War Continues

Earthquakes have aftershocks. In 2011 in Van, after the quake of October 23, a Japanese relief worker called Atsushi Miyazaki was killed when his hotel collapsed under the force of the quake of November 9.

Along with everybody we know, my spouse and I survived yesterday’s coup attempt in Turkey. This is happy news, but not, I think, surprising. A coup is not supposed to harm civilians, it is supposed to be supported by civilians. The main danger lies in the aftermath. At least that is what I understand from the 1980 military coup here, when hundreds of thousands of dissidents were rounded up. Many of these were tortured, and this is why an American friend of mine (some ten years my senior) used to ask me to resolve a paradox: how could this torture happen in a country whose citizens, in his experience, were the kindest people he had ever met? The point for now is that the arrests following the coup could not have happened with the suddenness of an earthquake, but were perpetrated over time (the military government sat for some three years).

The 1980 military coup was successful. Last night’s coup was not successful. I am aware of no civilian in Turkey who supported the attempt. Many citizens have issues with the elected government; but they know they would have more issues with a military government.

They may still be rounded up by a suspicious state. Last December in this blog I offered Alp Arslan as the chivalrous model of a victorious Turk who is kind to those whom he has conquered. I do not think the Turkish president of today is interested in this example.

Still, one never knows. I do not like to see predictions of further illiberalism on the part of the Turkish state as a result of the foiled coup attempt. This is a philosophical point. The political future is not something to be known the way a future hurricane or a solar eclipse may be known. Our own future depends on how we choose to respond to the present.

My response for now is to continue to enjoy the seaside, and to wait and see how things develop elsewhere. I get news from and through Twitter mainly. If Twitter was blocked or throttled during the first hours of the coup, I slept through this: after 3:30 Saturday when I woke up, it was fine. The blocks never seem to affect my old mobile anyway, perhaps because the Opera Mini browser that I use there sends data through its own servers (where they are compressed).

Somebody on Twitter was surprised to discover how many Turkey experts he had in his feed: people who had read a few articles, or visited the country once or twice, and thought as a result that they could explain why the coup had been attempted. I am expert in some narrowly defined parts of mathematics, but not in the politics of Turkey. I have seen no explanation, and neither can I provide one myself, of why putschists as such would use military aircraft to bomb the national parliament building, as apparently they did last night in Turkey. The Turkish president already wants to rule the country directly, without having to get parliament to pass the laws that he wants.

A little over two weeks ago, a day after the June 28 terror attack on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Ayşe and I headed off from Istanbul by bus to the Nesin Mathematics Village. We had a wonderful time. I participated in collaborative research with seven other mathematicians, from five countries (Canada, Israel, Poland, Turkey, and the United States), though everybody from abroad was male. Our research was an example of what I hope our students will learn most of all: that while mathematical truth must be accepted freely by each of us, or not at all, it will be found to be the same truth for all of us. We have a clear way to settle disputes. It is not shouting, it is not fisticuffs, it is not firing missiles; it is proving our assertions, step by step, by methods that we all accept.

July 7, 2016.  Photograph supplied by Özlem Beyarslan (second row, right)

July 7, 2016. Photograph supplied by Özlem Beyarslan (second row, right)

For several days, the eight of us met in two groups of four in the morning, then two other groups of four in the afternoon. We met in the open air (albeit under shade), in the most congenial surroundings that I know.

July 6, 2016.  Some people think that mathematics is just equations.  It is not, but in this case it mostly was!

July 6, 2016. Some people think that mathematics is just equations. It is not, but in this case it mostly was!

After each session, all eight of us met together to tell one another what progress we had made. We did make progress, even (in one group that I joined) to the point of both proving a theorem and supplying a nice example to show that a simpler formulation of the theorem is false. Further collaboration will continue by email.

Nesin Mathematics Village, July 8, 2016

Typing up results in the Nesin Mathematics Village, July 8, 2016

Occurring at the Mathematics Village during our visit was an archeology school, of which one of the organizers was a current student at my beloved alma mater in Santa Fe. We talked about our college and had a couple of good hikes, even if one of these was under the hot sun of early afternoon.

July 9, 2016; Nesin Mathematics Village in background to the right

July 9, 2016; Nesin Mathematics Village in background to the right

I believe my fellow Johnnie got the archeologists to rearrange their schedule so that they could all hike together, later in the afternoon. I had already hiked with one of the archeologists, who observed that the many pieces of brick littering the trail were really shards of Roman pottery.


After our time in Şirince was over, on Sunday morning, July 10, Ayşe and I headed north along the coast to our cottage in Altınova. We got a ride to the Selçuk otogar, where we caught a minibus to the Izmir otogar. This was the place where, years before, my late mother had been impressed by how well organized the Turkish transportation system was. We just had time for an early lunch before catching a bus to the Altınova otogar. From there we took a taxi to the shore.

Instead of taking a taxi, we could have walked a short way into town with our bags to catch a local bus. Without bags, yesterday, we caught a bus from shore to town, and then another bus to Ayvalık, described by a 1990s Rough Guide to Turkey as an almost perfectly preserved bourgeois Greek town. It is still the Turkish terminus of a ferry to Mytilene. Our friend from the dance department of our university in Istanbul has a beautiful old house there, which in her retirement she is renovating. I was envious.


We had a late lunch of mezeler and rakı by the seaside, at a restaurant where we were the only customers. Presumably it would fill up in the evening.


Ayşe and I had enjoyed such meals with her parents in previous summers, either in Ayvalık proper where we were, or across the water on Cunda Island. My in-laws could not make it to the cottage last summer. They died this spring. At least they missed the attempted coup.


After our seaside meal, out on the street at five in the afternoon, there was a flag ceremony. I think the Turkish flag was merely lowered and then raised again; but meanwhile, the Turkish national anthem played over loudspeakers, and everybody stopped in her tracks. The Aegean coast tends to be staunchly Kemalist. It is bizarre that respect for the flag of the Turkish Republic can be considered as an act of defiance to the president, who seems to imagine that, if not for Atatürk, the Ottoman Empire would have continued its glorious reign. Under those conditions, his becoming sultan would have required a coup against the Osmanlı dynasty. Maybe he could have been grand vizier instead.


While changing busses in Altınova, in the hardware store that Ayşe’s father used to patronize, I bought the saws that I had arranged to purchase in the morning. They were needed for trimming some serious dead wood from the trees around the cottage. I do this trimming now, in the peace of the seaside, while waiting to see how the president might go about trimming his enemies from the Turkish military and elsewhere. Will the universities be a target?

Written July 16, 2016; edited November 15, 2016; new text is so designated.

One Comment

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9 Trackbacks

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