The show must go on
It all started with a perfect show on December the 4th.
The Turkish Transportation Minister was proudly waving goodbye to the first train that would follow the old Silk Road all the way to China from Europe.
An invited crowd had gathered to clap and congratulate yet another achievement of Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey. A historic moment was at play where the train would leave Istanbul from the European continent, pass the tunnel under the Bosphorus, then end up in about 12 days in China, carrying 42 containers of household appliances like refrigerators. Why would China, a massive manufacturer of refrigerators, would buy these in Turkey, on the other side of the world, and import it when its refrigerators are coming out of its ears, is another question.
There has to be a success here, somewhere
The Turkish government is in dire straits to prove that they could accomplish something, anything, in their 18 years of governance.
Many years ago, the government showed off an electric tractor that would work 8 hours with a single charge that the Turkish engineers had built. Nobody has ever heard another peep of this project after Erdoğan put on his field galoshes and walked like a proud farmer alongside this electrical farm machine for the pro-government media agencies to take a good, smiling picture of him. Since then, Turkey has been importing even the vegetables and agricultural produce it used to export previously. Turkey has become a buyer of potatoes, legumes, and even hay to feed the animals.
Then came the Turkish built planes. Turkey would cut off its dependence on foreign corporations and manufacture aircraft, said the government. The planes were just about finished at the factories and were being tested, ready to fly off. The government even erected billboards on busy highways where a flying airplane and the ever-smiling Erdoğan’s face promised a brighter future in the skies and showed what the government had done to stimulate the economy. After many years, the factory location is still unknown.
Train to nowhere
Coming back to December the 9th, finally the occasion presented itself to showcase a success story. The Silk Road Train to Xi’an! Let those skeptics eat this.
The platform was decorated, the Minster was exchanging smiles and gratitudes. Hands were waving. Cameras were clicking, and banners from the locomotive revealed to the world what the Turkish government had done to build train tracks, digging tunnels, connecting different routes, and helping out paving the way to open the ancient Silk Road once more for world commerce.
A train from China had made the voyage from Asia to Europe on the Iron Silk Road, but now, the course would be reversed by Turkish trains in the opposite direction.
And the train left the platform, but disappeared into thin air. Like in a Twilight Zone episode, a whole train, locomotive, cars, containers and all, simply vanished into thin air. Gone.
The last evidence on its journey was that the train did cross the tunnel and made it to Istanbul’s Asia side. Then nothing.
The Workers’ Union discovers the Missing Train
Few days had to pass until, quite by accident, railroad workers solved the missing train’s mystery. In a train depot that wasn’t even on route to Xi’an, they saw a parked mysterious train. Investigating the train, the workers found out that this was the train that should have been on its way to China.
The workers were able to identify the train by the mismatch of cars pulled from whatever was available at that moment to make it seem legitimate. The whole ordeal was put together for a show. It was all a charade to promote the Transportation Minister and the Turkish government.
Tracing the train’s movement shows that after it left the platform where the government show was being performed, the train passed through the tunnel to Asia and stopped at a train station. There the banners, signs, and flags were removed, and it traveled back to the European side of Istanbul to be secretly parked at a depot. The train had covered hundreds of miles for no reason other than giving the government a photo-op.
Regular train traffic disrupted for a show
For this smoke-and-mirrors operation, Istanbul’s local commuter and freight train traffic were sent into chaos.
Freight trains, like the one prepared for the Beijing performance, are not allowed to travel during business hours. However, when the ruling party AKP and Erdoğan insists that a moral boosting operation is needed for TV, especially when they are losing support among their electorate, all rules are suspended in Turkey.
For the fake train to cross the tunnel twice, the administration canceled nine other commuter trains. Then, ten trains’ routes were cut short, and nine other trains were delayed for the China Train to pass.
And all this happened just before the same government issued a 56-hour curfew for the pandemic, and people were trying desperately to get to work or get home for the shelter-in-place order. The lives of 15 million Istanbul residents disrupted so that Adil Karaismailoğlu, the Transportation Minister, and the Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu could pretend to have achieved something.
Corruption and mismanagement
This is not the first time the government of Turkey, swimming in corruption, has been embarrassed by non-performance.
Like the airplane and the tractor failures, the Turkish automobile project has made the government a laughing stock to the world. Erdoğan announced the all-Turkish automobile was ready for mass production without having a single working factory. When the prototype car was showcased, it was a replica of a vehicle already displayed several years back by foreigners in a Chinese auto show. The Turkish car being shown had foreign-made and imported motor, transmission, electronics, the power-train, and most other components. Turkey was only to assemble the units.
Turkey was producing its own airplanes and even exporting them in the 1940s. However, turning to the US for guidance, she was instructed to stop making aircraft and buy from the US instead. Turkey did just that.
The country’s integration to the West rose sharply after the 1980 illegal military coup when the US-supported officers took the reins and forcefully pushed Turkey faster into the US camp. Erdoğan continued this route by introducing a privatization program at a level never seen before. The US supported Turkish government sold all people-owned production and services to foreign and private enterprises. Rumors and evidence of bribes at unheard-of levels as well as kick-backs started circulating. In many cases, the government issued even a “publication ban” on these accusations as it always does when it concerns the government’s and Erdoğan’s family’s corruption and ethics.
Turkish citizens are still waiting to see the all-Turkish made cars, planes, tractors, and even spacecraft that Erdoğan promised with enthusiasm.
Facing reaction to the train fiasco, the government reacted sharply after a few days. The official reply unequivocally denied all accusations of a show and stated that the train had made a stop on route to Beijing and asked people not to spread misinformation. However, the depot where the train was tied-down is not on the announced path. Actually, it is in completely the opposite direction, back in the European side of Turkey. The train had traveled about 80 miles to cross over to Asia, then reversed course, crossed back again to Europe.
The government’s answer made the situation more bizarre as it did not answer why the banners, signs, and flags were removed from the pride-and-joy freight.
In response, the government came out with another explanation. In its announcement the next day, the situation was further explained. The train had started in its journey, you see; however, at the last minute, more refrigerator orders had come from China. And in order to fulfill the new request, the train had temporarily pulled over to load more appliances.
Judicial investigation of the workers and the union for exposing the mystery train
As usual, nobody took this explanation seriously either. The railroad workers’ union BTS rejected both contradictory statements of the government and called the district attorneys to start an investigation of the fake train show that disrupted the entire traffic of the city and mislead the people and the press.
The union also called attention to a government’s new, secret investigation to identify any worker who was at the BTS’ press release.
The BTS union has a meeting hall under the Haydarpaşa train station under construction but open to the public. After the workers’ organization exposed the train scandal, the government officials suddenly closed access to the section of the station where the union hall is located, citing construction requirements.
In the meantime, Turkish officials and ministers keep opening new factories, plants, and projects they forgot they opened previously.
Sendika.org news (M.B.)