Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

The fear factor: Slurpees and suspicion

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It is a common observation that for what most Turks demonstrate in hospitality, they make up for in paranoia and wide acceptance of conspiracy theories. I have mentioned some of these briefly in the past. The following anecdote, however, is exemplary:

“… the United States is funding the PKK.”

The assertion came out of nowhere — entirely tangential — but it was an interesting claim. Certainly not unbelievable, but hard to prove.

“How do you know?” I asked.


I laughed. Finally, a sense of humor.

But he did not laugh. I gradually began to wonder if he meant to say “nine-eleven,” and that he would somehow draw a connection between 9/11, international terrorism, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). That would be interesting.

Instead, he proceeded to explain that the colors of the PKK’s current flag are identical to the colors used by the well-known international chain of convenience stores, 7-Eleven.

Apparently, he did not misspeak.

I nodded and waited for a punchline. Or a smile, a wink. Instead, he moved uncomfortably in his seat.

After one too many seconds, I agreed that it was quite a coincidence. Such ugly colors — after all, how many people could possibly want to use them? I expressed that I had no proof to contradict his claim, and the dialogue ended shortly after.

Though this particular encounter is certainly an unfair characterization of the majority of Turks, it is, I think, indicative of a certain culture of suspicion, conspiracy, and fear, especially as relates to Turkey’s “friendship” with the “West.” In the way of explanation, the fact that the country still plays host to acute paranoia should come as no surprise — the clandestine world of the Cold War was very active in Turkey, and not very long ago.

But this simplistic explanation is not a solution for the problem that this offers to the observer of Turkish politics. With irrational suspicion and fear comes unpredictability, and this aspect of the culture — while it is still alive — should be broadening every political analyst and forecaster’s margin of error.

Sometimes, if we wish to be honest with ourselves, our clarifications only reveal more obscurity. Although this encounter might explain quite clearly why there are no 7-Eleven franchises, licensees, or affiliates in Turkey.

Written by M. James

December 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm

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