Iraq Haunts Bush in Istanbul
Nabil al-Tikriti, who teaches history part-time at Loyola University New Orleans, writes Sunday from Istanbul:
There are 15 million people in Istanbul who [are extremely hostile to] Bush. So that he could get a private tour of Topkapi and the rest of Istanbul during this NATO summit, they have closed the following for THREE DAYS: coast road from the airport to Dolmabahce, Galata Bridge, Taksim Square, Besiktas stadium valley, Sirkeci ferry terminals, and the first Bosphorus bridge. Last night we couldn’t cross the coast road to view the sunrise from the Marmara. Today we can’t get to the islands, because the ferry terminals are closed. Surreal. I’m trying to figure out how to leave my Sultanahmet hotel to get over to Beyoglu for the next couple of days. They recommended before the summit that everyone just leave town, and yesterday everyone I tried to contact was on their way to their summer holiday on the beach. It was like Thanksgiving Wednesday in the US.
Anyone who knows Istanbul knows that such a closure literally turns the city into an open-air prison. There are snipers posted on the next building to our hotel, constant military helicopters buzzing around, and naval craft cruising offshore. If only for sacrificing three days of their life for Bush’s secure comfort, people here are furious. The trend in the past couple of years has been to hold such summits in remote locations. What brainchild decided to hold this summit smack in the center of one of the world’s largest cities, with hostility running so high?
The bilateral meeting between Bush and Turkish PM Erdogan this morning was a thing of beauty. Bush said: “our disagreements in the past year are behind us, it’s time to look to the future.” That was diplomatic code for “I’m sorry I called you names last year when you stopped us from sending 40,000 troops across your territory to invade your neighbor. Help, for God’s sake!” The Turkish reaction was a rather smug and quiet sort of:
“You’ll not be taking me for granted anytime soon. Good luck in Iraq, my friend. There’s still that matter of billions of USD public debt you promised to forgive. Put up or shut up. Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”
I just spent three days at a conference entitled “A Future for Our Past,” which was the opening salvo of a group called “Istanbul Initiative.” The goal of the group is to advocate for protection of cultural patrimonies worldwide, starting with Iraq. All the heavy-hitters concerning the Iraq artifacts issue were present: Donny George, McGuire Gibson, and several others. There was a delegation of Iraqis . . . joined by lawyers active in fighting the artifacts dealers, representatives of the British Museum, Yale, Chicago, Dutch military, Turkish Foreign Ministry, and several Turkish scholars.
At the end of the conference, we were asked to submit suggestions for a common declaration. When I suggested that there should be a call for restitution to the Iraqi state by the UK and US governments, as well as criminal prosecution of the individuals responsible for bringing about the conditions leading to the wholesale destruction of Iraq’s cultural patrimony (archaeological sites, Baghdad Museum, manuscript collections, provincial museums — all burned and/or looted), there was a largely positive reaction (although as it was not complete consensus, it probably won’t make the final cut).
The Turks and Iraqis, none of whom had ever met, hit it off quite well — a relationship that should continue well into the future. When the declaration is finalized, I’ll forward it . . .