What’s great about US democracy?

At least they know how ignorant they are! I found this in Time online 😉

Jimmy Kimmel Asked People to Name One Country in the World and the Results Were Not Great

In light of President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe to meet with foreign leaders, Jimmy Kimmel wanted to test some everyday Americans’ knowledge of the world beyond the UnitedStates. So naturally, he sent his team out to Hollywood Boulevard to ask random passerby to name just one country on a map.

“It’s imperative that America has strong relationships with and knowledge about people in other lands,” Kimmel said. “And that responsibility extends to all of us, not just the president. So we came up with a test. The test is very simple. We went out on the street and asked people who were passing by to name a country on a map. That’s it.”

Unfortunately, it appeared that the Jimmy Kimmel Live! team wasn’t able to find many people who were up to the challenge.

“Oh my gosh,” one participant exclaimed after hearing her task. “Shouldn’t I have been taught this in school?”

Watch the full clip below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRh1zXFKC_o

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Istanbul: Of new friends and felines

It’s bit shallow – but the guy was only here for a week. Anyway, it’s nice to read something positive about Turkey for a change. This was published in the NZ Herald travel section (I’ve abridged it a little). Surprisingly, the guy didn’t see any Arab tourists!

DSCF1962Michael Lamb makes friends with hospitable locals and countless cats while exploring Istanbul’s deep, rich history.

It’s after midnight and we’re wandering the tangled lanes, heading back to our hotel.

We’d had dinner at 360 Istanbul, a rooftop restaurant up near Taksim Square, which, as the name suggests, offers spectacular sunset views of this amazing city. Dinner rapidly turned into a social affair, joining tables of boisterous travellers to drink and talk global politics.

Then we came across a cool hole-in-the-wall cafe/bar and stopped in for a nightcap. They’d closed the cash register for the night so offered us a round of beers — for free. More travellers stopped, more beers were offered and another session of discussing the wonders of Istanbul and the state of the planet unfolded.

And so typical of a night out in Istanbul, where you make friends faster and easier than any other city I’ve been to in the world; where the desire to interact with visitors is genuine and limitless.

If the hospitality isn’t enough, then there are the cats. The movie Kedi, a meditation on the wondrous lives of the cats of Istanbul, is one of the sleeper hits of 2017, having gained traction on the festival circuit last year. Shot on a low budget, it’s already taken more than US$4 million and counting.

Some people say the cats are merely a cute distraction from the deep truths of Istanbul and wider Turkey. This is a city that’s taken its fair share of hits in the new era of extremist terrorism. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s determination to stamp out activism and political opposition is casting a dark shadow across the Turkish soul. People talk about it, but quite rightly it makes them unhappy and uncomfortable [On this last point, it depends who you talk with, in fact].

As tourists here for just seven days, we decide to stick to our tourist knitting. And in that game, Istanbul rolls out the red Turkish carpet every time — though everywhere you go it’s noticeable the numbers are down. The city is on the hot destination lists but the reality is, mainstream tourists are spooked and staying away.

On the ground, this fear factor feels ridiculous: in a city of 15 million people (officially, the locals reckon it’s more like 20 million) your odds of running into trouble are, I’d wager, microscopic.

We tour the famous and fabulous Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar. The other tourists we encounter are an unexpected mix: a lot of Russians, Chinese and Eastern Europeans.

We hit the tourist-book standards like the vast Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower and the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. We gape at the magnificence of the soaring Hagia Sophia cathedral and the subterranean Basilica Cistern, a beautifully ornate underground water reservoir. Both the Hagia Sophia and the Cistern were built by Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century. Justinian and his wife, Theodora, are the coolest couple you could hope to find and their legacies are worth a trip to Istanbul alone.

A week in Istanbul is a mere heartbeat in the long, timeless story of this city, a place with such a deep, rich history. You could spend aeons here and still find something new. And while tourism fatigue is hitting places like Barcelona and Paris, in Istanbul you can guarantee you’ll be welcomed with open arms. So there’s never been a better time to go — especially if you’re a cat person.

Phrygian Way attracts nature lovers

PHRYGIAN WAYThe Phrygian Way, which passes through four provinces in the Aegean and Central Anatolian regions, has become popular among nature lovers with its 506-kilometer route, the third longest hiking trail in Turkey.

The Union for the Protection and Development of Phrygian Cultural Heritage (FRİGKÜM), which was formed in 2009 for the revival of the Phrygian Valley, has realized a project that will enable people to discover the historical, cultural and natural beauties in the region as a whole by walking and biking. 

The entire route has been marked with red and white colors at international standards to provide safe walks for travelers on the Phrygian Way and informative direction signs have been placed at 73 points. 

One of the best cultural routes in the country, the Phrygian Way passes through eight districts and 44 villages in the province of Afyonkarahisar, Ankara, Eskişehir and Kütahya. 

phrygian_wayThe Phrygian Valley, with its rock formations from the Phrygians, rock monuments, rock tombs, churches and chapels, fairy chimneys and other natural beauties, is one of the most charming valleys in Turkey. 

One of the most important features of the region is thermal water springs. Since the Phrygians, it has been used for healing purposes and the region became known as Healing Phrygia. Because of this, interest in thermal resources in the Afyonkarahisar, Eskişehir and Kütahya provinces will increase,” said Tutulmaz. 

“Now . . . a dream has come true. The Phrygian Valley is the new spot for alternative tourism with log cabins, ATVs, bicycles and boat tours on Emre Lake. Similar projects will also be carried out in the Kütahya and Eskişehir parts of the valley this year,” he said. 

FrigPhrygian Valley 

The Phrygian Valley has been home to a number of communities since ancient times. The area was dominated by the Phrygians between 900 B.C. and 600 B.C. but was dealt a fatal blow in 676 B.C. by the Cimmerians, who came from further east beyond Anatolia. Later, the area fell under Roman control

The Phrygians experienced a golden age during the reign of King Midas, who ruled from Gordion—close to present-day Ankara—and is thought to have lived between 738 B.C. and 696 B.C.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey establishes huge tent city in Syria’s Afrin

Turkey has established a tent city in Syria’s Afrin district for Syrians who fled from the Eastern Qalamoun region near the capital Damascus, Turkish General Staff announced on April 25.

Tent cityThe tent city was set up by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), according to photos and posts shared on the social media accounts of the Turkish General Staff.

“AFAD has established it and Mehmetçik [Turkish soldiers] have been protecting it. The families from Eastern Qalamoun are being provided shelter in the tent city established in Mahmoudiya, Afrin,” a post read.

The Turkish military has been protecting the area surrounding the tent city, photos showed.

The Turkish military and the allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) took the northwestern district of Afrin under full control on March 18 after an offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Rebels fighting against the Syrian regime in the enclave of East Qalamoun recently agreed to lay down arms and to be transferred by buses to territories controlled by opposition forces.

Hürriyet Daily News

Eskishehir –an old city rejuvenated

YHTTransport systems in Turkey have been revolutionised since I first came to this country back in the 1990s. Last week we took a trip on the High-Speed Train (YHT) that now connects Istanbul to the capital Ankara.

In fact, we only went as far as the city of Eskishehir, a two-and-a-half-hour journey – and I have to say I was less than impressed. I have a memory of riding the TGV in France years ago, hissing along almost silently at 300 km/h as power-poles and scenery flashed past the window. According to the video display, our Turkish train did hit 250 km/h on a couple of occasions, but for the most part we cruised along at more sedate speeds.

To be fair, Turkey’s geography is a factor. Much of the country is high altitude steppe once you leave the coastal regions, and getting up there requires a few twists and turns. You can actually feel your ears pop as the train climbs from sea-level. Probably, if you continue to Ankara or Konya, you’ll have a better high-speed experience.

Porsuk river

The Porsuk River at dusk

Our main purpose, however, was to check out Eskishehir itself.  The city has become popular with Istanbul day-trippers in recent years, reputedly thanks to a go-ahead mayor and council who have worked a 21st century miracle of Europeanisation on their dusty Anatolian town.

Well, in general, I’m happy to save my European experiences for when I visit Germany, or other pinnacles of post-modern development. I love Turkey for what it is – but still, I confess it is nice to enjoy a few modern comforts. The Eskishehir City Council have indeed laid out some pretty parks; and encouraged development of a buzzing bar and café scene along the banks of the Porsuk River, catering for a youthful population augmented by the presence of two large universities.

Personally, however, I was more interested in scratching the surface to find what lies beneath the face presented for public consumption.

One peculiarity of Eskishehir is that many of its people have Tatar ancestry. According to Wikipedia, the Crimean Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group that formed in the Crimean Peninsula during the 13th–17th centuries, primarily from the Turkic tribes that moved to the land now known as Crimea in Eastern Europe from the Asian steppes beginning in the 10th century. . . Since 2014 Crimean Tatars were officially recognized as indigenous peoples of Ukraine . . .

Crimea-Tatars-Turkish-Press

Yeah, I know! But what can I do?

The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal state during the 15th to 18th centuries . . . The Turkic-speaking population of Crimea had mostly adopted Islam already in the 14th century.”

That was probably their big mistake. After Russia defeated the Ottomans in the War of 1768-74, they began expelling Muslim Tatars from Crimea – and continued during the wars with Napoleon in 1812. Further expulsions took place during the Crimean War (1853-56) and another war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877-8. In those days the Russian government was implementing a policy of Russification and Christianisation, and the Tatars didn’t fit into either category. Soviet Russia continued the ethnic cleansing in the 1920s, culminating in 1944 when Josef Stalin’s regime exiled the entire remaining Tatar population to Central Asia. Over that period of 170 years, hundreds of thousands of Tatars sought and found sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire and later, in the Republic of Turkey. Many of their descendants live in Eskishehir today.

No picnics

“Picnicking in the park is forbidden!” I guess they have their reasons

I hinted above that the city is getting a reputation with well-heeled Istanbulites as a beacon of European enlightenment in a country many of them see as descending into an abyss of Shariah Islamic fundamentalism. Whether or not that is the case, I have no intention of discussing here. It is certainly true that the Mayor of Eskishehir is unabashedly affiliated with the opposition CHP – the Republican People’s Party that claims direct descent from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself.

Turkey has probably one of the most complex histories of any country on Earth. Empires have come and gone over many millennia, of which the most recent are the pagan Hellenistic creation of Alexander the Great, the equally pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Muslim religion practised in Turkey differs considerably from that of its Middle Eastern neighbours in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Much of this difference stems from the work of a fellowship of mystical Sufi philosophers who exerted considerable influence on the people from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The best known in the West is Rumi – Mevlana Jelalettin, founder of the sect sometimes referred to as “Whirling Dervishes”. Another poet, well known in Turkey, is Yunus Emre (1238-1320) whose use of the Turkish vernacular made his spiritual insights accessible to common folk. He is said to have been buried in a village not far from Eskishehir. We came across the tomb of another Sufi mystic, Sheikh Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi in the old part of town – although apparently the Sheikh’s last resting place is claimed by several other cities, and not only in Turkey.

türbe

Shrine of Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi

Shuhreverdi is said to have founded a sect known as Fütüvvet (I’ve no idea what that is in English), whose followers were known for their humility, courage, generosity, kindness to others, not giving importance to material possessions, tolerance and adhering to firm moral principles (can’t see much wrong with that!). The Sheikh claimed to have derived his eclectic philosophy from Zoroastrian sources and Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Shuhreverdi’s views were considered heretical by some orthodox Sunni leaders, and threats were made on his life. Apparently, he met a nasty end, executed in 1191 CE on the orders of an Islamic judge in Aleppo – so maybe his remains are somewhere in Syria.

Be that as it may, Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi’s name is still remembered in Eskişehir, and his shrine is known to some in Turkish as “Salı Tekkesi”, the “Tuesday Chapel”, since local folk used to gather there formerly on Tuesdays. Why, I can’t tell you, but it is possible that some of that holy gentleman’s unorthodox opinions and independent streak have passed down to present-day Eskishehirians.

pipe

Meerschaum pipe

Another of the city’s many claims to fame is that it is the main source of the world’s supply of sepiolite, more commonly known by its German name meerschaum, from which elaborately carved pipes were much prized by aficionados. The German word means “foam of the sea” since the stone is so light it will actually float on water. Luletaşı, in Turkish, I was surprised, and not a little shocked to learn, is also used for cat litter – one of its qualities being the capacity to absorb unpleasant aromas.

A highlight of our visit to Eskishehir was visiting a museum commemorating Turkey’s War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). I am quoting here from the website of The Turkish Coalition of America:

Kurtuluş savaşı müzesi

Liberation War Museum

“The Ottoman Empire . . . had been carved up as a result of its ill-fated decision to join World War I on the side of the Germans. The defeated Ottoman government signed the Mondros agreement with the Allied forces, securing its own existence, while relinquishing almost all of its territories, except for a small Anatolian heartland, to Britain, Italy, France and Greece. The Mondros agreement, designed to decimate the Ottoman nation, was being implemented step by step under the watch of the surrendered Ottoman government. The final insult to the Ottomans came with the invasion of Izmir by the Greek army and its violent advance into Anatolia. Civilian resistance began building up against the occupation, but without a sense of direction or coordination.”

Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) formed a national parliament in Ankara on 23 April 1920, organised an army of national resistance, and was elected commander-in-chief. The war “lasted four years and culminated in the international recognition of Turkey’s borders through the treaty of Lausanne July 24, 1923 and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923”.

Several crucial battles were fought in the vicinity of Eskishehir, and the museum, located in a historic wooden mansion, contains maps, artefacts and explanations of the war’s course. There is also an excellent film screened in a small theatre that brings to life the events of those turbulent years. An extract can be viewed on YouTube. It’s in Turkish, of course, but the visuals tell some of the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCnbUpswcw4

Of less geopolitical significance, but still a high point of our self-guided tour was sipping a beer in one of the riverside cafes and seeing a “muster” of storks circling overhead. These are migratory birds that return to their nests in Turkey every spring to breed and raise their young, before flying off to warmer climes for the winter. So, spring has arrived, I’m happy to say!

storks

A “muster” of storks over Eskisheir – or a “phalanx”, if you prefer – I’m assured the terms are interchangeable

Tulip Festival kicks off in Istanbul

tulip festivalThe 13th Istanbul Tulip Festival opened on April 3 at the Emirgan Park with the participation of Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin. As part of the festival, the Istanbul Municipality has decorated many parts of the city with tulips. The festival will continue with various events throughout April.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/tulip-festival-kicks-off-in-istanbul-129766

Learn another language, become another person

There is an interesting Turkish saying: “One language, one person; two languages, two people.”

I think it’s true. I spend a lot of time speaking Turkish, and I’ve absorbed a host of common everyday phrases that oil the machinery of social intercourse in this country.

There’s the phrase you say to your fellow diners when you sit down to a meal, and when you rise from the table;

Tayyip from God

Follower of a 21st century prophet

There’s one you address to someone who’s been to the hairdresser, or is emerging squeaky clean from a bath or shower;

There’s a friendly wish you express when you enter an office or other workplace where others are working; a standard expression of condolence to people who have lost a loved one; an utterance of admiration for the beauty or handsomeness of a new baby; a polite phrase that passes responsibility for future uncertainty to the Almighty . . .

In Turkish, you need never be at a loss for the right phrase to employ in one of the many human interactions that transcend cultural boundaries – but which tax our creative conversational powers in English-speaking countries. When I go back to New Zealand I sometimes find myself tongue-tied, with a Turkish phrase dying on my lips.

And then there is the reverse situation. Turkish people are generally sociable, and especially keen to interrogate a new acquaintance. Questions like, “How old are you?” and “How much is your salary?” tend to crop up rather earlier in a relationship than we Westerners are accustomed to. I used to struggle with the well-meaning inquiry, “Why did you come to Turkey?” In fact, it’s a rather long story, as you can imagine – and not one I am ready to share with everyone on short acquaintance.

Recently I’ve come up with a brief formula that seems to work. “It was fate,” I say. “God took me by the hand and led me here.” In New Zealand, such an answer uttered with straight face would probably be considered an indication of borderline insanity. In Turkey, my new friend will very likely nod wisely and consider the matter satisfactorily explained.

EnochtheProphet

In former times, a long white beard seems to have been a key indicator of prophet-hood – but times change

So I wasn’t at all surprised when I read in this morning’s newspaper that the chairperson of a local women’s branch of the AK Party in Ankara had said that Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sent by God. In fact, what she actually said (translating from the Turkish, of course) was something like, “Our president is a person so divine, he is a human being sent by Allah and a hope for the global Muslim community. Is there any way other than to follow him, to serve him on his path?”

Now, ok, I have friends in New Zealand (well, one friend, actually) who used to express great admiration for former Prime Minister and unabashed capitalist finance big shot, John Key; and clearly Donald Trump couldn’t have got himself elected president of the world’s greatest democracy if he didn’t have a few enthusiastic fans. Even Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe for thirty years, probably had a few sycophantic hangers-on willing to say nice things about him for the favours he might bestow.

But “sent by God”? “Divine”? “Serve him on his path”? I don’t think so. That’s a Turkish thing. Something definitely gets lost in translation when you try to say it in English. But the interesting thing is, a lot of people here will be nodding their heads in agreement.