Friday, June 10, 2011

The Turkey Syrian Border

Today, there has been coverage of increasing tensions in Syria and how:
"More than 2,400 Syrians have fled into neighbouring Turkey to escape the unrest in Jisr al-Shughur and other towns, according to the UN and Turkish officials."

It got me melancholic.  It got me thinking.   Twenty-two years ago, in May 1989, myself and some friends (Janine, Osnet and Yair) traveled around Eastern Turkey and I have always wanted to return. Here are some excerpts from that trip for my family and perhaps Janine if she is on Facebook these days.

May 19th, 1989
ELAZiG, Turkey
Shoeshiners everywhere carry ornamented footstools, red, green, yellow and gold.  Polish kept in little boxes and bottles.  Some stop by bus stops and provide tea while they polish.  In the downtown bazaar or market area each road or arcade is for one line of goods. There is a road for pots and pans, another for old suits another for farming equipment, electricals, palstic shoes (all the same).

Turkish sweets are strange and very sweet and sugary.  Bought some golden sticks filled with nuts made of brittle spun sugar.  Also, blue green and yellow humbugs, candyfloss like string, turkish delight rolled in coconut and nuts. Nuts, nuts everywhere.

Today we went to Harput thinking it was Pertek and then to Pertek to see an island castle in the [Ataturk Baraji] dam.   The dam caused the castle, which was on a high rocky mountain overlooking the source valley of the Euphrates, to be isolate on an island.  We caught a bus there to the ferry and hired the ferry boat to take us out there.  I remember the jolting of our last bus ride and the smell of the driver's armpits and his socks as he slept across the back window....

The castle is medieval and very wonderful, quite ruined but easily recognizable and having a remarkable vantage over the district water of thh Euphrates sliding by slowly while the hills wade in the waves, orange, green.  We decided to call it the Island of Indecision.   When we landed on our return from the island we were accosted by police demanding "passeporte" which we didn't have [as we had been required to hand them in at the hotel].  They said "Touris, terroris" a few times.  Words ensued.  We were told that they are very sensitive about foreigners being on the dam as the Syrians would like to blow it up and release the water down into Syria.

May [few days later]
Passed a grey river flowing from the black mountains.  Industrial scars.  Great white storks in nests all along the route. One was clsoe to teh road and I could see the big white baby storks snaking upward for food.  Also, silhoetted on the roof of the Ulu Cami. Walking through the bazaar we saw offal floating in silver dushes.  The bazaar is dark streeted with stagnant puddles and rotting fruit.   Some streets have dark recessed carpentry shops lit by a single light bulb and overflowing with sawdust.   Men sit playing backgammon, waist-coated and dark.  AT certain times they kneel to play on small stools in shops and streets.  Outside the Uli Cami are rows of men, old and young.  Beside them lay piles of long wooden handled scythes.  Apparently the peasants are being forced to seek work in the city and sometimes hired daily to work the land of others.

May 25th, 1989

From Dougbezit we caught a minibus to Kars and Ani.  It was very hot but high up.  On may occasions we came close to the Russian border and could see the control and observation points across the high fences.  The nomadic people of Eastern Turkey (and Russia?) have huge herds of cows, sheept etc and we even saw horses in their 1000's near ANI.  With the herders are ferocious looking dogs, closer related to wolves than any canine specimen I have seen before this.   Some resemble huskies, white or grey, huge fanged ... they chase the taxi along the road and we must swerve to avoid potholes.  Or they growl by the van and we crawl along as a huge herd of sheept and herders with ponies draped in Kilims move along and slowly cross the road.

In the high regions before Kars the landscape was wonderfully open and barren.  The planes, steppe? flat with pale washed skies, empty and dry.

In a remote town near Ardahan, stopped for snacks and walked into a toilet.  It was awash with water which a dwarf was sweeping up. 

Received permission to enter the neutral borderzone between Turkey and Russia we drove out to Ani, a now deserted city which once rivaled Constantinople and Cairo and was the capital of the medieval Armenian empire.   Now it lies almost in ruins, some churches and a haunting mosque remain standing.  Also the Armenian cathedral.   It is on a cliff above a ravine and one can look across the green rushing river to Russia, to see the USSR road end suddenly and wend its way into unbroken green.  Soldiers from the observation towers watch me.

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