Camel greeting

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

What's the USA doing in the Middle East? Rewriting history and getting yourself in the @&#%!

We did some bad stuff to the native Maori people of New Zealand back in the 19th century. Well, when I say ‘we’, of course I don't mean my actual family - they were all perfectly nice people. Bad things were done, is what I wanted to say. We Caucasians moved into their country and gradually took over. We raised our flag and insisted that the locals honour it and the system of government it stood for. We brought diseases to which they had no natural resistance and decimated their population. We belittled the local language and culture, and insisted that the people speak English, become Christian, wear clothes and stop eating each other. When they resisted, we made war on them and, after defeating them with our superior technology, we confiscated their land as a punishment for their disloyalty to Queen Victoria.

US Predator Drone - 21st century gunboat diplomacy
Surprisingly, some of these people managed to survive, even to retain remnants of their cultural heritage, and for the past thirty years or so, successive NZ Governments have been making attempts to compensate for the wrongs of the past. Undoubtedly there are some members of the dispossessed indigenous race who see the only fair solution being for all of us pakeha whitefaces to up sticks and go back where we came from. On the other hand, I know for a fact there are others who have achieved success in the modern English-speaking world of the twenty-first century and have no interest in harking back to the Stone Age past of their ancestors. Between these two extremes there is a broad spectrum of opinion such that finding a solution satisfactory to all is pretty unlikely.

My paternal grandfather's grandfather brought his family to New Zealand in one of the very early immigrant ships from Britain back in 1842. Written history in our part of the world doesn't go back much further than that. Even the Maori people we displaced only arrived about one thousand years ago. Before that, New Zealand was an empty land of primeval forests and happily ambulating birds that, to a greater or lesser extent, had lost the motivation and in some cases, even the wherewithal, to fly.

In the lands of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, such a time frame barely counts as history at all. Turks trace their arrival into Asia Minor/Anatolia back to 1071 CE - and some of their neighbours are still of the opinion that they should go back to Central Asia where they came from. Nevertheless, as I suggested above, even that historically minuscule period of 170 years is sufficient to ensure that, for the majority of New Zealanders, there is no going back. I'm reasonably sure that some of my relatives in Scotland would welcome us to the land of our fathers and mothers - but I don't want to go, and I don't know many who do. There we are, for better or worse, white-faced English speaking New Zealanders, physically and emotionally attached to our island outpost of empire in the vast emptiness of the South Pacific Ocean. And I have no doubt that, if the need arose, we would fight for it again.

Which brings me back to the Middle East, and, in particular, the seemingly insoluble ongoing problem related to Israel and Palestine. However much sympathy one has for the Jewish people, it is a sad fact that, for most of their history, they have not had a self-governing state to call their own – well, perhaps that’s one reason we have so much sympathy for them. Apart from the conquests by Babylonians and Egyptians documented in the Bible, defeat and exodus continued under the Romans after their invasion of the region in 63 BCE. The original meaning of the word diaspora refers specifically to the exile or dispersal of the Jewish people that went on for perhaps a thousand years, continuing even after the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. Christians seem, in fact, to have been the worst offenders, blaming Jews for the rejection and killing of Jesus Christ – somewhat perversely, one might think, given that his death, as I recall, was largely a matter of personal choice, and fundamental to the essential doctrine of Christianity. Still, who looks for logic in organised religion?

Interestingly, the return of Jewish people to their ancestral homeland seems to have begun in the late 19th century, while Palestine was part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. I have written before on the special relationship between Jews and Ottomans, a relationship continued until recently by the modern Republic of Turkey. The Ottoman Government welcomed Spanish Jews fleeing from the atrocities of the Inquisition in the 15th century. Several Turkish diplomats, at considerable personal risk, rescued many Jews from the gas chambers and ovens of the German Third Reich. It’s possible that the Ottomans might have found a better long-term solution to the Palestinian problem – but the Brits took over after the First World War, and that was the end of that possibility.

The trickle of Jews into Palestine became a flood as pogroms in Eastern Europe metastasised into the full-scale genocide of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’. European states that ‘care’ so much today closed their doors to Jewish refugees in those days. The British Government went a step further and prevented many from entering Palestine, setting up detention centres in Atlit on the border, and in Cyprus.

In 1948, with the assistance of the United Nations and the USA, Jewish nationalists laid claim to, fought for and won the right to occupy (if might is right) a patch of turf in the southeast corner of the Mediterranean. Small it may have been, but people were living there who had to be displaced to create the new state of Israel. Of course there is a historical argument to be made for the right of Jewish people to a homeland of their own where Abraham led his wandering tribes in fulfilment of God's promise, and Solomon built his fabled temple. And there was a whole heap of collective guilt to be assuaged at the end of World War II. Of course it was the Germans who were responsible for the horrors of Auschwitz and Dachau - but Europe has a long history of persecuting the Children of Israel - and the Bible has few kind words for Philistines, if you need further justification.

So the modern state of Israel came into being on 14 May 1948, and with a tad of imagination, we can think that there were others in the vicinity who were not one hundred percent happy about that. Certainly the immediate response from local Arabs was an invasion and a war that went on for a year. It was roughly two thousand years since the Hebrew race had governed themselves in that land, and the new state had to be populated with willing migrants from countries abroad where their ancestors had dwelt for centuries, if not millennia. Still, once they were there, possession became nine-tenths of the law. And after two generations, use and habit added strength to possession. Without doubt, the people of the new state have worked wonders to create a modern, wealthy powerful nation. And who can blame them for wanting to create also a buffer zone to insulate themselves from those neighbours who still harbour resentment?

I have no problem with the desire of Jewish people for a self-governing homeland. It's a perfectly understandable wish, and history has not treated them kindly in that respect. Nevertheless, there are two indisputable facts to set against the logical and emotional appeal of the self-determination argument.

First, there is historical reality. Tribes, races, nations and empires do conquer each other, occupy their territories, subjugate their people and generally impose their will on the conquered. After a few generations have passed, it becomes difficult to determine who exactly is who, and, even if you could, where you would send the descendants of the conquerors in order to restore the land to its original owners. Forget New Zealand and its Maoris, what about the Anglo-Saxons, or the Norman French in England, US citizens of European ancestry, and descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors of Latin America?

Second, there is the problem of enforcement, and the need to deal with the unpleasantness and misery caused by the displacement and relocation of all those people who had very likely been living contentedly in the disputed territory for generations, and had come to think of it as their own. Here we can think of the forced population exchanges that followed the independence and partition of India and Pakistan, and the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic. And of course the problem does not end with uprooting and resettlement. Resentment lingers, and may result in outbreaks of violence and attempts to reclaim former homelands.  Such violence is never far below the surface in Northern Ireland, and Turkey is still struggling to find a solution to its Kurdish question.

So, the United States and its allies helped to establish the modern state of Israel, and once again let me make it clear that I am not arguing against that. Unfortunately, their good deed could not end there. Without US financial and military support, the fledgling state would not have survived. The need to back Israel is a constant determiner in US foreign policy, and is possibly the single most important factor standing in the way of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

No one loves nuclear weapons (we fervently hope) but most of us accept the argument that they are an unfortunate necessity in the modern world. If I don’t have them, and my enemy does, he may be tempted by the power imbalance thereby created, to take advantage of my weakness. 'Mutually Assured Destruction' has long been the ironic insurance against nuclear annihilation. Nevertheless, limits must be imposed, and clearly we do not want ‘rogue’ states having access to a nuclear arsenal. This was the justification for George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq (though it subsequently turned out to have been unfounded) – and may yet provide a pretext for a new invasion of, or at least a punitive strike on Iran.

Leaving aside the question of whether the 2003 Iraq invasion could be retrospectively justified on other grounds, it is clear that a secondary motive for US use of military force in the Middle East (if we assume that the first is oil) is to ensure there is only one state in the region with nuclear capability. In the eyes of US policy-makers, and the Government and people of Israel, this motive may be wholly justifiable – but it is never going to be an easy sell to neighbours who feel threatened or angered by Israeli expansion. Who in the world recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel apart from the Israelis themselves? The borders of the modern state of Israel have never been officially drawn, so gradual infiltration followed by annexation seems to be the time-honoured practice. Unfortunately for successive US administrations, the good intentions of their post-war predecessor, Harry S Truman, paved a road for them that is leading to the hell of ongoing war in the Middle East.

Three years ago I wrote about that special relationship between the Turkish and Jewish peoples. My motivation was an incident at the Davos Summit in 2009 where the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, took his Israeli counterpart to task for the aggressive policies of his government. Sad to say, that special relationship seems to have deteriorated further, and one thing is clear: the tide of world opinion has turned, to the point where the Turkish PM now probably represents a majority view on this issue.

Recently I was sent a link to a YouTube video satirising three leaders of countries in this volatile part of the world. The video is entitled ‘The Three Terrors’, and presents Prime Minister Erdoğan, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran and Bashar al-Assad of Syria as three well-known opera singers. In a deceptively light-hearted spoof, the trio sing of their unholy alliance to bring terror to the USA, ‘Jihad is Sweet, Jihad is Fun’, to the tune of the Italian song ‘Funiculi Funicula’.

Well, I love satire as much as the next man. As a peaceful tool to combat the chicanery of politicians, it has no equal. However, I have to say I found this particular spoof disturbing. It portrays PM Erdoğan as a widely despised ‘jerk’ laughably trying to rebuild the Ottoman Empire while allying himself with Syria’s Assad and Iran’s nuclear aspirations. US President Obama is ‘dumb’ for exercising caution before committing his armed forces to another costly  invasion - costly in lives as well as money.

The reality, as I see it, is that Mr Erdoğan’s government has, in ten years, succeeded in raising Turkey’s domestic standards of living, and its international profile to the point where it is now taken seriously on the stage of world affairs. Far from allying itself with Assad’s government, Turkey has been accused of arming and otherwise supporting the rebel forces. Admittedly, the AK Party Government’s attempt (in partnership with Brazil) to broker a deal aimed at easing tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme came to nothing – but you can’t blame them for trying. On the face of it, searching for a peaceful compromise would seem preferable to bombing an ancient world culture back to the Stone Age.

Sometimes I wonder about the source of the seemingly (to me at least) excessively vituperative criticism of Mr Erdoğan’s government circulating on the Internet and in some international journals. Check out that video yourself, and watch it through to the end credits. Is it just me, or did you also feel there was some common element in those names? Who loaded the video? Some entity calling itself Latma TV. Google them and you’ll find most of the material is in the Hebrew language. They also recommend you to visit a site called We Con the World, which seems not to exist any more – but you can find a YouTube video on that too.

Two lessons here for the modern world:
  • Trying to rewrite history is going to cause more problems than you bargained on.
  • If you want to be loved, you should make some effort to be lovable.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Piri Reis's Map - and other big dates in world history

I don't remember much from my school days, to tell you the truth. I was a moderately successful student, but by no means a hardworking one. I attended French classes for five years, without ever learning to speak or do much else with the language. Perhaps that's the reason I have some sympathy for my Turkish students as they struggle with the mysteries of definite and indefinite articles, and gender-specific 3rd person pronouns. One thing I do have a clear memory of, however, from those five years of French lessons, is a line from the novel 'L'Etranger' by Albert Camus - 'Je lui ai effleuré les seins.' The main character, Meursault, is watching a movie at the cinema with a young lady he picks up on the day of his mother’s funeral, and he sneaks a quick feel of her breasts, which is what that line says in a slightly more romantic French kind of way.

Well, that may not seem a lot to have learned in five years of studying French, and my old teachers would perhaps be disappointed to hear it - but one thing it has subsequently taught me is never to underestimate the workings of the adolescent male mind. First, you can’t know what is going to stick in their febrile brains . . . And second, apart from the elite self-motivated few, if you want to get their attention, you need to keep in mind what sort of things make them tick.

Piri Reis, 16th century Ottoman cartographer
Now you may be wondering why this particular memory chose this particular moment to emerge from my mental synapses, and you may be attributing it to male dotage. However, I can assure you, there is a perfectly valid reason: had he lived, 2013 would have been the year Albert Camus celebrated his 100th birthday. Ok, maybe you're still not with me. How do you know this? you're asking, and why should we care? The fact is I paid a visit to the website of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and I read with interest a list of important historical dates to be observed around the world in the coming year.

For example, it will be 350 years since the death of Nzinga Mbande Ngola Kiluanji, Queen of Matamba-Ndongo in present-day Angola, an ‘emblematic figure’, so the UNESCO people assure me, ‘of the struggle against slavery and for women’s empowerment in Africa.’ Doctors in Iran and elsewhere will celebrate the1,000th anniversary of the compilation of ‘Kitab-al-Qānūn fī ţ-ţibb’ by Abd Allah ibn Sina. If that name doesn’t mean much to you, you may know him by its Westernised version, Avicenna, the Persian polymath who published his ‘Canon of Medicine’ in 1013 CE.

Danish intellectuals, I suppose, and the international community of existentialists, will be gathering in smoke-filled rooms to commemorate the  200th birthday  of Sören Kierkegaard, founding father of their movement - and I want to tell you, that happy fact brought back other adolescent memories. For some reason, those writers were in vogue in the days of my youth: Camus, Kierkegaard and close brethren like Jean Paul Sartre, Andre Gide and Samuel Beckett. A lot of them were French, interestingly, and if they weren't, for some reason best known to themselves, they chose to write in that language - which you might think was a commercially poor decision. Another thing they had in common was a preoccupation with the absurdity of human existence - a concept exercising a strange attraction for my youthful male mind on odd occasions when it rose to higher levels of consciousness. Perhaps also, ‘absurd’ seemed an appropriate description of what we were expected to study at school at a time when the world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation.

Well, it was a few years before I gained a truer appreciation of what those philosophers were on about - that a gut experience of the absurdity of human existence was a stepping stone to personal awareness and ascribing meaning to an individual life - the so-called 'leap of faith'. So maybe you can kind of see why it was important to me - but at the same time, you're still left wondering why I visited that UNESCO website in the first place.

So let me tell you. I'd seen an article in a Turkish newspaper proudly announcing that 2013 would be UNESCO's year of Piri Reis, the 16th century Ottoman cartographer, and I wanted to check it out. In fact, I haven't been able to confirm that the United Nations is/are giving that much importance to Admiral Piri - but he's definitely there on the list, and Turks are proud to claim him as their own. It seems that in 1513, the gentleman in question drew a map, at a time when that particular activity was still in its infancy.

Now, somewhere along the line Turks seem to have lost the art of cartography. In my personal experience, the giving of directions is not a national strong point, and the drawing of a map to help a visitor find their house, an arcane mystery to most. Getting your hands on a document in any way resembling a large-scale topographic map for the purposes of tramping the trackless wastes of Anatolia seems a virtual impossibility.

Nevertheless, there was Piri Reis, back around the turn of the 16th century, producing a book entitled Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation), and more especially, a map of the world showing the location of America with remarkable detail and accuracy. According to Wikipedia, ‘the historical importance of the map lies in its demonstration of the extent of exploration of the New World by approximately 1510, perhaps before others. It used ten Arabian sources, four Indian maps sourced from Portuguese and one map of Columbus.’

Hacı Ahmet Muhiddin Piri was born sometime in the late 1460s, following his Uncle Kemal into the Ottoman navy, where he seems to have had a long and distinguished career until a ripe old age, winning victories against the Spanish, Venetians and Genoese, helping to conquer Egypt and the Island of Rhodes, and even achieving some successes against the Portuguese around the Persian Gulf and Arabian Coast, in the days before Ottoman sea-power began to wane. After all that you might think a grateful Empire would have awarded a generous pension and sent him into a well-earned retirement, but apparently that was not the case. It is to be expected that a chap, even a naval hero of such stature, would be losing a little of his youthful vigour by the time he was in his 80s, but it seems Admiral Piri incurred the wrath of the Ottoman Governor of Basra by refusing to engage in yet another foray against the Portuguese – with the result that said governor had him beheaded in 1553. For sure, life wasn’t easy in those days!

But to return to the map, which, you will remember, was our main focus of attention. It seems the Turkish Government back in the 1920s had assigned a German philologist and theologian by the name of Gustav Adolf Deissmann to make a catalogue of non-Islamic items in the library of Topkapı Palace Museum. While engaged in this work, Deissmann turned up, in October 1929, a vellum document of some antiquity, subsequently confirmed to be a fragment of Piri Reis’s long lost world map. Knowing that the Ottoman cartographer had used a Columbus map as one of his sources, academics were excited by the prospect that Columbus’s original might also be lurking somewhere amongst the Topkapı collection. Sad to say, if it still exists, that source map has yet to be located. However, that was not the only excitement created by Mr Deissmann’s find.

Some of my older readers may recall Erich von Daniken, a Swiss gentleman who produced several books back in the late 1960s and early 70s raising the question of whether ‘God’ had actually been some kind of extra-terrestrial astronaut. Despite the fact that most of his evidence (involving Egyptian pyramids, ancient Peruvians and early Indian stainless steel) has been subsequently discredited, the books still sell well, and Erich von’s website claims that he is, in fact, the best-selling non-fiction writer of all time.

His pertinence to our current subject lies in his claim that the Piri Reis map depicted landforms in Antarctica and must have been sourced from documents mapped with advanced technology before the continent was buried under its vast ice sheet. Von Daniken and other ‘researchers’ of ‘palaeo-contact’ have made other claims about the map’s possible connection to ancient aliens, among them that it: shows the earth as seen from space, shows the sub-glacial topography of Greenland, and is aligned with the earth's ‘energy grid’.

Well, I’m not here to discuss the likelihood of alien intervention in human affairs, and the only relevance 2013 has to Erich von Daniken is that it would have been the tenth anniversary of the opening of his theme park near Interlaken in Switzerland, though, unfortunately, it didn’t survive to see even its fourth birthday. However, if you’re at a loose end, and looking for a new Internet wave to surf, I can recommend that UNESCO list of big dates in world history.

Furthermore, if you do have an interest in UFOs and extra-terrestrial visitations, during my researches I stumbled across these sites which you may like to take a look at: World and UFO Digest.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Turkish Wine - Rediscovering an ancient art

I come from a beer-drinking country. Well, we’re not as mono-cultural as we once were, thank God. When I was a kid, New Zealand culture could be pretty much summed up by the three words: Rugby, Racing, and Beer. There was an institution known as ‘The 6 O’clock Swill’. This phenomenon owed its existence to the fact that pubs in NZ used to close their doors at 6 pm, or shortly thereafter. Those who had built up a thirst during their working day (mostly men at that period of our history) had one hour to get to the nearest watering hole and quaff as much ale as they could before the law of the land decreed that they should get out and head home to their loving wives and/or families. As you may imagine, this was not conducive to the development of civilised drinking habits – and the effects are still felt, a generation or two on.
A selection of Turkish wines

Of course, other alcoholic beverages were available. The more sophisticated or perhaps feminine might sip sherry, or something euphemistically labelled ‘Pimms’. Continental tastes were provided for by immigrants from Eastern Europe, who produced something distantly akin to red wine, commonly referred to as ‘Dally Plonk’. Unshaven gentlemen of no fixed abode were sometimes to be seen on park benches sampling this brew from bottles concealed in plain brown paper bags.

I’m happy to say, we are a more civilised nation these days. A referendum in 1967 extended bar hours to 10 pm – allowing for less frenetic speed drinking. Somewhere around the late 1970s, a wine culture started to gain a foothold. Citizens began to discover the surprising fact that moderate consumption of alcohol could accompany a meal and intelligent conversation. The drinks themselves could become a topic for discussion: “Well, I’d say this full-bodied red shows dark rich berry, chocolate and spice characters enhanced by subtle toasty oak nuances, what would you say darling?” “Oh do shut up, Charles, and pass the bottle, won’t you?”

These days, teachers and civil servants nearing retirement age aspire to establishing a boutique winery in Hawkes Bay or Marlborough, or some other location where the micro-climate is conducive and the real estate prices more affordable. New Zealand wines have a well-earned reputation abroad, winning medals at international events, and wine exports are a nice little earner for our humble economy. New Zealanders of a certain class pride themselves, not only on knowing the difference between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, but also on what vintages of which particular vineyards produced the best ones.  

What I want to say here is, though, this didn’t happen over night. An increasingly wealthy society and an expanding middle class availed themselves of greater opportunities to travel abroad and see for themselves the older oenophile cultures of Europe. Organisations of wine producers brought together like-minded entrepreneurs who exerted persuasive pressure on governments to create a favourable climate for growth, and on the media to help in educating the populace and building a potential market. Another factor has undoubtedly been a hard-line approach by authorities to drivers who drink, such that it is a brave soul who gets behind the steering wheel after even one beer or glass of wine.

Two generations, then, have seen radical changes in drinking patterns of New Zealanders (and our Australian cousins, though I have to confess, they were always a little ahead of us). These days, executives and other high-flyers watch rugby matches while sipping quality wines in corporate boxes with their spouses or paramours. Of course, remnants of the old ways live on in footie clubs and suburban beer barns - but as a nation, we have diversified in many fields, and alcohol consumption is one measure of this.

So, what about Turkey, you're asking. Weren't you going to say something about that? And so I am. The land occupied by the modern Republic of Turkey is one of the birthplaces of human civilisation. Asia Minor and the plains between the two rivers, whose waters rise in south-eastern Turkey, witnessed the first domestication of animals and the growing of crops for food, the moulding and firing of clay to make pots, and the early stages of metallurgy. Hand in hand with the march of civilisation went the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. It seems likely that the first wild grapes were cultivated here, and the first hesitant steps taken on the road to producing an award-winning pinot noir. The classical civilisations of Greece and Rome enjoyed their wine. They even assigned responsibility for it to a junior member of their divine pantheon – the Romans, Bacchus, and the Greeks, Dionysus. After the Imperial authorities gave up massacring and otherwise persecuting Christians, and Romans and Greeks joined the ranks of the Saved, apparently they didn't let their new faith stand in the way of imbibing an amphora or two of Bacchus's nectar.

Grape cultivation and wine production in Asia Minor continued in good heart until the Muslim Ottomans took over. The Prophet Muhammed was, I understand, quite specific in his proscription of wine for true believers. Why didn't he mention beer, cider, Pimms and other spirituous liquors (if, in fact, he didn't. My Arabic is not up to checking the original text to see what his exact words were)? Well, one reason very likely is that, in the evolution of alcoholic beverages, distillation arrived relatively late on the scene. Scotch whisky may now be regarded as a traditional tipple North o' the Border, but most of the great whisky houses in fact date from the 19th century, as by the way, do most of the clan tartans. Anyway, the Prophet's lack of omniscience on this one left an alcoholic loophole for Turks to slip through. For some at least, obeying the letter of Koranic law and abstaining from wine is enough - and the considerably more powerful rakı, with an alcohol content of 45%, is readily accepted.

It also helped that the Ottomans adopted a tolerant approach to religious minorities within their borders. Jews, Orthodox Greeks and Armenians were not only permitted to observe their religious customs, speak their own languages and educate their children relatively unmolested, they were also allowed to grow their grapes, trample the vintage, ferment, bottle, sell and imbibe the fruit of the vine pretty much according to established practice. More than a few Sultans, most of whom anyway were born to Christian mothers, are reputed to have liked a drop from time to time - and no doubt some of their Muslim subjects saw little harm, occasionally, in joining their Brothers-of-the-Book in a glass or two for friendship's sake.

Nevertheless, it must be true that, for a considerable period, at a time when European civilization was making great strides towards modern alcoholic sophistication (and in other fields too for all I know), wine production within the Ottoman domains failed to keep pace with developments in France, Italy, Germany and so on. When the Ottoman Empire breathed its last and the Turkish Republic came into existence in 1923, its first president, among a host of better known reforms, freed up the production and consumption of spirituous and fermented liquors. While tobacco and spirits were under state monopoly, wine, probably in deference to the status quo, was left in the hands of private producers - though the state did also establish its own vineyards and wineries.

Tezcan Gürkan, owner of Ganos wineries in Mürefte, began his career with the state Tekel organisation. His vines produce a range of boutique wines, red and white, under the Krater, and the more up-market Ganos label. Tezcan Bey has mixed feelings about the current state of the wine industry in Turkey. He is passionate about its long history, and its potential to compete in world markets, owing to the country's congenial climate and fertile soils.  In terms of human health, he points out, the benefits of moderate wine consumption, especially red wine, in reducing the risk of heart attack, diabetes and even some forms of cancer, have been well publicized. Tezcan Bey further notes that, in the past ten years, during the tenure of the present AK Party government, locally produced wines have improved markedly, both in variety and quality. He is enthusiastic about wines produced from local grape varieties such as boğazkere, öküzgözü and kalecik karası. While accepting that Turkey's climate is more conducive to the production of red wines, he also mentions the potential of narince and other white varieties in certain microclimates. On the other hand, he is less sanguine about the future, given the punitive level of taxation targeting alcohol in Turkey. I can attest to this from my own experience, having seen the cost of a mid-price red wine at the supermarket checkout almost double in the past five years.

Still, it's not government policy alone that is impeding the industry's growth. That same bottle of Angora or Villa Doluca, selling for 20 Turkish liras at Migros, will probably add sixty to eighty liras to your bill at a restaurant. The Ministry of Tourism would do well to take a look at the effects of such pricing on visitors to the country. It may be that Turks themselves, weighing up relative value for money, will go for a bottle of rakı with four times the alcohol content - but foreign visitors are more likely to drink one bottle of wine instead of two, and feel scalped into the bargain.

Nevertheless, the younger Gürkan generation seems more optimistic. Tezcan Bey's son, Doruk, recognizes the potential of a growing, and increasingly sophisticated middle class in Turkish cities. One measure of this is the regular appearance these days, of articles in Turkish newspapers and magazines discussing wine, local and imported, and the industry itself. As was the case in my own home country, the twin processes of increasing awareness, and growing demand feed off each other.

Still it is evident that the Turkish wine industry is nowhere near to achieving its potential as an export earner for the nation. A recent article in Hürriyet newspaper examined and compared the state of play in a number of comparable countries, in terms of grape vine acreage and wine production. According to their figures, Turkey has the fourth largest area of vines measured by hectares. Only Spain, France and Italy have more grapes under cultivation. In contrast, however, Turkey's comparative wine production is minuscule, at 75 million litres, ranking it way below even New Zealand, with a fraction of the vine acreage. NZ's wine exports, incidentally, generated 868 million dollars of income, and clearly Turkey has the potential to surpass that.

The big problem, as I see it, and Gürkan 'pere et fils' among others, apparently agree, is the lack of a large and knowledgeable local market. Whatever the sector, economies of scale determine whether an enterprise will succeed or fail. New Zealand has been able to develop its wine exports because locals drank enough of the stuff to get the business up and running. Turkey, with a population approaching eighty million, had a large enough local market to support the establishment of car manufacturing, electronics and whiteware factories, and a large textile industry - which have then been able to move out into more competitive global markets. New Zealand, unfortunately, with its four-and-a-half million people, lacks this major advantage. Clearly what Turkish wine producers need and seem to lack, is an umbrella organisation that will speak for them, arguing the case for government support of the industry, and engaging in general campaigns to raise public awareness.

As one who enjoys a glass of wine, and appreciates the local product, I'm following developments in the sector with interest.