Singapore to Istanbul:Boundaries of Blood and Tears
Kevin P Clements
I had an enforced stopover in Singapore of 6 hours, almost as long as it took me to fly from Christchurch. There’s a limit to how many phone calls, e mails, paper you can do in what was effectively the middle of my NZ night…. so I was knackered by the time I finally got to board the plane. I spurned all food and drink, popped a sleeping pill and slept until some kind flight attendant decided it was time for me to greet the dawn.
I greeted it while flying along the Iran/Iraq border . Its strange that I had been reading about war, writing about the costs of violence and I wake up above the Iran Iraq border!! I’m flying along the Shia Sunni divide; the site of another meaningless war between Sadam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomonei and since the US invasion an epicentre of Middle East instability . I’m flying above a border of blood and tears. From up here it looks like rocky desert with splashes of green coming through. There are villages, cities and people down there with millions of individual and collective memories of that time when the youth of both places went out with parental blessings to kill each other…..mmmm
Then a little later I discover that I am crossing the Armenian-Turkey border yet another boundary, between Christian Armenia and Moslem ( albeit secular Moslem) Turkey. This is another border etched in the minds of both Turks and Armenians because of genocide. The Turkish assault on Armenians a hundred years ago is dated as 24 April 1915 ( more or less the same time as we remember Gallipoli) when Turks captured Armenians here in Istanbul/Constantinople) and then proceeded to massacre many more both inside Armenia and out. It is remembered in Yerevan as if it were yesterday. I remember being there about 14 years ago and listening to 18-20 years old talking about Turkish atrocities as though they had experienced them directly themselves.They hadn’t, of course, but their parents and grandparents had transmitted their own chosen and remembered trauma down through time so that today’s Armenian youth might as well have experienced it themselves.
I’m flying into the Capital of the Old Ottoman Empire. But its not just known for being the Centre of the Ottoman Empire. It has been at the heart many Empires. As Constantinople it was the capital of the Roman Empire, followed by the Byzantine, the Latin and finally the Ottaman which lasted for six centuries from 1453 to 1922. It was the seat of the last Caliphate and provides the model for the ISIS caliphate !
In any event this city is probably the most iconic crossroad in the world. Its where the Occident meets the Orient. The geographic meeting point for Asia and Europe.
There are plenty of visible and invisible lines to remind us of the things that separate us . But much to unite us as well. None of these lines are drawn, they are in our minds and imaginations. They have been mapped onto our unconsciousness and consciousness by our childhood story books, songs, poetry, historical narratives and political propaganda. They have been reinforced in concrete terms by military maps, by real lines drawn in sand, by customs posts and border posts, by lines that have been drawn in blood, by religious and political leaders and tribal chiefs and by dark suited men in the Foreign and Colonial Offices of the Western powers. These lines are the outward visible representations of multiple fears, prejudices, animosities and hostilities which have , in many sad occasions, over the years moved from fear into murderous intent and action.
I am writing this in the plane. I’m looking forward to moving beyond the borders of my mind, the barriers of my own imagination and historical conditioning. I am also looking forward to transcending my own borders, barriers and prejudices with eagerness, anticipation, and delight in all the humanity that I know is here and which we both share…
Here are some photos on the way beginning with a Singaporean Frog… mmmm
Then some random photographs from the air and on the ground between Singapore and Istanbul
Oh and yes, courtesy of Singapore Airlines I have been listening to Beethoven Symphonies all night. I have been rediscovering their beauty, their symmetry,their wisdom, their universality and their timelessness. While shocked by what I am discovering in Adam Hochschild’s book To End All Wars, I am reminding myself that alongside the carnage of both the First and the Second World Wars and every other war, there was and is aesthetic possibility. This possibility generates beauty, grace, wisdom and insight, for all of humanity. Aesthetic possibilities enable rather than disable, generate rather than destroy. They remind us of what it means to be truly human and to live beyond the borders, boundaries and divisions of everyday life!.