Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Marine Ball

A few weekends ago, some girl friends and I got all dolled up to attend the Marine Ball at the Swiss Hotel to celebrate the 233rd birthday of the United States Marines. It was most fun to have an excuse to get really dressed up and enjoy a fancy evening. It was truly an ex-pat, diplomatic community, including friends from the play. Luckily, the marines were in formal attire, easy to spot and easy to avoid. I have to admit I was a little nervous the whole night that the Thought Police might find me out and zap me on the spot. Yeah, Obama!

Three performances and one cast party later...

The Aladdin performances were really fun! Saturday night, a busload of BUPS teachers came, and since the play is so interactive, it gave us energy to recognize our friends' voices shouting out at us, and Aladdin (Stacy) even called up the physics teacher to rub her magic ring! The dragon, by far, is the most ridiculous character I've played, randomly crossing the stage at inopportune times, with legs and arms kicking in all directions (there are two of us in the costume, but let it be noted that I was the head). The kids loved the dragon, and when they came out after the show to meet us, their eyes got real big when the dragon said "hello" to them. Sunday's matinée performance was like the romper room on crack. There were so many kids in the audience, and they took the interactive element to an insane level, hollering out all sorts of random things at the wrong time making it hard for the actors to deliver their lines. Overall, British panto theatre was definitely a new experience for me, but super fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aladdin Rehearsal

I haven't mentioned it, but several weeks back, I took a part in a play at a theatre in Ankara with some of my friends. I am playing the small non-speaking parts of the dragon and a taxi driver in a British pantomime version of "Aladdin." The play is being produced by the Turkish American Association (TAA), an international organization that brings together English-speaking people from the diplomatic community living in Ankara with English-speaking Turks and puts on performances. It's been great fun working alongside people from all over, and hearing the many different accents the English language can bear.

For those of you that don't know what a British pantomime is, because I didn't at first, it's raucous, slapstick, audience-participation, Holiday tradition theatre for the family. The lead characters usually are played by an actor of the opposite sex, there's always a random animal (the dragon), lots of cross-dressing and bloomer-flashing, silly puns and dumb jokes, musical numbers, and just all around silly entertainment.

It's been 9 years since I've been in a play, and every part of the process has been slowly awakening old memories, reintroducing itself like an old friend. For instance, while sitting in the makeup chair today, the lighting and the warmth from the lights brought on a memory of the makeup room at Mary Washington College, staring at myself in the mirror, wearing ghostly make-up as I was getting read to play the dead, tortured mother in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author...and remembering how performing that tortured character 8 performances in a row started to affect me! Luckily, the dragon is not getting to my head. I have been able to successfully distance myself from this complex and extremely deep character!

Here are some pictures from rehearsal this weekend. Today was our last rehearsal before the dress rehearsal and performances which are next weekend! My friend and teaching roommate, Stacy, is playing Aladdin. Her boyfriend, Liam, is playing Aladdin's brother, Wishy Washy, and her 7-year-old son, is playing a ghost and the great genie of the lamp. Forty of our colleagues and students are coming to watch us Saturday night!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More on Atatürk

This article was recently published in Time magazine about a controversial documentary released about Atatürk. The article does a really nice job painting a picture of the current clash between nationalist secularists and those less steeped in "kemalism." It is also true that there is a picture of Atatürk in every classroom, multiple statues of him in every town; and huge red flags hanging from many high rises in Ankara bearing his portrait. This is probably the first thing a visitor to Turkey notices.

A Turkish Film Draws Fire for Its Portrait of Atatürk
By Pelin Turgut / Istanbul Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008

A friend's 6-year-old recently started primary school in Istanbul. By the second week, his favorite superhero, Spider-Man, had been supplanted by a flesh-and-blood mortal who died 70 years ago: Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. The boy's shift of allegiance is a universal rite of passage in Turkey, where children are raised on a diet of passionate poems, military derring-do and sanitized history that elevate the national hero into a demigod.

The blue-eyed leader retains that grip on Turks' imagination well beyond their school days. His portrait graces every office, classroom, boat, bus and building in the country. The sleepiest of Anatolian towns features an Atatürk statue in its square. On Tuesday morning at 9:05 a.m., as sirens wailed, the entire nation came to a halt to mark the minute of his death in 1938.

But in a fast-changing Turkey, Atatürk's personality cult is slowly cracking, and the ructions are reverberating through the nation's political life. A new film about the legendary officer, who fought off occupying European powers to create modern Turkey from the remnants of a moribund Ottoman Empire, has stirred controversy by depicting Mustafa Kemal the man, not the icon. He is shown as a lonely figure, a heavy drinker and a failed husband, racked by doubts at the end of his life. The documentary uses original footage as well as re-enactments and is tellingly called Mustafa instead of Atatürk (literally, Father of the Turks), the name given to him by a grateful nation.

Recognition that Atatürk was all too human is hardly taboo-breaking, but the film has the secularist establishment, which sees itself as the guardian of Atatürk's legacy, up in arms. Critics have accused director Can Dundar, a popular and well-respected journalist, of lying, insulting Turkishness and even being part of an Islamist plot to weaken the staunchly secularist military.

"The film is part of an operation to de-Atatürkize the Turks," the Association for Atatürk's Ideas said in a statement.

The controversy is yet another reflection of the epic struggle under way regarding Turkey's future. Secularists fear that Atatürk's legacy is threatened by the Islamic-rooted ruling party, and they look to the military for protection. The government denies it has any secret Islamicizing ambitions. Meanwhile, European Union–inspired reforms are transforming society, allowing previously taboo issues, such as rights for the Kurdish minority or the overbearing role of the military in politics and society, to be aired.

Ahmet Altan, editor of Taraf, a liberal daily newspaper, argues that the crusaders against the film are motivated by a desire to curtail any such debate." Atatürk is being used as a shield to fend off questions about many things that are misshapen or rotten in this country," he wrote.

Mustafa tells the story of Mustafa Kemal, who was born in 1881 in Thessaloniki, which is now in Greece but was then part of the Ottoman Empire. He became a soldier, and at 22, as a mere captain, he rebelled against the Sultan. The army banished him to faraway posts but couldn't quash him. A brilliant military strategist, he defeated the British at Gallipoli in 1915, and in 1919 he started a war for independence against occupying European allies that resulted in the founding of modern Turkey in 1923.

As that country's first President, Atatürk steered resolutely westward, implementing radical reforms. He removed all references to Islamic Shari'a law from the statutes, introduced a Swiss-based legal code, abolished religious education in schools, introduced women's rights and changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin.

After his death in 1938 (of liver disease, believed to be caused by heavy drinking), the reform program he had enacted — most important, secularism and the concept of a monoethnic state — became an official ideology called Kemalism. It is enshrined in the constitution as an inviolable founding principle. Atatürk's mausoleum in Ankara has become a hallowed place for his followers. Last year hundreds of thousands of secularists staged an antigovernment rally in front of it.

Filmmaker Dundar, a well-known secularist, says he is shocked by the criticism. "I'm being lynched," he said in an interview in daily Hurriyet. "Now I know what a taboo is." At the film's premiere, he said he wanted to "show a more real Atatürk — a man who fought difficulties, loved women, who made mistakes, who was sometimes scared and achieved things." (See pictures of movie posters.)

The Old Guard might object, but for young people — and they are legion, with 70% of the population under the age of 35 — the film is a big draw. "Why shouldn't this man, who transformed an entire country, enjoy raki, like dancing, miss his mother or not like sleeping in the dark?" asks pop singer Nil Karaibrahimgil. "Do these [facts] change what he did or diminish it? Being introduced to Mustafa made Atatürk even more of a hero in my eyes." Some 800,000 people have seen Mustafa so far — more than the latest James Bond movie — proving perhaps that taking on Turkey's taboos is no longer quite so scary.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Atatürk Day

November 10, 1938 was the day Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Father Turkey), father of the secular republic that is modern Turkey, died at the age of 57. Every year on thıs day, the whole country stops and honors the moment of his death with a minute of silence. I am told that cars turn off their engines; even the ferries in Istanbul turn off their engines and drift for this minute. Today at school, the Turkish teachers and students put together a really nice assembly commemorating his life, including a slide show, dance, music, and drama. I have never heard these inherently talkative students so quiet before; you could hear a pin drop during the moment of silence. I also couldn't help but compare their extreme reverence to my own country's lack of reverence for the current president. Also, a minute of silence is often suggested in the U.S. for various reasons, when the plane crashed into the first tower on 9/11 for example, but never is the whole country unified in complete silence. Pretty impressive.

Below is a concise biography of Atatürk's legacy.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was one of those extraordinary men who indisputably changed the course of history. The end of World War I in 1918 saw the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and the victorious Allies set about partitioning the whole Middle East in a way that ensured maximum advantage for them, and minimum possibility of any kind of world power or influence for the Middle Eastern peoples. This did not go too well for anyone, and by 1919 a Turkish resistance movement had emerged with Atatürk as a key player. The Sultan had assigned him overall responsibility for demobilizing the army; this was a perfect position from which to organize the smaller resistance groups that had sprung up all over Anatolia. After contacting local leaders and encouraging them to cooperate with one another, he called for a national election. The election took place and the new Parliament met and declared a National Pact. Alarmed, the occupying British forces dissolved Parliament.

Atatürk had the gift of all great leaders: he was unpredictable, and he had a knack for turning every action of his enemies to the advantage of his cause. The dissolution of Parliament was his opportunity form a new government in Ankara. The British continued to deal with the Sultan in Istanbul, signing a final treaty partitioning Turkey in May 1920, but the real power lay in Ankara. The inevitable military conflicted ended in complete victory for Ankara, led by Atatürk. The Sultanate was abolished and the New Turkish Republic properly began.

Here a true miracle occurred: Atatürk, who had proved himself a brilliant leader in war, turned out to be a truly visionary peacetime leader. Over the next decade and a half he led Turkey through a series of reforms that were unimaginable before the War: separation of religion from politics and the judiciary system, establishment of a democratic government, economic and educational reform, freedom of religion, and political enfranchisement of women. His adopted daughter, Sabiha, was the world's first female combat pilot. He even issued decrees on dress, forbidding religious attire and promoting Western-style suits, hats, and dresses.

He was a heavy drinker. This is soft-pedalled in many sources; the Turks still adore him. But the facts are indisputable: by 1938 he was suffering from the effects of a lifetime of heavy smoking, drinking, too little sleep and too much travel. He died of cirrhosis of the liver on November 10.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Other news? Turkey, being the developing country that it is, not quite as free as the free world, has passed laws restricting the use of websites such as (the website I use to post these blogs) and youtube. So these sites are blocked to the normal Turkish internet user. However, Turkey, associated with its being the King of Piracy, has not blocked websites which allow one to access banned websites. No worries, my blogs will continue. I will copy and paste below an article about this recent law for anyone interested. It will be interesting to discuss as my students and I begin reading 1984 next month.

Error: Court halts Internet freedom in Turkey
The latest in a series of bans on popular Web sites has spurred many to question the future of Internet freedom in Turkey. Turkish Internet users trying to access the popular blog-hosting service get an error message saying that access to the site has been blocked by a court decision, without stating the court ruling or explaining why the service has been banned.
Heavily criticized by several associations and activists advocating freedom of speech and expression, the ban has raised questions as to where Internet freedom in Turkey is headed.

Internet Technologies Association (İTD) President Mustafa Akgül described the latest ban as "black humor," saying it censors people's right to access Internet resources in Turkey. "This ban demonstrates that Turkey has not fully comprehended what the Internet is. There is still a serious taboo on Internet freedom. Bans on Web sites restrict people's right to access Internet resources, and therefore violate the Constitution," he stated.

More than 1,100 Web sites have been blocked since November 2007 in Turkey. Web sites are most often banned on the grounds that they insult the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, contain vulgarity, enable gambling or promote suicide. Many sites have also been banned for crimes covered under the Internet Security Law, but a number of sites are banned for no apparent reason.

"Turkish courts block access to Web sites without warning their management about problematic content in advance. Why do they refrain from cooperating with these sites to remove their problematic content? Further-more, it is possible to ban access to certain content instead of banning the whole Web site, but it necessitates some investment. Why does Turkey avoid doing this? This all proves that we still haven't fully understood what the Internet is for," Akgül went on to say.

Voices have grown louder against restrictions on Internet freedom, particularly following a ban on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube. YouTube was banned by a controversial court decision in May 2008 for broadcasting videos deemed insulting to Atatürk and the concept of Turkishness, a sensitive issue in Turkey.

Other countries known to frequently ban Web sites include China, Iran, Armenia, Tunisia, Indonesia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Despite widespread discontent with the ban and the emergence of alternate methods to access the site, the YouTube ban still remains in place in Turkey.

Another Turkish Internet association, the Whole Internet Association (TİD), slammed restrictions on media freedom in the country with a statement posted on its Web site.

"Black clouds hang over the Internet in Turkey. Unable to keep in step with changes, bureaucracy and certain units in the judiciary are making regulations that prevent the development of Turkish Internet. ... These regulations conflict with freedom of speech, individual rights and freedoms and the image of a country which wishes to become a part of the modern world and join the European Union," reads the statement titled "Protect Your Internet. Internet is Life."

Turkey is hoping to start soon on two chapters of EU reform work, which deal with media and society. But many say Europe will not be pleased with Turkish Internet regulations, which have been tightened further recently with a law that gives permission to the country's Telecommunications Directorate to close down Web sites based on complaints by individual users.

Young Civilians, a Turkish nongovernmental organization known for its use of sarcasm in protests, is making preparations for a mass reaction against the frequent bans on Web sites.

"We will react against these bans with a mass movement to show that Turkey will not gain anything from making such bans instead of statements or declarations," said a representative from the organization.

Radikal columnist Oral Çalışlar touched on restrictions on Internet freedom in yesterday's column, stressing that blocking access to Web sites abases Turkey.

"The world's largest blog-hosting service has been suspended in Turkey by a court decision. We don't even know when the suspension will end. I protest this ban, saying such decisions abase Turkey in the eyes of the rest of the world and leave us in shame. I am afraid our dreams will even be censored soon," he wrote.

Çalışlar also stated that bans on Web sites should not be deemed extraordinary occurrence in a country where more than 20 political parties have been shut down for a reason or another.

"In a country where the Constitutional Court has disbanded more than 20 parties, a court in [the southeastern province of] Diyarbakır may naturally block access to a blog-hosting service," he said.

Turkey's Constitutional Court has closed down 24 political parties since its establishment in 1962. Most of these decisions were based on constitutional provisions regarding the protection of the integrity of the state and the principles of secularism.

Turkey was rattled by closure cases filed against the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). The nation heaved a sigh of relief when the top court announced in late July that it would not shut down the AK Party. The court has not made a decision in the case against the DTP, and many say the closure of this party would deal a serious blow to Turkish democracy.

The ban has saddened its frequent visitors, as well, who have made a habit of saving priceless memories in the Web site. İpek Ender, one of the site's many daily visitors, said she was deeply disappointed to hear about the ban as it means, in a sense, losing almost every invaluable memory about her little daughter.

"I have been saving the pictures and videos of my little daughter in my personal blog since the day she was born. I thought I could keep every single thing I experienced as my daughter grew up in this blog and that I could also enable my friends and relatives to follow her development from this page. However, I learned with great disappointment that we would no longer have access to my blog. I strongly denounce the fact that the prohibitory mindset has finally expanded its scope to innocent personal spheres and want an end to this mindset that is incompatible with modern Turkey," she stated.

Another visitor, Özlem Arslan, criticized the court's decision to block access to the Web site and said the problem could have instead been solved by banning the content deemed problematic.

"Why didn't they just block access to unwanted content? I think such bans are ridiculous. They threaten people's freedoms. I keep photos and memories about my young daughter in my blog and make new friends around the world through the site. We discuss ways to overcome difficulties we encounter when bringing up our children. It is embarrassing to think that we will have no access to our blog for a while," she remarked.

27 October 2008, Monday


It's been way too long since I published a post about climbing...

Here are some pictures from a beautiful fall day at Karakaya (which means black rock, by the way). My friends, Annie, Mark, and their little baby girl, Annaliesa, whom I have been climbing with at the gym, joined Andrew and I. So did a herd of sheep from the local village. The leaves are finally changing color here; Autumn is a much longer season here than I am used to. Montana has had their first snow, and winter is on everyone's mind there. Here, the days are still bluebird Indian Summer-esque.

Andrew and I are going down to the Mediterranean coast over our next week-long holiday in early December to a world class climbing area called, Geyikbayiri. Hopefully, I can pronounce it by then, because I'm havin' a real hard time with it right now. Geyikbayiri is a red-limestone, extensive sport-climbing area featured in my treasured "Rock and Ice" magazine issue. I frequently fondled this magazine issue while in Montana, dreaming of my upcoming climbing adventures in Turkey, and even lugged it Turkey for some more fondling. We have been training at a local climbing gym every week. Needless to say, I'm excited.