Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Turkey fieldwork notes: military Karkamış; police

Kurdistan/Turkey fieldwork notes extracts

These notes are from 10pm on the 2nd of May 2007, the day I tried to go to the archaeological site of Karkamış, which is under Turkish military control, but spent so long stuck at the police station not going there that I couldn't go (back) to the village to talk to the locals either.
Another day wasted; I spent half of it at Öğüzeli police station and a few hours either side driving around and/or drinking tea with the car hire staff and the plain-clothes policeman who spends all of his time there.

As security, the car hire staff took my passport, leaving me with just a photocopy. [In retrospect, leaving my passport with the staff and the policeman seems more and more stupid.] Having been given a car so empty I almost didn't make it to the petrol station, expecting to be driving a lot over the course of the next forty-eight hours, I got it filled up, which cost 140YTL, in addition to the two-day car hire cost of 130YTL ($112 and $104, or £56 and £52, respectively), a total of 270YTL, $216, or £108.

I drove from Gaziantep to Karkamış, where, when asked how I was to get to old Karkamış, a few old men drinking tea in the shade of a tree in the village immediately told me that I had to get permission from the local military and directed me to the second village along, Söylü.

At Söylü military outpost, they told me they didn't have the authority and I had to go to Öğüzeli military directorate; at the directorate, however, they told me that it wasn't their responsibility and sent me to the local police station.

I spent a lot of time repeating myself several times to each of several people, who wanted to see, along with my driving licence and car registration, which I did have, my passport and hire contract, which I didn't have.

Eventually, I was told that the military had refused me permission to visit the site, but that they were refusing any and everyone access (but that I couldn't go to the village or anywhere else and had to return to Gaziantep and collect my passport as soon as I left the police station).

So, although only having a photocopy of my passport with me was irrelevant to me being denied access to Karkamış, it was still unacceptable and would've prevented me from accessing any less sensitive sites, had I not lost so much time failing to access Karkamış that I had none left to fail to access elsewhere with.

As I was waiting and wandering from room to room and floor to floor, I'd got to talking to some of the officers. When it was clear that I couldn't do anything else, as I was waiting and wandering from room to room and floor to floor. When it was clear that I couldn't do anything else, I settled into conversation with the officers.

It began, predictably and blissfully briefly enough, with football; after that, before I could show my ignorance, we moved onto comparisons between Britain and Turkey, between how Britain treats Turks and Turkey treats Britons, between British police and Turkish police, onto finding each other Turkish and British wives (not at my prompting) and the 'guillotine' I would have to endure if I were to find myself a Turkish wife and so on.

It is true that you would never sit around a police station drinking tea and chatting with the officers, with them ordering in and treating you to a kebab [although there are many reasons for both police's behaviour]. One of the officer's pride in the English he'd learned from an instantly-recognisable genre of films made the rest of them and I laugh; he got my attention, then said, 'oh, yeah, baby, like that!'

I made my way back to Antep/Gaziantep and went to the car hire offie; there, we ran round in circles about the problem with the passport and the petrol (after one or two senior officers rang him and he rang back and spoke with my new friends [the junior officers]) and then had more tea and a few kebabs.

The plain-clothes policeman, who had evidently also spoken with Öğüzeli police station staff, let slip [not the right choice of words, maybe "dropped into conversation"] that he had been told [that the military thought] I wanted to dig in Karkamış(!) - and that he worked in/on/for 'sır', whatever branch of the police that is.

['Sır' is 'secret', which, if true, would make him a member of the National Intelligence Organisation (Milli İstihbarat Teskilati (MIT)), which is, according to Niels Kadritzke in le Monde Diplomatique, 'still under military control'.]

As he said, 'I don't wear a uniform, you can't know I'm police, nobody knows who we are'. Later, he again pointed out that he was police (but not military), then corrected himself, 'obviously I'm your friend; outside I'm police...'

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