The scenery and climate of the Central Anatolian plateau in the area of Cappadocia is quite different than anything else I have experienced in Turkey. On Saturday as I left Goreme I was cycling at about 5,000' and the air was noticeably colder. For only the second day of this entire trip I cycled in a light jacket due to the higher altitude and a biting headwind. The area is exposed and if the wind is not in your favour it makes for some pretty difficult biking. The plateau was fairly flat with the high mountains of the Taurus range on my right as I cycled south. The light rain in Cappadocia fell as snow on the mountain tops so another reminder that winter is closing in.
The Turkish population is almost all Muslim but they have a secular government that makes the country quite unique in the world. When Kemal Ataturk became the first President he insisted on a separation of church and state to ensure that Turkey would prosper and be a part of the world community. His brand of government, known here as Kemalism, was and continues to be a balancing act for the successive governments. As a general rule the educated elite and urban population tend to vote overwhelmingly for progressive and secular government while the villagers outside of the main cities try to maintain traditional Islamic values. The interesting point is that the military, which has always had a strong presence, insists on supporting the Kemalism form of government and will often interfere in politics if they sense too much movement towards traditional Islam. The current President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan seem to be pushing the separation policy a bit. The main battles here are on the issue of headscarves for women and if students graduating from religious high schools should be allowed to enter University. Many people in Turkey feel the government spends way too much time on these minor points while ignoring the substantive issues facing the people. The balance of power could shift as the rural population moves into the cities so the attempts to maintain a secular government will continue to be challenged. The current Presidents wife wears the headscarf and in a ceremony last year, the head of the military turned his back on her as a sign that the military believes headscarves should not be worn in public.
Turkey is also a candidate country to join the EU with negotiations starting in 2005. They are making progress towards acceptance but there is a growing backlash, particularly in Germany and France to prevent their inclusion. Turkey does score low in terms of most economics and certain social freedoms but are similar in most areas to Romania and Bulgaria, both members of the EU. The current members claim the main problem is that Turkey has not dealt with the issue in Cyprus which is divided into the Turks of the north and the Greeks in the south. Turkey meanwhile is claiming that the EU is using the Cyprus issue to disguise the real reasons for the delays on their acceptance, and that is the fear of mass immigration of Turks into Europe and the fear of the spread of Islam. It is hard to say at this point how things will turn out but popular opinion is moving slowly away from joining Europe. There are signs that Turkey is increasing trade with the Arab world and in terms of defense, continue to rely heaving on the U.S., who support Turkey due to the strategic location of some air bases. Given some of the poor economic conditions in Turkey, it's too bad some of the billions spent on arms and defense can't be used to actually help the people. I would imagine that those hard working people in the villages would prefer a good hospital or school for their children and don't really need more fighter jets that are generating jobs and millions of dollars of profit for the defense contractors in the West.
I spent a few days cycling in the Anatolian plateau and camping in the wild. I started descending on Sunday and by nightfall was down below the tree line and found a camping spot behind an abandoned building set amongst the pine trees. It was quite cold at night and despite being in my tent for 12 hours, still had a hard time getting out in the morning with the cold air. I made good use of my wool hat as it kept my nice and cozy during the night.
I was told numerous times that the road I was following was downhill all the way to the coast and 3 hours of uphill climbing later, did start to go down. Here is a picture at the high point of my trip. It's only 4 laps of a running track or just under a mile up but it seems more when you bike up. Eastern Turkey has Mt. Ararat (of Noah's Ark fame) within its borders and just over 5,000 meters. My knees are pretty happy about not cycling there.