Iraq and Turkey: Two Spitting Cats

This morning on  Ataturk Cadessi in Antalya I stopped to watch two cats in a spitting stand off.  The smaller was making noises I had never supposed cats could make.  The larger was standing frozen, inches away from the noise and fangs.  I don’t know what the dispute was about, most likely the favored place under the side-walk table, where food might be handed down from on high.

Two Feuding Cats, Antalya, Turkey

I couldn’t help but thinking of the morning’s headlines, in which PM Nouri Al Maliki of Iraq lashed out at Turkey’s PM,  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had recently hosted Maliki’s Sunni rival,  Tareq al-Hashemi, who has left the country after being accused of running death squads, as well as playing footsie with  Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan northern Iraq.

Baghdad: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has branded Turkey a “hostile state” with a sectarian agenda, the latest in a series of bitter exchanges between the neighbours.

Al Maliki was responding to comments made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in which Erdogan accused the Iraqi leader of fanning tensions between the country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds with his “self-centred” ways.

“The recent announcements by Erdogan represent another return to flagrant interference in Iraqi internal affairs,” Al Maliki said in a statement on his website.

“His announcements have a sectarian dimension. To insist on continuing these internal and regional policies will harm Turkish interests and make it a hostile state for all.”


The bad feeling is confirmed in another article from a reporter who accompanied Erdogan to the recent Qatar conference, ostensibly about trade and development but actually focused on the Syria problem.

“We have no intention of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. It was Maliki himself who asked Turkey to enter Iraq economically,” Erdoğan said. “Others come from 10,000 kilometers away and interfere in Iraq. You go and talk to them. Iran calls you and you go there. But when it comes to Turkey you make these remarks,” he said, referring to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the close cooperation between Maliki, who is Shiite, and Iran. “It is not important what al-Maliki says. He cannot come between us and our Iraqi brothers. The Iraqi people do not share his views. Al-Maliki should note this very well. His merciless attitude is out of keeping with democracy. He refers to us stoking sectarian trouble. We have no such problem.” Erdoðan indicated that it appears that al-Maliki himself has a sectarian problem “in his own inner world.”



The streets aren’t filling with anxious citizens over this.  Syria is a much closer and more pressing problem.  It does show that Turkey is part of the broad mix of strong Middle Eastern countries, which the others must pay attention to.

Back on the sidewalk, the bigger, white cat slowly turned his head away from the confrontation, all the rest of his body still frozen in immobility — as if finally showing boredom with the whole thing, but ready as an unsprung trap to deal with any nonsense.


My bet is that Turkey is the bigger cat.

Turkey: April 23 Children’s Day Festival

The main street of Antalya, Turkey is flooded with children dressed in red and white, or in the case of the very young, costumes to fit their imaginings.  Middle School units set the pace with drum corps; young and old are hawking the national flag to accompany the spontaneous ebullience of the moment or to sign approval of the latest exhortatory speech.

Antalya Drums on Children's Day

Of course this isn’t a children’s day with centuries of tradition, purely to celebrate the sweetness and aspirations of the young, as in Japan. It was created by modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, who combined it with commemoration of the opening of the first Assembly after Independence from its post WW I occupiers, England, France and Italy.

Though attaching itself to UNESCO’s Year of the Child in 1979 and urging other countries to join the Day of the Child, it remains from its conception, a political –not to say indoctrination– patriotic celebration.

Following the 1980 General’s Coup the gatherings were guided from the streets into large stadiums for more concentrated “enthusiasm.” According to reports of a recently passed law, today will be the last such stadium celebrations.

April 23 celebrations, which mark National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, are being held in stadiums for the last time today as part of new regulations on national day celebrations, the Sabah daily reported on Sunday.

In January the Ministry of Education cancelled festivities for May 19, the anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, in stadiums, citing disruptions in education. Following this decision, the presidency held meetings attended by officials representing various ministries to discuss the introduction of new regulations to all national day celebrations.

A consensus was reached to change the law that governs all national celebrations to get rid of what are widely considered totalitarian rituals introduced during the 1980s junta, to generate a more peaceful and civilian atmosphere during the celebrations.

Today’s Zaman

Everywhere we turn we are quite struck by the Turkish people –in the process of becoming a nation they have not yet been.  The push and pull of secular vs Islam, or Ataturk’s legacy vs the claims of now are sometimes pubic and visible, more often subtle and only lightly marked changes of attitude.  We often see a daringly dressed young woman holding hands with her modestly covered mother, laughing and strolling down the wide pedestrian avenues, or fully covered women pushing strollers with a child dressed like any western kid, pacifier included.

Whether the move to return the neo-authoritarian stadium rallies to more spontaneous and decentralized celebrations is an honest one, carried out by representatives aware of the dangers of mass events, or is a move to weaken the ties of secular patriotism to eventually be replaced by religious enthusiasm and a return to the stadiums won’t be known for another election cycle or two.  But, at least we see a grappling with the reality of mass events and the dangers inherent in them.

When, in the United States, will there be a discussion, much less laws passed, about our mix of patriotic praise of military might with large sporting events?

Flags for Sale


News from Turkey

One of the most revealing things about traveling is to read the local news and begin to understand how world issues shift and local issues grow large in “foreign” eyes.  In Istanbul the Hurriyet Daily News is a good source.  Although they also have an on-line  presence, having the actual large format paper edition in my hands brings the perspective I am used to:  Large Top headline, photo beneath and several smaller but still significant headlines across the rest of the front page.

This morning the top headline was Avoid Confrontation, US tells Cyprus Parties

What concerns the US and Turkish and Greek officials is the recent announcement that Greek Cypriots are planning to drill for oil and gas on the northern part of the island.

Possible provocations include issuing more oil exploration and drilling licenses on Greek Cyprus’ part, which would deepen the country’s ties with Israel, and statements about the possible annexation of Turkish Cyprus by Turkey or a push for Turkish Cypriot independence on Turkey’s part.

There is of course a long, and unhappy history behind this, some of which is explored in the article.

A second front page piece has to do with Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds exploring common interests against the current Shia dominated Iraq government.

The leader of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq Masoud Barzani is set to visit Turkey this week on the heels of a U.S. trip for critical discussions on terrorism and ongoing tension with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, according to a Turkish official.

About which more is revealed inside on page 4 (so far no ads to clutter up the news.)

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman begins a three-day visit to Greek Cyprus to discuss energy issues with senior officials, his office said on April 15.

He will meet Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis today, Anatolia news agency reported. Among the issues on the table will be “promoting a plan to form a regional emergency aid force,” it said, Agence France-Presse reported.

And, in more local matters, a life sentence is handed down for an “honor killing,” by a young presumably Christian Armenian-Turk of his sister and her Muslim husband.


All news that would barely budge the notice-bell in the US.

Turkey and the Environment

Our own casual viewing in three days of being in the Istanbul area of Turkey is that littering and trash dumping along the roads are definitely not on the list of concern for many.  One young woman acknowledged this with a sigh and said they were starting with the children, trying to get them to notice, not do it themselves and leverage their cute power with their parents.

Apparently what we’ve seen is also a symbol of much larger environmental problems as reported in the Daily Hurriyett (English)


“Among 132 countries Turkeyranked at 109th in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) released by Yale University.

The Environmental Performance Index is a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking the environmental performance of a country’s policies.

“We are behind 92 percent of the countries in the index. This is shameful. This index shows that development is not possible with money, construction and dams,” said KuzeyDoğa Nature Association Chairman Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu.

And just the other day there was a shooting of an environmentalist in an Istanbul neighborhood.  Hurriyet Daily

“The head of a fisheries association was allegedly shot by a gang of illegal fishermen in Istanbul for his stance against the illegal practice.

Ahmet Aslan lost his left eye in an armed attack while he was sitting in a teahouse in Istanbul’s Rumelikavağı neighborhood, broadcaster NTV reported on its website.

“There is a gang with trawlers, and we are under constant threat,” Aslan was quoted as saying.

Defne Koryürek, an activist who has been campaigning against trawler fishing for some time, said it was “horrifying” that illegal fishers were now bold enough to try and assassinate people.

News from Turkey

In Istanbul the weather is cold and rain-swept.  After a lunch of delectable meze on the waterfront on the island of Buyukada we are sheltering in the 1908 Hotel Splendid, which despite it off-season emptiness is providing us with warm rooms and wireless internet.

Ankara is being reported as warning Syria that “steps will be taken” if the assault on civilians, especially along the Turkish border do not cease.

Turkey is putting the squeeze on its southern neighbor with strong indications that Ankara is finalizing plans to set up a humanitarian corridor and possibly a buffer zone inside Syria in order to contain the burgeoning refugee crisis and border skirmishes.

Today’s Zaman

More warnings were issued after shells from the Syrian army landed in a refugee camp in Turkey

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned today the shooting of six people in a Turkish refugee camp by Syrian forces firing across the border.

Warnings Issued

Bliss — An Unexpected Movie

I’d had the movie Bliss in my Tivo instant line-up for quite a while and kept avoiding it.  The short blurb provided this:

After it’s discovered that Meryem (Özgü Namal) has been raped, the young girl is ostracized by her family and community, who hold her accountable for the “crime.” To salvage the family name, her father, Tahsin (Emin Gursoy), orders Cemal (Murat Han) to murder Meryem.

I’m not sure how I had happened on the title but I’ve been searching for films from Iran, Iraq, Egypt this past year and Bliss must have dropped into the sweep.  You can see why, with no other information, I wouldn’t be anxious to press Go.  As it was late last night, and I was up, and my wife asleep –who particularly would not be curious to see behind the blurb–  I thought I’d either  give it a chance or delete it.  Am I glad I began.  This is a film I would recommend to everyone, and I do specifically to you, now.

Bliss starts of with one of the most striking opening sequences, by Mirsad Herovic, you’re likely to see in a hundred movies.   The top half of the screen is  filled by an enormous rounded hill. A dark shoreline bisects  the horizontal center and a  perfect reflection of the hill fills the bottom of the screen.  The camera pans to the left showing the shore of the lake, a herd of white sheep in the middle distance and then, rising as it points down, the body of a woman is revealed, splayed like a pin-wheel counterclockwise on the muddy shore.  Back to the sheep, tightly circling clockwise and then the face of the shepherd, lined and unhappy, looking at the body, moving slowly from her socks, along her loose fitting trousers, a bit of upper thigh showing, to her fully clothed body.  Her hair fanned out around her injured face.  Next we see, reflected in the muddy water, the figure of the man walking away, the body drapped over a shoulder like a half empty sack.  He treks in front of a high wall of white cliff dwellings as more people begin to drift into the scene. No one stops him or gathers to ask what has happened.  They look askance, as if they already know.   Beneath all this a beguiling score is playing, partly ominous, partly reflective. And so it begins.

The early part of the film is all in black and white, or extremely muted colors.  The girl Meryem [Özgü Namal] is locked alone in an empty, dirt-floored shack.  Read more of this post

Turkey: Water Disaster

An environmental catastrophe is threatening central Turkey, once the country’s breadbasket, where farmers are depleting the water table after the hottest summer in living memory. …

The drop in water table levels – averaging 27 metres across the plateau in the last 25 years – has had disastrous effects. Dozens of lakes have disappeared, taking their wildfowl with them. Others, including the 1,500sq km salt lake that lies in the centre of the plain, are shrinking fast.

“If things go on as they are now,” Mr Nalbantcilar said, “the whole plain will be a desert within 30 years.”

Climate change is part of the problem. Always low, rainfall over the plateau now appears to be decreasing.

Tukish Disaster