Iraqi Border on Election Night
There is only one reason to come to Silopi, and that is to go to Iraq. Everybody here knows what I am doing. As soon as I stepped foot off of the bus, every taxi driver, shoeshine boy, and sidewalk hustler joined in on the ensemble: “Zakho? Zakho? Zakho?”
There is no hiding that we are going to Iraq. It will be fun dealing with the taxi drivers tomorrow.
“We are not permitted to work tomorrow because of the elections,” Gobekli Tepe’s directing archaeologist told me as we rode in his car through Sanliurfa, “because tensions here could run a little high.”
I am in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey. This region is made up of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Turkish people, and has been a crossroads of people and ideologies for thousands of years. In point, this area is very politically sensitive: tensions could run a little high.
I left Sanliurfa this morning after completing my interviews for the story about the Gobekli Tepe archaeology site yesterday with Chaya. We intended to begin making our way towards Iraq. Our plan was to go to a town called Mardin, which is around halfway between Sanliurfa and the Iraqi border, do a little internet research on our route and then proceed from there. But, like most plans, it did not end up that way. As I write this we find ourselves in the town of Silopi, the last stop in Turkey before Iraq.
The bus fare that the companies were trying to charge us to Mardin was 20 Lira ($12) a person for the three hour ride. This was far too much money, as it only cost a fraction above this amount to get all the way from Ankara to Sanliurfa. I wheeled and dealed with the bus companies for a lower price. I did not want to pay over 10 Lira. I talked one company down to 15 a person, but this was still a little far from a good price. As Chaya and I stood in the bus yard pondering our course of action we heard the words “Mardin, Silopi, Mardin, Silopi,” bellowing out from a bus conductor. Silopi is the closest town in Turkey to Iraq, this is where we were going anyway. We may as well do it all in one shot. I rushed inside of this bus company’s office and inquired the price all the way to Silopi.
50 Lira for two people.
I paid 40.
We got our tickets and hopped on the bus towards the border, for the same price that it costs to go half way.
Border towns often have a reputation for being sketchy places, places that you do not want to stay in, places that make you feel icky just looking at. Silopi lives up to this reputation in full.
But tonight the town is virtually locked down because of the elections. All of the hotels wanted insanly high prices for a room: more than $30. I talked the shabbiest looking hotel of the bunch down to 30 Lira.
The receptionist tried to keep our passports for the night. He tried to tell me something about how there will be problems with the police if he does not keep my passport because of the elections. I am pretty sure that I am not on any of the ballots, and I am equally sure that the Turkish municipal elections have very little to do with me. I compromised by getting a photocopy of it.
The 9 year old running the photo copy stale knew exactly what I was doing. It is written that Turkish immigration requires a photo copy of traveler’s passports leaving the country towards Iraq. I handed mine and Chaya’s passports over to the boy and he immediately went from copying the information page to the page with the Turkish visa on it. There is only one reason for travelers to come to Silopi.
I returned to the hotel with the photocopies of our passports. This satisfied the receptionist. I then asked for the key to our room, and he told me that he did not have any. He said that they were with the police because of the elections. I looked over his shoulder at the glass case that I assume the hotel room keys are kept: it was empty. I went up to our room to notify Chaya, who was waiting inside this whole time, of the sketchy circumstances that we were in. I also noticed that every other door of the hotel was wide open.
Perhaps the Iraqi border is not the best place to be during Turkish national elections.
I then went out in the early evening to get a little food at a grocery store. I walked in and found all of the employees watching the election results on a television. I walked passed them and began shopping. Within moments a stock boy starts chasing after me yelling something in Turkish.
I looked at him funny. I did not think that I was doing anything odd by shopping in a grocery store.
He asks me what I am looking for. I say bread. He quickly ushers me – he is just about running – to a shelf with crappy looking processed bread. I wanted fresh bread. I made a shape of a loaf of fresh baked bread with my hands. He runs me to the front of the store and quickly grabs a loaf out of a cupboard. I was then ushered out of the supermarket.
Tensions could run a little high.
Around 10 PM I was woken up in my hotel room by a loud chorus of honking car horns and cheering people. I suppose the popular politician in this area won the election. I returned to sleep soundly. There would be no riots on this night.
Going to try to cross into Iraq tomorrow morning. I will publish a travelogue entry as soon as possible.
Iraqi Border on Election Night