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Nov 22, 2010

That’s How I Saw Istanbul*

by Shalaw Fatah 
photos: Shalaw Fatah
In his memoir “A Journey” Tony Blair says, “I begin as one typeof leader; I end as another. That’s why I call it a journey”, if we generalize Blair’s argument (radical change in personality) on to every journey, 

I doubt calling my trip a journey, you should decide after reading, let’s just call it an ordinarytravel account. Besides, I’m not writing about Turkish political system, social structure or any big titles that you may find in books, butabout small things from everyday life that I noticed in some few days.

While you read on Turkish people or other people from all corners of the world, remember, “That might be not the case, I thought it was.” 
On Turkish People

First Impression
One of my friends who had visited Istanbul before me said, “When you first put your foot on Istanbul’s ground, you feel it smells like a beer!” I didn’t have such a feeling, it might be because I’m not into alcoholic drinks and I have classical impressions about cities.My first impression of this city was Istanbul was like a classy lady, beautiful, attractive but gentle. I wasn’t estranged by this city. I felt like I’m at home, and Istanbul, with its ancient heritage, has something which revives our nostalgic feelings, for easternersand westerners. It was like a second home for all, since a part of home was there and we all had a part of Istanbul at home. Big mosques, churches and roman bridges, took us to very ancient ages.
Istanbul is a city. I’m not trying to be sarcastic; it’s not a joke or any kind of simplicity one can be found in George W. Bush’s jokes either. But the reality is, I don’t consider many cities in my country + Dubai, which can make a greater impression on you, a city. Istanbul has culture, originality and uniqueness, but first and foremost, exceptionalism.

Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey

Ataturk Everywhere
On Aug 1, my plane landed in Ataturk airport in Istanbul-Turkey. When I told my Turkish friend in a discussion “Ataturk street” he responded, “Which Ataturk street, there is an Ataturk street in every city. (Without exclamation mark).”, once I entered Yildiz Technical University Campus, in Davutpasa, I saw Ataturk’s big posters on the walls of the dorms again. Turkey is a nation of Ataturk. In every formal place; you can find one of his photos, sculptures or speeches, no matter if it’s university or public square.

Walking Around
Istanbul’s social life is very eastern in some ways. It’s hard to find boys staring at a girl in the west, but let me tell you this story: One of my friends told me that these people out there made her feel shy, I knew about the case, since it’s the same at home, I said, “they look at you?”, she surprisingly responded, “look at you? No they stare at you!” Another girl verified the same story.

Well, staring was not the only case, but once you crossed the crowd and entered the market, a bunch of children were ready to say “hi”, or “’morning!” once they see your badge or see you are somehow different from them. The badge wasn’t strange for children only, but even grown ups had smiles on their lips when they see it.

Where is the music?
No I don’t mean music, fortunately, music can be found everywhere in Istanbul. But what I mean is the music of speech. In most of the languages, people give a special tone or music to their speech when they feel relaxed and in normal conditions, that’s true for girls mostly (Persians and Arabsfor example). However, I couldn’t hear that among people of Istanbul, despite the fact that I don’t know Turkish, but it’s easy to hear, and I saw a couple of Turkish people from my group in WYC in Istanbul, who gave a very beautiful music to their speech, but no more. I’m not trying to say that Turkish language does not have music or any claims like that, rather than, some of them don’t have any kind of music in their speech in normal situation.

Shoes but not Clothes
Once you entered Istanbul, as the camera wants to give an important role to a character in a movie, look from down to top, from shoes to head. You see the majority of Istanbul people wear very beautiful and elegant shoes, but just normal clothes. The colour of shoes and clothes are as diverse as their opinions. I wished I could say that people of Istanbul mostly wear blue shirts and pants, but it’s really not the case.

A building with two parties in it, BDP and SP

Red & Yellow
Dominant colors in Turkey, from billboards to newspapers, from BDP and SAADAT Partisi billboards to Aksam and YeniSafak Gazetesi logos are Red and Yellow. Not the whole bazaar but everything else, Taxis and Buses are Red and Yellow.Once we ignored white and black as real colors, placesare covered with Red and Yellow. I felt like everywhere had simple design just because of this bipolar dominance. But that’s just the opposite of their structural design, it’s not a technical term but I mean, you see a very crowded structure and form in the houses and newspapers (for example in newspapers, you can’t find many spaces as well as between houses), you may feel that people here have a fear of emptiness, or what can be called in art, “Horror Vacue”, fear of empty spaces because evil spirit may fill it. Turkey is diverse in many aspects but this one is exception.

It was early days of my trip and I finally found a “shoe shine” near the Aya Sofia. I tried to bargain with him but he showed the signs of “it’s ok” and things like that. I knew what the case will be, but for some reasons, I stayed silent. Finally, when I asked for the price, he said “20Turkish Liras” which was really expensive, after a whole bargaining, I gave him 5 TL, and I still felt it’s a lot.
Let’s see another story:
It was evening in the Taksim square and I was a little bit hungry. I found a shop which had special Turkish bread with sugar.  There were a man and a woman making it. When I asked them, they said 2 TL, at first. When they made it, the man said 2 TL again, and the woman was almost the same but in a moment, she changed and said, 4 TL. Ok, I didn’t have any choice and it’s not good to make disturbance just for 2 TL.
Just to say, life in Istanbul is not easy and requires working hard, sometimes, some people may do those things too, especially if you are a foreigner.
I have a story just opposite of the two above out of touristic places.
Oh, I almost forgot to finish the former story as it ended up in the real life, let me tell you: after some days, my shoes weren’t bright enough, but I wasn’t going to polish them. Accidentally, I went near Aya Sofya again, the same man came to me, asking me some questions about my nationality and things like that (in fluent English this time!), after all he said:
_ My friend, do you want a shoe shine?
+ No, No thank you.

Exceptionalism in social life.
I’m not a conservative guy, but when I saw hijab girls dancing on the stage even better than the others, it was just a shock. I’ve heard about Turkish exceptionalism in terms of dealing with religion and the state, but not religion itself. I haven’t seen, heard or read about hijab girls dancing in any other place in the Muslim world. But in Istanbul, they were very open and lively, actually in my case, sometimes. Turkish hijab girls were much friendlier than the others.

Turkey is diverse.
We may have heard of diversity in opinions or such a thing in other countries of Middle East, but in Turkey, diversity comes to every aspect of life but not only politics. In Istanbul, you can see people who love Erdogan, the Prime Minister, others who love Bahceli, a Turkish nationalist, and some people who love both, others who hate both. However, it’s not only politics, even, in terms of social life; you can see people very religious but others almost atheist. You can observe people who are very proud of their Turkishness, and the others who consider themselves as global citizens. Turkey is not divided between two popular ideas as in other places, but between many. Turkish diversity is very intense. To sum up and to give you my impression about diversity of Turkish people; in Turkey, you’ll feel dizzy if you want to find one thing common between all or majority.

Shalaw Fatah discusses Kurdish issue in Turkey with his Turkish friends 
Kurdish Problem
I was delighted to visit Istanbul not just because of its beauty, but I told myself, it would be a chance to examine Turkish people’s opinionon the Kurdish issue. First of all, I should tell you that, before going there, I thought they would have a tough stance in those discussions that I was going to make, but I was wrong. They all were ready to discuss it, and some of them, had the same idea of solution that I had. Although, a popular view, I may say, still think even of Kurdistan region of Iraq as a part of Turkey, or at least emotionally, but some educated young people were very realistic. They all agreedthe problem can be solved in peace. They all agreed that violence is not a proper way to solve this problem.
But I guess, and it’s just a wild guess, that when they said violence, they just thought about PKK violence, but when I confirmed their point, I really meant violence of both, PKK and Turkish military.

Iznik, the place of the International Youth Conference 

On International Delegates
Tolerance, what a tolerance!
It’s the first night of Ramadhn and Muslims are eating their meals at 3 am to be fast for tomorrow, but here is a strange thing: I see a Muslim boy eating his meal, with a western girl drinking her beer! What makes this tolerance? Does he really accept that from his own citizens back home? I don’t think so anyway, he’ll show some sign of being uncomfortable with the situation. But here, they might be under effects of this mass gathering, a mass of all people, from different nations and religions, gathered in the same place, so they have new principles. He wanted to show that, he thinks and acts globally.
If it does make any sense!
Girls’ curiosity about relationships
“Kurdish girls are curious about relationships” That’s right I guess. But what’s wrong is specifying “Kurdish” in the sentence; I guess girls from all the corners of the world are curious about relationships. I didn’t believe my ears when I heard, bunch of stories of relations from very reserved, or what I considered as poor girls.
But I was poor in that case–almost-.
Another story just to mention in three lines:
“I’m a global citizen”, I don’t remember how many people told me that statement, a Turkish one, the other from Zimbaboy and ... but, are they really global citizens every time or it’s just the effect of mass gathering in Yildiz? Who knows?
Media and Iraq
One of the most interesting stories in WYC is about media. Once I showed my badge, or told them about my nationality, people responded, “How is Iraq? Because we just see it on media and you know media mess things up.” Then they asked me about terrorism and bombs, again they apologized because the source of their information is media! I felt that, Iraqi image is not deformed at all (which is not that good anyway!), opposite is true, the image of media has been deformed itself, since people tried to hear some real things about Iraq, NOT from media of course.
They weren’t so lucky because I was supposed to be a journalist too.
Who is the winner?
Discussing the nature of relations in different societies, I was supposed to talk about it too. That’s why I uttered some words on how’s relationships in my country between girls and boys and how people value small things like first kiss and such things. They were surprised and said, “We feel like that the West really lost in relations, we don’t value them too much”.
I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure that east, isnot the winner too!
Between Istanbul and Dubai
I visited Dubai about a year ago. Politicians and writers are fighting on whether we (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) should copy the model of Dubai to our cities or not. Here is my comparison and judgement.
Let’s begin by saying; Dubai is a “beautiful city”, with a very good people who want to rebuild everything in a very beautiful way. They even bring new floor to plant special type of flowers and many other things. When you see the streets so much clean, you may feel like people have “Excessive Compulsive” (disorder of caring too much about something like cleaning).  You can find many things in Dubai. Economic boost of Dubai is much higher than Istanbul. However, I still prefer Istanbul rather than Dubai for some reasons:
Pavements can be found hardly in Dubai, so I felt like this city has been made for those who have cars but not other people or the builders didn’t want people to get out and walk –especially together or in mass, (don’t say politics as usual)-. You can see many of them in Istanbul. Istanbul is a city made up for the whole types of people, not just businessmen or rich people.


You can find many Turks in Istanbul, anywhere you go, you can see the majority is Turkish. However in Dubai, it’s hard to find 5 Arabs together, and everywhere you see foreigners. People in Dubai speak in English mostly, even Taxi drivers. You feel that you are in an English city. Does it make Dubai more cosmopolitan than Istanbul? I don’t know, but I still prefer Istanbul for keeping its originality.
Cultural Heritage
Istanbul has a rich cultural heritage that one can say, it challenges any other city of the world in this aspect, with its history, but in Dubai, you can’t find a lot of ancient or cultural herirage.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque 
Istanbul is much livelier than Dubai, one thing that any place needs to be a city. With its diversity, one can say you can see the beacon of hope of renewal in every aspect of life, but in Dubai, you feel like some people owned this city and they lead it to anywhere they like (to say it honestly, that’s why I don’t like Dubai at all). In Dubai, you can have a very high-performed dance club, much better than Istanbul, but you should know that, they are imported and the latter arelocal, like they former is DJ and the latter is a real singer.
Weather of Dubai is much hotter than Istanbul, and more bothering with its humidity. You still feel like you are in the dessert. Istanbul, although, hot and humid, but not as much as Dubai, and you the sunset of Istanbul is something you’ll miss it for the whole of your life once you saw it.

There have been several discussions on imitating the model of Duabi to Hawler (capital of Kurdistan region of Iraq) and other cities of Kurdistan. If it’s just economic model, I have nothing to say. But if it’s a general model, I prefer the model of Istanbul especially for Sulaymaniah (Suli for short). Suli has Sera that can be Taksim, has Grand Mosque that can be Sultan Ahmet, has many ancient places that can be compared to Istanbul (It’s funny at the fist glance of course).Above all, Suli has a very lively atmosphere. The modern features of Suli are so much like Istanbul; Suli is a capital of culture in Iraq just as Istanbul is a capital of culture in Europe (again reader discretion is advised). You can’t find Orhan Pamuk in Duabi anyway, but in Suli, we have many people who have potentials of being the next Nobel Prize winner, so do we really need to be like Dubai or Istanbul? If we want to rise GNP (Gross National Product), Dubai is perfect, if we want to rise GNH (Gross National Happiness), Istanbul is better. 

That’s how I saw Istanbul.

* Through my participation as an Iraqi delegate in the 5th World Youth Congress 2010, Istanbul, I could experience many things. I consider the observations of this travel account as subjective diary, because the limited time and tools of studying didn’t let me to perform any kind of objective research or observation on Turkey and its people; despite the fact that I took the trip as a vacation rather than serious event for observation.
** NazimHikmet, First Letter – reportage of Tanganika in ten letters (Poetry). 

* Shalaw Fatah is an International Studies and Political Science junior at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. 

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4 Comments: on "That’s How I Saw Istanbul*"

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jane said...

very interesting perception of the 5th WYC. Keep it up my friend!...

James Bayanai-Zimbabwe said...

Its long but I coudnt stop reading this to the end.....!

Anonymous said...

Nicely done,kak shalaw. You made me to convince in turkish exeptionalism in all aspects.i recommend to make it longer to be a small book about exceptionalism. Really wonderful piece. Danar

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