An army sendoff in Rize

Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene
Image by K?vanç Ni? via Flickr

We drove to Rize to stay the night, and Rize is very religious, with covered women and men with skullcaps. Since the Rough Guide said that unmarried couples would have problems booking a room in anywhere but the Turist Hotel, we went there. We left Co? in the car when we checked in – Elif and Dilek and I showed our ID’s and said Co? was parking. The hotel was animal-friendly, meaning that roaches wandering the halls far outnumbered the guests. Our room had trash all over the torn-up carpet and a toilet which was literally shattered. We found out from a worker there that the owner died and his son is cashing out as much as possible while entrusting the administrative and caretaking duties to the vermin.

Luckily, that night at 11:45, we got to see the town sending its boys off to the army. The send-off was spectacular: vans and cars carrying the 18-year-olds and their friends, decked out in ribbons, flags and banners, honking their horns and driving by as if they had won the World’s Cup. The boys’ families were on the streets, waving them on as the boys were being driven to the army bus or base. The boys were certainly going to fight the Kurds, and the families looked strangely happy, although I couldn’t read emotion off the mothers. It’s considered a great dishonor there if you don’t serve in the army, and if you die, you’re going straight to Muslim heaven – but the mothers must privately grieve. From what I can gather about serving in the army, it’s mandatory for boys but not girls; it’s an 18-month service, but the army’s so desperate for money that you can pay to get out in nine months rather than 18, which is a dishonor for villagers but not for city folk. Where you end up serving is by lottery system, but it’s weighted so that if you’re from the west you’re more likely to end up in the east (so they don’t have eastern locals fighting eastern locals in the Kurdish war). Elif’s cousin Özgür is from Istanbul but claimed residency on the Black Sea (his father kept his ID in Samsun), so he ended up serving his nine months in central Anatolia rather than spending them, say, dead.

The civil war’s been going on for over two decades, and the country walks a tightrope to survive. Turkey need its Kurdish east for its oil reserves, and its potential pipeline for protection from its hostile neighbors, as they fear that a Kurdish state would be rife with internal disputes (four primary mutually-unintelligible dialects and mutual animosity) and unable to protect its borders (a similar argument to Israel not giving up territory to a Palestinian state). Because of ethnic and economic-level differences, the Kurds in the East see their land as occupied and form the PKK, the Kurdish Worker’s Party which also supports a guerrilla organization. Civil war ensues, and Turkey needs money to buy guns to fight the war, as well as money to irrigate the East to economically improve it, which would put an end to both the strife as well as to the Islamic stopgap (which it meanwhile encourages to give Allah to the Kurdish males to distract them from the war). Inflation skyrockets, and the PKK sells drugs to fund the war. The Turkish government does likewise, encouraging the Mafia to import drugs from Iran and sell them to western countries for much-needed funds, and they also use the Mafia to kill off the PKK dealers. But the Mafia, alas, becomes too powerful, and now the MIT (Turkish Secret Service) is fighting the Mafia. To irrigate the east and finally improve its economic level, Turkey also funds the massive GAP (Güneydo?u Anadolu Projesi – Southeast Anatolian development Project) to dam water from the Tigris and Euphrates. This incenses the Syrians, which is downstream and which desperately needs the water, so Syria responds by arming and training the PKK. Thus, the war remains in happy, bloody equilibrium and will likely be that way for many years to come.

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