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A Land Grab?

An entirely predictable outcome to the announcement of US troop withdrawals from the region, perhaps even co-ordinated with it, Turkey’s military action in the north of Syria cannot be aimed at anybody other than the Kurdish forces which have done so much to rid the area of Isis influence.

The combination of these actions can only lead to resentment on the part of the Kurds towards the US. (They already knew Turkey – at least Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey – was an enemy.)

Erdoğan has long regarded Kurds as adversaries because ethnic Kurds in South Turkey have for as long as I can remember sought for a degree of autonomy from the Government in Ankara. Some previous Turkish governments had had some sympathy to their requests but Erdoğan seems to deny any other ethnicity can exist within Turkey and regards everyone who lives within its borders as only being able to be Turkish. The Kurds also give him a handy scapegoat for any opposition in the south of Turkey to the central government. He calls them terrorists. His designation of north Syria as a “terror corridor” is clearly self-serving but may also be a prediction. I doubt the people living there – including those Syrians displaced there by the civil war in that country – will find Turkish rule any more benign than that of Bashar al-Assad.

Erdoğan’s proposed invasion looks to me like a land grab, designed solely to increase Turkey’s territory. He probably intends never to withdraw from what is actually Syrian sovereign territory. Kurds have had the singular misfortune to live in an area of the world where their population is distributed over the territory of four different countries (not only Turkey and Syria but also Iran and Iraq) – and not had one of their own to call home.

With the restraining hand of the US on Turkey removed, their outlook would seem to be bleak.

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass

One of the striking features of Rochdale Town Hall’s interior is the stained glass windows many of which feature portraits of the Kings and Queens of England.

The windows flanking the entrance though have stained glass representations of the coats of arms of European countries, here Greece, France, Belgium, Turkey, Russia and Portugal:-

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass Windows 1

The other such window betrays the building’s age. Coats of arms for Sweden & Norway, Prussia, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark and Austria. Note Sweden & Norway, as was (they separated in 1905) and Prussia which, subsumed the rest of Germany in 1871.

Stained Glass Window, Rochdale Town Hall

Grand staircase:-

Rochdale Town Hall Staircase

This is a closer view showing the stained glass window on the half-landing to greater effect.

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

Flamingo, 1990, 283 p. First published in 1956.

The Towers of Trebizond cover

Reading this was an odd experience. It is couched as a first person memoir of a trip to Turkey by narrator Laurie who is accompanying her Aunt Dot (plus camel) and her companion, the very high Church Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, both of whom wish to convert the natives to Christianity. Their camel steps are dogged by Seventh Day Adventists desirous of witnessing the Second Coming on Mount Ararat, spies who may not be spies, Billy Grahamites, and a BBC van recording the singing of the inhabitants. As a narrator Laurie has a very chatty style, it is as if she is talking to the reader, yet everything is considered and the sentences are beautifully balanced. The narration is interspersed with diversions on all sorts of topics, religion foremost among them – pages 4 and 5 present a potted history of Anglicanism, and there are more such discursions – but also ruminations on Laurie’s life, which seems to be provisional, in a kind of limbo. The chattiness can be engaging but also wearing. In the guise of Laurie, Macaulay is excessively fond of the word “and”. Lists joined by it abound; in one paragraph there must have been at least twenty instances.) The whole for a long time seems like little more than entertainment, a comic novel with only its lightness to recommend it.

Yet there are serious aspects. Both the redoubtable Aunt Dot and Laurie display that peculiar English attitude to religion, which simultaneously treats it as a serious matter but at the same time, secure in the knowledge that theirs is the best possible, is very off-hand about it. Dot is much exercised by the position of Muslim women, one exemplar of which, Dr Halide Tenpinar, reluctant to marry a Muslim man for the lack of expression that will entail, joins the expedition for a while. Dot remembers the good old days, when travelling was only for those and such as those. At one point she laments, “‘Abroad isn’t at all what it was,’” while Laurie feels that foreigners (ie tourists – of which she does not appear to consider herself to be one) only want to see the old things of a country, not the fruits of the country having got on which the locals are more keen to exhibit.

On an objection to a proposed foray into the Soviet Union Aunt Dot replies to the question whether that would condone its government, “if one started not condoning governments, one would have to give up travel altogether, and even remaining in Britain would be pretty difficult,” while on the suggestion that Turkish men would never accept freedom from dress restrictions for women as it might inflame their passions we have, “‘Men must learn to bridle their temptations’ said aunt Dot, always an optimist.” Those last three words certainly hit the target.

Having reached Trebizond, or Trabzon as it is in Turkish, (it has no towers, Laurie envisions them in a later dream she has of an ideal fantasy city) they go still further until Aunt Dot and Father Hugh venture off on their own and disappear – presumably over the border into the Soviet Union – and eventually become something of a minor press obsession. This is about the only eventful occurrence in the book apart from a small sub-plot concerning the theft of the work of a now-deceased writer by one of Laurie’s acquaintances. It is notable that these incidents are only relayed to us. Laurie is not directly involved in either of them.

Left to her own resources Laurie retraces her steps and goes on to travel with the camel round Asia Minor and the Levant. Reading the names Aleppo, Palmyra, Baalbek, Homs and Damascus as being safe places for a young(ish) Englishwoman to travel safely accompanied only by a camel is a reminder of how the world can change. This passage of the trip also lets Macaulay describe the early manifestations of what has become the enduring antipathy between Israelis and Palestinians.

Laurie’s wanderings give ample scope for reflection. Pondering the phrase “met his/her/its Waterloo” she remarks, “curious how we always seem to see Waterloo from the French angle and count it a defeat.” After a week spent with her (adulterous) lover Vere, Laurie continues her travels and her thoughts on religion grow deeper, “.. the Church, which grew so far, almost at once, from anything that can have been intended, and became so blood-stained and persecuting and cruel and war-like and made small and trivial things so important and tried to exclude everything not done in a certain way and by certain people, and stamped out heresies with such cruelty and rage. And this failure of the Christian Church, of every branch of it in every country, is one of the saddest things that has happened in all the world.”

As to the reliability of the Gospels – written after all long after the events they describe – she considers some things which might have been very important may have been forgotten or left out, and some things put in may have been wrong, “for some sound unlikely for him to have said. That is a vexatious thing about the Gospels. You cannot be sure what was said, unless you are a fundamentalist and must believe every word, or have an infallible Church.” There is “no need to be so drastic” as to take it or leave it “and few things are ever put down quite right, even at the time.”

A potential flaw is that Laurie’s lover Vere is something of an absence in the book. They meet rarely and none of what is said between them is revealed to us so we do not get a flavour of their relationship beyond that it exists. He only appears on the page in a speaking role once and that more or less as an aside, an adjunct to that sub-plot and in a piece of reported speech. As a result, what Laurie tells us at the end does not have the emotional pay-off it might have had. Macaulay is, perhaps, aiming for a pathos her book therefore hasn’t earned. On the other hand another way to look at it is that the whole thing is an exercise in displacement, a desperate enumeration of little things, ramblings and considerations of the nature of faith in order to avoid contemplation of the seriousness of life. Here we are again with love, sex and death. But while Macaulay – through Laurie – mentions them she rarely addresses them head on. As an authorial approach that is arguably very subtle but here runs the risk of early disengagement. Such considerations are in any case somewhat at odds with the generally light tone.

The Towers of Trebizond won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1956. I would probably not have picked it up had the good lady not been working her way through as many of the winners as she can find. I’m glad I did though.

Pedant’s corner:- There are several 1950s spellings – Moslem, haarem, yoghourt, Irak, Erivan – but raise cheers for archæology/archæological and manœvre/manœvring (except why, then, penny-plain medieval?) Otherwise; aunt Dot is used throughout (as a relative Dot’s designation ought to be a proper noun, so Aunt Dot,) manicheeism (Manichaeism or Manicheism,) everthing (everything,) occasional commas omitted before a piece of direct speech, “‘as we had to often heard of it’” (too often,) “did not probably think it peculiar” (probably did not think it peculiar,) “once for all” (I’m more familiar with once and for all.)

Life Goes On

In amongst all the stuff going on in the world – a certain referendum result, the resultant resignation by Mr Irresponsible (see posts here,) a constitutional coup d’état in the UK followed by the appointment of a buffoon as Foreign Secretary, an inadequate with mental problems rampaging along a packed, festive promenade in a lorry deliberately targeting families and children, a seeming military coup d’état in Turkey with characteristics that are very odd and which swiftly fell apart, not to mention the ongoing mayhem in Iraq, Syria and so on – people have to get on with things and carry on, marking the milestones in their lives.

So it was that I missed Sons opening game of the season (about which the only thing positive to be said is that we twice came back from a goal down.)

Why did I miss a game so easily travellable for me?

I was at a piss-up in a brewery.

To clarify: it was my younger son’s wedding and the happy couple decided to hold their nuptials at the West Brewery, in part of the former Templeton’s Carpet Factory, near Glasgow Green, (which I now realise I haven’t yet posted my photographs of.)

One of the advantages of holding a wedding in a brewery is …… beer. As well as the usual immediate post ceremony libation of wine the choice of beer was available, great foaming jugs of the stuff (and half-pint glasses – just as well; the beer seemed quite strong.)

Then these two jugs appeared on the table before the meal. The beers were Munich Red and St Mungo, both very palatable:-

Beer

A few minutes later another jug was added. This was a wheat beer of some sort, to the front in this shot. Less to my taste, though:-

More Beer

There was a lot of dad dancing going on – and not just from the older ones like myself. But a good time was had by all.

Mr Irresponsible’s Greatest Folly

Mr Irresponsible, aka Call me Dave, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron Esquire, has a lot of idiocies to his name. But surely the largest of these is his utterly obtuse decision to give in to the bullying of his Conservative cohorts and the threat of UKIP to his voting base by first promising and then granting them a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Instead of lancing the boil (he warned his party not to continue to bang on about Europe) his indulgence of their obsession has now unleashed a tide of xenophobia and intolerance, egged on by those who knowingly encourage a false belief that the troubles experienced by various communities up and down the UK are as a result of external forces (the EU,) so-called lack of control (again the EU) or immigrants (supposedly the EU but there are more migrants into the UK from outwith the EU than from inside it – and many Britons living and working in the countries of the EU) rather than the banking crash and the policies his Government has followed ever since its election in 2010. (I know its first five years were in coalition but really it was a Conservative Government in all but name.)

This tide has been growing for years – stoked up by spurious newspaper stories of EU “impositions” and “red tape” and the simplicities of people who claim that the country’s problems have one solution – and has now taken the form of a vicious and intemperate “Vote Leave” campaign which has peddled all sorts of what may be politely called inaccuracies but are in fact downright lies and often strayed close to, if not over, the border of racism.

I know the “Remain” campaign has also given apocalyptic warnings of the consequences of a leave vote, but it has not been whipping up fear of others, nor blatantly arousing expectations which will not (cannot) be fulfilled. Against whom will the anger the “Leave” campaigners have stoked be directed when things do not get better? (Either “in” or “out”, ditching austerity is not on their or David Cameron’s agenda.)

Had I been in any doubt about which way I would vote in Thursday’s referendum the “Vote Leave” television broadcast claiming that the £350 million pounds a week of the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (a large part of which promptly gets sent back anyway) would – in a leave future – be spent on the NHS instead would have made my mind up. These guys have no intention of spending money on the NHS; they want rid of it. They want to privatise everything that moves (and everything that doesn’t.) The worse thing, though, was the highlighting of five Balkan countries said to be on the point of entry into the EU (none of which actually are any time soon) plus Turkey: Turkey! which has been moving ever further away from meeting accession criteria under its present government) and then a series of arrows, leaping, Dad’s Army style, over to Britain. As if every inhabitant of those countries would immediately up sticks and come to the UK as soon as they were given the opportunity. Some may, most will not.

Then there was “Vote Leave”‘s pamphlet – delivered by post – which handily showed Turkey as having borders with Syria and Iraq. Are Syria and Iraq applying for EU membership? I don’t think so. What possible purpose can their inclusion on this map have? (Except to stoke up fears of people from there coming through Turkey – and riding the arrows to Britain.) Well, they’re doing that anyway, as “Leave” well knows and plays on. Yet in their circumstances so would I – and so would every leave campaigner.

The circumstances under which this vote is taking place, the Eurozone under strain, a refugee crisis, a war on Europe’s margins (two if you include Turkey in Europe which geographically part of it is,) render its timing more than unfortunate. It is potentially disastrous.

I really fear that a leave vote will see other countries (but emphatically not those who border Russia) seek to leave the EU. These may even include France if the Front National wins power.

In that case there will certainly be unresolved tensions between France and Germany – and we know where that has led in the past.

What the leave campaigners don’t seem to have grasped, or have deliberately ignored, is that the EU was set up (as the European Coal and Steel Community, then the Common Market) precisely so that France and Germany would never go to war again. That is emphatically in the UK’s national interest, and may be at risk. The writer of this letter to the Guardian knows what is at stake.

Whatever the result on Thursday the passions this referendum seems to have inflamed, at least in England – there has been almost no sign of it taking place at all in the way of posters and window stickers round where I live – will not be stilled easily.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Faber and Faber, 2005, 436p. Translated from the Turkish, Kar, by Maureen Freely

Turkish poet, Kerim Alakusoğlu, who dislikes his name and wishes to be known only as Ka, has returned temporarily from Germany to undertake an investigation for the Istanbul newspaper Republican into a spate of teenage girl suicides in the remote city of Kars in Anatolia and also to report on an upcoming election there. The suicides are by girls who were being forced to remove their headscarves in order to attend state run school. Also on Ka’s mind is the possibility of reacquainting himself with the beautiful İpek, recently divorced from her husband.

The situation he finds himself in unlocks Ka’s writer’s block and poems flow from him – 19 in the few days the story encompasses. He notes these down in a green notebook and assigns them to positions along three axes, Memory, Logic and Imagination, on a diagram of a snowflake.

The narrative is mostly third person from Ka’s viewpoint but chapter 29, where the snowflake appears, and the concluding ones are first person by the author.

Kars is one of those unfortunate places which has seen many upheavals and changes of country in its history. Local factions include Kurdish nationalists, Islamists, secularists, even a few die-hard communists from the Soviet era. Ka’s visit coincides with a snowstorm cutting Kars off from the rest of Turkey giving opportunity for the various simmering discontents to come to the boil. In the middle of a live TV broadcast of a stage show dealing with the headscarf issue a local coup takes place.

The importance of football in modern Turkey is underlined by its several mentions in this book (as it was also in the other two Pamuk novels I have read.) Not a typical reference to find in a literary novel. Imagine the guffaws were the Beautiful Game to feature with any prominence in a British novel by a Nobel laureate.

Another presence here common to those two previous books is the appearance in the narrative of a certain Orhan Pamuk, a friend of Ka and telling his story for him. Is this the secret to winning the Nobel Prize? Put yourself into your books as a character?

Due to its history the tension between religion and secularism is particularly intense in Turkey and it is no surprise the story turns on this. The propensity for such disagreements to turn into violence is given due weight here as is the potential for long memories and grudges to be held.

There is more incident in this novel than in The Museum of Innocence but the background of Turkish society continues to be fascinating and as in that book the translation flows admirably.

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

faber and faber, 2012, 334p. Translated from the Turkish, Sessiv Ev, by Robert Finn

 Silent House cover

Silent House is Pamuk’s second novel (from 1983) but not published in English till 2012. The book centres round the visit from Istanbul to her home at Cennethisar of the grandchildren of Fatma Darvinoğlu. Fatma’s husband, Selahattin, was a doctor who, long before World War 2, frightened off his patients with his atheism and consequently squandered her inheritance of jewellery as a result of his lack of income. Their unusual surname was taken at the time when Atatürk forced though the adoption of the practice for Muslims in 1934 and Selahattin opted for “Son of Darwin.” Fatma recollects her husband’s catalogue of unacceptable behaviours in interior monologues while present day life goes on around her. Other viewpoint characters are Fatma’s grandson Faruk, an historian with a failed marriage; his brother Metin, who thinks he’s in love with a girl called Ceylan; her servant, the dwarf Recep, who is her husband’s illegitimate child; and Hasan, son of Recep’s likewise bastard brother Ismail, who has become involved with right wing petty agitators and is smitten by Nilgün, sister of Faruk and Metin.

As in The Museum of Innocence the tensions between Turkey and “the West,” tradition and modernism, religion and the secular, loom large. The political situation in 1980s Turkey is also important here. While I was not familiar with that background enough was conveyed for that lack of knowledge not to matter.

The translation is into USian which is fine for the most part but occasionally led to me being hauled away from Turkey by the intrusion of a particularly USian usage (eg “not a cent” – would a Turkish coin denomination not have sufficed here?)

The five narrative viewpoints do not provide as sustained a focus as the all-but single one of The Museum of Innocence but do give a broader picture of Turkish society.

In one of the newspaper reviews of books of the year I saw Silent House described as a comic satire. I must say I did not find it particularly comic; the tone certainly isn’t light and there is a dark tinge to proceedings. There are also hints of why Pamuk would win the Nobel prize.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2010. 472p.

After Africa (Chaga – aka Evolution‒s Shore -, Kirinya and Tendeleo’s Story,) India (River Of Gods, Cyberabad Days) and Brazil (Brasyl), in The Dervish House McDonald now turns his attention to Turkey: specifically Istanbul.

The novel is set several years after Turkey has finally gained EU membership and joined the Euro (perhaps a somewhat more remote possibility now than when McDonald was writing) in an era when children can control real, mobile, self assembling/disassembling transformers and adults routinely use nanotech to heighten awareness/response in much the way they do chemical drugs at present. The fruit of what may have been a prodigious quantity of geographical and historical research is injected more or less stealthily into the text.

The main plot is concerned with a terrorists group’€™s plans to distribute nano behaviour changing agents designed to engender a consciousness of mysticism, if not of the reality of God/Allah. The resultant, what would otherwise be magic realist visions of djinni and karin, is thereby given an SF rationale.

In the interlinked narratives of those who live in and around an old Dervish House in Adam Dede Square, and covering events occurring over only four days, there are subplots about contraband Iranian natural gas, corrupt financial institutions and insider dealings, the circumscription of non-Turkish minorities, tales of youthful betrayal and frustrated love, not to mention the discovery of an ancient mummy embalmed in honey, which last gives the author the opportunity to deploy a nice pun on the phrase honey trap. The usual eclectic McDonald conjunction of disparate ingredients, then, and somehow amid all this he manages to finagle football into the mix as early as page two. Fair enough, though; Turkey’s fans are notoriously passionate about the game.

While not quite reaching the heights of Brasyl or River Of Gods, The Dervish House still has more than enough to keep anyone turning the pages.

One typographical quibble: the formula for carbon dioxide ought to be rendered as CO2 rather than CO2, though. To a Chemist like me there is a world of difference between the two.

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