The rough guide to Turkey: A land of history, sunshine and lunacy

Anyone who has lived long enough in the Crescent and Star country can instantly think of a thousand entries that could be listed under the "only in Turkey" heading.

Narrowing the scope to politics would surely shorten the list, but would never make it boring. The Turks may not be too good at chess, but they are certainly too well qualified in puzzling others. I, for my part, cannot easily think of another country where the president gives a red-carpet reception to the official leader of the last coup d’etat while the prosecutors arrest dozens on suspicion that they might have been involved in attempts that could have led to a coup that never took place.

I cannot think of another country, either, where the ruling party has been convicted by the country’s top court for having undermined the Constitution. Political verdict? Do the high and mighty in Ankara not keep on telling us that our judiciary is independent? Ah, yes, that was within a totally different context.

Yes, we have "independent" judges hunting down every possible government opponent, but 10 out of 11 members of our Constitutional Court are not independent Ğ yes, the only member of the supreme court who does not have a degree in law is an independent judge because he had ruled against the verdict that declared the ruling party unconstitutional. Yes, that will be all very fair in a land of lunacy. My mind travelled a couple of days back when I sat down to listen to İlker Başbuğ, chief of the military, on Wednesday. On Monday, at the opening of the grandiose Turkish weapons exhibition, IDEF, a Turkish manufacturer had proudly launched the country’s first mine-protected military vehicle. Big speeches were made, hands were shaken, and probably lucrative contracts will follow. Company executives were smiling. So were the generals and civilian defense procurement authorities. Festivities of all kinds to celebrate an armored vehicle, which was niceÉ

Two days later, only hours before Gen. Başbuğ’s speech, news broke that a land mine that was operated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had blown up an armored military vehicle, killing nine soldiers. I have already lost count of the soldiers killed in PKK attacks by means of improvised explosive devices. Gen. Başbuğ told Wednesday’s well-attended press meeting that the blown-up vehicle had armor protection as thick as 4.5 centimeters, but, too bad, the bomb was just too powerful. We are all sorry. After having read plenty of "intellectual" comments on Gen. Başbuğ’s lengthy speech, the second this month, I decided to have a look at what "ordinary" Turks had commented on it. I must have read a few hundred readers’ comments on various Web pages flagging mainstream and not-so-mainstream newspapers. I found one particularly frustrated reader addressing the chief of general staff: "Pasha! Can’t you just get 15 centimeters-thick armor if 4.5 centimeters won’t save our soldiers? Enough with condolences and mourning!"

Most readers hailed and praised our heroic army and proposed "only in Turkey" solutions to terror, ranging from curfew and martial law in Diyarbakır to total invasion of northern Iraq and capture of Mosoul and Kirkuk. Threats of "a 1,000 eyes for an eye" and "until the last dribbling of PKK blood" were floating in the virtual air.

One reader recalled Gen. Başbuğ’s repeated advice against pessimism and commented: "There is only one thing worse than pessimism: To become inured to something. We have been hearing this ’don’t-be-pessimistic’ tale for 25 years." One of the most commonly-pronounced words in those hundreds of readers’ comments was the name of a country. No, not the United States. Yes, there was a lot of U.S.-bashing too. But another country’s name appeared more often in a way sadly telling us of what this column once named "the great Turkish hypocrisy." That country’s name is Israel.

The "ordinary Turks" in their columns of comments were urging the Turkish government and the military "to do exactly as Israel does when it is confronted with terrorists." The "commentators" were probably the same people who, in the same columns, must have written in earlier days how "we should get organized to teach the murderer Jews a lesson for their atrocities against innocent Palestinians." Now, there is some collective malady here.

When Israel fights its own war against what it views as terrorists the Turks jump up and shout and protest. They hail their prime minister because he taught "that Jew" a lesson at Davos. They rush to the airport to greet the "hero of Davos." Then a few weeks later they wake up to bad news from their own "war zone" and learn 10 soldiers had been killed by the terrorists. Then their immediate reflex is to make a big chorus of people shouting out to their leaders: "Why can’t you do as the Israelis do?" What does all that tell? That É Turkey is a state of law where the top court has declared the ruling party unconstitutional; where we celebrate super armored vehicles but our soldiers die en masse in mine attacks; where committing a coup can make you a dignitary but opposing the government can put you in jail under charges of coup; where we want to invade northern Iraq but unanimously oppose if some other country invades another; where we hate Israel because it counters terror brutally but expect our country to do the same when we lose our soldiers in terror.

Welcome to the land of lunacy!
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