Category Archives: Turkey

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Last Friday (Dec. 6) was St. Nicholas’s Day. In my family, we celebrate by putting our stockings out in front of the fireplace for St. Nick’s visit during the night. I always considered myself lucky that St. Nick visited my family not once, but twice, during December.

St. Nicholas himself came from present-day Demre, a town in southern Turkey about four hours east of Alanya. In the 4th century, he had a reputation for secret gift-giving, serving as a model for the Santa Claus we know and love today. During the Byzantine Empire, St. Nicholas was also one of the many bishops who answered Constantine’s request to appear at the First Council of Nicea, where he was one of those who signed the Nicean Creed.

And so, it was a pleasant surprise to visit a Christmas Market (Noel Pazarı) here in Alanya last Sunday. To all the naysayers who worry about the rising Islamism or intolerance in Turkey, I’d like them to take a look at the wonderful market that the town organizes every year near the harbor.

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There was lots of food! Many of the local cultural associations in Alanya––from the Russians to the Lithuanians to the Germans to the Dutch––set up booths with their traditional sweets.

Amanda and I with our berliners!

You could buy all kinds of handmade crafts.

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I found the Polish booth.

There was even a Christmas tree!

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I also tried salep for the first time, a Turkish drink made from the flour of the tubers of orchids. It’s mixed with hot milk and sprinkled with cinnamon on top––so good!

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Happy holidays!

Castle Walls and Friday Bazaars

Last week, I had some free time in the afternoons to go exploring around Alanya. On Tuesday, it was exploring the area near Red Tower and the castle walls, climbing our way up the cliffs along the castle wall. On Friday, I made a solo expedition to the weekly bazaar, where local farmers line up their produce for sale in a vibrant outdoor market.

Only a week left.

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Into Occupied Territory

The Turkish and the TRNC flag

After our day in Adana/Mersin, we got on a flight the next morning to fly to Cyprus, or more specifically, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a self-declared state that comprises the northeastern half of the island. Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey, while rest of the international community considers it an occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

After centuries of Ottoman than British rule, united Cyprus gained in independence in 1960, with a constitution that designated specific administrative roles to Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Unfortunately, this unity didn’t last long. By 1963, most Turkish Cypriots had vacated their government positions in opposition to a series of amendments proposed by President Makarios. Violence erupted between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, often between former neighbors, with significant casualties on both sides.

In 1974, the military junta back in Greece supported a coup d’etat of the Greek Cypriots, which removed Makarios from office and replaced him with Nikos Sampson. Under the 1960 treaty that created Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain had signed on as guarantors. Using this as legitimization, Turkey invaded the island in July 1974 under the pretense of protecting the Turkish Cypriot population. The army preceded to take over roughly 37% of the island, which remains divided even today by the “Green Line,” a border that UN forces continue to patrol. In 1975, the Turkish Cypriots declared a separate state, which was rejected by the Republic of Cyprus and the United Nations.

And so, almost 40 years later, the island remains paralyzed by this separation. In the meantime, a whole generation of Cypriots has grown up in this division. While there have been decades of relative peace, Turkey still maintains a large military force in the territory. The Turkish invasion and occupation of the TRNC continue to be condemned by the UN Security Council each year.

In 2004, when Cyprus was admitted into the European Union, it did so without resolving the conflict that continues to divide the island. In the same year, Cypriots voted on the UN-proposed Annan Plan to reunite the island, which was put to the people as a referendum. Interestingly, the proposal was supported by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, while 76% of Greek Cypriots opposed the plan. As it remains, there seems to be little impetus to finally reach a solution in Cyprus, even as the division approaches its 40th anniversary.

Nevertheless, if Turkey ever wants to join the EU itself, its accession hinges on its ability to reach a solution in Cyprus. At the moment, several chapters of the accession talks are closed until a resolution is met. (This is one of the issues that we’ve been discussing in my class on Turkey and the EU.)

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We arrived in Cyprus on a beautifully clear day, and immediately drove to Famagusta,  a city on the east coast of Cyprus. After lunch (and some amazing dessert), we had some time to walk around the old part of the city.

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In the heart of Famagusta, I was surprised to find an old, gothic-style cathedral. While today it is known as the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, it was built as Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral between 1298 and 1400 A.D. by the French Lusignan dynasty, who ruled Cyprus during the Middle Ages. It was consecrated as a Catholic cathedral in 1328, then converted into a mosque after the Ottomans captured Famagusta in 1571. It remains a mosque even today––check out the inside!

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The city itself was beautiful, as well.

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However, a part of Famagusta remains abandoned to this day. Prior to 1974, the Varosha quarter of Famagusta was once the number one tourist destination in Cyprus. However, during the invasion, its primarily Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled, leaving behind their houses and extensive tourist developments. Today, no one is allowed to enter the area besides military personnel, leaving the huge hotels and apartment complexes empty.

You can only drive by the outskirts of the quarter by bus, so I wasn’t able to get too many good photos. Here are some I found online:

So eerie!

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where we had the opportunity to talk to a Turkish Cypriot family whose son was a student of one of our professors. It was fascinating to hear their stories, but also heartbreaking to hear about how former neighbors could suddenly turn into such enemies.

After dinner, Alex and I went exploring around our hotel in Girne, going a walk that ended up being a 2-hour fast-walking (because we don’t walk any other way) odyssey where we managed to get lost, twice. We ended up at our hotel later absolutely exhausted.

The next morning, we decided to try at it again, and went exploring down by the harbor in Girne.

Afterwards, the group met with a representative from the EU Coordination Organization in Nicosia, the group who is working on aligning the laws of the TRNC with EU acquis––an interesting arrangement, considering that the EU officially doesn’t recognize the TRNC.

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The man who talked to us actually was trained and educated as an attorney in England, before he moved to Northern Cyprus to work as a law professor. Now, his specialty is intellectual property law, where his task is to comb through old laws (many dating back to the British colonial period) and make recommendations about how to bring them up to match EU acquis.

After our discussion, we then had the opportunity to cross the Green Line itself. Since the border opened up in 2004, movement between the two sides of the island is relatively easy––although I had to show my passport and get a stamp before crossing through.

(I edited out my personal information.)

(I edited out my personal information.)

Once we passed through to the Republic of Cyprus, suddenly we were inundated with all the symbols of Western consumerism: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coldstone, Topshop. Instead of Turkish, many signs were in Greek in addition to English. The streets were packed with all kinds of shoppers––since the borders opened in 2004, many Turkish and Greek Cypriots regularly cross the borders to go shopping on the other side.

At this point, I have a confession to make. After months of Turkish food, there was nothing that sounded better than some McDonald’s fries. And so, Alex, Amanda, and I caved and went to McDonald’s for lunch.

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Since we had already made the jump, we figured that we might as well finish off our meal allowance with Starbucks. (In Turkey, most of the coffee we drink is the powdered Nescafé stuff, so it’s hard to find some normal brewed coffee.)

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There’s something comforting about the fact that every Starbucks you go to looks exactly the same, down to the comfy arm chairs and music soundtrack.

And then to top it off, we headed back to the McDonald’s to get some McFlurries for dessert.

Feeling somewhat sick, we spent the rest of our time in the RoC walking around the streets and looking into all the shops. But after 4 months on the Turkish Lira, I’m fairly stingy on my purchases when it comes to how expensive things are on the euro––next semester in Italy is going to be a rude awakening having to pay for everything in euros.

We headed back over to the other side of the border to meet up with the group, then took a bus ride over to Bellapais, a small village in Northern Cyprus. The village is home to the site of the Bellapais Abbey, built by the French, that has a long view down to the Mediterranean Sea.

After that, we headed to the airport for our flight back to Antalya. We happened to be in the airport at the same time the Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş soccer game was going on, so everyone in the airport was glued to the two televisions that were showing the game. So much so, in fact, that the airport employees were so involved in the game that someone neglected to display our flight on the screens until 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave.

With a short flight over the Mediterranean, we were soon on the bus ride home to Alanya, getting ready for our final stretch here in Turkey.

In the Fields by Day, On the Stage by Night

We woke up early on Thursday morning to catch a flight to Adana, where we then took a bus to a small village outside of Mersin that is home to Ümmiye Koçak.

Who’s Ümmiye? By day, she works in the fields or takes care of her family, as is typical of women who live in this small village in the Taurus Mountains. But at night, she writes plays.

In 2000, Ümmiye attended a theater production at a local high school in Arslanköy and watched her very first play. She was mesmerized.

From The New Yorker:

For a long time, [Ümmiye] had been puzzling over the situation of village women––the many roles they had to play. In the field, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers. “I kept turning it over in my head, how is it that I do all these things,” she later recalled. “Then I saw Hüseyin’s theatre. That’s when I decided that the thing I’d been turning over in my head was theatre.”

Inspired by the performance, Ümmiye set out to create her own theater group. She gathered together a group of other village women, many of whom couldn’t read, and formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. Soon, the group collaborated on their own play, based on their own difficult life experiences, which included domestic violence and forced marriage.

Over the past decade, Ümmiye’s troupe (still all-women) has attracted attention far beyond the borders of their small village. Their performance of Hamlet was covered by The Guardian; last December, even The New Yorker devoted a profile to this courageous group of women.

At the request of one of our professors, we traveled to the village to meet specifically with this group of women. As the sun was setting, we sat outside her house in the country, talking to Ümmiye about her work and it means to her.

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She explained how she spends most of her day in the fields, then spends several hours each night writing and working on her plays. Currently, she is working on a series of plays: one is a conversation between a mother and daughter about global warming. Theater gives her an outlet, a voice, she said.

The sun had set by time we got back to Adana, where we went to a kebap restaurant for dinner and settled in at our hotel for the night. The next morning, we had a quick tour of Adana by bus, before catching our flight to Cyprus. At our short glance, Adana is a very different city than those we’ve encountered so far––it looked and felt like we were more in the east.

Turkey in Turkiye

We got back late last night after spending the Thanksgiving weekend in a whirlwind trip to Adana and Cyprus, after taking three flights and three days. Our actual Thanksgiving evening was spent in a restaurant in Adana, eating none other than Adana Kebap (so good!). Because we would be away, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Tuesday before, inviting all of our Alanya friends to a giant turkey dinner.

We don’t have ovens in our apartments, so we were somewhat limited in what we could make, ordering a turkey from a local hotel and pies from a restaurant. Mara and I claimed the mashed potatoes, so we spent the afternoon peeling potatoes, boiling them in water, and mashing them up with copious amounts of butter and milk.

At one point, when Mara, Amanda, and I were peeling potatoes, Lindsay remarked, “Of course we have the Foley’s, O’Malley’s, and Galvin’s peeling potatoes.” Of course.

We decorated Yamaç Cafe with a box of Thanksgiving decorations that had been shipped from the U.S., then laid out all the food in a huge spread: turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rice, baked carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, stuffing, pies, and so on. We invited our host families for the meal, and slowly the restaurant began to fill up with our big Alanya family.

My host family was amused that we called the meat “turkey.” In fact, the Turkish word for the bird is hindi, which is also the word for someone from India. So really, the circle of confusion just continues!

While it’s hard to be away during the holidays, there’s so much to be thankful for here in Alanya. I am thankful for my friends and professors, those who have shared this wonderful experience with me. But I’m also incredibly thankful for my “Turkish family,” who has generously and open-heartedly welcomed me into their home and lives. I can’t say how lovely it is to see The Hunger Games in a movie theater full of Turkish teenagers, to play countless games of Okey, and to share meals that always include never-ending amounts of delicious food. (They even brought me a cake and a container of ashure to take home with me after the meal!) They are absolutely the best.

It was truly a Happy Thanksgiving.

Turkey and the European Union

“The EU Accession process is less of a negotiation than an imposition,” we were told, meeting with Michael Miller, the Head of Political Affairs for the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

And indeed, the accession process is intrusive, as the European Commission issues thorough recommendations about what must be done for Turkey to bring itself in line with the European Union acquis. As a result, the EU Accession process has been a driving force behind reform in Turkey.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The EU Accession process has also been a long time coming. The EEC and Turkey first entered into an Association Agreement in 1964, aimed at eventually securing Turkey’s full membership in the EEC. However, the next several decades were rife with political violence and instability, with military coups in 1970 and 1981. In 1987, Turkey applied for full EEC membership; it was rejected as the European Commission stressed the existing gaps between Turkey and the EEC. Turkey and the EU instead formed a Customs Union in 1995. Finally, the European Council finally entered Turkey into its list of candidate countries at Helsinki in 1999, and accession negotiations opened in October 2005.

There are some obvious benefits of Turkey’s accession for both sides. The EU has an interest to stabilize Turkey politically, and the location of Turkey as a key energy transit route would make its EU membership extremely strategic. For Turkey, the EU is its biggest trading partner, accounting for 40% of its foreign trade. The EU is by far the biggest investor in Turkey, and it would make sense to solidify this economic partnership through greater integration.

However, the European Union has evolved significantly from its beginnings as an economic union in the EEC. In this sense, Turkey is chasing a moving goalpost or target when it comes to EU accession. The EU has increasingly been seen to embody a set of European values with regards to democracy and human rights.

While these reforms can be made, there remains hesitancy whether it is worth it. After initial progress in the early 2000s, the accession of Cyprus to the EU without resolving the border dispute spurred Turkish resentment, resulting in a hiatus in accession talks between 2004 to 2012. In contrast, many chapters are closed in the Turkish accession talks until a resolution in Cyprus. Comments by French President Sarkozy that “Turkey… has no place inside the European Union” suggest that even if Turkey could meet the acquis, it might still be unable to receive the unanimous vote to ultimately become a member.

There is also the question about whether Turkey actually needs the EU. The country managed to breeze through the world financial crisis of 2008-2009 relatively unscathed, in part due to the banking sector reforms instituted as part of its IMF loan package at the beginning of the decade. It has a large and growing domestic market, as over 50% of its population is under the age of 30. Also, there tends to be talk in Turkey about its options in the East, looking to Russia or countries in the Middle East as possible economic and political partners.

At the same time, Mr. Miller told us, “Turkey would do well to look at the costs of non-membership as well,” believing that Turkey does not have the political ability to institute reforms without external pressure. The lack of progress after 2004 has demonstrated this shortcoming, although Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Democratization Package may signal a renewed dedication.

“We need to get the EU accession process back to the leverage it had in 2002 to 2004,” Mr. Miller said.

Human Rights in Turkey

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” begins the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 following the experience of WWII. And indeed, one of the triumphs of the 20th and 21st century has been a further expansion and recognition of this “inherent dignity” to all of humankind.

Yet there is still much to be done.

In Turkey, the 20th century was marked by repeated military coups, political violence, and an armed insurgency in the southeast by the PKK. The brutal crackdown of protests in Gezi Park last June provides one of the most recent examples of the constraints on the freedom of expression in Turkey.

In the early 2000s, the possibility of EU accession drove Turkey to institute a number of positive reforms in the arena of human rights: rewording some problematic articles in the Constitution and Penal Code, expanding the rights of minority groups like the Kurds, and limiting the application of the death penalty. But after this initial reform period, EU accession talks stalled after the admission of Cyprus into the EU in 2004. Consequently, the reforms also stopped. Only within the last couple months did the EU and Turkey resume negotiations, possibly again renewing the impetus for reform. Indeed, President Erdogan recently introduced a series of reform measures in his “Democratization Package” on Sept. 13.

Standing up for human rights

In Ankara, we met with representatives from İnsan Hakları Derneği, a human rights NGO (non-governmental organization, for those who aren’t familiar with all the acronyms in IR speak) in Turkey with its headquarters in Ankara.

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İHD is the oldest and biggest human rights association in Turkey. Established in 1986, today it has 30 branches across the country. While the association addresses a wide variety of issues within the realm of human rights, it tends to concentrate on issues of gender and freedom of expression, focusing on increasing awareness as well as providing free legal aid.

This can be a dangerous pursuit. In the early years of the association, two members were kidnapped and disappeared while they were working on cases of disappeared people. However, there has been much progress. While the organization does not face as much of a physical threat anymore, there still remains legal and administrative pressure on its activities.

We spoke with the International Affairs Secretary for İHD. He had recently been released from prison in April, after being held for 10 months for charges related to a speech he had made about international lobbying activities. He was ultimately released on the first hearing about his charges, but pretrial detention in Turkey can last up to five years. During the first seven months of imprisonment, neither he nor his lawyers had access to his indictment because it was under secrecy.

He was imprisoned under the pretenses of Turkey’s wide-scoping anti-terrorism law, which was introduced in 1991 to counter an insurgency by the PKK. However, due the wide-scoping language of the law, thousands of people––including many journalists––have been jailed. The definition of terrorism is so ambiguous that wide groups of individuals can be sent to prison. Very few of these individuals are accused of violent or criminal action, but instead are accused with promoting the aims of illegal organizations. To Turkey’s credit, the definition of what constitutes terrorist propaganda was narrowed last April, although the scope of the law remains an area of debate and criticism.

We discussed the possibility of EU accession as an incentive to improving human rights issues within Turkey, noting that the recent September 13th Democratization Package was passed just two weeks before the EU Progress Report. The president of İHD emphasized the need for the EU to establish an effective follow-up measure, highlighting an issue that we’ve examined time and time again in my classes this semester. While Turkey has many of the institutional frameworks in place, it lacks the administrative and social capabilities to ensure their implementation. Enforcement remains an issue. Nevertheless, the recent Democratization Package is promising, as it demonstrates an effort by the Justice and Development Party to address some of the issues within Turkey.

“In total, I am still an optimist,” our speaker told us about the reforms.

In the southeast of Turkey, the continuing crisis in Syria has had serious effects on those living near the border. Estimates vary, but there are currently around 800,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, with around 200,000 in designated refugee camps. The refugees are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.

“For us, the right to life is the most basic right,” said the president of İHD. “If there is no right to life, you can’t talk about democracy or rights in any country.”

The international community has a serious role to play in finding a sustainable solution to this crisis.

Out of the closet: Addressing LGBT issues in Turkey

In Ankara, we also met with a woman from Kaos GL, an NGO that focuses in LGBT rights and issues within Turkey. When we arrived, their meeting room was currently being used by another workshop, so we walked to go sit at a bar nearby that’s known as a safe space among university students in the area.

Kaos GL began meeting as a group in 1994, but was formally established as an organization in 2005 when they began publishing a magazine. Today, they engage in various forms of outreach and education within the community to deal with continuing issues of discrimination.

In almost every major city in Turkey, you’ll find a set of rainbow stairs. (There’s even a set of rainbow stairs near the harbor in Alanya.) Originally one man started doing it in Istanbul, when he kept painting the stairs rainbow after the city municipality kept painting them back to normal. Soon, LGBT communities started painting rainbow stairs in each of their own cities.

An example of rainbow stairs inside a high rise in Ankara

For more information on human rights in Turkey, check out the following resources:

  • The Human Rights Watch’s 2013 Report on Turkey gives an overview of the current status quo and recent developments regarding human rights in Turkey
  • The U.S. State Department’s 2012 Human Rights Report on Turkey provides an extensive summary of the major obstacles to the guarantee of human rights in Turkey
  • Amnesty International keeps an active blog on Human Rights in Turkey with regular updates

On the Steps of Anıtkabir

As we drove around Ankara, I couldn’t help but get a little homesick for my own capital city. Over these past couple years, I’ve grown to consider Washington, D.C., almost as much of my home as California. After three months in Alanya, I can’t help but crave the way the sun reflects off of the monuments or the way lobbyists and politicians bustle about with their aura of self-importance. And so, it was nice to spend a couple days in Ankara, amidst the capital buzz of embassies, NGOs, and politics.

Ankara has been the capital of Turkey since 1923, corresponding with the founding of the Turkish Republic. With that importance, Ankara has grown to become the second largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul. It’s quite a remarkable growth. Today, its population sits at around 4.3 million, but just in the 1960s, it hovered more around 1 million.

After a night at our hotel in Ankara, we began our day by visiting Anıtkabir, the mausoleum and museum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Our visit coincided shortly after the memorial of his death on November 10, so the memorial was packed with groups of schoolchildren paying their respects.

The mausoleum and museum were beautiful, situated on a tall hill above Ankara. But my favorite part was spotting these kids:

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

For the rest of Ankara, our trip took a decidedly academic turn, as our itinerary was full of meetings with different kinds of organizations that operate out of Ankara. I found the conversations to be some of the most interesting aspects of my time in Turkey so far. There’s only so much that I can learn from the news or from the readings for my classes, but the best kind of insight comes from those on the ground who are working through the issues.

For the rest of the posts from Ankara, I’ll take a more topical approach, discussing some of the issues that we  studied in class as well as discussed in meetings with various leaders during our time in the capital. Stay tuned!
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Walk Like a Hittite

On our long drive to Anakara today, we detoured to Hattusa, the long ago capital of the Hittite Empire during the Bronze Age.

The Hittites Empire dates back to the 18th century BCE, when the kingdom at Hattusa was first established. At its height in 1285 BCE, the empire comprised a large part of Anatolia, northwestern Syria, and upper Mesopotamia. When one considers the fact that the peers of the Hittites were the other great empires of the Egyptians or Assyrians, it’s surprising that one doesn’t hear as much about this powerful empire.

Map of the Hittite Empire at its greatest extent under Suppiluliuma I(c. 1350–1322 BCE) and Mursili II (c. 1321–1295 BCE).

The Hittite kingdom was commonly called the Land of Hati by the Hittites themselves. The term “Hittite” actually comes from the King James translation of the Bible, as in the “Children of Heth.” In the 19th century, archaeologists originally attributed their findings to these biblical Hitties. Today, there remains some dispute over whether the biblical Hittites were those headquartered in Hattusa or one of the neo-Hittite empires that came later.

In Hattusa, we first visited an open air sanctuary from the Hittites, which was most likely used for some kind of worship. The stone carvings were quite well-preserved.

We then explored the various gates of this former capital.

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The Lion Gate of Hattusa, which was one of two city gates.

The Earth Gate, or Sphinx Gate, was particularly striking. Underneath the former city wall is a 70-m long tunnel, built from flat stones that lean towards each other to form a triangle. You can still walk through it today. The purpose of the tunnel is unknown––since its entrance was clearly visible from the outside and flanked by two sets of stairs, it seems dubious that the tunnel could have had any serious defensive role. Most likely, it served for some kind of religious or ceremonial purpose. (Imagine, building a 70-m stone tunnel just for a ceremony!)

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We had a long drive ahead of us to Ankara, but we broke it up along the way with a visit to the Ballıca Cave. It was huge inside!

I’ll write soon with an update about our time in Ankara (NGOs galore!), but in the meantime, you can check out my latest post for the Berkley Center’s Junior Year Abroad Network:

In Turkey, nationalism is part of the daily political discourse. While the state plays an active role in the cultivation of this nationalism, the feeling runs deeper. The omnipresent Atatürk paraphernalia goes beyond state sponsorship—you can buy Atatürk earrings, Atatürk phone cases, and Atatürk notebooks.

Raw Materials and Raw Meat

Probably one of the coolest aspects of my program is that we have the opportunity to do all kinds of unique things in Turkey, whether it’s meeting with guest speakers, performing with a folkloric dance group, or navigating situations that would otherwise be difficult with my shaky command of Turkish.

And sometimes, it means getting to tour the largest mattress factory in Turkey.

I’m taking two economics courses this semester on Turkey, where we’ve been discussing the development of Turkey from an economy based on import substitution industrialization to an export-driven market, so it was interesting to see what’s behind Turkey’s remarkable growth. For our day in Kayseri, we spent the day touring two factories: the Yataş mattress and furniture factory and the Mercan sausage factory.

The Yataş Group is one of the largest retail companies in Turkey, with an umbrella of mattress, bedding, and furniture brands. The company was originally founded by a businessman who returned to Turkey after receiving his MBA in the United States and realized there weren’t any mattress factories in Anatolia; they were all being made in Thrace. Seeing this opportunity, he opened his own factory which today produces over 1,000 mattresses each day, plus a large furniture production, in a facility that includes over 80,000 square meters of enclosed space. (A far cry from the home textile looms we visited earlier in the semester!)

Today, Yataş is the largest brand of mattresses in Turkey, catering to the country’s large and growing population. Recently, the company has begun to expand into Russia and the Middle East, an interesting turn considering the debate in Turkey over whether to focus East or West. In fact, Yataş had opened 14 retail stores in Iran before the Iranian government instituted import restrictions. Now, the company is investigating whether they could open up a production facility in Iran, due to the low labor cost and large domestic market. However, business in Iran remains extremely difficult due to international restrictions, especially on money transfers. (On another note, it will be interesting to see what direction Iran takes following the recent election of a new president.)

In between factory visits, we had some free time to walk around Kayseri.

Kayseri is well-known for its pastırma, a type of cured, spicy dry meat, so it only made sense that we would complete our time in Kayseri with a visit to a sausage and meat factory. The origin of pastırma reportedly comes from when Turkish warriors would put meat under their saddle, where it could last for months while they went on military campaigns.

First, we had to suit up and be properly sanitized to enter the production facility.

Then, we were given a tour of the process.

#sausagefactoryselfies

#sausagefactoryselfies

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I didn’t know quite what to expect from a visit to a meat factory, but I thought that for sure I’d end the tour as a vegetarian. Yet unexpectedly, it wasn’t that bad as you would think. Sure, there was raw meat, but it by far wasn’t as gory or disgusting as I thought it might be. (And by the end, I was hungry and ready to taste some!)

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Afiyet olsun!