This was written more than 10 years ago and how little we expected things to get so chaotic! Pandora’s box was opened yet again. Still people protest against war, though it seems not as much as before. And wars in the Middle East have proliferated for many reasons, among them rampant fundamentalism and capitlaistic gain. On Nov. 11 we see a lot of “Lest We Forget” reminders, but our human memories are very short and we seem to forget very quickly that war kills people and causes great hardship. Savasi hayir!
Actually, it is savash-a high-er—no war. That is the tone here. I thought perhaps some of you were curious about what the deliberations about war mean here, so I will tell you what I understand of it.
A few days ago, after some months of negotiations with the US, the Turkish parliament voted against allowing the US to use Turkish soil to invade Iraq. It was a very gutsy move, actually, as a lot of issues are connected to it. For example, the US has been handing out money, or at least promises of money, left right and center. They offered Turkey billions of dollars in free money and loans, including some money to revamp some military bases in SE Turkey. That money is already coming in and is being used, though it is not considered war money. Turkey’s economy is still suffering from lost revenue due to the Gulf War. Iraq is on the Turkish border, and it used to be a trading partner. Turkey is aware that its economy would tank in the event of war, so the government is trying to get what it can without looking like it is being “bought” by the US. Turkey is in a ticklish position, because it borders Iraq and Iran, among other places, and is a secular country (though 99% Muslim) in a rough neighbourhood. It is also more prosperous than some of its neighbours, though it is certainly not rich. People are aware the population of Iraq is Muslim, even though many are Shia, which is a different sect than the majority Sunnis here, sort of like the difference between the Pentecostals and the Episcopalians. However, the people here express concern for the people in Iraq, because they know a lot of innocent people will die. Turkey does not want to upset its neighbours. It also does not want to upset the US, and I think this no, which was totally democratic, and for once went along with the majority of the people, will become a yes in the future. This is the bargaining process. However, at least Turkey made a stand, and that is very admirable.
There are several complicating matters for Turkey in all this. One concern about the border with Iraq is that it is in the area where there was a lot of strife with the PKK, one of whose aims was to set up an independent Kurdistan in that area, along with Kurds from northern Iraq. Even now there are Turkish Kurds in Iraq and Iraqi Kurds in Turkey, for various reasons. Already refugees are starting to trickle into Turkey, another kind of financial and moral burden. The Kurds in northern Iraq are afraid that Turkey is going to take over that area and Turkey is afraid that that area will try to become a kind of Kurdistan.
There have been quite a few war protests for some months now. The day that there were protests all around the world, there was a big one here in Taksim. I did not go to it because I was having house problems. There have been smaller ones, including one of Kurdish women marching up Istiklal Caddesi in their colourful clothes, along with earnest young students in jeans, chanting “savasi hayir”. At a small protest that I walked by the other day as I was leaving work, there were two busloads of police officers standing on the street in helmets and batons, and a small group of people collected to chant slogans. People walking by looked with curiosity, but mostly kept on walking. It is starting to get old hat, and, besides, the government had just voted no.
There is not much of a concern for safety here. One person expressed some fears about chemical weapons reaching here, but that is unlikely, and it is unlikely that Istanbul would be attacked for any reason. The main fear is the economy, as it has already suffered some jolts in the recent past. However, I know that everyone, including me, will deal with it, because there is no other alternative. Turks know how to live cheap, and so do I. However, it will cause hardship for many people who are already very poor. A lot of them live in this neighbourhood—they live on anything from $500 to $800 a month, or less. Already gas has gone up in price, a peace tax, the government called it. Prices are always going up anyway, but the big fear is that the Lira will drop drastically, like it did a couple of years ago, dropping by 50% literally overnight.
I don’t have any sense of anti-Americanism, not towards individuals. Yes, I know I am Canadian, but for most people outside North America, I look American (and what does a Canadian look like, anyway? Or an American, for that matter?). People are completely against George Bush, and I certainly agree with them. He has successfully turned the world against the US and made it a scarier place to live. He is not respected here. In contrast, Bill Clinton is spoken of with great respect and affection. However, now the US is not looked at kindly, but most people seem to make the distinction between the government and the people. I think they also recognize that many American people do not want the war, and it is mostly perceived that it is Bush and his cronies that want it.
So, a little perspective. As I sit here at my laptop in my kitchen, I look out across the Bosporus to the Asian side. I can see the ancient Chalcedon and the shores where people have lived for more than 3000 years. A little closer, I can look out at the palace that rises above the Golden Horn and the ancient Byzantine walls. Over these three millennia, those walls have been attacked by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Genoese, and Turks, among others. There have been skirmishes, sieges, and outright wars just across the water from where I live. There was intrigue in the palace, there was negotiating and fighting. Somehow it seems different, since it was long ago and then men fought hand to hand. Now war is even dirtier, with high tech weapons allowing men to kill each other from afar.
In the end, however, life goes on. I will continue to get up and walk to work along the most famous street in Turkey. If the war happens, it will be very far from here, though it will affect us all.