photography, travels and motorbike culture

Mesopotamia. Torino-Teheran 3/4

Under my wheels, Western Turkey passes by too quickly. From Istanbul to Cappadocia.
Everywhere the locals wonder where all the Italians, who used to crowd the touristy spots, are. The political situation in unstable and yet I still cannot make up my mind about what is happening. I just have a strong need to go far away from big cities and tourist traps. I travel fast until I get lost in central Anatolia; when accommodation is thin on the ground, food is less expensive, it tastes better, and smiles are bigger. Then I feel truly at home and I slow down.
While crossing a modern bridge, a doubt crosses my mind: could this river be the Euphrates? I stop to check the map. I am in Mesopotamia!
The landscape is arid and very hot. In Siverek I take the small road towards south. The green farmed fields contrast with the yellow of the mountains where brown and black goats are grazing.
I stop at a service station and I am invited to make myself comfortable in a room with air conditioner . Youssuf, Ibrahim and Akam are Kurdish and wear the typical large trousers they ask me, pointing at my beard, if I am Muslim. I answer I am not while stroking the hairs on my chin. I am happy to be there among them. Knowing that I come from Italy on my bike doesn’t seem to worry them but they are curious to know how much my Honda costs. By now I am used to this question, which often precedes any other question. “As much as a wife” I reply seriously. Youssuf translates for the others. They burst into a loud laughter. But they want to know the monetary value. In dollars. I halved it for courtesy. I ask how their relationship with the Turkish government is while I sip my chai. Yossuf gets serious and starts writing on the Samsungs. I read his text simultaneously translated “ we are not anti-Turkish but they do not like us. We are different and we do different things, they forbid us to speak our language”.
After declining an invitation for lunch, I leave. We go outside in the heat for the usual photo, Youssuf shows me his new motorbike branded Kanuni whilst Ibrahim gets on my Africa ripping his large trousers….

kurdish africa-twin south-east turkey
Gas Station in Siverek

I stop to buy some water in Viransehir, still undecided whether to go back to visit the old Sanliurfa or to carry on eastwards. A man invites me to sit in the cool in a patisserie and when I ask for a “simit” ( the typical ring-shaped bread covered with sesame seeds) I am not allowed to pay for it. The only boy who can speak some English is sent before me dragged God knows from where, to translate the questions of the elderlies. He is so shy that in front of me he opens his mouth but no sounds come out. Then he gathers his courage and asks how many days I have been on the road and if I am on my own. I have already started the ceremonious good bye ritual when the coffee with lavender arrives, courtesy of the shop owner next door , brought by a boy with glasses who reminds me of my younger self. Impossible not to be fond of these people . I try to return the hospitality with respect towards all of them: a photo, a joke or a smile. One for each one of them. Then I realise that it is getting a bit too much, the number of questions is growing and they are all the same and I am late on my schedule. I drive off towards east.
“ you will never want to leave Mardin” says the guide and indeed at the tenth souvenir shop and after the fourth boutique hotel, I quickly look for a way out of the noisy city traffic. According to the Turkish media, in those days, the PKK would shoot at a check point and would detonate a car bomb killing four policemen.
In Midyat the tension is high and for the first time I do not feel safe. A police car spreads a message through a loudspeaker walking the streets at a walking pace. The Kurdish faces sat in the bar are tense, frozen. I take a picture and immediately stopped by a plain-clothes policeman. I don’t have my passport on me and I am concerned he might want to see the content of my camera. He lets me go and I quickly move away with my pink backpack. Few days earlier a bomb killed 3 policemen. In the evening at the hotel they tell me to travel towards North.
I photograph the Tigri valley and its bathers, the caves hollowed in the rock and the ruins of the old city of Hasankeyf, inhabited since the Bronze Age.
The Ilisu dam, wanted by the government in the name of so called development , will submerge this historic legacy rooting out tens of thousands of people forced to exodus.
The most magical area of my travel, where beauty and civil injustice create an atmosphere difficult to forget, gets past quickly without me realising it.
I arrive in Van while the police shuts the roads for the grand national pro -goverment parade. Thousands of people with red flags celebrate the defence of freedom and democracy against the coup of July the 15th. Young, elderly , veiled women and children demonstrate with fierce heart and strength in a nationalistic islamic fashion which makes me very uneasy.
The Kurdish show indifference and sit in the bars in groups without saying a word. The security measures are considerable, the armoured vehicles , light machine guns and the metal detectors are on the corner of every street.
I stop the motorbike in front of the little white gate of the border between Turkey and Iran, in Kapiköy, August the 8th. A facilitator boy points out my presence to a military guard who nods to move over. Passport ad check of the Carnet de Passage, “Be careful in Iran” says the Turkish guard doodling on a piece of paper, “What for ?” I reply. “Iranian women are very dangerous”.

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