Category Archives: Human Affairs

About my name ..

I have a relatively long name, if you consider my first, middle and last names together. As individual pieces they are pretty short: Çetin means hard, difficult, insurmountable, in Turkish, while Kaya means rock or boulder, also in Turkish, which makes my first and middle names as Çetin Kaya, i.e., a difficult to climb rock or an insurmountable rock! This would imply that my parents (particularly, my father who seems to have chosen this name) must have been pretty ambitious when they named me.

Actually, the real story is simpler and somewhat poignant: Çetinkaya is the name of a small town and train station between Sivas and Erzincan, two easterly provinces of Turkey:



The story goes, while my mother was pregnant, my father took a train from Istanbul in a winter month, where he was doing his 24-month-long military service, and came as far as the town of Çetinkaya, where the train was stranded due to heavy snow. They were stuck there many hours, probably, half of a day, until the snow was cleared out. They were pretty hungry, the townspeople of Çetinkaya, brought breads for the unlucky passengers of this coal-powered steam train, looking probably something like this:



This memory forever carved into my father’s brain is something he tells anyone who is willing to listen of the story behind my unusual name. I say it is unusual because most people in Turkey have classical names, such as, Mehmet, Ahmet, Mustafa, Ömer, etc.

That’s all I want to tell you about my name or even myself. Unless it is absolutely necessary I don’t want to tell you much about myself, the author of this blog. This blog is about ideas, thoughts, and gedanken experiments. I want to write here, even as there is no one here to read or to listen. Like anyone of you out there, I’ve got my own issues, my own dilemmas. I am a person who hates his own pictures, and avoids having a picture of himself taken, at all costs! I avoid mirrors like plague, and often find myself in embarrassing situations, like having a piece of melted dark chocolate on the side of my mouth or on my chin, because I failed to check my face out on a mirror before leaving the house! 🙂 Seriously, I should learn to avoid such awkardnesses. Alas, I cannot accomplish it. I just can’t stand seeing myself from outside; on the other hand, I am pretty (almost) happy watching myself from within, especially when I am alone, walking, working, writing, reading or listening. That takes me away from the moment, at least momentarily, and I hope my friends and students forgive me when I look at their eyes with an empty stare, not having heard a single word of what they are saying in the last I-don’t-know-how-many seconds! Luckily, we are talking (I hope) only about seconds. You be the judge, when you meet me next time.

One last thing: my last name, Koç means ram (male sheep) in Turkish, which is a completely random choice. Someday I could tell you more; suffices to say that one day suddenly the Turkish Government of the day (1930s) decided that everyone should have a last name, and apparently, my grandfather selected this one, probably by thinking a few seconds when asked by a census clerk to quickly produce a last name, while watching sheep graze on the meadows at the edge of the town! A few of his cousins selected other and equally arbitrary last names (they should have selected the same name; they probably did not know that they had to), again very likely watching some meadows or hills in a dreamy state! So, different branches of my family (my grandfather’s cousins) have different last names.

This is the humble story of my unusual name, a pretty impressive collection of words: Insurmountable Rock Ram! It sounds even more pounding in Turkish: Çetin Kaya Koç!

But this is the beginning and the end of impressive things about me .. as far as I can see. The rest of my life is pretty normal, with a few lucky breaks, some work, a quark of concentration.

Climbing Ararat

Ararat and Little Ararat

A beautiful volcanic mountain called Ararat rises in eastern Turkey, on the border of Armenia and Iran. It is the tallest mountain in Turkey. I measured the height as 5132m using the aster method when I was at the summit. However, many geography books claim it to be 5165m; several guides told me that this information is incorrect and the correct value is about 5135m. Indeed, the Google Map says that is 5137m (16,854 feet).

Its mythical story notwithstanding, it is a beautiful mountain majestically visible from Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. Together with its younger sister, Little Ararat (3925m, the 6th tallest mountain in Turkey), it has gorgeous views in all seasons.

Visible from 3 countries
View from Armenia
View from Yerevan
View from Turkey
View from Iğdır
View from Doğubeyazıt









Climbing Ararat

A usual climbing expedition takes 5 days and 4 nights to get to the summit and to return. There are known 5 routes to the summit. The currently used (and the most popular) route is the Southern route, which starts from the town of Bayazid (official name: Doğubeyazıt), more specifically, from a town called Çevirme (Çarme, in Kurdish) at the elevation of 2189m. This is the route I took with my team to climb up.

The Southern route
View from 3400m
View from 4200m






On the other hand, the Western route requires walking over a glacier on the west side of the mountain after about 4000m, which is doable but harder and more dangerous. There are two Northern routes, via the town of Iğdır, one of which requires technical climbing, while the other seems to be similar to the popular Southern route in difficulty. There is also an Eastern route which is less known and used, but does not seem to be too challenging.

The Southern route climbers start the first day by arriving the Çarme Village (elevation: 2189m) with car, and climbing up to the Base Camp (elevation: 3361m) during the first day. This walk takes 4-5 hours. The first night is spent at the Base Camp.

The second day, there is about 4-5 hours of climb to the Second Camp (elevation: 4200m) for acclimating. The Second camp is much rockier, and has smaller area for tents, and therefore, acclimating climbers usually do not spend time at there, instead spend their hour at about 100m below. The team returns to the Base Camp during the second day and spend the night at the Base Camp.

The third day the climbers go up to the Second Camp and actually put their tents up and “try to sleep” there for a few hours.

At around 1am, which is now the beginning of the fourth day, climbing to the Summit (5137m) starts from the Second Camp (4200m). After about 4700m, the Ararat glacier starts and climbers need crampons. The Summit is reached usually around 6-7am (in 5-6 hours) which is also the beginning of the fourth day. The Summit is usually very cold (-5 Celsius or below, in July) and quite windy, it is not possible to stay too long there, and it is also risky. The climbing party starts descending to the Second Camp which takes about 4 hours. After spending a few hours at the Second Camp the party returns to the Base Camp during the fourth day, before the Sun sets. The fourth night is spent at the Base Camp.

In the morning of fifth day, the party returns back to the Çarme Village.

It is of course possible not to be able to proceed, if the weather turns from good to bad at any given time. Depending on the weather conditions, the party may have to return from the First Camp, or the Second Camp or somewhere after that, before reaching the Summit.

My Climb: Day 0

I flew from Ankara to Iğdır on Monday afternoon, July 21, 2014. Iğdır is one of most beautiful towns in eastern Turkey, full of trees and gardens. It has a pleasant appearance on the northeastern side of Mount Ararat. The basalt rocks which have fallen from the mountain and create a gorgeous view as one drives from Iğdır to Doğubeyazıt. I met my guide Cemal Güneş before the evening, when I arrived at Doğubeyazıt, and we reviewed my equipment needs.

View from Iğdır
Road from Iğdır to Doğubeyazıt






My Climb: Day 1

In the morning, he met me in town and drove me to the hotel where the climbing teams were staying. There were 2 teams, one consisting of 17 Danish citizens and 2 guides (Yıldırım ve Bülent) and the other consisting of 2 Catalans (Toni and Joan), myself and our guide Cemal. A van took us from Doğubeyazıt to the Çarme Village, which is about 1.5 hours of drive.

Driving to the Çarme Village
Altitude of Çarme Village






We got out of the van at the Çarme Village, and started putting our gear together, while the base camp personnel, who are predominantly Kurdish men and children, unloaded the vans and placed the heavy material and equipment (food, water and tents) on their horses and mules to take them to the base camp which is at 3361m elevation.

Loading the horses
Joan, Cemal, me and Toni






So, we walk, over a rocky terrain about 5 hours in order to get to the base camp which is at 3361m.







After about 5 hours, we arrive the base camp; the weather does not look too good, however.

e2 e3 e4

First fiction, then reality .. I wonder which one is harder to bear?

As the medical science and practice are advancing, transplanted organs work better in new bodies, making the need for organs more apparent; however, in economic terminology, supply is way behind the demand curve:

WaitForKidney“Organ transplants are one of the extraordinary developments of modern science. They began in 1954 with a kidney transplant performed at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston. But the practice only took off in the 1970s with the development of immunosuppressive drugs that could prevent the rejection of transplanted organs. Since then, the number of kidney and other organ transplants has grown rapidly, but not nearly as rapidly as the growth in the number of people with defective organs who need transplants. The result has been longer and longer delays to receive organs.” [1]

So, where do we get new organs, if there are not sufficiently many people willing to let go? Perhaps, science can help us here: what about growing organs in the lab?

Of course, as usual, fiction (or rather, science-fiction) has already offered several other alternatives, for example, cloning people in order to harvest their organs later on. You can read several science-fiction stories and watch movies with this theme; here two recent ones: Never Let Me Go (2010) and Moon (2009).

This is fiction, of course.

The reality is however is on its way; two economists: “Mr. Becker is a Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Mr. Elias is an economics professor at the Universidad del CEMA in Argentina,” offer the following solution: You can sell your organs.

Well, we spoke about suply/demand curve above, so economists feel qualified to chip in. They give analyses and examples on how and why this might work.

Who is “you” above? I could offer one interpretation: You is the one that “needs” the money, obviously, poor people. And, who might possibly “buy”. Well, rich people, of course! Poor selling their kidneys to the rich would be morally acceptable to some, since it is the capitalistic solution.

But what should the rich stop there? As, my friend Mark Gannon puts it “…because the next logical step for capitalism is for the poor basically to be kept around so their organs can be harvested for use by the rich. We all know only those who have money ought to be able to get organs for transplant!?”

Still, I would say Mark’s scenario is much more humane than the following: Sending mercenaries to harvest organs in other countries; armed with guns and scalpels. A new form colonialism, I suppose. Perhaps as the ships carried (almost) live bodies of slaves from Africa to Americas up to the 19th Century, our high-tech, refrigirated airplanes would be flying from all unfortunate places to the Elysium, filled with (almost) live organs.

It seems that while we ascend to other solar systems or perhaps to other galaxies on the wings of science, we also have the capacity to descend even deeper into the moral oblivion.

[1] Cash for Kidneys: The Case for a Market for Organs. The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2014.

The State of the Turkish Educational System …

This street banner ad pretty much sums the state of the Turkish educational system. A private school company advertisement says:

Nature College Children University Kindergartens!


This is a country where a significant percentage of parents are uneducated or practically illiterate, and they think that if they send their kid to “this school”, paying several thousand dollars, their kid will be studying at College, University, and Kindergarten all at the same time! 🙂

Unfortunately this is not a laughable matter. 🙁

Unscrupulous businessmen make ton of money preying on kids and their dimwitted parents by setting up such phony schools where the teachers are paid near minimum wage salaries.

It is very depressing.

Total tyranny ..

“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”—Senator Frank Church (1975).

you are so rich, how come you are not smart!? :)

Paul Krugman has argued that the rich embrace Republican economic policies both because they want more money and they’re more inclined to buy into theories that justify their wealth. In a May interview with Reuters, Krugman said that rich people “want the world to praise them for their wealth, so they want economic theories that praise rich people as the salvation of the rest of us.”

I agree with Krugman. I lived in Turkey and continue to spend part of my time there, and know a lot of rich people, some of whom are my relatives. Almost without exception, every single one of them is practically begging for praise and recognition. Guess what: They are not getting it from me! In fact, whenever I catch an occasion, I tell them about Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his uncanny question “you are so rich, how come you are not smart!?” 🙂