Posts Tagged With: Turkey

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.

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Nostalgic Tram

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

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.

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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.

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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

Is the Destruction of Turkey Imminent?

Turkey in the Midst of Turmoil

       Turkey in the Midst of Turmoil

The recent suicide attack at Suruc, a border town with Syria that killed 32 young activists should be an eye opener for the Turks and while sitting on the hinterlands of the phenomenon that calls itself ironically the so called Islamic State or IS, it was long time forthcoming. While people might argue it was inevitable not because of the dangerous border but also because of the involvement of the Turkish Government under Mr Erdogan in not only creating but sustaining this monster with the covert help of US and Saudia. The initial “innocuous” aim was to topple the Assad regime and also maybe to weaken the Kurds who have been perennially fighting for their sovereignty. The logistic and armed support was never going to keep those rogue elements in check, a thing which has been observed time and again; Pakistan and Afghanistan being a prime example. Recently the utter destruction of the Libyan state after the fall of Qaddafi brought on by the combined UK/US but not so covert support to the rebels, is another shining example of states meddling into others affairs for their own motive, locals joining them and the result is as obvious as daylight. Various militias and groups control different towns, AlQaeda and IS which could never dream of planting its tentacles at the time of Qaddafi are well rooted there and operating across North Africa and who knows would be infiltrating Europe via Mediterranean and crossing over into Italy and Greece if it is any worth.

Mr Erdogan has been the omnipotent leader of Turkey for quite some years now. He won terms as an elected Prime Minister, when the term expired, came back as the President, the constitution was reformed to give more powers suited to him and even more were wanted in the face of a weak opposition and the ever weakening Armed Forces who always held the so called secular front of the country as envisaged by Ataturk, the founder who shunned the traditional Islamic values and distanced Turkey from not only Arabs but the Islamic background.

Erdogan the King or Caliph!

       Erdogan the King or Caliph!

Infact the initial signs were encouraging for the democracy, the only one working properly in a modern manner in all the Middle East and Muslim countries combined. I have been one of the ardent supporters of the AKP, the Justice and Development Party and its parent Refah Party founded by Necmettin Erbakan who used to be like a hero in the face of so called secular Military might of yet another big Islamic country, a norm in the region, playing well in the hands of the US and the Western powers. Erbakan’s party won the popular vote in 1996 amongst millions of disillusioned Turks who rode on the Sunni traditional conservative Islamic agenda as opposed to curbs on religious freedom in a very traditional society being imposed by the Military junta, who feigned to protect the constitution. Spurned by the US, citing rising fundamentalist Islam in “secular” Turkey, he was overthrown, completely disregarding the rights of millions of Turks who elected him democratically. With reforms, party was changed and once its member Recep Tayyip Erdogan founded the AKP. His close associate Abdullah Gul, the former President, used to be the Deputy Leader of Refah till its dissolution. But the discontent voices could not be drowned for longer. AKP came back in power and has not looked back till very recently. Only till the monarchy style was not adopted and a bigger role in the whole region if not the whole Muslim world was seen as the ultimate prize. The role which was taken over by the Saudis since the late 70s, the perpetual enemies of the Turks with their known “treachery” at the times of their taking over the Arabian Peninsula and acquiring the politically significant Hijaz, which is the centre for all Muslims, was for the first time being challenged by someone in the last few decades.

The economic and military power of Turkey always recognized in the Muslim world as well as in Europe, being a member of NATO and having one of the largest armed personnel in the region, gives Turkey a special place in the world. Gone were the days when Turkey actively sought recognition in Europe and tried to join the Eurozone, being shunned by the likes of Brussels, Vienna, Paris and Berlin alike. Turkey grew to be economically bigger than not only most of its European neighbours in Eastern Europe as well as its eternal foe Greece, but others like Spain, Portugal and Ireland quite easily. Suddenly there was increased growth in GDP and tourism boomed. The general public no doubt benefited from it. The economic growth no doubt heightened the need for more political power not only in the region but also the Muslim world. With increased scrutiny and discontent with the Saudi Royals and their political hold over the more than billion strong Muslim world, there was a lacuna to be filled. Turkey fulfilled all the criteria which Iran couldn’t despite both being despised as “ajamies” ie non arabs by the political power holders in Arabia. The Sunni traditional core was the key which helped them gain the same recognition which Arabs had and the fact they used to be holders of the last caliphate.

The “Islamic Caliphate of Turkey” might face the same consequences as the Ottomans unless the house is kept in order. The signs are ominous, for the first time AKP is losing its support amongst the masses in the current polls with alternatives though not a single obvious one in sight. The Western and Jewish controlled media is always on Erdogan’s heels ever since his desire to be the voice of the Muslim world and the undeclared aim of becoming the next “rightly guided caliph”. It was obvious at the time when Israel raided Gaza, he has been very vocal against them, the flotilla event was also a pointer that here was a Muslim Leader who could look into the eyes of Israel with some authority and audacity I may add. Turkey’s involvement in the peace process amongst the warring factions in Palestine, the Middle East crisis, the Syrian and Iraqi issues, has been viewed as a mighty regional power broker which can add stability to the regional turmoil.

The Presidential Palace!

                    The Presidential Palace!

Always viewed suspiciously by Brussels and US alike because of breaking its ties with the secular past championed by the military adopted by the US and it’s stigmatising “Armenian Genocide” and it’s so called appalling human rights violations, of which there are some hard truths confronting the Turks as with many sovereign nations faced with a separatist minority. In this case it is the Kurds which form a major part of the border areas of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The Kurds have been fighting hard for their rights and independence from all the parties involved being squeezed into their lands from all sides for many decades. They had started becoming a nuisance since Saddam left as with the local Shia populace they were also supported by the West in their “war on terror”. Increasingly powerful they had started showing their teeth, a fact which our hero Salahuddin Ayubi “Saladin” in European chronicles would have cherished, him being an ethnic Kurd! They were needed in Syria to topple Assad, increasingly in discord with the US and Israel alike. Turkey was happy as long as there were sureties of no incursions in Turkish territory. Arms and logistic support to the groups fighting Bashar Assad and his regime overflowed from all quarters, be it USA, Saudia or Turkey, all for their own motives. The result a few years later, a civil war of epic proportions killing thousands and displacing tens of millions, while Bashar still stands, Syria is destroyed and a monster is created out of it, called the Daesh or Islamic State of Syria and Levant. All the above countries have a major role in its making and all would bear consequences, the regional countries more than others.

Suicide bombing at Suruc, killing Kurd Activist youth

Suicide bombing at Suruc, killing Kurd Activist youth

The attack at Suruc was just an eye opener, though most who died would have been hapless Kurds who are on the forefront of fighting ISIS. Both the ISIL and Kurds have been bombed in its wake in the last couple of days and will continue to be and so will be the attacks in Turkey sadly. Whether the next attacks be on the tourist resorts like in Tunisia or in major cities, it is anybody’s guess but it is imminent. The rot is started and it will be near to impossible to reverse it.

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

The ANZAC legend

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25th of April is the date known all over the world as ANZAC day, when millions of Australians and Kiwis gather all over the world to celebrate the most important events in their military history, reminiscing the ill fated affair that was Gallipoli! What created the legend, we have to go back 99 years into the memory lane taking us to the straits of Dardanelles. What has come out of the stalemate, shameful defeat or tactical retreat whatever one might call it, in military terms it was a bogged affair in the harsh terrains of the Gallipoli Peninsula, pitching the German supported Turks against the Allied Nations comprising British, French, Australian and NewZealander youth, many of whom were handling the guns for the first times in their lives, to make their names in the gilded history books and documentaries forever.

The First World War whose centenary we have just celebrated, started after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the hands of a revolutionary socialist Young Bosnian in Sarajevo, the theatre of many an exploits later on in history! The series of cataclysmic events that followed engulfed whole of Europe soon, with allies of one country declaring war on another and hence started that dreaded long war characterised by trench warfare amongst marshes and hostile plains with no obvious advantage to either side, exactly opposite to the Blitzkrieg type war based on quick outflanking manoeuvres favoured by the Germans in the Second World War. Whether it was the Flanders or Gallipoli, the result was the same, endless humans dying at the hands of nature, disease and enemies alike. The Ottomans, “ the sick man of Europe” in the early part of the Twentieth century were on the decline and the Anatolia was under the prising eyes of the British, French and Russians alike; The Bulgarians and Greek were happy to take a bite if they could like hyenas cornering a near beaten enemy. The Arabs were about to revolt no doubt, under the repressive Turk regimes. The Germans needed a local ally against the Russians in the Black Sea and the Ottomans happily obliged. The Allies sniffed an opening and thought of opening up the route to the Black Sea via the narrowest of the Corridors, the Dardanelles. The First Lord of Admiralty then, Winston Churchill envisaged and pushed for a hazardous and highly ambitious naval plan to force open the straits and eventually link up with the Russian Fleet and capture Constantinople which was the ultimate objective of the campaign. If we look at the geographical maps of the straits, strategically it was a huge undertaking to even think of passing that narrow corridor and so it proved, the Turks under direct supervision by elite German officers, mined the straits and lined the coasts with large batteries to pound on the warships which the British and French assembled, resulting in a hasty and embarrassing retreat and dumping of such plans in future, losing a few ships in the process. The next plan was to take the Peninsula which was known otherwise and immortalized as Gallipoli, much remembered by the Turks, Australians and Kiwis on one hand and the British in a completely different way(best to be forgotten and a matter of many enquiries and commissions as to show the futility of the affair causing thousands of casualties).

The plan was for quite a large military force to amphibiously land from the Expedition Force gathered in Egypt via the Island of Lemnos in the Aegean, which served as the Intermediary base. The force was led by Sir Ian Hamilton, who courted a lot of controversy and flak for his mishandling of the affair and was much maligned after the failure of the campaign. The Force as it turned out was ill prepared, not having huge numerical strength for an offensive, with no updated ordnance maps, hostile beaches, difficult terrain and an enemy who was well prepared, well trenched and well trained too, and not to mention, not lacking in grit and courage. What was supposed to be a swift affair with naval bombardment paving the way for securing the beach heads and reaching the primary objectives of gaining some heights on the first day, led to a long drawn battle with the locals who were hell bent on defending their land against the invasion. The first landings were on this very day on the 25th of April 1915 at Cape Helles by the British forces, comprising many from the Indian subcontinent, the Sikh Regiment and the Gurkhas amongst others; as well as at the area later known as the ANZAC Cove by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The early days were the Baptism of fire for the ANZACs who landed on the beeches with no shelter at all against the raining shells and bullets from dugouts. Full of vigour and the desire to make a name for themselves, they were not found wanting in any way and that created the legend that was ANZAC, getting admiration from all and sundry whether the soldiers or officers, some of whose names occupy the hills which they fought for and won in the campaign. Ruthless advances in the face of enemy fire, suicidal missions with little gains at the expense of countless casualties epitomized the war which lasted a few months. The Objectives which were to be taken in the first day were far off after weeks of dogged fighting at times, hand to hand with bayonets in trenches. At times, people remarked, Gallipoli appeared like a large garbage dump with bodies strewn across the Sea and stench and flies covering the bloated rotting bodies from both sides with no place and time for a decent burial even for the fallen comrades. In all approximately 4,85,000 Allied troops including 50,000 Australians and 8,500 New Zealanders took part, there were about 1,82,000 Allied casualties with 44,000 dead. The Ottomans lost about 86,000 and had a bout 2,50,000 casualties on rough estimates. The harsh weather, the incessant rains and the cold as well as the stalemate prompted the Allies to withdraw at last under a decoy, with surprisingly minimal effort from the Ottomans to chase or corner them. This was going to be emulated another day on an equally momentous time at the Dunkirk some years later. This war not only stopped the inevitable albeit for a few months or years but also created some heroes of the likes of Mustafa Kemal Pasha aka Ataturk, who had a huge impact on the Turkish Independence and sovereignty and later formation of a secular Turkish state. For the British, it was an embarrassment and a military misadventure leading to the fall from grace for many, including the Premier Asquith’s Government and the Generals who led at the front, for the Turks it was a moral victory defending their front yard, immortalizing their then Col Mustafa Kemal whose leadership and skills won many hearts on both sides, for the Australians and New Zealanders, it marked the start of a pilgrimage to that site and celebration of the 25th of April as a National Holiday and the greatest day in the Australian calendar remembering and honouring the youth who laid their lives in a far off land fighting for the Allies, in the first Armed Conflict they ever took part in, proudly etched in the history. Many tour operators in Turkey, Australia and the West thrive on the legend that is ANZAC which is a source of pride amongst the Australians and Kiwis alike. For many youth, travelling over Europe, Gallipoli is the first stop to pay homage to the site where the first Australians fought. Many relations of the Veterans from both sides come and join the festivities on this day where many a deadly battles have been fought on the W, X, Y beaches, Gully Ravine, Sari Bair, Chunuk Bair, Hill 60 to name a few. The names “Baby 700” and “Hill 971” have been immortalized in history. The legend lives on!

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Categories: Uncategorized, War, World | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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