Tokat (Central Anatolia)

August. East to Tokat today. Road repair and dust. The road is gravel for a long distance. The summer heat is tiring. But we press on.  

Three o’clock, afternoon. We pass Corum. It is a town full of myriad types of baked chick peas (leblebi). Crunched all over Turkey. I eat my share. When I am not eating peanuts, that is. We have explored the small pleasant town on another trip. We stop and have a picnic under some poplar trees near the road. It is pleasant in the open air and relatively cool. A cold beer from the cooler tastes delicious. Chilling irrigation water trickles through the small canal to trees and crops. Green leaves in the breeze. I feel like sleeping.

Six o’clock evening. After two hours more cruising. Our Mercedes smoothes out the road. More productive green valleys. My old Merle Haggard tape keeps me awake. Okie from Muskogee. The song doesn’t quite sing me back home. It gets us to Hotel Burcu in Tokat.  

A large fertile valley here. An abundance of fruit and vegetables on an industrial scale.  Huge fields of tomatoes, grown here for the juice and canning industry.

Wheat harvest now in full swing. Still few combines. Still small peasants hang on. It is 2002. Harvesting is still done mostly with a modern grain binder behind a tractor. The sheaves are then collected, opened and fed through a stationary thresher run by a tractor. For peasants, it is a family operation. Labor intensive.

But the younger ones will soon head for Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Germany, America. They are under the illusion that the grass is greener on that side of the global fence.

Many old, traditional Turkish houses still stand in town. Some are nearly ready to fall down, but historical houses are protected by law.

Unfortunately the lawmakers have little effect on gravity. I realize the town is very different from the image I had in my mind before I came. Turkish towns can be very traditional in style, while things work in a quite modern way. The markets look modern, while back streets take one back in history. It is pleasant, but a boring place to live, I reflect. That is, for a ruined academic like me. My mind has been badly warped by knowledge. Unfortunately most of it may be useless.

We asked for a quiet room. Impossible, however, to avoid noise from the streets. Autos with blaring horns and revving motors. The two-stroke engine. A boon to humanity? I doubt it. Youthful love of noise. A power drug. Part of modernity, I suppose. Or perhaps stupidity. And the urge to travel. Anywhere.

I tried hard, but could not generate any inspiration for this trip. I was down in the dumps, as my father used to say. High plateau central Anatolian blues. One gets em, just like in Missississississississippippi. Or more accurately Meessssssippee. It was hard to shift mental gears. Once on the road, however, I started looking forward to Eastern Anatolia and Van. Hope springs eternal. I am sure the towns will not look anything like what I have imagined for many years.

I think of Dogubeyazit too. I tell myself that I would like to live in that area for some time, but it is an illusion. A fantasy. I do not know what it would offer to me. What could I do there? Sometimes I am wild like that.

The valleys are very green from good rains this year. On the other hand, high areas are dry and brown. The fields of golden wheat are  beautiful. Most of the grain has now been cut. Shocks lie in many fields, not yet gathered. But there will be little or no rain for months.

Some fields are harvested with a combine. But I have not seen anyone cutting wheat by hand. Thankfully, that horrible task has mostly gone out of style. I think of  Punjab where the harvest was all done by hand in the l960s. The small mechanical binders driven by a tractor are quite imexpensive. In Punjab, farm laborers lost hands and arms in them.

The area is rich in watermelons and cantaloupes. And kavun. A kavun is like a cantaloupe, but bigger. And grows in dry areas, making its sweet juicy fruit. One sees many onion (sogan) fields, patches of pole beans, tomatoes and fruit trees. Large fields of sugar beets fill up the valleys. The peasants here feed the country.

And beautiful fields of dark green maize. It appears to be a wonderful year for crops. Many farm tractors on the roads. The drivers defend their rights and only get off the road to let one pass with great reluctance.  

Leylek or storks appear. They are big black and white birds. We saw several today. They build enormous nests right on top of electrical or telephone poles. There is a cross-bar right at the top, which must be extremely inviting to these birds. At the first nest, we saw six or seven big birds standing on the mass of twigs. It looked to be six feet in diameter, but perhaps was larger as we saw it from a good distance.

They build nests right next to the road. One would think the traffic would disturb them. But it seems that they have adjusted to it. Turks say that if one sees a stork that they will travel a lot that year.

The down side is that storks too often get electrocuted on these wires. Some towns have made them places to nest.

What a dirty job, threshing with these small threshers. Peasants are putting the sheaves of grain through with a pitch fork. They get covered with the dust and chaff. I hope that they make some money. But the trend is to give it up and head for the city, especially if one is a little younger. Youths will no longer stay in the villages. Relatively few of them, at least. The bright lights call them. And the freedom, women, and booze. Human liberation and human libation.

Late evening. We walk around the town. We see some of the old buildings. A quite nice town. The local young girls are dating tonight in Islamic attire. It is Saturday night. Religion has nothing to do with hormones. It doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to hormones.

Their life is far more progressive than the way I was brought up in the midwest of the United States of America. This is what strikes me. They, at least, can be seen with a boy. The social code imposed upon us was closer to that of the Taliban. America the beautiful. Americans the repressed. Well, at least where I was from. Few would believe it, but it is true, anyway. Crazy. Not the Hollywood image.

Just down the main street is a big square with historical buildings. 

Sunday in Tokat. July 31

I awake early. The early morning air is cool and refreshing. A lovely time before the heat comes.

No Sunday School today. Hallelujua.

After a good sleep we have breakfast downstairs. There is kusburnu (Rosehips) jam. And all the other tasty foods of a Turkish breakfast. This includes tomatoes and cucumbers. But not fruit. In Vietnam, its mostly fruit, and no vegetables. Boiled eggs. Olives. Several types of cheese. Salami. Toast, jam. Tea.

Many old wooden houses have now been restored and are beautiful. Others will fall down eventually without repair. This town is very historical. But some old houses are falling down for lack of funds to restore them. It is a shame. A great loss. Makes me feel sad to see it. Sad to see them replaced by ugly modern brick and cement monstrosities.

I realize that I needed to get away from academic work. I needed some human liberation from that grind. And human libation to something or other. I am feeling much better after just one day away from books, articles, and papers. Not to mention student papers. That poison kills brain cells faster than toxic waste. Come to think of it, it is probably a form of it. How long can a professor go on until every last brain cell in his head is obliterated by reading student papers? Revolting drivel. Not long. That’s for sure. Careers cut short. 

This is the true meaning of human liberation. At least for me in the present.

This is not a poor town, due to the fertility of the valley. Many gold shops in town. Buying gold is still a form of savings. And buying for weddings and other occasions.

At the local family tea garden, a typical setup, the old grape vines are almost as thick as trees. They are very old. Looks very Greek to me. They make a natural cooling roof of green leaves, and eventually hanging fruit. It seems that many merchants here were Greek, Jewish, and Armenian before World War I.

The tea garden is a pleasant place to sit in the evening. We stay till late evening. No mosquitoes.

It is the small Cimtim Restaurant for lunch. It is a failure for us, at least. Unfortunately. We did not want to eat heavy meat, such as Tokat Kebab, in the evening. So I have cicik (cucumber and yoğurt) and share a plate of chicken shish with my wife.

We did not find the food tasty, however. We take a walk and find a book seller near the old market. All the books are in Turkish, naturally. On a street corner, a peasant is selling garlic from the back of his tractor. He is friendly and gives us a couple of cloves of garlic. He said they called him “the Doctor” because he sells garlic for health. His tractor has a convenient sun shade.

Behind the town is a huge rock mountain, craggy and jutting. A ruined castle at the top. I reflect that it would be terribly hard to capture a castle on that steep peak. One would certainly have a tremendous view of the town from up there.

Soldiers must have died by scores on that rocky peak.

At the main square, there are horse carriages for hire. Evenings are lively. People stroll, mostly dressed conservatively. But not a great many women in black. A socially conservate area, but change creeps slowly.

Alipasa Camii. (A mosque)  

Places to see: Gok Medrese 1277 (museum); Tas Han (l631); Yazmacilar Hani (Gaziogulu Is Han) Opposite the Kabe-i-Mescit Camii; Hatuniye Camii (l485); Down the Street (North) from Gok Medrese is the Sumbul Baba Saviyesi (Dervish Lodge), Built l292. It is now part of a house.

Another block north is the Octagonal building: Sefer Pasa Turbesi (Seljuk-Style Tomb) l251. From here, a road leads up to the kale (castle). There is a fine view.

16th C. Tarihi Ali Pasa Hamami (l572). Ali Pasa Camii (l566-72) Nearby. Old houses. Latifoglu Konagi. Madimagin Celalin Evi.

One cannot see everything in one trip. Or in many trips. Just a short glimpse and then a moving on. That is life.



The Iranian Bazaar in Dogubeyazit

The Iranian Bazaar in Dogubeyazit:

In Dogubeyazit, the Iranian bazaar had a lot of things for sale, but unfortunately not much that I wanted. There were lots of the smuggled glass with the silver design in it. People take it to Ankara and sell it for more. There is fruit-flavored tobacco for a nargili or hookah. Several different flavors, like banana and apple. There were many wood carvings from Pakistan or India. Some from Rajasthan. Wooden elephants, that kind of thing, and incense. Ceylon tea. Many wall-hangings with Farsi or Arabic verses from the Koran. Little saucers and nargili, and coffee cups. The only thing we bought was smuggled liquor. I am not sure the mechanism there. All that smuggled booze from an Islamic country like Iran. Maybe there is a massive amount going into Iran.

I can hear the shops closing outside. Shutters down. Here are some statistics. The population is nearly 49,000 in Dogubeyazit. But the guide book says 36,000. So the population is increasing.

 The altitude of the town is 1950 meters. Mount Ararat peak is 5137 meters, an enormous volcano topped with ice. There is much volcanic rock around the area. The small right-hand peak, Kucuk Agri (little Agri), is 3895 meters.

Besides the mountain, the main thing to see here is Ishak Pasa Sarayi (1685-1784). It took one hundred years to build. Completed by the pasa’s son, a Kurdish Chieftain, named Ishak (Isaac). The architecture is a combination of Seljuk, Ottoman, Georgian, Persian, and Armenian styles. A bit of everything thrown in.

The gold-plated doors that were on this palace are in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. They were stolen by the Russians. There is also a fortress and Mosque nearby. The foundations of the fortress are thought to go back to Urartian times, from the 13th to the 7th Centuries BC. The walls, being rebuilt by whoever controlled this mountain pass. That is some thirty-three centuries, if correct. So this generation is just a bubble in the stream of time. The mosque seems to be 16th Century Ottoman, Sultan Selim I (1512-20)

The Battle of Caldiran. In 1514, Selim defeated the Persians. Eastern Anatolia was added to the Ottoman Empire. This is seventy kilometers south of Dogubeyazit where the battle took place.

Many things here are named “Hani”. It is from Ahmedi Hani. He was a popular Kurdish writer. There is an eighteenth century tomb containing his grave. Eski Beyazit (old Beyazit) goes back to 800 BC, Urartian times. The new town here was founded only in l937, after the villagers moved from the hills.

Morning. Dogubeyazit is about 6500 feet in elevation. The grubby road out in front of the hotel comes to life pretty early. I heard the shutters of shops coming up before seven. One gets only a couple of TV stations, GAP  and TGRT (Turkish state television). That seems to be it, without a dish. The shops are grubby, but there are some nicer ones. It is mainly a small town. Reminds one of North India out in the streets.

Specialties of this part of the country? What is big here? The bathroom in the hotel room should be elevated up to one foot higher than the floor of the room. (More gravity helps, I guess!) Oval mirrors are big, it seems. I keep seeing them everywhere in this town.

The street out in front shows the life of the town. An old peasant came down the street with his eight sheep. Some of them are brown. He had his two children with him helping to drive his sheep down the street. Sometimes they were in the middle of the road and the sheep wouldn’t move. The old guy was pushing them from behind to get them to go. It was not very easy. It looked very primitive, but this is a rural town. People tend to be quite poor.

The political Party here is Hadep, that has the local municipality. It is a Kurdish Party, of course. The security court is trying to close it. There is a case against it. A very counterproductive policy. But that’s the way the statist dinosaurs think.

We met the owner of the hotel down at breakfast and his son. It turns out that his son is studying in Near Eastern University in Cyprus in Lefkosa in international relations. In his class, they are using my book, People and Power. He used it for two semesters. He said, and got “A”s in both classes. He said it was a very useful book, the only one he could understand. I am going to take his information from him. He wants to come and study in Ankara and he says he has good grades. I think it is surely possible. I don’t see any reason why he cannot, if he can transfer his scholarship. His name is Tekun.

We were going to pay the hotel bill, but they only took ten million from us after they found out who I was.

There were no signs of any security problems, except for occasional road checks on the roads in Eastern Anatolia. (2002)


Dogubeyazit (Eastern Turkey)

We drive east to Dogubeyazit today, only 35 km from the Iranian border and spend the night. Perhaps on to Van tomorrow. It is a very pleasant morning. I am amazed at how close to the fields we are. It really has the appearance of a small town. The top of the hotel is the seventh floor. There is a good view from here.

We buy cevezli Sucuk (nut sausage) and Erzurum Honey and are off.

Agri, a very poor town. Reminds me of a town in North India. I am surprised at the scenery along the route from Erzurum. Much of it is quite flat. The drive is quite nice, however. We make good time. The peasants are evidently “backward,” around these parts. That is, in terms of agricultural modernization. The road is not bad here, but somewhat rough. There is a police check, just outside Agri. Very underdeveloped. Perhaps it is the mentality of the people, more than anything. The houses too are quite primitive. Perhaps it needs devastation, like happened in Erzincan with the earthquakes. The villages are full of big cakes of manure that they use for fuel.  It is called tezik. There are no trees on the hills, just the poplars that they have planted in villages. One sees many horses and carts in the area. The shops are very poor.

There are no trees at all on the road. We drive down a small road through a village. It reminds one of a North Cypriot village. On the north edge of the village in a sort of pasture. We make a picnic. I drink a cold Tuborg beer. There are cows. We take our cooler and blanket near the trees. A light rain falls and then the sun comes out. It is quite hot in the sun, but pleasant. There is a small stream.

Mid-afternoon. Dog Biscuit. (Dogubeyazit) We made it. We get a hotel. Ortadogu Hotel, room 305. Middle East Hotel. Good enough for Government work! The rates posted are $50 for a double, but we are staying for 25 million Turkish liras which is one-third of that! About $15. In the end, we will pay only 10 million.

Mount Agri is just to the north. It is quite cloudy over the mountains, but we could see some of the peaks as we came into town. The rest of the drive was pleasant, almost flat, through a big valley. Part of the scenery is dramatic, moonscape, more dramatic than Utah. Bare white and gray peaks, completely bare. I am surprised that none of these mountains have trees in this part of Turkey and some are just absolutely bare of vegetation. The weather is quite fine, but there are clouds around the mountains.

Soon it begins to clear around Ararat Mountain. I can see almost the whole mountain. I take pictures. We have a great view to the north from our balcony. There is little to see except for the mountain. We look for smuggled Iranian goods.

The street is lively down below, quite traditional. There are many people with push carts in the street, and some crazys around, really crazy. One person went down the street calling and acting crazy, maybe on drugs? Another guy across the street by the Algida Ice Cream Shop seems to be crazy. There was a rain just as we were coming into town, it was flooding in a couple of places on the road, from the water coming off the hill. I just drove through it slowly. It was OK.

It is a fine view of Ararat now. Agri. One can see the whole mountain. Very nice.

My wife is taking a rest. I feel like I need to get out and walk around. I saw an internet cafe coming in. 

We take a walking a trip outside. There is a brisk trade in liquor smuggled from Iran. About one-third of the price in Ankara. I think the policy is to turn a blind eye to it. We bought two things, Cognac and Rum. I think the big bottle for 45 million, about $25. I think it is about as cheap as duty free in Dubai. If one wants good booze, can’t beat an Islamic Republic. I guess that must be the lesson. There is one bazaar around Hotel Agri that sells many smuggled goods. Some come from Egypt. Many small cigarettes from Iran. They sell them on the streets in other towns in Turkey.

This town is full of many hotels, many quite down scale. A lot of people are humping to make a living here. It is a poor place, but developing.

We stopped and had tea at a small place along the way. There are small streets, small shops. There are sheep. I hear them from the hotel window, on the main street here. Bleating. We had tea there.

We saw three places to change money. The guide book is not correct to say that there are no places to change money. There are plenty. The Iranians are using them as there is Farsi written there.

We met a small boy, shining shoes, about ten years old or so. We talked to him. He was a nice kid. Wanted to shine my shoes. So we asked him to come to the tea garden with us. It was a rather defunct place in a hotel. It had been meant to be a nice swimming pool and tea garden, but it was all collapsed, no customers, and no water in the pool. All the plants were dried up. Reminded me of some defunct places in India. There was a great view of Agri from there too. The boy was named Adam. He shined my shoes and my wife’s too.

He told us his story. He has three or four brothers and his father is working in construction. “He makes walls.” His friend, another shoe shine boy, told him, “you have hit the Milli Piyango,” (state lottery) getting rich people (like us) to work for. Of course, in relation to them, it is true that we are rich.

He said some rich people are very mean because they are rich and they act bad. My wife asked him if he would like to come to Ankara. He said if there was work there, he would be ready to come, but even men cannot find work there. We gave him tea and biscuits and he told us that his father has a debt of 250 million and is working to pay it off. They have to pay 250 million rent. He was not born here, but they came from Keyseri. He and his brothers work to help the family. His brother moves loads on a cart for people. He is trying to save money for his school, for next year, something like thirty million and he said he is saving it in his socks. He seems to be a very bright kid. I gave him five million for his school and 250,000 for the shoes. The poor kid only takes 100,000 to shine shoes and he makes one million in a day. That is when he works hard and has some luck. It is a tough world for kids like that. There are many small boys on the street that are trying to shine shoes. They must have similar stories. His pants were all stained with shoe polish.

Diyarbakir, 2004

Written in 2004 in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey


February 2004. Buyuk Hotel.

In the US, they put a Bible in the room. Here there is a raki glass and a beer glass. Big improvement. Very Wise. When the Eastern European countries had revolutions, the Gideons rushed there with Bibles to stock all hotel rooms. So that’s a difference in the religions, I suppose. But they’ll never overcome the good beer in Budapest. Nor the women who expose their cleavage on the streets all over the city!

It is quite humid here compared to Ankara. That is somewhat nice after the high and dry temperature in Ankara.

Got settled in the room. It is about 45 million Turkish Liras a night (38 US dollars) for a double. We will go out before long. Cloudy today.

Diyarbakir Features:

Population = 2 million.

Mostly Kurdish. Tigris River (Dicle) runs past the city walls. Some oil prospecting in the area. This is a satellite town. Traditional Kurdish life. Arab style mosques with black and white bands.

The Romans took the city in 115 AD. 639 AD- conquered by Arabs. Named Amida before. Arabs brought the Tribe of Beni Bakr. The Realm of Bakr. Diyar Bakr means “place of Bakrs.”

Conquered by Hamdanids, Buwayhids, and Marwanids.

1085, taken by a Seljuk Turkish Dynasty’ the Cuheyrogullari.

But later overthrown by the Syrian Seljuks, Artukids and Ayyubids.

1259: Mongol Emperor Hulgu Khan restored the city to the Seljuks.

But it was lost to the Mardin Artukids.

1394: Tamerlane conquered the city. He gave the city to Akkoyunlu Kara Yuluk Turkoman (White Sheep Turkomans). The Akkoyunlu formed a pact with the Venetian Empire against the Ottomans. In 1473, they were defeated by Mehmet the Conqueror.

“After 1497, the Sufavid Dynasty, founded by Shah Ismail took over Iran, putting an end to more than a century of Turkoman rule in the area.”

1515: The Ottomans came and conquered.

Old Diyarbakir has a standard Roman City plan. Circular walls. Four gates. North, South, East and West. Some of the walls have been knocked down and new gates opened. Bazaar. This is like a Moroccan Medina. A Labyrinth. There are churches in the maze, hidden.

Mid-afternoon. Saw the valley along the city and the Tigris River. The valley and River are impressive and the University is on the bluff on the east side of the river. There is a very old caravansaray bridge across the Tigris River. The river, itself, is not terribly large, partly because there are actually three dams on it now, which take a lot of the water upstream.

Ataturk Kosku. (villa), known as Seman Kosku. It is 15th Century. Akkoyunlu Turkoman Dynasty, 2.5 km south of the city center. One of the most beautiful and best preserved traditional houses. We also saw Ulu Camii, just down the street. Went this morning to a tremendous store, full of piles of all kinds of kuruyemis (dry foods), especially mountains of cevizli sucuk (walnut candy), of many different kinds. And huge containers of nuts and raisins and huge rolls made of sweet havuc (carrot) and full of nuts of various kinds. I have not seen that before. The shop is so full of beautiful things to eat, different kinds of natural candies, actually. Around the old Ulu Camii, a little further down, is that big old Mosque, with a large courtyard inside. Markets surround the area. A huge market just outside selling all types of tobacco, made for rolling your own cigarettes. And they have a small machine that fills the cigarette with tobacco automatically. That is interesting because I really have not seen it in other parts of Turkey.

We went to an area where there were some small restaurants (lokantas) and ate lunch. I had standard fare, kuru fasulye and pilav (dry beans and rice). And  salad.

We walked to the Buyuk Caravansaray Hotel. Up another street we came to an old fort. Right next to it is a mosque. Some people are hanging around to ask for alms from those who visit. It is not far from the Tigris River. The area is Fatih Kapasi, Victory Gate. We thought to walk back, but saw it would be quite a long distance. So we  hired a taxi from there. I noticed that the taxi meter wasn’t working. When we came around to the Hotel, the driver asked for five million without using the meter. It is illegal in Turkey not to use it. We said it should be about three million, because we had come from the railway station in the morning about the same distance. We gave him the five million. I got out and wrote down his license number. When he saw me writing it down, he got out and gave us back the two million.  He decided that it wasn’t worth the risk.

The Hotel is actually the Sixteenth Century Deliller Han. It is on Gazi Caddesi near Mardin Kapasi. A beautiful place, but somewhat pricy at $65 or more. Not bad for the quality. An authentic historical place that was actually used as a hotel on the silk road about 400 years ago. We had Turkish Coffee.

We called another taxi and asked for a tour of the old city. He showed us all around for 20 million TL, very reasonable. The walls around the city are huge, extensive and impressive and stretch all around the city. One can walk right on top of them if one has time. It seems the school kids were doing that today. The walls are definitely impressive. They are falling down in a few places, however. Some of the towers have fallen down.

There are many huge bazaars and fruit markets around the city selling kiwis, two million a kilo, and huge oranges, from the local areas. They look delicious. And apples and bananas, dates and figs (incir). I bought two boxes of dates (hurma) from Bam in Iran. Alas! Ancient Bam is gone after the earthquake. That old fort shown on the boxes of dates crumbled in the recent earthquake. That is a fact and maybe 40,000 or so people died in that! Americans are not supposed to buy products from Iran. Imagine that!

There are some huge shopping areas. There is even a Galeria shopping center, which I want to avoid at all cost. The small shops are great. I am surprised that one can see the town so easily. It seems too small for two million population. Actually this is only the old city. I saw later that most of the population live in poor housing areas outside the walls.

There are many fields in the valley there near the Tigris (Dicle) River. These small fields that are very fertile where vegetables are grown. Many trees get covered with water when it floods according to the taxi driver. There are fields of wheat down there too. Outside the walls there are many gecekondus that have come up. These have been fed by the destruction of villages in the area in the 1990s. Villagers flooded into  the city. The taxi driver said they were going to get rid of these gecekondus, which might actually mean a second displacement, I suppose. Perhaps there is a program to build them some kind of alternative housing. But many of these are just on the edge of the flood plain along the bottom, it seems. So I am not too sure about what is actually going on there. The city does not seem to be too bad for most people.

The place has a somewhat different atmosphere than other parts of Turkey. Some of the older men look like something out of space and time, and not a little absurd sometimes! But they are in their element here. I think they look right here. Like they belong here. And why not? I wonder if they have resentment against the West.

Some of the women are very nice-looking. Most are not dressed modern, but they look somewhat different. There are considerable numbers of women wearing black too, mostly older. Quite a large number of students around. The streets are generally crowded and bustling. There are plenty of cars, but it is not as mad for walking as in Ankara. It is true that parts of the city look quite run down, similar to what one sees in Morocco. But most of the town is not really like that.

Evening. By now, 92 are dead in the building that collapsed in Konya. Shameful. Several injured. The rescue team did manage to pull some people out alive. Shoddy construction. So they should be charged with criminal activity.

When we were out, we went to a quite nice place, and had soup, salad, and rice pudding. Light food. The first place we went, we ordered mercimek (lentil) soup, but it was very watery, so we didn’t stay there. Went to this other place along the same street. Some streets do not have street lights, so seems dark out there.

Sinan Lokantasi is a sort of a beer bar on the second floor with a view of the street. Would be nice when it is a little warmer. Nesem Yemek Solunu, restaurant. Buryan Salunu, restaurant.

The light is only coming from the shops that are still open. So not very inviting, but it doesn’t seem unsafe. Back to the hotel.

The destabilization process in Iraq goes on. That big bomb, Iskendriya, I think, killed around 55 people or more today at a police station and it goes on. Hard to believe they have been that successful in blowing things up.

Now, a lot of pressure is being put on the Cyprus talk in New York, pressure on Denktas and the Greeks, that is, and the Turkish Government finally seems determined to get down to the task of forging some kind of agreement. Everybody knows there are hard-core hold-outs on both sides, in both Greece and Turkey who would like to sabotage it. I don’t think Denktas can be pushed into it very easily either and Professor Soysal is there as his “advisor” in New York. An old dinosaur. I don’t know what the chances are that they can push them into an agreement.

Early morning. Rainy Morning.

We decid to cut it short by three days and get back to Ankara because snow will start by Thursday evening according to reports. We will plan to go from Antep tomorrow. We buy bus tickets hoping that it does not snow too much to get to Ankara. This can happen easily in the winter time when snow storms come through. The bus goes about half past three today to Antep. Takes around five and a half hours. It is rainy today, but light rain. So not a bad day here, and quite mild. I just wish we had gotten the train from Antep.

If the snow catches us, there could be a sort of adventure on the way back. In any event, it is an adventure. I have learned that it is never a good idea to try to beat a snow storm. Better to let it go and then come behind it.

Half past twelve. We check out of the hotel. We go to the bazaar and buy some nice things from a shop that sells beautiful metal pieces. I buy a coffee mug that looks more like a beer stein. We bought a beautiful small mangal and cay danlik (tea pot). Nice things with hand-made designs. The shop keeper makes me a gift. It is a raki holder to cool the drink. One puts ice around it to keep it cool. The bus leaves around half past two. That big bazaar is piled full of things, too many.

It has become quite dark and cool in the town. A damp wind is blowing. The bazaar in this town reminds one somewhat of the ones in Marrakesh.

The carrot sweet they have in big rolls in Kuruyemis shops is called Jezelye.

Ehli-keyf is one who is capable of enjoying themselves.

The explosion in Baghdad today had about 35 victims. They were signing up for the Iraqi army which the US is trying to get started. It was next to the Green Zone, the American compound. The one yesterday for recruits to the police station killed around 55. That makes around 90 victims in 24 hours. The US is failing very badly in their policies. But that is exactly what the critics said would happen.

The slow train to Paradise went through the Black Mountains, across the green fields, through the valleys and across the rushing snow streams down to the Green Valley and Rocky Basalt Fields and surprising canyon and Volcano Rocks and across the Rainy Waters to the cinderblock apartments and the train road, the Iron Road Street and into the Station of the place of the Tribe of Bakir and to the horn-sounding street and big Mosque Square  and Japan Market to the Big Hotel, Buyuk Hotel, with the Restaurant of Sinan and the Roast Chicken of the small restaurant sellers, spicy and turning in the open windows of small restaurants and the dry beans and lentil soup and bread and roast flat bread and boiled chicken and patlican (eggplant) and boiled potatoes and the small kiosks selling cigarettes and gazettes full of lies and sweets with a large black fly in a sweet shop with Honey Daddy Sweets and huge shop with walnut sausage sweets in big long sausage shapes and stacked like cord wood along the wall and huge bins of dry walnuts and carrot sweets full of thick grape juice extract and walnuts and hazel nuts and sweets, so many that it was difficult to count them and old Arab-looking gentlemen with baggy pants and coats, tailored, and skull caps and canes and homemade cigarettes walked slowly down the streets and young women in Black and sometimes fashionable clothes and striking beauty in dark-Black Eyes and Hair, and dark, lusty flesh and carts filled with huge bags of rag stuffing and crowded small streets and huge markets stocked to the gills with every type of trinket and owned by the operators and not any big corporations as in the West and there were huge piles of tobacco, like hair, so fine for homemade cigarettes and piled in the markets and cigarette cases and the shops piled high with denim jeans with hearts embroidered on the legs and dresses for men, cloth for tailoring and cloth shops piled high with fabrics, some from state shops and countless small shops on the street with windows lined with cell phones and small restaurants and offices of local bus lines and horse carts and big pick-up trucks from Japan and ancient market places and old caravansarays, turned into market places for antiques. And a hundred pharmacies, selling many types of medicines. And salep, sweet milk, sugar, cinnamon, hot, and piles of fruit and push carts, orange, banana, red apples, tangerine, yellow apples, kiwi and piles of flat bread and optics shops, salep in big brass containers with brass spigots, with cinnamon to sprinkle on and cassette shops with songs blaring. Big piles of fruit, dates from Bam and dried sweet-sugared figs, men unshaven, grubby. Small cigarette and cigar stands, matches, lighters, push carts with peanuts, pistachio, walnut, hazelnuts, and on a push cart, piles of bags of potatoes and onions. And beggars and farm tractors with the cloth cover with “Masallah” written next to “Massey Ferguson.” And rolls of flat dried figs and round dried figs.

We leave Diyarbakir.

Alsancak in the Evening (February 10, 2018)



Alsancak in the Evening

Friday February 2, 2018

The weather has been exceptionally warm in Izmir this winter. Summers are clearly getting hotter too. People who have summer homes get out of the city for one or two months in the hot weather. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, one will melt down in this city. I think we are in for a hotter one this year. Global warming is taking hold. I wonder where all that ice is that Donald Trump talks about. It is not building up here. But then, he is in a quite different dimension.

As the afternoon comes to an end, I need to get out of the house so I think I better hit the streets for a while for a walk. I take my camera with me. I want to shoot the roll of black and white film mainly in the evening after darkness has fallen. I will never use a flash.

It is a quick trip by metro from my place to Konak where there is a big bus hub. It is a strait and fast shot through the tube underground. Very efficient city transportation, as long as everyone leaves it alone. From there, I catch the city bus over to Alsancak. I will head for the old traditional area, with traditional houses and buildings. The bus and metro is free for those my age. That is, for those over the hill. One should get something for their taxes.

Arriving in Alsancak, the problem is that now I am quite devoid of inspiration for taking pictures. I sit down on a bench in the small park near the bus stop to allow the dusk to slowly turn into darkness. I think about what I really want to do. What do I want? Well, I must have some people in the evening shots. Show some of the life of the area, I hope. After a bit, I venture out and join the crowds crossing the wide and busy street to the mall with shops on both sides of a wide walkway.

I do not want to take pictures here, at least not now. I will explore some of the side streets that run to the Kordon along the sea. The big fancy restaurants are along the mall. These small, narrow, streets have small funky restaurants that cater more to students and avant-garde types. They fill up in the evenings, especially on the weekends. I do not know them, but I am sure many of them are excellent.

I pass by one of my favorite pubs. People are outside drinking. It is crowded on both sides of the street. People are sitting outside where it is possible to smoke while they enjoy a few drinks. Eating and drinking. Non-stop, it seems in this city. Almost all are university age young women and men. They seem to have plenty of leisure and plenty of money as well. They are certainly not from the peasant classes. One will find that over on the other side of the city.

As it gets darker I realize that the electric heaters on the sides of the buildings above the tables cast a nice reddish light on the people sitting below. It looks like a good place to try some evening shots. I start to get some inspiration. I grab a high table on one side of the narrow street, closed to traffic, and order a beer. From this vantage point, I can try some shots.

After a few frames, I shift closer to the center of the lane, hoping to photograph young people as they pass through. This is pretty hard to do, as it is difficult to get a clear shot. Usually some person steps in the way just at the wrong time. But I try getting a few shots. Not a great prospect.

I finish my beer and do some street tramping. But clearly, this area is where the action is. It is still early in the evening. People are just starting to flock in for the evening leisure. After half an hour of tramping, things have become more crowded. I walk around to another street to one of my favorite places, called Sardunya (geranium).

I come inside. The couple of guys at the bar recognize and greet me. I love grabbing a beer or two here after a few hours of pounding the streets. It provides me a good rest and I am usually here before the crowds appear. It is an incredibly beautiful old building. I was amazed the first time I saw it. I hope it will never be demolished. It is probably historical and protected by law.

Inside, I climb up the steep steps to the upper floor. There is another small bar here and rooms with tables. It is very historical with the beautiful rough stone walls criss-crossed with wooden planks, as in old Germany. The place is still almost empty, so I can get some clear pictures. It is quite dark inside. Just enough light for a hand-held camera, without using a flash. With my Leica, I can go to 1/15 second at f 2.5. It turns out to be just about the right exposure, pushing the Ilford ISO 400 film to ISO 1600. I am pretty sure that I will get some good shots.

Of course, in the age of bright-colour digital photography, most people do not care for black and white photographs. Perhaps they do not understand why one would make them. But it is certainly more of a challenge to know how to manage the light and get some good pictures.

I come back down the steep steps to the ground floor and take a seat in the room near the street for a beer. Everything looks like it was out of the l920s. I really love this atmosphere of old stone walls and thick aged timbers. Tables and chairs too are right out of the past. Modernity is insufferable boring.

I order a beer. I love these big cold half-liter mugs of Bomanti draft beer. It is mostly water, of course, but I think it is a fine drink in moderation. I rest my feet as the bitter cool balm settles into my stomach. That is good for some inspiration. But, then, I will be out of film.

Two young university students are working here tonight. It seems that they know me from their friend Nilufer. She has mentioned me to them because they are in the same department and she is reading my book on political economy. Girls want to read my book, not they guys. They want to learn.

They are students are a big local university. They slip inside and say hello. They tell me that they are studying international relations in the same department. When I ask about Nilufer, they tell me she has quit the place and found another job at the IKEA store. More people begin to come as the place starts to fill up for the evening.

I slowly finish my beer. One of the girls talks to me again and tells me that she will graduate at the end of one more semester. I congratulate her and ask her if she thinks she will get a job. She is not sure about that. Actually it is pretty hard for university graduates. There are not enough jobs, even though there is quite a lot of economic growth.

These young women are very successful students. I admire the way they can learn and study in a foreign language. I am sure, they do it much easier that I ever could have. They seem to me to be incredibly bright. I enjoy having a talk with them. I wish them well and hit the street once again.

I have a few more frames on the film to shoot on the way to the bus stop. I will finish out the roll of film on the mall where the street lamps are now bright and there is a good deal of light coming from the shops. The crowd out on the street is amazing. It is said that in Izmir, people never stay home. They have to get out of the house.

I head for the bus stop, knowing that it will be quite crowded, rather packed, at least for a few stops. But one has to put up with it. I hope to get some decent results when I develop the film. I hope it is worth it.

I will develop the film using Kodak HC-110 developer. One shot, five millilitres in 320 ml of water. (1 to 63) I develop the film for 20 minutes at 24 degrees. Then I will scan the negatives.

A little exercise helps one get a better sleep. Photography seems to be a good way to do it.


February 10, 2018

Inside the American Oligarchy

Inside the American Oligarchy

Eddie James Girdner

Fire and Fury: Inside the White House, by Michael Wolff. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2018. 321 pages.

“I have seen the world and I am not impressed.” (Edward Abbey)

Surely, the Trump Administration comes under the rubric of what Marx used to call “beneath all criticism.” Nevertheless, one must try to get a grip on what has happened in the United States of America with the installation of the Trump oligarchy. The government of the United States is a plutocracy, almost completely ruled by the rich. Therefore, it seems quite appropriate that the President of the United States should, indeed, be an oligarch. It seems that with Trump, America has truly reached this stage.

America is a global empire. The public sphere seems to have rotted at home. Talk of America as a “democracy” rings hollow. The Empire depends more and more upon military force abroad as its global rule weakens. The US can no longer police the whole world. Its image abroad is in tatters, even though many of the poor around the world still cling to the illusion that it would be a lucky place to go if only they could.

Fire and Fury is entertaining and interesting to read. But in some large respects, it does not go far beyond being a sort of soap opera about the main characters in the White House drama: Trump, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus,  Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Mike Pence, and a few other characters.

I learned something about this circus, and it is interesting to read, for what it is worth. I learned a few things that I did not know. But the ongoing deconstruction of the administrative apparatus of the US Government, going on behind the scenes is not addressed. In that respect, all this gossip just takes the focus off what is really important and more than that, actually tragic.

It’s the same old game. Keep the people entertained. Make them think that the whole thing can be easily fixed. All you need is a new president. So, we must get rid of the current idiot. Then things will be fine. How long has this been going on? When will they ever learn?

When Nixon came in 1968, and brought Watergate, a lot of us thought that it could not get any worse. Then Ronald Reagan came in 1980, and again, we thought it could not get any worse. In 2000, the US got George W. Bush, and again we thought it could not get any worse. But indeed, it only got worse.

In 2016, the US got Trump. This time it seems that possibly it really could not get any worse. But who knows? I would not bet on it. Ivanka Trump is now waiting for her turn and believes that she is going to be the first woman President of the USA. American “exceptionalism” is truly exceptional. But possibly that is not what the American political science professors mean when they use the term.

I left the US more than twenty-five years ago and have lived abroad since. A reverse immigrant. I got out before the deluge. I opened-up the way for an immigrant to have my slot. Good luck in “America the Beautiful!” You lucky duck!

From what I can see, a lot has changed in that quarter century. The amount of homelessness seems to have vastly increased. There are now tent cities, even in some very cold places in the snow. Inequality has certainly increased under globalism and neoliberalism. Most Americans outside the one-percent have certainly become poorer. There are fewer jobs for young Americans. The student debt of university graduates has mushroomed. The so-called national debt is somewhere around twenty trillion dollars. It is much harder for many Americans to get a place to live. Even rent is harder after the 2008 financial crises. Youtube shows people how to live in shipping containers. And tiny houses. Avoid a mortgage. What is going on? Health care public policy is a scandal by global standards. The worst in the developed world, by far.

It is surely a different America today.

The collapse of the middle class in America has brought about this right-wing conservative nationalist revolution, if that is what it really is. One cannot know how far in the Alt-Right, Tea Party, direction the country will go. Fox TV has helped push the country in that direction. Personally, I never watched Fox TV. I couldn’t stand to.

From the perspective of the mainstream of university educated, the United States is a nation awash in public stupidity. It certainly looks that way from Europe. It also looks that way from Turkey too, where people tend to look to the state (the “father-state”) to help them out. The public mindset of Americans is practically incomprehensible to people in Turkey, where there is so much populism. The state is seen to have a duty to do something.

Slow economic growth, the export of jobs, economic stagnation, the slow decay of the infrastructure, contrasts with rapid growth in the big emerging countries like Turkey, China, India, These countries  have made significant advances in development over the last quarter century. They have “caught up” in many ways.

Beginning in the 1970s, the deindustrialization of America was intentionally carried out in earnest. Corporations invested abroad for higher profits. Ronald Reagan “turned the bull loose.” All the cheap imported crap produced filled up the Walmarts. But with the loss of jobs, many Americans could not even buy the flimsy junk coming in from China. Americans lived on their credit cards and the equity in their houses, if they had any.

Much of America was turned into an internal third world. Lack of jobs. NAFTA brought in more Mexicans and exported the jobs to Mexico. Wages fell. Many Americans lost their houses after 2008. There was really no excuse for it. Mostly bad public policy.

American life was going south, in more ways than one. Who was to blame? The gospel of Frederick Hayek, Austrian so-called free market economics, had done a number on American society. Ronald Reagan, and the right-wingers, who exported the jobs, praised globalization and told the people that the government was to blame. There was just too much government.

Reagan was right in a way. Public policy in America did nothing for the common people. Everything served the profits of the big business class. It is actually hard to see this approach working in any country except America. Cable TV, dominated by Fox TV, the mouthpiece of big business and the Republican Party, kept up the brainwashing.

Then along came 9-11. This was the opportunity to scare the daylights out of the American people about foreigners and the Islamic world. The US went to war. Rumsfeld talked about going after some sixty countries. Things only got worse. Trillions of dollars squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. The US got control of the region and the oil. But the wars go on.

Then a “black president” was elected. Obama was a nice guy, who was going to fix things up and make America loved again. Everything would be OK. People breathed a sigh of relief. George W. Bush went back to Texas. Obama got the Nobel Peace prize. And then he went right on launching wars just as George W. had done. More Americans died in these wars that were never official wars. And Obama did precious little for the people who needed some help from the government under the new neoliberal dispensation.

Racism and religion together pushed middle America to the right. The system was not working for the middle classes, the working class. Hope for the future declined, even while the President gave speeches about “Hope” and “Change.” The middle classes were angry and were not going to take it anymore. At this point, according to Marx, the country should have gone to the Left. In America, as in Nazi Germany in the l930s, it went to the Right. Part of it was just tossing a Molotov cocktail to blow up the system that was screwing them over.

The name of that system was “capitalism” but the American variety of stockholder capitalism was much harsher than stakeholder capitalism in Europe. Right-wingers warned Americans that if they were not careful, they might end up being “just like Europeans.” No way, of course. Actually, they would have loved it, but they were not supposed to know that.

Americans started blaming the scapegoats, not the system. The Blacks, Mexicans, foreigners, the government, universities, environmentalists, feminists, the Left, gays, Moslems, immigrants, and so on.

They were being screwed by the corporations, but they saw the left and blacks as their enemies.

Trump tied into this anger and accidently got elected. He would Make America Great Again. Kick some ass at the top.

But wait a minute. Wasn’t he also one of those at the top? Never mind. He was the only one that was kicking some ass. At least in his speeches. He was angry. And full of shit. I’ve never seen anyone so full of shit, in fact. But the lumpen elements of America ate it up. There was no other such another place to turn. And obviously, Hillary was just going to be business as usual.

Trump won. A big surprise to him, Hillary, and almost everybody else. In a normal country, he would have lost, of course. But under American exceptionalism, it is not the candidate that gets the most votes who wins. Under American democracy, the candidate who gets less votes wins. Everyone is supposed rejoice at that.

“Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies…” and so on.

Trump had arrived. Surely, no candidate for president had ever been so ill-prepared to be the president. But the Government is not a business corporation.

According to Wolff, no one in the White House knew what they had to do. Few had any experience at all in government. Certainly not the ones in charge. Trump had no idea how to deal with Congress. And he was not interested in that, anyway. He didn’t count on being stopped by the courts. He knew how to manage things, or so it was said. He came with a business mentality. He would turn legislation over to Paul Ryan.

The group in the White House was divided. Bannon represented the Alt-Right, Breitbart base out in rural and small-town America. And the South. He was given the title of “chief strategist.” He thought that he was running things, even though most of the time, he was not. But Wolff thinks that Trump probably won because Bannon fixed his “broke-dick” campaign just in time.

Then there were Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the two spoiled rich kids. Trump hired his daughter and son in law. It was nepotism. Shamelessly defended by the President. These two represented the New York corporate sector. Sometimes they were called Clinton Democrats. Trump largely gave Kushner the Middle East portfolio. Apparently his only supposed qualification was that he was Jewish. Ivanka was made an official advisor. They thought they could control the President and make him “presidential.”

Then there was Priebus, who would take a more professional, traditional approach, establishing a relationship with Congress and working through normal channels.

According to Wolff, it was not clear what anybody in the White House did. Early on, their main concern became controlling the President. For Bannon, this was futile. Just let Trump be Trump. There was no way to control him.

All of this was great for the media. Almost every tweet from Trump on Twitter was a news item. Trump was like a small child crying for attention. Much of the book is about the fight going on between Bannon and Jarvanka (Ivanka and Kushner). Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs people were busy setting about to dismantle the administrative machinery of the US Government.

Trump would rule by executive orders. Dozens of executive orders were prepared to attempt to undue everything that Obama had done. Apparently, this was sometimes just for the heck of it, if nothing else. Of course, the attempt to repeal Obama care became a fiasco, let alone replacing it. It could partially be accomplished by the tax bill, which Wolff does not cover in the book. This would be great for big corporations and Wall Street, but a looming disaster for the country. No one cared about the deficit, Democrats or Republicans. In fact, the Democrats are hardly mentioned at all in the book and hardly even Congress. Except for Paul Ryan who Trump turned over the job of legislation. Trump just didn’t want to bother with it.

The Administration, it is claimed, had great distrust in science, experience and expertise of any kind. The way to go was just to fly it by the seat of the pants. That’s the way to go, especially if one is a genius. And Trump must be a genius, it was suspected. After all, he had won. Maybe he had something. Maybe he was not the “idiot” that people kept calling him, after all. If he was, how could he have become the President?

Maybe he would be a miracle worker and pull it off with Congress too.

Predictably, Trump fired most of this cast of characters, including Bannon, by the time the book went to press. What a fiasco. There it is for all the world to see. This was not likely to help America’s reputation, already in tatters around the world.

The term “fire and fury” came from Trump’s burst against North Korea and what the country could expect if the “little missile man” threatened the USA.

Trump talked sense about getting out of foreign wars while he was a candidate. The wars were a great waste of money. He was thinking like the common man in the street. But once the generals got hold of him, such as General McMaster, the National Security Advisor, Trump quickly changed his tune. He got his instructions about the birds and the bees and what he would have to do. After all, the US is a global empire. It was just another indication of his profound ignorance of the US role in the world. Trump wanted to get the US out of Afghanistan, but it seems that when he discovered that there were many billions of dollars-worth of minerals there, he was ready to send more troops. Bannon was dead-set against this.

The book reveals that several of Trump’s worst decisions were urged onto him by Ivanka and Jared. The firing of FBI Director Comey was one. As a result, a special prosecutor was hired to look into the allegations that Trump colluded with the Russians. Everyone was forced to hire lawyers.

In the book, Trump comes across as a clown with everybody fearing his next outrage behind his back. But he is there and is going to stay for at least one term.

Wolff suggests that perhaps things have already gone beyond Trump. Has all this become a conservative nationalist revolution spearheaded by the Alt-Right? Only time will tell. Bannon entertains the notion that he can lead this movement and perhaps even become President.

The book is a good read. It is a piece of the story that may contribute to understanding what has gone on. On the other hand, the book does not try to get a grip on the damage being done to the United States of America by this Administration. Nevertheless, it gives one a glimpse into the shenanigans inside the White House under Trump. It practically drove the people that worked there crazy, especially those who tried to approach it professionally.

When he found out about the book, Trump had his lawyers try to stop the publication. So, the book was rushed out ahead of time to pre-empt any attempt to block it. This likely increased sales of the book by a significant amount.

At this point, the American people are begging and crying for some decent policies. It is pretty clear what those should be. A national single-payer health care system; cancellation of most student debt; free university education; bringing the troops back home; a national program to provide affordable housing; rebuilding of the infrastructure by the government; jobs with a liveable minimum wage; investment in public rapid transit in cities and across the country; investment in wind, solar and other alternative energies; high-speed rail; getting people out of jail; economic security; programs that help the ninety-nine percent. Corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Unfortunately, the Democrats are not going for it. They keep playing the same game and shilling for corporate cash. That is the real crises because it is so hard for third parties to affect the American political process.

Wolff’s book is worth reading, even though it will not make one happy. It is a real shame. With its wealth, America could, in fact, be a great country. But I am afraid it is not going to be, as long as it keeps funnelling most of its wealth up to the one percent and increasingly impoverishing the people. That system is not a democracy, but an oligarchy ruled by the rich plutocrats.

January 30, 2018

Izmir, Turkey