That which survives 3: The promised land

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, 21 January 1858

“I am astonished more and more at the stupid extravagance…

Fashion rules so absolutely…

The people in the house would lend me any amount of flower garden bonnets if I would but go out in them.

This is so like the Americans…

They are generous and kind but will not let you go your own way.”

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(Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, An American Diary: 1857 – 1858)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 January 2017

There is something quite attractive at times about cutting oneself apart from all contact with the media, for catching up on the latest news in a newspaper or online often upsets me.

Reading Monday’s International New York Times:

“No, I’m not over it.

On Election Day I felt as though I had awakened in America and gone to sleep in Ecuador, or maybe Belgium.

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Above: The flag of Ecuador

Or Thailand, or Zambia, or any other perfectly nice country that endures the usual ups and downs of history as the years pass, headed towards no particular destiny.

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Above: The flag of Thailand

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Above: The flag of Zambia

It´s different here, or at least it was.

America was supposed to be something, as much a vision as a physical reality, from the moment that John Winthrop, evoking Jerusalem, urged the Massachusetts Bay Colony to “be a city upon a hill”.

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Above: John Wintrop (1587 – 1649), Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor

To be an American writer meant being able to share that sense of purpose, those expectations, and to flatter yourself that you were helping to shape it.

Nobody expects anything out of Belgium.”

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Above: The flag of Belgium

(Kevin Baker, “The America we lost when Trump won”, International New York Times, 23 January 2017)

Now this opinion piece annoyed me on many levels…

The suggestion that America has shaped history rather than being affected by it like everyone else…

That there is nothing to be expected of value outside of America…

That its present domination of the world means that only America has a claim to the concept of exceptionalism…

And though I understood Baker’s disappointed feeling that the spirit of America has indeed changed with the arrival of Donald Trump on the political landscape, his opinion piece, albeit perhaps unintentionally, comes across as arrogant and prejudiced.

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Above: Donald Trump (b. 1946), 45th President of the United States

Baker clearly needs to travel more beyond the shores of America, to see America through road-experienced eyes, to explore the world beyond the Holiday Inn and the B & B, longer than a two-week vacation or a weekend getaway.

For as much as it is admirable and understandable to celebrate one´s country…

As much as it is necessary to pick critically through one´s homeland´s history, even to the point of scourging the nation for its faults by exposing the worst of its contradictions and betrayals…

One´s love for one´s country should not blind us to the reality that our love for a country, our disappointments, expectations and dreams are not exclusive to us alone.

Our barometer of measurement, our claims to the possession of a moral compass when comparing ourselves with others, should not be based solely on a life only lived within our borders.

Though nations are individual, no one nation is exceptional.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act One, Scene 5, Lines 167 – 168)

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Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

What I have had to learn, what time and experience have taught me, is that we need to learn to appreciate what is where we are.

And that requires exploration and comparison and interaction, whether those discoveries are made at home or abroad.

When I once again read my journals from past travels, I am struck by how much I really didn´t know or understand, for my observations were restricted by my discomfort in exploring viewpoints other than my own.

Wherever I went, there I was.

I was not seeing Brussels as it was.

A collage with several views of Brussels, Top: View of the Northern Quarter business district, 2nd left: Floral carpet event in the Grand Place, 2nd right: Brussels City Hall and Mont des Arts area, 3rd: Cinquantenaire Park, 4th left: Manneken Pis, 4th middle: St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, 4th right: Congress Column, Bottom: Royal Palace of Brussels

I saw Brussels as I was.

And in this I find myself drawn once more to Charlotte Bronte’s experience in Brussels.

She saw Brussels as she was, not as it was.

(For the back story and background of both the Brontes and your humble blogger, please see:

That Which Survives

1: Wooden soldiers and little books;

2a: Teachers’ Travels: Welcome;

2b: Teachers’ Travels: Days Confused;

2c: Past Tents and Last Year’s Man;

2d: A Matter of Perspective.)

Brussels, Belgium, 15 February 1842

It was a dull grey day.

The avenues were almost deserted.

The branches of the trees bare against an overcast sky.

Three weary travellers – a tall white-haired clergyman and his two daughters, young women in their twenties – could be seen walking down the Rue Royale.

The younger and taller sister had a dreamy look, as if she found her own thoughts as interesting as the sights of this strange city.

Above: The Bronte sisters, Anne, Emily and Charlotte (Anne remained in England.)

The elder, plainer and smaller sister noticed everything, storing it up for future use.

They walked to a little square opposite a park where a statue with the name “General Belliard” stood at the top of a long, steep and dark stairway.

Below was a quiet street at a much lower level and parallel to the Rue Royale, the Rue d’Isabelle – narrow with neat symmetrical rows of modest houses.

The trio stopped at a large building with tall windows.

A brass plate on the door announced “Pensionnat de Demoiselles Heger – Parent”.

Reverend Jenkins, the British Chaplain in Brussels, presented the trio to the directoress Madame Heger.

“Madame Heger, this is Mr. Bronte and his daughters Charlotte and Emily.”

Charlotte felt that “Brussels is my promised land”, “a beautiful city”.

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Above: Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855)

Charlotte wrote to Emily after the younger sister returned back to Haworth:

“I have tramped about a great deal and tried to get a clearer acquaintance with the streets of Bruxelles…

I go out and traverse them sometimes for hours together.”

Brussels, Belgium, 9 November 1996

Day Six in Europe, Day Four in Brussels and Belgium

A “grand bataille” with “Zoé”.

I dislike being ordered about, yelled at and being called “stupide” when I don´t respond to all her wishes immediately.

(Only years later would I realise that her “stupide” meant “silly”, not “lacking in intelligence”…or put another way I was stupid about “stupide”.)

During the visit to a brewery exhibit, tensions erupt.

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I quickly vacate the premises, enraged, irrational, seeking escape.

At the SNCB (Belgian Railways) Bruxelles Centrale station I enquire about trains to Oostende – two every hour, journey of 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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The train seems to be the best option to get to Oostende and a ferry to England and much preferred to Zoé’s chauffeuring me to the sea.

For reasons I don´t fully understand myself, I hesitate and don´t buy this ticket, this final gesture of farewell to her and her city.

I wander the streets, self-righteous in my fury, blind to my surroundings.

Brussels, Belgium, 15 February 1842

So, what brought the Brontes to Brussels?

Charlotte was 25, Emily 23.

A few years later they would write two of the world´s best-selling novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and they had since childhood always been compulsive writers, but they knew they had to earn a living and contribute to the family finances as their father was a poor clergyman and their brother could not be relied upon as he was never able to hold down a job for long.

The title page to the original publication of Jane Eyre, including Brontë's pseudonym "Currer Bell".

Above: First edition of Jane Eyre by Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte)

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Above: First edition of Wuthering Heights by Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte)

Charlotte and Emily dreamed of being published writers, but the only paid work open to the girls was teaching or as governesses.

They had tried the latter, but they had not enjoyed the experience.

They were unhappy with the former for they became homesick whenever separated and away from their home in Haworth.

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth, Yorkshire, England

Charlotte saw a possible solution.

They could open their own boarding school in Haworth.

While working as a governess in September 1841, Charlotte wrote home to her aunt about this project and about an idea suggested to her by the experience of her friends Mary and Martha Taylor who were improving their languages at a Brussels boarding school.

And Charlotte had another reason for seeing Brussels as her promised land.

After years confined to schoolrooms doing a job she hated, Charlotte was restless.

Her youth was going by and she had seen nothing of Life or the world.

Charlotte longed to experience the culture of a European city as Mary and Martha were doing.

She felt “such an urgent thirst to see – to know – to learn”. (Letter to Ellen Nussey, 7 August 1841)

Charlotte dreamed of romance…of a real life hero to take the place of the ones that had so far existed only in her imagination – in the books she read and the stories she wrote.

From the start Charlotte planned to take Emily with her, for even though Emily was always the most homesick of sisters when away from Haworth, she was still Charlotte’s favourite sister.

They would board at Madame Heger’s Pensionnat de demoiselles, attending classes with other students, receiving special instruction in French.

A deal was later struck with the Pensionnat that the sisters would receive tuition and board in exchange for teaching some lessons.

Brussels, Belgium, 9 November 1996

I wander the city asking myself why am I in Brussels.

I had searched for employment as a teacher in the Belgian capital, but was told that I was unemployable as I lacked the ability to converse in both Flemish and French and I lacked employment documents.

So I would be forced to be financially dependent upon Zoé.

At 30, I too felt my youth was going by, but unlike Charlotte I had already experienced much of Life and had explored much of Canada and the United States, but I too still possessed an urgent thirst to see more of the world outside an Anglo North America, a hunger to know things outside of my own experience, an itch to learn so much more than books and previous travels had taught me.

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It was my very first time in Europe and I had only briefly visited Paris before coming here to Brussels.

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Above: Tour Eiffel, Paris, France

I had enjoyed my romance with Zoé when she had lingered in Ottawa, Canada, the previous year.

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Above: Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

We were exotic to one another, she a Belgian in Canada, I an adventurer whose tales of past exploits excited her passions.

She represented a continent I had always longed to see.

I was a strange but wonderful souvenir she had discovered in a foreign land during an extended vacation.

When Zoé met me I was living and working in a youth hostel, simultaneously a part of normal Canadian life yet living the life of an international traveller.

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Above: Ottawa International Hostel (formerly the Carleton County Gaol)

In Brussels Zoé struggled to find her footing and romance needed to be tempered with the grim realities of earning a living.

But a romance a year past and an ocean away had transformed Zoé and I from intimate strangers to awkward companions whose differences now seemed more pronounced and unsettling.

Zoé had successfully drawn me to her and her home city and was determined to hold me within her grasp.

But I had just escaped my homeland and wanted to explore more of Europe than just the inside of a Brussels apartment.

Zoé saw me as a romance finally realised.

I saw her as a well-intentioned jailer, albeit with benefits.

And leaving her side felt more of a relief than a heartache.

I find my feet have wandered where they should not tread.

Without intending to, I am in a red light district, an area with lots of bars, sex shops and window display girls waiting for their customers in tantalizing postures wearing little to no fabric.

What the hell am I doing here?

Brussels, Belgium, July 1842

“I don’t deny that I sometimes wish to be in England or that I have brief attacks of homesickness, but I have been happy in Brussels because I have been happy in Brussels because I have always been fully occupied with the employments that I like.” (Letter to Ellen Nussey, July 1842)

In the Pensionnat, Charlotte and Emily studied diligently, attending lessons with 90 other girls and writing homework assignments and essays for Constantin Heger, the headmistress’s husband, who taught literature and French.

The Brontes were much older than the other students and though they were always together they felt “isolated in the midst of numbers” although they were not the only foreigners studying there.

Like expats and immigrants today who have trouble integrating in the host culture, Charlotte and Emily suffered from a fair amount of culture shock.

They in fact made no attempt to integrate.

They sought friends only among their English connections in the city.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

The other girls found them odd.

They were particularly struck by the strange appearance of Emily who never followed the fashions.

Emily left no written record of how she felt about her stay in Belgium, but writing after her sister´s death, Charlotte said that Emily failed to adjust to Brussels.

“Emily was never happy till she carried her hard-won knowledge back to the remote English village, the old parsonage house and desolate Yorkshire hills.”

If Emily left no record of what she thought of the Pensionnat, Charlotte recorded her own feelings about it all too thoroughly.

In her letters and novels Charlotte hardly had a good word to say about anyone in the school.

She was dismissive of Belgians but did not spare other nationalities either.

Charlotte found both the girls and teachers lacking in principle, feeling and intelligence, insincere, frivolous and dull.

Charlotte’s analysis was simple.

They were foreigners.

Brussels, Belgium, 9 November 1996

With the notable exception of Zoé I confess to knowing little of the sexual life of the Belgians.

I had not seen the 1994 film La vie sexuelle des Belges, so much like famed Flemish director Jan Bucquoy’s autobiographical film, despite my travels I have remained mostly a clueless young bumpkin who tries to keep up with the times but always manages to be a few frustrating steps behind and I find myself far too often in decidedly dark and unglamourous settings in whichever country I am in.

Life can be at times far too anti-climatic and at times the life of my imagination is fuller with fantasy than my reality is.

And though many an opportunity has arisen when I could have freely sampled the fruits of the forbidden, I have often remained a passive outsider.

I claim neither to be a great lover nor a passionate person, but nonetheless I have always found meaning to life to help me cope during the mundane moments of reality.

But forbidden fruit does not appeal.

The only thing alluring and forbidding that I want to experience in Brussels is a magnum of Belgian beer out of over 800 types to choose from… and a huge dish of moules et frites (mussels and fries).

I pass a number of establishments advertising peep shows.

But I don´t go in, yet I wonder who does go into these places?

Foreign businesspeople?

Students on EU work placements?

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

Members of the European Parliament?

Would someone like “the Muscles from Brussels”, JCVD (Jean-Claude van Damme) have frequented such places?

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Above: Jean-Claude Van Damme (b. 1960)

Wordplay flits through my thoughts.

Brussels…where one can find sax and violins…

(Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, came from here.)

Adolphe Sax

Above: Adolphe Sax (1814 – 1894)

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Above: A modern saxophone

(At the time of my 1997 visit, violins seemed the buskers’ instruments of choice.)

…as well as sex and violence (its districts and JCVD).

I return back to Zoé’s apartment inspired by the day´s wanderings, but I soon feel ill at ease afterwards.

I miss the independence and solitude of travel.

I hate my physical and financial dependence upon Zoé.

I ask myself if I feel this way now, how would this feeling improve if I remain longer, or if I return back to her after visiting England as I had planned?

Zoé offers me security, love, stability and European citizenship.

And yet all I want to do is flee in panic and haste…

Brussels, Belgium, Spring and Summer 1842

Emily pines for home and Haworth, but Charlotte feels contented.

Charlotte loves the French language and enjoys being a student again rather than trying to be a teacher.

She has fun watching the city´s people and their customs.

Charlotte loves the odd but pleasant foreign sauces, slices of tartines or tasty pistolets at breakfast, pears from the Pensionnat garden stewed in white wine, couques / koeks from the cake shops.

And the religious fêtes filled with bouquets of flowers…

And taking exercise in the Pensionnat’s walled garden with its berceaux covered in vines, row of pear trees and the Allée Défendue – the path that was out of bounds to the demoiselles because on the other side of the garden wall is a boys’ school, the Athénée Royal…

Everywhere Charlotte wanders, there are offerings of new sensations and impressions.

And although Charlotte’s comments often sound like those of any grumpy foreigner abroad, convinced that everything is better back home, Charlotte’s stay has changed her forever.

Though she regards everyone in the Pensionnat as despicable, with the exception of herself and Emily and some of the other English students, she makes an exception of Constantin Heger, the sole man in residence.

Above: Constantin Héger (1809 – 1896)

Constantin made a strong impression on Charlotte right from the start.

Belgians seemed to her to be phlegmatic, emotionless and pedantic, more considered about appearances than passions, unthinkingly obedient rather than individualistically expressive, “with blood too gluey to boil” (Letter to her brother Branwell Bronte, 1 May 1843).

The Pensionnat had been started by Mme Heger and by the time the Brontes arrived, she had been married to Constantin for five years and had three children.

Madame was 37.  Monsieur was 33.

Charlotte envied Madame, for she had everything Charlotte desired: beauty, employment that gave her fulfillment and a happy personal life married to an inspirational schoolmaster.

To Charlotte, Constantin “fumed like a bottled storm”, whose “bark was worse than his bite”…

“Well might we like him, with all his passions and hurricanes, when he could be so benignant and docile at times…” (Charlotte Bronte, Villette)

Constantin would be the inspiration for the moody Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Villette‘s Monsieur Paul.

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Above: First edition of Villette by Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte)

Heger was a talented teacher who worked on his students’ emotions to make them more receptive to the beauties of literature and Charlotte enjoyed being tutored by him.

Charismatic Constantin had a huge love of language and literature and could engage with Charlotte intellectually.

Equally attractive for Charlotte was his personality, for like many inspirational teachers Constantin was eccentric and temperamental.

Yet despite his eccentricities Constantin was still quite conventional – a family man, a man of social distinction, a devout Catholic, highly respected.

Charlotte was none of these things, and though Constantin cared for her as any good teacher would for those under his tutelage, a chance for romance reciprocal was impossible.

But without having felt the promise love, could Charlotte have been able to write of love?

Her first year in Brussels, with Emily by her side, had been for Charlotte a remarkable and inspirational year.

The death of their aunt Elizabeth Branwell in October 1842 forced them to return to Haworth.

Charlotte and Emily were asked to return to Brussels as they were regarded as being competent and needed as English (Charlotte) and music (Emily) teachers.

Emily chose to remain in Haworth.

Charlotte returned alone to Belgium in January 1843.

This would be a decision both the Pensionnat and Charlotte would regret…

Brussels, Belgium, 10 November 1996

“Belgium remained a battlefield, with tension growing, which would eventually lead to a partition dividing the country.”(Lonely Planet)

Much like Charlotte Bronte, Zoé uses immoderate language about people who have intrigued and attracted her.

But like any recipient of said language an understanding of this hidden intrigue and attraction by the offender is not immediately evident.

This evening I have made a difficult decision.

Tomorrow I will leave this slug-infested apartment behind.

Even though Zoé is a woman of many virtues, her nature is simply incompatible with my own.

And the day had started out so well…

(To be continued…)

Sources: Irene and Alan Taylor, The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists / The International New York Times / Wikipedia / Helen MacEwan, The Brontes in Brussels / Charlotte Bronte, Villette / John Sutherland, The Brontesaurus: An A – Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte

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The cure for Wanderlust?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 January 2017

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As those already acquainted with myself already know, I earn my income in two ways:  I am a Canadian, resident in Switzerland, working as a freelance English-as-a-second-language teacher and part-time Starbucks barista.

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And while both physical and psychological health remain I wish to continue to do both jobs for a while longer, for I find that both jobs are quite educational and inspirational.

Not only in the sense that it is my duty and pleasure to educate and inspire others, but as well in the manner in which these two jobs educate and inspire me.

I have recently acquired a new student from Beijing whom I teach twice a week at a private school in St. Gallen.

The Abbey Cathedral of St Gall and the old city

“Jaja” hopes to study Business Administration at the University of Zürich and needs to pass an English entrance examination to be able to be allowed to do so.

Her English needs a lot of work in a short time and her German even more, so I find myself during our lessons inserting commonly confused “false friend” words that show the close linguistic connection between German and English, thus creating words that look identical yet whose meanings are completely different from one another.

Somehow the word “Wanderlust” came up and explanation became necessary as to the differences between “to wander” (to travel without a specific destination in mind) and “Wandern” (German: hiking).

And both of us so far from our home and native lands of Canada and China, strangers in a strange land, began to speak about what it is to travel and how difficult it is to readjust to normal life once we have returned to our original countries.

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Just five days ago I was inspired.

Like any civilised animal of the West, I occasionally connect myself to social media with marked preference towards Facebook, for it, unlike media like Twitter, allows me to expound my thoughts fully rather than being restricted to a mere set of characters.

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I subscribe to a number of newsgroups and one I enjoy immensely is the closed newsgroup Nomads: A Life of Free/Cheap Travel.

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A fellow had commented on how difficult it was for him to adjust to life off the road back home and I responded:

“In response to… and to discuss what has been on my mind since I read his and others’ dissatisfaction with life when not travelling, let me share my thoughts on the matter:

I am a 51-year-old man, married, a Canadian teacher resident in Switzerland.

Prior to settling down in a committed relationship I did a wee bit of travelling on my own:

I have walked thousands of kilometres, hitched tens of thousands of kilometres and have lived in Asia and Europe.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

And I have not regretted my life choices before I met my wife or since.

I speak only for myself.

There was a time that I feared the familiar and embraced the unknown, and that spirit of adventure, that thirst for travel, is never quenched but it can be channeled.

Some things must be clearly understood about travel.

To quote Carl Franz, of The People´s Guide to Mexico:

“Wherever you go…there you are”.

Whatever mindset, whatever emotional baggage, you possessed before you begin travelling is not shed or left behind by hitting the road.

The road distracts.

The road teaches.

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But the basic character you were before your adventures still remains mostly intact.

Coming home you once again face the demons you thought you abandoned and though you feel somewhat transformed by your adventures, those who did not accompany you will still view you as you were before your travels.

And that image of yourself may not always be pleasant.

The experience of travel is as restrictive as you make it.

Money often seems a restriction and, yes, you might not always be able to afford to jump on a jet and speed away to faraway places with strange sounding names as soon as you might like to, but consider this…

Where you are is strange and foreign to someone else.

And many folks travel to far-off places without considering exploration of their own country or their own neighbourhood…

Many people don´t realise the magic of the here and now where they are…

Try to imagine you are researching and investigating your neighbourhood for a foreign visitor.

What is unusual and interesting about where you are?

You have feet.

Walk around and explore.

You have eyes.

Read and learn as much as you can about where you are.

You have speech and hearing.

Bathe in the adventure of humanity by reaching out to others with a sense of curiosity and wonder.

Here is a result of history and heritage.

Everyone you meet has their own unique story to tell.

You are superior to every one that they can learn from you.

Everyone is your superior that you may learn from them.

Travel isn´t just the act of dashing off to an exotic locale.

Travel is your interaction and interdependence with that magical thing called Life.

Life is a contact sport.

Life is all around us.

No two sunsets are exactly the same.

There is always something to discover wherever you are.

Whenever money does not permit travel to faraway places, I strap on my walking shoes and explore the countryside, visit attractions tourists would go to, visit the library and explore the Internet to discover things that interest me and possibly others.

Two dark gray ankle-covering boots covered in suede and cloth with laces going through hooks rather than eyelets, on a pebbly surface

The street where you live…

Where did it get its name?

The stream you walk over everyday on your way to school or work…

Where does it flow to, where does it flow from?

What is special?

Every day has its potential to bring magic.

How we profit from that day, equally given to everyone, makes the difference.

And never forget your observations, your discoveries, are simultaneously unique to you and similiar to the rest of humanity.

In the entire history of the universe there has never been anyone exactly like you with your unique life story, thoughts and ideas.

In the eternity of time that lies ahead, there will never be another person as unique as you.

Travel, whether near or far, is not just an exploration of a geographical landscape, but as well the discovery of a psychological landscape.

I refuse to believe that individuality is accidental.

Life, for each one of us, has a purpose.

Travel is that search for that purpose.”

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The sorrow of Batman

Istanbul, Turkey, 10 September 2016

In Istanbul, extraordinary experiences are found around every corner.

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Here, dervishes whirl, müezzins call from minarets and people move between continents multiple times a day.

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Istanbul is home to millenia-old monuments and cutting edge art galleries – sometimes on the same block.

It is an utterly beguiling city full of sumptous palaces, domes and minarets, cobblestone streets and old wooden houses, squalid concrete apartment blocks and graceful Art Nouveau apartments, international fashion shops cheek and jowl next to bazaars and beggars, street vendors and stray dogs and wild cats, the beauty of the Bosphorus and the promising spell of the Orient.

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Vast labyrinths of narrow covered passageways and wide boulevards lined with superb fin-de-siecle architecture, the breathtaking interior of the Blue Mosque, the smells and sounds of the markets, tiny boats vying with huge tankers for a piece of the waterfront, street hustlers and people bum-to-bum striving to navigate alleyway and passage…

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This is the Istanbul I fell in love with, the Istanbul that remains with me as poignant as one´s memories of former intimates.

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Istanbul attracts millions of tourists every year but as well it draws into itself many who have come in search of work, of a new life, for a chance to thrive here where fortune is denied elsewhere.

It is my last day in Istanbul and my heart feels as sad as the inevitable farewell that must be said to a loved one leaving whose return is uncertain.

I am in the Sultanahmet district where tourists congregate and the locals bend over backwards to accommodate to their every whim no matter how unreasonable these whims might be.

This is a neighbourhood where one stands beneath magnificent domes or inside opulent palaces, where history is experienced by all one´s senses, where one can explore the watery damp depths of the Basilica Cistern then surrender to the steam of a hamam.

Wander through the produce markets, then join the locals in smoking nargiles, drinking tea and playing backgammon.

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I stand outside the Metropolis Hostel, on a quiet side street awaiting my shuttle bus to the airport and talk quietly to one of the co-owners of this very friendly, very comfortable, very clean, home away from home.

He is a Kurd and he talks about his life in Istanbul and what transpired to lead him to this city so very distant from his home in Batman in faraway southeastern Turkey.

A view of city center in Batman.

Above: City centre, Batman, Turkey

I have no political feelings towards either the Kurds or the Turks, except sadness that neither side sees a possibility of peace and cooperation with one another.

He speaks of battlefields where Kurd has fought ISIS warrior and Turk has bombed Kurd despite their common enemy.

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He speaks of devastation and death, of friends and family forever affected by loss and injury.

There are no words of comfort I can give him, for I am an ignorant foreigner, on a mini-visit to Istanbul before attending a friend´s wedding in Antalya the very next day.

He speaks of how the Syrian civil war has driven many Syrians into Turkey competing for the same jobs as those already resident here.

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Above: Map of the Syrian Civil War

He tells me of how bombings and attacks of ISIS upon Turkey and Kurd upon Turk and Turk upon Kurd have drastically reduced tourism in Istanbul to a third of what it once was.

I leave Istanbul and this Kurd with much of his pain unspoken and distract myself with the Antalya events that await me.

But it is nonetheless an uneasy departure filled with helplessness and sadness.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 January 2017

I often wish I were a wiser man, more knowledgeable in the ways of politics and psychology.

I find myself uncertain of whether I should hate those who have caused  indescribable sorrow, for the Turks I have met both within and outside Turkey have always been friendly towards me, as have the few Kurds I have met as well.

I am rational enough to know that those who murder in the name of Allah are not true followers of Muhammed or Islam, so the gullible who have followed the infidels of ISIS have done so either out of ignorance or hope that those governments that failed them will be supplanted by a new order, albeit a dark order, that offers some sort of security through fear and intimidation.

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

I refuse to hate all the individuals caught up in forces unleashed by those that wield power without compassion, but instead find fault with those who claim to serve their fellow man yet use their fellow man for power, gain and profit.

Now, it is a fair question for any reader to ask:

Why should I care?

And why the history lessons?

We are all human beings, a few saints and monsters amongst us, but most of us are decent basic human beings in the pursuit of happiness.

I think we tend to forget this.

We are all so focused on what makes us different and in our fear use these differences to do unspeakable acts towards one another.

But I firmly believe that there is more that connects us than divides us.

We are bound by love and compassion, by conscience and will, by strength and weakness, by morality and mortality.

In looking at the complexities and tragedies of the ongoing saga of Turkey, or any other part of the world for that matter, I hope to understand the mindsets of both sides of this conflict and hope, in my own humble and naive fashion, to offer a possible idea that might help.

We are all interconnected and what happens in faraway places eventually find its way –  by sometimes subtle, sometimes powerful means – to our own doorsteps.

I explore history, because by trying to understand what leads people to where they are now, why they think and act the way they do, helps to comprehend who they are and, perhaps, as well, avoid some of the mistakes people make in this ongoing, neverending process of life and time.

In part 1 of this blog post I wrote of events in Kurdish / Turkish history – from ancient times until the Sixties – including the 9 January bombing in Izmir –  that compelled me to discuss the problems that plague a country I love.

Prior to the Sixties, the record shows again and again brutal violence towards and suppression of the Kurdish people by the Turks, responded to by armed Kurdish rebellion when it appeared that all attempts at negotiation were impossible:

“Thousands of Kurds, including women and children, were slain.

Others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates, while thousands of others in less hostile areas, who had first been deprived of their cattle and other belongings, were deported to provinces in central Anatolia.

It is now stated that the Kurdish question no longer exists in Turkey.” (British Council, 1938)

In Part One, we examined the Kurdish perspective.

But what has led the Turkish people, especially its governments, to respond to the Kurds in the manner in which they have?

Why has President Recep Erdogan reacted to events both domestic and international in the manner that he has?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

To understand His Excellency, to understand the Turkish point-of-view, (not always the same) we need to travel back in time once more:

27 May 1960:

A coup d’ état is staged by a group of 38 young Turkish military officers.

It is a time of socio-political turmoil and economic hardship as US aid from the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan is running out.

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes plans a visit to Moscow in the hope of establishing alternative lines of credit.

Above: Adnan Menderes (1899 – 1961), 9th Prime Minister of Turkey (1950 – 1960)

Colonel Alparslan Türkes orchestrates the plot and declares the coup over radio to announce “the end of one period in Turkish history and usher in a new one.”

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Above: Alparslan Turkes (1917 – 1997)

The Great Turkish Nation:

Starting at 3 am on 27 May, the Turkish armed forces have taken over administration throughout the entire country.

This operation, thanks to the close cooperation of all our citizens and security forces, has succeeded without loss of life.

Until further notice, a curfew has been imposed, exmept only to members of the armed forces.

We request our citizens to facilitate the duty of our armed forces and assist in reestablishing the nationally desired democratic regime.”

In a press conference held on the following day, General Cemal Gürsel emphasizes that the “purpose and the aim of the coup is to bring the country with all speed to a fair, clean and solid democracy.”

Above: Cemal Gursel (1895 – 1966), 4th President of Turkey (1960 – 1966)

I want to transfer power and the administration of the nation to the free choice of the people.”

The coup removes a democratically elected government while expressing the intent to install a democratically elected government.

235 generals and more than 3,000 commissioned officers are forced to retire.

More than 500 judges and 1,400 university faculty members lose their jobs.

The chief of the General Staff, the President, the Prime Minister and other members of the administration are arrested.

General Gürsel is appointed provisional head of state, Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.

Minister of the Interior Namik Gedik commits suicide while he is detained in the Turkish Military Academy.

President Celal Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and several other members of the administration are put on trial before a court appointed by the ruling junta on the island of Yassuda in the Sea of Marmara.

The politicians are charged with high treason, misuse of public funds and abrogation of the Turkish constitution.

16 September 1961:

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fatin Rüstü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan are executed on Imrali Island.

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(Imrali Island Prison is known as the place where American Billy Hayes was incarcerated later telling his story in Midnight Express and where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.)

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Above: Poster of the film adaptation (1978)

A month later, administrative authority is returned to civilians.

In the first free election after the coup, Süleyman Demirel is elected in 1965.

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Above: Suleyman Demirel (1924 – 2015), 9th President of Turkey (1993 – 2000)

As the 1960s wear on, violence and instability plague Turkey.

Economic recession sparks a wave of social unrest marked by student demonstrations, labour strikes and political assassinations.

On the left, worker and student movements are formed.

On the right, Islamist and militant nationalist groups counter them.

The Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey (DEV-GENC) is founded in 1965 and it will inspire various other organisations, including Devrimci Yol, the Revolutionary Workers and Peasants Party of Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers´ Party.

DEV-GENC members set US Ambassador Robert Komer´s car on fire in 1969 while he is visiting an Ankara campus, participate in the protests against the US 6th Fleet anchoring in Turkey from June 1967 to February 1969, and also play an active role in the workers´ actions on 15 – 16 June 1970.

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Above: Robert Komer (1922 – 2000) (left) in meeting with US President Lyndon Johnson

CIA agent Aldrich Ames is able to unveil the identity of a large number of members.

Above: Aldrich Ames (b. 1941), CIA – KGB double agent, presently incarcerated in Allenwood Penitentiary

The Grey Wolves, a Turkish nationalist paramilitary youth organisation, often described by its critics as an ultra-nationalist or neo-fascist death squad, are responsible for matching and surpassing the left´s violent activities, engaging in urban guerilla warfare with left-wing activists and militants.

Grey Wolves logo.png

On the political front, Prime Minister Demirel´s center-right Justice Party government is experiencing trouble.

Various factions within the Party defect to form groups of their own, gradually reducing the Party´s parliamentary majority and bringing the legislative process to a halt.

By January 1971, Turkey is in a state of chaos.

Universities have ceased to function.

Students rob banks and kidnap US servicemen and attack American targets.

University professors critical of the government have their homes bombed by neo-fascist militants.

Factories are on strike and many workdays are lost.

The Islamist movement becomes more aggressive and openly rejects Atatürk and Kemalism, thus infuriating the armed forces.

The government, weakened by defections, seems paralysed, powerless to curb campus and street violence and unable to pass any serious legislation on social and financial reform.

12 March 1971:

The Chief of the General Staff Memduh Tagmac hands the Prime Minister a Memorandum – an ultimatum by the armed forces – demanding “the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government, which will neutralise the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk´s views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution”, putting an end to the “anarchy, fratricidal strife, and social and economic unrest.”

If the demands are not met, the army would “exercise its constitutional duty” and take over power itself.

Demeril resigns after a three-hour meeting with his cabinet.

The coup doesn´t surprise most Turks, but what direction will the coup take the country?

Who is in charge?

The “restoration of law and order” is given priority.

The left is to be suppressed in an attempt to curb trade union militancy and the demands for higher wages and better working conditions.

The public prosecutor opens a case against the Workers’ Party of Turkey for carrying out Communist propaganda and supporting Kurdish separatism.

All youth organisations affliated with DEV-GENC are to be closed, as they are blamed for the left-wing youth violence and university and urban unrest plaguing the country.

Police searches in offices of teachers’ unions and university clubs are carried out.

Such actions encourage the right who target provincial teachers and Workers’ Party supporters.

The commanders who have seized power are reluctant to exercise it directly, so the regime rests on an unstable balance of power between civilian politicians and the military.

It is neither a normal elected government nor an outright military dictatorship which can entirely ignore parliamentary opposition.

In April, a new wave of terror begins, carried out by the Turkish People’s Liberation Army, in the form of kidnappings and bank robberies.

27 April 1971:

Martial law is declared in 11 of Turkey´s 67 provinces, especially in major urban areas and Kurdish regions.

Youth organisations are banned, union meetings are prohibited, leftists publications are forbidden, and strikes are declared illegal.

After the Israeli consul is abducted on 17 May, hundreds of students, young academics, writers, trade unionists and Workers’ Party activists as well as people with liberal-progressive sympathies are detained and tortured.

The consul is shot four days later.

For the next two years, repression continues, with martial law renewed every two months.

Constitutional reforms repeal the essential liberal fragments of the constitution.

The National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) uses the Ziverbey Villa as a torture centre, employing physical and psychological coercion.

Interrogations, directed by CIA-trained specialists, result in hundreds of deaths or permanent injuries.

Among their victims is journalist Ugur Mumcu, arrested shortly after the coup, later writes that his torturers informed him that not even the President could touch them.

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Above: Journalist Ugur Mumcu (1942 – 1993), assassinated 24 January 1993 in a car bomb outside his Ankara home (Cumhuriyet, 24 January 2003)

By the summer of 1973, the military-backed regime has achieved most of its political aims.

The constitution has been amended so as to strengthen the state against civil society.

Special courts are in place to deal with all forms of dissent quickly and ruthlessly.

Universities, their autonomy ended, have been made to curb the radicalism of students and faculty.

Radio, TV and newspapers are curtailed.

The National Security Council is much more powerful.

In October 1973 Bülent Ecevit wins the election and the problems that plagued the pre-coup government return.

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Above: Mustafa Bulent Ecevit (1925 – 2006), 16th Prime Minister of Turkey (1974, 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002)

As the 1970s progress, the economy deteriorates, violence by the Grey Wolves escalates and intensifies, and left-wing groups as well commit acts aimed at causing chaos and demoralisation.

In 1975 Suleyman Demeril succeeds Ecevit as Prime Minister.

Demeril´s Justice Party forms a coalition with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist National Salvation Party and the Nationalist Movement Party.

There is no clear winner in the elections of 1977.

Demeril continues the coalition.

Ecevit returns to power in 1978, but Demeril regains it the following year.

By the end of the Seventies, Turkey is in turmoil, with unsolved economic and social problems, facing strike actions and political paralysis.

Since 1969, the proportional representational system has made it difficult to find any parliamentary majority.

Politicians are unable to combat the growing violence in the country.

The overall death toll of the Seventies is estimated at 5,000, with nearly ten assassinations per day.

16 March 1977, Istanbul

The University of Istanbul is attacked with a bomb and gunfire.

7 die, 41 injured.

1 May 1977, Istanbul

Labour Day has been celebrated in Istanbul since 1912.

500,000 people gather on Taksim Square.

Shots are heard coming from the building of the water supply company Sular Idaresi and the Marmara Hotel (in 1977, the tallest building in Istanbul).

Security forces intervene with armoured vehicles making much noise with their sirens and explosives.

They hose the crowd with pressurized water.

Many casualities are caused by the panic that this intervention creates.

42 people killed, 220 injured, most crushed.

None of the perpetrators are caught or brought to justice.

The CIA is suspected of involvement.

9 October 1978, Ankara

7 university students, members of the Turkish Workers’ Party, are assassinated by ultra-nationalists.

Ankara University Logo.png

27 November 1978, Diyarbakir

The left-wing organisation is mostly made up of students led by Abdullah Ocalan in Ankara and focused on helping the large oppressed Kurdish population in southeast Turkey.

The violence of the times, especially the attacks on the University of Istanbul, the Taksim Square massacre and the assassinations in Ankara, compel the group, meeting here inside a teahouse, to adopt the name Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a Marxist ideology to counter violence with violence.

Flag of Kurdistan Workers' Party.svg

19 – 26 December 1978, Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras is a city in the Mediterranean region of southern Turkey close to the Syrian border.

Above: The minaret of the Grand Mosque of Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras lies on a plain at the foot of Ahir Mountain and is best known for its production of salep (a flour made from dried orchids) and its distinctive ice cream.

It all starts with a noise bomb thrown into a cinema popular with right-wingers.

Rumours spread that left-wingers had thrown the bomb.

So, the next day a bomb is thrown into a coffee shop frequently visited by left-wingers.

The following evening known left-winger teachers Haci Colak and Mustafa Yuzbasioglu are killed on their way home.

While a crowd of over 5,000 people prepares for Colak’s and Yuzbasioglu’s funeral, right-wing groups stir up emotions saying that the Communists are going to bomb the mosque and massacre many Muslims.

On 23 December, things turn ugly.

Crowds storm the quarters where left-wingers live, destroying houses and shops.

The offices of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, the Teachers’ Association of Turkey, the Association of Police Officers and the Republican People’s Party are destroyed.

Over 100 people are killed and more than 200 houses and 100 shops destroyed.

“They started in the morning, burning all the houses, and continued into the afternoon.

A child was burned in a boiler.

They sacked everything.

We were in the water in the cellar, above us were wooden boards.

The boards were burning and falling on top of us.

My house was reduced to ashes.

We were with 8 people in the cellar.

They did not see us and left.” (Meryem Polat, one of the victims)

Martial law was declared across Turkey the following day.

Court cases, opened at military courts, lasted until 1991.

A total of 804 defendants, mostly right-wingers, were put on trial.

The courts passed 29 death penalties and sentenced 328 people to prison.

11 September 1979

General Kenan Evren orders a hand-written report on whether a coup is in order or the government merely needs a stern warning.

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Above: Kenan Evren (1917 – 2015), 7th President of Turkey (1980 – 1989)

21 December 1979

The War Academy generals convene to decide a course of action.

The pretext for a coup is to put to an end the social conflicts plaguing the country as well as the political instability.

12 September 1980

The Turkish economy is on the verge of collapse with triple digit inflation, large scale unemployment and a chronic foreign trade deficit.

The National Security Council, headed by Evren, declares a coup d’etat, extending martial law throughout the country, abolishing the government and Parliament, suspending the Constitution and banning all political parties and trade unions.

The Council invokes the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in national unity, presenting themselves as opposed to communism, facism, separatism and religious sectarianism.

The Council aims to unite Turkey with the global economy and give companies the ability to market products and services worldwide.

“A feeling of hope is evident among international bankers that Turkey’s military coup may have opened the way to greater political stability as an essential prerequisite for the revitalisation of the Turkish economy.” (International Banking Review, October 1980)

During 1980 – 1983, the foreign exchange rate was allowed to float freely, foreign investment encouraged, land reform projects promoted, export vigourously driven and wages frozen.

The Council rounded up members of both the right and left for trial by military tribunals.

  • 650,000 people were under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were tried in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people were recommended for the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, which had been recommended for the death penalty, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were tried by articles 141, 142 and 163 of Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were tried on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were denied a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship revoked.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were recommended a total of 4,000 years imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced 3,315 years and 6 months imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • 300 days in which newspapers were not published.
  • 13 major newspapers brought to trial
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines destroyed
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.

The Council begins a program of forced assimilation of its Kurdish population.

The words “Kurds”, “Kurdistan” or “Kurdish” are officially banned.

The Kurdish language is prohibited in both public and private life.

People who speak, publish or sing in Kurdish are arrested and imprisoned.

(Even now in 2017, Kurds are still not allowed to get a primary education in their mother tongue and still don´t have a right to self-determination.

Above: Kurdish boys in Diyarbakir

Even now, there is ongoing discrimination against Kurds in Turkish society.)

The Council pushes the PKK to another stage…

PKK members have been executed, imprisoned and forced to flee to Syria (including Abdullah Ocalan).

10 November 1980, Strasbourg, France

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

The Turkish Consulate is bombed causing significant material damage but no injuries.

In a telephone call to the office of Agence France Presse, a spokesman said the blast was a joint operation and marked the start of a “fruitful collaboration” between the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and the PKK.

(Armenia has been officially independent since 1991.)

After the Council’s approval of the new Turkish Constitution in June 1982, General Evren organizes nationwide general elections, to be held on 6 November 1983.

This results in the one-party government of Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party.

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Above: Turgat Özal (1927 – 1993), 8th President of Turkey (1989 – 1993)

The Özal government empowers the police force with intelligence capabilites.

Beginning in 1984, the PKK initiates a guerilla offensive with a series of attacks on Turkish military and police targets.

Since 1984, 37,000 people have been killed.

The three coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 revolutionized modern Turkey.

So, His Excellency Recep Erdogan´s instinct to (over)react to the 2016 attempted coup becomes somewhat understandable, for soldiers can overthrow governments.

(More about this later…)

Yesterday, Turkey´s Parliament in Ankara adopted a package of 18 amendments placing all executive powers in His Excellency’s hands.

His Excellency believes he has learned from these coups and his administration has revved up nationalist rheotric to justify a mounting crackdown against the Kurds, socialists and the press.

I believe His Excellency is mistaken.

Violence creates violence.

Rebellion incites suppression and suppression incites rebellion.

Revolution encourages revolution.

There is much that I see about Turkey that saddens me.

Like anyone not resident in Turkey I am limited to what I receive second-hand so I try to find as many sources of information as I can and hope through the complexity to find and share as unbiased and complete a picture as I can.

I am left with a few questions I will try and address in the third part of this essay on Turkey and the Kurds:

Is change possible without bloodshed?

How can change without bloodshed be realisable?

Surprisingly, hope will begin with the Özal government…

(To be continued…)

Flag of Turkey

Sources: The Economist, 21 – 27 January 2017 / Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know

 

 

 

 

 

The sons of Karbala

St. Gallen, Switzerland, 9 January 2017

“Turkey seems to be falling to pieces, the fall will be a great misfortune.

It is very important that England and Russia should come to a perfectly good understanding… and that neither should take any decisive step of which the other is not apprized.” 

“We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.” 

(Russian Czar Nicholas I, Interview, 9 January 1853)

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Above: Russian Czar Nicholas I (1796 – 1855)

This handsome devil below is my good friend and Starbucks co-worker, Volkan – a talented musician, a good husband and father and a credit to his employer and his homeland of Turkey.

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I asked Volkan once:

“Do you still love your homeland?”

I have never forgotten his answer.

“If you had a child who became sick, would you stop loving it?”

How must it be to simultaneously miss your home and the people you left behind, while feeling glad you are removed from the problems your homeland is in the middle of?

Volkan is a good man.

Volkan is saddened when he reads the news.

 

An ISIS disciple kills 39 New Year´s revelers at an Istanbul nightclub.

A gunman with a police badge assassinates Russia´s ambassador at an Ankara reception.

Kurdish separatist bombers kill 14 soldiers on a bus in central Turkey and dozens of police at an Istanbul soccer match.

Those assaults were just in the last few weeks, which made a car bombing on Thursday in the city of Izmir, where at least two people were killed, seem relatively minor.

 

Izmir, Turkey, 5 January 2017

From top to bottom, left to right: Konak in İzmir, Historical Elevator in Karataş, Pasaport Wharf in İzmir, Gündoğdu Square, İzmir Clock Tower in Konak Square, A view of the city from Historical Elevator, Karşıyaka.

Izmir is a big place, far to the west of Anatolia and the third most populous city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. (Population: nearly 3 million).

Biblical scholars and fans of Indiana Jones might know Izmir better by its former Greek name, Smyrna.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade A.jpg

Izmir has almost 4,000 years of recorded urban history, and it has seen conquerors come and conquerors go, empires rise and fall: the Hittite Empire, the Lydian Empire, the Persian Empire, the empire of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Selcuks, the Ottomans and finally modern Turkey.

It has seen conquerors come and conquerors go and has survived earthquakes, plagues and great fires.

Above: The Great Fire of Smyrna, 14 September 1922

Terrorist attacks, though unpleasant, these too Izmir has survived and will survive.

Suspected Kurdish militants clashed with police and detonated a car bomb in western Turkey on Thursday after their vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint, killing a police officer and a court employee, officials said.

The explosion and gunfire outside the main courthouse in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, highlighted the country’s deteriorating security after a gunman killed 39 people in a New Year’s Day mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub.

“Based on the preparation, the weapons, the bombs and ammunition seized, it is understood that a big atrocity was being planned,” Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told reporters.

The local governor said the arms included Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Izmir police shot dead two of the attackers and were hunting a third, a police source and the state-run Anadolu agency said.

“Our heroic police officer martyred in this attack, Fethi Sekin, prevented a much bigger disaster happening, sacrificing his own life without a thought for it,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a statement, condemning the “heinous” attack.

Two people, believed to have sold the vehicle used in the attack to the assailants, were subsequently detained, security sources said.

CCTV footage obtained by Reuters showed a passerby fleeing as the vehicle exploded in a fire ball.

Initial findings suggested that Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were behind the attack, Izmir governor Erol Ayyildiz said.

Flag of Kurdistan Workers' Party.svg

Dozens of people rushed to the scene of the blast and chanted “God damn the PKK” and other slogans against the militant group.

Volkan told me that his Turkish relatives in Izmir were very close to where the bomb exploded.

A helicopter was seen flying overhead.

Ayyildiz said a second vehicle had been detonated in a controlled explosion.

Anadolu said police suspected the attackers had planned to escape in this vehicle.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and is also battling an insurgency by the PKK in the largely Kurdish southeast.

It regularly bombs PKK camps in northern Iraq and its military operations in Syria also aim to stop Kurdish militias it sees as an extension of the PKK from gaining territory there.

“Turkey will be instrumental in its region. These (attacks) will never prevent us from being present in areas like Iraq and Syria, which produce terrorists like viruses,” Kaynak said.

Ayyildiz said the clash outside Izmir’s main Bayrakli courthouse erupted after police officers tried to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint and that the attackers detonated the car bomb while trying to escape.

The PKK – deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union – and its affiliates have been carrying out increasingly deadly attacks over the past year and a half, ever further from the largely Kurdish southeast, where they have fought an insurgency for more than three decades.

A PKK offshoot claimed responsibility for twin bombings that killed 44 people, most of them police officers, and wounded more than 150 outside an Istanbul soccer stadium on 10 December.

A car bomb a week later killed 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it tore through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, in an attack President Tayyip Erdogan also blamed on Kurdish militants.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Izmir, a liberal coastal city which had largely escaped the violence that has plagued Istanbul and the capital Ankara in recent months.

Ayyildiz said the attackers were carrying two automatic rifles, rocket launchers and eight hand grenades.

The attack occurred near a courthouse in Izmir’s Bayrakli district, close to an entrance used by judges, prosecutors and other employees.

Ayyildiz said “six or seven” people were also wounded in the attack, adding that police vigilance had foiled a possible more serious attack.

Police detained 20 suspected Islamic State militants thought to be of Central Asian and North African origin in Izmir on Wednesday, in raids Turkish media said were linked to the Istanbul nightclub attack.

Now, here is where things begin to get confusing and muddled…

Where life gets…complicated.

 

The Kurds are estimated to number, worldwide, around 32 million with the majority living in West Asia.

Turkey´s Kurdish minority is estimated at more than 15 million people.

Sparsely populated southeastern Anatolia is home to perhaps eight million Kurds, while seven million more live elsewhere in the country, largely integrated into mainstream Turkish society.

Istanbul is the largest Kurdish city in the world, in the way that New York City is home to the largest number of Jews.

The majority of Turkish Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

The city of Diyarbakir serves as the unofficial capital of the Kurdish region.

Top left: Ali Pasha Mosque, Top right: Nebi Mosque, 2nd: Seyrangeha Park, 3rd left: Dört Ayakli Minare Mosque, 3rd upper right: Deriyê Çiyê, 3rd lower right: On Gözlü Bridge (or Silvan Bridge), over Tigris River, Bottom left: Diyarbakır City Wall, Bottom right: Gazi Köşkü (Veterans Pavilion)

There has been over centuries a diaspora of Kurdish communities to the cities of western Europe and in coastal Turkish cities like Adana and Izmir.

In western Europe, Germany has the greatest number of Kurdish people: 800,000.

Britain has 50,000, Switzerland has 35,000, the US – over 15,000, Canada – over 12,000.

The Kurds are an ancient people, mentioned as far back as 4,000 BC when they are mentioned on Sumerian clay tablets.

Many Kurds consider themselves descended from the Medes, an ancient Iranian people and some even use a calendar dating from 612 BC when the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was conquered by the Medes.

This claim is reflected in the words of the Kurdish “national” anthem:

“We are the children of the Medes and Kai Khosrow.”

(Kai Khosrow was a legendary king of the Kayanian dynasty and a character in the Persina epic book Shahnameh.

The Cup of Kai Khosrow was a cup of prophecy and divination which was said to be filled with the Elixir of Immortality, and some suggest might be the origin of the ideas we have of crystal balls, reading tea leaves, the Fountain of Youth and the Holy Grail.

The Kayanians were the heroes of the Avesta – the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.

Atar (fire)

Zoroastrianism was already one of the world´s oldest religions when it was first recorded and is said to have strongly influenced Judaism, gnosticisim (monks and hermits), Christianity and Islam with the concepts of a Messiah, Heaven, Hell, free will and the universal struggle between Good and Evil.)

Persian King Ardashir I the Unifier (180 – 242), was depicted as having battled the Kurds and their leader Madig.

ArdashirIGoldCoinHistoryofIran.jpg

In a letter Ardashir I received from his foe Ardavan V, Ardashir himself is referred to being a Kurd himself:

“You´ve bitten off more than you can chew and you have brought death to yourself.

O son of a Kurd, raised in the tents of the Kurds, who gave you permission to put a crown on your head?”

In 360, Sassanid King Shapur II marched into the Roman province Zabdicene to conquer its chief city of Bezabde (present day Cizre) to find the city heavily fortified and guarded by three Roman legions and a large body of Kurdish warriors.

Head of king Met 65.126.jpg

In 639, Sassanian General Hormuzan battled Islamic invaders in Khuzestan and called upon the Kurds to aid him in battle.

Hormuzan lost and the Kurds were brought under Islamic rule.

Many dynasties would rise and fall and the Kurds were either used in great military campaigns throughout recorded history or they would be considered a problem by those who had conquered Kurdish territory.

Under the leadership of Saladin, Kurds would be instrumental in the recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin (4 July 1187).

Above: Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (or Saladin)

Kurds would revolt several times against their rulers and rulers would put down these rebellions and punish the Kurds by forcing them to move away from their territories, be forcibly and massively deported and enslaved.

The Ottoman Empire had historically and successfully inteegrated (but not assimilated) the Kurds by repressing Kurdish independence movements.

The Russo-Turkish War (1877 – 1878) devastated Kurdish territory and left therein a political vacuum.

Sheik Ubeydullah, a powerful landowner, filled the role and demanded recognition from the Ottoman Emire for an independent Kurdish state.

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“The Kurdish nation, consisting of more than 500,000 families is a people apart.

Their religion is different and their laws and customs distinct.

We are a nation apart.

We want our affairs to be in our hands, so that…we may be strong and independent and have privileges like other nations.

This is our objective.

Otherwise, the whole of Kurdistan will take matters into their own hands as they are unable to put up with these continual evil deeds and the oppression, which they suffer at the hands of the Persian and Ottoman governments.”

Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid responded with a campaign of integration by co-opting prominent Kurdish opponents with offers of prestigious positions in his government.

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Above: Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842 – 1918)

This strategy appears to have worked given the loyalty displayed by the Kurdish Hamidiye regiments during World War I.

The Young Turks, a political reform movement that consisted of Ottoman exiles, students, civil servants and army officers, favoured the replacement of the Ottoman Empire´s absolute monarchy with a constitutional government and led a rebellion against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908.

With this revolution, the Young Turks helped to establish an era of multi-party democracy for the first time in Turkey´s history.

After 1908, the Young Turks’ political party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) began a series of modernizing military and political reforms across the Ottoman Empire.

By 1913, the CUP-led government was headed by Interior Minister and Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, War Minister Enver Pasha and Naval Minister Djemal Pasha.

The “Three Pashas” exercised absolute control over the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1918, bringing the country closer to Germany, signing the Ottoman-German Alliance to enter the Empire into World War I on the side of the Central Powers and carrying out the Armenian Genocide (1914 – 1917).

Jakob Künzler, of Hundwil, Appenzell, Switzerland, the head of a missionary hospital in Urfa, documented the large scale ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Kurds by the Young Turks.

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Above: Jakob Künzler (8 March 1871 – 15 January 1949)

The Kurds were perceived to be subversive elements that would take the Russian side in the War.

The Young Turks embarked on a large scale deportation of Kurds, aiming to weaken the political influence of the Kurds by deporting them from their ancestral lands and dispersing them in small pockets of exiled communities.

By the end of World War I, up to 700,000 Kurds had been forcibly deported and almost half of the displaced perished.

On 10 August 1920, in the exhibition room of a porcelain factory in Sevres, France, the Manufacture nationale de Sevres, four representatives of the Ottoman Empire and representatives of the Allied Powers (the UK, France and Italy) met to discuss the partition of the Ottoman Empire.

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Much to the world´s shock the Ottoman Empire was allowed to continue to exist but with much of its territory assigned to various Allied powers.

This Treaty would ultimately lead to the creation of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Armenia.

It would also lead to two wars: the Greek – Turkish War (1919 – 1922) and the Turkish War of Independence (1919 – 1923).

Above: The Turkish Army enters Izmir (9 September 1922).

Izmir is both the beginning and end location of the Turkish War of Independence.

On 15 May 1919, armed Turkish civilians first resisted the occupation of Turkey by the Allies following the Treaty of Sevres.

The end of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the nation of Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, made the Kurdish people feel threatened, as radical secularisation which the strongly Muslim Kurds abhorred and the centralisation of authority and rampant Turkish nationalism marginalised Kurdish autonomy.

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Above: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938)

Some Kurdish groups sought self-determination and the confirmation of Kurdish autonomy as established in the Treaty of Sevres, but Kemal Atatürk prevented such a result.

On 6 March 1921, 6,000 members of the Kocgiri tribe rebelled.

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The commander of the Central Army Nureddin Pasha said:

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Above: Nureddin Pasha (1873 – 1932)

“In Turkey, we cleaned up people who speak Armenian.

I´m going to clean up people who speak Kurdish.”

The brutality of his repression made the National Assembly decide to put Pasha on trial.

Although Pasha was dismissed from his position and recalled to Ankara, Atatürk intervened and prevented a trial.

In 1925 Sheikh Said and a group of former Ottoman soldiers known as the Hamidiye, led the Kurdish groups the Zaza and the Kurmanj in rebellion against the Turkish state.

Above: Sheikh Said (bottom right)

Various elements of Turkish society were (and still are) unhappy that Atatürk had abolished the Islamic Caliphate system.

Apart from inevitable Kurdish cultural demands and complaints of Turkish maltreatment, the rebels were also afraid of imminent mass deportations.

They were also annoyed that the name “Kurdistan” did not appear on maps, at restrictions on the Kurdish language and education, and they objected to the Turks’ economic exploitation of Kurdish areas at the expense of the Kurds.

“Certain among you have taken as a pretext for revolt the governmental administration.

Some others have invoked the defence of the Caliphate.” (Military tribunal President, 28 June 1925)

Sheikh Said appealed to all Muslims of Turkey to join in the rebellion.

15,000 men did.

In the night / early morning of 6 – 7 March the forces of Sheikh Said laid siege to the city of Diyarbakir with a force of 10,000 men, attacking the city at all four of its gates simultaneously.

All of the rebel attacks were repelled by the Turkish garrison’s use of machine gunfire and mortar grenades.

When the rebels retreated, the area around the city was full of dead bodies.

By the end of March, most of the major battles of the Sheikh Said rebellion were over as the Turkish authorities crushed the rebellion with continual aerial bombardments and a massive concentration of forces.

Sheikh Said was captured and executed by hanging.

In the east of Turkey in Agri Province, during a wave of rebellion among Kurds led by General Ihsan Nuri Pasha, a self-proclaimed Kurdish state arose in 1927 called the Republic of Ararat and Kurdava, a village near Mount Ararat, was designated as its capital.

Ararat made appeals to the Great Powers and the League of Nations and sent messages for assistance from Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but to no avail.

On 12 July 1930 in the Zilan valley located to the north of the town of Ercis in Van Province, 1,500 armed Turkish soldiers destroyed 220 Kurdish villages and massacred 5,000 women, children and elderly Kurds.

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Above: Headline of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, 13 July 1930:

“Cleaning started, the ones at Zilan valley were completely annihilated. 

None of them survived.

Operations at Ararat are continuing.”

By the summer of 1930, the Turkish Air Force was bombing Kurdish positions, demoralising the Kurds and leading to their surrender and Turkey resuming control over the territory.

Mount Ararat and the Araratian plain (cropped).jpg

Most of the former Ottoman Empire’s eastern regions had been administered by feudal lords, tribal chieftains and dignitaries, but as the Republic of Turkey grew in power and confidence the Dersim region tribes objected to losing their authority and refused to pay taxes.

Complaints kept coming from the governors, so by 1926 the Atatürk government considered it necessary to use force against the people of Dersim.

Dersim had a reputation for being rebellious, having been the scene of 11 separate periods of armed conflict over the previous 40 years.

Ankara began to pass laws to “Turkify” the eastern provinces:

1934: Law on Resettlement: forced relocation of people within the country, to promote cultural homogeneity

1935: The Tunceli Law renaming Dersim “Tunceli”

On 1 November 1936, during a speech in Parliament, Atatürk acknowledged the situation in Dersim as Turkey´s most important internal problem.

The Turkish government built military observation posts in the centres of Kurdish districts.

Following public meetings in January 1937, a letter of protest against the Tunceli Law was written to be sent to the local governor.

“The government has tried to assimilate the Kurdish people for years, oppressing them, banning publications in Kurdish, persecuting those who speak Kurdish, forcibly deporting people from fertile parts of Kurdistan for uncultivated areas of Anatolia where many have perished.

The prisons are full of non-combatants, intellectuals are shot, hanged or exiled to remote places.

Three million Kurds demand to live in freedom and peace in their own country.” (Nuri Desimi)

The emissaries of the letter were arrested and executed.

In response, a group of local Kurds ambushed a police convoy in May.

The Dersim Rebellion had begun.

“The rebellion was clearly caused by provocation.

It caused the most violent tortures that were ever seen in a rebellion in the Republican years.

Those that didn´t take part in the rebellion and the families of the rebels were also tortured.” (Huseyin Aygun, Dersim 1938 and Obligatory Settlement)

In September 1937, a Kurdish leader Seyit Riza came to the government building of Erzincan Province for peace talks and was immediately arrested.

Riza was tried and sentenced after a show trial.

Riza and his companions were not informed of their rights nor the details of their case.

No lawyer was provided for them.

They were not able to understand the language of the trial in Turkish since they spoke only Kurdish.

No interpreter was provided.

Seyit Riza was almost 78 years old, making it impossible to hang him.

The court accepted he was only 54.

 

Riza was transferred to the headquarters of the General Inspectorate at Elazig.

Riza did not understand the meaning of the judgement until he saw the gallows.

“You will hang me.”, he said.

Then he turned to me and asked:

“Did you come from Ankara to hang me?”

We exchanged glances.

It was the first time I faced a man who was going to be hanged.

He flashed a smile at me.

The prosecutor asked whether he wanted to pray.

He didn´t want it.

We asked his last words.

“I have 40 liras and a watch.

You will give them to my son.”

We brought him to the square.

It was cold and there was nobody around.

However, Seyit Riza addressed the silence and emptiness as if the square was full of people.

“We are the sons of Karbala. (the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā) )

We are blameless.

It is shame.

It is cruel.

It is murder.”

I had goose bumps.

This old man swept to the gallows, strung the rope around his own neck, kicked the chair and executed himself.” (Minister of Foreign Affairs Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil)

Six of his companions would also hang that evening.

 

Turkish planes flew numerous sorties against the Dersim rebels, bombing the district with poisonous gas.

Over 70,000 Kurdish civilians were killed by the Turkish Army and over 11,000 taken into exile.

Many tribesmen were shot dead after surrendering.

Women and children were locked into haysheds which were then set on fire.

Around 3,000 Kurds were forcibly deported from Dersim.

Southeast Anatolia was put under martial law.

In addition to more destruction of villages and massive deportations, the Turkish government encouraged Albanians and Assyrians to settle in Kurdish areas to change the ethnic composition of the region.

People were put in barns and caves and burned alive.

Forests were surrounded and set ablaze to exterminate those who had taken refuge there.

Many Kurdish females committed collective suicide and threw themselves into rivers.

More than 1.5 million Kurds were deported and massacred.

The area remained under permanent military siege until 1950.

In order to prevent the events from having a negative impact on Turkey´s international image and reputation, foreigners were not allowed to the visit the entire area east of Euphrates until 1965.

The Kurdish language was banned and the words “Kurds” and “Kurdistan” were removed from dictionaries and Kurds only referred to as “Mountain Turks”.

“The Turks, who had been fighting for their own freedom, crushed the Kurds, who sought theirs.

It is strange how a defensive nationalism develops into an aggressive one, and a fight for freedom becomes one for dominion over others.” (Jawaharial Nehru, Glimpses of World History, 1942)

Might the Kurds hold a grudge?

(To be continued)

Sources: Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Wikipedia

Flag of Turkey

Eye problems

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 January 2017

Today is my first day back to work as a teacher and this, of course, involves planning.

Planning involves going through my wee little library here at home in search of interesting material to share with my students in the hopes that as they learn they might also be entertained, informed and inspired.

Above: The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Not always easy, but never dull.

I ran across an editorial from The Hartford Courant by Denis Horgan, reprinted by the International Herald Tribune and incorporated in an English textbook, On the Record: Mastering Reading and Language Skills with the Newspaper, by Robert Hughes.

Hartford Courant March 24 2008.jpg

Horgan´s comments, with a wee bit of adaptation to today´s issues, still seem relevant.

“Maybe it´s my weary old peepers, but I never seem to see things.

They cut the gasoline tax and I don´t see the price go down.

Instead the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price never goes down.

Cold weather?

It drives up the price.

Hot weather?

see caption

It drives up the price.

Cut taxes?

They raise the price to pay for the change.

When there is an international crisis, they run up the price of oil in anxiety.

When the crisis goes away, the price stays up.

When we are in an oil glut, the price goes up instead of down.

Everywhere, big companies lay off half the work force, wrecking the lives of thousands of employees, and I don´t see where anyone´s better off for it except for a few bosses.

Above: “The Strike”, Robert Koehler (1886)

Not the customers.

Not the public.

Surely not those laid off nor those left behind.

They say I should see that the stockholders are better off, but what I see is that they get a quarter or 50 cents more in dividends, a small increase in stock price.

Looking up at a computerized stocks-value board at the Philippine Stock Exchange

And for that people´s lives are destroyed, service is gutted, products and reputations are diminished.

So someone can make pennies and executives can make millions.

Fortunately, there is at least a Hereafter where that will be redressed.

The Cold War is over and I don´t see where the peace dividend is.

Above: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 27 October 1961

We pumped trillions into defense where there was someone to defend against, but I don´t see where there´s a need to pump trillions more into gigantic submarines and monster bombers with no known purpose anymore.

Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954

We could have hoped that some of the savings might show up in helping neglected corners of the society, but I don´t see it.

They cut the taxes of the wealthy, telling us that´s good for us all, and I don´t see where that helps anyone but the wealthy.

They say that we will all benefit when the rich get around to trickling it down to us later, but I never see that happening.

We forever await the grace of the privileged without ever much getting it.

Meantime, we can see quite clearly that there is less for support efforts for those who need them.

Companies cut services while making bloated profits, and no one sees any of that coming back to the sap customer paying new fees and higher prices and getting poorer products and less support than ever before.

I don´t see that those efficiencies very often benefit the people paying the bill.

Employee rolls are skinnied up and replaced with part-timers and tempy and others on the cheap – but when was the last time the savings showed up on the price tag?

I don´t see it happening very often.

We are told we will save money by not helping those who need help, and people actually will be better off for being poorer, but I don´t see either happening.

Do you have more money in your pocket because they whittled the welfare funds?

I don´t.

Maybe when we finally get it we´ll spend it on cheaper gas.

Do you see all those jobs that don´t exist being filled by people who were straight-arming away jobs in favor of keeping the peanuts they get from the dole?

Neither do I.

What I think I see is a mood where people of no wealth become people of no value and, thereafter, are invisible.

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Unseen.

To thundering self-praise, they tell us they´ve balanced the national budget which will make things better while, at the same time, spreading such tax advantages and college aid and various bits of boodle as to turn this into the Promised Land.

Great.

But maybe the promises are so seldom kept that you will pardon the squint as I keep on the lookout for the thing to happen.

From the left and from the right costly pledges of change fly only to produce more of the same, helping mostly and only those already with advantage and authority.

They tell us we will see it get better.

Someday.

Maybe I need new glasses.” (Denis Horgan, “Something Wrong with My Eyes”, Hartford Courant)

I too look at the world of today and I too question whether or not there´s something wrong with my eyes.

There probably is.

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The Underestimated: The Bold and the Reckless

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 January 2017

It is normal to underestimate the Swiss.

Coat of arms of Switzerland

In fact other nations generally don´t see and rarely think about the Swiss.

And the Swiss themselves don´t help themselves in this regard.

To the outside world, the French-speaking Swiss to the west of the country seem little different from the French of France.

The Italian-speaking Swiss to the south of the country are easily mistaken for slightly stiff-necked Italians.

The German-speaking Swiss who dominate the country are overlooked as Germans under severe sedation.

Much to the delight and disgust of the Romansh, mostly resident in Canton Graubünden and less than 1% of the Swiss population, the folks of Switzerland´s fourth official language are mostly ignored.

But underestimating the Swiss and seeing them only through clichés tends to be a mistake.

Consider the Swiss military.

And think about these questions…

How does a country located smack dab in the centre of Europe manage to maintain over 500 years of neutrality?

Location of Switzerland (green)in Europe (green & dark grey)

How can a country that is known for being a champion of peace and humanitarianism be also simultaneously armed to the teeth?

Of all the militaries in the world, why are the Swiss called upon to defend the life of the Pope?

To begin a journey into the mindset of the Swiss, first let´s travel back in time and wander northwest of Switzerland…

Nancy, France, 7 January 1477

The Battle of Nancy has been over for two days.

An Italian page has found the body of Charles the Bold (Charles le Téméraire – Charles the Reckless)(Charles Martin, Duke of Burgundy, Count of Charolais, Grand Duke of the West, Knight of the Golden Fleece, Count of Nevers, Seigneur de Croy), naked on a frozen pond, half eaten by wolves, his skull cloven by a Swiss battleaxe.

Only the scars on his body make Charles´ body recognisable.

(Digression Alert: It is this difficulty to identify the body that suggested the fictional hypothesis that Charles survived the battle and was granted asylum in Pimlico, in the heart of London, that was the basis of the plot of the 1949 film Passport to Pimlico.)

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(In post-WWII London, an unexploded bomb detonates in Miramont Gardens, Pimlico.

The explosion reveals a buried cellar containing artwork, coins, jewellery and an ancient manuscript.

The document is authenticated by the historian Professor Hatton-Jones as a royal charter of Edward IV that ceded the house and its estates to Charles VII, the last Duke of Burgundy, when he had sought refuge in England after being presumed dead at the 1477 Battle of Nancy.

As the charter had never been revoked, an area of Pimlico is declared to be a legal part of Burgundy.)

(Screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke was also inspired by an incident during the Second World War when the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared international territory by the Canadian government so when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands gave birth, baby Margriet was born on “Dutch” territory (born 19 January 1943) and would not lose her right to the Dutch throne.)

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Above: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands

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Above: The former Ottawa Civic Hospital, now called the Ottawa General Hospital, a former employer of mine had me work there as a security guard, 1993-1994

(Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd (born 1 July 1952) and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (born 25 December 1971) were also born at this hospital.)

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Above: Dan Aykroyd

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Above: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Thus endeth the digression.

 

Back to Charles the Bold and the Swiss.

In 1469 Duke Sigismund of Hapsburg of Austria assigned his possessions in the Alsace as a fiefdom to the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, so as to have these Alsatian territories better protected against the expansion of the Eidgenossen (Old Swiss Confederacy).

For the Swiss were proving to be troublesome…

Until about 1220 no one took much notice of the remote valleys and villages in what is now Switzerland.

Then the route over the St. Gotthard Pass opened.

Gotthard.jpg

And everyone wanted to muscle in on the lucrative trade with the Mediterranean.

To do that meant controlling the farmers, whose valleys had sole access to the northern approach to the Pass.

The farmers sought protection from the Holy Roman Emperor himself.

The communities of Uri and Schwyz were granted imperial freedom, meaning that the Emperor was their only boss.

But this semi-autonomy wasn´t enough of a guarantee.

Enter the Austrians of the Hapsburg monarchy.

They sent in bailiffs who threw their weight around to get what they wanted.

All that did was push the Swiss closer together.

Rütli Meadow, Canton Uri, Switzerland, 1 August 1291

Walter Fürst of Canton Uri, Werner Stauffacher of Canton Schwyz and Arnold von Melchtal of Canton Unterwalden met – on a sloping, lumpy meadow with grazing cows and protruding rocks with a splendid lake and mountain view – and swore an oath of mutual support against the Austrians.

They stood in the August sunshine, placed their left hands together, one on top of the other, raised their right hands above their heads in a honour salute and swore to help one another through thick and thin, in peace and war, forever.

Lake Ägeri, Switzerland, 15 November 1315

In 1314 tensions between the Habsburgs and the Swiss heightened when Duke Louis IV of Bavaria and Frederick the Handsome of the Habsburgs each claimed the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Swiss supported Louis IV because they feared the Hapsburgs would annex their lands, which they had already tried to do in the late 1200s.

War eventually broke out after the Swiss of Schwyz raided the Habsburg-protected Einsiedeln Abbey over access to pasture lands.

Frederick´s brother, Leopold of Austria, led a large army to crush the rebellious Swiss.

Leopold planned a surprise attack from the south via Lake Aegeri (Ägerisee) and the Morgarten Pass, counting on complete victory, for the Swiss lacked both the training as well as the equipment of the Habsburg knights.

The Swiss Confederates of Schwyz were supported by the Confederates of Uri, while the Confederates of Unterwalden erected fortifications west of the village of Arth in anticipation of a Habsburg approach from that direction.

The Confederates of Schwyz and Uri prepared a road block and an ambush point between Ägerisee and Morgarten Pass, where a small path led between a steep slope and a swamp.

The Swiss led by Werner Stauffacher of Schwyz had 1,500 infantry and archers.

The Austrians led by Leopold I had 5,500 infantry and 2,500 heavy cavalry.

When the Swiss ambushed the Austrians from above with rocks, logs and battleaxes, the Austrians had no room to defend themselves and suffered a crushing defeat.

Bendicht Tschachtlan, Die Schlacht am Morgarten (c. 1470).jpg

The Swiss, unfamiliar with the custom of battles between knights, brutally butchered retreating troops and anyone unable to flee.

And the Swiss made an important and enduring discovery at this battle.

They learned that displaying greater cohesion than any equal force set against them, the Swiss could defeat anyone.

In March 1316, Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV confirmed the rights and privileges of the Forest Cantons.

However, Leopold proposed another attack against the Swiss Confederacy.

Neither Swiss nor Habsburg prevailed, so in 1318 they negotiated a truce.

By 1323, the Forest Cantons had made alliances with Cantons Bern and Glarus.

Within 40 years, the Cantons of Lucerne, Zug and Zürich had also joined the Confederacy.

By 1384, the expansion of the Swiss Confederacy was colliding with Austrian interests.

The interests of Austria were further undermined in the Pact of Konstanz – a union of Zürich, Zug, Solothurn and 51 cities of German Swabia.

Without formal declaration of war or any form of central organisation, the Swiss attacked the Austrian strongholds of Rapperswil, Rothenburg, Cham, Wolhusen, Entlebuch, Sempach, Meienberg, Reichensee and Willisau.

The Austrians had had enough.

Duke Leopold assembled his troops and declared war on the Swiss.

The Austrians gathered together at Brugg, marched south to Zofingen and Willisau, intending to ravage the Lucerne coutryside, cutting down corn and destroying the harvests along their route.

The town of Willisau was plundered and razed and the Austrian army moved on to Sursee on Lake Sempach, heading towards the town of Sempach.

Leopold´s men taunted those behind Sempach´s walls and an Austrian knight waved a noose at them and promised he would use it on their leaders.

The Swiss Confederation army, assembled at the bridge over the Reuss River at Gisikon, marched towards Sempach, hoping to catch the Austrians still there and press them against the Lake.

Sempach, Switzerland, 9 July 1386

12:00 – The two armies make contact 2 km outside of Sempach, to their mutual surprise for both were on the move and not in battle formation, but both sides quickly form ranks.

The Swiss held the wooded high ground close to the village of Hildisrieden.

Since the terrain was not deemed suitable for a cavalry attack, Leopold´s knights dismounted.

How and at what point the battle turned in favour of the outnumbered Swiss is a matter of debate.

Perhaps it was the midday heat, which wore out the Austrian knights wearing heavy armour much more than the lightly armed Swiss (some of whom had no other armour than a wooden plank tied to their left arms as shields).

Perhaps the Austrians fatally underestimated the Swiss.

The Swiss broke through the Austrian ranks and routed the enemy army completely.

Many Austrian nobles and knights were slain, including Duke Leopold.

The Battle of Sempach came to be seen as the decisive turning point between the foundation of the Confederacy as a loose pact in the 14th century and its growth into a significant and military power during the 15th century.

Sempach Schlachtfresko.jpg

The Austrians soon signed an armistice and peace treaty.

Sempach had been a severe blow to Austrian interests and the Swiss Confederacy could now expand unchecked.

No Swiss history book is complete without mentioning Sempach, a battle that means nothing to most Europeans, but still commemorated every year by the Swiss.

Sempach secured Swiss independence and their reputation as soldiers to be reckoned with.

Fast forward to 1476.

Burgundy is one of the richest and biggest powers in Europe under its Duke, Charles the Bold.

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Above: Charles Martin the Bold, last Duke of Burgundy (1433 – 1477)

Charles rules over a large part of western Europe, from the Netherlands and Belgium through northern France and Alsace down towards Geneva.

With France and England having spent the previous century fighting each other to a standstill, while Germany and Italy remain divided into piecemeal states, the way is clear for Burgundy to rule the Continental roost.

As previously mentioned, in 1469 Duke Sigismund of Hapsburg of Austria had assigned his possessions in the Alsace as a fiefdom to the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, so as to have these Alsatian territories better protected against the expansion of the Eidgenossen (Old Swiss Confederacy).

Charles the Bold´s embargo politics against the cities of Basel, Strasbourg and Mulhouse, directed by his reeve Peter von Hagenbach, prompted these cities to appeal to the Swiss Confederacy for help.

On 30 November 1475, Charles seized Nancy in Lorraine, then marched against the Swiss.

Charles marched to Grandson, recently captured by the Swiss, where he had all 412 men of the Swiss garrison hanged or drowned in Lake Neuchatel despite their capitulation on 28 February 1476.

The shocking and horrible execution lasted four hours.

Charles hoped to fill the Swiss with dread, to break the will of the Swiss by killing any of their countrymen he could apprehend.

Instead he united the Swiss as never before.

The Swiss confederate forces had no news of the fate of the Grandson garrison and assembled their forces in the hope of lifting the siege.

On 2 March 1476, Charles was attacked by the Swiss confederate forces and suffered a shameful defeat.

Luzerner Schilling Battle of Grandson.jpg

Charles was compelled to flee, abandoning his artillery along with many provisions and valuables.

At insignificant cost to themselves, the Swiss had humiliated the greatest duke in Europe, defeating one of the most feared armies and taken a most impressive amount of treasure.

Charles succeeded in raising a fresh army of 30,000 men.

Stung by his defeat at Grandson, Charles was determined to recover his territories and fortifications in the Pays de Vaud (in the present day French-speaking parts of Switzerland), then march on and attack the city of Berne, his greatest enemy among the Swiss cantons.

Charles´ first objective was the strategic lakeside town of Morat, on the eastern shore of Lac Morat.

On 22 June 1476, the Burgundians were resoundingly defeated and never truly recovered.

For some three miles along the lakeside many Burgundians died that day.

Charles´ dream of revenge against the Swiss should have ended that day, for his defeat at Morat spelled the beginning of the end for the Duchy of Burgundy, but he would doggedly struggle on against his foes.

Charles escaped to Morges and then to Pontarlier, where he stayed for months, in a deep depression.

On 6 October 1476, Charles lost Nancy to the Swiss who returned it to the Duke of Lorraine.

Making a last effort, Charles formed a new army and arrived in the dead of winter before the walls of Nancy.

Having lost many of his troops through the severe cold, it was only with a few thousand men that Charles met the joint forces of the Lorrainers and the Swiss at the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477.

Charles´ body, as abovementioned, was found two days later.

With the death of Charles the Bold, the dynasty of the Dukes of Burgundy died out.

The Flemish territories of Burgundy became a possession of the Austrian Habsburgs.

The French territories of Burgundy reverted to the crown of France.

The victories of the Swiss Confederation over one of the most powerful military forces in Europe at the time gained the Swiss a reputation of near invincibility.

The wars with Burgundy marked the beginning of the rise of Swiss mercenaries on the battlefields of Europe.

One man´s recklessness and his underestimation of the Swiss led to an inglorious and undignified death and ended both a dynasty and an empire.

(To be continued…)

Flag of Switzerland

Sources: Wikipedia / Diccon Bewes, Swiss Watching / Xenophobe´s Guide to the Swiss / The Rough Guide to France

 

 

One foot down

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 January 2017

“An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress.” (William Butler Yeats. “Sailing to Byzantium”, The Tower)

Above: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Yesterday, working at Starbucks Bahnhof St Gallen, there was blood on my hands.

Logo
Literally.
Out in the new Kiosk, or as I call it “the coffee coffin”, an elderly man asked me where the nearest public WC was.

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In responding to his query I noticed a small bleeding cut on his forehead.

I told him…”continue along the platform…turn left around the corner…the loo on the other side of the railway station.”

Bahnhof St. Gallen bei Nacht, Juli 2014 (2).JPG
But he seemed confused…
I locked the Kiosk and followed him…to see him heading down the stairs the wrong direction from the toilets…
I shouted at him that he was going the wrong way.
He turned.
He fell down the stairs.
What started as a minor cut became a flood of blood pouring from his head.
Someone called an ambulance.
I returned to the Kiosk…feeling horrible.
Less significant but a part of the day was a repairman there to fix our climate control.
His walking on the roof sounded like the advancing footsteps of a principal on his way to punish someone…decisive, resounding, imminent…

Inside the Kiosk I washed my hands to remove the blood from the old man…but nothing could wash away the image of his fall down the cold stone steps…

It is with some appropriate irony that this accident has happened at a time when I am engrossed in reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old.

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sunday 6 January 2013

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“My dribbling keeps getting worse.

White underpants are excellent for highlighting yellow stains.

Yellow underpants would be a lot better.

I´m mortified at the thought of the laundry ladies handling my soiled garments.

I have therefore taken to scrubbing my soiled garments.

Call it a pre-prewash.

If I didn´t send out anything to be laundered it would arouse suspicion.

“You have been changing your underwear, haven´t you, Mr. Groen?”, the fat lady from housekeeping would probably ask.

What I´d like to reply is: “No, fat lady from housekeeping, this pair is caked so firmly onto the old buttocks that I think I´ll just keep wearing them for the rest of my days.”

It has been a trying day…

The body creaks in all its joints.

There´s nothing that will stop the decline.

At best you have the occasional day when you´re not bothered as much by this ache or that, but genuine improvement is not on the cards.

Ever.

Hair isn´t suddenly going to start growing back.

(Not on the pate, at least.

It readily sprouts from the nose and ears.)

The arteries aren´t going to clear themselves out.

The bumps and lumps won´t go away, and the leaky nether parts aren´t going to stop dripping.

A one way ticket to the grave, that´s what it is.

You never grow younger, not by a day, nor an hour, not even a minute.

Look at me whining and moaning like an old crock.

If that´s where I´m headed, I might as well go and sit in the Conversation Lounge downstairs.

Whingeing is pastime #1 down there.

I don´t think half an hour goes by without somebody bringing up their aches and pains.

I do believe I´m in a rather sombre mood.

You´re supposed to enjoy your sunset years, but it bloody well isn´t always easy…”(The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old)

Barring unforeseen accident or disease, is this what I have to look forward to?

Mind you…

“Old age isn´t so bad when you consider the alternative.”(Maurice Chevalier)

Above: Maurice Chevalier (1888 – 1972)

“You know you´re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.” (Bob Hope)

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Above: Bob Hope (1903 – 2003)

Other telltale signs that you´re getting old:

  • You stoop to tie your shoes and wonder what else you can do while you´re down there.
  • Your ears are hairier than your head.
  • Everything hurts, and what doesn´t hurt, doesn´t work.
  • You´re still chasing women, but can´t remember why.
  • Whenever you fall asleep, people worry that you´re dead.
  • You can remember cover versions of songs the first time around.
  • You can live without sex, but not without glasses.
  • Your knees buckle, but your belt won´t.
  • You have a party and the neighbours don´t even realise it.

“I´m at an age where my back goes out more than I do.”(Phyllis Diller)

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Above: Phyllis Diller (1917 – 2012)

There are age groups I have trouble understanding…

Two-year-olds and teenagers never seem contented…the former say “No” out of spite, the latter seem perpetually depressed about the inherant unfairness of a world that they didn´t make but yet are forced to somehow conform to.

Women in the midst of their “mental pause” are always difficult to comprehend, for one can never predict in which mad direction a woman´s changing hormones will drive her.

Living with a menopausal woman is a lot like being tied to the mast of a storm-tossed ship…

You hold on and hope you don´t sink along with the ever-changing current.

The elderly also puzzle me.

The older a person seems to get, often the more helpless that person gets, but adult pride, even after the loss of one or more of the senses and/or the loss of mobility, is the last remnant of character to go.

Finding that balance, that midpoint, where you show an elderly person respect and dignity yet are there to catch them should they fall, is akin to walking a tightrope across a chasm.

It is so easy to make a misstep.

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Above: The Walk (2015 film) poster

Sources: The Mammoth Book of Jokes / The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old / Wikipedia