Monday, March 31, 2014

A journey through time in Turkey

The cradle of so much Western history. We tripped over thousands of years of history just by walking down the street. Sleep was elusive because my imagination was on fire. The history pulsed under my feet and at the tips of my fingers.

First stop Istanbul. Founded as Byzantium in the 7th century BC, then re-imagined by Constantine the Great in 330AD, captured by Mehmet and the Ottomans in 1453 and now a glorious international city at the meeting point of Asia and Europe.

Constantine's city - surrounded by water and a powerful wall - that stood for 1,000 years as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Today it still acts as a buffer: a moderate secular state (for now) between radical Islam and the West. As it did from the beginning of Islam until the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine empire.


Justinian's Hagia Sophia - 537AD (minarets added later).
We were hunting Byzantine mosaics here and in Chora.


Glorying in the scale of Justinian's vision The largest building in the world for 1,000 years.

A humble 6th century AD cistern, filled with water to withstand siege for years, now a beauty in it's own right.

The Fort of Europe built by Mehmed the Conqueror in 4 months as part of his strategy to choke trade in the Bosphorus and take Constantinople. He was only 21 years old!

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) - 1616 AD - at sunset

In the Topkapi Palace Harem, stunned by the blue tiles in 300 rooms, thinking we'd have gone crazy with the political intrigue at the heart of the Ottoman empire.

Then down the Aegean coast hunting ancient Greek, New Roman (Byzantine), Medieval European and Ottoman history.

The temple of Zeus, Euromos - 2nd century BC


Ephesus - 2nd century AD. One of the 4 largest Roman cities in the world. They lived well here.


Ephesus - My kind of theatre! Beautiful location and large enough for serious entertainment.


One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the 6th century BC temple of Apollo at Didyma near Miletus. Hard to realize the scale in a photo.


The ruins of Miletus. A glorious 4,000 year old city, conquered by Alexander in 334 BC, turned into a bishopric with a castle by the Byzantine's in the 6th century, used by the Ottomans in the 14th century but finally abandoned when the harbour silted up.


The knights of St John's castle in Bodrum - build in 1400 to resist the Ottomans

Nice place to be sent if you lived in Medieval England! Kos and Greece in the distance.

Full circle in time. to the oldest shipwreck ever found - 1400 BC treasure on a ship carrying enough tin and copper to make bronze armor for 5,000 soldiers. A king's ship.

And of course, great food everywhere!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Appreciating my freedom of speech in Turkey where Twitter is now banned

There's a lot written about "social selling" in tech these days, and how to use Twitter to engage your prospect, but this week we are all seeing just how trivial a use of Twitter this is in comparison to the power it can have on a global scale.

I flew from New Delhi to Istanbul a few days ago and as I flew the PM of Turkey,  Mr Erdogan, shut down Twitter in Turkey. I was in the air, reading the news on line (36,000 ft up) on Turkish Airlines as he put this decision into action. My plane at this point was somewhere over the Caspian Sea and the signal was pinging through a groundstation in Georgia (according to my analysis with Google maps at that moment) and so I could still see the Tweet stream almost up until landing in Istanbul.

And as I watched the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey soared! (check it out with Twitter search)

 My view coming in to land...

Original and thought provoking art appeared within minutes as the suppression unleashed creativity. And of course most users figured out how to get around the ban using a direct DNS and texting - even spray painting the instructions on how to bypass the block on walls so everyone can see.

By Sunday the government had blocked Google DNS directly but the internet is too pervasive and flexible to shut down quickly, as Turkey's government is finding out. The tech-savvy are working around the ban with VPN and anonymizing sites like Tor.

But why? What's really behind all this? I've heard as many reasons as people I ask, and I am asking everyone I meet. One of the wonderful things about Turkey is how open and friendly the people are, and they speak their minds. With elections coming up in 6 days it's probably a mix of all the reasons we are hearing -- corruption, mobilizing the rural conservatives to vote, creating tension to show power -- and above all a desire for control to try to change the outcome of the election.

The US dept of state has called this "21st century book burning" but in Turkey this is a case of history repeating itself (telegraph was the equivalent in the Turkish war of independence). Sadly, the actions of the government will set back Turkey's bid to join the EU, which would be good for both Turkey and the EU on many levels.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It's something we take for granted in the US and sitting in a remote mountain village of rural Turkey this morning I am acutely conscious of how precious that right, and the freedom to speak my mind is. I am choosing not to use VPN to access Twitter today, but I cannot imagine living in a world every day where I had to worry about my actions on line and whether I am taking political and personal risk when I express myself.

My heart goes out to the people of Turkey who want to be free, and live in the modern world in a high functioning democracy. Their press is still free but their country is divided. I hope and pray they navigate through the next few weeks and months safely -- and still free.

The newspaper our first morning

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