Some songs from the open road

Hard to believe it’s been 2 years since I left for Turkey. I’m still collecting my thoughts. A lot has changed since — back in 2014, Turkey was hardly notorious. These days, its reputation precedes itself. Its arcane politics and regional predicament have become common knowledge, and I’ve even stopped recommending that friends visit.

I came right at the inflection point. My first memories of Turkey include busing across the southeast and hopping, breakneck, between its warm and ethnically mixed cities — kiwi juice in seedy Gaziantep, tea and Kurdish folk songs in Diyarbakir’s basalt, and ice cream under Sinjar martyr posters in Van. You could tell that Turkish Kurdistan was the calmest and freest it’d been in decades, but with ISIS advancing on the Syrian Kurds in Kobane, a hint of alarm hung in the air.

Days after I moved into my furnished room in Tarlabasi, a Kurdish (and increasingly Syrian) ghetto in downtown Istanbul, that hint bloomed into full capsaicin mayhem. For about 5 days, I took in the city, came home early every evening, settled in, got stoned, and blogged. I played out worst-case scenarios and imagined disappearing into some Balkan refuge.

That season, the worst neither came for Kobane — spared from ISIS by Uncle Sam’s heartstrings and firepower — nor Istanbul, where a few dozen died in clashes with police that haven’t been repeated since (with the odd exception of the failed coup). But for southeastern cities like Diyarbakir, Mardin, Nusaybin, and Van, there was no turning back. As of this writing, Turkey’s newest phase of struggle with the PKK — a tragedy of bad regional miasmas and avoidable decisions — has claimed the lives of thousands. Entire neighborhoods, including the basalt-enclosed old city of Diyarbakir, have been pummeled beyond recognition.

Tea and poetry in Hasanpasha Khan? Forget about it.

And if you thought I was writing again to set up a travelogue or critical essay about some countries I dabbled in, sorry to disappoint.

But: I have been working over some of the poems I wrote while on the road in Turkey (and beyond), and thought now would be a good time to share. You can find them, properly geotagged, on this Google map. More to come.