Reflections on violence in Turkey published on Medium

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to publish something I had started writing a month prior, in the wake of the third bombing here in Ankara within six months. Wanting to balance my professional concerns with my urge to speak my mind, I decided to publish it because of my convictions about the piece.

It discusses both the basic context of each of the bombings, as well as the impact medias have on the mediation and discussion of such events in the United States.

The article is called, “What Terrorism Coverage Has To Do With Terrorism- Notes From Ankara A Month On,” and if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, please feel free to click through to my new Medium page and check it out!

John Kasich is No Moderate

My friends over at AMERICAblog ran a series delineating the many ways John Kasich’s record doesn’t match up with the moderate image he has tried to project throughout the Republican presidential primary. As a born-and-bred Ohioan, I hopped on the chance to contribute. You can check out an except below, and head on over to AMERICAblog to read it, and the whole series, in full.

What’s happening regarding abortion access and women’s health issues in my hometown of Toledo is even more baffling when compared to the existing regulations in my current place of residence, Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. Ankara has a population of roughly 4.6 million, whereas the population of the state of Ohio is about 18 million. In the entire state of Ohio there are currently 9 abortion providers. In the city of Ankara alone, there are 129. By a simple per-capita measure, that makes it 56 times more difficult to find an abortion clinic in Ohio than it is in Ankara.

As a native Ohioan who faces constant questioning about my experience as a non-Muslim American woman living here in Turkey, I cite this statistic not only because it’s a useful example to counter the assumptions the average American has about women and the Middle East, but also because it is a telling example of just how regressive policies affecting women are under John Kasich, and in the United States more generally. To be clear, Turkey’s regulations regarding abortion access are far from perfect, but it is telling that in a country notorious for its conservative leadership, abortion access remains far more attainable for the average woman here than in the state of Ohio under John Kasich.

 

29 Ekim: Cumhuriyet Bayramı

Cumhurriet Bayramı, celebrated on 29 October, is the date celebrating the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the day the state was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a national holiday, the equivalent of the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. As such, we had a half day of work the Monday prior, and classes were cancelled and the university closed in observance of the holiday on Tuesday. In my classes the week before I discussed the similarities in the commemoration of the two days between America and Turkey, including the presence of parades, fireworks, the hanging of flags, and speeches by politicians. Some may argue that both celebrations, aside from their obvious nationalism, can perhaps be seen by their celebrants as inherently anti-colonial as well.

A display in Eskisehir

A display in Eskisehir

In the morning I went with my roommate to purchase a flag for us to display from our balcony- it was important for her to express her pride in the Republic through this gesture. Though flags and Ataturk’s image are displayed throughout the year in some/many places (particularly at government establishments, like my public university, where Ataturk’s image is displayed in each classroom, my office, at the entrance to the building, in a statue outside the building, at the university gates, etc.) on Republic Day a Turkish flag was hung at the entrance of nearly every shop in the city center, from windows and apartment balconies as well.

flags on display in K Town

flags on display in K Town

For many complicated political and social reasons, celebrations in Kırıkkale, to my knowledge, were primarily limited to these displays, though there was a small gathering in the city square in the evening. However, my roommate and I followed observances of the holiday across the country via news on TV. In the morning, we watched commemorative celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, where the Prime Minister and President were present. An elaborate parade was held that included Ankara sword dancers in traditional costumes, a symphonic marching band, and flanks of costumed marchers imitating Ottoman battle marches, in full regalia. The colors and types of their costumes including symbolic representations of Islam, the former provinces of the Ottoman empire (intended to symbolize the unity of the Turkish nation) and more. IMG_1171

My roommate and I took advantage of the day off by hosting my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and their Turkish roommates for a veritable Turkish smorgasbord. The meal included my first attempts (in Turkey at least) of two classic traditional foods: milföy and sarma dolma, with the necessary accompanying cecik (pronounced jeh-jik). Incidentally, those familiar with the food of the region in general, and/or my cooking may be aware that these foods have cousins if not twins in Arab cuisine: Milfoy is like börek (another Turkish food), which is similar to fatayer (stuffed, flaky, savory pastries, i.e. the popular spinach pie often known in the States by its Greek name, spanakopita); mine were stuffed with a mixture of beyaz peynir, a soft, sour white cheese, paprika, and finely chopped parsley.

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Sarma dolma and cecik are simply the Turkish names for my favorite food combo: warak ‘einab wa laban wa kheir, stuffed grape leaves and a yogurt sauce (which includes cucumber, garlic, salt, and when I make it, more akin to the Turkish variety, lemon juice, dill, mint and sumac).

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Later in the day we watched new coverage of the grand opening of the Marmaray in Istanbul, which runs underneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian continents via standard gauge rail for the first time. It is also the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel. The political and symbolic significance of the choice to debut this incredible technological achievement on the date of the 90th anniversary of the Republic couldn’t be missed—in a speech President R.T. Erdogan said, in effect, even if you don’t like me, please be proud of this achievement. The vision of progress with which the Republic and its founder began, the message is sent, continues today.

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

Later, we watched gatherings in Izmir, where massive throngs of people stood chanting the equivalent of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, which was recently made non-mandatory in a package of ‘democratization’ reforms Back in Ankara, many marched with candles, symbolizing their individual roles in Turkish democracy. As is tradition, thousands visited Anitkabir, the final resting place of M.K. Ataturk as a commemorative act as well. In the evening, Istanbul had a fantastic fireworks display along the Bosphorus river, which was shown live on national news networks. A friend with whom I watched the display very genuinely remarked: “I hope Ataturk can see us now. I wonder what he would think.”

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Türkiye’ye hoş geldiniz (Welcome to Turkey)

I’ve been in Turkey for almost two weeks now… here’s the recap.

I’m Flying Away

My flight took me from DCA, Reagan National Airport, to JFK in New York City, to Rome, to Istanbul, and finally to Ankara. I met one of my fellow Fulbrighters in JFK while waiting to receive boarding passes, and from there our group kept growing with each flight. BY the time we arrived to Istanbul, there were at least 20 of us all traveling together. It was a bit of an ordeal there: we had to go through customs and collect all of our baggage, then re-check it all on a domestic flight (Istanbul to Ankara). This was my first time attempting to speak Turkish to native speakers. I was able to (somewhat) successfully use basic greetings, numbers, and direction phrases to check and pay for my baggage, find my next flight, and navigate the airport. From the airport in Ankara we took a shuttle bus to a bus station, and then shared taxis to our hotel.

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Orientation 101

view from my hotel room

Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, was the location for our ten day orientation program, arranged by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Niza Park Otel, in Çankaya district, served as headquarters for our massive group of 77 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). We shared rooms in the hotel, were served fabulous buffet meals consisting primarily of authentic Turkish foods 3 times each day, and had orientation meetings and training sessions from 9-5 in a basement conference room. The sessions were grueling, but very thorough, intensive, and necessary. They spanned a range of topics, including the history and current political climate in Turkey, the structure of the Turkish educational system, intensive Turkish language instruction, and workshops and training related to our purpose here in Turkey, namely, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). We had the opportunity to have frank and enlightening conversations with Turkish educators and political scientists as well as American diplomats about various ongoing geo-political concerns. We were given a number of supplemental teaching materials during orientation, 2 novels about Americans in Turkey, and a beginner’s Turkish textbook and workbook.

a sample of the delicious meals served at orientation

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning Turkish. It is an agglutinating language, meaning that suffixes are attached to words to modify and create new ones, as in German. While the grammar is very straightforward, with very few exceptions, it can be daunting to face down long words with seemingly endless strings of consonants. In addition, Turkish has systems of vowel and consonant harmony which is essentially a formula that determines spelling for suffixes (more to come on that later… I understand the concept but definitely haven’t mastered it in practice yet). It has also been fun for me to discover shared vocabulary and cognates between Arabic and Turkish… though the grammar is quite different, I think it is definitely giving me a leg up on vocabulary in come contexts. For example, the TV show currently on in the background is called Intikam, which I knew to mean “revenge” without having to consult a dictionary. You can expect to read much more about the Turkish language, and its parallels with Arabic as my year here progresses.

Field Trips and Nighttime Escapades

My time in Ankara confirmed the cliché that sometimes the best learning happens outside the classroom. In addition to our daytime “dungeon sessions,” as they came to be known, various excursions were also organized on our behalf. One evening our group walked to the home of an American diplomat, where we had a lovely reception and were able to speak with people with a wide range experiences in the Foreign Service. This reception was followed by a delicious authentic Turkish meal in a restaurant, complete with meze (appetizers), a main course with meat, dessert, and rakı, an aniseseed liquor I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with previously in Lebanon, where it is known as araa’(k).

We also took a trip during the daytime to Anıtkibir, the mausoleum and museum dedicated to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The massive complex is visually stunning, and includes the War of Independence Museum, dedicated to Ataturk and the founding of the Turkish Republic more generally. The museum included items belonging to Atatürk (the jewelry, household items, and clothing were my favorites) and murals and artifacts depicting the battle at Çanakkale, and more. I also loved the intricate mosaics which adorned the ceiling of one portion of the site.

A view of Ankara from Anıtkabir

close-up of mosaic tile ceiling

close-up of mosaic tile ceiling

a child at Anitkabir

a child at Anitkabir

In addition, we visited 2 other museums. One was the private collection of Rahmi M. Koç, who we were told we could think of as something of a Turkish Rockefeller. It is an industrial museum, with various cultural collections related to industrialization, education, home life, pop culture and more. For example, one room consisted entirely of model trains from various eras and places; another began with typewriters and ended with Atari video game sets. At this museum, which was housed in an old, beautiful çengelhan, we also had an elaborate restaurant meal.

the  evolution of typing machines at RMK Museum

the evolution of typing machines at RMK Museum

We also visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. I particularly enjoyed this museum because I spent my time there glued to the side of a fellow Fulbrighter who had studied Hittite language and culture for her major at the University of Chicago. Exploring this museum with her was the dual experience of having a personal tour by an expert, and watching a kid in a candy store… but with 10 times that excitement level. Because we only had a short time there, I intend to go back to the museum again with her when we are all gathered in Ankara this winter for our mid-term session with the Commission.

Hittite Artifacts

Hittite Artifacts

Bronze Tablet

Bronze Tablet

I learned from my time in Beirut that the fastest and most effective way to meet new people and get used to trying out a new language is by hitting the town. Beginning on my very first night, fellow Fulbrighters who’ve spent time in Ankara before helped show me the ropes and take advantage of everything Ankara has to offer, introducing me to local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Ankara is especially known for its live music scene, and I got to hear many different examples of this, including Turkish pop and rock (sing-alongs, maybe the equivalent of the way my family sings along at the Village Idiot in Maumee), something like a funk-soul jam band, covers of American pop by a live band, DJs, and an epic heavy metal band with a badass female vocalist! Hearing all this awesome music must have inspired me, because I even got the nerve up to sing karaoke at a nightclub in the trendy Kızılay district. Turns out that even around 3 a.m., Turks know all the words to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics… I only wish all the Chasers had been there to harmonize the breakdowns with me! Groups of us Americans made some awesome memories exploring Ankara in this way, and I was able to make connections with some people that I hope to strengthen throughout the year (it’s only an hour away).

Re-orienting Myself

Every day has been full of excitement, challenges, epiphanies and memory lapses (they say you need to use new vocabulary 10-15 times in context before it sticks!). Though sometimes things are not always ideal, I am making a concerted effort to view the silver lining in each new circumstance as it arises- not a bad way to approach life no matter where you are. (A gross example: my new apartment has only a Turkish toilet… my legs will be much stronger upon my return!) A few weeks before my departure, when I was very stressed and anxious, my friend, colleague and roommate gave me some very sage advice. He said, in effect, Tess, you can either sit here making yourself sick with worry, or you can start to take measures, however small, to prepare yourself. He was absolutely right, and I’ve needed to make that attitude something of a modus operandi here so far. When that isn’t sufficient, I engage in the Turkish practice of taking a break with a cup of tea or Turkish coffee. My friends here and I keep reminding ourselves how hard we will laugh at ourselves when we look back on these first few weeks at the end of this adventure…
I’ve settled into an apartment with a very sweet Turkish colleague of mine here in Kırıkkale, and as of today I have internet access here at home. (Yay!!!) Expect much more to come (hopefully with more regularity) on the Turkish language, the city of Kırıkkale and its university where I will be teaching (classes start Monday!), music, culture, my travels, and, of course, food. Until then, as we say here, güle güle (bye bye!) and iyi gecelar (good night!)