Tensions are high in Turkey

A man plays in the metro for change. Obviously, I can't judge this kind of music, but the singers always seem very sincere and heartfelt. Much of the time they just have a microphone and beat out the time with a stick.
A man plays in the metro for change. Obviously, I can’t judge this kind of music, but the singers always seem very sincere and heartfelt. Much of the time they just have a microphone and beat out the time with a stick.

9/12/2015
I like to have a single glass of wine at night, but it’s tough to get. There is some locally produced wine, but this is simply not wine country, though there’s more alcohol than you’d expect in a mostly Muslim area. One large chain grocery carries wine, Migros (which sounds Hispanic, doesn’t it?). They have a fairly large selection of imported hard liquor, and an armed guard, too. There are small convenience shops with liquor behind the counter–but they focus on Raki (the Turkish hard liquor, similar to ouzo in Greece or grappa in Italy) and vodka (Turkish vodka is fairly inexpensive). The alcohol is never priced, so as a foreigner I’m going to be charged the highest rate. Even if I wanted alcohol, I wouldn’t buy it here. But you don’t really see a lot of drinking. There are a few neighborhood bars–they are often a bit hidden and for men only. Even when women are allowed, they are not the kind of places that I’d go to alone.

I spend WAAAAAY too much time preparing for classes, but my lesson plans keep improving. I’m focused on writing dialogues at the moment. These are usually two part conversations that use a particular grammar point (past perfect tense, If conditionals, modal verbs). I underline some of the words and after we read them as a class, I pair off the students and have them change the underlined words to make a new dialogue. This forces them to create at least part of a conversation themselves and use the new grammar point in a practical way. Well, the other day it finally happened–a student used the “N” word in a greeting! I was torn between horror and being impressed that he had the vocabulary. But these are all teaching points, right? So I did my best to remain calm and explain why we don’t use words like this. But at least this proves the kid is trying to learn English expressions.

Yesterday it finally cooled off–only 75 as the high temperature. Last night I almost got cold. It was wonderful.

Near my house is a public square (maydan) and there have been rallies/protests the last two nights concerning the ISIS issue, recent killings and the Syrian refugee question. There are speeches and chanting, lots of flag waving. There are also police in riot gear around the edges. While I’m fascinated to know what they are proposing (not that my Turkish is good enough to understand), these events are not a safe place for a pasty foreign woman. I take the long way around to go home and avoid them.

This is a small fun park, beside the Bakrikoy Metro station.
This is a small fun park, beside the Bakirkoy Metro station.

Sept 2015, Istanbul 69/15/2015
Dated yesterday, New York Times: A Sense of Instability Settles Over Turkey as Conflict With Kurds Flares

ISTANBUL — Nationalist and pro-government throngs filled the streets of Istanbul and Ankara for two nights last week, chanting “God is great” as they stormed a prominent newspaper and set fire to the offices of a Kurdish political party.
Turkey’s economy, long an emerging market darling, has cooled, and the value of the Turkish lira slips by the day. Cruise ships have stopped docking in Istanbul, and many residents avoid the subway because of bomb threats.
A sense of unease is spreading in Turkey as the decades-old conflict flares between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the volatile southeast. Fears are growing that the country could return to the dark days of the 1990s, when the conflict was at its height.
The upheaval in major cities has prompted Turks, especially Kurds, to share pictures on social media comparing their own cities to ravaged areas in Syria.
In recent years, Turkey has sought to influence and shape the Middle East, portraying itself as everything the region is not: democratic, prosperous and safe. But economic and political instability are deepening before the interim government holds a snap election in November — the country’s third national poll in a little over a year.
A demonstration last week against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the government said was behind a deadly attack on Turkish soldiers. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Critics say Turkey’s military campaign against the Kurds is part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy of stoking nationalist sentiment to help his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., regain the parliamentary majority it lost in the June 7 election.
“Right now, the tracks beneath us are shaking, and the country is on the verge of being derailed,” said Kudrettin Terzioglu, 52, who sells lottery tickets outside the main courthouse here, where a prominent prosecutor was killed this year by a Marxist group that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at the American Embassy in Ankara in 2013.
“We’re on the brink of civil war, we have no stable government, the economy is a mess and there are no jobs,” he added.
In a cafe in the central Besiktas district of Istanbul, tears trickled down Tuba Kent’s face as she watched televised images of family members clinging to the coffins of soldiers killed in the Sept. 6 bomb attack by Kurdish rebels.
“For now, people in Istanbul are throwing rocks, beating their enemies with sticks and setting buildings on fire,” said Ms. Kent, 36, a manicurist. “But we are one step away from holding our own funerals.”
Across the street, tourists waited in line to enter the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, spent the last days of his life. Usually bustling with sightseers, the palace was noticeably quieter.
Attendance is down since militants set off explosives several weeks ago and shot at police officers guarding the palace. The attackers were later identified as belonging to the Marxist group known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, which had its heyday during the Cold War.
“After hearing about the incident, a lot of friends canceled their entire trip to Turkey,” said Gemma Haighton, a visitor from London waiting outside the palace. “We were originally a group of 13, but only three of us ended up coming.”
Just this month, the United States government issued a travel warning for Turkey, causing some cruise ship companies to cancel all overnight stops in Istanbul.
The instability has been costly for Turkey’s tourism industry, with revenue sliding by almost 14 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to government figures.
The mounting security concerns come after the collapse in July of the two-year cease-fire between rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state. Adding to that are increased threats and attacks from the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front and the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group believed to be responsible for a suicide bombing that killed more than 30 young Kurdish activists in the southern city of Suruc in July.
Critics of Mr. Erdogan say the instability may well play to his advantage, however, and allow him to persuade the public to again vote for single-party government. In fact, he is campaigning on it: According to the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah, the party’s slogan for the election will be “Vote A.K.P. for stability.”
The party’s loss after more than a decade in power came as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party gained representation in Parliament, a first for any Kurdish party. Since Mr. Erdogan called for an early election last month, at least 180 buildings belonging to the Kurdish party have been attacked by mobs that have accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party of being collaborators with the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The escalation in violence has left many wondering whether a credible election can be held in the southeast.
“It’s becoming impossible to hold an election given the security situation in the region,” Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, said last week at a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.
Fearing worse violence, some Istanbul residents have started to vary their routines, avoiding crowded places and public transportation at peak times.
“It feels like we’ve been dragged into the greater regional war, and under such circumstances a large-scale attack on Istanbul is imminent,” said Menekse Tekbas, 48, an accountant who was riding the subway recently.
“This is all I think about when I’m in a crowded spot like this,” she added. “I’m always looking out for suspicious people and packages.”
In the Sultanhamet district, Istanbul’s old city and home to some of its most breathtaking landmarks, many tour operators and businesses complain of a “tourism drought.”
“With every bomb that goes off in the southeast comes an email or a phone call from a client asking for a refund,” said Yusuf Karaca, 52, the owner of Karaca Tur, a tour operator.
On a recent day, a friend stormed into his office, lamenting the funeral of fallen soldiers he had just seen on television.
“Damn those terrorists, and damn the man who dragged this country into war for his own political agenda,” said the man, Ahmet, who provided only his first name out of fear that he would be punished for insulting the president.

9/17/2015
I’m behind in my journaling and so much has happened. Let’s see if I can catch up. I’ll try to write roughly in order. First, I’ve found a lovely young woman to trade language lessons with. I teach her English while she helps me with Turkish. She’s 29 years old, funny and I really enjoy the time I spend with her. Her parents have a restaurant in Bakakoy called My Secret Cafe and I’m so lucky because they feed me when I come. Dad lived outside of London and can cook a wide variety of dishes. While I love Turkish food, I’m used to some variety, so I really appreciate his pizza (best in Istanbul) and this lovely curry dish he fixed. Yum!

This is my student/teacher. Nilgun and her mother and cousin.
This is my student/teacher. Nilgun and her mother and cousin.
This is the amazing curry dish. YUM-O
This is the amazing curry dish. YUM-O
My Secret Cafe in Bakirkoy
My Secret Cafe in Bakirkoy

But that’s about all the good news I can report.

Robert is taking a few days off and I’m covering for him as Head Teacher. The big news so far is that Kate, who is to be our next head teacher after Robert leaves, won’t be able to come back into the country. She’s been here for 6 months and for reasons we don’t understand, still does not have a residence permit. Looks like incompetence by both English Time and Turkey. She had this trip out of the country planned and knew the risks before she left. She made arrangements for her stuff just in case. At the airport they demanded she pay a penalty for overstaying her visa (268TL) and she can’t come back. It’s unlikely she will be able to change that situation. Robert just left for his trip. He doesn’t have a residence permit either. Will the same thing to happen to him? <sigh>

We’ve been told that we have another new owner. That’s the third since the first of the year (though possibly at least one of the transactions never quite occurred). So far, I don’t see any changes, except for another new Turkish office manager. She’s Meylin, the woman who used to be head of the Avcilar branch. She speaks some English and brought with her an admin that also has level 1English. So far so good. We were paid on time this month (surprise!) but my pay was short 38 hours. That’s equal to a month’s rent and about a week’s worth of pay. And I worked far more hours than I wanted to last month. Insulting. AND Philip from the head office hasn’t even responded to the request for pay. It looks like it’s almost all money from Avcilar. I had trouble getting paid from there last month, too. I’ve asked Meylin to call there and she’s assured me the money will be there on Saturday. I’ve told her to tell them that if I am not paid I won’t teach this weekend. What else can I do?

Protests are happening in squares all over Istanbul. Soldiers are dying. Kurds are dying. Tensions are high everywhere. Last night, an older man across the street, pulled a shotgun out and fired. I didn’t see him shoot the gun; the shots woke me up and I looked out the window. He was standing there with a what looked like a sawed off shotgun, screaming at the top of his lungs and pointing at some unseen person. A younger man (maybe a grandson?) grabbed the firearm and took it inside. There are strict gun laws here and the consequences of being found with one are stiff. No police came to check out the situation. Should I be afraid? Possibly. But I saw this sort of thing in Atlanta too. Nowhere is safe.

One of the issues with living in another country is that communication is poor. First you don’t speak the language and second is that most companies are autocratic, disorganized and top down when compared with US companies. My Sunday class as Avcilar was canceled. No explanation. But it held exactly the same the next weekend. We have another holiday, maybe next week, but no one is giving actual dates. Maddening. How does anyone plan?

My new friend Burak. He started a business in real estate just four months ago, but still takes the time to worry about a foreigner. He's introduced me to some restaurants and he helped me find my private student/teacher. He's a funny and kind guy, too.
My new friend Burak. He started a business in real estate just four months ago, but still takes the time to worry about a foreigner. He’s introduced me to some restaurants and he helped me find my private student/teacher. He’s a funny and kind guy, too.