blast of activity that's been coming from these parts.

Referenda Day

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Today, separatists in eastern Ukraine are holding referenda in a number of cities asking about something...

Do you support the People’s Republic of Donetsk?

You mean financially? Are you asking for money?

It seems pretty understandable that people would be confused.
 










The Big V-D

Thursday, May 8, 2014

May 9 is Victory Day, people, exciting times in former Soviet Space! 

The chatter today is about the rebels in eastern Ukraine, who are apparently defying Russian President Vladimir Putin's public suggestion that the separatists call off Sunday's planned referendum on autonomy.
Some have already raised the idea that this might all be a ploy, specially designed to take the heat off Putin. After all, if he claims that he has no control over the separatists, then he can't be blamed for their actions, right? 

 











Putin's Gambit

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The big news today is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on separatists in eastern Ukraine to hold off on their referendum, scheduled for May 11. Putin also reportedly said that the expected presidential voting in Ukraine, set for May 25, was a 'step in the right direction.' This is interesting because he had previously been opposed to the voting.

Naturally, people are excited. Here's the Washington Post's take on the developments:

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take conciliatory steps Wednesday to ease tensions in Ukraine, calling for pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country to postpone a planned Sunday referendum that could exacerbate violence and saying that a May 25 presidential election whose legitimacy the Kremlin had previously questioned was now “a movement in the right direction.” The remarks marked a significant shift in tone from the hard line that Putin and other top Russian officials had taken for weeks toward the acting government in Kiev, which took power after pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of popular protests.

Local and Global N & P

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Well folks, there's a lot going on these days, both at the Borderlands Lodge and in the world more generally.

Locally, there's a flurry of activity taking place in anticipation of upcoming travels. Globally, meanwhile, things are going to hell as usual.

Whether you like it local or global, here is your N & P!

***

Some news from Montana: the horrid killing of a Turkish-German youth named Diren Dede. Diren was an exchange student at a high school in Missoula, a city about four hours west of Bozeman and home to the University of Montana. He was shot by a man who had set up a video feed to catch burglars, who'd apparently been breaking into the garage recently.

Next stop, Kyiv?

Friday, May 2, 2014

I listened to an interesting interview on NPR today with Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary-general of NATO. Vesrhbow mentioned that Russia is now an 'adversary' of the United States, and delivered a measured discussion of current events, I thought. One point that Vershbow seemed to be implying was that the Kremlin's goal is Ukraine, not just eastern Ukraine.

If that's what he was saying, I agree. My guess is that, if Putin could have any result he wanted at this point, it would be to bring to power a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.


What Putin desires even more than the factories of eastern Ukraine are friendly satellites. He’d like to install a stooge government in Kyiv, and make sure as many of the non-NATO countries are as friendly as possible. I don’t think the goal is necessarily to conquer and incorporate, but rather to develop a coterie of like-minded authoritarian allies. Belarus has, for the most part, had that relationship with Russia for all of Putin’s time in politics. As Vershbow points out, Central Asia is also a possibility. This expanded influence in the available (ie, non-NATO) territories of the former USSR, I think, is more valuable to Russia than eastern Ukraine.

May Day Mayhem in Turkey

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Unsurprisingly, this year's May 1 is proving to be a contested one in Turkey. As I'd speculated elsewhere, the government of Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be viewing May 1 as a litmus test of sorts for this year's protest season. Given last year's May 1 conflict in Turkey, and the fact that Turkish police spent most of the summer fighting protesters with tear gas and water cannon, my sense was that the people in charge of the security services in Turkey were hoping for a relatively quiet day.

After all, the protest season is still only in spring training.