A Primer on Turkish Politics

1. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is universally reviled amongs the young, the underemployed, the people who speak english. You say his name like "Rejep Tayyp Err-d’wan." He has been in power ten years, and believes that the Gezi Park protesters are a foreign plot. He put a freeway through the beautiful campus of Middle East Technical University, one of the best schools for several time zones, just because it’s a liberal hotbed and fuck ’em. (Eyetouch is a graduate, and related to me this story with lots of aggressive hand gestures.) The government is ostensibly run by his AKP party, but is actually run by…

2. Fetullah Gulen, who has a far-reaching Islamic shadow network in key government, military, and political positions. Err-d’wan and Gulen were allies until recently, when the prime minister announced plans to close a bunch of private schools (why??), which of course upset the Gulenists, who used its far-reaching Islamic shadow network in key government positions to materially sabotage the healthy, functional repressiveness of the AKP party. Hence a scandal undearthed by a corruption probe which got three ministers to resign, a warrant put out for the arrest of Err-d’wan’s son, the sacking of something like 300 officials, and 2.7 million pounds sterling of bribe money discovered stuffed into shoeboxes in the bedroom of the CEO of HalkBank. Obviously, this is insane.

3. Kurds, and to a larger extent non-turks, are reaaaaaaaaally not treated well. Anna and Alex met a guy in the southeast who had 16 months of military service–all that’s required here is 6-12 months. "why so much?" they asked. "My mother only speaks arabic and kurdish. So when I was in the army, I was speaking to her in arabic. My CO yelled at me, "why are you talking kurdish?" and I said I am speaking arabic, my mother does not speak turkish. My CO thought I was talking back and had me punished, but in solitary confinement and then got four months added to my service." This is the same guy whose town, Hasankeyf, is getting flooded over the next few years because of the Turkish-built dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Incidentally, Kurdish is related to Afghan and Farsi (Persian), which are both Indo-European languages. You need the q, w, and x to write it in roman script, and those letters were outlawed (outlawed!) until the 80’s, right around the time that the headscarf (which Ataturk had banned) came back. Similarly, one of Err-d’wan’s empty concessions to the Kurdish population has been allowing kurdish-language education, but only in private charter schools, which of course most Kurdish people can’t afford, because the government systematically blocks their attempts at economic equality.

4. The turkish parliament just passed a law to basically control the internet, to ban what ever websites they want. Err-d’wan says this is not about censorship, which is strange, because not only is it obviously about censorship, it seems that Err-d’wan wanted it to be about censorship. They rioted in taksim–my neighbors from Anchorage are in town for vacation and we were all supposed to meet up at the flagpole in taksim, and upon learning that the protesters were out in force yet again, I encouraged them to meet me somewhere else, like at my house in Kadikoy, where I don’t have to catch a ferry or a dolmus to another continent. That is the same night protesters threw fireworks at police. (they’re all ok!)

5. Kurdish dance music is just the worst. (I took this video myself: coming home from eastern turkey, every single bus station had a throng of these dudes playing the same repetitive flute shredding and whack drums, and a party dancing in the same shrug-shuffle, for hours and hours and hours into the night. (I learned from a Syrian refugee who had illicitly crossed the border THAT NIGHT that it was army day, and all the families were sending their children off for mandatory service.) Maybe I just had a poor introduction to it, and the culture is lovely otherwise. Hitchhiking with a really kind Kurdish guy, I heard a diversity of music from his tapes which I haven’t heard for a loooooong time in this country, which was a blessing. To hear it live, unfortunately, did not endear me to their traditions.) Also Kurds and Arabs tend to wear purple starry headscaves which make them look like wizards.

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