Where Russia and Turkey Met


Rising from the high steppe that leads into the Caucasus is the jumble of small alleys and narrow boulevards that make up the provincial city of Kars. Most foreigners who come to Kars are drawn by one of two reasons: either they are inspired to see the city because of Orhan Pamuk’s fabulous novel Snow, or they are using the city as a base camp to see the ruins of the old Armenian city of Ani. Either way, visitors on the whole are rare.

Kars Panorama

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The Ancient City of Ani


Forty kilometers east of the Turkish city of Kars, high on the windswept steppe, is piece of land jutting into Armenia like a dagger. Surrounded on three sides by deep, nearly impassable chasms and the barbed wire fence denoting the still closed border between Turkey and Armenia, lies the ruins on the ancient city of Ani – the one time capital of the greater Armenian Kingdom of the Middle Ages.

Ancient Ani
For the sake of scale, remember that I am 17 feet tall.

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Peynir Gemisi


Although I’m not really that big a fan of the sea – read sea sickness – I do love sea shanty sounding music, however. For precisely that reason I used to find myself listening to The Decemberists or Modest Mouse over and over – those bands just somehow managed to give a sense of adventure. Now, I can add Yolda, who you might remember from their song ‘Sonbahar,’  due to the awesomeness of the song ‘Peynir Gemisi,’ which translates into ‘Cheese Ship.’

Anyway, the entire song is high energy and seemingly silly. I.E. great music for all occasions. The lyrics mean, roughly:

They said: how many people were you, how many people stayed until today?
I told him: We were plenty, three people stayed until the end.
They said:  If you were a young man how many people did you beat so far?
I told him: Three people, we took a lot of beatings until we died
They said: In that case you could not be a man until today
I agreed, until today I confusedly wandered and stopped
But without a storm the waves cannot grow
My cheese boat cannot walk with empty words
The Turkish lyrics are as follows:

Dediler ki, kaç kişiydin, kaç kişi kaldın bugüne kadar?
Dedim ona, çok kişiydik, üç kişi kaldık sonuna kadar.
Dediler ki, delikanlıysan kaç kişi dövdün bugüne kadar?
Dedim ona, üç kişiydi, çok sopa yedik ölene kadar.
Dediler ki, madem öyle adam olamadın bugüne kadar,
Dedim öyle, kafam karışık gezdim durdum bugüne kadar.
Ama fırtına olmadan dalgalar büyümez ki,
Peynir gemim benim boş laflarla yürümez ki.

Come Sit On The Grass


My morning class ended early today. The students were supposed to give presentations, but half the class didn’t show up because they took the National Collegiate Exam yesterday. The students who did come, though, were the creme de la creme. So, to reward them – and also because I had apparently promised them – I found myself ushering them all as quietly as possible past the directors office, out of the building, and onto the lawn outside.

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Possible Peace With the PKK


[quote style=”1″]”Let guns be silenced and politics dominate. The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders … It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” – Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the PKK[/quote]

Thursday was Nevruz, the traditional Kurdish New Years. In the past few decades the holiday has taken on extra meaning, as Kurdish rebel groups would use the celebration as a time to make announcements or enumerate their goals. This past Nevruz announcements were again made; however, this time Members of Parliament read out the message to tens of thousands in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It was a hopeful message of a possible peace with the PKK.

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Olmasa Da Olur


Ever since I told one of my students that I really enjoyed Ah Be Kardeşim by Yalın, she insists on playing his new single – Olmasa Da Olur – during every break time; not that I really mind. The song is catchy enough and works as good background music, along it doesn’t have the same oomph that Ah Be Kardeşim had. One of the best things about the song is definitely the music video – the views of Istanbul it gives, along with the Rumeli Hisar, the old fortress along the Bosphorous, is wonderful. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. As always, here is a working translation: Continue reading Olmasa Da Olur

GKEN-E’s Positive Beats


It was almost exactly a year ago to the day that GKEN-E found me. It was a rough time – approaching the end of my senior year of college without any concrete plans – and I was thoroughly stressed; I spent a good amount of my free time listening to trip-hop, especially Bonobo. As I mentioned a long time ago, no other type of music styling can ever make me feel as free as the dreamy beats and sounds of trip-hop can.

So, I was both pleasantly surprised and shocked when, after posting a tweet about Bonobo, a random new musician began following me on both Twitter and Instagram. Usually I don’t pay much attention to amateur musicians, as they generally are only interested in getting ‘follow-backs’ and building their own base. GKEN-E seemed different; first of all, he was offering giving away all his music for free at his Bandcamp website. As of now, his music is still available for anywhere between free and five dollars – definitely a great value!

Often times, trip-hop can seem almost melancholically beautiful. Being stitched together from different samples, or created electronic sounds, along a single rhythm, trip-hop seems almost to embrace and circle around the notion of quietness – even though it is generally composed of multiple layers on top of each other. I suppose the general down-tempo nature of trip-hop could explain this reaction to the music.

GKEN-E’s version of the genre is different. While working within the loop and beat framework of trip-hop, GKEN-E added something that was generally absent – the notion of ‘positive beats.’ All throughout his works are the ideas of positivity and energetic beats, lending an uptempo sound to a genre that was generally more about chillness; although, to say that GKEN-E isn’t chill would be a disservice. His music, like all trip-hop, is still fantastic to put on and daydream to.

GKEN-E’s music does not fail to engage the listener. Like all great composers within this genre, he makes his music accessible yet interesting – the sounds continue to change, as he further orchestrates and has the sound build upon upon itself. The music never becomes too heavy or bogged down, however, and allows your mind to wander freely – as if floating peacefully through clouds of positive beats.

A Turk’s View of Nevruz


The ancient holiday of Nevruz/Nowruz (نوروز  in Farsi) is coming up either this weekend or next, depending upon who you ask. Being very curious about holidays and the like – as well as being super excited to jump over some bonfires –  I asked a Turk I knew about the celebration of Nevruz in Malatya. I ended up with this Turk’s view of Nevruz:

I don’t personally believe this story, but some Turkish people do. A long time ago, I don’t know when, the Turkish people were actually stuck in a valley surrounded on all four sides by tall mountains. The Turks couldn’t pass over the mountains for a long time. They were stuck there, in this mountain valley. 

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The Ruins of Harran


Last weekend I ventured down to Şanlıurfa again, although this time Danielle and Fabio were in tow. Although I had managed to see the majority of the sites within Urfa itself when I had gone there by myself, the city seemed to beckon to me and I was excited to see it again in large part thanks to the posts by Kim on her fantastic blog Turkey With Stuff In. The first day we arrived in Urfa, we spent the majority of the day seeing the touristy religious sites that the city is known for – and that I’ve blogged about here. Seeing the sites again was magical, but the main impetus for my return was the ruins of Harran.

Ruins of Harran
Welcome to Harran

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You can’t escape Tarkan in Turkey, even if you don’t consciously hear his music it is there, ubiquitous. When I first came to Turkey almost two years ago, I wanted to have nothing to do with him due to my (now quickly fading) vendetta against pop music. There is something amazing about Tarkan that just sucks you in, though – maybe it is his close to twenty years of success here, maybe it’s the way he just constantly changes his style and sound, or maybe it is just that his music is entertaining. Whatever the case, Tarkan is almost universally loved in Turkey, despite his dislike of interviews, pervasive rumors that he is gay, and the fact that he lives in New York City.

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A Blank Canvas


I am not the most creative person when it comes to creating lesson plans; when I do try to flex my creative muscles, often times the results are sub-par (read, Ke$ha). Last week, partially inspired by a discussion with Danielle, I decided to try something different with my conversation classes. So, without giving them any background, I presented them with this painting, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper:

Teaching Prompts

As far as I can tell, the concept of a diner is completely unheard of in Turkey, which prompted lively discussion from my classes.

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I never said this was worthwhile

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