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Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey

TURKEY: THE GREAT POWER OUTAGE

by in bloggingaboutturkey
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That was the day that was!

Last Tuesday I woke late to hear the next-door hotel's generator roaring away. Concluding that the electricity was off, a not uncommon situation, I picked up a book and prepared to sit out the usual half-hour or less of power outage. 

But when there was no sign of the power returning even after an hour, I dragged myself out of bed with a sigh and prepared to start my day by iPhone torch, my bathroom being inside a cave and therefore being pitch black without the light. In the kitchen I used matches to light a gas ring to boil water for coffee and an egg. Then I stepped out into the courtyard to do a spot of weeding before rain stopped play on that front too. 

It was all very odd. By now the power had been off for several hours, which, these days, really isn’t normal. But still it hadn't occurred to me to wonder what was going on until three in the afternoon when I set off, grumpily aware of all the things I hadn't done, to have tea with a friend in the hotel next door. 

"Oh, you haven't heard? The power’s out all over Turkey!" I was told as soon as I arrived and commented on the long loss of leccy. There followed some fairly routine conspiracy theorising about how the EU had cut off the power to Turkey, or how we were suffering from a cyberattack of some sort. Whatever, it was soon apparent that it was a very odd day indeed when we saw on generator-powered television that a public prosecutor, Mehmet Selim Kiraz, had been taken hostage in the vast new and one would have thought fortress-like Adalet Sarayı (Palace of Justice) in İstanbul's Çağlayan neighbourhood. Scary pictures showed a man in a balaclava holding a pistol to his head. The hostage-takers were said to be from the shadowy DHKP/C that pops up every now and then with an atrocity to remind us of its existence before vanishing into the shadows again. This time their activities were supposedly in support of poor Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy sent to buy bread in Ökmeydanı in 2013 just as post-Gezi fighting broke out between locals and the police. Caught in the crossfire he suffered a fatal blow to the head from a gas canister fired by the police. His life-support system was finally turned off in 2014 after he had spent 269 days in a coma. 

Now we learned that only Van province had been saved from the loss of electricity because its power came from Iran. And so we sat it out until the sun started to go down by which time our water supply had also vanished. This in a tourist town at the start of one of its busiest periods in the run-up to Easter. Receptionists were forced to repeat time and again that no, there was no power, no water and no Internet, and, no, they couldn't say for certain when these customary amenities would be reappearing. In the Taşkonak Hotel, a friend dug out a packet of tealights and lined her stairs with them to prevent any guest from falling. Then just as rumour was reaching us that the power cut would last for four days and we were digesting in silence what this would mean in terms of uncharged phones and computers suddenly the lights were on again and the roar of the generators faded away.

Back in my house it took me a moment to realise this since I'd flicked all my switches to the off position to guard against any returning power surge writing off appliances. It took another three hours for the water to come back but by midnight the Great Power Outage of 2015 was mere memory.

The question remains though as to how such a thing could have happened. It was, the papers said the next day, Turkey's worst power outage since 1999 when the cause had been the massive Marmara Earthquake. Last Tuesday, though, everything was as normal. Was it mere incompetence somewhere along the line of generation that had sent us all back to the Stone Age? Or was it, as sounded all too horribly plausible, a decision by one of the privatized natural gas power plants not to supply the grid since the exchange rate made doing so uneconomic? It looked as if one such decision might have had knock-on effects along the line, leading Europe to cut off what should have been a back-up supply for fear of too much demand. 

Amid all the speculation something else went virtually unnoticed which was that all the 236 mainly army personnel convicted in the Balyoz-Sledgehammer court cases that dragged on through the late 2000s had been acquitted when the court ruled that the evidence against them was inadequate. I was reminded of British government press officer Jo Moore’s infamous email of 2001 suggesting that 11 September was “a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”

One week later the head of TEDİAŞ resigned. We may never know precisely what happened. But it was a sobering reminder of just how appallingly dependent on electricity we have become for every aspect of our daily lives. 



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