Thursday, December 22, 2011


Been too busy to post...40 new journalists arrested this week.  The jails continue to swell.  This story from the past is heartening though...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Update on my Father in Law--Gavur Gavur everywhere!

            This week, there were no prison visits. The families and detainess are boycotting after the arrest of the  lawyers. It’s funny how we are protesting by depriving ourselves of something. Despite the boycott, we haven’t stopped thinking of them. Down, in Alabama, my sister has added my father-in-law’s name to the prayer list of her back-in-the-woods Baptist church and these people are conscientiously praying every Sunday for his release. This, apparently, pleases him to no end. I told him in a letter about the prayer list, and he quickly shared it with his cellmates who were all thrilled.

            I am always moved by what happens on a people level. Here is my sister, doing her best to help out a new member of the family. What does she know of Kurdish politics down in Alabama? And there is my father-in-law, touched and comforted by the thought. But on a larger social level so many boundaries are being crossed and ignored. A woman from the Deep South—a home to evangelist Christians who villify Muslims on the nightly news (Quran burnings, a history of racism) and an Alevi Muslim man, part of the Kurdish left who villify America as Imperialist and believe all religion to be inherently foolish at best, and dangerous in general.

            My sister writes,  We prayed again for them Wednesday night and for Delal and her family. I pray for you and her to be safe every day. I try to give my worries to God, but sometimes it’s hard. I know you have a heart as big as mine and want to help everyone. Please pray every night that God will work in their lives to help free them. I know from experience He works things out for us, not always on our time, but He does, and not always what we want. Know I love you and Delal and can’t wait to be able to spend time with my sister in law.’

These Alabama Baptists praying every weekend and the Kurdish leftists warmed by the thought as they languish in prison touches me. If there is any hope in the world, then it lies in tiny moments like these that go unnoticed in the headlines.

            My topic recently has been Hrant Dink—himself a leftist atheist married to Rakel, a very devout Christian. Here is part 3. Keep in mind that as they brothers discuss the Armenian school and church, they are doing so when saying one was Armenian was a dangerous thing to do.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Brief Memorial--From Conag

No life should pass unnoticed—and the passing of Güler from Conag touches me very deeply somehow, though I barely knew her.  I want to introduce her briefly, here, to whatever small audience I’ve gathered so that you, too, can know what and who was in this world and what it now lacks.

Güler lived up the hill from Dede’s house in Conag. You passed her house when you went  to the Aga’s Fountain (Merga Axe). When I first met her, she was sitting with her elderly mother under the tree in their front garden, having tea.  Grinning, she literally leapt up, shook my hand and set about making me my own cup of tea. Her name means ‘Smile’ and was well chosen. She was small, with a long face and a huge toothy grin that beamed like a spotlight on everyone she met. At first glance, I thought she was quite young. There was something about her manner, about  her undisguised excitement, her undisguised anything that reminded me of a child. But then I saw the wrinkles in her face, the streaks of gray in her hair.

They called her Güler Abla—Big Sister Güler. Everyone said that she was a bit ‘touched’-an accident or illness when she was young? But there was nothing lacking in this woman. She took care of her mother, she was a fantastic cook, and she made a foreign zava feel welcome, warmed, and at home in a place where he was often just a sideshow curiosity.

I remember visiting once and she was sitting in the dark, apart from everyone, holding her arm. She didn’t reply to my greeting, nor to any of our greetings, and kept her eyes sullenly down. She was crying. She had hurt her arm, and no one would take her seriously. We asked what was wrong and dutifully, she showed us her arm—all thin and pale and bruised--then looked up at each of us hoping that one of us would have the solution. Put ice on it, Zelal said. Let’s get her to the doctor, Delal said. She looked so small there, so breakable.

Her death by heart attack makes me think of—and I hope this is not demeaning in any way, but there are those glass knicknacks that sit around the house—a glass angel say, some little gift from a relative or friend when you’re first setting up your home, something sentimental that gives it that classic domestic look. It is fawned over, set out, and then forgotten. Maybe it’s put up on a shelf facing the window. It’s wings glow and shine every morning as they catch the sunlight beaming through the window. It presides over everything that happens in the house—fights and makings up, babies born and first steps and teenage rebellions, old people visits and old people passing. And then one day, years and years later it falls and shatters on the ground. Someone sweeps it the shards, and it is quickly forgotten, but the empty space on the shelf is emptier than it should be, because whether anyone has noticed or not, some vital part of the house has been lost—the glass angel itself, the memory of the person who bought it, the memories of all it has presided over as witness, this fragile thing that could catch the light on its wings of a morning.
Strangely--no pictures of Güler Abla herself--this is the moon we saw on the way to the Aga's Fountain from her house--a decent symbol.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Update on our Political Prisoner

Old Sins
And New and Improved Ones!



Last week, across the front pages of several newspapers was a rather startling headline. ‘Prime Minister Erdoğan Apologizes for Dersim’! Never in the history of the republic has the capital ‘s’ State admitted to doing anything slightly wrong and now, an apology for the mini-genocide that has been one of the most stalwart of Turkish taboos. In the same breath, the PM has ordered the arrest of another one hundred people—ranging from the staff of the Kurdish-run newspaper, Özgür Gündem, to Cengiz Kapmaz, the author of Abdullah Öcalan’s biography to my father-in-law’s lawyer. Yes, his lawyer. Where does this leave his defense?  Who knows. Old students are writing on my facebook about how the 'traitors' got what they deserved.
Of course, members of the BDP party have been taken, too, along with lawyers of several other prisoners. One of the government’s spokesmen promised an even bigger round-up soon. It’s a confusing time I suppose--on the one hand apologizing for old sins, on the other merrily committing new ones, but then, the Dersim massacres were ordered under the opposition party’s reign. The apology makes them look bad, so bad in fact that their reaction to it could split the party in two, reducing in size a group of people whose political strength has already shrunken drastically. So maybe it is not so paradoxical after all.
Delal and family visited her father this week—he was in high spirits. The prison apparently makes the prisoners pay for everything from furniture to electricity. He joked that soon they would be footing the bill for the food as well. The other families were not doing well, Delal said. There were a lot of tears, a lot of despair. Ragıp Zarakolu (who writes in the Hrant biography), had no visitors. They were all with his son who has also been jailed—but in a separate place. The Zarakolus have to take turns. Kandıra prison houses one other prisoner of note—Oğun Samast, the prime suspect in the assassination of Hrant Dink. It’s hard to imagine Samast and my father-in-law under the same roof.
But again, I am thinking of Hrant.

Another old sin--Taner Akcam said in the Radikal this week that Dink's murder was the last move in the ethnic cleansing that started in 1913.

Here is the second part of my modest, abridged translation of the Hrant biography. It begins with a similar massacre to Dersim—which no one has said sorry for at all yet—and ends with tales of the childhood of the Dink brothers. I find it incredibly moving. Candar, from what I can tell, lets the voices of the old people in the family alone. They're disjointed, awkard, conflicting. There accounts in the beginning are the stories of the elderly family members—fragmented, assuming knowledge you don’t have, apologetic, and extremely natural. Only Hrant's voice (culled from his writings to help him pen his own posthumous account) are very poetic.

For anyone not versed in all things Turkey—the title ‘Efendi’ is one you would apply to a respected gentleman. Ç says ‘ch’. Ş says ‘sh’ and…well, that’s it for now.

Monday, November 21, 2011


November 20th, Sunday, a beautiful day for pepper gas and billy clubs. The sun was out, the maple trees bright gold, and the skies filled with hundreds of migrating birds. We woke up late and headed out to Kazlıçeşme (Goose Fountain—though not a goose in sight) for the BDP party’s rally in support of the political prisoners taken in the government’s self-styled ‘Anti-KCK’ operation. A line of police with riot shields made a kind of tunnel which we had to pass through to get to the festivities. As we approached, a woman was shouting the names of the prisoners one by one into a microphone still invisible over the barricades. We heard the name ‘Kemal Seven!’ and the blood rushed through me. This time I wasn’t just here as a curious observer.

Once into the rally proper, chanting, protest songs, and other such hijinx ensued—with nary a violent incident in sight. The main speaker was party chairman, Selahattin Demirtaş, one of ‘our’ boys from the city nearest Delal’s village. I drifted in and out of his talk, floating back in when he started talking about coming to terms with Turkey’s past. ‘We must face history,’ he said. ‘We must face the Armenian Genocide, the Dersim Massacre, the Madımak Hotel Fire…’ It was like a grocery list of Turkish taboos. I looked above the heads of the crowd to a hill far to the right and saw a line of police with riot shields lowered, chatting away instead of charging toward us waving their billy clubs to stop this villainous insulting of Turkishness. Things have indeed changed. A few years ago, Demirtaş’s words would have been considered high treason and he would not have come away from that speech unharmed. I thought again of Hrant Dink as I have so often during this whole ordeal with my father in law.

I started reading Hrant Dink’s biography, put together by Tuba Candar, a few days before my father-in-law’s arrest. It is a singular work. When we were standing in front of the courthouse in Beşiktaş I was reading about Hrant’s days at the same court. When we started seeing the newspaper articles calling the BDP academy where my father-in-law worked the ‘Academy of Terror’ I was reading about the media’s smear campaign against Hrant. My reading material is obvious, I’m afraid. Hrant’s name pops up in all the entries I have written about our political troubles.

I decided to translate and share a small bit of the book. Tuba Candar does not so much as write the book, as shape what already exists. The writers are the hundreds of friends, relatives and coworkers that loved and admired Hrant. They tell his story from birth to death—giving a kaleidoscopic variety of views that flesh the man out in a way no single author could. When Delal was reading the book last year, she was crying rather copiously, on a daily basis, and I just chalked it up to her being sensitive. I mean, I liked Hrant Dink. He seemed like he had been a man of integrity. He reached out to all sides on the Armenian issue and became the first to speak out on taboos decades old in an effort to reconcile Armenians and Turks. And he spoke out for others as well—for all of Turkey’s downtrodden and martyred without fear or compromise, regardless of race, creed, or political background.

On January 19th, 2007 he was shot in front of the offices of Agos newspaper, the Turkish Republic’s first and only Armenian newspaper which he founded. He had been branded a traitor and a hater of Turks by the media for suggesting Sabiha Gökçen, Atatürk’s adopted daughter, had been an Armenian orphan. It is still unclear whether he was murdered by a lone group of fanatical nationalists or an organization more closely connected with the state. The trial continues today—and the Ministry of Communications is refusing to hand over evidence.

Enough from me. Here is an excerpt from the first part of Hrant’s 600 page biography. The book begins with his family’s reaction to news of his assassination. Readers, let me know if I should continue. It's by no means perfect, but I have tried to be faithful.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Brief Update--for the family and other worriers

So yesterday Delal was able to visit her father for the first time.  The news is good. His morale is high. Apparently, the guards at the prison are being very civil--telling them good night and good morning and using respectful language. He is not alone but has two roommates and apparently also has access to newspapers, including Kurdish ones like the Gündem. Of course, there is the usual Republic of Turkey silly bureaucratic rules.  For example, Delal had to go get a special ID card with her maiden name printed on it before they would let her in the prison. Prisoners have to buy all of their own stuff--TV, blankets, furniture--from the prison itself and you cannot bring them anything that is sold there.  The visit was limited to a talk on the phone behind protective glass, and all letters had to be mailed to the prison from afar--they could not be brought in.

So all of this has been a relief to us--as we were worried about the treatment at these notorious F-Types.

Monday, November 14, 2011

News--A Letter From Prison

Last week, shortly after my father-in-law’s arrest, I came home to find the house dark and empty. My wife, D., was supposed to be home—she had texted me just a few hours before to say she was on her way. I called her cell, but she didn’t answer. Normally, I would just shrug and go jogging or watch an episode of The Daily Show online, but this night I turned off all the lights, lay down on the couch, and clutched the center of my chest where a sudden terrifying tightness took my breath away. My eyes filled with tears, but I couldn’t cry. I just sank into panic.

I don’t know how long I lay there in the dark. I was sure that they had come for her while I was out, whoever ‘they’ were--the secret police, the gendarmes, or AKP goons. Prime Minister Erdoğan had promised that the round-ups of ‘terror suspects’ was not over, I reasoned. Had the neighbors informed because they heard Roj TV coming from our apartment? Had someone read my blog and decided to get at me through her?

At last, D. texted me from the bus. ‘Too much noise,’ she wrote. ‘Didn’t hear the phone.’ The chest pains started to fade.

This was all paranoia, I now realize, but then when the government can arrest someone you love on the flimsiest of pretexts, it’s hard to tell what’s overreaction and what’s real. Several times this week, I have had the impulse to call her in the middle of the day just to make sure she is still around, but I’m embarrassed to do so. Is the inexperienced American husband just overreacting? Or were my fears reasonable? Perhaps I wasn’t cautious enough?

I was originally going to start this piece with a rather long litany of political arrests and persecution in Turkey—a kind of factual barrage to establish my legitimacy on this issue. It’s almost like the story of D., her family, and I aren’t enough. One needed more people, a famous professor arrested, some eye-catching torture accusations, or news crews to be worthy of being known, but then I realized that all the propaganda on Turkish TV (and Roj TV for that matter) about their ‘martyrs’ and the battles against capital letter words like Fascism and Splittism and Terrorism are not the real issue at all.  The real issue is the time they are taking from my father-in-law’s life. Is the strain I see on my wife’s face when no one else is looking. Is me clutching my chest on the living room couch and fearing for D.’s safety.  The real issue is the low-level torture that these crimes people refer to as ‘politics’ inflict on us ordinary people. We will live with this anxiety until her father is released and these arrests stop—and it will eat away at our family life, our home life, and our relationships.  It could last years (Suspects have been getting long sentences). And the frustrating thing is its all for nothing. For teaching at the wrong place and wrong time.

The papers these days are revving up the tabloid talk. Professor Buşra Ersanli, who was arrested along with my father-in-law, has been labled ‘The Professor of Terror’ in the newspapers. The television channels call all detainees  ‘KCK members,’ though they haven’t even been tried. This is par for the course in the Turkish media. It doesn’t matter what’s true, or fair, or even logical. It doesn’t matter if there’s proof, or reasonable doubt, or a just conviction. You just go with what shocks. You say whatever you want and wave the flag as you do it. The same is true of government officials. The Minister of the Interior, İdris Naim Şahin, told the whole country that Professor Ersanli was giving ‘lessons on terror’.  And again, all of this mud-slinging is going on before a trial. None of it is based on any fact. No evidence has been offered up. But then, there’s a saying in Turkish, ‘Throw enough mud and something is going to stick.’  This same character assassination was done four years ago to Hrant Dink, when the Turkish news labeled him an ‘Enemy of the Turk’ and distorted his words to such a degree (most likely with government approval if not encouragement) that some people decided to take things into their own hands and assassinate him. Before Hrant, it was singer Ahmet Kaya. Not much has changed.

D. and I took a vacation over Bayram (Eid) to get our minds off of all of this for a while. We went to Mardin, a mostly Kurdish city in the Southeast. While we were wandering obliviously around the ruins, Ismail Akbulut of the Turkish Human Rights Association was arrested just a province away for making propaganda for a terrorist organization. His real offense was investigating accusations of war crimes against the Turkish government. Locals claim that 24 PKK guerillas were killed by chemical weapons in the Kazan valley. It may very well not be true. It doesn’t really matter. Truth is about who can bellow the loudest, and now Akbulut is locked away and effectively silenced. Then we read in the Hurriyet that Erdoğan, after his pious prayer at the Blue Mosque, told reporters that ‘criticism of the massive investigation amounted to support for terrorism.’ That makes me, and nearly everyone I know a ‘terrorist’ in the eyes of the Republic. What a way to silence opposition. That’s straight up dictatorship, my friend, the real deal.

My father in law has been transferred to Kandıra prison in Izmit. They’ve split all the prisoners, sending them willy nilly to different high security prisons around the country. Kandıra is one of the F-Type high security prisons built in 1999 to replace the old mass ‘ward’ system—where detainees would be crowded into one large cell where they would at least have the comfort of each other. The F-type was designed to subject prisoners to extreme isolation, an idea spearheaded by a Doctor İtil, a prison physician during the coup years whom the Radikal newspaper calls ‘The Dr. Mengele of the Turkish Coup’ for the way he used prisoners as guinea pigs for psychological experiments that amounted to torture. Luckily, we discovered, my father-in-law is most likely in one of the cells designed for three cellmates.

We had hoped for a visit this holiday, but were told that there would be no visits at all this week. It’s unclear when we’ll be allowed in. We have a list of things he wants scribbled on a prison order form—a pair of pants, a belt, a razor, tissues, a wash cloth, hand wipes, and his red scarf from home.  We have this form instead of the man himself, and it’s almost like that’s all he amounts to anymore, this list of seven mundane items.

We also got a letter from him through the lawyer. It’s short, but I think captures his spirit well—dignified, defiant, somewhat personal but ever the politician, ever thinking about the bigger picture.  And it’s clear he wanted others to read it. Posting it here along with a translation is at least one little thing I can do to give him a voice as he waits voiceless in his cell.
I wanted to put the Turkish up as well, as he wrote it, in his writing, but the PDF file wouldn't work. So here is the English translation.

My Dear Son,

Today is our second day in Metris Prison. Since our arrest, at every second, they have made us aware of their inhumanity with the low-level but intense torture they have subjected us to for the past five days, both in our cells and in the ‘court’. But they have not broken our dignity nor our morale, and this has both shocked and infuriated them.

Our prosecution and future punishment was set and decided long before we were taken into custody. Whatever our punishment turns out to be, you must not let it demoralize you, just as we will never let it tear us away from the policies we believe in. I know that you will be an example to those around you with your more strong willed and unwavering stance, with your truer and more cool-headed views. What we have gone through and what we will go through I count as merely the price of an honorable struggle.

Forty six out of the fifty two of us taken into custody of us have been charged with ‘membership in an armed organization’—including Professor Büşra Ersanlı and writer Ragıp Zarakoğlu. In two days, they will transfer us all to different prisons. Through you, I send my greetings to everyone at home, and to all our sympathetic, patriotic friends.

Your father

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Part 2--My Father-in-Law's Arrest

The Court Hands Down Their Doom
Kandıra Prison

As a white American, I have never experienced firsthand how your own government can tear your life and family apart. I understood that blacks and Native Americans and other minorities suffered under a system built for whites, but never intuitively, never from the gut. Until now.

On Monday, my wife Delal and her family spent the whole day in front of the Beşiktaş courthouse with hundreds of other people waiting to hear the decision of the judge—would her father be released or charged and imprisoned? He was one of the fifty writers, teachers, and students detained in Istanbul for ‘affiliation with a terrorist group .  School was like torture—I was texting Delal every hour to ask for news, and when the last class finished, I raced as fast as one can race through Istanbul’s nightmarish traffic to get to her side.

The courthouse was next to Bahçeşehir University, right on the Bosporous. Amid the Kurdish women in Eastern dress, were students sipping Starbucks and lugging books back and forth--staring. A whole contingent of riot police lined the streets with billy clubs and shields. Most people huddled for warmth outside the courthouse gates, but we waited hours in the Simit Saray next door trying to stay warm. The waiting was torment, and the only entertainment came when one of the young policemen got his finger stuck in the wires of the gate outside. The whole crowd snickered in unison.

While waiting, we finally get details about how the raid went down. When the prosecutor decided to accuse the BDP academy of terrorism, they had the police sweep the entire school for fingerprints. Anyone who had been there within the past few days was taken—students, visitors, teachers, and even a man from a shop on the first floor who’d gone up one afternoon for tea. So much for evidence, due process, rule of law or even logic.

Around ten o’clock at night, we were having tea in the Simit Saray when a young girl dashed inside and hurled herself weeping into the arms of an old man at the table next to us.

‘They’ve taken him!’ she wails. ‘They’re pressing charges!’

‘Kızım,’ the man said, hugging her. ‘Hush. This only means they haven’t released him yet.’

We rushed outside.  The guards had announced that three students would be released. The rest of the prisoners, 47 people, were being referred to the high court for a final decision. A feeling of dread pricked at the hairs on the back of my neck even as the courthouse gates swung open and three bedraggled young people emerged. Women ululated. A rush of relatives broke through the crowds to embrace the released students, and a hundred people erupted in tears and applause and jubilant cries of Biji biratiya gelan! ‘Long live the brotherhood of the people!’ I was startled to find tears streaming down my cheeks. I’ve been trying to stay strong for my wife, she has been trying to stay strong for her family. Neither of us has cried yet at all. I wanted to hug these emerging strangers. I can’t explain how many years of my wife’s life I suddenly understood in that moment—her anger at the system, her instant solidarity with people she’s never met, her cynicism. 

‘What about the others?’ Everyone started to ask. ‘Did you see my husband? Do you know my sister? How is my mother doing?’

News came quickly from the lawyers inside—a final decision would not be reached until the wee hours of the morning, possibly four or five. We should all go home.  My wife’s uncle would not be budged however—he stood shivering, his breath visible on the cold November air. ‘I’m not moving till they tell me what they’re going to do with my brother.’

The problem is this. A Turkish arrest has two stages. First you are göz altına almak or ‘taken under the eye’. You’re held in detention as the courts evaluate your case and decide if you have committed a crime. Then  you are tutuklanmak—or formally charged. Once this happens, you languish in prison until your case comes to trial, sometimes more than a year later. For my father-in-law, this  would mean the dreaded F-Type prison condemned by human rights groups around the world. This is the fate we are praying desperately to avoid.

A verdict did not come till early the following afternoon, and the news was bad.  Forty-four people had been charged with membership in the KCK—including my father -in-law. The next day that number would become forty six as two more students were condemned. The defense attorneys, sixteen people in all, stormed out of the courthouse and flung their lawyers robes to the ground in a show of protest. ‘This is not justice. This is a mockery of the law,’ they said.

The  prosecutions case, one explained, consisted not of evidence or testimony or proof of any kind—but a single question posed to my father-in-law and his compatriots.

‘Are you a member of the KCK?’  Are you a witch? Are you a communist? No? Yes? There was no right answer? They also got to deliver a statement in their own defense, and God bless him, defiant to the end, my father-in-law demanded that his testimony be given in Kurdish--and of course was refused. As the prisoners were taken away in armored cars, the crowd erupted in grief.  ‘Take me!’ cried one young girl. ‘You’ve taken my father and mother! I’m all alone now! Why don’t you take me?!’

So many people had come to lend a hand that day, including Rakel Dink wife of the martyred activist Hrant Dink.  Reporters Without Borders, the PEN Foundation, and publishing rights groups across Europe and America were rising to action for their imprisoned comrades Professor Ersanli and Ragip Zarakolu. If he hadn’t been rounded up with such big names, my father-in-law might have vanished unheralded into prison like the 4000 BDP members before him. We worry now that Turkey will bow to pressure and release the two Turkish big names, but leave the others to languish. According to the Turkish news last night, over ten thousand people now sit in prison on the same charges, waiting for judgement, but they have no foundations petitioning embassies on their behalf. They’re just ordinary Kurds and Turks who ran afoul of Power.

Now it was left to us to go home and break it to his eighty three year old father—our Dede, grandfather.

When we arrive at his house, Dede is on the edge of the couch shivering and rocking himself. He rises when we come in, his eyes red. ‘You didn’t tell me!’ he said simply. ‘How could you keep this from me? I knew nothing! Nothing! I asked your uncle why he looked so angry yesterday—all day long he was raging around biting everyone’s head off. He told me something had happened, but couldn’t tell me what. It was torture. So many horrible things went through my head!’

I take the seat beside him and he stares down at the carpet. I talk about the weather, about the news, about what the lawyers are saying—anything to keep a flow of words up. Whenever there is silence, he starts to shake and sink down inside himself. You can see his shoulders crumpling. At one point he turns to me and says, ‘I’ve seen what they do at these prisons. I spent four months in one just a few years ago for God knows what. I just…’ He can’t finish the thought.

I know the story. When he was 78 years old, a captured guerilla gave Dede’s name to the police. Was he tortured or just afraid of torture? No one knew, but they accused Dede of supplying the PKK. Dede, knowing the trouble it could bring on his family, had always tried to stay out of the guerilla fight. I knew he was innocent, but his name had been offered up simply because it was one of the best-known in the village. They loaded him into an armored truck with only a slit open at the top for air and hauled him to a prison hours away in Muş—a man of 78 years. He stayed for four months.

It’s baffling, this sudden return to the mentality of the 90s.  When Turkey has been making an effort to find and exonerate those buried in anonymous mass graves in the East. When they have been trying men like Ayhan Çarkın who admitted to over 1000 assassinations of the government’s political opponents. When for the first time a Kurdish language classes open at universities.

Delal’s dad is being sent to Kandıra prison in Izmit two hours away—far enough from us to make visiting difficult. It will be more difficult for the poorer families. As mentioned before, it’s one of the notorious F-type prisons. The high security F-type was established in 1991 to house members of ‘armed groups’ in ‘a system of cells constructed for one or three people ... Convicted prisoners will not be permitted contact or communication with other convicted prisoners."(Quoted from the Report of Human Rights Watch: Small Group Isolation in Turkish Prisons 24 May 2000).  They became famous for extreme brutality and maltreatment.  Music would be blared for hours through the cells (This is called Disco Torture—and still goes on, a soldier Uğur Kantar, was tortured to death with this method by his superior officers this July). Prisoners would be isolated for days at a time in the dark. Beatings, sleepless nights where they were forced to sing nationalist marches again and again. ‘When I visited Sincan  F-Type prison,’ wrote Mehmet Bekaroğlu of the Turkish Human Rights Watch, ‘I went into the room of one young prisoner. He seemed to have difficulty orienting himself, and it was sometime before he realized who I was. When I asked if he had any complaint he said ‘Loneliness—save me from this loneliness.’

As is the letter writing campaign from my previous entry.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A letter to the congressman or woman for the release of my father in law and others...

For the problem, see my last entry. If you are American, you can copy and paste this letter (add your name at the bottom of course and your reps name at the top) and send it off. 

Dear Representative ___________,

I am writing in regard to the proposed sale of Cobra helicopters to the Turkish military.

According to the Leahy Amendment it is illegal to sell arms to a country found to commit gross violations of human rights.  This weekend the Turkish government has rounded up 50 academics from the opposition BDP party in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’. This includes Kemal Seven, the father-in-law of my friend and Massachussetts citizen, Jeff Gibbs. More than 7000 people from the opposition have been arrested in the same way over the past 2 years. This past week, human rights groups and activists have accused the Turkish military of using chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels in the southeast—including napalm in clear violation of international law.

I urge you to block the sale of the Cobra helicopters and other weapons in Congress until Turkey ceases the random arrests and the use of chemical weapons.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Purge In Istanbul Yesterday

On Friday morning, while I dressed for work and Delal made me breakfast, the police were ransacking my father-in-law’s house just blocks away. According to her sister, they took down every one of his books, flipped through the pages and dumped out anything found sandwiched between. They confiscated over a hundred CDs and DVDs. They plucked post-its off the computer screen, bills off the coffee table. Two neighbors were called in to serve as witnesses in accordance with a new law—both woken up at 5:30 to observe the proceedings. It was a tremendous blow to my father-in-law’s pride to have these strangers gawking at his humiliation.

‘He looked so crestfallen,’ my sister-in-law said. ‘I’ve never seen him like that before.’

‘One of the neighbors looked so scared,’ quipped my mother-in-law, ‘I bet she went out right after the police left and bought a ticket for Germany!’

My father-in-law Kemal Seven was one of forty-two people arrested on Friday morning, and while the police were civil at his house—calling him beyefendi (sir) and taking care not to break anything—in other parts of Turkey they kicked in doors and ransacked homes. The detainees are all members of the Kurdish-affiliated BDP party—all minor party officials and academics.  They were not all Kurdish either. One of the arrests was Professor Büşra Ersanlı—a sixty-one year old woman. She is distinctly Turkish, a liberal constitutional law professor and a member of the BDP’s constitutional commission—and therefore a person who could have challenged the ruling party when the new constitution is drawn up later this year. Another is Ragıp Zarakolu—a sixty-three year old publisher and human rights activist. All are charged with sympathies for ‘a terrorist organization’, namely the KCK—the supposed urban arm of the PKK.  This is only the latest round of arrests. The government has been chipping away at the BDP for a while now. Over 7800 party members have been taken into custody—from mayors to city council chairs to members of parliament.

 And my father-in-law is one of the smaller fish caught in this net.

 Delal waited to tell me till I got off work. We’d been planning to go to a concert but before that, she said, we needed to to stop by Aksaray, though she wouldn’t explain why over the phone. (I couldn’t figure it out—there was nothing worth seeing in Aksaray—just a mall and the Istanbul police station where I have to go every once in a while to renew my residence permit.) When I saw her at the ferry dock, I could tell immediately something was wrong. Her face was drawn and anxious and she couldn’t stop wringing her hands.

 ‘They’ve taken my Dad away,’ she said.

 I’ll never forget that ferry ride. I’ll never forget feeling so angry and helpless. We were heading into the great maw of the State to try and pull some tiny concession out of its jaws—and evidence of its power was everywhere. The red banner of the Turkish flag--the color had never seemed so aggressive--covered every building, boat, and bridge. Police filled the streets. The Turkish national anthem chimed all around us—people were using it for their ring tones--and the headlines of the newspapers being read by our fellow passengers raged about Turkey’s fallen ‘martyrs’. Looking at all those front pages, I felt like our allies were dropping like flies. Last Friday, the Prime Minister had met with all the news agencies in Turkey and made them agree to report on ‘terrorism’ as he instructed them, too.  ‘News will reach the subscriber by considering the social benefit and solidarity. The public order will be taken into account." In effect, the media willingly put themselves under government control. There was no longer any hope of truth or objectivity from the news—no hope from anywhere

 On the ferry, Delal held her father’s diabetes medicine in her hands, cradling it in her lap like a child might clutch a teddy bear. She thought they might let her in to see him if she had some sort of medical excuse. I got her tea, I held her hand, I hugged her as hard as I could. I tried to be any kind of comfort I could be. I hated seeing her look so small and lost, and I hated the people who made her feel that way.  

 The police station was a gigantic fortress. As we passed through security—I stared at the ten story Turkish flag hanging from the A wing just outside—next to it was an equally gigantic picture of Ataturk, and carved into stone at the building’s top floor were the words ‘How Happy is He Who Calls Himself a Turk!’ Never had these three symbols seemed so frightening—it all seemed to say, if you’re not Turkish, you are nothing. We were let into Ward C, the anti-terrorism department. They took the diabetes medicine, but would not promise to give it to him without a doctor’s note, which we didn’t have. A bushy-haired old sergeant manned the information desk. ‘Don’t be scared,’ he told us. ‘If anything happens, they’ll run him immediately to the hospital. It’s right across the street. We have heaters in all the rooms. We have pillows and comfortable beds. No one gets beaten or slapped around here anymore. They’ve passed laws against all that. He’ll be fine! And who knows? He might be released in just a few days!’

 ‘Can I ask you what they’re going to do with all the stuff they took?’ Delal asked.  ‘All the books and CDs and everything? Are they seriously going to look at all those things? It could take forever.’

 ‘No, dear,’ the old man answered. ‘They already have some kind of evidence or they wouldn’t have arrested him.’

 And the evidence is apparent in the newspapers the next day. A phrase taken out of context from a lecture by someone at the BDP Academy--‘We must make them see us as bombs,’ a teacher supposedly said in regards to the reigning party. ‘And we must see ourselves also as flaming bombs.’ They were speaking metaphorically of course, talking about building themselves into a political force to be reckoned with—but that’s not how the AKP is spinning it. The same tactic was used to condemn Hrant Dink five years ago—there was a line taken from an article in Agos about Sabiha Gökçen, the sentences before and after removed, and then pubished in the newspapers. It urged the ‘poison of the Turk to be cleansed from Armenian veins.’ The ‘poison’ Dink actually meant was the bigoted ideas that Diaspora Armenians have about Turkish people, the ‘cleansing’ was the need to put them aside before the two peoples can move foreward. But without a context, that was not apparent at all and Dink was assassinated a few years later by fanatical nationalists. Now the government is trying the same thing with my father-in-law and his colleagues.

 ‘He’s innocent,’ our aunt Cemile says later that night. We are having dinner at my mother-in-law’s house, the family gathered together to comfort one another. ‘They could be bugging us right now, but let them! Who cares? They’ll never find anything on him. He’s done nothing wrong. Nothing!’ She’s my father-in-law’s sister and I have never seen her like this. Usually she’s laughing and joking and passing around something she’s baked. Her face is swollen and red, now, but the tears won’t come. ‘I’ve never been able to cry like normal people,’ she tells me. ‘It all happens in my body. This morning my back gave out and I can’t walk—that’s where it hits me. But I still haven’t cried. I was like this when my mother died. Now they’ve taken my brother! People disappear in this country when they’re arrested!’

 ‘That doesn’t happen anymore,’ I assure her. ‘That was in the nineties.’

 ‘Every day you see on the news about some mass grave they’ve dug up.’

 ‘But all that was in the nineties.’

 She’s unconvinced. ‘So many people have disappeared and never been seen again.’

 Her brother, my father-in-law’s little brother, is nowhere to be found. He’s supposed to join us, but is mostly likely drinking somewhere. He has been profoundly shaken by his brother’s arrest. We can’t tell grandfather because of his heart condition—God only knows how it will effect him. And yet it’s inevitable that he will hear about it from someone soon. Cousins and second cousins are calling to find out what’s happened, everyone worried to death. I myself am afraid to publish this for fear it will make my own mother worry too much back in the States. And what do I know anyway? My in-laws have all lived through years that make me shudder—when assassinations of Kurdish politicians, no matter how smallfry were happening everyday, and going to prison meant certain torture and mutilation. It seems different now, but then this arrest seemed impossible just a few months ago.

 It’s Sunday morning, now, and all we know is that the court’s decision will come tomorrow. He will either be released or prosecuted. In the Western news and on Al Jazeera, there is nothing about the latest political purge. They have, instead, put up articles about a suicide bombing in Bingöl that killed three people. Delal and watched the news about the bombing on TV last night.

 ‘That doesn’t seem like the PKK’s style,’ Delal said, and I began to wonder, starting to be affected by the fear and paranoia, knowing that the media now works for the government, that everything is biased, that you can take nothing at face value—maybe this is a distraction? Maybe they did the bombing themselves to take attention from the arrests? I don’t believe this, but it’s the kind of thought that starts going through your head when you no longer have access to real information and everything you read and see in the news becomes suspect, and someone you love is now in the power of something much bigger than yourself that you can neither fight nor touch nor argue against without great risk to them and yourself.

 Hopefully he will be released tomorrow. There is talk that it’s all because of a BDP political meeting that was supposed to take place today—that they merely wanted to sabotage the meeting by getting rid of its members for a day. Out of the 7000 or so people arrested over the past two years, 3000 have been released. There’s a good chance.

 This will backfire on them in the end. I hope. I hope. Young people who have never been that political are angry now, like Delal’s little sister, who watched the police drag her father away for the first time in her life (she had been very young the other times). There’s an anger when she speaks I’ve never heard before. It’s like a whole new generation is waking up. My eyes are certainly starting to open.


What can you do, reader? I don't know. You can give me advice, because I suck at this kind of thing. My ideas are those of an amateur--forward this entry to anyone who might care. Twitter it. Facebook it. You could write to Human Rights Watch at Amnesty International at To your congressman or your parliamentary representative?  Maybe a letter like this,

'In the past few days, Turkish police have arrested 42 members of the opposition BDP party, mostly Kurds. This is a political purge that over the last few years has landed over 3000 people in jail on trumped up charges of terrorism. I am deeply concerned about the prisoners and their families and urge Turkey to release them as soon as possible.' 

I know it sounds cheesy but political pressure does work. I know Tibetans who told me their torture in prison ended after letter campaigns. I take it personally because it's my father in law now. I guess to most its just another set of numbers added into the world's list of butchered and abused.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Addendum to the Last Entry

I must say that the response to the Van Earthquake kind of highlights both the best and the worst of society in Turkey. First, the generosity of the great majority of the country is breathtaking to behold--Kadıköy's city hall is sending supplies out by the truckloads, hundreds of volunteers are working for free, and most cities from East to West, AKP, BDP, MHP, or CHP (the four big parties) are doing the same. Every movie star, sit com face, and talk show host is holding telethons, and even the leader of the far right party (the MHP) has called on the racist comments to stop and for everyone to lend a hand. Many of the donations come with personal notes--one man wrote 'I have experienced earthquakes, too. I know what you're going through. If you need anything else, please call me anytime. DO NOT HESITATE!' And he left his number. The level of mobilization of aid is breathtaking.

At the same time there are constant allegations by people in Van that not enough is reaching them. An exhausted director of the Red Crescent last night begged patience. 'It is not such a simple thing to transfer tons of supplies from one side of the country to another! We are doing our best. They will get to the people who need them!' And I have driven the road to Van--and I do mean 'the road' as in the one decent road, and it was hard hard hard. But still there are allegations of corruption--which is where the other side of Turkish culture comes in--the same side I see at school and at every level of society. A complete lack of organization.  The BDP mayor of Van seems to think that his job is to be out 'calming people' instead of setting up aid convoys or help desks. A lot of supplies seem to be filtering off to people not in need--but rather to brothers and friends and relatives of the people in charge of them. A little bribe here, a little tea there, say 'abi' a few times and whine and beg and whatever you want can be yours--whether its a good grade you don't deserve, a visa stamp, a PhD, a football goal, or a Red Crescent tent you don't really need.

Like I said before, it looks like Katrina

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If only the news would be funny...then I could--a Bit about the Van earthquake

Remember our trip to Van--it used to look like this

Why can't news anchormen be monkeys? Spider monkeys perhaps, armed with pellet guns? Then the news would be hilarious (for me at least)--all the news in Turkey recently (and elsewhere) has been unrelievably depressing. We will crawl out from under the cloud soon, with any luck, but for now, let me rain down upon the English speaking internet some of the silly things the Turkish press and politicians has been saying about the Katrina level disaster in the Kurdish city of Van.

First, we have the brunette. If you are considering these three tools as the cast of Three's Company, she'd be the Janet of the group, namely the least nauseating of the three. Her name is Duygu Canbaş (which means Feeling Life-Head). She said, on live TV as footage of the destruction scrolled beneath her, complete with dead moms and screaming babies--"Tüm Türkiye, her ne kadar Van'dan da gelse haber, üzüldü.'  'Okay, even if the news comes from Van, all of Turkey feel ssad about (the earthquake).' A barrage of angry phone calls, Tweets, and emails persuaded her to retract and qualify this statement, which my wife and thousands of others interpreted as 'Well, even if it did happen to them Kurds, we ain't completely unfeeling.' The less disgusting interpretation might be, 'Even if it didn't happen to us here, we still feel sad,' which would just imply a lack of empathy rather than an unfeeling racism. The channel says--'She didn't mean it like it sounded, honest.'
That's Duygu Canbaş between Müge Anlı and Erdoğan Bayraktar

Then we have Chrissy, the freakishly blond Müge Anlı who said on atv--another live news channel, 'The first people to intervene in Van were the very police that they make their children throw stones at!' (She's speaking about the all-powerful Kurdish boys who sometimes throw rocks at the vulnerable and brittle battle tanks.)  She goes on, 'Our poor soldiers! My little brother, Selcan, is doing his service in Van, and God willing, he will finish without a problem. May God not bring any harm to our boys! And may he break the hands of those boys (in Van) who throw stones at them! They (the Kurds) say, 'It's like hunting birds! We pick them off with stones to our hearts content. We shoot them in our mountains. But if something happens to us, oh, then it's call the police, call the army! Let's play it safe, boys. In hard times, we'll say 'oh honey baby poopsy woopsy' We won't hunt them like birds.' Well, we say, it's not that easy. We'll put you in your place!' (The Turkish is at the end of this piece if you want it...' Müge/Chrissy had to take her account of Facebook from all the angry email she received.
Müge demonstrating the odd configuration of her breasts

Our Jack is Erdoğan Bayraktar, Minister of Cities and the Environment (his experience as a developer makes him an excellent protector of the environment*) He said, in response to a reporters question about why there was still a shortage of tents in the disaster area when thousands were out on the streets in freezing whether--'Well you give them tents, and then what do they say? How about my animals?' He spent the next minute complaining about how needy everyone was acting and how the rubble that they were now living in or dying under would one day be 'sparkling clean modern new villages!'

The esteemed Minister of Cities (and oh yeah, the enviro---what?) It may not look like him but a better likeness could get me arrested by an anonymous 'patriotic' informer for aiding terrorists or whatever. (an easy way to make a lira)

On the bright side, Delal was down in Kadıköy today and said that literally hundreds were at the city hall working to send packages of blankets, water, food, toys, and warm clothes. They told her they were sending supplies to the Red Crescent and the provincial governor's office, but there were interviews all over the TV saying that these two groups and their supposed help were nowhere to be found. (Maybe they are heeding Chrissy's call to 'put them in their place'?) So Delal called up again and was assured, 'We have received so many complaints about helps from the Crescent and the governor's office, that we decided to send our own people.'  Our school has mobilized (after a few meetings of course--one to decide to have a meeting, the actual meeting itself and then a final one to evaluate the meeting), and our English department run by our intrepid Cindy--who needs no meeting--has also set up a donation point down in the school basement where the English office is. According to rumor, even the street kids of Kaıköy are gathering old boxes to put back together for shipping supplies.

The mayor of Van, Bekir Kaya, after being grilled by CNN Turk-'What exactly is the problem? The tents and supplies have been sent and you say nothing is being distributed.' Mr. Kaya answers 'As leaders, one of our biggest responsibilities is to give the public accurate information, and not pretend things have been done that haven't.' This was the beginning of a long debate--both men getting frustrated and red in the face. The anchorman shouting 'All of us want to help but you say nothing is arriving. What the hell can we do? What is the truth? Why is there no coordination there? Who is responsible? The Turkmen villages so no help is coming because you are BDP and only help Kurds. The Kurdish villages say that no one is helping them because they are Kurds. The bottom line, no one is getting help. What's the problem?' The mayor never does explain and again, a barrage of angry tweets come his way. 

It reminds me of Katrina.

* probably just complete fiction

The original Turkish of Müge Anlı
"Her fırsatta küçücük çocuklar tarafından taş attırılan polisler, olay yerine gelip ilk müdahale edenlerdi. Mehmetçik... Bizim Selcan'ın erkek kardeşi de Van'da askerlik yapıyor. Ona ve tüm askerlerimize hayırlı teskereler diliyoruz. Allah da askerimize polisimize zeval vermesin. Onlara taş atanların da elleri kırılsın. Canımız istediğinde kuş avlar gibi taş atıyoruz. Dağlarda vuruyoruz. Sonra bir şey olunca da asker gelsin, polis gelsin diyoruz. Dengeleri kuralım. Zor günlerde canım cicim. Kuş avlar gibi avlamayalım bunları. O kadar kolay değil. Herkes haddini bilecek..."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I promised something funny...I lied. Oopsie

After the Hakkari Attacks

There’s this growing sense of dread.

We are walking home from the Cuban restaurant—a night of salsa and mojitos—and suddenly we come upon the place that, just a week ago, had been a Lebanese falafel cafe. They’d had everything you could want—tabouleh, humurs, falafels, shwarma and a moody but excellent Lebanese cook who also made, from his days in the Netherlands, Holland fries. The Lebanese menu is still there below the window—but everything else is different. The name is now Ali Usta’s Liver Restaurant. The men cooking at the grill are younger and don’t speak Arabic, and the signs hanging from the second floor advertise tantuni wraps and künefe instead of lamb shwarma and falafel platters. Maybe it’s because I was discussing the belief in demons with a friend back at Cubaneo (we both come from Southern evangelical backgrounds), but I have this feeling that the place is being possessed. Something about it feels different than the buildings around it—a dark energy.  It’s such a strange metamorphosis—the Turkishness slowly creeping groundward. There are thousands of liver restaurants in Kadıköy alone.  Why do we need this clone? Why can’t this one non-Turkish restaurant not fold? Does everything have to crushed into this sameness? Why can’t they leave it alone?

I used to have a dream when I was very small. I would be playing on the street and our little house on Hampton Avenue would suddenly undergo a ghastly transformation. Towers would rise out of the roof, the windows would stretch and darken until they looked like eyes, and the tree in our yard would die and twist into a mangled claw of wood and branch. When the change was complete, the windows started to glow red. And no one else noticed but me. In the dream, my mom would come come from work and call me inside for dinner, and I always awoke as we walked in the door, feeling both relief and a presentiment of some coming doom. There were demons in there.

I lie in bed with Delal that night—she asks me if something is wrong, and I can’t quite understand why this restaurant’s closing has affected me so, and so I say nothing. When I close my eyes, I see again that bright October afternoon and we are walking into downtown Üsküdar. We passed through the bazaar and into a street market, then emerged in a crowd of cops. They were everywhere, standing in groups and staring north toward a building I recognized—the BDP headquarters where Delal, Zelal, Hoca, and I celebrated the election of thirty-six independent ministers to parliament with a euphoric crowd of election workers. I remember the wall to wall crowd cheering as each new minister was confimed—there were hugs, whoops of joy, kisses on the cheek. Now the building had been completely emptied out. There were ‘For Rent’ signs on the windows though the BDP placard still hung out front.

Delal and I hurriedly crossed the street past the milling police and she called her father (the Hoca). We stopped right in front of the entrance to the street market, and she began speaking Kurdish loudly into the phone. A headscarved woman started staring at Delal first, running her eyes from head to foot in a kind of wide-eyed fear. Then a man behind her stopped to watch as well. The sound of the language had clearly disturbed them. But were either of them undercover cops? Or just potential leaders of a mob? Or maybe were they just maybe staring for no reason at all. I kept stealing glances at the party building, the windows showing empty rooms—floor after floor of nothing and yet the bright yellow BDP sign still hung out front, destined for destruction.

Red Turkish flags fly everywhere, a statement not of morning but of war. The threats from the Prime Minister’s Office increase. Official reports place the number of Turkish soldiers killed in the Hakkari attacks at 24 but uncomfirmed reports from Kurdish channels say its more likely around 80. This is the biggest PKK assault since the early 90s at the height of the undeclared civil war. Who’s telling the truth? Who knows? They’re taking back the story of the 22 batallions over the border—‘Most of our troops are operationg inside the country; the invasion story was a misunderstanding,’ they say now. How could they have gotten something like that wrong? Last night on a news program a woman said, ‘We should have completely assimilated the Kurds when we had the chance.’ Left no trace of them. Erasing a people perhaps is a logical solution for a place where a genocide and several ethnocides have never been answered for, much less called ‘wrong’.

It was a gorgeous Fall afternoon in Üskudar—crowded, noisy, but the October sky had that haunted look my dream used to have, and glancing around at the dense cluster of buildings and banks and mosques and cafes it seemed like they had undergone some sort of change—there was a spirit in them now, something demonic.

The friend who I talked with about demons has a wife who works at a school teaching business classes. Her students had told her the night before that there had been terrorist attacks by the BDP. In the minds of the mob, the PKK are the BDP are the Kurds. There’s no difference. The BDP had attacked no one, but their offices were being attacked all over the country—masses of people marching in the street crying out the glory of the Turkish nation and their soldiers. Why does mourning for soldiers you’ve never met always turn into such savagery?

Demons. My sister’s mother in law ran a church in North Carolina. At some services, they performed exorcisms. My brother-in-law told me when he was young that he remembered sitting in the back pews and watching a man come up to the altar. The preacher lay his hands on the man’s forhead and the man began to shake, then a ball of fire erupted from his body and swept past the whole congregation and out the door. He trembled when he told this story—I know he believed it. His mother confirmed it. She’d laugh and slap your knee if you questioned her about it, and say ‘Lord, honey, I cast out devils every day. That was nothing!’

We are in no immediate danger, I’m sure of it. But something is not right, here. It hangs in the air like an invisible cloud. Maybe it will pass quickly. The students at school are planning some kind of demonstration on Monday—there’s a call for everyone to wear black (though I suspect this is a rather unscrupulous attempt to get out of wearing school uniforms). At lunch, a woman got angrily up from the table when I was talking too loudly about the injustice of assimilation.

By the pricking of my thumb, the witches said, something wicked this way comes.
Nazlı Ilıcak is the journalist who said 'I wish we could have assimilated them completely, but we couldn't and now we are stuck with giving them 'democratic rights'.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More War on Terror

The smashed busstops in Kadıköy on September 1st

     I turned 40 on September 1st. My friends took me on a picnic and swim to Heybeli Island--it was a strange, unhappy day despite all our best efforts. All day long there was a tension in the air--nothing felt right. When we got off the ferry that night in Kadıköy, we found the area around the wharf devastated by rioting. The glass around the bus stops was smashed. The newspaper kiosks were also crushed. The windows of the Conservatory were broken and police barricades littered the streets. We called Hocam (Delal's father)--he had been part of a peace protest that day and we were worried something had happened to him.
     'The police attacked us,' he said. 'Some of our young men were carrying banners calling for the release of Öcalan. They got mouthy with the riot police and the police responded by throwing tear gas (the solution to everything). Within minutes it was utter chaos.'
     I remember the busride home that night, straight through the rubble around the wharf--nothing good would come of this.

     Almost two months later--this happened.
      Last night, when I got home, Delal had prepared a Kurdish meal of keşkek and pırgaç—one a buttery porridge of bulgur, the other a hearty bread traditionally eaten by shepherds. All over the TV was the news that the PKK had attacked a town in Hakkari the night before and killed 24 ‘martyrs’. The whole country was up in arms, and being part of a Kurdish family suddenly felt like a dangerous thing. All over my Facebook were Turkish friends posting denunciations of the BDP, the mostly Kurdish political party that Delal and I acted as election monitors for. People called them terrorists, collaborators, traitors—though the party itself and all its members have time and time again denounced the attacks. Lies! Everyone screams. And that’s the problem really, as usual, that everyone is out screaming hysterically—unquestioning, violent nationalism is the mood everywhere you look.

          Delal keeps erasing people on my Facebook page that display the Turkish flag. The flag waving I can understand—though I have never been a flag waver. When your country is attacked, you feel attacked and the flag is an easy and powerful symbol of nation and solidarity. What enrages Delal is, of course, that the flag is used for a lot more things than protecting Turkey—and the people who wave it generally are not the gentle patriot type. Under that banner, thousands of Turkey’s own citizens have been tortured (in Diyarbakır’s infamous prison number 9, for example, and indeed all over the country). Whole races have been massacred (the Armenians,the Chaldeans, the Suryani, the Dersimlis, the Alevis) or driven out of the country and homes by state sponsored violence (the Greeks in the 50s, the Kurds in the 90’s, the Romany). The symbol is tainted by the fascist regime of Kenan Evren in the 80s and the legions of murdered in its name. Now Kurds are once again ‘the enemy’ and quite normal people are crying for blood—the blood of my wife and her family. And as they shout their battle cry, that flag is in their hands. I feel the threat, too.  The whole ride home from school, the flag was everywhere and it felt like the watching eyes of some Big Brother.

            ‘They’re sending in 22 battalions into Iraq!’ Dede cries when I got home. ‘All hope for peace is gone!’

           My Kurdish family members do not approve of the attack. They are not happy those men died. They are not secretly funding the PKK. We all sat last night together and watched the news in horror. And yet they are targets today.

            The BDP is in trouble for NOT calling the attack an act of terrorism. Since it targeted soldiers and gendarmes, I don’t really think it fits either. Terrorism, as I understand it, is a political attack against unarmed citizens.  This fits the bombing in Ankara a few weeks ago, but not an assault on soldiers. It's a war and you don't need to call it terrorism to be sad about its casualties. Of course, reason is not what people want. It’s blood. I am reminded of the United States after the 9/11 attacks. People all over the country who resembled Muslims were attacked and in some cases, murdered brutally. The mentality became a primitive, brutal, tribalism and I don’t think it has really lifted all that much. It’s ugliness still leaves a stain on everything we touch. Now Turkey is sending an invasion force into Iraq to combat the ‘terrorists’ while the very people who support the invasion still point the finger at the US in false indignation—‘How dare you invade Iraq! Think of all the babies you’ve killed!’

            Hypocrisy, perfidy, opportunism—the human cocktail.

            I felt the same sort of sick feeling in my stomach this weekend when we watched Inside Job—a documentary about how the financial ‘engineers’ of Wall Street robbed the country blind, plunged the world into a Depression—millions upon millons out of work, plunged into poverty and robbed of their homes--and they were never punished. These same people are on the TV now condemning the Wall Street protesters for instigating ‘class warfare’ and ‘pitting American against American’.  And everyone sits around nodding like a bunch of Stepford Wives. Doesn’t the corruption stink up their own mouths as they say this shit?

            Next on my blog agenda is something funny to wash all the world’s filth out of my head.
            I mourn the soldiers killed--some of them could have been my old students--and I mourn also the murders yet to come from both sides, one of them with the might of a modern State behind it.