David and Lili's World Tour


September 2015 - Turkey

Merhaba! Our new favorite country for backpack-travelling is Turkey. Sorry Sri Lanka, you're now number two. Turkey is the world's largest open-air museum, with friendly people everywhere, and great food; plus Turkey is clean, safe, and hassle-free, with great beaches too (many are packed with tourist resorts, but we found one, at Olympos, with no resorts but instead with ancient Roman ruins). Cool! Then there's Cappadocia, a region with a fantastic landscape riddled with underground cities and churches in caves. Great! The only unfriendly people we met were clearly jaded by tourism. The only thing we found annoying was the excessive cigarette smoking. Otherwise, all good!

The international news about Turkey is pretty bad, however. There is a de-facto civil war near the border with Syria, with the Kurdistan worker's party (PKK) fighting for independence. Turkey's president Erdoğan is widely regarded as a political bully, escalating that civil war while simultaneously arresting journalists. None of this affects tourists however. Indeed, several people told us that we could travel right up to the border with Syria in complete safety, and we believe that is true. Turkey is safe for tourists, but not so much for journalists critical of Erdoğan, or for the Kurdish minority.

Despite the war situation being quite complicated (the disputed region borders Iraq and Syria), one guy told us that it is actually simple; he said the PKK is fighting for an independent Kurdistan not because they want different governmental policy but because they want to maintain their profits from drug trafficking. Certainly this is a major source of money for the rebels, but given that the Kurds have been victims of massacres and repression, their political fight is valid. Another Turk told us that the Kurds should be happy in Turkey because "we are all Muslims." Hmmm... Clearly the pro-government propaganda here is effective.

Speaking of Syria, many of the immigrants fleeing the violence towards Europe travel across Turkey (where they meet little to no resistance). We saw some immigrant camps but otherwise we did not see much. Mostly in Turkey the casual observer sees a peaceful land of friendly Muslims and Secular Humanists, where (compared to other Muslim nations) the women seem especially modern and happy. We have observed that in places where Muslim women are free to wear Western-style clothes (or not), they seem happier. Go figure.

Of course for Turkey's women, being modern is about much more than clothes. Turkish women were granted equal rights (including the vote) in 1934 as part of sweeping reforms brought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey's first president. In order to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern nation, Atatürk implemented laws that included banning religion-based clothing for public servants while promoting western-style government, education, and much more (including a Latin script for the Turkish language). Atatürk was a devout Muslim, but he saw the merits of secular government, and for this he is regarded as a hero by many moderate Muslims around the world who want to emulate his success. Sadly, the current president Erdoğan has been pushing in the opposite direction by introducing religious education in schools, restricting access to alcohol, banning public kissing, and other hallmarks of secularization.

Turkey is where East meets West, and we are happy to report that overall, the people have done a fantastic job at finding a workable balance between these conflicting cultures. With much to see and a relaxing vibe, we recommend that you visit here if you can.

Cheers, David and Lili

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