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PRAYING FOR TURKEY, PART 1
January 25th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

WITH THE LAUNCH OF MISCmedia MAGAZINE (copies should be in early subscribers’ mailboxes by today), it’s time to open up this site to the works of other commentators.

(You can submit proposed items if you wish. Just remember: This site does have a scope of subject matter, no matter how vague; so don’t be miffed if your submission isn’t used.)

Our first such installment comes in the form of a travelogue.

Praying for Turkey

by guest columnist Charlotte Quinn

I WENT TO TURKEY to film a documentary about the Amazons. I know, I know there was a big earthquake there and why would anyone do that?

Well, I’ve been wanting to go to Turkey for many years.

A few years ago I would’ve gone but we were (are) at war with Iraq (Turkey’s neighbor). Then there was all the confusing horror of the Balkans, just kissing Turkey to the northwest. Meanwhile, there’s the escalating civil war with the Kurds to the southeast (still going strong). There had been terrorist bombs in tourist sites all over Turkey due to the capture of Ocalan, the Kurdish leader. To the southwest, tensions with the Greeks were mounting into perhaps a larger dispute over Cyprus. I kept postponing, praying, waiting for a peaceful time to go see Turkey.

When the earthquake hit, I guess I realized that five years was enough. I prayed real loud, and, as usual, no one answered.

SO I WENT TO TURKEY. To Samsun, about 600 miles east of the epicenter. From there I explored the wild and dangerous Black Sea coast in search of Themiscrya, the supposed ancient homeland of the Amazons.

Did they talk about the earthquake in Samsun? Not much. It was in the air; and, from what I could gather in three weeks, the Turks suffer loudly and animatedly, but not for long. The earthquake would come up once in a while and everyone would say it was bad and unfortunate (two words I heard over and over again), and thank God for the Americans, and the Iraqis, and even the Greeks for helping out, and then there would be a deep silence until someone would mention how unlikely an earthquake would be in Samsun. On to the next subject.

They realized I was the representative of the tourist industry. Nothing negative, oh, no. One person said, “You gave us 10 million dollars, but Iraq gave us 20 million in oil.” That’s kind of embarrassing, considering I think we have some airbase in Turkey from which we are refueling to bomb Iraq.

Just before I left for Turkey a news story struck my attention from the back pages of the newspaper. Americans had mistakenly launched a missile at an entire Muslim family’s home in Iraq. They were murdered while they slept. Mothers, uncles, children–everyone was dead. Two cousins who were outside at the well survived. This was brought up in conversation while I was in Turkey. I felt too humiliated by my own country to say anything. Most Americans, I wanted to tell them, don’t know we are still bombing Iraq at all.

I HAD READ IN MY LONELY PLANET GUIDEBOOK not to discuss politics with the Turks. Turns out the people I talked to were not at all opposed to arguing politics. We shared our unhappiness and frustration about nearly every country. (America shouldn’t be bombing Iraq to hell, we decided). I argued for the legalization of prostitution; they didnt agree.

This is from a society which is highly censored. You can’t speak against the government.You can’t say anything negative about Ataturk, the man who westernized Turkey in the 20s. If you do, it’s straight to jail. And the Turkish police are not opposed to torture; although since Midnight Express they are really really nice to Americans. I’m not kidding.

While most unmarried turkish couples can’t get a hotel room, even in Istanbul, tourists can be an heathen as they like. In a country which needs tourists more than ever now, there is a great deal of pressure on the whole country to treat tourists like royalty.

STILL, DON’T PUT DOWN ATATURK. On every pedistal, in every town square, every school, mosque, etc. there is Ataturk, who gave the Turks their last names, their westernized letters, and their secular goverment. You can go to prison for criticizing him. I made an off joke, saying something like, “Oh, another Ataturk statue”, and I noticed some self-censorship on the part of my friends. Laughter was stiffled, heads were turned, the subject was changed. Best to avoid Ataturk altogether.

TOMORROW: Some more of this.

ELSEWHERE:

  • Collective Insanity: Stories, poems, line art, semi-abstract photos, a “scepter of misspoken time,” and “Why I Bought a Kitten….”

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