Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Wind of Change

About three weeks later than promised, but back nonetheless. The trip to Istanbul was phenomenal--the minibus picked us up at 7:30 am on the Friday, after which followed a six-hour trip to the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine (I've always been partial to the name Byzantium), Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Through the ages Istanbul has been known by several names, starting with Byzantium, then progressing to Constantinople following Constantine's adoption of the city as the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire in 330 A.D., and finally taking the name Istanbul sometime around the 10th or 11th centuries, although it didn't become known as Istanbul in the West until the early 20th century.

Cause knowledge is power!

Anyway, if your thirst for historical information, etc. about this amazing city was not sated by this short yet informative blurb, check out the source I stole the information from (although restated in my own inimitable way), the ever wonderful and reliable wikipedia.

On the bus on the way there, I finished a novel I'd been reading for some time; it was called Snow, and it's by Turkey's Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. Kirsty can attest to how long I've been reading it, as I started it sometime last summer in Richmond, and only finished it at the very end of August after a prolonged struggle. It was good in its own way, though very heavy. The book tells of an exiled poet named Ka who travels to the forlorn border town of Kars in Eastern Turkey, ostensibly to report on a wave of "suicide girls", who have been killing themselves over their inability to wear headscarves in the universities, but really to track down a woman who he had strong feelings for from his university days, and who has recently divorced. Pamuk has a way of expressing those feelings that are common to all humans but always seemed very personal and unique to you, and in that sense I liked the book for its insights, but to be honest the writing style was pretty annoying at times (very intrusive narrator, which, I'm sure, served some greater literary purpose the exact nature of which escapes me right now), and the depression that pervades the whole novel is quite overwhelming. Overall, it was a decent book, but I won't be rereading it any time soon (read: ever).

Quite apart from the internal fascinations of Snow, however, the political ramifications of Pamuk's work are such that he has often incurred the wrath of various of the factions that make up Turkey's interesting system. In a nation where held paramount are the tenets of secularism established by the founder and father or modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it is seen as a natural right of the army to step in and take action should it be perceived that this secularism is threatened. Only several weeks ago this scenario was put to the test, as Abdullah Gul of the AKP (a party with strong Muslim leanings) seemed poised to win the Presidential elections by a landslide. Although he made promises to uphold Turkey's secular position and values, his wife wears a headscarf, a point of hot concern among many Republican Turks who fear that there was a hidden agenda at work that would inevitably result in Turkey's regression into a totalitarian, religious law-based state. Turkey's shaky bid to become a member of the EU was also being closely monitored, as it would not sit well with democracy-touting Western countries if Turkey's army were to take a hand in a democratic process. Abdullah Gul did end up winning the election, so the world will have to wait and see what becomes of it. It all reminds me of the Scorpions song, Wind of Change, written about the end of the U.S.S.R., but relevant all the same to this country that seems at a loss regarding its national identity.

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