I walked to where the otogar used to be hoping to confirm transport to Tunceli the following morning, but, as is the case in so many large urban centres nowadays, it had been moved to a location about 4 or 5 kilometres to the east where the ring road joins the main west to east highway. I decided to walk to the new otogar, but catch a bus or a minibus back to the city centre. A sudden downpour lasting about half an hour delayed my departure.
The Turkish habit of locating otogars ever further from city centres is a result of rising land prices in urban areas and the fact that fewer people use buses because privately owned motor vehicles are now so common. However, by locating otogars so far away, most of the people who rely on buses are penalised because they have to travel by public transport to the otogar, thereby adding time and cost to the journey. Some bus companies run free servis buses to the otogar, but usually only from a starting point in the city centre. Once at Erzincan’s otogar another problem became apparent. Buses and minibuses travel to and from the otogar infrequently, especially from about 6.00pm onwards. Also, although the otogar had opened in 2012, massive road works designed to improve traffic flow at the point where the ring road and the main west to east highway meet were in full swing, making access to the otogar for people on foot very difficult unless a long detour is made.
I have to confess: I found the walk quite interesting, despite the problems of accessing the otogar when I finally got there. On both sides of the wide valley in which Erzincan stands the mountains were smudged with snow, and it occurred to me that snow might have fallen on the summits during the downpour that had delayed my departure from the city centre. Not far from where the old otogar used to be, a very large but ugly concrete mosque stands beside the road, and, with some puddles and street furniture in the foreground, it looked quite bizarre and worthy of a photograph. A little later I passed the Hilton Garden Inn, a sleek rectangular box with an exterior dominated by large sheets of glass and what looked like metal panelling. While the hotel suggested subdued sophistication of a corporate kind, the plot of land immediately to the east was littered with mounds of gravel, bags of rubbish, large plastic containers, items left by building contractors, temporary storage facilities made with breeze blocks and wooden carts with wheels made from axles and tyres recycled from old motor vehicles. Pasture with lots of yellow flowers survives in places beside the road, but more often there are car salerooms, factories, warehouses and depots for large private companies or state institutions such as the PTT. Not far from the otogar on the opposite side of the main west to east highway is a very large modern mosque with many domes primarily intended to meet the needs of people – men, in reality – who work locally. Occupying the ground floor below the mosque is a very large and female-friendly lokanta. Rather than designed to meet the needs of passengers leaving or arriving at the otogar, its car park suggests that people who live in Erzincan drive there for a treat.
At the otogar I established that buses ran regularly to Tunceli, my next destination, the following morning, then I waited at the bus stop hoping a bus would pass on its way to the city centre. Before a bus arrived a man offered me a lift and dropped me at the old otogar.
It was now about 6.00pm, the sun was shining and it seemed the perfect time to walk around the pazar. This I did and was soon reminded that it is not only quite extensive but lacks a covered section of any significant size. When in the part of the pazar where many shops sell dried fruit, nuts and other foods that last a long time such as lokum, pestil, kome and honey, I met a man who had given me a bag of mixed nuts a few years earlier. As we chatted, he introduced me to some family members helping out on a Saturday afternoon. The vast country that is Turkey contracted to a small and intimate place where you might bump into people you know almost anywhere. I did not leave until we had had a drink together and was given another bag of mixed nuts.
Particularly to the south and the west of the pazar, some rundown residential streets exist with a few business premises among the houses. The houses shelter some very poor families and the businesses function on small profit margins. Men worked on old motor vehicles hoping to coax a few more weeks or months use out of them, and boys played boisterous games of football and tag among puddles left by the recent downpour.
I crossed the city’s main west to east street where most of the shops, lokantas, hotels, offices and important public buildings are found to walk around the blocks just to the north, but, because Erzincan is a youthful city largely dating only from after the earthquake of 1939, and because the centre of the city has very few structures of architectural note, there was not much to see that lifted the spirit or provided visual delight. I lingered a while in a small park where, near an artificial pool, the busts of famous people associated with Erzincan have been placed on pedestals for passersby to admire. All the famous people were male and some were famous for their brutality and accomplishments in war.
Although fed a few hours earlier at the railway station, I went to a lokanta not far from the old otogar. I ordered kofte in a tomato sauce, pilaf, salad and thick yoghurt flavoured with garlic and mint, and drank water. The lokanta was very much old school in that it was shabby and had not been redecorated for many years. Female customers must be extremely rare. Although beer could be bought for 8TL a large bottle, it was kept hidden from view in a fridge. When the head waiter rinsed a glass with water before pouring the water onto the carpet thinking this would help to keep the carpet clean, I was transported back in time at least twenty years (a generation ago, carpets in hotels, lokantas, buses and important public buildings were often soaked with water, brushed vigorously and allowed to slowly dry while people walked over them because the owners of the carpets thought such regular washing and brushing were inexpensive ways of keeping them clean). Although the food was good, I should have found somewhere better where men and women ate together.
By now it was almost dark so I confined my walk to digest the food to the main street. Because Erzincan is the most socially conservative settlement so far visited, I was not surprised that, once it was dark, girls and women almost completely disappeared from the streets. A few young women, most of whom wore headscarves, worked in shops and supermarkets before they closed for the night, and a few women without headscarves came with male relatives to do their shopping, but by about 8.30pm the centre of Erzincan was almost completely a male preserve.
I called at a supermarket to buy a litre of chilled fruit juice to take back to my room, but the supermarket did not chill its juice! However, I bought a litre to make sure I was consuming sufficient quantities of non-alcoholic liquid.
I reflected on what I had seen in Erzincan since arriving about midday. The city seemed to be the one with the highest proportion of pious Sunni Muslims as well as the large settlement that was the most economically challenged. Some of the newest suburbs to the west of the city centre are quite prosperous, but they do not look as prosperous as those in Diyarbakir or Elazig. Erzincan’s shabby appearance is exaggerated because of the amount of redevelopment currently taking place. In the city centre lots of new buildings are going up and many roads are being up-graded. Perhaps improved economic circumstances lie just around the corner. There are certainly a large number of hotels in Erzincan and the hotels include two with four stars along the main street west of where I was staying. If things pick up, business people have lots of choice about where to stay, a Hilton included. Even the simple hotel I had stayed in on the previous occasion has had a makeover and up-grade that includes the construction of a lokanta. I wondered if the hotel is still owned by the socialist whom I met when last in Erzincan. The socialist appeared to have revolutionary inclinations.
It was time to return to the hotel where I spent about an hour writing up notes about the day’s experiences.
P.S. As I wrote the above (26th June 2015), the news bulletins devoted most of their attention to the beheading of a man in south-east France, the murder of over thirty tourists at Sousse in Tunisia, and a suicide bomber who murdered almost thirty Shia Muslims during midday prayers in Kuwait. It soon emerged that the individuals responsible for these dreadful crimes are Sunni Muslims who are members of, or in sympathy with, the Islamic State. In Kenya on the same day, Al-Shabaab murdered “dozens of African Union troops at a base in Somalia”. Al-Shabaab is not affiliated to the Islamic State, but it is a brutally oppressive and violent Sunni Muslim group already responsible for many crimes against humanity that have involved far greater casualties than those at the African Union army camp. Unknown are the number of deaths that were the responsibility of Sunni Muslims on 26th June in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other overwhelmingly Muslim nation states (also unknown are the number of deaths that were the responsibility of mainstream Shia Muslims in overwhelmingly Muslim nation states, but the figure will be much smaller than the figure for deaths attributable to Sunni Muslims), but I think we can assume that Sunni Muslims murdered at least three to four hundred people in one day alone.
26th June 2015 was just over a week into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during which, if sharia is complied with properly, all war and conflict should cease so Muslims can engage peacefully with the fast and their routine religious obligations. But what had the Islamic State demanded of its militants and sympathisers? That death and destruction be directed against Shia Muslims and all those associated in any way with nation states that are part of the US-led alliance trying to defeat the tyrannical regime. Because Sunni Muslims are among those seeking to defeat the Islamic State in the US-led alliance, the Islamic State was also killing Sunni Muslims.
Evidence from security agencies around the globe suggests that French nationals make up the largest group of Europeans who have gone to fight for or support the Islamic State (the figure may be as high as 1,200), Tunisians make up the largest group of North Africans (the figure would appear to exceed 2,000), and significant numbers of people have also left from Germany, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Most such supporters of the Islamic State are young males, a small number of whom are converts to Islam. Refugees fleeing from the Islamic State confirm that the regime operates in such a way as to penalise and persecute girls, women, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims, non-Muslims such as Christians and Yazidis, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people devoid of a faith commitment. Sunni Muslims who are not sufficiently “orthodox” in how they give expression to their commitment to Islam are also subject to victimisation. In other words, the Islamic State is organised in such a way as to meet the needs and aspirations of a relatively small number of ultra-orthodox Sunni Muslim males. The number of Sunni Muslim males in sympathy with the Islamic State may be quite small when compared with the worldwide Sunni population, but such Sunni Muslims have a detrimental effect out of all proportion to their number because of the ideology they profess, the arms they possess and the tendency among Muslims of many persuasions to believe that the Islamic State is not as serious a threat to Muslim well-being as nation states such as the USA, Russia, the UK or France.