In Turkey, A Knock at Midnight

August 11, 1991|By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY — Diyarbakir, Turkey. -- It is less than an hour ago that someone knocked on the door of my hotel room, six minutes after midnight according to my shortwave radio-digital alarm clock.

Startled, confused in disturbed sleep, I could not make out the words, but recognized the voice of the night manager outside my door as I slipped on my jeans.

"Sorry, Miss Diana. Police check," he said.

Poor man. Business was so bad that most doors remained open each morning, a sign of the number of unused rooms. He could not have more than ten guests in his 50-room hotel.

"Sorry, Miss Diana," he repeated. "Just police check. No papers."

I wasn't sure how to read this midnight intrusion. Was it another show of strength by security authorities, who have been steadily, sometimes arbitrarily or brutally, reminding Kurds of southeast Turkey of just who is in charge?

Each night, for example, police have been checking identities at the garden tea houses, leading some unlucky souls to waiting minibuses. Members of the People's Labor Party, the Kurdish right party in parliament, are being regularly abducted, tortured and dumped in remote areas when they are near death.

Or was it a show of solidarity after the July 23 scandal at Urla, near the Aegean Sea resort of Izmir? There, police barged in on a 30-year-old German tourist named Angelika Wittwer, who was vacationing with her Turkish boyfriend.

They demanded the couple show a marriage certificate. When one could not be produced, police forced Ms. Wittwer to undergo a "virginity check" by a Turkish doctor. She was then detained at the police station for 15 hours.

This week, official Turkey fell over itself in embarrassment and fear of the inevitable damage to tourism revenues, especially after the Associated Press reported the story to newspapers around the world.

The tourism ministry apologized and demanded an explanation from the interior ministry. The interior minister said no laws permit checking for marriage certificates or any other papers, let alone virginity, at hotels in Turkey.

He added that the policemen involved had already been transferred -- to an unmentioned area not known for tourism.

And finally, he pledged, though such incidents are known to happen two or three times each tourist season, they would never happen again in Turkey.

But here were six plainclothes officers filing into my small room, some turning on flashlights they carried. They examined the empty bed, the closet, touched my open suitcase and looked over my briefcase.

Was this a renegade operation, carried out in defiance of the Ankara ministries?

Fear and a sense of the absurd went through my mind. The flashlights seemed mildly funny. If a man were so tiny they needed a flashlight to find him, how much damage could he do?

Acres of psychoanalytic possibilities opened before me as I tried figure out what inspired this male obsession with a woman's purity.

Perhaps the improbable world offered by Turkey's lower-brow newspapers were partly responsible. Each day, they show pictures of half-naked blondes, invariably called Angelika or Helga.

Usually, the captions read something like this: "Angelika, a German tourist, says, 'Where are all the big strong Turkish men I heard so much about in Germany? I can't find them anywhere.' "

The captions then end by encouraging Turkish men to rush to the seashore and show Angelika how talented Turkish men are.

Last year, a Belgian couple visiting Turkey noted that their daughter's picture had appeared in a Turkish paper the year before. "But for some reason, they called her Angelika," the wife said.

All the women in a paper like the color daily Meydan are invariably either looking for sex, if foreign, or being protected from it, if Turkish. This week, Meydan ran a picture of a Dutch women's soccer team that had beaten a Turkish men's team last year.

The story made the wild claim that the women had offered to sleep with whichever team could beat them, saying it would be an honor for them to sleep with such strong and able men.

Enough there to busy Freud for a lifetime.

But what of the more likely reason behind the midnight visit, part of the drive to crack down on Kurds -- whether terrorists or not. What if they had been following me, and realized I had been chronicling violations of human rights. The invisible dervish paranoia whirled into the room, as I remembered how flimsy were the protections of law and human rights here.

As one officer began patting a suitcase -- where I had stashed photos that drew an involuntary moan of horror when I first saw them yesterday -- it was time to act quickly or risk losing everything.

I reached for my wallet, as the frightened night manager %J repeated "gazeteci," or "journalist," to them.

I handed them my credentials, all in good and due form, and they left.

A few minutes later, I lay back in the dark, listening to the whirr of the electric fan. The phone rang.

"Miss Diana, we are sorry. They are checking all the hotels in Diyarbakir," the manager said. He said they had taken nobody with them from the hotel, but had 20 or so police with machine guns drawn covering the lobby and the street in case a suspect tried to escape.

I began writing in my diary, to put an order to the uproar inside, to expel the experience and go back to sleep.

But then a tin can fell somewhere outside my window, and a shadow -- or were there two? -- moved along the wall outside my window.

Somebody must be watching. I leapt to shut the light, in time to see a shooting star arch through the night sky.

It is 3:10 a.m., long after the score of armed policemen have probably finished laying siege to the hotels of Diyarbakir. They have probably gone home to sleep by now. But I am sure my eyes are not the only ones still studying shadows in the dark.

Diana Jean Schemo is a foreign correspondent for The Sun.

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