Trams and trotters in Antalya’s Cumhuriyet Cadesi
The Turkish barman seemed uneasy with my question. His eyes swivelled. It was mid-afternoon on a quiet Antalya harbour front. Were we being watched..?
This was the fag end of the tourist season, mid-October, 2015. It was a bare two weeks after the bombing outrage in Ankara that had left 102 people dead and over 400 wounded. Turkey’s crucial election, in which the country’s hard man, Recep Erdoğan, was pitching to re-establish power-with-punch, was scheduled in a week’s time. (Erdoğan later swept the board, strengthening his position emphatically).
The previous evening the left wing party, Emek Partesi (EMEP) had staged a passionate demo in Antalya’s central square, Kale Kapisi. The demonstrators carried a large banner with photographs of political figures. Beneath the portraits the banner proclaimed ‘Fascism is the Death of Freedom’. An evening crowd looked on with little emotion.
My question to the barman had been innocent small talk;
‘Your country has many difficulties at the moment?
He glanced his glance to either side, then muttered in Bogartian sotto voce,
‘Do you know what we fear most of all in Turkey?’
This seemed a a good starting point.
It is,’ he said, with some intensity…‘The Police…’
There may have been personal bias here, but I was not too surprised by his words. Turkey’s security forces have a bad rep all round. The Police are Erdogan’s Praetorian Guard and have a long history of brutality and alleged torture. I would think of the Antalya barman a few days later when my Bodrum-bound bus stopped at a police checkpoint in the dark of the night. There were only a handful of passengers left at this late stage of a seven-hour journey; all local, except for me. Did I look lethal?
Two young policeman lolled outside the small checkpoint building, assault rifles swagged at their waists. Their colleague, dressed all in black, came onto the bus, with aggression. He barely looked at driver or bus boy, or the couple of locals near the front, but strode straight to where I sat in benign isolation, mid-bus.
Snarl’ is the only word to describe his tone. Twice; no quarter;
‘Passport..! Passport..! NOW!’
This was no time to discuss good manners, so I smiled – unavailingly. The bus boy hovered solicitously. The young policeman gave my passport a brief, almost contemptuous glance, grunted, and then elbowed the bus boy aside and marched off. His attitude was perhaps understandable. These were jumpy young men trained to be defensive and aggressive. In the current climate of Turkish uncertainty, they would be even jumpier through anxiety, fear, suspicion. Unsurprising, in the wake of the Ankara bombings and with the current flood of migrants across the Syrian-Turkish border upping the ante. My bus had come from the uncertain east.
ALL TOGETHER EVERYWHERE
Yet, in Antalya at the EMEP demo there were no uniformed police in evidence, which in the light of the waiter’s comments was no guarantee that there were no police present; as with Beijing’s Tienanmin Square, where people will tell you that it’s not the very visible uniformed police who are in the majority of security officials keeping a beady eye on things. It is the far more numerous men dressed just like you.
Antalya’s quaint old trams trundled along Cumhuriyet Caddesi, their warning bells clanging reassuringly. Where the line doubled up to allow the two-way trams to pass each other, horse-and-carriage drivers touted their trade, wheeling from one track to the other with practised ease when a tram clanked by. The backdrop to all of this was a frieze of ancient buildings; an octagonal clock tower, the Sat Kalesi, its ancient stonework mellowed by the low sun; beyond this, the dome and slender minaret of the 18th century mosque, the Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Camii. In Kale Kapesi square, the EMEP demo earned a fanciful glance of disdain from a handsome statue of Attalus II, King of Pergamum, who founded Antalya in the 2nd century BC. Behind the square lay the covered bazaar of Iki Kapilar Hani. It dates from the 15th century but is today little more than a vast emporium of clothing and tat stalls with a few traditional shops selling local goods, spices and occasional wisps of authenticity.