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On Coups And Croissants, Why The News Is All About Me
Alidad Vassigh

What kind of a world do we live in, when Turkey can't even give us a proper coup anymore?

Unable to sleep for the summer heat in Valencia, I remember that twisted thought coming to me as the July 15 coup — or at least its broadcast version — was unfolding on the radio.

Typically with such stunning events, it takes a moment to grasp what is happening: watching the 9/11 attack on television, I initially thought it was a simulation of what a terror strike on New York could look like. But with the Spanish radio practically shouting the latest details from Ankara and Istanbul, this could have been a soccer match. Still, I understood immediately that a coup was underway in Turkey, and my heartbeat stepped up.

"Come on," I thought. This'll be the chance to be rid of him — Turkey's own Khomeini without a turban. But a voice inside warned me that it was too good to be true. Sure enough, the next morning, the elected despot was back in charge. Back to gnawing away at the secular Kemalist institutions in a dismal emulation of my own country, Iran, which replaced its Westernizing monarchy with a gang of "illiterate Bashibazuks," as Tintin"s Captain Haddock might say.

I have only an emotive response to news, as I believe most people do. I do not find politics or current affairs inherently interesting. The news is really about you and your aspirations, and in some cases, your savings. It raises your hopes one moment, and dashes them the next. As a Reuters tutor told our group of Middle East stringers in 1999, if you want to know what is newsworthy, look for fear and greed. It's personal, in other words.

I trust my middle-class instincts.

Some of my views have changed over the years, but broadly I remain a social and cultural conservative. I tend to trust my middle-class instincts, conditioned I admit by a 20th-century Western education. I feel (surely "we all" do?) there was something suspect about Tayyip Recep Erdogan right from the start, like Putin or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. It is not so much their left-wing populism or "national socialism" that disturbs as their dirty, treacherous, insidious methods. Dostoevsky must have based his Demons on similar individuals.

I remember spotting a New York Times item around the time of the Turkish coup, about how closely it was being followed in Egypt. The title suggested to me the Egyptians were hoping Erdogan would fall. What a fine item I thought (I didn't read it), imagining a nation's entire middle class, eager like me to see a Turkish version of General Sisi send the mullahs packing.

The rectification of history in Turkey, a country my family and I had become fond of in recent years, as an agreeable place to visit, geographically close and similar to Iran in many ways. I wondered about the Istanbul hotel owner who always received us like family: clean-shaven, fond of a drink, speaking excellent English, and now having to witness the triumphant mob.

Further back in 2001, I remember listening to the BBC World Service as it announced the brief overthrow of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. I felt elated, and a trifle guilty as one does. I went out to celebrate with a coffee and a chocolate croissant ("That's how you celebrate?" a Moroccan friend of mine asked. He'd probably opted for a gay orgy.)

The next day, I had another chocolate croissant, to dull the pain of the coup's failure.

More recently I was perturbed by an odd coincidence. It occurred to me one evening in Valencia, that with "our luck" in Iran, the next mullah to die off will be Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president many thought might moderate the regime at the top. Seconds later, I saw on my television the news-ticker announcing his death.

I had better distance myself from news, as it brings out the worst in me. I am living proof of the Indian thinker Krishnamurti's opinion that wars start in our minds. Perhaps news in its present form, is designed to generate just enough anger and stress to make us come back tomorrow, hoping for "better" news. Like gambling.

But if nothing else, reports of far-flung events may also provide you with valuable if not-always-flattering information about yourself.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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