Monday, September 11, 2006
Song of the Day: Odd Man Out Playlist Played
Not many city-dwellers travel extensively throughout Anatolia, so it's good to see someone at least occasionally go out and relay their observations regardless of some of their preconceived notions (either consequently adjusted or affirmed). Nuri Akkas, a retired professor in Ankara posted this account on his site in Turkish a while back, translated here:
A Tale of Two Cities: Tunceli and Erzurum
Last week, due to an assignment, I went on an Ankara-Iskenderun-Erzurum-Ankara road trip. Before I forget, and even if it happens to be fragment by fragment, I want to share my observations, especially with regards to the Tunceli-Erzurum aspect. (If I told you there isn't a village left that I haven't seen, I wouldn't be exaggerating that much). Maybe I'll write about my entire East-Southeast observations in more detail some other time.
Tunceli is in my opinion the most modern town not only of East Anatolia, but of Turkey as a whole, in terms of its people and their way of life. Without knowing, and out of sheer luck, I arrived in Tunceli a day before the Munzur fesitival began. Besides, I sensed something strange when I entered the city. There were signs on the main road: We don't want electricity from the Munzr dam. Wind electricity is enough for us. Let's protect our nature and our culture. A classic debate topic. A situation similiar to Hasankeyf. Let's leave the Energy-Nature-Culture-wrapped topic for later.
Tunceli is filled with soldier-police. Because of the festival, they've brought in additional security forces. There are a lot of army panzers inside and outside the city (We call those armor-plated and armed jeep vehicles "panzers", right?) All the hotels are full. The Army guesthouses, the police guesthouses, teacher guesthouses, school dorms, everyone of them tried. No vacancy. The police didn't think me going back to Elazig at this hour (7 at night) was a good idea. If need be, I decided I would spend the night in my car in a some well-lighted area in the middle of the city, but the people around helped me to get a room in some place in the south of the city. Even though they didn't have hot water, they at least it cold.
By not coming into contact with anything, it's possible to spend a short night in the city. Now I know, you're asking, "Is this how the most modern town should be?" But remember, I said, "with respect to the people and their way of life." Otherwise, from a development point of view, Tunceli has lagged far behind. Since it's spread out across a few hilltops, the city has no "city center" concept. I don't think the best hotels out of the few can even manage to get a 3 star rating. Besides a few main roads, the roads are in poor shape. The big Munzur river passes by the city, but the city for some reason has a water problem.
The mayor was DEHAP [one of the major Kurdish-identity parties] member (I know that DEHAP mayors usually don't take responsibility for the town's problems from my past trips. For example, Hakkari and Agri, at least 3-5 years ago, main roads included, were like garbage dumps. One couldn't walk around in the winter, from the mud, and in the summer, from the dust. We would use bottled water for "cleaning." I hope it's better now.) From the information I gathered while I was there, 3 out 4 people in Tunceli were Alevi. The one-fourth left were apparently ethnic Turks and Kurds. Out of this demographic, I couldn't understand how a DEHAP member could win the elections. And frankly, I didn't want to get into deep debates or go around asking questions. Perhaps a reader would like to bring this point to light. [As another reader notes on his site, Alevi is a religion and Kurdish is an ethnicity, thus if most of the Alevis are Kurdish it makes perfect sense...that particular reader says that nintey-nine percent of Tuncelis are Zaza Kurds. ]
The road that connects Tunceli to the Elazig-Bingol side is not that bad. The road that goes towards Erzincan-Erzurum is under construction. It's been under construction for the last 3 years. To this day, this has by far been the worst long-distance road I had to travel in Turkey. I came to the opinion that the construction of the road was being delibrately slowed-down. In short, Tunceli's connection to the north was cut off. People told me the security precautions were being exagerrated, and even the people coming from neighboring villages and town were not being let into the city.
How can a city like this be described as being "the most modern?" This of course depends on how you describe the word "modern." For me (as those that know me would guess), this has to do with men-women relationships, women's rights and the way people dress. The next day when the Munzur fesitival started, all the Tunceli people from four corners of Turkey came flooding in. (The day after when I was going towards Erzurum, The Tunceli Erzurum Club, and the Tunceli Erzincan Club were going to the festival). At night, all the streets of Tunceli were filled with people. Booksellers, crafters, cornsellers, one or two painters, toysellers filled two sides of every street. Young girls and boys, less young mothers and fathers and their children, wandered for hours in this festival area. Turkish and Kurdish folk songs were rising from the teahouses. And do you know what grabbed my attention the most in this uproar? There was not one, forget hijab, headscarf to be seen. Especially the young girls (reminding one of the Antalya resort areas) were wearing the most modern summer clothes, hand-in-hand with their boyfriends, walking arm-in-arm. Don't forget, this is one of East Anatolia's remote corners surrouned by Erzurum-Bingol-Elazig. Not in Ankara's Ulus, nor its Kizilay, nor its Tunali [Ankara's nightlife center] will you see this kind of homogenous level of modernity. "This is how our culture is," they said, when I tried to understand the reasons. (Of course I didn't get it either, when I came face to face with the reality of Erzurum).
The next day at the city's exit I visited a Cemevi [Alevi place of worship]. I took a picture in front of the Pir Sultan Abdal statue that was opening that day with a couple of heavy-moustached old guys (careful, old is relative! I'm 62). I asked them (this time more comfortably), why the Tunceli region was seen as a "terror haven" by "others." In Tunceli culture there is a philosophy of standing by the oppressed, the younger one (in his fifties) told me. Since Alevis were oppressed for many years, Tunceli young folk would back others who were also oppressed. I asked my Cemevi friends about the mandatory Sunni religious classes in schools. I reminded them that one official from the Ministery of Education said, "If they don't want to partake in religious classes, they need to give a document that says that they are not Muslims." One of the old fellow's eyes teared up. He spoke to me about Muhammed and Ali. Everytime he mentioned Muhammed, he would hit his hand on his chest, "God," he would say, "is neither on the ground, or in the sky. He is in the heart." I asked myself what the difference between this and my Sunni past and crticized the Education Ministry some more. They spoke to me about Ataturk and his heroics during the war of Independence, his eyes filling up again and saying, "...though you would know better than us." Later, a funeral came into the Cemevi. Crying women came behind it. Tunceli women with their traditional Anatolian muslin or their heads covered with a scarf. Their necks and legs uncovered, leaning on the men. I left them in their sorrow and departed from Tunceli and arrived in Erzurum.
I wish I had never arrived! I had gone to Erzurum [also in eastern Turkey] many times before. During the Horasan and Narman earthquakes and many times later. I always knew that Erzurum was a nationalist-conservative city. Now instead of nationalist-conservative, "Arabization" (and maybe even Wahhabization!) has taken its place. When I took a trip with my wife five or six years ago I had a feeling it was going in this direction (7-8 year old kids would throw rocks at my wife, at the time I attributed it to their age, now when I think about it, I think the transformation started around then). In all of Erzurum's main roads, shopping malls, and stores, "Arabization" has become complete! Women whose eyes you can't even see covered from head to toe in black cloth even seem to surpass the normal hijab-wearing ones. How long can the two girls, among those VEERRY rare ones wearing tanktops, stand against the stern looks of the two young men who just passed them?
This statement was given to me by a high-level state official: Erzurum has been invaded by religious fundamentalists. All of Erzurum's dorms and private schools are owned by these people, and if college girls need to find a dorm they have to end up joining these religious communities. To save our girls from this predicament, we have to urgently increase the dorm facilities at the Ataturk University there.
I have told you the story of these two cities. Try to visit both of them, and see the contrast with your own eyes. I visited Tunceli during a festival, so some of my observations may seem exaggerated. In Erzurum, I didn't visit the university region. If I had, perhaps my opinions may have softened. See for yourself, decide for yourself, and then write to me and tell me whether I have exaggerated or not.