Nestled between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a city of movement, water, and light. Having just returned to the states a week ago, however, a bomb blast took place in Istanbul just a few days ago during the holy month of Ramadan. The people though carry about living their lives almost as if unawares: even the area where a bomb blast took place in Beyoglu, Istanbul’s popular shopping and entertainment destination. Syria borders Turkey to the south and Turkey has engaged with fighting DAESH there, while Turkey also has been having conflict with the ethnic Kurd’s who live in and around Turkey.
While there, me and my friend, two females, we traveled freely in Istanbul. Young couples, girls wearing hijab, with their husband or boyfriend held hands, some kissed on the cheek. For me, this seemed pretty liberal for a country that is majorly Muslim but claims to have a secular government, if at times conservative.
Hailing back to the time of Ataturk, Turkey has been trying to assert itself by modernizing through “westernization”, and with that trying to join the European Union. Westernization was seen as a necessity to modernize and innovate Turkey. While walking around the Sultanahamet area, me and my friend got lost on our way to the shore. We walked into an alley and met a kind gentleman that said we could get through his leather factory and walk easily to the view of the water. He did try to sell us his leather jackets (Turkey manufactures clothing for many couture and designer western brands) which were for the western market at a quarter of the cost. He spoke some English and told us he was a Kurd. I asked him how he liked Turkey and living here. He said that he came for work and to support his family which he would see once a year. We took pictures of the water and walked back through the factory. The EU sights Turkey’s treatment of the Kurd’s as one of the reasons for not allowing it to join the EU so far.
After our short reprieve in Turkey we headed to Italy and the rest of Europe, and eventually, returned for a final day in Turkey before our return trip back to the States. Recently Germany acknowledged the Armenian genocide which took place in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. For Turkey (or at least Erdogan), this was a sting for their relationship. Will Turkey be able to join the EU like it wants without acknowledging the past? For Turkey its identity, culture, and history as well as its internal struggles seem to keep it from doing so. At what cost will Turkey have to change and or give up to become the model country in the eyes of the EU? Turkey’s strategic location, it’s fluidity and adaptability of its culture and people, its willingness to embrace modernization, hopefully will not come at the expense of its identity to the point that Turkey is no longer a possible leader, but a follower in the region. With so much potential, so much to offer as a culture and people, chasing after the shadow of power and influence at the expense of their own civil liberties or the rights of minorities in the region, Turkey once again must channel a balancing act or else go down the slippery slope of another repressive state as its enemies (such as Daesh) would like the Turks to become. Still I have hope for Turkey and I believe it can repair relations with its neighbors, the minorities in the region, and come to grips with its past. The beautiful city, people, and ancient history are testament to Turkey’s potential for growth and longevity into the future.