Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The American Indian and the Armenian Genocide

Keşke Birde Türk Bayrağı Olsaydı
'If only there was a Turkish Flag' A picture from a Turkish man protesting the 'Kurdish Opening' back in 2009 as something that would split the motherland.

How does the United States Senate celebrate the Armenian Genocide? We have an old tradition as unchanging as the Christmas Tree or the Black Friday shopping death stampede. First, on Genocide Eve, the Committee on Foreign Relations draws up a bill to recognize April 24th as a day ‘to remember and observe the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.’ Then the Turkish media, government, and civil groups start to sing the age-old Genocide carols to their American friends. Some of the most popular are ‘The Nature and Scale of the Killings Remain Highly Contentious’, ‘We Warn You Not to Harm US-Turkish Relations’, and the classic ‘We Didn’t Do It And If We Did, They Asked For It.’ Then on Genocide Day, the US Senate refuses to hear the resolution in the general assembly and it goes absolutely nowhere.

So I am going to tell you guys a Genocide story that I stumbled on in my various researches and through my accidental membership in the Turkish Coalition of America—a charity organization made up of Turks and Turkish descendants living in a America. (I started getting emails from them when I moved to Istanbul) I think this story nicely illustrates the nature of the whole Genocide issue.

The TCA does a lot of noble work. A quick perusal of their latest newsletter includes scholarships, an aid package for the victims of the Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines, a cultural exchange with Canadian youths and a commemoration ceremony celebrating the ties between Turkey and the Native American community.
What ties you may ask?

Well the TCA has been lobbying for the American Indians for quite some time now. (Let me say now that I’m not all that sure that ‘Indian’ is the preferred term. I read in an interview with a Lakota that it was the word aboriginals preferred and have seen the term in the speeches of firebrand Russell Means, so I’m running with it.) Most recently they helped organize the government of Turkey’s funding of a water tower for the Warm Springs Tribe in Oregon. Turkey donated over 200,000 dollars. The TCA had a competition among American Indian Tribes for the grant in 2012. The grant was announced in a newsletter regularly distributed to the tribes and Warm Springs won the bid. (Let that sink in, Turkish lobbying groups have a regular newsletter for the Indians) This was back in October, right after Erdoğan had spent several months gassing and attacking hundreds of thousands of people protesting him in the streets and was presented to us by the press here in Turkey as evidence of how great Turkey had become. Now America’s poor and downtrodden came to Ankara for help, not the Washington.

The Warm Springs tribe was a little baffled, but grateful of course. And I’m glad they got their water tower. They deserved it and I’m sure the other 31 applications that didn’t win were deserving as well. Still, everyone was trying to figure out why a government halfway around the world busy secretly funding Al Nusra radicals in the Syrian Civil War while at the same time sending phalanxes of police against its own citizens in the greatest demonstration of civil unrest in its history was fussing over a small Oregon tribe. Turkish officials cited ‘the historical and cultural connections between Turkey and Native Americans.’  
The TCA has been trying also to sponsor a bill for the economic development on Indian lands. Great! If passed, the bill would enable tribal governments to approve development projects sponsored by foreign investors without the approval of the Federal government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This is apparently a very time consuming process, full of red tape, which helps cripple tribal economies. Great again. Sounds like a stupid requirement anyway, left over from the bad old days—or rather, the worse old days. I doubt any American Indian would ever say the bad old days are over. But as it turns out, the bill mainly favors one country and one source of foreign investor-Turkey!

Turkey and the TCA also grant scholarships to American Indians. They fly officials to Turkey for economic conferences and they attend native conferences in the States as well. In 2010, an official from the Turkish Trade Ministry became the first foreign official to speak at the annual conference in Las Vegas on tribal economic development. In the same year, Turkey brought members of the Coeur D’Alene tribe to Ankara. Alaskan Representative Don Young, a strong supporter of his state’s tribes said Turkey was “the first foreign country that has shown interest in investing with — cooperation with — a tribe to improve their economic lot.” All this official attention and show of respect must feel like a vindication for a people whose history is filled with diplomatic betrayals, political marginalization, and broken treaties.

So why all this fuss? Why all this effort to support a trampled minority in another country-a minority who more than deserve the support, by the way. Which is kind of the crux point of the issue here. Turkey has chosen a target that no one would ever, in their right mind, argue against. The moral soundness of trying to help American tribes build sustainable economies is unassailable. And when, say, Armenian-American lobbyist argue against the bill, they look like assholes.

Here is what TCA president, Lincoln McCurdy has to say about the motivation on the TCA’s own website:  

"It definitely broadens (Turkey's) political base and it increases the opportunity for Turkish companies to establish operations in this country. A broader political base, in turn, could aid Turkey in recurring Capitol Hill conflicts with Armenian-Americans. In raw population, Armenian-Americans widely outnumber Turkish-Americans. Turkey, though, enjoys considerable high-level clout as an important NATO country. Nearly every year, these competing forces are on display as lawmakers press for an Armenian genocide resolution that takes note of the massacres that took place during the Ottoman Empire's dying days. The resolution routinely fails but keeps coming back; this year's version has 84 House co-sponsors. It's in this context that the Native American investment bill reflects Turkey's cultivation of tribes."

Holy shit! Did he actually write and post that? The main reason we are offering help to a people who have suffered perhaps more, or at least longer, than any other in the world is to build our numbers against the annual Armenian Genocide bill? To drown out the Armenian lobby? First, if I have any American Indian readers at this point, I would love to know what you think on this issue. My advice for you guys would be take the money and run. In my limited experience with American Indians they are too political canny to be fooled by any of the ideological hocus pocus, and practically speaking, the TCA is pursuing a policy that makes sense for the welfare of the tribes and that other countries should follow. And it’s such a shame that this historical and herculean effort is being put forth in the name of genocide denial.
And here is where the issue gets more complicated, because one of the classic denial arguments is “Well, you Americans committed genocide against the Kızılderililer (That’s the Turkish word for Indian and it means ‘Redskins’—yep, that’s right.) So you have no room to talk.” The rather extremist website tallarmeniantale (which pops up in any search on the Genocide, so it’s not so marginal) devotes an entire section to the subject—going as far to suggest that the white genocide of American Indians was attempted by Europeans on ‘the Turk’, their racial brothers. You see pictures of Indian chiefs everywhere in Turkey—in leftist cafes and in the windows of vans and minibusses. Everyone feels both a racial connection as a people with ancestors in Cenral Asia (which they should then feel toward every Asian except maybe the Chinese) and also a political one, as the abused victims of European Imperialism.

This argument is a tacit admission, of course—‘You did it, too!’ they say, but the ‘too’ implies that we did it as well. And it’s always curious that someone would try to clear their name by connecting it to one of the largest massacres of a people in human history. And never mind that Turkey, far from being a hapless victim, was a large empire—and that the Sunni Turks hold the reins of power over minorities who have been here a lot longer than they have, minorities who continue to be driven out and marginalized; a little bit like European descendants hold the reins of power over a minority that have been in the Americas a lot longer than they have. But Turkey has a compulsion to constantly identify itself with the victims, which is why Erdoğan, in command of the military and police, can mastermind an attack on protesters in Turkey’s 80 cities and still feel that he is the underdog. The psychology of victimhood is extremely dangerous here—it’s what justified the Genocide in the minds of the Ottomans in the first place and still forms the core of denial arguments.

And so what of this assertion that white Americans committed genocide. Does anyone deny it? Article II from the Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide says:

“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a)     Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

At some point over the last five hundred years, the conquerors of the Americas have done all of these things to one or more Indian nations. By international law, it certainly classifies as a genocide. I never saw the word in a school history book, though, so out of curiosity I googled 'American Indian Genocide.' (I am not a scholar so that is my research method—sorry) and one of the first articles to pop up was this one by GuentherLewy. He methodically makes the case that the deaths of millions upon millions of Native Americans was not a genocide. So we do genocide denial too! But what is Mr. Lewy’s connection to Turkey? Well he also is one of the American deniers of the Armenian Genocide and a scholar that Turkey loves to drag out as proof it did nothing wrong (but if we did, so did you!). Mr. Lewy’s purpose seems to be to defend the Jewish Holocaust’s status as the most important genocide in history, if not the only one. Somehow The Holocaust’s exclusive right to the term ‘genocide’ is important to a large number of people.

Another Google search on Turkey’s aid to the American Indians turns up articles in fanatically anti-Muslim websites such as Jihadwatch, the Counter Jihad Report or this one. They make some of the same points I do about Turkey's motivations but for horrible reasons. So some of the most vocal groups keeping up with and speaking out against this issue are racist themselves determined to prove the innate violence and danger of Islam.

And so we have the full immoral picture.
Here you have the wealth of entire country and the efforts of a major lobbying group in the US devoted to helping a group that has suffered much at the hands of various oppressors throughout history. And the help they provide is logical and long overdue. But their aims in doing so are horrifyingly cynical—to secure support in covering up another one of the greatest crimes in history. Think about that a second—you are devoting millions of dollars and hundreds of hours to getting one oppressed group to aid in the oppression of another.Some of the people who oppose this are wildly racist themselves (the jihadwatch type) and their main motivation is hatred and fear of Muslims—which of course supports the Turks assertion that they are the victims of white racism because sometimes they actually are. Another contingent who is helping Turkey deny the genocide is also denying the genocide of the people Turkey is trying to use in its own denial—all in the name of justice to another genocide which they believe only retains it’s legitimacy if it remains the only one.

Turkey’s motivations for targeting the Indians is multifold I think. On the one hand, they have picked a cause which justifiably blackens the American name and in doing so, teach a very expensive lesson to the United States. “See? This is what it feels like when one country meddles in another country’s affairs in the name of human rights.” (The theme of the genocide issue being merely a case of the West meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs is a common one). Politically speaking, if numbers of supporters was their sole goal then they probably should have gone after a group with more clout. Second, they somehow build a sense of moral superiority at a time when their moral clout is going down the toilet.”We aren’t oppressing anyone! We have gone into the very den of the oppressor and helped liberate a people.” Maybe that explains the timing of the Warm Springs announcement. And third, as was evident from the newspaper coverage of the same Warm Springs grant last year, it’s a tremendous boost to nationalist pride to be the one country capable of supporting a poor minority which not even the once great United States can manage to help. Turkey sends monetary aid to the US—what a propaganda coup! And then there is this perceived racial brotherhood—which infuriates me the most—the belief in race being the root of all this evil in the first place, all coupled with the false belief in a mutual victimhood.

This whole thing stands as a sad example of how historical denial twists and corrupts everything it touches. The TCA is doing a good deed but its motivations stink up the whole thing and corrupts both the justice to the American Indian which was long overdo and the good intentions of those behind the good deed. Turks, as a culture, seem very hospitable, empathetic, sensitive and possessors of a conscience that allows them to sympathize and grieve for, say, the recent deaths on the South Korean ferry in a way that I have not seen another nationality do. And yet this race issue, this nationalism problem fouls it all up. It holds them back as a nation. (And as a man coming out of the South I know what it's like to have a racist culture hold back the progress of your homeland)

It somehow reminds me of a professor of history I heard about recently—who has devoted his entire life to trying to prove that the Ottoman Armenian Balyan family or architects did not in fact build any of the buildings they are credited with. What an incredibly tragic waste of a brain, of a life, of thousands upon thousands of hours of research. He could be devoting himself to something that might actually help his country, but no, instead all that effort is bent upon an absurd racist denial of history.


Even as I write—Haberturk promises a ‘historical’ announcement from the Prime Minister’s office on the Armenian incident of 1915. We are still waiting to hear what Erdoğan will say. It was published on the PM's website at least--an offer to share the grief of those massacred in 1915. An unprecedented step by the Turkish state run by a man so intolerant that all opposition is swiftly crushed.  In any case, on April 24th, may all the world’s butchered and martyred and downtrodden rest in peace. This year is the 99th anniversary. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Lycian Way Part 2--Electric Bugaloo

The mosaic at Letoön--Apollo's lyre on one side, Artemis's bow (?) on the other
 
The roosters at Gey village were not very good hires, I feel, because they never learned that the crowing was to take place at sunrise--not all throughout the night. We boarded the school bus from Gey at 8:00AM sharp and headed into town because we'd run out of cash, there was no ATM, and we needed transport to the nearest Akbank so we could pay Bayram--also the school bus driver. It was a fun ride--us all the way in the back where the cool kids usually sat. Next to me was a very tiny boy who perched himself on the edge of the seat, keeping his eyes straight ahead, not saying a word to anyone, and his yellow backback like a giant camel's hump on his back. The other kids jeered at him, 'That backpack's bigger than you are! I think it's wearing you!'
 
The ATM was in Kınık, and from there, Bayram drove us the short way to the ruins of Letoön where we could pick up the trail again. (Generally you can do this, drop the trail whenever you're ready for a break and find transport at any point down the line. You may have to borrow a school bus or hitchhike, but it's always an option--at least at this point on the Lycian Way.)
 

The columns half sunk into a swamp full of turtles and frogs (descendants of enchanted sheperds)

 
Letoön was one of the cities of Lycia, later assimilated into Ancient Greece, and our first set of ruins. (There's an entrance fee of 5 TL). Even at 9 in the morning on April it was already hot. The surrounding area is full of orange groves and sheep and the woman at the ticket booth was happy to give us a whole bag of fresh oranges when we asked why in the world no one was selling oranges when there were so many trees. A shepherd told us a little about the current state of the site--a team of French archaeologists used to run it, he said, but the Turks took it back three years ago and now it's in the hands of a team in Ankara, who've done absolutely nothing since then. This is happening a lot in Turkey--there's a patriotic drive to seize all the archaeological treasures from the Imperialist, lots of bombast and nationalist pride rhetoric, and then once the Turkish government has it back, the site is neglected, the artifact is stolen. Respect for ancient monuments is not a characteristic of the culture yet. I suspect it's partly from the sheer abundance of ruins (as plentiful as McDonald's in the States) and partly from the intense right-wing nationalism that wants to play down any evidence of anyone non-Turkish ever having lived here. I say, don't let anybody take your stuff back to their museums in the capitals of the empires, no, but let them pay for the teams to research it--you've got too much on your hands to do it yourself.
 
The famous theater entrance at Letoön
The story of Letoön is this: the nymph Leto came here to give her children (twins from one of Zeus's affairs) a drink of water from the spring. Those kids were the future lords of Olympos, Apollo and Artemis. The local shepherds told Leto no and so she turned them all into frogs. If true, then it must be their descendants that fill the pools here, croaking like mad and filling the water with their tadpoles. There were quite a few turtles as well, sunning on each other's back rather flagrantly. The place is still a wetland and seems to be liquid most of the time. The famous mosaic here, pre-Christian and thus before a lot of the Byzantine ones in more famous mosaic centers, is a colorful symbolization of the twin gods. You have the lyre of Apollo, patron of music, and the bow of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. As a result--Letoön was the religious center of the area and pilgrims would come from nearby Xanthus to worship.
The theater with the only spectators left interested in Letoonian theater apparently
And because it was a religious center, you find a lot of temples and theaters--the theater of course being connected to the rites and worship of Dionysus, god of the grape and patron of the arts. My favorite building (fragment at least) was the grand arch entering the theater--the steps winding upward to the door and the marble floor still preserved. Walking beneath the shade of the archway, you could almost imagine the crowd inside, the actors and music. I found, however, only a flock of sheep and one lone goat grazing in the nosebleed seats. (Animals, despite assurances to the contrary all along the way--do cause damage to these places, a lot, and culturally, are a sign of disrespect--you don't let animals graze in a place you hold any reverence for.) You can see the excavations are only partly done--clearly the stage and part of the seats still lie under ground.
A Lycian style tomb behind the theater where a graveyard is
The book Lycia by Turkish archaeologist Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu says that Leto, Apollo, and Artemis were the national gods of the nation of Lycia. The foundations of the temple ruins we wandered were set as early as the 7th century BC, and the ponds Southwest of the temple--where our frog and turtle friends still splashed--was the fount of holy water pilgrims used to come for.
 
From Letoön we walked through the village of Kumluova to catch a bus to Kınık, and then onto Patara (this was going to be a day of rest). Kumluova is a village of greenhouses, the whole region is covered with greenhouses mainly dedicated to tomatoes though there were some, we saw, full of zucchini. It was a bright sunny day and as we walked by a house with a beautiful old walnut tree in the yard, we heard a hysterical chirping that made us stop and search the branches for the bird responsible. A woman in a flowered kerchief stepped out the house, looked up at the tree and then at us.
 
'Can't find it?' she asked
'Nope,' we answered.
'He's a small little guy, up at the top.'
As we continued to search, she clipped two fat roses from her rose bushes and brought them out to us. 'For your travels!'
 
A little further down we found a farm yard full of chickens and one rather startled looking turkey. It gobbled rather forlornly toward the street and I, who am pretty good at mimicking animal voices, gave it my best gobble back. It immediately spread it's tail feathers and came charging forward, gobbling like a maniac. Apparenly we were going to tussle. I kept gobbling. It kept gobbling back and storming about the yard looking for the unseen rival. We heard an old woman's voice say in a heavy accent.
 
'Hey, why dont you come on back and sit with me a while?'
 
Through the gate was a shriveled old lady with her feet kicked up on the divan, drinking tea beneath a shady tree. She told us to have a seat.
 
'I need someone to talk to sometimes,' she said. 'It's nice to just chat with someone, break the boredom. You guys are both tourists and not tourists. You have the backpacks but you sit down for tea and speak Turkish. Hey, want a tomato?'
 
Unable to walk herself, she directed us to the greenhouse in her backyard. 'Just open the door and go right in!' The greenhouse was steamy and hot, the whole place smelling of fresh tomato flesh. She shouted directions from her perch outside--her voice muffled by the glass panes. 'Pluck a few of the ripe ones! Get some salt from the kitchen! Wash them over there in the spigot! Now bring it all over to the table!' We did as instructed.
The site of the newer, relatively speaking, Byzantine church overlooking the temple of Apollo
While we snacked, she told us a little bit about herself.  She had three sons, one of them a teacher in Antalya, but they didn't come around as much as they should anymore. 'My life is slipping away,' she said at some point. 'It's mostly done and over with--the soul is fleeing.' Delal told her she should make one of her sons take her on a trip--take advantage of retirement. 'Oh nonsense,' she said. 'I can't walk much now and anyway, the single one has shacked up with some foreign girl for a while. Too busy.'
 
We sat and chatted for about an hour. Her accent was heavy and I caught only about half of what was said--imagine sitting down with some old crusty resident of rural Mississippi with no teeth and you might get the idea. We caught a minibus from here to the entrance to Kınık, got off at the bridge and then walked the rest of the way to the bus station where we caught a bus to Patara. Well almost--the driver lied. Out of season (April) he didn't go all the way to Patara. Instead, he dropped us off at the turn-off and told us to walk the rest of the way. 'It was only 2 kilometers,' he said grinning. We were exhausted from the day before and so hitchhiked into town instead. For anyone new to Turkey, hitchhiking is a lot safer than it is anywhere else I've been. Of course, use the usual caution--if you are picked up by a shiftly looking single guy who mumbles too himself and has red stains on his shirt, don't get in. But we were picked up, for example, by an old man and his granddaughter. Another time by a young couple from Istanbul. It's not so strange to hitchhike here and ordinary families will give you a ride.
 
The grand gate and symbol of ancient Patara


The ruins to Patara are protected lands and so there are no pensions there--you stay in the town of Gelemiş on the border. We rented an apartment at the Flower Pension--a place I highly recommend with a very friendly owner whose mother is a fantastic cook (she makes a good apple marmelade) We paid 70TL (35 dollars), total, breakfast included, for an apartment with a kitchnette. They have a newly built pool, a sundeck, laundry service, a small lemon grove and a cozy cafe with a bookshelf jammed full of titles in all languages including a big book on the ruins of Patara that was quite informative.
 
The sundeck where we had a nice lunch at Flower Pension
Patara has a fantastic beach--a 20km plus stretch of golden dunes very rare in the Mediterranean. Billions of tour busses bring billions of tourists here in season but in April there very few people--and miles and miles of empty sand dunes stretched all the way up the beach back toward the mountains we'd hiked out of. The water was 16 C (about 65 F), not too cold at all, and a pristine blue. On our first attempt to walk to the water (go left at the city center and through the ruins NOT right), we got lost and a shepherd told us to just follow the little trail through the trees and it would take us right there--locals did this to avoid paying entrance fees, he said. (It's 7TL to get into the ruins and beach) Well it did take us right there--after wandering through a pine forest, an oak grove, his home where his wife stared at us in bafflement, and then over endless gigantic sand dunes that got higher and higher and were filled with wild rose and other thorny shrubs. It was a beautiful walk though--smooth rolling sands with views of the sea and hilltops crowned with old temples and gates. In May--these dunes are the nesting grounds of the Caretta Caretta sea turtles, and walking anywhere on them is forbidden and just evil.
 
The beach at Patara
 
After a day at the beach--broken up by a thunder storm that swept down from the mountains and turned the whole sky black--we spent some time relaxing at the pool and on the sundeck of the pension and then headed out to the ruins. Patara was an enormous city. Right next to the hotel is a set of tombs overgrown with wild flowers. Apparently, according to the sign, the Lycians would place a coin between the teeth of their dead so that they could pay Charon the boatman for the passage to Hades. An old man stopped as we were reading and asked what it meant-Delal explained what she was reading. It was such a quiet thing--that moment, the sound of cowbells, the bleating of sheep and the wind moving over the grass and fields of daisies. There were lots of old olive trees on the side of the road. I love these trees--like porous old bones whose insides have dissolved away.
 
 
 
An old olive in a field of daisies near the ruins
 
The city was supposedly founded by Patarus, a son of Apollo and archaeologist place some of its earliest inhabits back in 2000BC. Patara was huge--now, wandering through the woods and among the lagoons here, you'll stumble on pieces of an ancient road, a crumbling column, an old ceramics workshop, a ruined temple overrun by trees, and the ruins of maybe the oldest lighthouse in the world. This was the birth place of the cult of the Oracle of Apollo, and second only in size to the temple at Delphi. Homer mentions Patara in the Iliad, the Lycians here were allies of Troy. The city was also the birthplace of St. Nicolas-yes, Santa Claus was popped out of his mom here-and St Paul, in chapter 21 of Acts, travels through here on his way to Rhodes. So it's got a long and starry pedigree.

Wild flowers
 
 

 
Our third morning in Patara was our last day of hiking--we were heading all the way to Akbel where we would catch a bus back to Fethiye. The hike goes up a paved road from Flower Pension and then starts winding through the fields and wood. We again got lost at this point. We followed the main dirt road up the mountain and missed the tiny little path in the middle of the olive grove that headed off through the woods to the left. This was shortly after the fork in the trail and the first signpost for the Lycian Way that pointed the way either to Kalkan or Akbel. Again, if you don't see the red and white blazes after a few minutes, you're on the wrong path! And don't trust that the bigger road is the one you want to be on--it's often not!
 

The road from Patara to Akbel

In terms of ascents and terrains--this is a rather easy portion of the trail and there were lots of elderly couples on the path, not all of whom were in good physical condition. If you want to try the Lycian Way but aren't in shape, this might be the segment to do (Patara to Akbel). There were still some majestic views over the mountains to the north and the beach to the South and the woods were scattered with occasional ruins and lots of wildflowers. We wandered through pasture land and pine wood and olive groves--squeezing past a tight thicket of bushes that arched over the path and cast everything in shadow.
Ruins along the path--a view of the valley below
 

The pipes on top of the aqueduct wall
The trail forks again at the 'Delikkemer'--the ancient aqueducts of Patara, a giant stone wall that skirts the sea with fragments of the pipes that carried the water still running along the top. We missed the path to Akbel here and ended up taking a wrong turn toward Kalkan--a fantastic hike but not one you want to take if you are not in good shape. I am guessing to go to Akbel you want to go up from the aqueducts, we went down.

Delikkemer--the aqueduct of Patara
 
That being said, this was our favorite part of the whole trail. Behind us the heads of the mountains we'd just hiked out of were lost in rain clouds--but the sun was peaking out from behind them so a veil of gossamer white light made a halo around the peaks. In front of us was the turquoise sea with clouds like galleons sailing across a turquoise sky. The path wound around the cliffs at the edge of the sea. You wind down and down until you are eventually crawling over boulders, then over a field of limestone rocks stabbing from the cliff face, then hopping over narrow rocky steps overlooking a precipice. It's harrowing, thrilling, gorgeous.
The road from the aqueduct to Kalkan
 


 


At the end, you find the bus station and if you are hoping to get back to Fethiye, you'd better be there by 7:15PM. There are only a few busses per day to Fethiye off season--two in the morning and two in the evening. We missed the 7:15 and ended up staying in Kalkan for the night at Kelebek Hotel--not a bad place--clean enough even if the manager struck me as little dense. We were so exhausted after the hike that we could have slept in the bathroom at the bus station. Speaking of the bus station, Ayşe's Restaurant, which is connected to the station, had maybe the best food of the whole trip. I don't know why they stuck such a good cook at a restaurant in the otogar, but her homemade Turkish food--dolmas and mucver and mezes--was excellent.

A view of Fethiye from the tombs of the Lycian kings
 
A view out from inside the tombs
Our plane back to Istanbul was at 6 and so we spent the morning and afternoon wandering around Fethiye itself. Fethiye used to be the Lycian city of Telemessos.The tombs of the Lycian kings are grand--a hike up the cliffs to see them however, will bring a little disappointment as they are covered with graffitti and stink of piss--teens and locals here don't show them a lot of respect, I guess, and they're not well protected. From the tombs, we went to the Ölüdeniz, the Dead Sea, so named for how calm the waters are--out of season it wasn't crowded and easily one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited--a perfect way to end days and days of hiking.

I would like to end with something about the past elections--everybody was so polarized. People who didn't agree with your own point of view were enemies and idiots. This trip was effective in eliminating that perception in us. We met the villager Enzel who tended goats, the lonely shepherd boy pining for tourist season to open, the nomad woman running a pension in the middle of nowhere for foreign trekkers, the old lady green house owner with her eyes on death--all of these people with very different lives than ours in Istanbul or ours in Bingöl. Many have no idea what Twitter or Youtube is--why should they care if it were shut down? One man we met was a fruit dealer--his biggest political concern was the closing of the Russian border to their produce, something that has never crossed our minds but directly affects his life. I would say to anyone wanting to take a true Democratic stance here, who really wants to understand this country and its people and then represent them in a government (if there are any who truly want to do that)--take a walk in all parts of Turkey, depend on the hospitatlity of as many different people as you can, learn what diversity means--it's a reality, not a liberal fantasy or a nationalist philosophy.

 

The beach at Ölüdeniz--the Dead Sea


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On the Lycian Way--Part 1

 
 
This picture--and several others--is by Delal
My plan, folks, is this: A photo essay of Delal's and my Spring Break trip hiking the Lycian Way. For once, there will be a minimum of political agitation and what-not and more pretty pictures. Hopefully some of our discoveries will help other hapless hikers to avoid the mistakes we made. So, the Lycian Way (in Turkish the Likya Yolu) is a series of hiking trails marked with red and white blazes (like the Appalachian Trail back home) that stretches from Fethiye to Antalya. It was mapped out by English woman, Kate Clow, whose book is the authority on the series of trails. We could not locate an English copy in Istanbul and so we were making our way with the Turkish copy--badly translated at some points, so much so that we were led astray. A rock wall and a stone wall, for example, completely different things--one being a sheer rock face like a wall and the other being a wall made by humans of stones--are both translated as taş duvarı. So when you go desperately looking for that stone wall and find only sheer rock faces--well you might be in the right place.
 
Here we are at the starting gate outside of Ovacık-the actual road is on the right and does not go under the stupid gate at all.
 
 
Now some background--the Lycians were one of the ancient people of Anatolia. Herodotus--the first Historian of equally ancient Greece--claimed they migrated from Crete. The Egyptians mentioned them as early as 2000 BC. They were also involved in the Trojan war. They originally occupied the mountains of Southwest Anatolia and the trails of the Lycian way wander through the borders and among the ruins of this long-lost country. In later years they were incorporated first into the Greek Empire and then the Roman Empire. I imagine their descendants are still running around these mountains today. 
 
 
At the starting point near the Sultan Motel--the mountains behind in the morning mists are where we're headed
We started at the town of Ovacık, just outside of Fethiye (a 3.50TL bus ride from the Fethiye otogar) at a pension that prides itself on being the starting point of the trail--the Sultan Motel (www.sultanmotel.com). Rooms were clean, breakfast good, and the manager very helpful. In summer, they have a pool with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Price for a double, including breakfast, was 60TL--about 30 dollars at today's rate (off season).
 
Before heading off on the trail itself we decided to take a side trip to a place called Kayaköy in Turkish, Levissi in Greek. It is (was) a Greek village rising up the hillside about a 7 kilometer (4 mile) walk from the Sultan. In 1923, the people of Levissi, like the Greeks all over Turkey were forced to go to Greece, taking with them only what they could carry. Turks in Greece were similarly being kicked out in an agreement between the two countries politely called 'The Population Exchange' in English, or Mübadele in Turkish.
 
 

A view of Kayaköy/Levissi from the top of the hill overlooking an old well
 
When I tried to dig up a few facts to put in this blog entry--I ran into the usual problems digging for information about minorities in Turkey. There are so many partisans, biases, and people unintentionally spreading misinformation that it's hard to know what's right. For example, the English Wikipedia claims that the deserted village has 500 houses. Frommers travel company puts the number at 3500. The Turkish version of Wiki says there were only 40 (just from the picture above, it's clear how wildly inaccurate THAT number is.) The Lonely Planet claims 2000-but who knows where the hell that number comes from. In any case, it's huge. Endless streets of abandoned houses, stores and churches.
 

The only residents of Levissi these days are the sheep
We walked there down a forest road, though you could take a minibus. The ruins started well before the protected area itself. Little clusters of stone cottages dotted the fields, overgrown with daisies and bright red poppies. I was expecting maybe a similar, if somewhat larger cluster of ruins but was completely overwhelmed by what I saw--a ghost city, the stones of the streets worn smoothe by the feet of so many visitors. You can see the ovens of the residents--Ottoman style, and the silhouettes of vanished stair cases. There is a church still standing and small chapels with slowly shattering mosaics. You find wells and cisterns and long walls winding along avenues paved with marble stones--but no people. It's somehow all the more haunting that it is not ancient like every other set of ruins here--the desolation is not even a hundred years old.



Another view from the top of the hill
The original city here was probably called Karmylassos (Carmylessus), a Lycian city, and was written about by Strabo, another Classical historian. There are Lycian tombs dating back to the 4th century BC nearby. A new Greek settlement called Levissi was built here probably in the 1700s. As with the number of houses, I found a lot of contradicting (let's call it creative) dates but after filtering out all the nonsense--most agree that Livissi was built in the 18th century, destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th and subsequently rebuilt. (Many sources don't know about the original 1700s village it seems.)


You can see some of the original blue and red paint everywhere
When the Greeks left, they rebuilt a city near Athens called Nea Makri--(New Makri, Makri being the former name of Fethiye). In Nea Makri is apparently a neighborhood called Livissi. This is a moving article about the grandson of two of Livissi's residents coming back to get to know the old lost home. 'My grandmother was about 22 or 23 in 1923,' he writes, 'And my grandfather was one year older. When they learnt what was going to happen to them she walked with her mother and sister down to Makri. She had left her two children but when she returned to collect them she couldn’t find them. She had to walk back to Makri alone.' They spend the next years searching for those children. He says his grandparents told him how kind their Turkish neighbors were and how a friend even left their daughter with a Turkish family, afraid of what might happen to them on their journey to Greece.

Through windows into more windows

One of the remaining churches



The fig trees are ripping the buildings apart

The town is filled with gigantic fig trees. Their roots dig into walls and crack them apart, uplift streets and split apart entire houses. They've taken over everything. Not surprisingly the fig is a relative of the banyan tree I saw tearing apart the ruins of Angkor Wat.


The wall of one of the chapels in Livissi--broken mosaics were still inside

 

 
A bit frightening is that the Ministry of Culture has plans to develop Livissi--they want to put up a 300 bed 'accomodation facility' and have sold the rights (remember this is a national treasure--one wonders about the word 'sold') for restoration to the same company that wants to build the accomodation facility. One only need look outside my window at the rampant, unchecked and ugly development to get an idea of what the Ministry of Culture has in mind.
 
 

The next day, we started our hike proper. We walked out of the Sultan Motel and up the hill toward the Montana Hotel. There we found the absurdly misplaced gate for the start of the Lycian Way--if we had passed under it we would have ended up in a bunch of bushes. The real road starts from the right and follows a dirt road, past some new villas being constructed and then up a narrow rocky path into the mountains, hugging a ledge that overlooks the Ölüdeniz and the deep turquoise blue of the Mediterrannean Sea. Spring flowers were everywhere, white daisies and bright red poppies and little purple and yellow wildflowers. You wind on and on, up and around the cliffs with breathtaking views of the water below.

 
Once we'd rounded the cliffs, we ran into a chubby woman tending a heard of baby and adolescent goats. The woman's name was Enzel, and she let me hold one of the littlest ones, just five days old. We asked her if she had any goat's milk ayran for sale--she said not for sale, but if we wanted we could follow the path to her village and stop by her house. She'd be happy to pour us a cup. It had never occurred to her, apparently, to sell goat's milk anything to tourists. We started toward her village--our destination anyway--stopping here and there for pictures, while she, after feeding her animals and doing who-knows-what chores, easily caught up with us, passed us, and told us to meet her on the last house to the right as we left the village. Done.


The road leading into the village of Kozağaç (Walnut Tree)

My wife wanted me to make sure that when I wrote this entry, I urged people to talk to the villagers they meet. Most don't speak English (take the time to learn a little small talk in Turkish--how are you, what's your name--it goes a long way) but they are friendly, curious, and as Delal says--it seems a shame to plunge into the heart of this country and not know anything about the people who live there. The last bit of road to Kozağaç winds past some villas that have never left the construction stage--we found a family of sheep occupying one rather choice house. The pine woods have dramatic views of Mt. Baba however and everywhere we looked we seemed to see turtles and butterflies.


Kozağaç Village
 
Enzel had three daughters and a son all playing on a hammock when we arrived--swinging it dangerously over a ledge that dropped off the back porch. One of her daughters Buşra, abandoned the game as too 'dangerous' and came to listen to us talk to her mother. 'Don't you want to have fun!?' one of her sisters called as she swung her brother spinning and squealing into the sky. Buşra turned up her nose, 'Having fun is stupid.' The little girl explained how they had built sleds out of giant jugs and used them to slide down a hill covered with pine needles. Her mother Enzel brought us out two cold glasses of goat-milk ayran and she told us about the seasons in Kozağaç--how the little spot in front of her house turned into a pond during the rains and about the tourists who started coming fifteen years ago. There are some houses in the village with signs out--serving food, mostly gözleme, and either tea or soda. People have gotten use to all the foreigners hiking through.


Here is me standing in front of Mt. Baba. People paraglide off its peak and the parachutes passed over us as we walked

We bid Enzel good bye--paying her a bit for the ayran and continued walking around the sheer western face of Mt. Baba. The road passed pretty little fields filled with yellow flowers until it finally hit the village of Kirme--a nondescript little place with a fountain swarming with bees. Here is where we made one of our first mistakes.

A field outside of Kirme
A word of advice--if you don't see the red and white blazes after a few minutes--you're going the wrong way! We passsed a small wooden hut, described in the guidebook, and then saw a red and yellow blaze on a tree leading into the forest. This being notoriously inconsistent Turkey, we figured somebody had run out of white paint and started using yellow, and so we followed the red and yellow marks down a dry stream bed and up a steep mountain slope. The terrain was interesting--the pine trees here dripped sap everywhere. The leaves of all the other plants glistened with drops of it. The tree trunks, the ground, the boulders were all pitch black with pine-sap. It looked like the forest had been burnt. The green of the spring leaves positively glowed against the black. Little purple flowers popped up everywhere and there was a tree with a bright orangeish red trunk.
 
The green against the black sap covered forest
We climbed a series of boulders and then rested by a gigantic outcropping of rock. I fell asleep, utterly exhausted. When I awoke up, the day was cooler. It was starting to get dark, and we realized we'd been sleeping by a rock filled with Lycian tombs. Enchantment? Rip Van Winkle spells? We kept climbing strangely enough, at least another thirty minutes, until something just finally felt wrong. There were caves and more tombs, none of which was mentioned in the book, and the trail was winding in the opposite direction toward the peak of Mt. Baba!
Purple wildflowers with red tree trunk in the background
We retraced our steps--all the way back down to the last red and white blaze we had seen. Despite what I said about being off the path when you don't see one of the signs, this is one place that's not true--not a mark in sight! After the wooden building you continue on the main road. It will curve right then left. There are no markings here at all either--but a smaller road will veer off to the right through a gate and down a shaded little path along a stone wall. You should go through the gate and follow the wall past little gardens and fields. You will finally see a red and white blaze after walking several minutes on this road. Later we found out that the red and yellow blazes are for a completely separate trail that winds over the mountain peaks.

Our hotel room at George's Pension in Faralya
,
Our final destination for the night was the village of Faralya which sits on the cliff above the famous Butterfly Valley (despite everyone saying how dangerous this climb was, most hikers we met had done it and said it was their favorite part of their trip). The grocery was closed when we arrived around 6. There are no ATMs here--nor anywhere along this trail so make sure you have cash. We stayed at George's Pension for 60 lira a person. (It's only 50 if you're willing to share a bathroom and shower). This included dinner and breakfast.  An old man sitting at a cafe assured us George's was the cheapest but I'm not sure--Gül Pension up the trail and Melisa Pension might have been cheaper. But George's commands a fantastic view over the Med and Butterfly Valley and was clean, so it did us just fine. This days hike with lots of resting took us 8 hours--but that was with our more than one hour detour and nap down the wrong trail.

The forest up from Faralya

The hike the next day took us only four hours and was easily one of the more beautiful parts of the trail. It stayed mostly in the forest, away from the villas and construction of the day before and wound through pretty fields and pastures and around a cliff overlooking the sea. I saw a snake once sunning on a rock--a gigantic greenish brown fellow, but he ran from me.

No marks here--go left! This is about an hour before Kabak
One odd thing about the forest is that it's literally humming with bees--our first two days were spent walking amidst a constant buzzing. The other constant is the bleating of goats--this animals are everwhere, staring blankly at you as you walk through their grazing land. We reached another fork in the road this day where no red and white blazes told us where to go. In the picture above you can see it. You're supposed to go left.
 
Another strange thing we saw in the pines were these balls of what looked like spider webs filled with pine pollen. But on closer inspection, the pine pollen were dozens of catepillars and the webs were silk-like nests. These are pine processionary catepillars-cleverly adapted ravagers of pine trees. Their hairs will sting and irritate the skin so don't touch!
Pine Processionary Catepillars (thanks Catherine Yiğit!) or çam kese böcekler. They hurt the pines and their hairs cause severe irritation--DONT TOUCH!

At some point, the trail abruptly leaves the main road and plunges into the woods to your left. There are little cairns of rocks to warn you of the entrance and of course, a red and white blaze at ground level. Be careful, it's easy to miss. From here, you wind down into Kabak, which, out of season has no ATMs or credit card machines so BRING GASH. From the main town you have to hike down to the beach and the pensions there. We stayed in the Natural Life Pension--one of the few open in April. It was 50TL a person for breakfast, dinner, and a room in a cabin with a great view of both mountains and sea. The food was amazing--I think they had a real chef preparing everything. The roast chicken was juicy and tender--normally I don't rave about chicken but the cook had a magic touch.

Our cabin at the Natural Life Pension


Kabak is a secluded cove accessible only by the long hike from the top of the cliffs. The water is turquoise blue and was maybe 16 degrees (about 62) when we were there--very swimmable. Behind the cove are stunning, precipitous cliffs of red, maroon and orange rock. The Natural Life had swings and hammocks and lots of sneaky cats. The people running it were unobtrusively helpful--they let us use their internet and gave us some nice tips along the next stage of the trail.

The cove on Kabak's beach

The mountain and sky behind our cabin

The trail normally runs up the beach and then winds straight up the cliff, but the guys at Natural Life recommended a short cut that leads up to a waterfall. We zigzagged up a dry stream bed. We heard the waterfall but never found it--and kept winding back and forth up the 800 meter cliffs. The views were breathtaking. At one point the path passes into a gorge and then continues up and even steeper cliff face.

The entrance to a gorge-Delikkaya

View along the path to Alınca Village


Be warned. This trail is hard--it goes up and up and up and then up some more. We climbed straight up for nearly four hours. The views are utterly out of this world, but once you arrive in Alınca it's time for a break. We stopped at Bayram's house for two plates of menemen, salad, rice and ayran (the woman charged us 25TL). There was a farmer at the entrance to the village who invited us in for tea--we probably should have gone with him instead in terms of price. There are several pensions in Alınca. The Dervish Pension is run by friends of the Natural Life guys. You might want to have them call ahead or at least give you the number because people were out when we arrived, but the Dervish has a fantastic wooden deck that overlooks the dizzing view down to the sea.

We decided to hike to the village of Gey, another four hours away. The owner of Bayram's told us to take the main asphalt road instead of the trail as the main trail might be too dangerous if it rained. The road would connect back up with the Lycian way a mile or so down. On the way out of Alınca I saw a phenomenon I had only ever read about in dry science text books. The moist hot air from the sea was rising hard up the cliff face until it met the cold air in the mountains where it instantly turned into rain clouds. We stood and watched rain clouds form out of thin air for about ten minutes.

The formation of rain clouds outside of Alınca
We had to walk a while before we caught up with the Lycian Way again--we stopped at house and asked a man sitting on the porch if we were on the right path. He didn't answer us right away, but came walking out, introduced himself as Yusuf and asked our names. 'Ah yes,' he said, 'This is the season for the Lycian Way.' The pleasantries seemed important. Then he explained that if we cut across the fields to the ruins of the Ottoman sarnıç, we'd see a sign connecting us to the trail. Which is what we did--crossing fields filled with tall grass and daisies until we hit the main path again, winding up and up and up. My legs were starting to shake from exhaustion and we had at least 3 km to go.

The old Ottoman cistern

On this last, exhausting leg of our journey, we passed through a field of rock and shrubs where a flock of goats were slowly grazing their way down a steep rock wall. The shepherd boy, fifteen, crouched in a makeshift plastic tent from the wind. Badly needing a rest, we stopped and chatted with him. The boy had reddish hair and pale, freckled cheeks and carried a smart phone. He was lonely--all of his friends and anyone near his age had moved or gone to the military service. He was the only young person left. He couldn't wait for tourist season to start--he was going to leave home and go to Antalya to work in one of the big tourist hotels. Life with these goats was hell. Delal told him how we had been talking about the utter freedom of a shepherd--a kind of freedom you could never know in the city. Alone in the mountains, amongst the quiet and the vast open spaces, away from the 9-5 jobs and bills and crowds. 'That sounds wonderful to me!' the shepherd said. Delal was not just idly fantasizing--she's done her share of shepherding in Conag in the summers as a girl. But still what would it be like to be a fifteen year old boy, all alone in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. You would feel like life was what happened everywhere else. Here there was only the ever unchanging cliffs and goats. Strangely his family didn't sell the meat or milk of the goats. 'They only make enough milk for the young,' he said. 'We sell them for bayram, for sacrifices.' 'You raise them all year just to sell at Bayram?' The boy shrugged, 'And we use them for ourselves.'

Dinner at Bayram's in Gey Village
 
The last leg of our journey took us finally into Gey--a village sitting on the last of a series of seven capes along the Mediterranean coast. In the Kate Clow guide book, it says the village is mostly Alevi, but the young woman who man's Bayram's pension laughs that off. 'Kate made a mistake;' she says. 'She met one crazy old man who told her he is Alevi, so now everyone here is always asking me if I am Alevi!' She rolls her eyes. 'Me and most everyone here were nomads (yörük). And the name of the village is not Gey, it's Yediburun, the Seven Capes. Apparently when she first came here, Kate asked this old man the name of the village. He said 'Ge?' which in our accent basically means 'HUH?' She thought Ge was the name and, knowing standard Turkish, tacked on a 'y' which she just knew just had to be there for it to make sense. But it's all a mistake! Now everyone knows us as 'Gey!'
 
'Gey' village has a shop to replenish supplies and in addition to Bayram's Pension, several places to camp. Bayram's is a regular little hostel--with several rooms off a main hall complete with bar and kitchen. There are no heaters--just be warned--so the nights in April can get very cold. But there are plenty of blankets and hot common showers. It was 50TL a person per night--including a fantastic dinner of fresh everything and breakfast.
 
At around 5:00 am, when the ezan sounded from the little mosque just up the road, all the dogs started howling and at least one rooster took up the call as well. One after the other joining the muezzin's call.
 
Our hostess told us how odd it had been when trekkers first started appearing. Villagers did not know what to make of the foreigners and their backpacks and tents. They figured they were treasure hunters from Europe.
 
'But now we're used to them!' she says. 'They've helped bring the economy of this village back to life!'