Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

19 Nov 2012

Edge of the saddle hostility in Turkey

Posted by Will

(NB. Apologies – For my safety no photographs were taken)

My last day in Turkey was eventful to say the least. I thought I would be sad to leave a country so rich in human warmth, natural wonders and historical treasures, but instead I found myself cycling fast for the safety of the border. Only 5km from Syria, this area feels lawless despite the enormous military presence: manned machine-gun nests line the road, military helicopters dance overhead and tanks roll one after another down the road. Here’s how your pedal-happy two-wheeled round-the-world correspondent fared in an area where foreigners are definitely not welcome.

My first town of the day lay 20km from where I’d set my tent. I had to stop there because I had run out of food and water. As I entered the scattering of run-down buildings I noticed all the shops were shut and no one walked the streets. A ghost-town if ever I’d seen one, I started to worry I wouldn’t be able to buy even the basics and would have to cycle on another half-day without anything to eat or drink. As I rounded a corner I saw a group of 30 kids, no more than 13 years old, standing on the road around a large plume of black smoke . I had to slow down to get round them and my squeaky brakes destroyed any hope of getting by unnoticed. Immediately they started snatching stuff which luckily I could snatch back just as quickly. They surrounded me and there were enough of them to make the situation feel threatening. Eleven year olds smoked cigarettes in the circle around me while the older ones shouted from 2 feet away. Still not an adult in sight. I shouted short and sharp in the hopes I’d buy myself a couple of seconds to race away. Unphased, the leader, a boy slightly older than the rest responded by kicking what was causing the smoke, two burning tyres, directly into the side of my bike. The crowd scattered somewhat and I took flight, not looking back as a hailstorm of stones flew past my ears.

I found a petrol station where I bought 8 chocolate bars to see me through the kilometers. The petrol station attendant, the only grown-up I saw in that abysmal place, told me that all shops in the region were closed in protest against the imprisonment of a Kurdish political figurehead. He said the situation was ‘big problem’ and I should avoid the centre of all towns if possible.

And so I came to the next town, Cizre, where I avoided the centre and on the ring-road saw the Syrian border fence stand tall and spiky. Again, I spotted a big group of kids building a road-block out of burning tyres and rocks on the other side of the dual carriageway and I thanked the cycle gods I wasn’t on that side of the road. Now 30km from the Turkish border I only had one more town to go through. I knew there would be no ring-road this time. I would have to go straight through the middle.

As I approached Silopi a checkpoint let me through but the soldier shook his head and shrugged. I could see helicopters flying above the town in the distance and there were a lot of armoured police trucks on the side of the road. If a policeman or soldier had told me to stop then I would have done. It was clear this area spelt danger. But no one did stop me so my legs kept whirring, and they didn’t stop until I was well clear of human life, because children threw stones, one threw a bottle, everyone shouted, a fully-grown man chased me along the road holding a beer crate over his head and several shops were partially on fire. A few police driving around also bore the madness of the people as their vehicles were pummeled with objects.

I remember particularly a small child on his own who can’t have been more than 7 years old. He chased me as fast as his little legs could carry him with a look of terrifying determination – stones in both hands. All the fear fell out of me and sadness flooded in. In those few moments he wanted to kill me and he couldn’t have been trying harder to do so.

This morning I read on BBC news that five Turkish soldiers were killed there that day. Don’t worry though – I’ve now crossed the border. Into Iraq.

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5 Comments already on “Edge of the saddle hostility in Turkey”
  1. 8:25 pmpermalink
    19 Nov 2012

    Mark E. Martin

    My thoughts?

    “Are you insane?” comes to mind immediately.

    Followed quickly by, “What an interesting experience to be having!”

    Welcome to war, unmediated, unvarnished, raw and in your face.

    May your way to safe!

    Mark

  2. 10:38 pmpermalink
    19 Nov 2012

    Jackie

    It is such an surreal thing to read your posts from within the ridiculous privilege and safety of my library in California. A stark contrast. I really admire your courage and determination. Thanks for reporting back to us. Your final story of that boy is just tragic.
    Please, please continue to be careful and stay as safe as possible.

  3. 10:10 ampermalink
    20 Nov 2012

    Julie Rock

    Goodness me! How frightening! As one of the mums of the mission-oz boys (Luke) you met in Tibilis, I am so pleased they didnt take that route! Of course for them it would probably be ‘safety in numbers’. Thankfully you werent harmed. How sad at that little boy so full of hate at such a young age. Take care on your journey through Iraq, I look forward to hearing about it. Julie Rock

  4. 10:14 ampermalink
    20 Nov 2012

    Andrew J

    amazing – these are moments that will inform and stay with you forever. go carefully
    a

  5. 1:30 pmpermalink
    21 Nov 2012

    Fran

    Oh Will, take care and stock up on provisions when you have a chance and keep pedalling! Thinking of you.
    Love Fran xx