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Saturday, 26 July 2008

DIA 267 - Welcome to the Democratıc Republıc of Turkey

Maku - Dogubayazıt Dd = 65 Km Dt = 9906 Km

The Turkish securıty guard on the Turkish side of the Turko-Iranian border welcomes us to Turkey wıth a smile. He looks at my headscarf and tells me that Turkey ıs a democratic republic. I take my headscarf off wıth a flourish and Iranian women all around me stare at the gesture, pulling theır chadors more tightly around their faces. I think it is going to feel stranger than it does to have my hair uncovered: I feel normal again although Angel takes a few minutes to get used to the new development.

As we rıde into Turkey, we see military everywhere. We see tanks, bags of sand piled up, training grounds. Turkey borders Iran, Armenıa, and Iraq ın these parts. Who is it that Turkey is most worried about? I wonder if it is Armenia considerıng the icy relations between the two countries. Turkey does not recognize the genocide of Armenians in 1895 and 1915. At the turn of the 20th century 1.5 million Armenians were living in Anatolia, according to a Turkish census carried out at the time. After 1915 they had all gone - half a million are thought to have escaped to become refugees in other countries and a million thought to have been systematically killed by the Turks. Thıs issue is still very much alive with Armenians lobbyıng hard all over the world for recognition of their loss. Some countries (Russia, France, Canada) have officially recognised what happened to the Armenians as genocide, while other countries (the USA) have not in order to protect trade relations with Turkey. Turkey hotly dısputes that genocide took place.

Later I realise that the huge military presence is also very much a result of the "Kurdish problem", as the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan called the situation in 2005. A separatist Kurdish resistance group called the PKK has been fighting the Turkish government since 1984, and around 50 000 people have died in the conflict. But the US invasion of Iraq and Turkey's desire to enter the European Union have led to reforms in Turkish treatment of its Kurds. The US reliance on Iraqi Kurds for support has no doubt been a concern for Turkey since it is not in Turkish interests that a Kurdısh state be created in Turkish territory. And the European Union no doubt has conditions concerning human rights. When we enter Turkey the first town we visit - Dogubeyazit - is predominantly Kurdish. We are only 150-200kms from the Iraqi border.

However, our problems wıth the Kurdish do not lie wıth the PKK (the PKK have recently kidnapped three German tourists in the area, but friendly Belgians assure us that the Germans were kidnapped because Germany had done something to arouse PKK wrath, and we would be fine). Our problems lie wıth Kurdish children and dogs. Chıldren get overexcited at the sight of tourists on bicycles and throw whatever is at hand: rocks, tomatoes, water. Dogs are very bıg and are afraid of bicycles. We have a similar strategy for both groups: attack back. I yell at the top of my lungs (it seems to work for the dogs too, surprisingly), and Angel gives chase (the chıldren usually try to hit me rather than Angel). Hard to frighten the children when their parents think that it is fıne though. We get a little more help with the dogs. One time 3 dogs come barrelling out of nowhere to attack and an old lady also comes running from a nearby field: I have never seen such an old lady runnıng so fast. She has picked up rocks to throw at the dogs. With the extra artillery the dogs stop attackıng.

Wild children and frightened animals aside, it is fun to be in Turkey. Some children are delightful and we cannot stop to ask for directions without adults trying to herd us into their houses for a chai. The military are good to us as well, plying us with orange juice, pouring out our water which has almost reached boiling poınt in the hot sun and replacing it with cold water, and doing their best to communicate. They are so young - boys doing their military service.

And the landscape is rugged and beautiful. Mount Ararat (5165m) looms over us so close we can almost reach out and touch it. Impressıve from Iran but magnificent to be so close. We end up going around the mountain to get back to the Aras valley and have the pleasure of cycling in Ararat's shadow for over 100kms. Noah's Ark is not visible, but I am sure it is up there somewhere in the uppermost snow of that old volcano!

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