Letter to the editor
“Do I want to live in Turkey?” An Analysis, captured a common sentiment very nicely, but may be misleading us about its origins. While romanticized by tourists and extolled by its jingoists, Turkey properly evokes a sort of love/hate dualism for people like Basak and myself who are familiar with both here and elsewhere (and elsewhere is not necessarily just the West by the way).
A resident alien for more than a decade, I too always breathe that sigh of relief upon departing Turkey (just as I do when leaving KSA). And I usually experience a day or two of irritability and generalized anger upon returning; because I am reminded on the way home from the airport of all the unpleasantness I will put up with until I travel again.
I often resent the fact that simply by acknowledging the reality of my surroundings I am made to feel as if I must be some sort of terrible bigot. Yet this society consistently falls short of what could easily be expected of it; and it is tedious to live with people who are very proud to have become so sophisticated as to no longer feel guilty about being uncivilized and corrupt. While stereotypes certainly have exceptions they also tend to have a basis in our real experience. They are what they are. Of course, in public I more often highlight the many things that I love about Turkey, and prefer leaving it to Turkish passport-holders like Basak to describe what is wrong with the Turks.
And interestingly, Turks tend to be very adept at describing what is—in a general manner of speaking—wrong with the Turks. I suppose such a level of awareness could provide part of a solution (if there is such a thing).
On the other hand, the critic is not implicated in the criticism. It can be assumed that a Turk who is critical of Turks considers himself/herself to be an exception to the rule. In this case, soul-searching is not so much required. Now, this may be an unfair stereotype too, and I am open to rebuttal. I have only anecdotal evidence to go on. I can say that among Turkish elites I have known, who are by far the most insightful and enthusiastic critics of the “Turks in general,” I have found very few exceptions. Exactly: Zero.
I believe this may be a part of the problem (if there is such a thing).
As to origins, let’s be realistic and fair—a mentality of envy, cynicism, low expectations, and keeping your head down, the irresponsible conviction that conspirators are pulling all the strings so why bother trying to make a difference, the pervasive distrust of others, the “only my tribe matters” brand of civics, the weird cocktail of inferiority feelings and self-congratulation, preening hospitality, verbose dilettantism, the belief that life/business/marriage/politics is “just a game,” and particularly the grandiose notion that one is uniquely clever enough to cheat at that game better than the others—these themes in Turkish self-expression are deeply seated elements of a culture formed over successive generations. They didn’t arise over the last decade.
I’m not sure when it was that Basak started coming and going from Turkey, but the exact same experiences she describes were endemic 12 years ago when I first set up residence here. They can’t easily be placed at the feet of RTE and his sect, any more than they can be attributed to his doppelganger Evren and the depoliticization projects of the 1980’s. Those two tyrants and many others like them have been both the products of and contributors to the soup that is life in Turkey. Like Iskembe, it tastes like shit, but it’s an acquired taste that finds us coming back for more at times, and at other times asking ourselves…why?