Turkey is one of the few complicated states in the word that is difficult to classify and force into a neat cultural and political grouping. Its land is the setting of Biblical stories, the birthplace of Western Civilization, and the spread of Islam.
Turkey is far more than a bridge between Eastern and Western worlds; it is a land home to both. From an outsider’s perspective Turkey is difficult to classify. From within, Turkey struggles with a perpetual identity crisis.
“For Buryats Lake Baikal is a sacred and holy place. Historically, Baikal has given people food, fish, water, and there are many legends about Baikal,” says Masha Bambuyeva, a Buryat native of the north Baikal town of Severobaikalsk in Siberia, Russia.
While travelling in Siberia and reporting on the area surrounding the world’s deepest, oldest, and most voluminous fresh water lake in the world, I have heard as many tales of Baikal myths as I have witnessed breathtaking landscapes.
Divers travel to Thailand for some of the best diving in the world on both coasts of the country. The Andaman Sea has one of the most coveted reefs with a world top 5 in Hin Daeng and Hin Muang off of Ko Lanta. The most beginner friendly diving in the world is in the Gulf of Thailand where the island of Ko Tao certifies more divers than anywhere else. Diving wise, what both sides have in common despite different ecosystems, is the opportunity to swim with the elusive, friendly, and very curious giant, the Whale Shark.
There aren’t any reefs that guarantee a Whale Shark sighting, and there are some dive masters that I met in Ko Tao, that despite diving every day, have yet to spot one. That said there is always excitement that grows on the diving boats that this dive might be the lucky one. In that case, abandon the dive game plan, and just hang around the Whale Shark being sure to give it space, especially around its tail.
So it took me ten years but I made it. Actually, the way I say it is that I finally made it. Others, won’t agree. Old vets will say I’m too late. “You should have seen Thailand in the 70’s.”
Yeah, right, and I should have been in San Francisco in the late 60’s. That didn’t stop me from loving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Love Parade simultaneously back in 2010.
Travelling the world used to be a big deal. Like a real, huge life changing event.
“I wanted to do something for Baikal, for infrastructure, for ecology, and this was a chance,” says Irkutsk native and local entrepreneur, Sergei Redkin, as he explains his reasons for volunteering with the Great Baikal Trail (GBT).
GBT is an organization whose name may seem evident at first glance. It is a trail-building establishment near Lake Baikal in Russia’s Siberia. In addition to trail building and maintenance of pre-existing paths, the group also promotes ecological education in the region.
A year lad a half ago I wrote an article about how Turkey’s strategic geo-political position in the world has them in an identity struggle between Western and Eastern influences.
Is Turkey a future member of the EU (after 48 years of associate membership) or will their large Muslim population perpetually keep them as a special relation to the West? Undeniably, Western Turkey has been a setting where important events in European history have played out over the last 2000 years, thus they can’t be written off as un-European.
With that in mind, where does that line draw on their relations with their Muslim neighbors? Turks are far from Arabs, but what exactly is their current status in the Islamic world?
These types of questions can be thrust upon different eras in history and produce distinctly circumstantial answers each time, just like the layers of influence from different periods built on Hagia Sophia.
“Turkish people don’t go east, but we go west. We have no problem. We open business. We can go anywhere, but the Turks don’t come to the south-east,” says Hazhir, the name I have given my Kurdish host to protect his identity.
I play hockey in Asia. The response I get ranges from surprise to confusion, and the first question I usually hear is, “Isn’t hockey a sport for girls?”
Ice hockey, man, not field hockey!
The perfect symmetry of the yellow stoned arches mirrored in Balikligöl pond only lasts a second. It is broken by the chaotic splashing of a few holy fish crowd surfing over the thousands more with mouths babbling ready for the feeding frenzy. They’re here because of a legend dating back millennia.
Sitting in the shade of a large tree outside the Cave of Ibrahim, I watch my hot çay tea sweat in the agonizing heat that is summer in Şanlıurfa. Reflecting on the historic significance of what I just witnessed is feverishly difficult. This is the cave where Abraham, the very same Abraham from the Old Testament, was born.
Originally Published for Dispatches International in 2011
“Turkey is a medium-sized country and there is going to be a power vacuum because historically we have a perspective of Europe and if we stop having this perspective we will have to have another one. Unfortunately, the closest option for Turkey is the eastern world,” says Asli Postaci, a PhD candidate in political science at Yeditepe Univeristy in Istanbul.
With the ongoing unrest in the Arab world, Turkey is starting to become a major player in the region. It has become clear that the European Union has put any plans to add Turkey as a full member on hold. As a result Turkey has shifted its policies in the Middle East. This past May, Turkish relations with Israel were greatly strained with the Gaza Flotilla Raid. This was a Turkish demonstration to show that it will create its own foreign policy in the Middle East, even if it directly opposes policies that Western powers have in the region.