Between mosques and bazaars, modern shopping centers and large university complexes, we found Ankara depicting the two sides of Turkey all in one city. We saw men selling simits (Turkish bagels) on the street and women with headscarves haggling for fruits and vegetables on the market, while the main shopping street is full with young people strolling along with friends and talking on their cell phones.
The people we met, such as Nilufer and her family, represented the modern and frustrated part of Turkey. Her sister and brother in law are both journalists, who need to choose between keeping their jobs to sustain their livelihood or writing about all that is going wrong in their country and facing persecution and possibly prison. That evening we engaged in extended discussions about life in Turkey and all the frustration and anger that is being caused by the social oppression.
But we know there are just as many Turks, who are in favor of the current course the government is taking. They are the ones who pilgrimage to the thousands of mosques and see no problem in accepting women as inferior to men. This society struggling to find it's path between modernity and tradition, would need a political regime that could unite both sides. Instead Erdogan has created a country that is torn apart, where you cannot trust your neighbors and where hate and fear has entered where once there was compassion and respect.
A couple of days out of Ankara, close to the village of Sivrihisar, we met an enthusiastic Erdogan follower. The temperatures were still falling below 0ºC during the night and this evening we were even expecting some rain. Sera and I had spotted a restaurant along the highway with a terrace which could possibly serve as a good camping spot. We ordered pide (Turkish pizza) and salad and contemplated cycling further a bit this day or staying here. It was only 4pm, so we would have time to cycle a bit further if we wanted. But as the pide arrived, it also started to rain, a clear sign to spend the night here. A man appeared in the restaurant who spoke good English and took an interest in us. He was a former marine, but had retired and now lived in Sivrihisar with his family. He asked if we had visited his village, we hadn't, and if we would like to see it with him, we did. So we got in his car and visited an old mosque and beautiful traditional houses. In the end we went to his house, where his sister and mother made food and his father spoke to us in German! Overall we had a nice evening and when we returned to the restaurant he even persuaded the owners to let us sleep inside.
He had greeted us with the typical Turkish hospitality. He was kind and polite and even brought us to his house. But he was also a true Erdogan follower, who sees the disappearance of a secular state as positive and is in accordance with the slow undermining of democracy. He spoke very badly about Turks that oppose the current government and warned us about terrorism. When he finally left us, he refused to shake my hand. How will the citizens of this country ever find a way to peacefully and respectfully live side by side again?
Sera and I had visited Turkey with our backpacks in 2014. We had spent three weeks traveling with bus, train, ferry and hitchhiking. We had met many very friendly people and made two climbing friends with whom we met up again this time in Izmir and spent almost an entire month together. Even though Erdogan was already in power then, locals hardly spoke about him. This time Turkey had changed. Almost every person asked us about their leader, he was omnipresent on this journey. The discussions and opinions about this man are tearing the country apart and dividing the population.
A couple of days later we arrived in Usak, a mid-size town with a university. In a cafe we met a young student who was earning money for his studies as a waiter. It must have been a while since he saw the last foreigner, 'cause he took great interest in us. When he found out we were Europeans, he said a sentence that deeply touched me: “Please, make the European Union save us from our situation!” I felt helpless.
His shift was just about to end so we asked if he would like to eat dinner together with us. His face lit up and in response he invited us to spend the night at his flat and eat together there. He lived in a shared flat with two other students and we spent the whole night debating and discussing. When we finally went to bed, my thoughts were racing and it was tough to fall asleep. Not long ago I too was finishing my studies. But I finished university with the feeling of the world lying at my feet. These students felt the opposite. When we left the next morning, I hoped that at least we had inspired them.
On our journey we are raising money for the Thin Green Line Foundation, a foundation that supports rangers and their families. Help us support this fantastic foundation by making a small donation, even 5 Euro can be enough to make a difference! Click here