by Gordon Taylor | 7/19/2008 12:20:00 AM

"I am not making this up."
--Dave Barry

Things remain at a rolling boil in the kitchen of Turkish politics. Like the Janissaries, whose signal act every time they revolted was to run to the galley and overturn their soup kettles, some of today's actors seem ready to throw over the whole apparatus at any time. I won't attempt to make sense of it; rather, I'll point you in the direction of those better equipped to try. Most of these stories are old news to Turkey-followers. But like a good off-color joke, they keep on giving.

First and most important (I guess), the duly-elected government of Turkey, headed by the AKP, or Justice and Development Party, is about to be tossed out in a coup conducted by hardline secularists of the judicial branch. This will happen in a couple of weeks. In Turkey judges and prosecutors live, like the Army, in their own little Green Zone of the mind, perpetuating the power of the authoritarian state (i.e., themselves) no matter how nonsensically contorted their rulings have to be. Saban Kardas, in Eurasia Daily Monitor, gives a rundown on the closure case, as does Turkish Politics in Action. Everybody agrees that the court decision will oust the AKP and outlaw its leaders, including the current Prime Minister, and practically everybody thinks it will lead to political chaos. Eventually the chaos will subside, and that weird mutation, the Turkish State, will marshall its spastic limbs and stagger on, but nobody knows exactly how. At the same time as the AKP case, the "pro-Kurdish" party in Parliament, the DTP (Democratic Society Party), is also in danger of being closed. Like the "mildly Islamist" [don't ask; it's like a "moderate Republican"] AKP, they're expected to form the same party under a new label, just as they and so many other banned political parties have done so many times before.

Then we have Ergenekon. This is not, as you might expect, a Klingon ruler. Nor is it a new virility drug. It is, in fact, the name given to what is either (a) a bunch of right-wing thugs who just talk a lot and occasionally kill somebody, or, (b) a bunch of right-wing thugs who have formed a massive conspiracy to overthrow the duly-elected government. For more, see here and here. But wait, you say, wasn't overthrowing the government what we were just talking about? Right, but that was judges. They will overthrow the elected government legally, i.e., by arbitrary judicial force. Ergenekon (allegedly! allegedly!) wanted to use arbitrary force of a more traditional kind, like finding liberals and anyone else they didn't like and putting a bullet between their eyes. Turkish Politics gives a rundown on this gang, and as readers might remember, I did a few paragraphs about them a couple of months ago.

In Turkey, besides the earth-shaking cases, there is always plenty of news on the micro-legal front. Here it's impossible to choose the stories, so thickly do they lie upon the ground. There's Bulent Ersoy, for example, a transsexual singer and television hostess who is in trouble for having said that, if she were able to have a son, she would not want him to go to war in the Southeast against the PKK. Obviously this is "Discouraging people from military service"--a major no-no. Then there's YouTube, which is constantly being banned in Turkey for allowing people to post unflattering videos about Ataturk. Another defendant, a newspaper reporter (there are already 23 [!] of them in jail), has been sentenced to six years in prison for contacting the PKK, even though he was proven (by the police!) to be nowhere near the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. This is truly a classic. Details here.

Elsewhere (at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, presumably in the Ataturk Customs Hall, close to the Ataturk Men's Room) the Fatherland was barely saved from subversion when a seven-year-old boy named Welat was denied entry. His crime? The little twerp sports a name that begins with W. The letters Q, W, and X are forbidden, you see, in Turkey. (If your name is Xavier Kumqwat, don't even think about going.) Welat, born in Germany to Kurdish parents with dual German-Turkish nationality, tried to sneak past customs and immigration, but luckily the little terrorist was caught and sent packing back to Dusseldorf.

And speaking of juvenile delinquents, in June Turkish prosecutors once again proved their mettle when they hauled into court a children's choir from Diyarbakir in the Southeast. The kids' offense: singing a song in Kurdish. God knows how many W's and X's it must have contained. Not only did they do this, but they did it in a foreign country, specifically the Queer People's Republic of San Francisco, where they were attending an international choral festival in the fall of 2007. In a rare display of judicial flabbiness, the Diyarbakir court acquitted them. The woman who catalogues their sheet music, however, will probably get life.

Amid this legal maelstrom, the war continues in the East of Turkey, with daily clashes big and small. Just this week the PKK announced that they had shot down two Sikorsky helicopters, with one downing caught on video. See Mizgin's announcement here. If and when she posts a link to that video, I'll update this posting to include it, and we can all sit around and watch combat porn.

Meanwhile, the 3 German climbers captured on Mt. Ararat last Thursday (7/11) are nowhere to be found, even after a week of intensive search by the Turkish Army. Some people (i.e., me) have noted that, with the recent massively-publicized release of Ingrid Betancourt in Colombia, this is hardly the time for the PKK to be taking hostages if they want Europeans to think of them as "freedom fighters" rather than "terrorists." (Americans don't even know they exist, so it doesn't matter what we think.) However, my feeble opinion cuts no ice with the PKK, and take them they did. In Germany, chagrined Kurdish associations are calling for their release.

It should be noted that the German climbers were taken at Camp #1, or Yesil (Green) Camp, the main camping place on the standard summit route for tourists on Mt. Ararat. Ararat (16,950') is basically a long hike to the summit, with no technical difficulty involved except the possibility of altitude sickness. Lots of people do it. Moreover, as Mizgin Yilmaz has pointed out, having just visited the area, the vicinity of Ararat is crawling with police and military. And yet, the PKK team just walked into the camp about 10 P.M. and took the climbers. And now they can't be found. This on a mountain that's totally bare--not a single tree anywhere to hide behind.

But of course it's not as simple as that. Ararat is big. Very big. And actually there are two of them. The second, or Lesser Ararat, is over 12,000 feet at its summit, and thus is itself a formidable peak. Put these two volcanoes together and cover their slopes with hectare upon hectare of black, ugly, fissured lava, and you end up looking into an abyss. Think, by comparison, of Steve Fossett's plane and all the effort that went into finding it, to no avail. And it was yellow! The PKK, au contraire, do not wear bright colors.

In fact, the slopes of Ararat and neighboring peaks have proven to be ideal guerrilla country for over a century. At the beginning of the 20th century Armenian guerrillas of the Tashnak, a revolutionary organization based in Russian territory, used these slopes and surrounding areas extensively. Later, in the 1920s, Ararat was the base for a revolt of the Jelali Kurds, a major tribe in the area. So after a week on the run, the PKK and their captives could be anywhere. And just 35 miles to the southwest, easy walking distance for guerrillas, another volcano offers even better cover.

This other volcano is Tendurek. It looks, as you can see from the above photograph, like a giant paint ball splattered upon the moonscape of eastern Turkey. Tendurek, though high enough (11,500') is not iconic like Ararat or other famous volcanoes, such as Mts. Rainier, Shasta, or Fuji. No lovely cone adorns the skyline, with a perpetual patch of snow to lend it grandeur. Tendurek is a shield volcano, rather like Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Tendurek spews (or spewed, for its last eruption was in 1850) liquid lava, not ash, and this lava has spread over a vast area in the surrounding terrain. W.A. Wigram, an Anglican missionary who lived in Van before the Great War, describes Tendurek's lava flows:

The lava flows from Mount Etna, which are out and away the most magnificent in Europe, are not to be compared for a moment with the twenty miles square of "black glacier" that have streamed from the fissures of Tendurek Dagh.

And here, their importance to the Armenian guerrillas of the Tashnak:

Nature aided the Tashnakists, by giving them practically inexpugnable strongholds in the land, with ready exits into Persian territory. The great crater of Nimrud [Note: Nemrut, at west end of Lake Van], some six miles across, was one of their refuges; and this is paved for much of its area with a maze of corrugated lava whence no man who knows the runs can be dislodged. Here are also hot springs, just of a temperature to sit in comfortably, in which some of these fellows actually lived for weeks during an Armenian winter, with the thermometer far below zero. They had rigged up an ingenious arrangement, so that they could lie in the water and sleep with their heads above the surface.

Their strangest stronghold, however, was the giant lava­flow of Tendurek. Here either the lava has streamed from great horizontal fissures, or possibly the whole mountain has been blown away by the discharge of an accumulation of energy. Whatever the cause, an area some twenty miles square [Note: "twenty miles square" = 400 sq. miles] has been covered with a sea of black lava; which has split and fissured in every direction as it cooled, and now resembles nothing so much as a gigantic black glacier. It is a place where any number of men, and any amount of stores, could lie Perdu for as long as they wished; for there is an abundant supply of water in the crevasses. One edge of the field is admittedly in Persian territory [Note: not now, I believe, since the border was adjusted during Ataturk's time.], and so cannot be policed, even if it were a simple matter to put a cordon round such a place. All the guns of the empire might bombard the stronghold to the crack of doom without inconveniencing its occupants, except by an occasional lucky shot; and the garrison could issue from it at any point to cut up any isolated post. It is an absolutely ideal guerrilla stronghold; for men can move from end to end of it unseen, while every movement of the besieger is conspicuous to them on the bare downs that surround it. [Wigram, The Cradle of Mankind]
That's Tendurek. Less than a month ago, on June 25, 2008, three guerrillas of the PKK, two women and one man, were killed there. As I said, this is just 35 miles--or less--from Ararat. And the Germans are nowhere to be found. Today's press release from the PKK says that continued military operations by the Turkish Army are jeopardizing the security of the hostages. This does not mean that the PKK is threatening to kill the Germans. It means that if the TSK manages to corner the guerrillas and their captives, all bets are off. Everyone who knows the Turks knows that they don't negotiate and they don't take prisoners. Captured PKK fighters are usually shot in cold blood, and their bodies have been mutilated, which has included decapitation. Thus, there is no reason for them to surrender. And with no surrender, the German tourists would be right in the middle.

Cross-posted at The Pasha and the Gypsy.




Blogger Jay@Soob on 7/19/2008 6:20 PM:

An illuminating post.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/21/2008 12:24 AM:

Nice roundup of events going on outside of Ankara


Blogger JoshSN on 7/27/2008 7:54 AM:

Most of the really long lasting rebellions seem to have mountain strongholds. And their own language.

The Quechua along the spine of the Andes, the Kurds, the Tibetans and Uighur, and our pals the Pushtun.