My Turkey Trip

From Sept 10th to very early on the 15th, I was in turkey sponsored by Aram Publishing (about which more next post).

As in the immediately prior trip to Italy, I spoke in diverse venues in two cities – Istanbul and Dijarbaker. The former is a huge city, very beautiful in many ways, and rather European. The later is in the southeast of the country, very near Syria and Iraq in the midst of the Kurdish regions. It’s population is greatly inflated by roughly a million Kurdish population displaced from villages burned and destroyed by Turkish repression.

The Kurdish suffering is hard to understand, very unlike, for example, racial dynamics familiar in the U.S. now or in the past. Were there a plebescite among the Turkish population, I was told, rights would be accorded. There is not the person to person racism of the sort that we know. Instead the issue seems to national. Turkey is meant to have one people, one culture, one population, seamlessly, it seems. The Kurds resisted losing their modes of celebration and identification, their language and culture – and this meant war, presumably out of fear of secession as against fear of total assimilation. Others no doubt could convey clarity about the situation far more than I, even with my having been there and queried folks. But whatever the deepest cuases and continuing basis for the injustices, the pathos and pain are plain to see. That part is not in question.

The whole trip was a very nearly non stop flow of media interviews and public talks. The former were, as in Italy but actually even more so, incredible. Commentators were prepared with serious and substantive queries about parecon and then added concerned and even understandably fearful questions about Bush, the election, and U.S. empire buiiding in general.

An alternative media radio operation, larger than Pacifica it seemed to me, had me on for over an hour. I was on TV for hours in total. Print interviews of diverse length went on morning to night. Where repression of content existed as a threat, it was powerful. Not a single question was asked about the condition of Kurds or my reactions to them. Such matters are forbidden. But where threat of repression wasn’t in play, regarding international relations and also matters of economics including capitalism and an alternative vision, for example, the questions were informed and seemingly without reservation.

Whereas the Kurdish communities in Iraq and neightboring countries other than Turkey harbor considerable and sometimes almost unlimited illusions about U.S. largesse being an aid to their prospects, in Turkey this view is ridiculed with people realizing that their future depends instead on their own wherewithal, on the one hand, and on whether international opinion can be awakened to their plight despite the difficult hurdle of western and particularly U.S. media’s opposition.

Turkey, which is generally considered perhaps the most repressive western country, and which is currently seeking admission to the European Union, again, ironically, seemed to have a media that was way ahead of our own for its comprehension of world affairs but also of the ins and outs of domestic institutional relations, including capitalism.

The Turkish and Kurdish public hears more that is thought provoking and informative than do their U.S. counterparts on the mainstream much less via alternative media – but of course the environment constrains what they can do with their understanding. As but one example, I was on CNN Turkey, on TV, for about an hour. I spoke as I would have to a leftist audience at a rally in the U.S., say. The announcer not only had no trouble understanding my words, but asked probing questions seeking more information and analysis. On another TV show with a very prominent Turkish interviewer for an hour and a half, the last question was him asking what they would have to do or could do to their TV station to make it pareconish. I have only quite rarely been asked such a question, so point blank, on U.S. or British alternative media, and on our mainstream media it would be utterly inconceivable.

In Istanbul I stayed in a room overlooking the Bosporus Straits, a very beautiful span running for miles, of course, in both directions. The flow tankers carrying or seeking to load up with oil was steady – one every few minutes. One wonders how this waterway is kept open, being so obviously vulnerable. For that matter police presense was generally low in Istanbul, much less there than, say, in NYC or Chicago and this was true for Diyarbaker as well, much to my surprise. Poorer districts bordered shopping zones with very little visible, at least to me, police presence. On the other hand, after one talk in Diyarbaker an undercover cop came up and started asking questions clearly looking for me to say something that could be used against my hosts, the very important Aram publishing operation.

The left in Istanbul wasn’t unfamiliar to me, despite my having had no prior real prior contact with it. It wasn’t just that my hosts from Aram were very into my own work and therefore very easy to communicate with, having views in many ways more akin to my own than I might find going to speak in a U.S. city, even from local U.S. progressives. It was that a gathering of leftists in Istanbul for a long presentation of parecon was again very much like an audience ‘I might speak with in Madison, say, with very similar questions, mood, and so on. Even the division into folks with anarchist leanings, Trot leanings, neophyte views, etc. etc. was similar. Of course, however, the history is different.

In the Kurdish region both public talks and interviews went up a subtle notch in their intensity and connection to real practice and aspirations. Audiences were more directly and deeply entrenched in struggle, both around the Kurdish question – which is to say the repression and denial of Kurds – and also around all other matters. To me, though it was a quick trip, it was very striking that the Kurdish activists and citizens and public officials more generally were while congenial and hospitable, smiling and humorous, also with deadly seriousness quite sober and committed to winning, not merely struggling.

It was a gigantic surprise to find out that the main Kurdish leader, a figure with Mandela-like support throughout the 20 million Kurdish population, a figure housed in jail for life and generally in isolation save from his lawyers having been caught in exile in Kenya by the CIA and delivered back to Turkey, was urging a reconstruction of the Kurdish opposition away from their highly nationalist Leninist and often very sectarian and military past, and toward a more civil disobedient but non violent, multi issue, participatory, anti sectarian future by, among other things, urging all members to read the Turkish edition of my Trajectory of Change with every indication that the just released Turkish edition of Parecon: Life After Capitalism would be touted soon.

It is ironic in the extreme to get the occasional email from young white U.S., Canadian, or British activists about how a book written by a white man from inside the beast is of no consequence for struggle anywhere by virtue of its origins, and then to find that it is an important part of a campaign to restructure a third world revolutionary movement struggle of the Kurds, for example, and of helping to inform the thinking of the left publishing operation in Turkey as well. It is odd indeed, to have written out of U.S. experiences, for U.S. movements, and have the results attain their purposes more quickly abroad, and even abroad in poor and devestatted zones – unemployment in Dijarbaker is 70% — rather than in the U.S. No doubt some of the explanation for this is the very different mainstream media reception, but I think there is more to it than that.

For those interested, in the moments of travel that were more personal and relaxed, Turkish food was wonderfu and there were visual sites ranking with those in far more touted regions. I saw little, given the time constraints, but even just driving from talk to interview and back the architecture was striking….the history was palable. Around Dijarbaker is a wall second only to the Great Wall of China for scale and length, for example. To stand on it and stare out over plains, over the Tigris, into the cradle of civilizations, is quite an experience. So to is seeing the McDonalds and other imprints of multinational growth, largely spurned by the populace, but with a staying power that is hard to deny.

I should perhaps also say, Turkey is well over 90% Moslem. Aside from the public calls to prayer and the spires of mosques dotting the views in all directions, honestly, this fact was basically invisible as far as difference in public behavior in Istanbul and relatively minor in impact on difference in Dijarbaker, at least at the superficial level that I could observe giving interviews, moving from site to site, etc. I encountered nothing that spoke of or even implied religious practices or beliefs — less so than I would have in many places in the U.S., in fact — and the only behavior that seemed slightly different than might have held had I been doing interview after interview in LA — other than that the questions in LA would have been so vastly inferior and the idea that I would have been on mainstream media in LA so preposterous — was the recurrent serving of tea in Turkey, over and over.

Again, however, it was a short visit, and had very odd limitations due to being talks and interviews on top of talks and interviews, so no doubt my impressions have many flaws….

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