You might remember Intern #2, the flop-haired 18-year-old I met in December not far from the front lines of the civil war in northern Burma. Zach Goldman was then, and still is, a tourist, a backpacker, just with a slightly different itinerary than most. I caught up with him a month or so ago, after he had shaved his head and traveled to the blasted-out Nagorno-Karabakh town of Agdam. He told me he was headed to the tense Kurdish areas of Turkey, and to Kurdistan in Iraq; I told him to stay away from the Iranian border. Which he has, for the most part. But that hasn’t kept him entirely safe. He just popped up on my Facebook chat, from an internet cafe in Hakkâri, Turkey, less than 70 miles from the Iranian border.
Zach You know, when you’re right, you’re right.
Zach Should’ve definitely stayed away from the Iranian border..
Zach I just got picked up by Turkish counter intelligence with a friend of mine
R&K Did they release you (or are you Facebooking from a Turkish prison?)
Zach They let me go. They let us go.
R&K Expelled from the country or just told to watch out?
Zach Just told to watch out essentially. I’m meeting my brother in Erbil. he’s a security guard at the U.S embassy in Baghdad.
R&K Tell me more about the pickup
Zach My friend was playing with my camera and took some pictures from the window of this very internet cafe as I was Facebooking. When I signed out I looked up and there was about 5 men armed with AK-47’s and a man in a trench coat asking me for my passport and what I was doing here. They immediately confiscated my camera and my passport.
R&K Jesus. Dangerous to Facebook.
Zach Could be.
R&K So did they take you in?
Zach Yeah. They threw me and my friend into the back of an armed vehicle and drove us off to their headquarters. They searched us. Then they asked us questions pertaining to what we were doing, why we were taking pictures, what I specifically was doing here in Hakkari, where I was going.
R&K Was it hostile or just prying?
Zach I don’t know if I would call men armed with AK-47’s leading me into an armor plated vehicle just prying… but no. It wasn’t hostile.
R&K Did they identify themselves clearly from the start?
Zach No. I wasn’t told they were counter intelligence until the whole ordeal was basically over. I managed to make “friends” with one of the officers. He had lived in Texas and spoke fluent English.
R&KWhat did they tell you before they identified themselves?
Zach They just told me to go with them and they had my passport, and my friend, and my $1000 camera on hand. Also the men with guns… I wasn’t going anywhere but with them
R&K Everything returned to you?
Zach Yup. No pictures deleted. Hands were shook. Jokes were had.
R&K No bribes?
Zach I’d say too professional for that. Waaaaay too professional
R&K Why you?
Zach I’m the only tourist in town. I have no cash. I’m traveling with a local.
R&K Anything you did besides just being in Hakkari?
Zach He was taking suspicious pictures. Being in Hakkari is worthy of suspicion enough is the mentality i think. It was only a week ago that road opened for tourists again. On the way here from Van there were several checkpoints. All asking “what are you doing here”.
R&K But they let you through those.
Zach Valid visa. Road is open. I guess they must’ve thought I was a dumb tourist. They weren’t far from the truth on that account.
R&K But you’re a smart tourist?
Zach Smart enough to pack my bags for the next town on the way to Iraq tomorrow
R&K How long did they hold you?
Zach About 2 or 3 hours
R&K So tell me about Hakkari. Nice place?
Zach Actually it’s a beautiful city. It’s built upwards along a mountain slope at the base of Mt. Clio. Pronounced Jlio in Turkish. The people are incredibly friendly. It’s got a really nice vibe. If it weren’t for the massive amounts of police and military vehicles
R&K Worth the arrested part?
Zach Worth it since I got out scott free. Just another tale to tell the grandkids.
R&K It’ll take some doing for you to stick around that long, at this rate. What does one do in Hakkari?
Zach The people make the attraction. The city is almost entirely Kurdish and within minutes of stepping off the bus I was invited in for tea with an elderly man and while this is common throughout Turkey, the man invited me back to his place to stay the night. Which is where I met my friend Hakan who was taken with me when we got picked up
R&K You’re traveling with him? Where?
Zach Well just for today. He was showing me Hakkari. The grand tour so to speak, which included playing playstation at the local game joint
R&K I see. Was he nervous about the police?
Zach A little bit I think. It was just a few hours before that his friends were screaming “FUCK TURKISH POLICE”
R&K The counterintelligence guys are not Kurds.
Zach No. 100% Turkish
R&K Where to next?
R&K That turkey or Kurdistan?
Zach There is no Kurdistan. Not in Turkey. It is inhabited by Kurds. Lots of Kurds. In fact you might even call the whole town a Kurdish town.
R&K Whey too many Kurds
Zach For the Turks maybe.
R&K That was a pun. When iraq?
Zach erm… 2 maybe 3 days. Perhaps 4 is Şırnak is interesting enough. Which at this rate it will be.
R&K Who’s this brother you’re meeting in Erbil? I thought you’re an only child
Zach Well my brother you see… It was the best I could come up with for heading to Iraq. So totally making up a bullshit story on the spot and sticking to it unshakingly.
R&K Well, it’ll be great to see him again. It’s been a while.
Zach Yeah. We’re meeting in Erbil. He’s getting a week off to tour the north and I was in the area.
R&K Erbil is a nice place for imaginary people to meet
R&K I have to say, as an alibi it seems pretty f’in strange. But if it’s gotten you this far…
Zach My story is strange either way. But it sounds more solid than “I’m a tourist just passing through”or “Just wanted to see the mountains, want some dope?”
Prior Intern #2 stories: the story of how Zach and I met in northern Burma and our previous Q&A from Agdam, Nagorno-Karabakh. Now for a Kurdish musical interlude, selected by Zach himself. Hammerpants and hip thrusts.