When Breathing Became Onerous in the Land of the Free

25th May 2020; yet another day in the lives of Black Americans, yet another person succumbs to the Police cruelty in Minneapolis. George Floyd was neither the first nor would he be the last one killed on the streets of USA at the hands of an already notorious Police department. As video clips became viral of the hapless Floyd pinned down on the road by a nonchalant Police officer with one hand in his pocket and a knee suffocating a young and strong black man, yet not resisting at all, in any of the CCTV coverage, protests broke out in many States, later turned to widespread riots, needing the National Guard to try to restore order in a country already becoming more and more polarized with the swearing-in of the 45th US President, who is on record to promote such a divide and calling the protestors as “thugs” and needing an iron hand to be dealt with.

Law enforcement officers amassed along Lake Street near Hiawatha Ave. as fires burned after a night of unrest and protests in the death of George Floyd early Friday, May 29, 2020 in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

To a casual observer, it might seem like an out of the ordinary event, starting off with a black American trying to buy a pack of cigarettes with an alleged counterfeit 20$ bill, the shopkeeper initially sending two people to enquire the victim who was by then sitting in his SUV, later the Police were called, who took no time in answering the call of duty. Efficient as they are, when the “Black American suspect making trouble” is mentioned, few Police officers turning up and forcing a relatively docile and non-aggressive “suspect” out of the car and on to the floor and being pinned down by a knee on his neck by Derek Chauvin, a Police Officer who was previously reported for misconduct and involved in previous instances of Police shootings on suspects. While the on-lookers pleaded to the Police officers, on witnessing the continued knee pressure for around 9 minutes, amidst the “I can’t breathe” cries of the victim, Floyd stopped breathing for at least 3 minutes before paramedics were called and avoiding a scene, took him off and as expected, he was declared dead soon. It could conveniently be counted as a mistake, a grave one indeed, had it been a solitary event or if there was any perceived threat or aggression or even resistance on the part of the victim, none of them is evident to the whole world as the incident was recorded and seen by millions across the globe. Even sitting thousands of miles away, it pains our hearts, how can it not affect the people, black or white alike in the Land of the Free. No one deserves such treatment, let alone dying at the hands of law enforcement agencies whose duty is to protect and serve first and foremost, and imagine to someone just using an alleged counterfeit 20$ bill.

End Police Violence

No one can imagine in their wildest of dreams that life can be so cheap, and especially so when it is of a Black person, it is pathetic, to be honest. When people all over the world are facing a pandemic of epic proportions to a virus hitherto uncontrolled and wreaking havoc in USA, causing more than a 1,00,000 deaths as we speak and counting, this could have been a trivial thing, an occurrence which we have become used to,  just another collateral victim in the big fight for “law and order”. Or is it; unless we have forgotten the recent gunning down of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor at her home whilst asleep by Police raiding her home in Louisville; Eric Garner through a Policeman stranglehold in Staten Island New York a few years back, Ironically saying the same words “I can’t breathe” before his death, the murder of young Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of a couple of white men who perceived him to be “a threat” jogging in their neighbourhood! Trayvon Martin’s death in 2013, which started Black Lives Matter. People believed the election of Barrack Obama was a historic event in USA which appeared to show that African Americans have come a long way since the hardships of transatlantic travel in cramped ships, enduring hardships of slavery from capture to working in settlements and plantations, having generations either enslaved or kept so impoverished to the point that it took hundreds of years before slavery was abolished and the civil rights were at least accepted on the surface.

 Dr King and Malcolm X paid with their lives for speaking up against the establishment and white supremacy and standing for the rights of the Black Americans but etched their names into immortality. I used to consider it as possible racist and hate speech, though being a great fan of people like Malcolm X and the great Muhammad Ali, but later realized when one is so suppressed, I guess there is no other option but to go to the extreme to fight for one’s rights. I can see that when many people especially the supporters of Trump and Republican Party in the mostly Southern States still argue and justify these events in support of the Law enforcement agencies, how the people on the other side feel. Can I consider my teenage son going to the park safe living in a society like that, why would an ordinary American of colour feel otherwise, in the face of such discriminatory practices.

The Cooper incident highlights the widespread prejudices in society and how using certain phrases can elicit certain responses from Police and used to threaten people into submission, racism is rampant in society and many amongst us being silent observers if not active supporters. Would they not be in the seventh circle of Hell as described by Dante. If we don’t speak up against the gross injustice, we would be counted as hypocrites or worse party to the crime, one can’t stand on the sidelines anymore. We have come a long way from Selma; or have we. At least, in this day and age of instantaneous electronic media coverage, such news becomes wildfire and in no time, millions of like-minded people come together on various platforms to speak up and rise against the oppressors. We have a responsibility to stand for other people’s rights and fight for justice as we would certainly be questioned about it!

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Silence is Violence
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Liverpool put three past sorry Arsenal to keep top-four hopes alive

Liverpool kept their top-four hopes alive after a resounding 3-1 victory over the out-of-sorts Arsenal as their unbeaten record against top-six sides continued…

Source: Liverpool put three past sorry Arsenal to keep top-four hopes alive

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Manchester United fend off Southampton fightback to win classic cup final

With all the momentum and support Southampton had on this very special day, it would seem no surprise at all that they would keep on pushing till the final whistle against a buoyant Manchester Unit…

Source: Manchester United fend off Southampton fightback to win classic cup final

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One disastrous night in Munich…

Heading into this Champions League last 16 encounter, Arsenal were looking to finally end their curse against the daunting Bayern Munich but unfortunately for the Gunners…it was to be another…

Source: One disastrous night in Munich…

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From Nass to Captain Cook to Smokin’ Joe

Who would have thought that the young kid who made his debut with a solid 73 at Nagpur only 5 years back will be the future Lions captain. He can be most stylish as well as dogged when needed with …

Source: From Nass to Captain Cook to Smokin’ Joe

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The Obscenity and Fascination of War

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Aleppo, Syria

Another war, a bad guy and good guys, depends on which side you are betting on and the ones’ your sympathies lie with; the lines are ever so blurred as before we have seen times and again. The scene is Aleppo and the Inferno that is Syria, once a peaceful calm country just recently, embroiled in a bloody civil war. The media has its favourites, always dictated by the powers behind the scenes, journalists clambering over to get a story, the more the suffering, the more the impact of the stories especially with photojournalism reaching across the globe in a matter of seconds via the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Youtube and Facebook. Arm sales at their highest, the industry booming especially in US, UK, France and Russia. What a good way to promote your economy, fighting a war, funded by others in others’ territory. History repeated all over yet again and again!

War is fascinating, it’s always been since times immemorial, the history records them in gilded letters, we have all been brought up with our war heroes whether in folklore, religious or historic texts, no one is fascinated though with peacemakers and reflects on the horrors of war. We have all been guilty of that, Perhaps that’s how we have been brought up!

Myself for example, having seen at a very young and impressionable age, the documentaries and war movies on second world war and later lots of books on that, being guilty of being fascinated by Hitler, Guderian, Rommel and the Japanese (not the Italians by any stretch though!) and also by Montgomery, Eisenhower on the other side. Then The Falklands war, and the Iran Iraq War which gripped the region for a good part of the decade when I was opening up my eyes to the wide world around. Having lived in Libya, under a revolutionary anti West, anti American propaganda machine of the Qaddafi regime and having been taught about the nasty imperialistic occupation of the sub continent by the British Empire in the 19th century and onwards in our textbooks and how most of Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia was carved up by the European Colonialist powers through wider learning much later on; the inclination was always to support the oppressed against the deemed oppressor, lines would be blurred at many a times. But as they say, the British always love an underdog and so do I!

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Falklands

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Iran-Iraq War

We followed the Falklands war on radio, I vividly remember, cheering as if it was a football match, being Maradona fans, obviously the Argentinians were favoured against the erstwhile colonial power, now my adopted country. Supported Iran morally against all odds against the might of Saddam supported by all and sundry, the Arabs and would you believe it, the US. The vision of young Iranians embracing martyrdom against an oppressor who was heavily armed and supported to occupy oil rich Iran in the post anti US era after the overthrow and exile of the Shah, again a win for the oppressed against a dictator supported by the superpower! It was a stalemate but destroyed both countries, benefitting none but Israel in the region.

Then there was always a war rhetoric, living in Pakistan, every year on Defence day and Republic Day, the display of arms and renewed will to fight off the “evil designs of our neighbouring country hell bent on destroying us” having never forgotten the partition orchestrated in a bad, possibly deliberate way by the British, hurriedly leaving after the Second World War, which marked the end of an era for the European powers having a hold in Africa and Middle East. The war cries made sure both countries Pakistan and India were armed to the teeth and any skirmish usually on the hotbed of Kashmir, (still an unresolved issue despite so many UN resolutions, showing how toothless a body it is when it comes to big powers) led to rumours of full scale war and boasts of obliterating the other. At least the nuclear deterrent, no matter what the Western world says, was a sigh of relief, making sure they are not going to war that easily!  Still didn’t stop the later day Kargil and skirmishes at the Siachen Glacier.

The Gulf war in 1991 was the first one we saw live on TV, I still remember watching CNN on cable TV then, while doing my exams in 10th Grade. Saddam was suddenly made into a hero by many, forgetting his previous crimes, the reason– fighting the bigger evil; what a foresight!

We had seen the Intifada, the destruction of Beirut, Gaza shellings time and again, the Israeli excesses in Palestine, the second Gulf war, heard a lot about Vietnam and the Arab Israeli wars, The Korean war, the breakup of Yugoslavia into many pieces leading to a bloody civil war, the Serbs here were the scapegoats, and Bosnians being Muslims and oppressed our supported ones. Srebrenica always comes to mind and so does Sabra and Shatila! Who can forget Grozny and the Chechens fighting for independence from the mighty Russians.

Above all, in our region, we all supported the Afghan Mujahideens in 80s fighting against the “evil designs of the Soviets” this time Pakistani Intelligence fighting a proxy war on the behest of US, creating ongoing problems which lasted for decades and will continue to impact on both the countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan; Iran and India playing proxy roles later on, after the Russians and US washed their hands off it. Of course who could forget the role of the Saudis in that. Heroes were made out of the likes of Hikmatyar, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The War ended, the Soviets left and ultimately the country broke up, Afghanistan was blown into pieces by a far more bloodier civil war; enter the Taliban, of all the cruelty and excesses committed, give them the credit when due, even acclaimed by the American media, peace prevailed for a longer durable period, poppy production at its lowest.

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Afghan Mujahideens

The twin tower collapse in New York, seen live on TV was frightening but gave media an outlet and the Government with a free reign to raid! Afghanistan and Iraq suffered badly; in the name of collateral damage and the Middle East is a mess since then. The Arab Spring proclaimed so excitedly by the West, led to destabilization of many countries, destabilising many countries in North Africa, namely Libya and Egypt. Democracy was not seen favourably especially in Algeria, Egypt and Turkey, coups and overthrow of Governments at will, with a hidden hand always supporting. Europe started seeing the effects of terror; Paris, Madrid, London, Brussels, the major European capitals were not spared and media glared in its gory details; analysts and so called experts on regions had something to talk on. It was all fascinating stuff for many but at the cost of human misery and a bleak future for many, some who lost loved ones, some who would always live in fear in exile,how they would be treated as aliens , many in their own adopted countries and even their future generations not safe from the hate generated!

Syria is the big news these days, as Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS are on a back burner. Kashmir and Palestine are forgotten and so is Yemen because it doesnt matter. The superpowers still playing a proxy war and the sufferers…poor civilians, being displaced in huge numbers, creating a huge crisis of immigration towards European shores where thousands are risking their lives, another story on forgotten people, people of a lesser god maybe.

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Yemen, in the aftermath of Saudi bombing

When will it stop, no one knows, as its endless and will go on in one way or the other, one continent or the other, till the widespread sale of arms is not stopped and the superpowers come off their agenda of interfering in other countries!

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Journey to the ancient grand capital of the Eastern Roman Empire

           

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      Istanbul had always been one of my dream destinations, not only because of the sights, location and its centrality in the Islamic history but also because of the immense historical importance from times unknown. I had been looking forward to this trip for months even a couple of years in advance. Even the recent Istanbul airport killings and the recent coup attempt (made by some rebels in the once powerful army against a popular democratically elected government, while nearly all the Western world wanted Erdogan to be overthrown; not miraculously but with people power unprecedented in recent years he survived) didn’t deter me. I wanted to see the Turkey and its proud people of which I had heard so much and the progress they have made over the last decade or so.

The Ataturk airport named after it founding father, who distinguished himself at Gallipoli and then fought both the Russians and British alike who wanted to carve out post world war Ottoman Turkey, with the Arab nationalism insurgent and laid the foundations for a Modern day secular republic that is Turkey; had long queues at the entry point, understandably due to the recent spate of terrorist attacks in the country since the ISIL and Syrian affair. The British Airways flight, I wont even comment upon and not likely to use again. We took a long metro ride to our rented flat in Sisli, Osmanbey was the stop, Metro looked immaculate, modern and air conditioned. Part of the way was underground and once appearing in the city, we were at the Golden Horn at Halic (pronounced khalij) where I could see the grandiosity of the Istanbul skyline towering with similar mosques with the Blue mosque Haghia Sophia and Suleymaniye mosque looking over the Bosphorus on one side!

There was a 10-15 minute walk through the district of Nisantasi, walking through narrow streets , chic shops and bustling cafes and it seemed more like a Western capital. Nisantasi I found out was named after a tradition in past when the sutans and the nobles used to aim and throw arrows and the point it landed was marked with stone, Nisantasi name coming after a monument based on such tradition.

Day 2:

Already up and and planning for the day ahead, seeing the sights and experiencing the sounds and local cuisines, I was more excited than a child, arriving here at Istanbul after a long 34 year period. Vezniciler was the metro stop, close to the historic Istanbul University, it was a short Tram ride to the famous Sultanahmet district where all the rich history resides. Walking through sultanahmet meydani, I could see the towering dome of Haghia Sophia on one side and the majestic Blue Mosque on the other, famed for its blue Iznik tile interior. I walked through the ancient Hippodrome of which only a slight remnant remains, important events and ceremonies took place in this square in the times of the Romans, for more than 1000 years. There was the remnant of the Serpentine column dating from 479 BC, shipped here from Delphi, (the head resting now in the Archaeological Museum)and the 3500 year old Theodosius Egyptian Obelisk.  Each nook and corner looked like a heritage site and a piece of history.

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Blue Mosque

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The Museum of Turkish and Islamic History was around the corner which was once the grand palace of the Vizier Ibrahim Pasha. It depicted various eras and periods in Turkish history form the Islamic perspective and various excellent specimens and artefacts, including copies of Quran, Sahih Bukhari and Hilia Sharif from older times gilded and calligraphed brilliantly in different eras. It was great to see the old Turkish script looking just like Urdu/Persian on many buildings’ entrances. Read Zuhr in the majestic Blue Mosque(Sultan Ahmet Camii); it looked grand with a huge chandelier and a big rotunda. The tile work was very nice but a bit too high to appreciate well, the compound gave the best views of the mosque. Afterwards there was a walk towards the Bosphorus along the ancient city walls on the Kennedy cad, which were ever so impregnable for many centuries. It was refreshing to see people swimming on the rocky shore and some fishing, a young boy proudly showing his prize catch, a jellyfish! The search for a beach was duly abandoned soon. Then I ventured inwards towards the city, alongside Topkapi walls, came across the majestic rectangular Ottoman fountain named after Ahmet III, the finest of Istanbul’s Rococo fountains inscribed with poetry likening it to the fountains of paradise, which is infact a sabeel! Later after some quick fast food, walked along the walls of the grand bazaar which we found to be closed sans a baklava shop who enticed me to get lots of it the next day. The sweet shops were just awesome with mouthwatering Turkish delight, dry fruit and varieties of Baklava, if only diabetes was taken off the face of earth! Another mosque loomed around the corner amongst the hundreds in the same typical architecture of a dome based on a rectangular base with narrow turrets on the edges. Read Asr in the Nuruosmaniye Mosque in serenity of Sunday. Close to the end of the day having failed the objective of the Bazaar, to kill another day, passed along another monument, the Cemberlitas (the Constantine Column), this 35m high column constructed in 330AD to celebrate the inauguration of the new Byzantine capital, the glorious city to dominate the ancient as well as modern history. Made of porphyry brought from Heliopolis in Egypt, used to have a statue of Constantine on the top dressed as Apollo, brought down in a storm in 1106.

Riding a tram, going along the European side of the Bosphorus, came to the Beyoglu District passing yet more Kebab and Baklava shops, in search of a beach head not to be found in Istanbul! What followed was a long steep uphill walk towards Taksim, seemingly very short on the map, but not giving any idea of the incline. The famous Taksim square, the historic site of many important events, the protests, processions and the Hyde Park of Istanbul, the centre of activity in this district with the famous Monument of the Republic depicting a young Mustafa Kemal Ataturk leading the troops alonsgside a cannon. Recent events of 7th August of a failed coup when the people’s power famously defeated an army coup of which there is no precedence in modern history, the context was aptly displayed in posters and ads against terrorism in red all over including the Metro stations. Ever since the Turkish involvement in the Middle East and the Syrian crisis, Turkey is at the forefront of the war, experiencing many terrorist attacks in recent times, one recently at the Istanbul airport, which nearly made us cancel our trip. Dead tired at the end of the day, only thing to do was to hang the feet and lie down in an air conditioned room!

Day 3:

Topkapi Sarayi(Palace) was the destination this day and it was sad to see very few visitors around, all due to the recent events happening in this area, got off at the Gulhane Tram stop, walked along the walls, another Word heritage site, cobbled streets, munching sesame covered Turkish bread bought from a hawker filled in with plenty of cold water gulped as I went along in the hot weather, a pleasant change from the chill of Britain. There were lots of things to see in the big complex and it’s a pity couldn’t take photographs in many sections. Saw the kitchens, with old menus and the amount of food made in those times in such a large scale, the swords and weapons of sultans and ornate armours and the grandiosity of the kings was so obvious and a sore to be honest at just the thought! The sword collection from different times and pottery ceramic and coin collections were nice and so were the various pavilions including the circumcision, Iftariye and Baghdad ones. Unfortunately the treasury part was under renovation.

The highlight was the sacred area Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, housing as the name suggests; resonating with Quranic recitation, housing amongst other collectable items, the ornate keys of the Kaaba, supposedly the sword of Daud AS, the staff of Musa AS, the hair from the beard of Prophet SAW, his letter written to Maquqas an invitation to Islam and an impression of the holy foot print, the ragged cloak of the daughter of the Prophet SAW Fatima RA, made my eyes well up with tears. Here was the ordinary garment of the queen of the worlds, the leader of the women in Paradise, one who led such a harsh life, one who was the most beloved to the Prophet Muhammad SAW, everytime he returned to the city she was the first person he wanted to see!

It was great to see the swords of the 4 rightly guided caliphs, including the powerful heavy blades of Umar and Ali RA. Then there was the sword of Jaffar Ibn e Abi Talib RA, Ammar bin Yassir RA, Zubayr ibn Awwam RA and most of all the Sword of Allah Khalid ibn Waleed RA……Subhan Allah, how lucky and full of emotion I was to see those relics which subdued the non believers, the famous companions and my idol heroes! The famous Quran of Usman RA when he was martyred, triggering the age long civil war which divided the Islamic world forever too. I didn’t want to come out of this place, out of reverence, Durood and prayers were incessantly coming out of the lips.

The Museum pass came handy as I went to the Haram apartments, where the Sultan and his wives and mothers used to live as well as the eunuchs, of which there was a mosque at the entrance, the Queen mother’s apartments were the best. Again very few people abound, there were excellent views from the palace walls looking over bosphorus and the golden horn.

Corn on the cob was the next snack on the way. Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered mrket, foundation laid in 1461, with more than 60 streets and 3000 shops. It was built in order to generate fuds for restoration of Ayasofya. It has 20 domes and 12 columns supporting it. The hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar was ever so attractive. Rugs, carpets, souvenirs and yet more sweets…People getting themselves photographs in affluent robes of the Ottoman times. It was surprisingly very well sign posted inside when I thought we could get lost. Had Fresh Pomegranate Juice , a glass made out of 7, can you imagine not 2-3 but seven pomegranates and one could imagine how sour it would have been, never to try again, no matter how much I like the fruit, another bad experiment like the Turkish Coffee with delight!

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Grand Bazaar

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Grand Bazaar

On the way back, soaked up the atmosphere of the posh Nisantasi district where we were staying, with nice boutiques, fashion chains and coffee shops and big stores of which the clientele seemed to be rich Arabs or Russians, as mostly wholesale. Then there were Kebab shops, Sikander/adana or kofte kebabs…lots of them!

Olympics were going on in Rio and I was not even missing it, though catching the action and results at the end of the day though Turkish TV only showed the local athletes, one such basketball match between the Turkish girls against the Spanish was one of the closest I had ever seen, with Turkey scoring and equalizing with about 10 seconds to go, only to have a heart break when Spanish scored on the buzzer, the ball going through the ring as the bell rang after the release! Bolt was beating Gatlin again to be in Olympic folklore, defending his  Olympic 100m title twice, unprecedented in sprint history.

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Harem Topkapi Palace

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Harem Topkapi Palace

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Harem Topkapi Palace

Day 4:

Eyup Sultan was the next destination; I had always wished once in Istanbul, this was a must visit site and the most visited tourist attraction to my surprise, the resting place of the host of the Prophet (Mihmandar-e Nabi) Muhammad SAW Abu Ayub Ansari RA, He whose blessed house the Prophet SAW stayed with on decree of Allah on his arrival in Madinah after the Hijrah; who died during the campaign in the time of the Ummayads when Muslims first attacked Constantinople in the seventh century AD. He was according to his wishes buried as close as possible to the city walls. He is amongst the most famous people including Abu Darda and Owais al Qarni RA belonging here. This is a huge complex, built in 1459, which used to impart knowledge to children as well as preparing food on a large scale and distributing to poor people, working like a Waqf, for many years. It was the first imperial mosque built by the Ottomans and its importance reflects in the fact that the girding of the sword ceremony took place here, which was the most important symbols of Ottoman power, at the time of the enthronement of a new sultan! Hundreds of devotees were thronging the area and at the prayer time, the mosque was teeming up and couldn’t hold all the worshippers, there were the historic graveyards and the various tombstones with the Fez and headwear depicting the status of the buried person. There were life lessons inscribed on the walls on the way to the Pierre Loti, a café on a high rise hill, at the end of a short cable car ride. This is named after a French novelist who lived here from 1850-1923, and reportedly fell in love with a local woman. The Café in a calm and serene place, overlooking the sloping cemetery supports nice views atop, on the other side of the Golden Horn, where MiniAturk , the mini Turkey was, which I missed on this trip!

On the way back, after having some Turkish snacks in the famous Simit Sarayi Bakery chain, and a misadventure on the bus ride home got the taste for the Turkish Metrobus, the model for the Pakistani counterpart, was impressive in the very least! Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks was on the item in the night before slumping in the bed!

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Eyup Sultan

Day 5:

Late start for the day, planned to be lazy, slept very late and waking up in due time, missing some important events as the Tennis final with no luxury of the Red button of BBC. Archaelogical Museum was one I was looking forward to in this city of immense historical importance from the times of the Trojans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Byzantines and then the Muslims, leaving indelible marks on the geography and culture of this once centre of the world. There were priceless specimens and artefacts from times unknown, again very few visitors abound sadly. The Treaty of Kadesh (a tablet containing the worlds eariest surviving peace treaty agreed between the Egyptians and Hittites in  1269 BC. There was a segment on excavations of nine different civilizations t Troy (from 3000BC to the time of Christ) There were glazed friezes of bulls decorating the walls, taken from the Ishtar gate of the Great Babylon, of which I have already seen specimens in British Museum and the Louvre in Paris. There were priceless inscribed stone and clay tablets from ancient times. Saw the museum at a much hurried pace, with so much to see in the city!

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Ishtar Gate, Babylon, Archaeological Museum

Haji Mustafa, the Turkish delight shop which my brother had wished for and threatened me not to come back without, was mouth-watering. Haghia Sophia (Ayasofya), the church of hold wisdom, the grand imperial church; built and inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, once the biggest in the world, was to be the highlight of the day. It was converted into a mosque when Sultan Mehmet Fateh conquered Constantinople, the minarets and tombs were added later, the huge dome reaches a height of 56 m, together with Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque, the trio complete the skyline along the Bosphorus and the Golden horn. It was majestic in every sense and one could feel the history climbing up the stony steps. Church of Haghia Eirine was on the way, it was quite imposing, being the first church built in this city long before the Haghia Sophia was completed, ow its included in the Topkapi Palace complex. These days with its fine acoustics, it holds concerts during the Music festival. Restored Ottoman wooden houses are visible around the corner on the Sogukcesme Sokagi. Had some vegetarian food on the famed road with abundant restaurants and eating places, found an Arsenal café amongst others too!

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Hagia Sophia

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On the way, took the opportunity of praying in the Blue Mosque, built between 1609-1616 by the imperial architect Mehmet Agha a pupil of the famous Mimar Sinan. It is said that Sultan Ahmed I, used to carry rocks and he wanted it to be built right across the Haghia Sophia. To me it was not as impressive as I had thought from inside. Arasta Bazaar was a short distance around the corner with the Mosaic Museum housing one of the largest mosaics discovered in the area quite recently. I was the only one inside the museum, I was availing the Istanbul Muze Pass to its full! The Basilica Cistern though visible every day I couldn’t go which was a pity. The Million stone form where the distances got measured from the centre of the city was also on Sultanahmet square.

Day 6:

Day of the Bosphorus Cruise, reminiscing memories when I came here with my family about 32 years ago when our PIA flight got stuck to my delight, there is an iconic polaroid with our tour guide and another family photo with the Blue Mosque in the background!

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Dolmebahce Palace

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Had a long walk in the morning towards the pickup point at the Intercontinental Hotel at Taksim, getting lost in between and hiring a cab in the end to reach in time only to wait another hour for the coach to arrive, picking up customers who were late, reminding me of my home country.The serene cruise took us through the Golden Horn, The Sea of Marmara and the Straits of Bosphorus, crossing many a landmarks including the skyline towered by the Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. There were palaces, night clubs and the chic leafy Istanbul neighbourhoods, 9M Euro homes of footballers and celebrities as per our guide at least!, on the other side of the Bosphorus and the continent. There was the Vodafone arena, the home of Besiktas, the majestic Dolmebahce Palace which later I found out was very close to the area we were living in. The boat skirted near the Princes Island, to which many tourists pay a visit. Then there was a high school which lost all its pupils to Gallipoli and had no graduates for 4 years but the spirit continues after the war. The next stop was the Rumeli Hisari the simple yet elegant fortress, built by Sultan Mehmet Fateh in 1451-52 in preparation for the siege for the eventual fall of Constantinople to Muslim hands. It is on a strategic point on the European side of the Bosphorus at the narrowest point of the straits, just 660 m across, opposing the Anatolian Castle on the Anatolian side of the straits, with three towers named after the 3 viziers who supervised their construction. It was completed in a record time of just 4 months and 16 days and was vital in capturing Constantinople and cutting the lifeline to the fortress city. The Bosphorus bridge 1.6km long is just to the North of the Fortress and roughly 70 million every year. The Marmara metro line runs underneath.

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Rumeli Hisari

I had a wonderful time on the cruise lasting 2 hours or so, befriending a Pakistani uncle who was living his dream and visiting places after becoming a widower in late age, always nice to see someone with high spirits on a journey like this, envied his forthcoming trip to Mashad and Isfahan. Alighted at the end and went through the Spice Bazaar, visited the grand Suleymaniye Mosque, named after Suleyman the Magnificent, architecture is not much different as compared to other mosques.

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Suleymaniye Mosque

So that was the end of my trip to the magnificent city spanning east and the west, of which I saw some more glimpses on the way to the airport early next morning, nostalgic at leaving those grand city walls which were an enigma once and impenetrable for over a century! Such a rich history, so many things to see, such monuments and museums, every nook and corner storing thousands of years of rich history, awe inspiring. The street food and the baklavas and Turkish delight and the sights will always tempt me to return, and so shall I God Willing.

tram3

Nostalgic Tram

Categories: Culture, Europe, History, Islam, Memoirs, Travel, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

As the Crowe Flies……..

His latter life as a commentator and a columnist shed so much light on his perspective on life and many a readers benefitted from it, coming from a wise man, who had not only seen cricket but life…

Source: As the Crowe Flies……..

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The Big European Dilemma!

Source: The Big European Dilemma!

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The Big European Dilemma!

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/DHA) TURKEY OUT

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/DHA) TURKEY OUT

The current ongoing refugee crisis has gripped the attention of Europe like never before and it is beginning to threaten the very fabric of the idea of the European Union comprising of 28 member states. The idea about solidarity is being seriously questioned by the likes of Germany and Italy. First the appalling crisis at Calais in which both French and British were pointing fingers at each other, then the frequent news of capsizing boats in the Mediterranian which was like a weekly news for the coastguards of Italy and Greece, the countries which were the first stops for the migrants and asylum seekers from North Africa and Syria via Turkey respectively. Then the dreadful news came of the 71 suffocated dead bodies crammed in a refrigerated lorry abandoned on an Austrian roadside. That certainly pinched on the conscience of many hundreds and thousands in Western Europe who were silently watching the drama unfold in the theatre called the Middle East.

Homs

Destruction in Homs

zatari refugee camp jordan, hosting 160,000 refugees

zatari refugee camp jordan, hosting 160,000 refugees

Partly the doing of some of the Western European powers namely Britain and France in conjunction with US, Turkey and Saudia, the mess in Syria was too hot to handle. After the repeated attempts at overthrowing Bashar al Assad’s regime by arming the rebels to the teeth, creating the monster that is ISIS, the Syrian public at large were left at the mercy of the two horrible adversaries. With utter destruction of the Syrian cities and villages, they had nowhere to go apart from cramming at Turkish borders, concentrating in makeshift camps in Jordan and Lebanon, which again bore the brunt of hundreds of thousands of refugees after the exodus of the Palestinians, it seemed the vast fertile grounds of Syria had contracted for its 23 million inhabitants. With nowhere to go apart from rotting in the camps dependent on aid from the charitable world, Syrians had to find a way out. Individually people were helping out a great deal. Turkish Government was a great support, but in the current economic climate, a million odd refugees is too big a strain for any country even with a sprawling economical giant as Germany which has taken an unprecedented 800,000 refugees in the last year alone. With no future in sight, the desperate ones were forced to look for so called greener pastures in Western Europe; France, Britain and Germany were the obvious destinations, but the dilemma how to cross the borders. Exploited not only in the camps but elsewhere, people pay thousands of dollars to smugglers and human traffickers which make them board small boats and dinghies at the mercy of the waves at times, with only hopes of making it alive to the shores of Europe; the Greek islands amongst many which are close to the Turkish borderlands. The holiday resort island of Kos is one of those which has taken thousands of refugees.

While Italian coastguards, with no help from the European partners, were constantly saving North Africans especially Libyans fleeing the civil war there, again fuelled by US, Britain and France to overthrow a totalitarian but very stable Qaddafi regime which was a thorn in the side of the Western powers but a major African economic hub. The Syrians were crowding into Greece, already in economic meltdown and in the news for its bailouts again and again and being saved by Germany and the Financial institutions in the end, not to go bankrupt. While the Dublin treaty implied, all the refugees at the first port of entry be registered there and provided for by the local government, no one was willing to do so in the face of overwhelming numbers and rightly so. France and Britain, the bigger powers were silent and so was Spain, Belgium, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. Greeks were giving free access for the migrants to move across Europe, soon there was another route found, the Eastern European states of Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary, the latter part of European Union and hence a portal of entry to the Schengen states, Germany being the land of opportunity and the most receptive of the nations, willing to take many, as they had done in hundreds of thousands in the Yugoslav war of attrition or independence, whatever one wants to call it.

Soon there were 150,000 refugees in Hungary, entering from Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia(which are building a fence to ward off future immigrants and refugees across the border); the last ones not EU member states and not bound to keep the Migrants. Hungarian government doesnt want to do much about the migrants and asylum seekers and apparently trying to contain them in appalling conditions. People want to leave for Germany, of whose people are welcoming and handing out sandwiches, clothes, food etc voluntarily. The parks are teeing with people and the sights are unprecedented. While a small country like Iceland with a population of 330,000, has offered to take at least 10,000 refugees, Britain has pledged only 5,000, with the Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper offering 10,000, still a drop in the ocean if we compare the millions of refugees including children and women, many of them have not got enough to eat and shelter. Germany, Austria and Italy are calling on EU member states to come forward in sharing the burden in taking the refugees. As one observer put in recently, we have conveniently forgotten Europe was itself in such a crisis when the Nazis were persecuting the Europeans and a vast exodus of Jews and Eastern Europeans was absorbed in various countries. The Scottish First Minister and the Hollyrood has called for more to be done by the Westminster and more refugees to be offered asylum, a difficult task for the Cameron Govt in the face of increasing hostility from the likes of UKIP  and many who would not be willing to take in any, citing huge financial drains on services in this country and also the changing public perspective especially after the appalling photographs of the young Syrian boy’s dead body swept to the Turkish shore and being picked up by a coastguard. It has been splashed across all newspapers and social media sites and would certainly stir the hearts of many to do more in this huge humanitarian crisis, rather than just gloating on our history in taking asylum seekers and making huge donations and focusing on human traffickers and aiming to send all the refugees back or prevent the boats form reaching the European shores as what is portrayed by the Conservative Government.

Immigrants on boats towards the Island of Kos, Greece

Immigrants on boats towards the Island of Kos, Greece

Kos

The Syrian crisis has been going on for years now and everyone has seen the effects of destruction on a massive scale, until it reached the European shores, it was not our problem, now it is affecting the whole idea of the European Union and many member states are openly questioning it. The countries facing the brunt of it are not getting any help from others while the economic giants like Germany, France and Britain are the countries everyone likes to go to for a better life. As a former Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt suggested if some European countries are not willing to contribute or participate in this crisis, then those countries should not be a part of the main EU perhaps being given an associate status and Germans already threatening Britain about the likely failure on its negotiations to get some favours from the EU. Also border controls might be instituted to the detriment of the Eastern European states from which currently people can easily go to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and London to seek work.

The question is whether we let those poor Syrian Refugees die or just block them from entering EU, what else can be done about it to avert such disasters which are making headlines nearly every day. A way could be to equally distribute them amongst the European Union Member states and the ones refusing to do so losing the benefits of the shared European market. Denmark being one such country which has categorically refused to participate. One way could be to distribute them on 2-3 uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean which has got sufficient fertile soil to sustain many people. The countries in which refugees are camped, should be provided more economic aid/support by the world community. While looking at Europe, we conveniently forget what should be the responsibility of the rich Gulf states which haven’t come forward to support the Syrian refugees, their entry regulations being much more strict than the Europeans and human rights appalling and deplorable to say the very least.

winter syria winter in refugee camp

Winter in Syrian Camps

Winter in Syrian Camps

There would be many more Alan Kurdis unfortunately before the conscience of the world community will stir and only for a  little while and people would have their peaceful sleep, the Syrians will continue to suffer, while Bashar will rule roost till he would be overthrown and humiliated like Saddam and Qaddafi and then again on Judgement day, if there is one, people have certainly forgotten about it; the cauldron of Middle East will continue to consume hundreds of thousands of lives and people far off will continue to live in luxury free from any ill thoughts that far away, on the shores of Turkey, there was a boy or two or their mother died in vain…………….

Still smiling in adversity! Hope is alive

Still smiling in adversity!
Hope is alive

Categories: Europe, Middle East, Moral values, Politics | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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