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World March Blog
28 October 2009

Balkans day 1 – March day 25

After a week with the base team in Japan, Korea and Russia, now I’m in Istanbul where I’ve come to spend 12 days with the Balkan team to write news articles for Pressenza.  Actually, I say I’m in Istanbul, but as I write I’m on the bus leaving the city after only 30 hours here.

I think you can summarise the misconceptions that people have about Turkey but knowing that this bus has internet connection!  It’s a bit slow (the internet, not the bus), but it works.  Also, a man has just come by with a trolley giving out free coffee and cake.  This is much better service than Aeroflot!!

Istanbul is a modern city that has been built up around an incredibly historic city.  The beautiful Byzantine mosques are Istanbul’s and Turkey’s trademark.  Yesterday we did one hour of tourism before starting the day’s actives so we went to the Mosque of Saint Sophia, which is the model on which all other mosques in Turkey are based and originally started life as a Christian Church built by Constantine although I imagine that that church was built on the site of a temple to some other god or goddess as is typical of Christian churches.  It’s quite stunning inside although someone thought it would be a great idea to fill the centre with scaffolding so that tourists can take a lift to see the mosaics in the ceiling.  It must be great to see the mosaics, but sadly it totally destroys the enormous space that is contained between the 4 walls and the magnificent dome.

The Mosque is now a museum and inside there is a pillar that has a strange hole in it which is wet inside.  This hole has been created by millions of people coming and putting their thumb there and making a circular motion with their hand.  The wetness probably comes from the sweat of millions of tourists!  Ewww!  This thumb action has eroded away the rock over the centuries.  The theory is that while making this action with your hand, you ask for something.  Obviously as we were there we put Giorgio in the queue and with his thumb in the hole he asked for a World without Wars and without violence and we took the photos to prove it.

Anyway, enough of that.  We’re not here for tourism, we’re here for Marching.  I met up yesterday with the Balkan Team members, most of whom are Italians at the moment.  We’re going to be picking up Greeks and others on the way, but here were mostly Italians.  Those who have done the Middle East route are mostly Spaniards, so yesterday we had a very nice gathering of those who have just finished the Middle East March with those about to start the Balkan March.  We took the banners out of their containers and went walking around one of the neighbourhoods of Istanbul handing out flyers for the cultural event later in the day and looking for good places to take photos that also show that the World March is in Turkey.

During this walk we met some members of the Press and Giorgio Schultze, European Spokesperson for the March spoke to the press, with translation to Turkish provided by the organising committee.  Also during this March we were accompanied by security services who took notes about what we did and where we went.  At least they didn’t make us hide our banners, flags and clothes, like the Russians did.

As we went around the city in search of photo opportunities I had the opportunity to talk to the Esra, our lovely organiser here in Istanbul.  I wanted to know about the conflicts in Turkey and especially the issue between the Turks and the Kurds.  Now I’m not even going to try to describe the conflict, because it’s ancient and anything I try to write will almost certainly be inaccurate, but I put here something that Esra said to me.

“When I was young, the Kurds were complaining that the Turks made them give their children Turkish names instead of Kurdish names, and as a little girl of 5 or 6 years old I never understood it.  How could it be so bad to have a Turkish name?  Later on when I was around 20 we heard that in Bulgaria they passed a law that the Ethnic Turks had to give Bulgarian names to their children and I was outraged.  It was in this moment that I realised what Turks were doing to Kurds.”

This discrimination against minorities is a common thread of the violence in the whole region.  I hope that with the World March through the Balkans we will meet people throughout the region who have had this kind of comprehension as Esra had and with these people we can March together beyond the 2nd of January.

With a big hug,

Tony

P.S. An interesting point of International Law.  If you are in Turkey and you wish to take a bus to Switzerland and collect people in different points in different countries, you can’t!  It’s illegal!  So we have to take a bus to the border with Greece, cross the border and get the bus from Greece that will take us all the way to Switzerland…  How odd is that?

2 comments to Balkans day 1 – March day 25

  • claudie

    Hi Tony
    so great to read you again ! We can travel with you and we won’t receive a so funny call of our bank !!! A big hug to the italians friends and others of this Balkanic Team !!!
    Claudie

  • Dear Tony,

    the people on the Balkans are very special/specific. What Bulgarians do with the Turks, what Greeks do with Macedonians, Albanians with Serbs, Serbs with Bosniaks… all a bad thing :((((

    regards,