Distracted by a steady stream of visitors and a number of game changing events I can only apologise for the late arrival of this month’s post. So to you concerned darlings who wondered where I was – I am not dead, in prison or off trekking in some distant jungle again – I have been here in Turkey all the time slowly preparing myself for what looks like it could be a big summer of change.
I finally ordered my canal boat for delivery early next month. Originally I was going to order something like the boat my brother ordered last year. Indeed, at one time I even suggested my specification would be nothing more detailed than “follow his 50 foot by 7 foot boat.” I should explain that canal living in the UK has sailed quietly along seemingly uninterested in anything as radical as decimalisation so nearly everything is referred to in feet and inches. This meant a certain amount a clawing back remembered fragments of the imperial measurement system, which we were all persuaded to forget as kids back in the 1970’s. Anyway, in the intervening months I have slowly persuaded myself by degree’s that a boat that size would be too small for myself and the cat to potentially live in one day. As a consequence it will now be a 57 foot by 11 foot (17.3 x 3.3 metres) wide boat that will be lowered into the water at Watford in a few weeks time. That is the easy part. The boat is only a sailaway, which means it is just a steel shell with an engine. The hard part will be the fitting out by myself and my brother. My own limited experience of all things nautical and DIY will thankfully be offset by his sound level of knowledge and skills but I will still make a willing labourer.
Here in Turkey summer seems to have come earlier than normal. I usually gauge the season by what I see on my daily walk. Tortoise numbers peaked last week, 2 weeks early after I sighted 7 in half an hour and my route had to change completely for a while after I realised the mating season for the deadly Ottoman viper had also arrived early. Another thing that arrived shockingly early here is election season after the President decided to call a general election for June the 24th. The fact this is almost a year and a half early has led many commentators to suggest that it is a panic move because of the deteriorating state of the Turkish economy, which will almost certainly be in a worse condition by the time the election was due in late 2019.
A quick look at the numbers may support this view i.e a full lira drop in value to the pound in less than a month from 5.55 on April 30th to 6.55 to sterling today. Also growing oil prices and a current account deficit that has grown to $16 billion for the first quarter of 2018, a shortfall that is almost double what it was a year ago. This has seemingly been caused by a big drop in foreign investment into Turkey something that continues to be exacerbated by Turkey’s active foreign policy such as its recent military interventions in Syria and changes in economic policy, which have caused high inflation in an economy already overheated by relatively low borrowing costs. A visit to the local market or shops will bear this out, with some items in particular 30% to 40% more expensive than they were just a year ago. Add to this the fact that a high proportion of my Turkish friends tell my they are struggling with debt after being bombarded for years with offers of bank loans, mortgages and credit cards and things begin to look a little more bleak.
All of the above said, this is still my home and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Yes I have taken measures to reduce my exposure to a weakening currency but I will still live here after the election and continue to contribute to the economy with my taxes. Quite where the country will head politically after an election that will hand any president vast new sweeping powers taken from Turkey’s parliament is anyone’s guess.
It will be a shame if Turkey becomes an even more authoritarian set up than the one we have watched evolve since 2011. By anyone’s measure the rule of law and things like freedom of speech or expression have continued to be eroded to the point that Turkey now sits at the top of the list for more writers and journalists languishing in jail. It is a fact there are more incarcerated here than the next two countries on that list (China and Egypt) put together. This is not a statistic to be proud of. As a writer myself, who once enjoyed the freedom to write pretty much anything I wanted, I have witnessed at first hand this tightening and narrowing of things you can and can’t express, which has created an atmosphere of insidious self censorship to the point that you almost end up writing in code, if you are brave/ foolish enough to discuss politics but want to avoid falling foul of the ever lengthening list of things you can and can’t say without risking arrest. Despite these truths I am one of the dwindling few who still hold onto a hope that the next phase in Turkey’s development will see an effort to actively heal the deep divisions that have opened up in this country so we can somehow find a way back to a place where other opinions and beliefs are not always regarded as threats but are, once again, actively tolerated and encouraged.
One way or another there is a lot happening this summer. Many commentators believe Turkey will change forever on the 24th June. But for the sake of this deeply polarised society I really hope it marks a chance for positive change. If not… then unlike most people here – I still have the option to leave the country. So who really knows; by this time next year maybe I will reluctantly have to say goodbye to my home of 17 years and may well end up living on that new boat I’m building somewhere on the river Thames.