The skin and the tail attached to it

After two hours, all that is left of the cow on the spot where it came to its sacred end, is its skin and tail. Folded into a neat package, the tail nicely draped over it.

I don’t know much about butchering, (nothing actually), but what I saw today was definitely craftsmanship. I somehow expected a big, muscular man to come and kill the huge cow that was patiently waiting in the old stable cut out of the rocks beneath a house. But he was not big. His knives weren’t either, but they were sharp and the butcher of course knew how to handle them, as was evident later.
The hardest part was to get the animal to fall over on the floor. Its front legs were tied together, but the cow kicked them loose again. So they were tied tighter, and then the back legs as well. Still it didn’t fall easily and it took three men and one woman (no, not me!) to keep the animal down. Then the head, covered with a plastic bag, was pulled backwards. The butcher stroked the animal firmly over its neck a few times, murmured a prayer and then slit the throat with one quick and effective strike of his amazingly sharp knife. Blood came out like a wild river, the cow mooed and kept kicking its legs for more minutes then I had expected, and that was it.

Beforehand, I wondered if I really wanted to watch this. And if I did I would keep my distance, I thought. But no, I should have known myself better by now: the cow was still kicking around a bit when I moved closer and closer. Interesting to see how the whole head was eventually cut off. And even more interesting to see how perfectly smooth the skin looked when it was very slowly taken off. As if it only needed a little bit of cleaning before the tailor could just start working with it. One by one the legs were slit open, the axe did its job cutting through the bones, and later the four feet were standing there, right next to the head. The cow was turned from one side to the other, it was cut in half, and pieces of it were hung on a hook and placed on a big piece of plastic. All the time the knives and axe were placed at exactly the right place – I don’t know how I know that, but it was obvious somehow. And when the last piece was carried to the hook, only the skin and the tail attached to it were still lying there. The woman present (actually my beloved’s mother, who helped the butcher with such aplomb that I looked on with admiration) cleaned it with some water and folded it.

In the meantime, men were busy lifting the parts of the cow onto the back of two pick-ups – the cow, costing 2200 ytl (1200 euros) was bought by two families. Who is taking the head? Here are two legs for you and two legs for us. Who wants the liver, and who the bucket full of fat? The farmyard is then cleaned with water and a broom. And tonight the rain, that had begun to fall, will wash away the last traces of blood of the Feast of Sacrifice.

That must be a villain!

Waitresses are beaten up, one woman is pulled out of the restaurant by her hair and dragged into a police car. She is held captive for six hours and raped. Police brutality? No, a gang that dressed up as police officers and parked in front of the restaurant in a car with police lights. The first thing the ‘police’ did as they entered the restaurant was ask the customers for their identification. Nobody asked the ‘police’ to show their identity first, nobody decided to call the real police when the violence got out of hand. It just shows, say the experts, how little faith people have in the police force. Asking the real police to identify themselves can cause trouble and even lead to violence, so people are reluctant to ask. And worse still, there were probably people in the restaurant who thought the thugs were really policemen. In short, the Turkish police have an image problem.

The government calls on civilians not to hesitate to ask police for their identification, and says it’s working on a police ID that cannot be falsified. Another problem: it costs only about 85 ytl (about 45 euros) to buy a fake police uniform. A uniform that cannot be faked is as impossible as a police ID that cannot be faked, of course. So in the end it’s the real police force that has to solve the problem. If they show irreproachable behaviour, the public will call emergency number 115 immediately if they see a policeman misbehaving, because a police officer who disregards the rules must be a villain! But that will take some time, because the behaviour of real police is not really improving, as was reported this week by Human Rights Watch. In police stations and prisons, mistreatment and torture is becoming less common, but police action is getting more violent on the streets, for example. Or in restaurants. Oh, sorry, no, they were impostors.

Stone-throwing children could be jailed for 58 years

ISTANBUL – Prison sentences of up to 58 years are being demanded by prosecutors for six children aged between 13 and 16 years.  The children threw stones at the police during demonstrations in October over the alleged mistreatment in prison of PKK leader Öcalan. This is the story according to several Turkish newspapers.
The children were part of a group of about a hundred Kurds demonstrating in the southern city of Adana. They are charged with committing crimes in the name of the PKK, the use of a dangerous material, shouting PKK slogans and being a threat to public security. The prosecutor officially demanded 58 years in prison for each child, but reduced his demand to thirty one and a half years for the 15 and 16 year olds, and to twenty one and a half years for the 13 and 14 year old boys. The eldest have been held in prison since the demonstration, the youngest were released pending the verdict. Some of the boys say they were forced to throw stones by men wearing balaclavas. In Turkey there has been criticism of the harsh treatment of the children by the legal system. At the same time, there is anger about the way in which during demonstrations in several cities children were coerced into throwing stones.

Last month there was a similar case in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir. There prison sentences of up to 23 years were demanded for stone-throwing children.

Cook, clean and knit

In the morning, she prepares breakfast for the family. Then she takes the young children to school. After that she cleans up the breakfast table, starts cleaning the house and when that’s finished, she knits for a while, till it’s time to start making dinner. Just a small glimpse into the life of a so called ‘ev kizi’, a house girl, a girl that lives with her parents and has no job and doesn’t get any education. The day described came from a house girl who was a candidate in Turkey’s most stupid TV show, ‘Var misin yok musun’ – I’ll write about that show some other time, it really deserves it’s own blog. I was amazed. She was young, I think around 20, and she explained how she spends her days cleaning, cooking and knitting. I was more amazed when I checked how many house girls there are in Turkey: sixty percent of the girls between 15 and 25 are ev kizi. Sixty percent! Of course, everybody chooses his or her own way of life, but I simply can’t believe that 60 percent of Turkey’s young women want nothing else than to cook, clean and knit. And in the meantime wait for a knock on the door from a nice marriage candidate. When he comes, she can easily make the switch from ev kizi to ev kadini, housewife. An “everybody happy” situation? For he individual girls, okay, of course they can find happiness, and I hope they will. But the whole concept of ev kizi, the huge amount of house girls and the fact that it is widely seen as totally normal that so much potential is just cleaning and knitting the time away, I can’t help it, it makes me sad.

A tangled mess

“Yes”, says Aylin, who helps me read the Turkish newspapers (among many other things), “I have heard that name before. Tuncay Güney, who was that again?” She looks at me, puzzled. In Milliyet, there is a story about Tuncay Güney who is somehow involved in the court case against Ergenekon. We figure out that he’s a suspect, and we read that he was questioned but the tapes of the interrogation were lost, and now the man who questioned him has to rely on memory as to what Güney said. He remembers that Güney became nervous when he was questioned about Fethullah Gülen. Aylin and I are happy: at least that’s one name that doesn’t need further introduction. Is there a link between Ergenekon and Gülen?, Milliyet wonders. Rather thin evidence, I reckon, a man reacting nervously to certain questions.
It’s a good example of how the Ergenekon case has very slowly turned into a tangled mess of accusations, speculations and dozens and dozens of names, some of them famous, some of them not even ringing a bell. The newspapers print something about the case practically every day, but many Turks just glance at the headlines and don’t bother to read the whole article, and have no idea anymore about the latest developments. Very understandable indeed. It’s an important case for Turkey, but really following it? Totally impossible.

Will the scarf bring them together?

The answer to that question is, of course, no it will not. Prime Minister Erdogan and opposition leader Baykal will never ever become political friends, but they seemed to have found some common ground on an issue that has really divided the two men previously: women who cover themselves. Baykal publicly made a few totally covered women from the east of Turkey members of his party, the strictly secular CHP. They used to vote for the AKP, Erdogan’s party which has its roots in political Islam and attracts many devout Muslims, but, said Baykal, they were disappointed in the AKP and had now decided to join the CHP. Of course, he said, our party is open to women who wear the ‘carsaf’ (or chador, the black head-to-toe covering), because they wear it for traditional reasons and they don’t make it into a political issue. The real danger, Baykal added, comes from men in suits and ties. Meaning? Meaning Erdogan and his party, of course, the Muslims who don’t look like Muslims, but who want to turn Turkey into a non-secular state. He didn’t say as much, but the implication was definitely there. And with that, his critics made themselves heard once again, moving the subject from covered women round to defending the secular state. And what did Erdogan say? Did he attack Baykal? No, Erdogan is smarter than that, of course. He encouraged Baykal. Said he was pleased to see that even Baykal now recognizes that there are different groups in society with different needs. Baykal is criticised a lot for his ‘flirtation’ with the covered women, but, says his new ally Erdogan, he shouldn’t let himself get distracted by these critics and should continue on this wise path.
I revel in these sorts of political games, to be honest. And I wonder what the outcome will be. The outcome election-wise, because of course that is, in the end, what this is all really about. Local elections are due in March, and the campaigning promises to be intense and juicy.

Win a prize!

I have made an end-of-year present for magazines, organisations and people I work with. I’m not going to tell what it is now, but while I was making it something interesting happened, and I decided to turn it into a contest for visitors to my website. What happened is this. The thing I made has a front page, and, on the front page, there is a picture of me with a green shawl around my shoulders. Underneath that, my address and website are mentioned, in bright yellow. Now I wanted to add ‘journalist in Turkey’ too, and I wanted it to be written in red. But the girl in the shop who is making this business present for me, refused to use red in combination with yellow and green. I quickly understood why and choose another colour. Do my website visitors have a clue about why yellow, green and red are not a suitable combination? If you know, or if you think you know, mail the answer to f.geerdink AT I will pick four winners from the right answers and send them the business present too!

Both city and people

The girl in the shop where I spend too much money looks at me in shock when I tell her I’m off to Adana for the weekend. ’A whole weekend?’ she asks. I tell her yes, and she looks at me in pity. Okay okay, I say, the first time I went there, almost five years ago, I hated it. I thought Adana was for the most part dirty and made of ugly concrete and with no fun to be had, and it was January so the dirty streets were also wet. But since then I have visited the city regularly. First because my beloved went to university there and now fate has sent him back to Adana to do his military service. I’ve come to like the city. Yes, there is lots of concrete and because of the pollution you need a daily hair wash, but it’s also modern, it has a river with a few terraces with an ok view and also ok wine, and, (where pollution is less of a problem), the university grounds are open to everyone. They are green and adjoin a nice lake, with nice parks and bridges to pass the time taking a pleasant stroll, and the weather is good practically all year round. And the plains of Cukurova, the hinterland of Adana, are so fertile that they produce nearly all the fruit, vegetables, grains and cotton that Turkey needs – in the Adana market you can buy loads of fruit and vegetables afor a pittance. And by the way, Turkey’s most respected writer comes from Adana – no that’s not Orhan Pamuk, but Yasar Kemal. So what’s wrong with Adana? “The people are not so nice”, says girl in shop.
It seems that’s Adana’s problem: the people are not so nice. Or to be more precise: there is quite a lot of prejudice against people from Adana. They are known to be criminals, that’s the basic feeling. This prejudice probably arose because for fifteen or twenty years many poor Kurds have fled to Adana from villages in the southeast of Turkey to escape the fighting between the PKK and the Turkish army, and more poor people usually means more crime. Some people say that the prejudice is also based on the many different kinds of people that live in the city, among them some ‘tribes’ who traditionally make their living by begging and stealing or take low paid jobs: well yes, that’s how prejudice can taint a whole group of people. I tell girl in shop that I have never experienced the badness of people in Adana and that I like going there for both city and people. She giggles a bit, because that’s what people do when you don’t agree with their ill-informed opinions. I suggest if you have the chance, visit Adana at least two times and you will love both the city and its people too

Continuing financial crisis

The woman in line before me in the small grocery shop at the corner of my street buys a loaf of bread, a few eggs, a bottle of water and a few tomatoes. She plays with the coins in her hand and finds she doesn’t have enough money to pay the bill of less then 5 ytl (that’s about 2.75 euros). The shop-owner, who is old and uses a calculator to add up small amounts of money, takes a long piece of paper out of the till. The woman’s name is already on the list, she has a debt of about 25 ytl which will now become 27. The list of people in debt is a long one. It makes me wonder about the effects of the financial crisis on Turkey. I read articles about inflation going up to more than ten percent, about the car industry in deep trouble, about exports under pressure, about a deal that Prime Minister Erdogan is about to make with the IMF. For people in neighbourhoods like mine, where incomes are low, a financial crisis is a fixture of their daily life. The minimum wages are way too low to cover the cost of living, especially in an expensive city like Istanbul, and due to the international financial crisis, people’s jobs are less secure. But for them the financial crisis didn’t start weeks ago with the mortgage panic in the United States. They are in a continuing financial crisis, a life-long one.

Poisonous film

Atatürk is depicted as a godless dictator, a coward and an arrogant, ambitious egoist who looked down on the people. Who, on top of all that, drank too much and had a weakness for women he couldn’t control. I read these critiques in an email which is being sent around the country at the moment, calling on people not to take their children to the movie Mustafa, which is currently playing in the cinemas. The movie would, according to the email, poison children’s minds. Atatürk should of course remain the untouchable mythical figure that he has been for decades, and should never be seen as a man with all the faults and weaknesses that all human beings have.
I went to see the movie yesterday. I expected a film in which some actor would play Atatürk, but was surprised to see that it was more like a documentary. Old stills and footage, in black and white, and no dialogue, just a voice-over telling the story of the man who won Turkey independence and turned it in to a secular republic. There were segments in full colour, and in those parts, you see a young Mustafa walking in a beautiful landscape with a threatening sky, as an army general giving directions to his men under a blood-red sky with his hand over his eyes and his arm pointing into the distance, or marching over a hill singing a battle song with the sun coming up in, once again, a blood-red sky.
I didn’t see any hint of cowardice, except when it was mentioned that Atatürk didn’t like sleeping in the dark. Arrogant, ambitious and looking down on the people? Well, he did say that revolution should come instantly and should not be concerned with the needs of ignorant people. And for a man who wants to bring revolution to a country, that is of course not such a strange idea. A dictator? The film shows that Atatürk banned the opposition, and that many of his fellow commander friends were arrested because of an assassination attempt. Nothing new in that, revolution doesn’t come without victims. Another big criticism was of Atatürk being a heavy drinker with a weakness for women. The film shows the latter when he first came to Istanbul even before he was twenty: would it not be more unusual for a young man not to have a weakness for women? And the drinking? Atatürk died of cirrhosis of the liver, and that is, as we all know, not caused by drinking too much milk.
Still, I agree that it’s not such a good idea to take children to see the movie. Not because of these far fetched criticisms, but because, while it’s definitely an interesting film for adults, for children it would probably be totally boring.