Star summer intern travels the Silk Road
By Jasmeet SidhuWithin the span of six hours this coming Thursday, I'll have to complete my last essay of my undergraduate career, ship my belongings to my parents' house in Mississauga, pack, and board an airplane to travel 8,000 kilometres to spend a month in Turkey.
I'll be traveling there with my Peace and Conflict studies class, a group of about 15 of the most talented and intelligent students I've met in my four years at the University of Toronto, traveling to Istanbul, Ankara and Diyabakir. The trip is part of an international course module grant given by the Faculty of Arts and Science to study the abstract concepts in our course such as international security and conflict, abroad.
Suggestions for our trip ranged from India, Taiwan to Venezuela, all increasingly important places in the new post-millennium make-up of our world. However, I suggested Turkey as our destination, and it was quickly agreed upon by the whole class.
For me, Turkey has long captured my imagination since the day I learned it was a country, not just a bird you ate at Thanksgiving. From stories of the Trojan War, ancient Greek and Islamic civilizations, the treks of Alexander the Great and the Silk Road, Turkey has always represented to me this fascinating place where East meets West, Asia meets Europe, and with civilizations and ruins as old as humanity itself.
However, despite these popular and admittedly exotic ideas, today Turkey is a thriving country that holds and increasingly important place in geopolitics with its relations with the United States, NATO, EU and so on. However, its struggles to define itself between this East-West dichotomy has led to some tensions between secular Turkey and more traditionalist Turkey, in which conservative Islam increasingly holds sway.
An example of these tensions is in the alarming rates of honour killings in the country, which is the topic that I will be studying while we're in Turkey. One of the cities in which we are visiting, Diyabakir, is only kilometres away from where 16-year-old Medine Memi was buried alive supposedly for befriending boys in the community, a story that captured international media attention earlier this year.
Turkey sees about 200 honour killings every year, the majority of them committed against teenage and preteen girls, though increasingly amongst homosexual males. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I've often suspected that the media's hungry coverage of such honour-killings has something to do with deeper ideas of justifying the "otherness" of the scary religion of Islam, and the growing discomfort that we have in an increasingly integrated, globalized world to embrace that which non-Western, non-white, non-Christian.
I'll be meeting with editors and journalists of the Hurriyet, one of Turkey's largest English papers to get a taste of how domestic media in Turkey have approached and covered the topic versus our papers here in Canada, in addition to speaking to regular Turkish citizens on how they feel about the issue.
I'll be in the country for a month, before returning to Toronto to start my internship at the Star. As we'll be constantly traveling around and meeting with various Turkish officials and civilian leaders, I'm not sure how much time I'll have to get access to the internet, but I'll be sure to write about my experience when I can.
It should make for an interesting beginning of the summer, and really, with my degree almost under my belt, an interesting beginning of my journalism career.
Jasmeet Sidhu is an (almost) graduate of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. She previously worked for the Star in the radio room last summer, and writes a blog for the Star on climate
change, where she covered the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. In mid-June she will join the Star's summer intern program.