Sunday, 17 July 2016

memories of Istanbul


Years ago, I worked in Turkey. It was an enjoyable experience, with friendly people and plenty of interesting areas to explore in the down-time.

In those days, we referred to Istanbul as an edge city. Poised on the link between Europe and Asia, a key part of the Silk Route.

We'd mainly be based in the European side, but even then there was always something in the shadows. We usually stayed in a big hotel and because we were there for quite some time, they usually upgraded us to opulent suites, which gave me the challenge of keeping my paltry belongings corralled.

Outside the hotel we'd see an armoured car, literally parked on the lawn. There were airport-style metal detectors to get into the hotels, although as a business suited pale-face, I would usually get whisked through a fast track.

It was the same when we visited the office blocks in the well-heeled area. Security like an airport to get into a building. A follow on from the late 1990s assassination of Özdemir Sabancı, who, along with the general manager of Toyota, had been gunned down by the leftist DHKP-C in his heavily fortified office.

Indeed, the central office blocks were tall and western looking, although there would be strange bazaars, selling anything from white goods to brand new cars, literally outside their gates.

Yet, walking around in the non-tourist areas with a local person was safe, with the inexpensive best local food and sights just a block or two away from the inflated main tourist drags: "wanna buy a carpet?" etc.

Back then, we could see progress and expansion in the central areas, although a few kilometres away there were small houses stacked one on top of another crowding every available hillside, reflective of this single city of 14 million people.

When we did cross the big bridge into Asia, it also had a military presence. One time we were stopped by the men with guns, the soldiers turning around our beaten up european taxi and hailing us a different equally dusty one for the rest of our now asian journey.

The Turkish generations in Istanbul have seen it all...Greek Byzantium, Roman Constantinopolis, Nova Roma, the Ottoman Empire and eventually the Turkish Republic. Even in my time there it was difficult to make sense of the unbalanced and limping democracy.

When I was there, at least the European side of Istanbul kept secular and religious matters apart.

Compared with travelling further into the middle east, this area still operated with a mindset easily understood if not fully accepted as a European.

But progressively there's been changes to the way of life with an increasingly authoritarian leadership that rejects secular separation, limits human rights and creates new tensions.

I said we referred to it as an edge city. Still the case with the violent coup d'état attempt of the weekend.

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