It is late and I am tired. I just want to go to bed but the ruckus outside will never allow me to sink into a sweet slumber. The ruckus is due to what seems to be the entire town of Bodrum protesting about the Kurdish terrorist group, the PKK, having resumed their terrorist attacks in the Eastern part of Turkey after a ceasefire. The most recent ones a bomb that killed 16 soldiers and a road-side ambush that killed 14 police officers have people incensed. There is one thing about living in Turkey that I find amazing and that is that the populous regularly take to the streets to outwardly manifest their collective emotion. In this case it is anger at their citizens being slaughtered and their solidarity with their fallen comrades.
Now, let us be clear and explain that the Turkish government is mounting a campaign against Kurdish fighters (those who are successfully defeating ISIS) and the PKK. So one could argue that all is fair in war and love, as simplistic as that seems. Unfortunately, it is a game of aggression and retaliation that is being played out by the government and their sworn enemy. The PKK has always been such an enemy because it mounts terrorist attacks against the Turkish population as a tool to gain Kurdish independence. The fanatical Kurds wish for their own separate state, a struggle that has been going on for years. Currently, however the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which has ruled Turkey since 2003 suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls in a recent election which saw the Kurdish political party gain seats in Parliament and deny his government their rule. So this time, for an oligarch like Erdoğan, it is personal.
Despite the government’s actions, the Turkish men and women on the street do not take the orchestrated deaths of their own lightly and their hours of protest in cities across the country bear this out. When Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, lead the country to victory in their War of Independence, women and children came out alongside their men to defeat the foreign soldiers on their soil. I have seen amazing early footage of old ladies clambering up a mountain side with cannon balls in their arms, only to deliver them to the soldiers manning the cannon and then return back to the pile to start the whole exercise over again. The Turkish flag is an homage to this battle, the colour of red being the spent blood of the people who would not let their country fall to foreign rulers. If I can say one thing about my adopted brothers and sisters they are tough as well as fiercely nationalistic.
Please note that I am educated enough to not take a side against the Kurds, for I live amongst some wonderful people who hail from this proud and ancient background and sympathise with their longing for an independent homeland. What I am endeavoring to state is the patriotism of the Turkish people. One thing that kept coming up in my conversations with people here and abroad was the threat of ISIS. Only this evening I was chatting with my mother over Skype when she mentioned a radio program about Turkey which she had listened to yesterday. The program explored various aspects of Turkey from Turkish coffee to the intelligence reported cells of ISIS already in the country. An intelligence expert said that they were now concerned that ISIS was planning to set off a bomb in a touristic area; either in Istanbul or in Bodrum where we live. My mother, naturally was concerned about her grandchild, daughter and son-in-law but her concern did not spark the same in me. As I listened to the horns blowing in support of the protestors’ chanting, I thought about how thankful I was to live here and how if I left Turkey it would be because I wanted to and not because I was being forced to. It is not that I have a death wish, far from it. I want to live for as long as possible to experience this beautiful, fraught, crazy, amazing, tragic world in which I find myself but I want to live on my own terms.
I had a discussion with a Turkish acquaintance recently about how safe I felt here despite all of the trouble across the border. I said to him: Have I got it wrong? I am under the impression that if ISIS were to bring their war to Turkey then they would be beat back by every living Turk in this country. He laughed and said that I had got that right. The Turks would defend their land to the death. Turkey is a country worth fighting for. We got onto this line of discussion because I have pondered like many other people in the world, why the Syrians fled their country instead of fighting for it. Many British, for instance, having defeated Hitler’s armies and lost countless men in the first and second world wars are letting their opinions be known all over social media and the internet in general. Their opinion is that the Syrian people need to sort out their own country; they simply just left and didn’t fight for their homes. On the surface it does appear like that, however it is not the whole story. Firstly, Syria in recent years has suffered a prolonged drought brought about by climate change. This drought was so severe that it ended with a mass migration of people from the country to the cities in search of food and water. The Assad government did nothing to help its own people weather this climatic devastation, in fact it just kept on doing what it has done for many years which is terrorise a population into submission. Imagine that at any moment your father, brother, uncle, or son could be hauled away by Assad’s’ secret police and tortured or disappeared for any perceived anti-government act. The insecurity and distrust that would foster in oneself, in neighborhoods and communities. Not to mention that in recent years with the start of the rebellion against the Assad regime, related to the Arab Spring, the government started attacking and killing its people en masse. The country far from being a safe, secure place was one of chaos: death and destruction. In short, it was not a place worth fight for.
When I think of Turkey, despite its issues with the PKK, human rights, manipulation of the press, and corruption at many levels, I am still amazed that those things on day to day basis, although disconcerting are not enough to make one’s life here worthless; far from it. In fact that same esprit that made people come out in droves to show their solidarity with those killed by terrorism today is the same one that engendered the Gezi Park protests and the ongoing resistance by liberal, free-thinking Turks against institutionalised oppression. So the government here is being a bad, bad boy in many ways, but it is also building roads, investing in the economy, offering free university educations, and keeping millions of Syrian refugees from harm. It is also not killing its citizens en masse. The people here know that this government has to go, thus the strategic voting that put the Kurdish Party on the map in the aforementioned recent elections and they take their stand by discussing this, using their vote and making public declarations on social media and other forums. However, like most every country in the modern world, the Turks are not their government, they are something totally different. They are a nationalistic hive that was born of the memory of the war of independence. They are the olive trees that they lovingly cultivate and revere. They are the beaches and sea vistas that their eyes seek. They are the ancient sites dotted almost everywhere throughout the land. They are the tea plantations of the North and the peach trees of the South. They are the hospitality of strangers and the kindness of neighbors. Above all this however they are one tribe with many faces who will stand together to defend their homeland.
At the same time, the Syrian people are not an ongoing repressive regime by a dictatorial self-styled ruling family. They are not an abandoned farmhouse which was once surrounded by lush arable land and is now surrounded by a dry wasteland. They are not a bombed out house in Damascus which was once a family home. They are not an Islamic Caliphate declared on their land by brutal rapists and murderers. They are not the forces of history, politics and climate change that has changed their country in a few years so that it has become unlivable. The Syria of the past may have been worth fighting for but is isn’t now, at least this is the impression that I am getting from the stories shared by the media and by those I know personally.
So I understand why so many Syrians have fled Syria instead of fight for a shell of a country which is no longer providing them with the basics of human life. However, as I sat out on the balcony earlier listening to the cheering, honking, protesting voices risen in a collective fervor, I am struck by the contrast of Turkey and its neighbor. I am struck by the idea already expressed, that a country is not its government but its people. At the end of the day, if a gun toting, lawless, evil marauding group of criminals came into your town and threatened your life and the lives of your friends and family what would happen? What would you and those around you do? Can you answer that question? Do you know if your neighbor would take up arms with you and help you defend your homes, your families, your lifestyles, your values, all that you would only realise that you cherish, once it was under threat? It is not a question of racial identity because I have no doubt that just as the homogenous society of Turkey would kick any intruder’s butt, I would also say that the multicultural society of Canada would be a fighting and not fleeing force. The same could be said for the Australian and American societies. Rather it is a question of community and the people who make up its members.
I was telling my friend about a thought spelled out in one of Stuart Wilde’s books, I cannot remember which one, where he discusses law and order. He asserts that it is not the police who keep law and order but the people. A basic, non-verbal agreement is struck between people that states: I’ll tell you what, I won’t come into your house and murder you and you don’t do the same to me. That also goes for stealing, raping, abusing etc… and we’ll get along alright. It is only when that agreement is broken by one of the parties that the police actually have a job to do. Think about the population of where you live and then the amount of murders per year. I would imagine that in most countries the ratio per capita it is minute. Not so in Syria. Somehow, be it the environmental or governmental pressures on people, this agreement broke down and now almost half of its population has been displaced, some of which is now wanting to settle in Europe.
Will those Syrians who settle in Europe make that unspoken human contract with their new compatriots? Will the existing law and order, not to mention morals and values found in Europe be adopted and upheld by its newest citizens or will they bring their previously understood way of life into their new lands and fail to fully agree with their new communities? I can’t really answer that question for them but I can answer it for our family because we are going to make a new agreement with a new set of people in a new village. We love our home but we are tired of our recent arrivals’ behaviors. I am tired of walking past a baby that is sleeping on a blanket by the side of the road because its parents ran away from refugee camps where they were clothed, fed and housed. Its parents then ran away from community organisers who want to take them to a centre where they can sleep, eat and shower and take care of their children in comfort. Their parents prefer to stay on the sidewalks of our town so that they can bother the tourists by begging thus driving away all of the people that drive our economy. I am tired of being asked in very passable Turkish if I have anything to give, because actually, because of them I have not. The patience and charity of the local people is as dried up as our bank accounts. So off we go to a little house in the country where we know that with our new neighbors: an old Turkish couple, a Turkish bachelor and a group of Malaysian masseuses we can have a that agreement. That agreement that makes this country and every other country such a this one, great. That same agreement between men, women and children that makes a country worth fight for.