Thursday, January 17, 2008

Antakya, Turkey

In places as evocative as Antioch I am tempted to use the old name to start my post. Here, however, I must use the current name. Whatever images the name of Antioch can conjure up are better than this place. You can dream of Seleucid courts, Roman orgies, saintly Christians a' preaching, crusaders slaughtering or Arab grandeur but you won't find much trace of it here.

It's not an unpleasasnt place but it is just a smallish Turksh town with an old church. a few bazaars and an OK museum. It's current role on the trail is to provide a few comforts before the entry into Syria.

As such I won't say more about the place but will do a little Turkey post. See below:

From a travel perspective Turkey reminds me of Thailand. It's a pleasant place with lots to see and everything is easy to figure out and generally works. I say generally since this is the third time I have had to log on again thanks to electricity cuts. As a hub Turkey is even more important than Thailand. It is on the southern end of those doing the Eastern Europe trail, the jumping off point for a lot of Central Asian trippers and the entry/exit point of the Middle Eastern lot.

For all its gems and overall pleasantness, Turkey for me shares another distinction with Thailand. It's interesting but not truly fascinating and it's nice rather than great. Snobs like me who want to be the only person in the pub to have been to XYZ are blase about Turkey before even getting here. The internal ponce can't help but whine that everything is too easy.

I don't want to short change the place either. Turkey has a lot to offer to tourists and is intriguing in many ways. For a start, Turkey is important and its woes, triumphs and debates should be watched closely.

The biggie issue about Turkey is, of course, whether or not it should enter the European Union. The prospect of membership has been dangled in front of the Turks for a while and many hoops have been jumped through yet they are still out of the club. The Turks themselves are getting a bit tired of this and I reckon if some sort of definite timetable doesn't emerge in the next 5 years they may decide to sod it and do something else.

I have given an incredibly succint and ignorant explanation of the positions of European supporters and opponents of membership in my Armenia post. I am just as lazy and ignorant in Antakya as I was in Yerevan so I won't expand on it. Instead I will quickly lay out what I see as the pros and cons of letting Turkey into the Beethoven 9th club.

If we let them Ottomans in Europe we gain a large source of cheapish labour which we need badly. We also get a growing internal market and a nice big fuck-off army in case the EU gets its act together and decides to acquire some true clout. Economically Turkey is more or less ready ready to join and anyways we can't use
that excuse anymore. Not after we let Romania join.

The cons are having a new and very big border with poorish countries/ Turkey's Human Rights record is improving but still shit enough that it will mkeep a lot of European bureaucrats very busy and at out expense (at the moment they are off the hook for they have learnt to do as the Romans and use terrorism as an excuse for any nastyness they feel like inflicting). It will also take some work to convince the Turkish army that they are now just cannon fodder and don't get to play kingmakers anymore. The cheap labour thing wll only work for a short while until Turkey catches up which is why they want to join in the first place.

I haven't mentioned the Islam issue in either pros or cons as I think it's a red herring. Talking about it makes right wing xenophobes and dippy multiculturalists believe they matter but it's not really a problem. Europe already has a large Muslim population and they are expanding quite well on their own. A European Turkey will not become the great EU communicator to the Muslim world and neither will it be the main champion of an Islamic Europistan.

The last point is truly important as some of the more frothy mouthed chaps on the right rant the dangers of integrating so many million Muslims into our oh so secular Europe. This argument is complete bollocks. Turkey is one of the most secularist countries on earth.

In front of one of the unis in Diyarbakir I saw a thriving wig shop. Its success is due to the fact that, in Turkey, you can't even use government services if displaying any sign of religion. The shop sells the wigs to female students who want to abide by their custom without breaking the law. No tiresome French debate about "laicite" in Turkey and no silly gestures by reusenik headmasters in Turkey. The whole shebang is solved by a bit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

The fear of a post Erdogan Turkey going all fatwa happy has shown itself to be groundless. Just because some of the more strict Muslims felt they could have a little more leeway didn't mean they got their wish. TV's are ererywhere in Turkey and they are a nice way to kill time while waitng for a bus. I remember seeing an investigative report on the screen that amused me greatly.

The program used the standard tradecraft of journalistic dramas. There was the scrambled faces, the hidden cameras, freeze frames and arrows to highlight the misdeeds, the dramatic music and the inevitable confrontation of the heinous villain by the brave journo and the familiar running away. What was more uniquely Turkish is that the target of this sensationalist investigation happened to be a bunch of nurses or kept their veil on while working. Ataturk still trumps Mohamed in Turkey.

That's it for Turkey I'm afraid and tommorow I will be in Syria; insh Allah or more accurately insh Syrian border guard. Syrian visas are supposedly a pain in the arse to obtain but the backpacker grapevine has it that showing up at the border sometimes works. We'll see.

Next stop Aleppo?

Take care,



Post a Comment

<< Home