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There are two Turkeys: The sophisticated west coast that touches Europe at Istanbul, where there are more Greek ruins than in Greece. And the agricultural east, deeply mired in the feudal Asia we have become accustomed to seeing on the nightly news. Eastern Turkey is in the third world. We spent most of our time in the east.
As we usually do when we travel, we tried to experience Turkey as Turks. So, other than the obligatory stops in Istanbul at the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, we avoided the standard tourist attractions. Because Margaret recalled enough Turkish for us to survive, we were able to do just that.
Turkey was a deeply disturbing experience. In an Islamic country that was once proud of its liberalism, we saw many fully veiled women. In a country that was once proud of its economic growth, we saw many men sitting all day on low stools in sidewalk teashops. Talking.
At first, it was picturesque to see people cutting wheat with hand scythes and using donkeys to haul bundles of wheat to the threshers. But we soon saw how the people were bent by the unceasing labor and ached for tractors.
We saw muddy villages with stone huts next to ruins of once magnificent cities. The huts were heated with cakes of dried sheep dung piled in orderly rows like stone fences. There were satellite dishes on most of the sod roofs.
Skeletons of unfinished buildings were everywhere, like the aftermath of a war. The buildings were started during the boom resulting from the money being sent home by Turkish laborers in Europe. The bust was catastrophic, leaving the country in worse shape than before. Ruined dreams of a better future.
The eastern part of the country is on military alert against Kurdish terrorists. There were checkpoints every 50 kilometers in some areas. Armed soldiers wearing flak jackets, armored personnel carriers, and bunkers were everywhere. A curfew was in effect.
A month-and-a-half after our return, radical Islamic terrorists attacked the US. Our trip to eastern Turkey helped put September 11 and the ensuing war in Afghanistan into perspective. The mix of poverty, helplessness, fear, anger and violence we experienced in Eastern Turkey exists in greater measure in much of the Islamic world. Economically imposed idleness and the ensuing rage is where hatred of the West, tribal conflict, and terrorism begins.
Despite its problems, Turkey has great water and agricultural resources. Its people are industrious and friendly. It will succeed. Someday.
Have a happy holiday season and best wishes for a prosperous and peaceful New Year. And be thankful we live in America.
— Copyright © 2001 by Notch Miyake.