(13) Van, Turkey: What did I say about staying out of large, political crowds in cities?

Now, as Peter and I returned to town earlier in the day from our road trip, we had spotted riot police. Everywhere. In groups of 20+ on the main drag, along with big police vehicles. In small groups of 3-5 around various corners. Some in plain clothes, some in plain clothes under police vests, some in full police get-up, and some with helmets and shields. Hmm.

We had been told it was for a Kurdish protest, but saw nothing going on. Eventually, we heard some chanting, so after being told once again that rooms weren’t ready, we decided to investigate.

There were 1000+ people walking down the street, a few with banners, many dressed in green, red and yellow, and they all held up their fingers in a V. A man with an earpiece tells Peter and I to move aside as the crowd begins to pass our patch of turf on the median of the town’s main street. Everyone wants us to take his or her or a child’s picture (sorry, we aren’t journalists). The crowd ends their walk at a main intersection, where a large bus with photographers and speakers on the top. A variety of chants ensues, and eventually a series of people begins to talk. The crowd alternates cheering, booing, and holding up their V signs. All and all very peaceful, and actually a bit boring as we have no idea what’s going on.

Eventually a young man comes up to us and helps us understand. He’s a student from the local university, and he explains to us that the main speaker is the president of the main national Kurdish political party. The rally is in support of peace after recent violence directed towards some Kurdish youth. He tells us that five Kurdish university students were killed last week in Tehran, and explains some other recent deaths and imprisonments. He explains that the people here want peace. That people are people whether Turkish, Kurdish or any other combination of culture, country and religion. A ‘why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along?’ sort of rally. The V signs I saw earlier, I realize, are for peace. At one point in the rally, a moment of silence is held. I’m struck as the thousands of people in the street stop, hold their heads down and their hands up in peace signs. The moment of silence is broken in chanting.

Eventually the rally breaks up, and people disperse on foot. The riot police, who didn’t seem to make much of an appearance, disperse as well – on buses.  The end. I now know how easy it can be to get interested in checking out large crowds in cities. I’ll have to hold that tendency in check once in Iran and Kyrgyzstan.

Later that afternoon (after our rooms are “ready” but we still have to wait for the bathrooms to get cleaned) Peter and I headed to our final destination of choice in the city – the infamous Castle of Fun. Or in reality, the Castle of Van (Van Kalesi). We get dropped off with some Turkish tourists at what seems like the entrance, but there is no one to collect tickets, and we are encouraged along a fairly precipitous path up the side of a rocky hill, though a hole in the barbed wire fence. We are followed by would-be children tour guides, but Peter and I have had enough of kids after our experiences yesterday and earlier this morning. Van Kalesi encompasses the old city of Van, destroyed during WWI. Almost nothing is left of the old city, but some interested remnants of the castle wall remain. Eventually we realize that the main ticket entrance is on the other side of the small mountain, and we have inadvertently scammed the system. I think I would have been more impressed with the kalesi had I not been so tired. Remember, I had been up since shortly after 5am with a really crap sleep.

The evening ends with a hot shower (finally! thank you!) dinner (please, anything but shish or donair) and dessert. Peter and I are parting ways tomorrow, so I rip some movies and episodes of Lost from his harddrive and we make plans to meet for breakfast before I try my luck at finding a minibus to the remote town of Bahcesaray, and Peter finds a bus to Kars.

The soft bed could not come soon enough.