Turkish Elections and my opin… Recipe for Humus

A few years ago, shortly after moving to Turkey, I suddenly noticed that most bus shelters, lamp posts and seemingly every available billboard in Istanbul was plastered with the pale and sullen faces of men (all men), who conveyed a sense that they may never have smiled in their entire lives. Indeed, when I first noticed these posters and hand-bills I almost took them to be either wanted posters, or, like I described in last November’s post on Sri Lanka, notices of someone’s recent death – so pale and pasty were these straight to camera posses; but they were all men seeking election or re-election in up and coming polls.

When I asked why no-one ever smiled in political photos I was given many different reasons but they all boiled down to one thing – Trust: “How can you trust a man with a grin on his face; only someone intending to cheat you would do such a thing; you must never trust a man to be serious about his job if is face is not serious. When I wondered out loud about the policies and reputation of the particular political party each face represented I was ridiculed for my naivety. “It doesn’t matter what they promise, they rarely deliver and because one party is very much like the rest, self serving and tainted by corruption, many people simply vote on looks alone. Flabbergasted I pressed for an explanation and was told that a younger voter may want someone who looks like they could be a solid friend or perhaps someone who resembles their grandfather. While older voters, especially women seemed to gravitate towards someone who looked like they would make a good son-in-law. “Anyway,” I was finally told, “it really doesn’t matter who wins because the Army will always have the final say in Turkey.”

A couple of years later, during the General Election of 2002 the political landscape of spin and counter spin seemed to make some parties consider a change from the stern expressions because suddenly we were assaulted by a few grinning faces, but faces of men clearly not accustomed to raising a smile at will, grinning for political posters or during TV appearances. A few almost managed it but many looked like grimaces of pain, and in one particular case – Mesut Yilmaz, a former prime minister, but then a party leader- who came across as almost quite sinister in his contortions between Cheshire cat grin and stand-up comedian’s smirk.

Anyway, as history now shows – almost all of these other parties, smiling or otherwise, were blown away by the Islamic leaning AK Party at that election, with only the CHP gathering enough votes to get over the 10% threshold so they could take up their seats in parliament. So that brief summer of smiling politicians, was consigned to the dustbin of failed gimmicks and so, with few exceptions the dour look came roaring back with a vengeance at the very next poll.

It is hard to imagine that twelve years have gone by since that first AKP victory. Just as it is hard to remember a time when the people of Turkey have been so polarized in their views of their government. The teeth of the Army were eventually pulled a couple of years ago after mass trials, which resulted in many top ranks being sentenced to anything up to life in prison. So the spectre of the military coup, which had hung over Turkish politics since the 1960’s seems to have been exorcised. However, this did not please everyone as many secularists had always viewed the Army as some kind of insurance policy against, what they believed was the barely hidden Islamic agenda of this government, a charge which has dogged Prime Minister Recep Tyyip Erdogan’s party since their first election victory back in 2002. Indeed the secularists now suggest that once Erdogan was emboldened by his party’s third election victory, he adopted a more remote and autocratic style of leadership in order to push through many policies that were at odds with secular thinking. So, with the benefit of hindsight it was perhaps inevitable that this would put him on a collision course for a confrontation he wasn’t expecting, when riots suddenly erupted in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last June and pushed Turkey, and his leadership style under the worlds spotlight for an uncomfortable few weeks.

In the wake of Gezi Park so many Turkish journalists were arrested and imprisoned (some for life) or, under government pressure fired from their jobs, that a kind of doxophobia (fear of expressing an opinion) now blankets much of the media here. So as a writer and humble blogger I must confess that I am not totally immune to this peculiar affliction and do not feel I could safely express an opinion on anything contentious going on in today’s climate of pre-election hysteria. So I will simply list what has happened in Turkey in just the nine months since Gezi Park:
• The concept of Thought-Crime hit the statue books last Autumn, allowing police and the secret services to arrest or detain you indefinitely if they believe you are even Thinking of attending a demonstration.
• Any future attempts by the Judiciary to bring a legal case against government members or any department must now actually be approved by… the government.
• Turkey now stands as a country with more writers and journalists in prison than Iran, China and North Korea put together.
• A new information law now allows the government unrestricted access to any citizens private information including internet traffic and the contents of private phone calls and emails.
• The government now has the right to ban any website or service provider they wish – to protect national interests. Hence the much discussed Twitter and YouTube ban this past week, which followed months of allegations and video and phone recordings being aired on social media, which purportedly showed government corruption, some of which apparently targeted the Prime Minister and his inner circle.
• The dismissal or mass posting of hundreds of judges and police officers, who were supposedly involved in the investigation of alleged corruption, following the arrest of the sons of two government ministers and a number of others last December.

In conclusion, the political landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade, and never has a mid-term election carried so much weight, or been regarded by so many as a judgement on just one person. Many people now regard todays vote as the most important in decades, while others have described it as a crossroads or a tipping point, a day Turks elects to take one of two very different roads into the future. However, the only certainty we have at this moment, whether the Prime Ministers party does well or badly, is that few sane people are willing to predict exactly what might actually happen beyond todays’ vote.

For those of you who have asked for my opinion, many even getting through to me on Twitter, I am sorry but my, hopefully temporary attack of doxophobia prevents me from giving it freely. However, if you are still a little hungry please accept my secret humus recipe below as some conciliation.

Secret Humus, You Will Need:
500 grams pre-soaked chickpeas or a standard can full.
1 large lemon
About 75g Tahini or (my secret ingredient)100g of crushed plain Helva
One clove of crushed garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a drop more for serving
A generous pinch of salt and pepper. taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons water
Dash of paprika or Bul-pepper for serving

Mix it all evenly together with a blender but do not make it too smooth as texture is everything in Humus. Spoon it into a bowl before drizzling a small amount of olive oil on top followed by a dash of paprika. For best results chill for a few hours to let the flavours meld together – enjoy!


Why Surfers Never Retire

Surfing is something you either get or don’t get – I suppose just like you either love Marmite or hate it or you believe a solution to the Palestinian v Israeli problem, will actually be found in our lifetime… or not. I am not saying there aren’t millions of people out there who have tried it and failed, or who are still among the sub 10 seconds to wipe-out amateurs that don’t get it, or want to get it. No I am simply suggesting that there is just something about a surfers relationship with the ocean that unexpectedly clicks into place one day, which once established feels so much a natural part of who you are, who you really are, that it is almost inconceivable that the day will ever come when you will lose it all together.
Wipe Out
Essentially it’s a sense, an acquired sub-sense; but to try and explain it, would be to try and describe exactly what the combination of balance, speed, courage and buzz all felt like when you rode your first bike, or to try and explain to the un initiated, the amorphous pleasure an orgasm can give. Indeed, just like some footballers will tell you that scoring an important goal can actually feel better than sex – if you catch the right wave, that special wave you somehow knew would always come, and perform the perfect entry and ride it out to a smooth exit, just in time – there are really few pleasures in this world that can top that.

So what happens when for whatever reason: injury, age or the simple loss of opportunity you are forced to stop for good? It’s a question many friends and some of my surfier Twitter friends have asked, ever since I revealed in an earlier post how my own surfing days ended abruptly just over a year ago. I won’t be so dramatic as to describe it as if losing a limb or even a child, as one ex pro (who shall remain nameless) once put it in an interview, but it is still a tangible feeling, a true sense of loss, almost like a bereavement all the same.

When you get your kicks riding the energy carried in millions of tons of unpredictable water until it crashes upon rocks and sand, some injuries become a fact of life. About six years ago a knee injury kept me off a board for couple of years or so. Although I always knew it was simply a matter of time before I had the confidence to get back in the game. Unfortunately when I did, I foolishly took my surgeons advice to exercise caution, as I would always have a weakness, with a pinch of salt. So I had all but forgotten his warning, when the catastrophic failure of my anterior excruciate ligament, while riding an 8 metre wave, finished me off in Panama last year.

Although generally called the Silverbacks some locals prefer to call the huge wave, which breaks onto an Island off Bocas Del Toro, the Gorilla because every encounter shakes bones, empties lungs and tests the resilience of your surfboards leash to the limit during every, body smashing wipe-out, which can hold you under for a long, long time especially if you lose the use of a leg! Anyway, after a flight to Panama City and some keyhole surgery, the busy surgeon struggled to comprehend what it was about the word Never that I didn’t understand, after he recommended I never Surf or Ski again – never for the rest of this year or never for a couple of years like last time? “No” he said, “if you don’t want to risk worse injury, that could leave you with a pronounced limp or even the need for a stick – you must accept that you can Never surf again.”
My Surf Pic
While I have gradually accepted it, the feeling of loss can still catch you when you least expect it and hits you like a wave of grief. For a while last year I clung to the idea that I could simply switch legs and lead with my weakened right. I once met someone in New Zealand, a surf technique magician, who I know could have helped me do it. But… unlike the handful of ambidextrous big wave surfers I know, like Todd Smith or the veteran Jeff Clark, whenever I tried switching my dominant leg before the accident, it always felt as difficult as if trying to write with your wrong hand. Besides that, now both age and injury have left me uninsurable for any serious Masters competition, it all does seem like a lot of work (and possibly risk) just to switch over to the Veterans category; so I will let that one ride for now.

But I know in my heart that I will be out there again, one day – in my own time and at my own pace – because ultimately it has never been about winning or losing – it all comes down to that intangible sense, which will always pull you towards the roar of the surf – because the only truth that ever matters, when you are out there alone, waiting, listening and feeling for the right swell just beyond the break, is your own very personal relationship with the ocean.