TURKEY #2: Mountainous Kurdland

Click on images to enlarge them.

On April 10, 2009 we re-entered from Syria to pass through Eastern Turkey, Kurd land en route to Iran ... so this is updated as Turkey #2 blog.

Buying Bananas for the road, in Diyarbakir
Kurd population areas from The Economist
Who are Kurds? They are not Arabs, nor racially are they the same as most other Turks; in many cases they look more Med-European to us. They have their own language. It is a complex situation but they are spread over Iran, Iraq, Syria, while 50-55% of all Kurds live in Turkey, occupying about a third of Turkey's land area, composing about 20% of Turkey's population. Some/many/most (?) we have no idea how many, want their own homeland – 'Kurdistan' is even a verboten word in Turkey.

The 'Kurdistan Workers Party' (PKK) dates from 1990, is an armed militancy with an iffy ideology of:
..........(a) Marxist-Leninism which had proven, repeatedly,
.................well before 1990, that it simply doesn't work. Ever.
..........(b) Kurdish Nationalism. One can't imagine that
.................Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey will be standing in line
.................to give away sizable chunks of land,
.................especially to an armed, poor, militant new neighbor
.................devoted to an antithetical, unworkable ideology.

But who cares about logic? This is about other things.

Clearly though, the Kurds have been treated not-so-well in various situations – Saddam Hussein did some 'ethnic cleansing' that included chemical slaughter and razed villages – some estimates are 200,000 dead [BBC link]; for certain they were actively anti-Saddam and paid heavily. In Syria, Amnesty International says Syrian Kurds are badly discriminated against [link], denied citizenship and associated basic rights, tortured, etc. In Turkey there has been an on-off active war and with a body count estimated at >37,000 [Wikipedia link.] Here's a relatively easy-to-skim Kurd cultural explanation/background [link].

We have no opinions nor answers of course, we're just passin' thru.


Cost of Kurd issue enormously disproportionate: Turkey has spent on the Kurd issue ballpark $300 billion according to The Economist. Even if the number is not gospel, here's Wheezy's napkin math compared to USA's current fiscal headlines:
Putting the Kurd $300 billion in a USA perspective: The Kurd thing is costing the average Turk more than the COMBINED Iraq war PLUS the huge 'economic bailout' is costing the average American!
(A) The Iraq war has cost USA officially $565 billion so far. Add the $700 billion bailout to that. These mega-items add up to $1,265 billion = $1.27 trillion. ÷ 300 million Americans = $4,215 per American.
(B) Compare the $300 billion Kurd war in Turkey ÷ population of 70 million Turks (Kurds included) = $4,285 per Turk.
That's plenty bad for USA. It's very, very serious pain money for developing Turkey – with about 1/5th of USA's GDP per capita. Huge. Preposterously so.

Bottom line: Relative to their individual earnings, Turks are spending 400% - 500% what Americans are on just these two groups of issues. That has to concern the EU Membership Committee, if no one else! Who wants to bleed Europe with this?

Driving through, at least on the western side, most of the Kurd region does at least 'feel' fiscally and culturally different from the rest of Turkey we toured; it's heavily agricultural, less industrial, not touristy although it sure could be, mountainous and cold, not evidently as rich– but far from horrid. It's poorer and we saw some pretty shabby dwellings. But we also some some nice new things. Roads are being fixed but are, right now, the worst we drove in the length of Turkey.

Let's hope EU membership will prove a successful carrot-stick to all, versus going the other way which would be a bad omen for the entire confusing region. Indeed for the world; this area is geo-politically important if you look where 27 million Kurds live, spanning the crossroads between Iran-Iraq-Syria-Turkey [map.]

May saner heads prevail. They are fiscally way better off inside successful industrial, capital-friendly Turkey, than they would be in yet another Marxist-Leninist certain-to-fail experiment.


Being careful here. Indeed. We took a day-long detour from our planned route, being warned by two university security men from whom we'd asked directions – emphatically, don't take that road, there are 'terrorists' one said in Turkish, while mimicking a rife being shot; his boss nodded and confirmed in English.

That was sufficient for us, back-tracking detour it was! We had planned to take D950 from Diyarbakir [map] to Bingol, a logical, shorter and more rural, perhaps interesting route. (Apologies, but Google Maps does not calculate roads in Turkey.) Instead prudent terrorist-avoidance suggested detouring westwards via Elazig [map] and then heading to Bingol. It cost us a day, but becoming hostages, or being shot, are not very high on the agenda.
A deadly PS: About two weeks later, on April 29th, 10 Turkish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb courtesy the PKK right nearby. Then May 5 in this very town of Diyarbakir, 44 guests were killed plus 17 injured at a wedding party for the village chief's daughter, by men with grenades and assault rifles. See, some people at the wedding were anti-PKK, so it's a logical revenge at a wedding, huh? [story link.]

Racism against Asians & women. Riding onwards, it was a nice freeway-type road and we got to sleep in Elazig, in the very nice 4-star C$100 Marathon Hotel [link.] We went there, instead of a decent 3-star we found for C$35 because of a 'bigotry alert':
..........(a) several hotels Thao tried were run by racist SOB's, and,
.........(b) I decided not to confront them not knowing if/how they might
.................extract revenge (like on the bike at night?)
.................as my punishment for their losing face.

For real bigotry, repeatedly, Thao gets it all the time. Latest example in Elazig: Thao normally checks hotels while I stay with the bike, usually a practical strategy. But here, three hotels in a row said they are 'full, full' and waved her away rudely with 'no speak English' nonsense – it takes very little English to book a room, their very job. The gathered men in the lobbies also made obviously-rude comments in Kurdish, laughing at her suggestively.

She came outside in tears. So, I went into the nearest one, the Ciras, and of course they had lots of rooms, offered me a good price, I saw a nice room, they had wi-fi, it was a C$35 bargain, they spoke plenty English to make a hotel deal. I went outside, stood by the bike discussing with teary Thao; immediately two guys at the Turistik Hotel across the street, having just been 'full' for Thao, waved me and my wallet in most enthusiastically.

Thao wanted me to confront them on the racism; instead we rode a couple blocks to the 4-star C$100 one; to hell with them and their empty hotels, I was not into picking arguments in Kurdland. Guilty hotels are: Hotel Turistik; Hotel Saray; Ciras Hotel, all within 100 metres on the main downtown hotel strip.

Plainly Asians are an inferior breed to Kurd men, you see, and it goes without saying that women are. In case you didn't know.

There was also some of that, on a smaller scale, in Amman Jordan – the supermarket deli counter woman who refused to serve an Asian woman for example. They have a lot of Phillipina 'domestics' and many generalize that. Often Thao was treated well by Arabs and Kurds, but many are convinced of their genetic superiority. Meanwhile they drive mainly Korean, Japanese and Chinese wheels, and 'Made In ____' labels are largely Asian, like anywhere. I didn't say it's logical, nor did I say they're all that bright.

White guys like Wheezy, who are assumed to be rich, and they respect age, are also racially stereotyped, except in the opposite direction; I cry myself to sleep about that at least once a week.

Objective articles on Islamism in Turkey & Kurds all from The Economist:
..........- Turkey & Iraq's Kurds, Feb 09: [link]
.........- Islamism in Turkey July 08: [link]
..........- Kurd violence Oct '08: [link]


A group of very bright, friendly Kurd medical students
Unknown on left, Thao, Erkan, Yusuf, Halim, Wheezy.
They joined us as we had dinner in Diyarbakir [link]

Travels: Superb ride! Between Bingol and Erzurum Turkey [terrain map], [road map] a stunning mountain road O-O-H-H-W-W-E-E!

One of those days that one just had to be on a bike, perfect riding, the best, anything else would have been wrong .... Amazing scenery. April 13th, snow by the side of road in spots, melting snow-capped peaks all around us. What a great winding road, lotsa twisties – not ultra-switchback but still enough to keep you alert and non-stop fun. Light traffic, everyone honks and waves.

I have seldom had more scenic thrilling riding. The kind of day that justifies weeks of normal roads – this is why we ride. Both of us. Black Bike's tires had been inflated extra-hard that morning (Metzelers at 42 & 45 PSI, as an experiment); the ride was a bit rougher-feedback but she tracked and handled like a dream. I was smiling the whole way, even while cold numbness set in ...

Mountain ride, no blind corner truck-passing!

Cold. Very cold. The day started out at 20˚C (68˚F) ended up 3˚C (37˚F) for an hour or two – subtract wind chill from that, it's worse than it sounds on a bike because you are not active as while skiing. The coldest of this trip. We were both wearing short sleeve shirts, but didn't stop to layer up because 7 PM was coming and I didn't want to do this road in the dark. Then it became 9˚C, ah, such relief. Then back to 3˚C. We wuz f-f-f-rrreezzzing, mainly the hands, even with two layers of gloves. But our riding gear proved excellent, feet were fine, legs and torso tolerable.

Lush valley, snowcapped peaks in background, a river runs through it.
Thao took this while riding, as fast as I dared.
Snow remains roadside, but road was mostly dry.
Riding shots.

We and our numbed hands made it – still buzzed from the scenic thrill en route.

Then a quickly-found warm hotel room in a charming city-center Otel Polat [link] 2-stars but deserves 3, about C$60 for a nice suite with wi-fi in room, CNN, BBC. Barely standing, we parked Black Bike out front, left it uncovered, dropped all bags on the room's floor, with riding gear still on, dusty boots and all – we both flopped on top of the bed and passed out for a couple hours. Awoke and ordered in – I couldn't move.

Riding hard is like that at times, even though not physically taxing like mountain climbing or endurance bicycle riding (as close friend Ron Factor does, and is he in brilliant shape for it!) – some, not all, motorcycling can be exhausting in its own way. In part mentally, due to the necessary total concentration on tricky roads, always-foreign road habits of others, unanticipated hazards, focussing on the fact it only takes one small error. Unknown routes and signage. The constant rush of fresh hot or cold air. And although not aerobic, many/most muscles are in some use all the time, often the upper body is tensed up a bit for hours in tricky riding with a heavy machine; legs get fatigued; cramps happen. One has to try to relax. Add chatting with many strangers in foreign languages whenever stopping, hence few total respites. Map-guessing much of the way. Followed by the daily hotel hunt in a strange city.

Bottom line; at the end of the day one is tired. Sometimes totally wiped out.

Even two quite different ages feel the same.

But it also feels so good to be this adrenalin-rushed; to feel a harsh bit of climate so directly throughout one's body; to chalk up a little 'road conquest;' to be so exhausted by the entire package – and then to be warm, comfy and well-fed in a hotel. We toasted the day with a shot of Scotch and found that the wireless internet worked great; perfection found.

Reminds us, yet again, why we are doing this.

Ended up spending three nights at the Polat: One full day to get the Iran visas done; lightened the bike by mailing stuff home; did some banking – and we woke up one morning to snow, rain and hail we don't intentionally ride in.


The Erzurum Cifte Minerali Medrese, a Koranic school from 1265 is worth seeing, two very attractive spires from which it gets it name 'Twin Minaret Madrasah'; made of dark volcanic rock. Lots of sweet uniformed kids posed and made friends with Thao.

Now that's a sidecar!
Not major cinema but ... Nice Kurdish village we drove through.
Shot with a Samsung mini-still camera we just got, it makes bad movies.

Some scenic mountain riding, a poorer village at the end.

Nice Kurd area mountains and another herd road hazard.


Travels (cont'd): Riding from Erzurum to the Iran Border it's only 300 km or so, but takes about four-five hours with a couple stops.

It looks visibly poorer than other parts of Turkey, houses of stone and mud, harsh climate in higher elevation, laundry hanging outside in 4˚C, livestock, mountains, rocky fields. Not much industry happening, or none that we saw outside the town of Agri about half-way to Iran – an easy town to miss. It's a way of life these people have inherited and chosen perhaps to maintain.

Lots of military presence and a few road blocks, but not for us. Lots of friendly waves and kids getting excited to see us ride through. It does not strike one as an obvious tourist destination area, and language is a greater problem than elsewhere – they speak Kurdish, not much English.

Good winding mountain road in part, lovely mountains, but the road is not in good shape. In fact, it's perilous, worse than just a bad road, because you are flying along at 120 on smooth top, then have to thrown on the binders hard for stretches of pothole hell that suddenly appear out of nowhere. Major dodge-em weaving that Black Bike handled graceful-ballerina-like, really well, but I hit a couple well disguised ones anyhow, dodging hundreds more; it was an exhausting ride. Compounded by 4˚C (39˚F) cold, plus wind chill, plus rain and even some hail.

Hail on a bike renders an unsettling 'clink, clink' on plastic. When it hits you at 100, it hurts, even through a riding jacket. So we didn't enjoy the scenery much, covered in truck spray, mud, layered up, dry – except for Thao's nether regions sans rain pants, even with heated seats turned up full.

Hands were cold, electric hand grips through the Kuryakin covers, just didn't cut it.

Finally, the Turkey side of the border was a one-hour no-problem and no-money. There's a nice duty-free shop we enriched slightly. Major security fence and gates with Iran.

Finally Iran opened its side of the huge fence, after checking our passports which were passed through by the Turkish guard.


Made it to Iran! ... 35,000 km and 9 months since London, another 'mission accomplished.' Exchanged cliché high fives.

You will be notified of updates automatically.


1 comment:

  1. Good on ya, Peter. Naming those racist hotels and taking your business elsewhere was probably the most effective thing you could do in reply to their stupidity.

    Fantastic landscape shots!