If you’re looking for a masterclass in how to open a thriller, I suggest you read the first two pages of Barbara Nadel’s latest book, Land of the Blind. It’s the start of a rich and taut mystery, expertly crafted and atmospherically set in the extraordinary city of Istanbul. Following the discovery of a woman’s body in the hidden depths of the ancient Hippodrome, dog-eared, chain-smoking Inspector Çetin İkmen, leads the reader to the achingly satisfying reveal. İkmen is eminently likeable. He puffs and shuffles his way through the politically charged streets of the city like a Turkish Columbo. Nadel’s writing is fluid, crisp and crystal clear. As the clever plot weaves its way, she deftly lifts the veil on the contradictions of contemporary Turkey: the clash between secularism and Islamism, freedom and conformity. But this is no personal polemic against the direction of modern Turkey, more an astute observation seen through the eyes of the cleverly cast characters, from Inspector Süleyman and his controversial liaison with a feisty gypsy in the hills, to Ahmet Oden, a despised and despicable property mogul. Add into the mix the riots at Gezi Park and you end up with a compelling and electrifying read. In some ways, the city is as much a protagonist as the canny sleuth. A brilliant seventeenth book in the Çetin İkmen series.
Yesterday, at the very last minute, the Turkish authorities banned Istanbul Pride. A peaceful celebration of difference and diversity was savagely dispersed by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas, the weapons of choice for the Turkish State. Memories of Gezi Park came flooding back. It seems the holy month of Ramadan was the feeble excuse offered up by the Police. Yet, last year’s march also occurred during Ramadan and passed off without incident. Perhaps this was the last hurrah of a president on the skids. I do hope so. Watch the footage of a young man waving a rainbow flag being blown clear off his feet by a water cannon. Is this the image of a modern Turkey President Erdogan wants to convey to the world?
Images courtesy of Occupy Gezi and Twitter
As a rainbow of protesters re-occupies Taksim Square after it was once again cleared with tear gas and water cannon by the Turkish police, how will it all end? I hope for the best but fear the worst. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly paranoid nonsense about foreign devils and domestic subversives attempting to wreck the Turkish economy may play well to the party faithful but global capitalism has no morals and abhors instability. As foreign investment takes flight to safer climes, he may be forced to eat his words as the crisis starts to hit his big business cronies where it most hurts – in their pockets.
In the meantime, some people may be put off by what they’ve seen and heard and are rethinking their travel plans. Please don’t be. Despite the troubles, Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations around. Tourism in free fall will hit the livelihoods of countless small family-run businesses that rely on the summer rush to see them through the whole year. It will cause genuine hardship and won’t make one iota of difference to the shiny suits in Ankara. If Liam and I weren’t already booked for sunny Spain, we would be parachuting in to Bodrum to show our support.
Much has been written about the events as they have unfolded but none has made more sense to me than an article in the Guardian by Şafak Pavey called ‘Why the Turkish protests matter to the west.’
Our former foster home is covered in a veil of tear gas. What began as a peaceful campaign against the destruction of a city centre park to make way for yet another shopping centre has spread to a wider national protest against the creeping authoritarianism of the current Turkish Government led by the charmless bruiser Erdoğan. Watch out, my Turkish friends, he’s not exactly noted for his listening skills. Is the ruling AK Party determined to implement Islamism by stealth? I don’t know. But telling women how many babies to have, branding all drinkers as alcoholics and demanding that the Dutch Government removes a baby from a lesbian couple (because “homosexuality is contrary to the culture of Islam.”) isn’t liberalism either. Erdoğan is the most popular leader in recent Turkish history, freely elected. Democracy may be a flawed political system but it’s probably the best we have. A word of warning, though. Be careful who you vote for. It might not be quite what you had in mind. This image says it all: