Land of the Blind by Barbara Nadel Headline Publishing Group, 403 pp. Great Britain 2015
Land of the Blind is the seventeenth novel in Barbara Nadel's series featuring Istanbul police inspector Çetin İtmen, a chain-smoking free-thinker, not averse to alcohol, sixtyish at the time of this novel, a decent person doing his best in circumstances that are often difficult. The type is familiar to those of us who regularly turn to crime novels for diversion. What we look for, and Nadel delivers, are characteristics that personalize and distinguish the protagonist.
İtmen's wife, Fatma, is a devout Muslim whose views are often at odds with those of her husband. She is worried about their son, who is taking part in demonstrations at Gezi Park, where it is a foregone conclusion that sooner or later the government will crack down on the protesters. İtmen too is concerned, and he knows that when the time comes the police will act without restraint. He sympathizes with his son and the people in park, while as a police officer he must remain apolitical. If he speaks out, he will forfeit even what limited ability he now has to protect his son.
His colleague Mehmet Süleyman, some twenty years his junior, is a handsome womanizer engaged in an affair with Gonca, a sensual, sixty-year-old gypsy who is İtmen's friend of long standing. İtmen and Süleyman, once close, have fallen out because İtmen blames Süleyman for the death of his sergeant Aye Farsakoğlu, shot and killed in the line of duty shortly after her breakup with Süleyman, who had been her lover. Fatma has relatives who are transexual and gay. Kerim Gürsel, İtmen's new sergeant, is married to Sinem, a lesbian and invalid. The two have known one another since childhood and enjoy a relationship that is no less deep and loving for not being physical. Kerim's lover is Pembe, a transsexual.
This is by way of backstory. The tale itself is a decent crime yarn involving the murder of a Greek archaeologist, a rapacious real estate developer with fanatical religious beliefs who, by the bye, is having an affair with a prostitute, unrequited love, and what may be the remains of the last Byzantine emperor, all set against the backdrop of the Gezi Park demonstrations and, further back in time, the September 1955 pogrom in Istanbul when mobs of Turks set upon the Greek minority in attacks orchestrated by the National Security Service and allied organizations.
In June 2013 hundreds of thousands took to the streets in opposition to the proposed demolition of Gezi Park, one of last green spaces in Istanbul, to make way for an Ottoman-style shopping center, a project support by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Ergoğan. Transsexuals and gays play such a prominent role in Nadel's novel that I wondered if she might be overstating it somewhat until I found accounts in The Guardian and elsewhere that lend it credence. Transsexuals and gays stood with Muslims and secularists, feminists and women who cover themselves, nationalist Turks and Kurds and other minorities, against the greed and corruption of businessmen and government officials.
İtmen points out that those at Gezi Park respresent an urban, cosmopolitan slice of the Turkish population distinct from the culture in the rural parts of the country. The young police officers brought in from the provinces to quash the demonstration hold a different worldview. The antagonisms and clashes Nadel relates are not so different from those playing out in Europe and the U.S.
As a crime novel, Land of the Blind is a decent read and pleasant diversion. For its depiction of contemporary Turkey, it is fascinating, all the more so in the light of events of the past few days.
Pat Lang speculates that last week's failed "coup" may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the Erdoğan regime to whip up his followers and consolidate power as he moves to make himself absolute ruler. In fairness, it should be noted that Lang holds a dim view of the Turkish prime minister, habitually referring to him as Sultan Tayyip. On the other hand, Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces who served in the Department of Defense as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service. He was trained and educated as a specialist in the Middle East and served in that region for many years. He is a knowledgeable observer.
Ezgi Basaran at BBC News also reported this theory as one of several being bandied about, but deemed it an unlikely explanation.
One theory suggests it was a "false flag" event staged by President Erdogan to gain more power, but common sense dictates the event went too far to be a false flag.
Another theory embraced by the Kurdish movement is that Kemalists - secular followers of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - in the army tricked the Gulenists into staging a coup. They knew it would fail and that it would lead to a long-awaited cleansing of Gulenists from the military.
Another theory stems from a police source, who said that the AKP government had been planning to arrest Gulen-supporting army officials on 16 July. The source claims that when the coup-plotters learned about this, they went ahead and initiated the coup earlier than planned - hence the sloppiness.
President Erdogan and his ministers blame the Gulen movement for the coup, and say that this attempt is the group's last gasp.
He may be right, but there is a lot that does not add up.
Behind the operation or not, the regime took advantage of the situation to crack down on opposition and strengthen its grip on power. Already more than 2,800 soldiers have been arrested and more than 2,700 judges dismissed. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of 140 supreme court members. The count is rising.
In Istanbul opponents of the government, including Gezi Park veterans and Kurds, took to the streets to oppose the coup, proclaiming that Turkey's issues must be resolved through the democratic political process, not via military intervention. It appears that the opposition is more committed to democracy and rule of law than is the government.
Constanze Letsch, A year after the protests, Gezi Park nurtures the seeds of a new Turkey, The Guardian, May 29, 2014
Turkey police clash with Istanbul Gezi Park protesters, BBC News, June 1, 2013
Ranj Alaaldin, Aftermath of Turkey coup attempt will be bloody and repressive, The Guardian, July 16, 2016
Ezgi Basaran, Turkey coup: Who was behind Turkey coup attempt?, BBC News, July 16, 2016
Turkey: Mass arrests after coup bid quashed, says PM, BBC News, July 16, 2016
Patrick Kingsley, Erdoğan clamps down after crushing attempted military coup, The Guardian, July 16, 2016
Pat Lang, The "coup" was a fraud?, Sic Semper Tyrannis, July 16, 2016