mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » August
I have to pay a pending debt with you. A few weeks ago I said that when leaving Turkey I’d talk about their entrance into Europe. I’ve was about to try and skiver it to see if you realised but finally here I am telling you something about It.
The question is; Is Turkey prepared to get into Europe? My answer is nearly. And I think that’s what it means “enter” Europe, if they were ready, they would already be members. I’ve talked with many travellers about this topic and all agree that they are very close, people that has been in Romania say that it’s a lot poorer and they are already in the union, so, being 100% ready seems not to be the key point.
The entrance of Turkey has a few faces, on one side you expand into a huge market of over 70 million people, on the other you have a competitor, and this is one of the important topics, by 2020 it’ll be the country with the largest population having more euro-representatives, this will make other countries like Germany and France to loose some power in the union.
Turkey has made enormous improvements relating to human rights, and even though it is used as excuse(Kurds and Cyprus issues) it seems this is not a point of decision to get in or not to get in.
Seems there is only one point open, religion. This is the topic that the non experts focus their discussions on. Does Europe want a Muslim country? To clarify here, the first is that it is a secular country, the second is that yes, it has a Muslim majority. But religion is lived in a “light”, moderated way same as the rest of Europe lives religion. Also religion is loosing strength from the point of view that youngsters don’t pay that much attention to it and practice it less.
What should we do with this country hungry of europeanization? The easy and comfortable solution is to say that we are different and that we can’t get together, each one in it’s own way. If we don’t understand each other, why see each other?
The difficult solution is to understand each other, looking for the common things(It’s a Mediterranean country having a lot in common with other European countries) and search for the common cultures. Yes, I say try because maybe even accepting them, even stepping forward to understanding the big differences can be to much and we can coexist making true that it’s impossible and it’s better we live apart, in this way at least we’d know for sure, we had tried.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Even we live in a globalize world at the end each individual, each country in this case needs to identify itself with a similar entity. If Europe rejects Turkey it will search for other “friends” and this may be the most important topic, from the first time I came to Turkey six years ago the country has improved dramatically growing at 11% every year, it’s a country that self provides food, is building highways every where and you can breath modernization, if it continues getting better at this pace it will become a power and if we are not it’s “friend” it has other pretenders. With it’s geopolitical situation it has plenty to choose from.
It can be-friend Russia, which seems it is again extending it’s tentacles, not only to it’s lost ex-republics but also to new countries. It can join Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the religious bind, the bad part for Europe here is that a neighbour country may become more radical Muslim wich wouldn´t be good. As a last option it could fall under Chinese hands that tries to grow in all direction. Any of these partnerships means that Europe would not grow while it’s competitors would, and that’s one of the reasons why the European Union exists, to be competitive. Seems that the only “player” that doesn´t want to grow is Europe, meaning that incomparison it would become even smaller.
Not being someone’s friend means nearly being an enemy. Europe now has an energy dependence over Russia via the pipeline that brings gas from the middle east and central Asia. The new pipeline Nabucco that goes via Turkish ground would eliminate that dependency from Russia, well only if we are Turkish “friends“.
If Ataturk had lived longer(he had a very pro European thinking, made Turkey a secular country, changed the calendar to the same as Europe, stopped using the Arab writing, changed the dressing to European, allowed women to vote and be voted…) they probably would be in Europe but as he didn’t the debate is still open. When Spain entered the EU we were much less ready than what Turkey is now. Turkey is making very big efforts to get closer to Europe, but any day they’ll get tired, each time Europe rejects them it’s a humiliation and one day they’ll accept an offer from the other side of the world.
At the same time there are people who think ‘How can anyone want to enter the European Union now with all the problems going on in it? Turkey asked to enter in 1956 and until very recently their request has not been formally accepted. Croatia, the other country with an approved request, seems to be less interested to enter every time because of the delay in the EU answer.
This may reflect that Europe is in crisis, maybe helped by the economical crisis, maybe because it is time to doubt and find itself. England proposes a free commerce model in which countries like Turkey would fit. France and Germany, the countries that have put more effort historically into the EU idea, aim for a more complete union, in more aspects than the economical, a more “beautiful” union that Europe seems not to assimilate. Maybe it’s already too heterogeneous between northern Europe, southern Europe and eastern Europe.
If you are thinking that I’m avoiding a Yes or No answer you are right, I don’t know enough about economics, macro economics and history to give an answer but I wanted to show you another point of view not just adding a Muslim country or not.
Maybe we just need to make the effort of understanding, maybe it’s good to be cautious, the typical European position. Maybe Europe needs to know what she wants, or it will be like getting a musician for a music group before knowing if the group is going to play jazz or rap.
Maybe it’s not the moment, maybe it’s not the ideal partner, but the world is not ideal. Maybe admitting them is not the best, but maybe it’s better than not admitting them. Or not.
Robert Schuman, the proclaimed Father of Europe, said 60 years ago: “Europe will not be made at once, nor according to a single master plan of construction. It will be built by concrete achievements, which create de facto dependence, mutual interests and the desire for common action.”
Why the old Armenian capital is in Turkey is something I’ll tell you once I’m in Turkey, it’s not that I want to create a mystery. It’s that I haven’t read about it yet and I want to read about it in Armenia.
It’s magical, old and captivating. I saw it with an Italian accent, I came with a couple I met on the bus from Erzurum.
The pictures speak for themselves.
Old Armenian inscriptions.
One of the most striking buildings, and half of a church…
Between 100.000 and 200.000 people lived here at its prime, rivaling in importance with cities like Bagdad, Cairo or Constantinople. Ani was the first stop on the silk road after the Caucasus. In ancient times, as now, the cities with large commerce end up being the most important ones.
Fortunately some of the buildings are restored or are being restored. They look slightly too new or otherwise you can see others that are falling apart day by day.
Like this one.
The interior of the cathedral
A caravansaries, a caravan stop. The name is a bit strange but it’s how I’ve read it in several books.
Ani is nearly surrounded by a natural moat, these are the canyons that surround it.
It would be amazing kayaking down this river seeing Ani over the canyon but it’s quite likely you receive some shoots from the Armenian or Turk soldiers that take care of the border. It’s a closed border.
Until very recently the site was closed, even now a part of the enclave is closed.
It’s been very nice being in a country that, even you don’t understand the language, you understand the alphabet. If you see a bus, you can know if it’s yours without asking someone. From now until I’m back all the places will have an alphabet that I won’t understand.
Unique ambience. Melancholic maybe.
It’s not clear why Ani was abandoned making it a bit more eerie. It’s one of those mysteries of history. Maybe the frequent earthquakes? Maybe the big Tamerlane’s plunder in 1239?
I stop in Kars, it is the best place to visit Ani from and to cross the border to Georgia. I try to buy a Muslim hat. The man in the store is very talkative, he tells me in Turk in 20 minutes how his religion is. It’s a religious objects so I couldn’t expect some proselytism . I see that he does it with good intentions so I find it nice. I think the hat I want is not suitable for non-believers. He brings out another box with simpler hats and he tells me to choose from a white or a grey one, I like the gray one. I’d prefer the blue one I’ve seen on the old guy in the coffee place, but seems I don’t have that option. The shopkeeper gives me a gift of the hat with an enormous smile in his face. I say thanks for the hat and for inviting me to belong to his religion. I go to eat another kebab.
In a shop I try honey, very well known from the area.
And cheese, with the name if you have forgotten where have you bought it.
Kars has an impressive castle that dominates the city. Here it is getting dark. Tomorrow I cross to Georgia.
I wait for my bus to the Georgian border, the muhaidin calls for pray once more, a dog barks to him. I have another tea in the “saloon” that is full of men. My last Turkish moments.
I leave the Asian Turkey, this Anantolia that has kept me little by little, I think it’s been a total of five weeks and now is time to leave it behind. I go to the Caucasus, my first ex- Soviet place. Gooood!
Write to you soon.
Another bus marathon, 22 hours. I thought on getting off in Diyarbakir, the centre of Kurd culture in Turkey, but when I crossed it by bus I found it a tasteless places, with no men in BOBMBACHOS pants, so I continued north in another uncomfortable bus for seven hours.
At 5:33 in the morning I arrived in Erzurum. It’s cold! Erzurum is 2000 meters high, the sun has just risen and my flipflopped feet transmit the cold sensation through my dorsal spine, my arms say the same. Cold still exists, I had even thought it was a fictitious feeling, and I really mean it, it was a sensation I started to doubt I’d remember.
The Palondeken ski resort is on the hill you see in the picture, they say it has incredible powder snow. Skiing is getting popular between the people that can afford it and they are extending the place. Seems it’s the best ski resort out of the 12 ointhe country, it even has sky jumps.
I arrive alone, Matt, after our days in Iraq has continued with his plan, he’s gone back to Syria. I stop two days to rest out of the heat and get updated with the blog, read a little bit and replace my sunglasses, an extra reason to have stopped in a place with a ski resort I imagined that they had more to offer, as a Syrian must be happy to have my cooool white sunglasses. I’m glad they were so scratched I sometimes didn’t wear them and preferred to be hit by the sun in my eyes, so the loss is not that bad.
A Cag Kebab, typical from the region, done on wood not in those heaters we see in Europe. I remembered this kebab from the time I went though Erzurum six years back. I’d lie if I’d tell you this didn’t help me make up my mind to stop here and not in another place. The table mat is a real Kilim
Seljuk style mosque, as you see the minarets are not thin and high as we are used to seeing, they are more fortified, more mountain style. This is the special style of all Erzurum buildings.
Here the Roman, Turk, Arab, Mongol, Armenian and Russian empires have passed through.
The city has a soviet atmosphere, it’s well structured with big avenues. There are a lot of students and even though it’s supposed to be very conservative I haven’t had that feeling.
It’s the highest Turkish capital, so the cold is warranted.
There is just one more Turkish stop, the old Armenian Capital.
It´s a very rural area.
Very… Ducks crossing the road.
To the Otogar to get another Bus. See you soon.
Once we step out of the car we started attracting looks; two guys stopped walking, his friends came near by, the shop assistants came out, a car drives slowly with the driver looking through the window. I look to the other side of the road and all the men that are in the café drinking tea and smoking water pipes are starring at us. This is what I imagined from Iraq before coming, that two tourists would stand out. In Dohuk we were not rising so much interest, it´s a place very near by the border and many people come here for a day to check the place, but now we are in a tiny village, a street with some shops and cafes at the side. The man that brought us here does not continue to Choman so we need to keep hitchhiking, there are more than 40 people looking at us.
The last lift to Choman was done by a guy that was a soldier, he showed us the ID to make us understand. He drives in a crazy way.
Finally Choman! As soon as we arrive our Dutch-Kurdish family offers us a place to sleep, a shower and… AN AMAZING DINNER… Mmmmmmm. Dolma, the dish of this part of the world I like the most. I intend to learn how to cook it once I´m back in Spain. I call them our Kurdish family but in fact we know them for three minutes from the day before and they´ve open their house to us completely.
They take us to see the villages around Choman, here there´s a forest with all kinds of trees, including the Mullberry of leaves which are eaten by the silk worm. With the heat it seams impossible that any vegetation survives.
We get close to the Iranian border, in Haj Omran, the last kilometres we see some little tents in blue plastic, we are told that they are to brew alcohol to send it to Iran. WAIT! In Iran it´s forbidden to drink, How are they going to send alcohol there?… I don´t understand it.
Man with traditional kurd dress. I love his belt, it´s just a few metres long and a piece of clothing that he twists around his waist. They all smile, they all reply back with a smile. People are surprisingly calm and nice. There are very few people that talk English and that makes communication difficult but they do as much as possible to help.
I kind of think on crossing to Iran from here but I want to go by Georgia and Armenia before getting into Iran and also I´d have to change all the planning and visa for Turkmenistan and it´s a pain.
We try some Iranian cookies that are sold in a shop near the border. They are delicious enough to make them a reason to visit the country.
We stop on the way to see how this man plays a typical instrument, he lives in this tent in a very humble way.
He seems to be in pain.
Waiting for dinner we go out to the terrace, there are ton´s of relatives to say hello to each other and to tell their stories, I think I shake hands with 40 people. The neighbours are also in their terrace, two young girls dressed very colourfully, one had some English, she said “hello”, luckily we had Avin(one of the daughters), that was the translator. After some questions about our trip they ask a question which is quite normal in this side of the world. “What religion do you follow?”, The first time I was asked “Are you chirstian?” was in Sarajevo by an ex-heroin addict from Montenegro, it that moment the question surprised me, now I´m used to hear this question.
Without agreement Matt and I replied; “None, I´m atheist” Arvin translated the answer. The neighbours were astonished, mouth half open, dilatated pupils and facial paralysis. They had the same face I´d have if I´d meet the Saddam Hussein, an alien, the Yetti or Jesus Christ himself. Astonished, they didn´t breath, they were pale. Never in their lives was a non believer in front of them, moreover, they´d never thought that there would be someone like that. They had met people from other religions, mainly Christians, someone not being muslim was not a problem for them but someone that had no religion, that didn´t have a god…
To help them recover their breath I told them that I was raised a catholic, I was baptised, made my first communion dressed as a little sailor(dind´t tell them this bit) and that I even got confirmation, but religion and I took different ways so we got distance in between. Matt said that in Australia it´s normal not been raised under a religion and that simply he does not believe in it. On of them the most talkative, had recovered her colour and asked “and… how do you do it?” jajajjaja, I can imagine what´s going through her head, “the may be kind of devils?” I think that she does not know how we guide ourselves in life.
Curiously Matt and I have similar Ideas. I start saying that you don´t need a religion to be a good person, that I was educated in a way that I know how to differenciate between good and bad. This sounds obvious but, normally, it calms people that if you don´t have a religion you are a lost soul.
The conversation continued for a while, we had a translator and we wanted them to understand our point of view. I think we made them understand that we were good people and that the same as they do good things to go to heaven, we think doing good things in life will attract good thing and being honest with yourself you´ll probably let you have a happy life. Who makes me start explaining this things in the blog? I just can hope that it does not sound too simplified.
After having some more Kurdish delights for dinner made by the mother some women came to talk with us, some relatives and friends from our host family.
We were asked about our country while they tell us things about their lives. We talk about religion, travelling and what we like from here. You can see the video “Made in Iraq II”. They had heard about our no-religion and they were curious to see us and ask.
It´s warm, we all sleep in the terrace, with the breeze the heat is supported better. Next day they take us to a village in the area and we then head to Arbil.
Soon from the capital city.
We are going to Erbil. It’s warm, warmer than other days!!! The taxis are modern but they hardly ever put the air conditioning on. I guess that if they don’t use it at 48 degrees then they don’t use it, and its because they probably could save money. The windows are down, normally even if it´s super warm the air refreshes you, it hit’s the sweat and you feel a bit fresh. Here that doens’t happened, the air hits my cheeks; it burns them, it hit’s on my arm; my skin get’s dry, it hit’s on my knee; it roasts it. My lower back is free between my pants and my t-shirt, instead of feeling cold I feel an intense, dry heat. The feeling is similar to being inside a hairdryer. I imagine naked rolling in snow.
I think about the story of the family that so kindly hosted us. When Saddam Hussein started his anti-Kurd policy there were international organizations working in Iraq. Apparently some of then didn’t have the right papers to work there legally even though they were helping. Saddam said that he’d kill the people that were illegal in the country and the people that collaborated with them. This was the case of the father of the family, he got his family and his things and went to Turkey, Greece and finished in Holland.
They have a house in Choman, the father seemed happy to visit his home, they come here every two years for a month with all the family. Now they face the challenge of immigration with his sons. His sons have been raised in a western country, the older daughters talk good Kurdish, they remember their childhood here and they feel the place as theirs, however they have lived in Holland practically all their lifes, including their teenager years. For the younger son this is probably more strange “something from his parents”. The cultural difference is big, the way of life, of dress, the food, the young way of entertainment… After these years out of Iraq they are not totally seen as Iraqis as they don’t live there, and in the west they are immigrants, they are in between two worlds, on one side they have more cultural heritage because they know two ways of life, on the other they don’t have a clear home.
Arbil is one of the warmest places in Iraq. We are told it’s 50 degrees but we don’t find a thermometer to ratify it. I’ve been hours with my hands wet in sweat, my fingers are wrinkled and the snots have become dry and hard hurting my nose. If I take a pen from my bag it burns, same with the coins or whatever you touch, all burn.
A man in Kurdish dressing. Love it! When the trip finishes I’ll have to do a list of all the things I say I love.
No coins, all notes.
I finish “The Alchemist”, the book that brought me here. I like it(another “love it” for the list), the idea of omens, of understanding the language of the world and of talking with the wind. If I ever meet the French girl that recommended it I’ll say thank you.
Walking by Erbil’s souk I see this drawing of Mecca. You can also buy a replica of the Kaaba, the black square stone which is the holiest place for Islam and which towards all of them pray.
We try to get a bus to come back to the border, but there are none. We get another shared taxi. We just see buses to Mosul, but every time “Mosul” comes up there’s someone coming to inform us not to go, like that man that took his hand through his neck making the noise of sliting it. To be sure we have the right information we call Berashi as a phone-translator, this must be the tenth time we call him.
Arbil is another place that claims to have been inhabited for a long time, the citadel. It’s UNESCO heritage.
With Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk are the most dangerous cities of Iraq, what probably means in the world.
In the taxi I think once more about these last days, the hospitality that they have after having had such a hard life. The country worth going, the best: the people. Definitely summer is not the time to come and visit, too dry and too war, the landscapes has lost the green they have in spring and sometimes you are more worried of not dying of dehydration than of enjoying what you are doing but it’s been very interesting to learn about the Kurds and their history, as they say “the other Iraq”.
I hope the Iraqi Kurdistan keeps being a peaceful and as nice a place as it’s now, they are doing fine, they have had a few years of stability. They don’t have it easy, today USA troops have left the country while there are cities in which people die constantly and they are surrounded by countries where the Kurds are not that free. In February 2008, for example, Turkey bombed the north of the Iraqi Kurdistan claiming that PKK was using it as a base for terrorist actions in Turkey.
The PKK is a political party/terrorist group pro Kurdish. They mainly act in Turkey where there’s a population of 14 million Kurds that until the year 2002 had forbidden the talk of Kurd in schools or having TVs and Radios in Kurd language. Turkey has loosened its laws in this aspect to get closer to Europe.
I come back to Turkey, to the Kurd zone, knowing more of its culture. I hope it’s not that warm.
See you soon.
Here you have the second part of the Iraq video. As in the other one, there is some unconnected content plus I’ve broken one of my style rules, that is not to cut the same take. I forget myself because of the heat I wasn’t able to do more, and being Iraq, sounds so peculiar that the mistakes are forgotten.
Matt, thanks for being my camera man!!! I remind you his web, he’s got some more videos about Iraq: leavemehere.wordpress.com
In the next post i’ll tell you a bit more about what was that q&a session with all those women.
I love the label “Made in Iraq” there’s probably not many products with that label, there are fruit and vegetables, but nothing like that “family sauce” that had a non very definable taste.
Before finishing the post I’d like to tell you a bit more of what this thing of the Kurdish Iraq is.The Kurdish Iraq is the northern region of Iraq. Since 1970 it has a great deal of independence as the “Autonomous State of Kurdistan” was created.
Since then it has self managed having as a capital the city of Erbil. Saddam Hussein made all possible moves under his hand to wipe out the Kurds until 1991 when the governments of US and England took action, declared the area as a non fly zone(to avoid attacks) and gave more independence to the Kurdish Iraq having a totally independent government from Baghdad. It really works as a different state with it’s own flag and national anthem.
Politically it’s been able to keep peace having two different political parties.
If you want to know more or see a map, just get into this link from Wikipedia.
Hope you’ve find it interesting.