Jerusalem.  The Holy City.  Centre of three major world religions,  and surely a place that should transcend political differences, remind us of our shared humanity, and humble all who enter its ancient walls? For while I am not a member of any of the patriarchal Abrahamic faiths, it seems to me that Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a reverence for knowledge, love, and justice and their houses of worship can be experienced as imperfect shrines to these ideals.  Despite the promise of interfaith harmony still faintly echoing through the lanes of the Old City, however, modern West Jerusalem is not built on any spiritual values I can recognise.  The contemporary city is closer to ancient Rome – a gloating festival of Zionist triumphalism, a swaggering celebration of military might, intent on the ruthless dispossession of the indigenous population.  As such, it cannot last. But more of prophecies in a moment. …

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First day in Israel-Palestine, and a stop in Tel Aviv en route to Jerusalem, Jenin and Ramallah.  But what to do in a city you are boycotting?  Protest, of course.  Today I joined Arab and Jewish Israeli activists demonstrating in Yaffa – AKA Jaffa or Yafo, the old Arab town now subsumed by Tel Aviv – in support of the mass hunger strike of over 1600 Palestinian prisoners. The prisoners are demanding an end to the practice of Administrative Detention – indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial – the use of solitary confinement and the denial of family visits, in some cases for years. Today marked the 75th day of hunger for two men, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, who are now close to death.  The strike is reaching crisis point, and could trigger the eruption of the Third Intifada. Not that you would guess that from Tel Aviv’s crowded beaches,…

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I spent my penultimate night in Anatolia at a homestay in the village of Yuvacali (Yu-va-JA-li), following a day tour to the ‘bee hive’ houses of Harran, near the Syrian border, and the ancient sites of Sogmatar and Gőbekli Tepe – the latter, dated from 9000 BC, being the world’s oldest known religious temple.  Both experiences were courtesy of Nomad Tours, an responsible tourism outfit run by British ex-pat Alison Tanik – now married to a village man – and employing her various in-laws and other villagers.  More on Harran and the ancient ruins later; for now I am very glad to be able to give further impressions of Kurdish culture, thanks to my new experience of their tremendous hospitality.  I stayed with married couple Pero and Halil, and their two sons Farouk and Fatih.  Fatih, 19, has taught himself English and speaks it with languid delight. After dinner, he…

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    In our country a look a wave of the hand means the world In our country there are no terraces of paradise no rewards from ‘The North Gate’ Bejan Matur Wikipedia will give you all the background facts: 25 to 30 million Kurds inhabit the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, a region known since antiquity as Mesopotamia; they have never enjoyed self-government but since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire have been the subjects of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Kurds represent at least 20% of the Turkish population, and are the dominant population in the southeast of the country; Kurdish separatists have resisted assimilation into the Turkish state since the nineteen twenties.  From 1925-1965, Anatolia was declared a closed military zone in which Kurds were forbidden to read or write their own language and the very words ‘Kurd’ and ‘Kurdistan’ banished from Turkish dictionaries; from…

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                      Seen from the window of a minibus, heading out of Diyarbakir on a day trip to the Neolithic site of Çayönü.  As was this roundabout monument, which I must admit puts the twelve foot high gopher in Regina’s Wascana Park to shame.  In fact, I think it even beats Belfast’s The Balls on the Falls, and the giant squid on Ullungdo Island … Moving south to Savur tomorrow, and will catch up then on promised posts. :-)  If this one makes no sense to you, you’ll have to go back and read the two previous, in chronological order!  

So why Kurdistan?  As readers of previous posts may have gathered, I am here location scouting for my second novel, Astra. Without giving too much of the plot away, the book is set a century from now, after global warming has rendered much of the planet unfit for human habitation and the survivors of the catastrophe are slowly trying to reinvent civilisation.  To reflect drastic changes to coastlines wrought by the floods of the Dark Time, and to signify the start of a new era, they have changed the names of all Earth’s continents and nations.  When the book begins, the project of rebuilding is well underway, and Astra is a seven year old girl living in a new country called Is-Land, which has been settled by immigrants from all over the world.  Is-Land’s location is purposefully ambiguous; its citizens’ relationship to their new home has echoes of the history…

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Arriving in Diyarbakir – one of the most remote and unexpected travel destinations I have ever set my heart on – was in the end a strangely familiar experience.  I was the only Westerner on the plane, but rather than feeling isolated by my conspicuous presence in the crowd of Kurds, I found myself reconnecting with my past – the person who took a 17 hour bus journey through the Mexico jungle, an indigena woman’s baby partly resting on my lap; or crossed Southern India on a train that trundled along so slowly I could sit on the steps of the carriage and watch the butterflies flit by.  I had lost some of that independence over the last decade, I realised, and it was good to feel it edging back. I also felt reassured by the nature of my travelling companions.  Be-suited gentlemen with sun-creased faces sharing a joke in…

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