Gölbaşı (“Lakeside”) is one of Ankara’s southernmost neighborhoods and gets its name from Mogan Lake, a pleasant reed- and duck-filled body of water that currently marks where Ankara ends and farmland begins. Several restaurants occupy a section of Mogan Lake’s shoreline and are a good getaway on a hot summer day.
Gölbaşı is also where the main highway linking Ankara to the Anatolian plateau’s immediate central and southern portions enters the city – that highway is known as the Konya Highway, but once it enters Ankara it becomes Mevlana Boulevard, named for Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the famous 13th-Century Persian poet who inspired the Mevlevi Order of Sufi dervishes, aka “the Whirling Dervishes.” Rumi spent much of his life in Konya, and his tomb, a pilgrimage point, is there.
Because Konya Highway is a strategic route from Turkey’s southern regions into the capital, Turkish security forces have set up a checkpoint on the highway right at the point where the highway leaves Gölbaşı and enters Ankara proper as it runs through the Middle East Technical University forest. There are no other local exits before reaching main areas of southern Ankara by Oran and Dikmen. Unless one knows the neighborhoods well, it’s not easy to get into Ankara from Gölbaşı by a back road route.
The checkpoint, of course, is meant to prevent the PKK/TAK/PYD (or DHKP-C or ISIS, etc.) from transporting weapons, explosives, car bombs, or suicide bombers into the city. I was in Gölbaşı last summer and I don’t remember such a checkpoint, so I guess it was established sometime in the past year.
Over the past couple of weeks I travelled past the checkpoint in a passenger car several times, so I could observe what was going on. Generally, passenger buses were stopped and two or three members of the Turkish gendarmes carrying out identification checks and baggage searches on the buses (NOTE: Turkish gendarmes are more like a domestic, interurban policing and security apparatus). While the searches were continuing, four or five other gendarmes were close by, leaning against the highway guardrail. Usually two or three had automatic weapons.
Last Sunday I went by one last time before returning to İstanbul, and the scene was different. The time was about 20.00, so the sun was setting, and this time no bus was stopped and no gendarmes were visible. Every time I had gone past in the previous week there had always been at least one bus stopped for inspection. But the other signs of the checkpoint, the parked gendarme van, were still there.
I began to wonder what was going on when I noticed smoke wafting over the guardrail. Ha ha! No, there wasn’t a car accident or something, and no, the gendarmes hadn’t deserted their post. Instead, in the best Turkish fashion, the guys had broken out the barbecue for iftar! İftar is the breakfast at the end of the daily fast during Ramadan, so the gendarmes are even fasting while they’re on duty, protecting the citizens.