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Down the slippery slope

riot police in Ankara

I was in Ankara on December 23 last year, in the commercial centre of town in the middle of the day. I walked past a street with a number of cafe/restaurants. I realised I was hungry. I sat down at an outdoor table, looking away from the street. I ordered a sandwich. My sandwich came. It was mediocre, but satisfied the “I am hungry” problem. (This was slightly disappointing of me. Turkey is a country of terrific food, and one should plan one’s meals better than just going for the nearest food when one finds oneself hungry). I got out my phone and started reading a book on the Kindle app as I was having my lunch.

After an indeterminate period of time, I realised I was hearing a high pitched scream behind me. It was probably a woman, but I couldn’t be sure about that. I turned around. There was an almost literal phalanx of riot police, separating the public from what was going on. There was a police van on the other side of the riot police. The person who was screaming was somewhat violently pushed into the van. The rear doors of the van were then closed fairly violently. The van drove off. The riot police then dispersed. They looked like this was heavily rehearsed, and this was something they did every day.

There was no riot. There was no demonstration. I don’t know how this started, because I was looking in the opposite direction and I was distracted until I heard the screaming. This looked like a well planned operation to grab a particular person off the street. In broad daylight. In the middle of a busy city. So that people would notice.

When I saw that this was happening, I noticed that other people in the cafe were taking pictures with their phones. So I briefly stood up and took a picture with my phone. The police were looking in other directions. One day I will get myself into trouble doing things like this, but in this case, well, I think the police wanted to be noticed. By locals, at least. Maybe not foreigners such as myself.

A few days later, after visiting a few wonderful archaeological sites in parts of Turkey, I was on a bus travelling along the Turkish Black Sea coast from Trabzon to the Georgian city of Batumi. During this journey there were two stops at police checkpoints. At the first one, a police officer got on the bus and everyone was required to show ID. The Turkish people had bar codes on their ID cards scanned electronically by a reader being carried by the police officer. (I held out my passport – the policeman looked at it and nodded). At the second one our ID documents were taken off the bus and into the police checkpoint building, before being brought back on the bus.

When you book a train ticket in Turkey and you are Turkish, you don’t even need a ticket. You simply give your ID card number when booking the train, and when you board they scan the ID card and associate it with the booking.

Turkey tracks the internal movements of its citizens electronically. They do it like this if you catch a bus or train or plane. If you drive your own car, I suspect it is done with number plate recognition.

Turkey is a wonderful country full of magnificent things. I visit often. It is also a police state, and a very nasty one.

I enjoyed my trip to Turkey, but I felt some relief when I reached Georgia. A much freer country.

7 comments to Down the slippery slope

  • Mr Ed

    Thank you for this posting, but I think the terminology may be wrong, aren’t the Turkish travellers showing their loyalty cards, rather than ID cards? 😉

    My first thought on reading this is imagining, if she were still PM or Home Secretary, Mrs May’s concerned nods as her officials explained how this scheme worked as she dreamed of introducing it here, wondering how quickly it could be implemented, and the standing ovation that would follow at the Conservative party conference. I am not certain that this spirit has been diminished by recent events. The older Georgians would remember the Soviet Internal Passport, and recognise the scheme immediately, and also the people disappearing off the street. (Note to self: Get some Georgian wine.)

    And had we hoped that a camera in every pocket would be some form of check on police abusing their powers?

    The last time I was in Turkey, in European Istanbul, when the Blairite Kemalists were still in charge, I had heard that Asiatic Turkey was very much a highly-policed State, justified by the PKK insurgency, and I heard of tourists in eastern Turkey (iirc historic ‘Armenia’) being woken in their hotels at night by police raids as routine. Perhaps the police practices are more refined and ubiquitous?

  • -XC

    I was in Istanbul (“the european side”) in the early 1980’s during martial law – soldiers on every corner with wonderful WWII tommy guns, looking quite bored. I don’t think any of the Turks I lived with thought they were there for any nefarious purpose. Nowadays my Turkish friends are very closed lipped on the current state of security and I don’t push.

    NB: there was a midnight curfew and while people took it seriously it was understood that as long as you were on your way home there was latitude. We did not push it.


  • Deep Lurker

    Turkey was never a stable democracy. It was a place where, when democracy fell over, the military would launch a coup, set democracy back on its feet, and set it off to totter on for a while before it fell over again. This was far from being an ideal situation, or even a good one, but it was still better than the alternative.

    Now we’re seeing the alternative it was better than.

  • DP

    Dear Samizdata Illuminatus

    “You simply give your ID card number when booking the train, and when you board they scan the ID card and associate it with the booking.”

    It will be so much simpler when the livestock are chipped and pinned in accordance with the Biblical handbook:

    Rev 13:16-17
    ” And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
    And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”


    T. May for HomSec.


  • Now we’re seeing the alternative it was better than. (Deep Lurker, February 17, 2020 at 6:31 am)

    That succinctly expresses my own understanding of the Kemalist history.

    There are alternatives that would be even worse than this alternative – or would they? This post reminded me of Saddam’s street-killing programme in Iraq. At the start of 2003, one of the few more honest, less narrative-bound British journalists visited Iraq and interviewed a woman whom the Iraqi state served up to him to tell some prepared story of western atrocity. He then cleverly asked her not “Does the street-killing programme exist?” (that would have told her the regime was denying it outside Iraq) but “Do you approve of the street-killing programme?” She instantly assured us she did and told a horrible story of a woman she had seen decapitated by state operatives in one of her local streets not so long ago, assuring us “She was a bad woman” and etc. (Let those of us criticise who feel completely sure they would act differently while knowing that the dead woman was now past help and that saying or looking anything less than delighted about it meant a one-way ticket to Uday’s torture chamber.)

    From her description, the street-killing of the other woman was pretty quick. One wonders what is now happening to the no-longer-seen woman whose scream Illuminatus briefly heard.

  • Paul Marks

    The Turkish government professes doctrines that were developed some 14 centuries ago – but it uses the most up to date technology to enforce its rule.

    There is no contradiction in this, as Muhammad (a military and political thinker of genius) used the most advanced methods available to him in his pursuit of power and conquest – he would applaud the modern technology and efficient methods of the Turkish government.

    Deep Lurker is correct – the West prevented the, then, secular military from preventing the present ruler of Turkey coming to power.

    The West demanded that the, then, secular military follow democracy and allow the present regime to come to power – which then, over time, remade the military to serve it.

    The establishment elite in the West (of all parties) refuse to accept what the West faces – even though this force was well understood by Prime Minister Gladstone and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (and most other people before the 1960s).

    Indeed if anyone tries to warn of the threat it is they (the people who warn) who are punished by order of the establishment elite in the West.

    From Italy (where the former Interior Minister is to be put on trial, for the “crime” of trying to defend his country against “invaders”, as he believes them to be, – in France it is actually a “crime” to even use the words “invasion” or “invaders” in this context), to the Republic of Ireland (with its meaningless General Election – where all the parties who the media give a hearing to, want an open door to destroy Ireland), from Sweden to San Francisco (or from Sweden to Minneapolis), the establishment elite of the West have a death wish – it may be that they are signing the Death Warrant of the West, although NOT just by this policy (it is by a combination of policies – such as their fanatical zeal in destroying the traditional family and in reducing fertility rates to well below replacement levels).

    It must be stressed that this is nothing to do with biology (with skin colour or other such stuff) – it is everything to do with the ideas that people believe in.

    A belief system of some 14 centuries (a great and profound belief system – maintained by some of the greatest political and military operators) can not be countered with Association Football, or pop “music”, or pornography – fun as all these things may be. A great belief system of some 14 centuries can only be countered by a belief system as serious as itself.

    But in this the “religious” leaders of the West (such as Pope Francis and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury – a man who just SLANDERED generations of Anglicans by declaring that his church had been “institutionally racist” since World War II) have utterly failed.

    No it is worse than “utterly failed” – they have not even tried to counter a serious doctrine (a serious belief system) with a serious doctrine. Indeed they condemn those who do try – whether religious or secular.

    The forces of Islam are led by serious and dedicated people – sadly the same is, mostly, not true of the leaders of the West.

    The mass violence of such things as the Afghan War (more than 18 years old now) and the Iraq war achieve nothing, other than piles of dead human bodies, if the conflict of IDEAS is not addressed. And it is NOT addressed.

    Instead of accepting that this belief system of 14 centuries is a serious one – and that the claims and life of Muhammad have to be dealt with in a serious way, we get endless nonsense from the leaders of the West. Nonsense mixed (in some cases) with violence – indeed violence on a very large scale. For the violence is most certainly not all one way.

    I am not a pacifist, indeed I am not even a kindly person, but massive violence without clear purpose bothers me. Piling up dead human bodies (many of them Muslim women and children – such is war, even when people do their best to avoid killing women and children, many are killed) achieves nothing if one then says there is nothing mistaken about the opposing belief system – that it, and its founder, were-and-are wonderful, but that a few naughty people have “misinterpreted” them.

    It was not just President Obama who made endless dishonest (indeed absurd) speeches – whilst firing of drones, left-right-and-centre. The idea that such large amounts of ordinance could be fired and only kill the guilty (never the innocent) is, of course, absurd. And to make speeches praising an historical figure and what he taught, whilst (at the same time) killing those who faithfully follow both the personal example and the teachings of that historical figure, is indeed odd.

    This shows no RESPECT – it is dishonest and it is cowardly.

    And when the leaders of a civilisation, both “religious” and secular leaders, also show such hatred for their own, Western, civilisation (as well as expressing such dishonest sentiments about other, historically opposed, civilisations), perhaps there is no real hope.

    We shall have to see – as things will either change profoundly in the next few years, or it will be too late for the West to be saved. A peaceful change of IDEAS is what is needed – not the mass violence of wars without clear objectives.

    Assimilation depends on there being something (a culture – a belief system) worth assimilating into. And, I repeat, presenting Association Football, Pop Music, and Pornography (however much fun all these things may be) as a serious culture just will-not-work.

    People at some point in their lives require serious ideas (beliefs) and what is being presented by the leaders (“religious” and secular leaders) in the West is mostly NOT serious.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Let me add one more reply to Deep Lurker:

    Turkey was never a stable democracy. It was a place where, when democracy fell over, the military would launch a coup, set democracy back on its feet, and set it off to totter on for a while before it fell over again.

    In other words, it was a system with checks & balances.

    Perhaps not the ideal system of checks & balances for your country, or my country; but, just possibly, the best for Turkey (for now):

    This was far from being an ideal situation, or even a good one, but it was still better than the alternative.
    Now we’re seeing the alternative it was better than.