18 July 2016

Your Coup Cannot Destroy My Turkey

While I have not experienced a lot of conflict in my life/travels nor am I stranger to it. I was evacuated from Belgrade in February 2008 when, as a result of the US's recognition of Kosovo's independence a group of people tried to burn down the US embassy. I was in Kabul in December 2011 for the Ashura suicide bombing. I have been in Istanbul for more than three years now and lived through Gezi and the summer of tear gas, both Sultanahmet suicide bombings, the suicide bombing on Istiklal-a seven minute walk from my apartment-the attack on the Ataturk International Airport, and a variety of protests. However the July 15 coup attempt was my first coup.

After Friday night, which was the most terrifying experience of my life-surpassing even that time I thought I was going to die on the Great Wall of China-I don't know why people would choose to go to an air show. Well, really even before Friday I couldn't understand that, but hearing the screams of the F16 and the resultant sonic booms many of thought were bombs I don't know why someone would willing want to listen to that. The next morning many discussions on Facebook groups and from my friends were about leaving Turkey. This coup, be it a real attempt or Erdogan theater (which I think more likely), this was the straw that broke the camel's back for many people. However when people ask me if I plan to leave I just look at them quizzically and say "No. Why would I do that?"

To be fair to the discussion, I am planning to leave Turkey. I decided this last fall when I realized that I want to be a sommelier and do my training in Italy; but this failed coup attempt will neither push me out faster nor will it change the fact that I'll probably be back. Why not? Because this, this country of coups, failing democracy, violence, and a willful retreat into the dark ages is not my Turkey.

The Bosphorus and the Seraglio Point from Galatasaray

Kiz Kulesi/Maiden's Tower

My Turkey is beautiful. It's where I can be awed time and again by the magic of the Bosphorus and the iconic images of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It's where you can cruise the Bosphorus to watch for dolphins and appreciate the beautiful, elaborate palaces and architecture along this ancient waterway.

Mount Nemrut

Celsus Library at Ephesus

It is timeless and melds cultures from across history. The Ottoman Empire, which ended not even 100 years ago (in 1922 to be exact) encompassed a vast array of peoples and cultures which is part of what made the modern Turkish nation so great-whether or not anyone wants to remember that. Turkey is home to some of the world's most amazing Greco/Roman ruins including Ephesus, the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the Aegean as well as empires like the Selcuks who fell to the Romans even before Ephesus was standing.

Hagia Sophia

Chora Church

My Turkey was the cradle of Christianity. There are over 100 churches in Istanbul alone. Granted many have been converted to mosques and/or museums but they're still standing; including the Hagia Sophia-one of the oldest churches in the world. Across the Marmara Sea is the city of Iznik, famous not just for its beautiful blue and white tiles but for once being Nicea where the fathers of the Eastern and Western Christian churches met and formalized the faith. If you fly into Izmir to visit Ephesus you're actually flying into the ancient Biblical city of Smyrna and while you're in Ephesus you can visit nearby Meryamana-the house where the Mother of God lived with Saint John before her assumption. You can visit cave churches of early Christians around the country, most famously in Cappadocia or, if you really like to walk, follow the path of Saint Paul across the country.

It is the home to some of of the most beautiful and mysterious natural land formations like the limestone travertines of Pamukkale which gleam like snow under the sun and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Turkey is where tulips were first mass grown and in fact introduced the flower to the Dutch. While the Dutch now surpass them in tulip production, Turkey is still one of the world's top tulip growers, holds a tulip festival every year that blankets the city in color, and incorporates the flower in many of its most traditional motifs.

My Turkey is friendly and hospitable. It's where within five minutes of arriving at your family-run cave hotel in Cappadocia you're holding the baby and are part of the family. It's where that family goes out of its way to make sure you get a booking for the hot air balloons despite the atrocious weather because its your little brother's first trip abroad and he has to have this experience; and where airport ticket agents try hard to get you an exit row seat because that same "little" brother is 6'7". It's where the guys at your favorite bufe go the extra mile and make your orange juice fancy because its your birthday and where shops and cafes you regularly frequent go out of their way to remember your order or provide extra special service.

Cat at Ephesus

Language school cat, Aslan

My Sherlock

My Turkey is also where that hospitality extends to animals and where people care for stray animals, especially cats, in a way I have never seen anywhere else. It's where tram drivers stop packed trains so cats can cross the tracks, where many of the local governments provide funding so street cats can receive free care, where people build shelters and leave out water and food for the cats. It's where cats are welcome in (and often cared for exclusively by) shops, cafes, museums, and historical sites. Turkey is also where I met my Sherlock who is naughty and spoiled but seeks shelter near me when the world is falling down around us and is possibly the love of my life.


This is where I have met amazing people, both Turkish and other foreigners. They have helped me apartment hunt, translated/interpreted for me before I learned the language, opened their homes to me, encouraged my studies in wine, and readily welcomed me into their groups in a way I never experienced in the US. I have met people here who not only embrace me as a friend but look after me like I'm family.

My Turkey is where I have had experiences I couldn't have anywhere else. When His Holiness Pope Francis came to Istanbul in 2014 I not only got a ticket to the Mass, thanks to my parish priest I also served at the Papal Mass. In 2016 I got to see the same humble, caring parish priest be ordained as Bishop of Istanbul, putting him in charge of one of the oldest Christian parishes in the world. Here I learned Turkish, or you know, learned it well enough to manage my daily life and read book 1 of Harry Potter. I have formally studied eight languages and Turkish is one of the most complicated and difficult ones; the only one in fact that gets more and not less difficult the more you learn. I probably sound like a five-year old when I talk but people are always not only willing to listen to me struggle through sentences but are happy that I'm trying.

This is my Turkey. My Turkey is ancient, beautiful, spiritual, colorful, brave, hospitable, cultured, exciting, and magical. Yes there is a terrible and dark core eating away it and it may be systematically destroyed by its own government and people but the vision and memories I have of this magnificent country cannot be destroyed no matter how many (fake) coups happen or what terror the government rains down on its own citizens. This is my Turkey, and this is how I will remember it always.


Adımadımgurme said...

Lovely article!

Andrea said...

Thank you Adimadimgurme!