Kurding with the Kurds

I have no idea what “kurding” means, but since I made it up, it now means a form of Turkish Kurd Party.

Last night I met up with my German friend Jonas to see if any election chaos would ensue following the Turkish elections. We casually made our rounds to random cafes and bars in the city center Taksim, stopping to drink one beer at each stop, while meeting all kinds of different folks along the way. We saw tons of police in riot gear, preparing for protests and more, but there was no chaos and the water gun truck remained idle.

Before I begin, let me just get the one negative comment out of the way.  Early in the night (around midnight), we tried to enter a small pub/bar that had some lively music and some people dancing.  It was a hole in the wall, not some hot spot on the “must-hit” tour stop guide.  Well, shit! The same crap.  The bouncer said, “oh no, you can’t enter without girls.”  I tried joking with him a bit to see if I could talk my way out of it. I barely got a smile out of him but not a budge otherwise.  Istanbul nightlife really sucks! The only way to go to clubs and most music bars is to go with another girl.  So much for the single night scene.  I hate taking  a hot girl on a date to clubs.  It’s like taking prime red meat to a pack of lions who haven’t been fed in weeks. The men always try to hit on the girl you’re with; try to act like they’re your friends, just so they can get close to your girl…I’ve seen this story play out a hundred times. Some guys are complete asses and have no boundaries or class.

The Turkish men and culture is very protective of women, not surprisingly. Even when we sat down at some cafes or bars, the waiters would always seat us away from the women, insistent we sit there and not where we wanted to. (There weren’t any beautiful women either of us saw all night so no point in fighting, but that’s irrelevant.) In fact, one bar we went into, I pointed out to Jonas how they had seated all the girls on the right side of the room and the men on the left side, with only 2 exceptions because they were friends of the large group of girls.  I told him I feel like I’m in high school again. It was an interesting cultural observation.

Nonetheless, we don’t always need to be around beautiful girls to have fun. In the words of Queen, the “show must go oooooooooon!”  We still had a pretty awesome and fun night, just meeting locals and experiencing random things.

Our second stop of the night, after we had wandered around in the small side streets, we came to a bar/cafe with just a handful of people.  We were thirsty so we took a rest and quenched ourselves with a tasty “beerverage” (yeah I just made that word up too). Very shortly after sitting down and opening our cold beerverage, a couple girls were dancing and waving a flag.  I asked them what the flag represented and they said it was the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) flag.

The election had just closed only hours before, and the HDP party had done very well, achieving 13% of the vote, surpassing the minimum threshold of 10% to be represented in parliament for the first time. And the current ruling party of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Justice and Development Party or AKP), suffered poorly in the elections, achieving only 41%, far below the super-majority they were hoping to achieve to be able to redefine the constitution and greatly expand the powers of the sitting president. There is a long history between the Kurds and Turkish people, with fierce hatred and animosity of the Kurds. As an outsider, it’s difficult to comprehend all the complexities of the history and reasons, for both sides, but nonetheless, it seems so silly to base so much hatred on something that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago.  Most people don’t even know why they hate each other.  It’s just the way it’s always been.

Throughout history, minorities captive inside a country or region were often oppressed and abused, leading to deep rooted hatred. Just look at what’s going on in the Middle East with the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds. It’s crazy.  We’re all the same people for God’s sake.

This is why, coincidentally, the most cherished thing about the relatively new American Constitution has always been the protection of the rights and liberties of the minorities and smaller voices. This is the single most important facet of our constitutional structure.  By ensuring all minorities and the states or people without large voices are protected, we ensure everyone’s rights and liberties are guaranteed. This was not an accident.

People always assume democracy is supposed to mean democratic or majority rule. They completely get it wrong. Majority rule inevitably always leads to less democracy and freedom, and ultimately oppression of those minorities with different views or ethnicity.

Democratic rule by majority is the single most dangerous element of any democracy. People should always fear this.  It’s herd mentality. It’s the problem with today’s government and media; we have become obsessed with polling based politics, which is another way of saying majority rule. This ultimately waters down our democracy to devolve into majority policy. It’s a very dangerous slippery slope. 

Rights and liberties should never be dependent on majority rule. Policies may be tilted more favorably to accommodate majority views, but they must always still protect the minority.

But anyway, I digressed, albeit for a good reason I think. Now back to the story…

I was happy for the Kurdish party so we decided to join the festivities. What started out as two women just enjoying the celebration quickly turned into the entire bar/cafe celebrating and dancing in Turkish fashion. Suddenly, everyone was snapping photos and videos and just dancing and enjoying the moment. It was exhilarating.

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After this bar closed, I noticed a group of girls sitting nearby within view that suddenly disappeared into some mysterious unmarked door. We were curious what this door led to so we decided to go in.  At first, it didn’t even seem to have a door handle.

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As we pulled the door open, we realized there was a really nice, small restaurant inside with live Turkish music.  The decor was fascinating and had so much character. We sat near near the band and listened to the live music. This was the first time I could honestly say I liked Turkish music. The singer had an amazing voice, but I commented, it seemed every song sounded exactly the same, as if we were listening to one continuous long song with very short periodic pauses. The singer strummed a unique Turkish guitar, something I had never seen before.  It was long and skinny with seemingly fewer strings than a traditional guitar but the sounds were fascinating and beautiful.

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Later in the evening, as the continuous song came to a long anticipated end and finally more lively upbeat music was played, the crowd began to engage in Turkish folk dances. We decided to join the dancing. I danced like an uncoordinated Turk. It was difficult to figure out the footwork.  But nonetheless, it was still a great cultural experience, dancing in circles and lines. What I find amazing about folk dances of other cultures is the non-sexual and community feel of the experience. As Jonas commented, it wasn’t about, “hey, look at me, how sexy I look when I’m dancing.”  It was just everybody enjoying the moment, guys, girls, strangers, old friends, it didn’t matter.

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We held each others hands and danced in circles, moving in and out, and holding the hands of two strange men or women didn’t feel awkward or sexual at all.  It was just about enjoying the music, people and life. The way things should be.