The very courteous officer controlling my passport at the Dulles Airport a couple of days ago inquired casually about my last time being in the U.S. Taken aback, I batted my eyelids few times in quick succession. “Ten years perhaps?” I said as if I was musing aloud to myself. With a “get outta here” gesture, he stamped my passport, rolled his eyes and yelled “next!” not finding me worthy of looked at furthermore. I sheepishly walked on to retrieve my luggage with my head down, somewhat feeling embarrassed.
Could it be really possible that having served at the Turkish Embassy here in DC from the end of summer 2008 till the beginning of spring 2010, that I had never returned? Well, there you have it. How was that most cherished Larkin poem: “The view is fine from fifty experienced climbers say; so I turn to face the way that led me to this day” or something like that. Before exclaiming though in sheer horror: “The view does not exist!” But my daughter was born here. But I had myself volunteered to become General Consul in Erbil. But that all had happened just yesterday. “Where has it gone, the lifetime?” Indeed, my dear Philip, indeed...
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.” I thought he was exagerating. I still think he does. Yet, in just one business and one rather leisure oriented day that I spent in town, on which these very sharp observations of mine are solidly (!) based, I am led to believe the predominant activity is one reminiscent of a skirmish for relevance.
On the one hand, the distinguished components of so-called “blob” are fully conscious their hard labor in Trump’s world is as essential as the buzz of a fly resting on the rear end of a Texas Longhorn bull. On the other, looking from (so-to-speak) inside-out, our own Turkish Embassy’s labor too, is relegated to the back stage when it comes to directing the Turkey-US bilateral relations since a long while. These two presidents, Mr.Erdoğan and Mr.Trump look alike when it comes to their respective disdain of the establishment. For the ones working for them, they have to keep their head down and soldier on with their teeth firmly clenched. For the ones critical of them, to have their voices heard, and they can shout and gesticulate all they want, is a sisyphean task.
There also was one bright spot though. The second panel of the 10th Annual Turkey Conference organized jointly by the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and to which I was invited to participate, was enigmatically titled “Art in the time of authoritarianism”. Two thumbs way up for my good friend and our generous host Ms.Gönül Tol, the director of MEI, for coming up with that idea, such a mind opening panel that was. Esteemed panelists were Mr.Kenan Behzat Sharpe, Professor of Sociology Ms.Ayşe Öncü and, wait, the rap singer Sarp Palaur a.k.a. Şanışer of “Susamam” fame, all moderated by Ms.Lisel Hintz from SAIS. All four of them took us through a tour of, as Prof.Öncü labeled it, the “subaltern scene” of alive and kicking Turkish opposition culture.
Mr.Palaur told the story of “Susamam” and talked of about the possibilities and the limits of Turkish rap music. Mr.Sharpe, masterly visited all differents aspects of Turkish protest music such as folk, “arabesk” and the early days of rap beginning with Cartel. Prof.Öncü dwelled into other currently burgeoning forms like the private theatres and brought scientific framework to the discussion. Ms.Hintz dispensed of her vast of knowledge of Turkey’s pop culture fully. At the end of it all, my eyes were almost moist of excitement. Here we were after all, at the National Press Club, making ourselves relevant. I looked around to see whether the Embassy had opted to join in but alas, if I am not mistaken, they had not.
Elsewhere, on the more personal end, I was surprised to find out that the Whole Foods store in Glover Park was closed, and that, since two years. I also thought that either I got much poorer in between or that the prices were really up, or both at the same time. Still, I found and bought an original Redskins hat at TJMaxx on M Street on the cheap. My sincere efforts to cheer up the saleslady at the shoestore fell on deaf ears as she barked twice “what size?!” at me each time I tried to be polite. All in all, although my two days experience proved to be a tremendous opportunity for me to exchange ideas with very intelligent and knowleadgeable people, I also felt quite lucky that I was out on time, from DC and from the government service. And, the fisherman’s stew at La Chaumiere was just excellent.