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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Life in Istanbul IV

What really confounded me about Istanbul was the astounding disconnect between various parts of the population. As self-confessed post-nationalist I am convinced of that the nation state is nothing but a artificial construct without any true meaning. My relationship with young, educated tweensters from France, England, or the USA is far closer than my connection with fellow countrymen of mine who lack said education and engage in professional activities that are more closely tied to the traditional industrial sector or the low-skilled service industry. To realize that these fault lines within one nation as that much stronger in a country as nationalistic as Turkey provides with some food for thought (and is quite ironic really).

I have no idea whether what I am describing is a completely normal situation for emerging countries to be in. They struck me as odd, but that might simply be due to a lack of experience concerning non-Western countries. Basically, in Turkey, two main groups seem to have virtually no contact with one another. Those would be on the one hand the Kemalists, the young upper middle class who follow in the footsteps of Atatürk's Westernization in the 20s and 30s and in a sense glorify Western culture and capitalism. Concretely this results in their seemingly tring (if not consciously) being über-Western. This results in girls wearing skirts, shorts and tops that you would rarely see in the streets of Berlin or Paris. You might see these kind of revealing clothes in clubs and discos but not in every day life, the way they are used in Turkey. It means that the restaurants and bars these people frequent rarely serves Turkish food anymore, but instead the kind of internationalized uniform world food one finds every else as well (wraps, pizza, fries, you know the deal). It means that people are surprised to hear me order a Turkish coffee not a European one. It means that my trips into less sanguine parts are met with incomprehensive looks and a comment on the massive presence of head scarves in those neighborhoods.

I have not really met anyone from the other side as the religious, Western-Turkish and economic divide to a large extent seems to be an educational one as well. Basically, most of these more traditional people's forte are not foreign languages. But, I was struck by the differences and by how this separation is emphasized by most of my colleagues.

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