Tag Archives: Urfa

AKP Political Rally

by Raphaella Friedman

The elections are everywhere. You can’t walk the streets of Urfa or Istanbul without hearing the songs and slogans of Turkey’s many political parties. Minibuses with candidates’ faces plastered on them bump around city streets, the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the loud speakers breaking even the quiet of Friday prayers. Confident, stoic looking men gaze out from billboards at voters stuck traffic while pedestrians walk beneath colorful banners criss-crossing between buildings.  ‘Tis the season indeed.

Yesterday, the Globalist’s Urfa contingency decided to actively participate in the Turkish election experience, attending a political rally for Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP, the current ruling party. Despite the characterization of AKP as pursuing a more conservative agenda, Erdogan’s posters depict him as a man of the people – all people. Businessmen, conservative women wearing hijabs, university students, secular women with uncovered hair, families, farmers, the list goes on. The Turkish population, especially in the East, overwhelmingly supports the AKP.

While I plan to take on the daunting task of outlining Turkish political parties in a later post, I thought I would focus on a different topic for now. Several of the Globalist’s female members had a particularly interesting experience at this rally, prompting me to consider the relationship between gender and public space.

These political flags can be seen advertising particular parties all over Turkey. (Friedman/TYG)

We walked to the rally in a group comprised of both males and females, and heard the reverberations of the AK Parti song long before we saw the thousands of people gathered beneath blue, orange and red flags and banners. It felt more like a rock concert than an election rally. The atmosphere was electric and contagious – I tingled with excitement, and many of us began singing and dancing along with the crowd, the reality of our political ambivalence forgotten. But as we made our way toward the throng of people, I felt the questioning eyes of men upon me. Other female Glo-members approached me, observing similar things. We were all asking the same question: where are all of the women?

Tensions and excitement ran high at the AKP rally. (Friedman/TYG)

A few of us enthusiastically pressed forward toward the stage, holding hands lest we lose each other, yet it soon proved impossible to break through the dense wall of bodies. We were caught in an increasingly unyielding sandwich of limbs and torsos, our faces smooshed against sweaty AK Parti tshirts. The men that had been staring at us began emphatically motioning for us to change course, to move to the side of the crowd. We were confused – did they want us to leave? We noticed a trail of colorful headscarves bobbing along the side of the increasingly boisterous crowd, and instinctively followed the line of women. As we wound our way through the crowd, men miraculously parted, politely, without any prompting. When we neared a wall, a few men formed a bridge with their hands pressing against the concrete, creating an opening and restraining the swelling crowd lest it crush us. Finally, we emerged at the very front of the stage. It was as though we had climbed through the wardrobe to emerge in Narnia: all around us were women!

Finally: women at the rally! (Friedman/TYG)

It was incredible – a far cry from the sweaty madhouse of the men’s section, but equally exuberant. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me, the sea of waving orange blue, and red flags dense enough to render the stage invisible. The women all wore headscarves, but of such variety. Some wore shiny and floral hijabs, while others were shrouded in black. There were also a large number of Arab-Kurdish tribal women, identified by their trademark lavender head scarves and black facial markings. We sang and danced together. The women were incredibly friendly, far more so than in any other setting in which I had been with them. We all smiled at one another, light danced in our eyes. One young girl handed me her flag.

The women at the rally were all congregated at the front of the group. (Friedman/TYG)

As I mentioned before, we were not on the side of the stage, or behind the men, but rather somewhat unexpectedly at the very front. Behind us, the men were straining to get a glimpse of Erdogan, pushing forward but blocked by waist level barricades. Perhaps an even greater buffer, however, was the presence of the women in front of them. It was a sacred space, an untouchable island. Still, this was not an island behind closed doors – it was public space for women.

I wondered then, as I do now, what exactly did this placement and separation mean? Even if the separation of women from men was implemented to protect the perceived weaker sex, could the placement of the women in the front be a sign of respect or perceived superiority as well?

In most mosques and Orthodox synagogues, among other faiths that separate the sexes, women pray in separate sections that are either next to or behind the men’s sections, but rarely if ever in front. Here, women were given the best seat in the house, the one closest to Turkey’s premier political power.

I’m certainly not in a position to make any sweeping statements, but the role of female voters in East Turkey has certainly piqued my interest.

Advertisements

Visiting the United Nations Protected Area

by Eli Markham

On Thursday, our first full day in Cyprus, we traveled to the United Nations Protected Area to meet with Rolando Gomez, press secretary for UNFICYP (“un-fi-sip” in the local lingo). Over the next few hours we were charmed and impressed by the United Nations effort in Cyprus.

First we received an impromptu tour of the old Nicosia airport, which was originally built to serve the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The main terminal was world class when it was built in 1968. It had air conditioning, exterior fountains, a five-star restaurant, and automatic doors, all unprecedented for the island. Now it also has bullet holes in the windows and an abandoned plane a hundred meters away, grounded in the 1974 fighting, just six years after the terminal’s completion. Because the UN mandate is to preserve the area, they can’t even move a brick without permission. As a result the airport has been preserved and allows a glimpse to the world of 1970s air travel, when jet planes were such a novelty that tourists came to the airport just to watch them take off.

During the subsequent meeting with Gomez we discussed the current state of affairs in Cyprus, the role of the United Nations in the negotiations, and the prospects for peace, among other issues. He was optimistic, predicting that significant progress would be made between July 2011 (after the Turkish mainland elections) and 2013 (next election for President of the Republic of Cyprus).

We were struck by the sense that the UN mission on Cyprus is not a permanent one. Every six months the mandate comes up for renewal, and it is renewed, but eventually it won’t be. Parts of the operation are already departing. The head of the Mine Action Centre (responsible for clearing the buffer zone of mines) is in Benghazi, and the entire Mine Action Centre is packing up this month. The main peacekeeping force is down to around 800 soldiers from a peak of 5,000, and the UNDP program is also downsizing. Right now UNFICYP’s main purpose might be facilitating communication between the military on each side.

The UN won’t be going anywhere for another couple of years. But it’s not hard to imagine that UN resources might be better spent in Congo or Cote D’Ivoire. The divided island feels surprisingly at peace about the situation. If the current round of peace talks, begun in Sept 2008, fails to produce peace, the Cypriots might be left on their own.

Southern Hospitality

by Ali Friedman

Where I’m from there’s a well-known custom we like to call ‘Southern hospitality.’ Much to my and my fellow Southerners’ delight (I’m talking about Nathan, Rae, and Raffi), Southern hospitality extends to our current location in the southeast of Turkey.

Upon the group’s arrival to Şanlıurfa, we piled into a mysterious, low-lit cellar with tables elevated just above the ground surrounded by cushions and stacked with a breakfast that included multiple plates of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, pide (flatbread), olives, nuts, pastries, etc. After five days in Urfa, I almost find it unnecessary to mention the endless curved glass cups of çay (tea) that followed our first feast and that would also accompany every single meal and meeting here. At this time however, we were unaccustomed to such practices and our hosts’ laughter at our Western astonishment intermingled with the twang of a sitar-like instrument playing in the background.

A meal with families. (Courtesy Nebi Demirsoy)

We weren’t in Istanbul anymore.

My suspicions of this unusually high level of Turkish-style Southern hospitality were soon confirmed. During our four nights here, we have subsequently been welcomed into the homes of four amazing families.

On our first night the group split in two, separately making our way to the homes of two Urfan families, unaware of the warm welcome to come. Turning the corner into the dining room post-removal of shoes, my heartbeat quickened and my eyes widened as a literal banquet of traditional Urfa kebap, chicken şis, roasted eggplants, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, salad, çorba (lentil soup),ayran (yogurt drink), spices, cilantro, parsley and even more bread radiated deliciousness before my humbled being.

A man grills traditional Turkish kebap meat. (Friedman/TYG)

We sat down to eat Urfa-style, cross-legged on a carpet on the floor, throwing a mix of kebap, spices, peppers, and a variety of other foods into a wrap-style bread and then rolling it all together burrito-style. Unimpressed with our skills, our hosts generously made döner rolls for us and assured us that this lavish welcome exemplified standard Urfa tradition.

We laughed and ate heartily, unaware that our hosts would soon goad us into eating as much as possible. Now a daily occurrence, we found ourselves food-comatose, yet again ignorant to the many cups of çay and plates of şillik (a crepe-like dessert filled with walnuts and drenched in syrup) to follow. At this point a commendation of our courageous translator Mustafa is necessary, who, as one of two Turkish guests, received the brunt of the Urfa force-feeding and managed to translate for 3 hours straight.

Globalistas smile, though in a food coma. (Friedman/TYG)

This behavior continued each time we entered a southeastern household, with variations of baklava, lahmacun (Turkish “pizza”), yogurt salads, rice dishes, and a lamb roasting on a spit making various appearances in a village leader’s home, an imam’s office, and an eye surgeon’s country house, respectively. The conversation matched the food, as Turkish and American politics and culture were discussed with questions from both parties. An invitation to return (and to visit our homes) accompanied every single goodbye.

But Urfa hospitality in no way is contained to the home. Everywhere we go people smile, attempt to exchange a few mutual Turkish and/or English words, and even sometimes give us free goods (like marbled paper)! The tangible friendliness in the Urfan air has not escaped us, so much so that we have now added a çok to our most frequent Turkish saying of teşekkür, changing “thank you” to “thank you very much!”

Another beautiful lunch. (Friedman/TYG)

Çok teşekkür, Urfa! You have outdone even the most hospitable displays of Southern hospitality as we once knew it, and I for one do not know what I will do without the warmth of the people or the endless trays of kebap, baskets of pideand cups of çay.

I am proud to report that just as in the U.S., the South is the place to be in Turkey.

Dinner with a Kurdish Tribal Leader

After dinner with Haci Muhammed Baisal (center), leader of a local Kurdish tribe (Khan/TYG)

by Charlotte Parker

When our guide Nebi told us that we were having dinner with a Kurdish tribal leader, I think all of us expected that we’d be dining on the cushioned floor of an elaborate tent, with goats and the sound of drums somewhere outside the tent flaps. While we did go outside the city limits, we were surprised when we pulled up to a big stone house in the same style of our faux-desert-antique hotel. Haci Muhammed Baisal and two of his sons greeted us and ushered us into the front room, where we did in fact sit on cushions around a low table, but other than that the house was thoroughly modern—think iPhones charging in every outlet.

After a brief moment of uncertainty as to Kurdish tribal table manners, we dug into the food placed in front of us. When in doubt at table in Turkey, we’ve discovered, it’s eat first, talk later….Which was fine by us, as the food was some of the best we’ve had yet: rice with pine nuts and currants, succulently spiced lamb stew, yogurt and cucumber sauce, and a gazpacho-like salad special to the region.

When our hosts reclined from the table to digest, we followed suit. Sipping his çay Haci presided over the table a bit like “Santa Claus, with a Kurdish power broker twist,” as Luke put it: his crinkly blue eyes smiled, and he wore a button-up grandpa sweater over his paunch, but his words were measured and often intense.

His “day job” is farmer and he defines himself as such, but his sons protested that he was too humble and rambled off a list of his accomplishments, including building and supporting a large number of schools. As this is election season, he emphasized that he doesn’t tell his 20,000 constituents who to vote for, although he said that he is most sought-after for advice during election season.Throughout our discussion, history and present politics intertwined. Haci talked somberly about the bad years in the 1980s when the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party, generally considered a terrorist organization) encouraged tribes to go to the mountains and fight for Kurdish independence, and how his tribe suffered killings for their decision to stay aligned with the Turkish government. Later, a cacophony of criticism arose from all corners of the room when we brought up the BDP, the pro-Kurdish government party that, all insisted, is directly tied to the PKK.

Despite the issues, we were struck by the sense of optimism in the room, much of it due to positive social and economic change connected to the Turkish government’s development initiatives (namely the GAP, or Southeast Anatolia Project). His eldest son is a GAP engineer and a coordinator for the region, and we’re meeting with him tomorrow, so stay tuned for more details.

As we gathered to leave, three women—Haci’s granddaughters—emerged from the back of the house, which fleshed out our impressions of family life. We talked and laughed with them through hand signals and cavemen Turkish, and the evening ended with a gift of handfuls of roses from their garden. Overall, it was such a special night—putting faces to a tribal system that sounds exotic but really is just another means of governance, deeply rooted in history and community.

Their eyes were watching Glo

by Uzra Khan

Everywhere in Turkey, we are being watched. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job keeping up our conservative-chic. But regardless of appearance, Turkey’s evil eye always watches.

From the bustling streets of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and bazaars of Urfa to roadside ice cream carts, from nice restaurants to a roll of bubble wrap at our hostel, and from taxis to Charlotte’s birthday balloons, this eerie blue eye is everywhere.

On the street (Ullman/TYG)

Every vendor I asked about its significance at the Grand Bazaar responded in broken English: “Everyone like”, “It lucky”, “It protect”. But how, and why? And why do tourists spend up to hundreds of Turkish lira on a giant blue glass ornament?

As we walked through the bazaar and the unfamiliar sounds of Turkish washed over me, I suddenly heard a “Namaste ji”. Hindi! I was in familiar territory. I proceeded to have a conversation with an Afghan vendor who spoke Hindi/Urdu (and claimed to speak four more languages).

In Gazantep (Khan/TYG)

Baby shoes? (Khan/TYG)

“It’s an old tradition, more than 500 years old. I have it in my room and outside my house. I don’t believe in it, but my wife does. Have to keep her happy, you know?” He was a keeper.

Jewelry (Khan/TYG)

More jewelry (Khan/TYG)

The evil eye is said to ward off nazar, or evil spirits, that can stem from envy in innocuous compliments. The eye itself is believed to be the eye of Medusa, and is seen absolutely everywhere we go. If I get over its eeriness (and can fit anything else into my stuffed suitcase) my apartment in New Haven next year will be graced by an evil eye on my wall. Come visit! It’ll be watching.

Wall decor (Khan/TYG)

Lunching with an Urfan Imam

by Uzra Khan

Today was an incredible day. We lunched with an imam at a mosque, went to an AK Parti pre-election rally at which Prime Minister Erdogan spoke, and ate dinner at the home of a Kurdish village leader. Posts about the latter two events will ensue.

Imam Mustafa was not the kind of man I had in mind when we were told we were meeting with an imam. I imagined someone in much more traditional garb than the kind-eyed, elderly, bespectacled gentleman in a button-down shirt who greeted us with a friendly merhaba at the entrance to a mosque ten minutes away from our hotel.

Educated in a madrasa in Urfa, and able to recite the Qur’an from memory after a year and a half of practice, Imam Mustafa gives sermons in Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish. He spoke about the process of appointment of imams, which I hadn’t realized was done by the government. Imams can even be paid their government salary and be sent abroad to serve Turkish communities; imam Mustafa had conducted prayers for such communities in France, Germany, Albania and the Netherlands. He said that the tradition of being appointed by the ruling power ahs existed since the caliphate and through the Ottoman Empire. He was quick to dispel notions about this having a political effect on religion, however. “It is just like being a government doctor, or teacher. I am appointed by a board that knows my qualifications, not the AKP.” This highlighted some of the differences between government and state that have been coming up in many of our conversations in Urfa.

He was inspired to take on this role by his father who he described as very spiritual and a guiding force. Carrying on the tradition, one of his ten children today is an imam too. He said that his other sons either didn’t want to, or didn’t make the cut—since only the most qualified are appointed.

He spoke of his love for Urfa—the way its ancient religiosity and tranquility have been conducive to the spread of tradition and learning more about Islam. He is very much a community leader, visiting hospitals to pray, conducting funerals, and soliciting advice.

He was no exception to the wonderful warmth and hospitality that we have experienced since arriving in Urfa. He told us that regardless of what our religions were, our presence added value to the mosque. He invited us to watch noon prayers, and then presented us each with a copy of the Qur’an with an English translation, followed by a sumptuous lunch of several lahmacun (‘meat with dough’; better understood as Turkish pizza), ayran (yogurt drink) and copious amount of Turkish tea—all eaten in the traditional manner, cross-legged on the floor of the mosque off newspapers.

Traditional lunch seated on the floor/(credit: Nebi Demirsoy)

Celebrating Ataturk Day

by Diego Salvatierra

Sanliurfa clearly looks quite different from Istanbul. One might say it feels more “Middle Eastern,” as if we were already south of the border. But the omnipresent image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, reminds us that we are still within his country. Ataturk, who declared the Turkish Republic in 1923, is honored throughout the nation. His portrait adorns all public buildings and many private ones, from restaurants to homes; it is even said that no town in Turkey lacks a statue of him. He seems like Washington, Lincoln, and JFK wrapped into one – both a founder and a reformer, whose sayings and speeches are still a source of inspiration. More controversially, “insults to his memory” are prohibited by Turkish law.

On May 19th, we witnessed the peak of Ataturk praise. May 19thwas originally designated by Ataturk to commemorate the beginning of his liberation of Turkey from occupation in 1919. After Ataturk’s death in 1938, it was expanded to honor the founder himself, and is know known as the “Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports Day.” The first things I noticed, as we passed through various towns on our way to Gaziantep, were the massive banners with his face in the city plazas. Red and white, the colors of the Republic, were everywhere. When we stopped at the aptly named Ataturk Dam, the largest in the country, I took a brief glance at a newspaper stand. Most, if not all, Turkish newspapers prominently featured his image. When I turned on my hotel TV that night, I found that channel after channel displayed his face on a corner, along with a waving Turkish flag.

Ataturk's image dominated the the newspaper on May 19th, which is known as Ataturk Day. (credit: Diego Salvatierra)

The upcoming election has spurred heated debate between the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), which claims to defend Ataturk’s legacy of strong secularism, among other things, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), sometimes seen as departing from Ataturk’s vision. In light of this, one would expect Ataturk to be a divisive figure. This is true to a certain extent. But if we judge from the displays on May 19th, his role as a symbol of Turkish patriotism looks alive and well. Whether this display comes from genuine veneration or simply out of habit (or legal obligation?) is hard to say.