Friday, July 18, 2008

Alanya, AKP visit, etc.

Before we head off to Cappadocia for the weekend here is a digest of our trip to Alanya this past weekend and a commentary on the AK Party after a visit to their HQ and a meeting with one of their MP's.

Alanya by and large is the happy medium of Turkish Mediterranean Resort towns. It is smaller than Antalya, boasts a fair amount of historical importance and is still very accessible. That is not to say it has gone undiscovered by the hordes of Europeans looking for a cheap alternative to the Riviera. We spent our first day their on a boat and I tried Scuba for the first time. I found it a lot of fun, and Turkey is a great place to do it because it is a whole lot cheaper (if you are ever here for an extended amount of time you can get an international certification here for less than 200 USD). I did two dives, one twenty minute dive at eight meters and then a twenty-five minute dive at 10 meteres. Aside form diving, we spent a good deal of time swimming, sitting on the beach and trying hard to stay out of the sun (I think it got up to 45 C this weekend which is something like 110 F certainly the hottest weather I've experienced). We also climbed up to the castle, which sits atop a peninsula and overlooks the whole city and promptly retired from there to a microbrew near the old Selcuk shipyards. This was perhaps the most surprising bit of the whole trip. I was under the impression that the only beer to drink here was made and distributed by the huge conglomerate Anadolou Efes, but I am mistaken. The Red Tower Brewery in Alanya is now serving a quite hearty martzen and a refreshing pilsner, and I can happily claim that it is the best beer I have ever had in this country (and not outrageously priced at 6 YTL (~4.50 USD) for 50cl).

From Alanya we visited Pamukkale, which I've been to and commented on in my previous blog. All I can say about it this time is that going there in the fall is a good idea, going there when it is already hot out is bad. After our visit there we had a few hours to kill in Denizli, a city of 320K just outside Pamukkale. At first glance, this city seems sort of pointless (its name which means "with the sea" is a wild misnomer as it is at least 200km from any such thing), but after meandering around it and finding a friendly nargile bar we all concluded that the place was basically like Ankara, only cheaper and a bit friendlier.

This week we also had a fantastic opportunity (the kind you only get with State Dept. $) when we visited the AK Party headquarters and met with Ms. Nursuna Memecan, an MP from İstanbul's Üsküdar district. Everyone there was exceedingly courteous and professional and answered all of our questions to the best of their ability. It is especially an interesting time for this party, which is the first to hold a majority in parliament without coalition since the 50's. This situation has certainly rattled the Turkish establishment, and it probably doesn't help that many things about this party are antithetical to the usual Turkish political machine. For instance, nowhere in the HQ did I see a likeness of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a huge no-no for someone working for the Turkish sate. Also, this party does not hide it's feelings towards İslam as a faith and a way of life. They support allowing women to wear their headscarfs in universities, a very controversial subject here. In fact, while their explanation to us actually came strictly on "first amendment" grounds of free speach, many Turks and myself included see this as a red herring issue. Yes, women should be allowed to wear whatever they want wherever they are, but what isn't understood by most in America is that the headscarf in particular says something very different in Turkey. In recent years, and especially among the younger generations of Muslims (the ones who have grown up through the İsraeli issue, the Iranian revolution, western interventions, etc) the headscarf, which has often been seen as a traditional dress of the Turkish countryside, has warped into a political expression of an Islam that is somehow repressed by society. I must be clear, wearing the headscarf here is NOT an indicator of any sort of Islamic extremism, but it is viewed as a political statement as much as it is a religious one nonetheless. Many Turks fear a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is Iran, and while I think the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, I see where they come from. The Iranian revolution came about only because of tenuous cooperation between Islamic extremists and the hard political left. The AK Party likewise maintains a tenuous partnership between a very religious section and certain members of the center-left groups. What most Turks fail to see is that these groups are far less extreme than the ones who brought about revolution 30 years ago, and their mere presence is doing worlds to strengthen the process of deomcratization here.

Well, that is plenty politics for now, though the big news right now is that Bush's undersecretary of state Stephen Hadley is in town for talks right now, and the first appeals court has, wisely, decided not to close the AKP pending a broader decision next month. I'll be writing again next week, and until then, görüşürüz!