Saturday, 28 December 2013

Turkey watching season

Christmas tart - and a Turkish bird

I love reading the news from Australia. Nothing much happens there. I check the ABC website each morning. Occasionally a story punches hard and the old me gets worked up (I'm still convinced, for example, that out-of-control drinking and the violence it spawns is worse in Australia than most other places, though Alex disagrees) but more often than not a quick glance reassures me that all is well downunder. Read about the two fishermen who spent a night in the water clinging onto their cooler box after their boat went down? What about the tourist who walked off the end of the St Kilda pier while she was checking her Facebook page. Gold. And now, between Christmas and New Year, I get cricket and crocodiles (of course) and news that the Sydney to Hobart race has been won, yet again, by the octogenarian Bob Oatley's maxi-yacht Wild Oats. Wonderful stuff. You couldn't hope to leave your children in a better country to get on with their young adult lives, I tell myself.

Look what they dragged up from the sea on the Sunday before Christmas

In this part of the world, people enjoy their quiet routines - a Sunday barbecue at the beach, for example - as much as they do anywhere else. But the news tempo is completely different. Headlines are rarely comforting given Turkey's proximity to Syria and the Middle East and, for that matter, to a flailing, ailing Europe. Turkey no longer feels as secure or stable as it did a year ago. There's still money in the country, that's for sure, but there's a watchfulness in the air, a sense that fortunes might be changing, that established systems might be breaking up.

Southerly winds gusting 40 knots whip up the sea inside Marmaris bay

The marina gardener wrapped in red paper and cottonwool
We popped into a shop in the bazaar last week to buy a couple of Christmas gifts. Tea was ordered and, as we were not in a hurry, we sat and chatted a while with the owner. Ali is an urbane and well-travelled Turk whose English is polished enough to engage in a level of discussion we are rarely admitted to in Marmaris, opened up about Turkish politics. "Did you hear about the mess we're in?" he asked. Yes, we'd read the headlines. Three sons of cabinet ministers and the CEO of the state bank arrested, among others, as part of a sweeping corruption investigation. The prime minister was not informed beforehand apparently. Next day, police chiefs were dismissed, as were the investigators, but the damage was done. The cat was out of the bag. A clear fault-line in the ruling AKP party has been exposed. People like Ali are now keenly waiting for the local government and municipal elections at the end of March. The results, while not directly affecting national government, will show if Mr Erdogan's tight grip on power has been weakened by the events of 2013 (including the summer of protest which began in Taksim square) or whether he has held onto his support base.

Liquidambar orientalis (or Turkish sweetgum) trees in the forest behind Marmaris

 As foreigners, and as guests of a country which is now the only place in the Mediterranean (excluding North Africa) where those of us with non-EU passports can winter over with our boats, we tread carefully where politics - even at a neighbourhood level - are concerned. But if you're interested in Turkey and its political dynamic (which you can definitely not take at face value), it's worth taking the time to read this background briefing which was posted on the Marmaris Bay Cruisers website by an anonymous cruiser. As far as I can tell, its source, a private intelligence company with a confidential subscriber list (who is this cruiser?), is credible. Combined with bazaar tea and talk, it gave us more insight into what's happening up in Istanbul and Ankara than we can possibly get from inside the gated community of the marina which, by the way, is owned by the Koc family, mentioned in the above despatch. It also reminded me I should read more by Orhan Pamuk whose cryptic novels so beautifully lay bare the Byzantine heart which beats under the deceptively smooth skin of modern Turkey.

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