Learning to live with the other half of Turkey

Learning to live with the other half of Turkey

Belgin Akaltan - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr
Learning to live with the other half of Turkey I am from Istanbul. I have lived almost my entire life here. My family is also from Istanbul. I don’t have a village back in Anatolia. My hometown is Istanbul and my village is Kadıköy. And I can assure you that Başakşehir is not Istanbul. It may physically be located within the municipal borders of the city but it is far, far away, miles and centuries away from the spirit of Istanbul, this magnificent ancient city, this crossroads of civilizations, this home to three empires. 

Başakşehir was made a district of Istanbul only in 2008 and the “Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium” was opened in 2014. I have never been there and I only heard of the stadium for the first time earlier this week, when a moment of silence for the Paris victims was disrupted with whistles and slogans.  

I know it is hard for my international readers to draw any meaning from this, but I am talking about a split in society. We have one Turkey and another Turkey that are politically, socially and culturally separate from each other. 

With the new political reality, which I would like to call the “Başakşehir reality,” we now have to learn to live with the other half of Turkey that we do not even know so well.

I am going through my mind to figure out in which places I am closest to “the other Turkey” in my daily life.

I am very close to them when I am at state hospitals, in mosques, on the street, on public transportation like the ferry, the metrobus or the metro, in city parks or playgrounds maybe and at open bazaars; and certainly at official venues like the polling station, while renewing my passport, the registrar’s office, the police station, courts and, yes, stadiums. 

Starting in the bazaars, you should be familiar with the colorful neighborhood bazaars in Turkey where you can get cheap and fresh vegetables and many other items. I didn’t notice it at first. I was at a bazaar and I put down my groceries while waiting for a friend when a passing woman almost knocked me down. I was just trying to understand what was going on when another woman walked right onto me and almost walked over me. I thought I was standing in the wrong spot. I moved but women continued to walk right into me. I did not pay much attention then. My awakening came when an acquaintance, the wife of a non-commissioned army officer (yes, that special brand), asked me, “Don’t you see how they walk right onto us at bazaars?”
Aha, got it. They sure do. That’s their way to get back at us. (Us? Who is us?)  

Then, mosques: I feel I am somehow treated like a dog when I accidentally find myself at a mosque. It may be due to the non-headscarf-wearing head of mine or, I guess, more because they sense the challenging attitude in me, the defying one and my tendency to disobedience – even if I do nothing negative. It is an aura which they immediately pick up and try to suppress.   

In any other place I mentioned above, I have to struggle to get normal treatment or service. Nothing goes smoothly. 

I don’t like what I see in “the other Turkey.” They are rude; they respect nobody; they hate women and even women of this other Turkey hate themselves. 

Well, that other Turkey is not a very “loving environment.” We do not like each other, they do not like each other, they don’t even like themselves, so, naturally do not expect us to like somebody else. These are the same people who booed the Ankara victims in Konya; they would certainly never be able to sympathize with Parisian victims. 

Paris means civilization. It means good food, good people, good principles, good living, well-dressed elegant women and kind, caring men, enjoying life and having fun. We don’t have any of these here. It is a symbol. 

When we hate each other so much, don’t expect us to love the Parisians who died... There is so much hate planted in Turkey from above that it is no surprise it comes out in these forms at the grassroots. 

Also, a word for those who rule Turkey: Guys, don’t you know your audience? I mean after the Konya incident when our loved ones died in Ankara, people booed the moment of silence. What makes you think they will observe 60 seconds of respect for Parisians? Don’t you know we are not capable of holding a moment of silence? You are social engineering masters. You should know how much effort you put into building this crowd. 

Don’t ever hold any moments of silence. We can’t do it. 

I do not like what I see in the other Turkey. I see anger, hate, revenge, brutality, darkness, misogyny, more hate, violence, banality and ignorance.

Call it elitist or snobbish, or whatever you wish to call it: It is again up to us to reach out and bring them out of their darkness. It’s like reading a simple book slowly and coherently in a kindergarten. Let’s start with simple words… Slowly… “What you have done is wrong because…”