Merhaba from Turkiye,
Yes, I’m borrowing from Indonesia’s national motto to write about Turkiye, but that’s excusable. Turkiye is a country which achieves the former whilst enjoying the latter.
We met Ali at a function inside a local’s home in Cappadocia. Ali is a shrewd judge of character and an erudite student of history. He told us that Turkiye suffered from ill-informed and erroneous reportage during the 19th century and the citizens have been wary of foreigners commenting on their country ever since. After three whole weeks, my discursive summary needs a preliminary apology for the brevity of the author’s stay. Anyway, hopefully it paints a reasonable and fair picture.
European Union ?
Talks re potential membership of the European Union were initiated in 2005. Being partially in Europe and having the 16th biggest economy in the world, it might seem a logical extension of their recent development. But it definitely will not be a foregone conclusion.
Turkiye is well and truly into the service economy phase of their history. A large proportion of the population is employed in the service sector and many beautification projects are underway, especially in the cities. The current government is presiding over unprecedented growth and enjoys guarded support from the populace. In the last five years 6000 kilometers of roads have been sealed or re-sealed. Large new public housing developments have been completed in an unabashed effort to reduce the cost of housing. (Now, there’s a good idea!)
Perhaps the biggest asset the country has is its people. It’s difficult to characterise on the strength of such a short time, but I would say they are generally calm, deliberate, amiable and demonstrative. We had many chance meetings with native Turkish people and without exception these were positive. (In Turkiye there are many different cultures hence the title of this epistle. Turks are but one ethnic group within this nation.)
respect for elders
98% of inhabitants are Muslim, but not all of them are devout. Many, for example, ignore the call to prayer and many consume alcohol. Turkiye is a very traditional society and this means children are raised to show respect for their elders, whoever they are. It is customary, for example, for a child to be disciplined by a neighbour. Not only is this practice tolerated, it is expected. This means there is – in most cases – automatic respect for elders. The word ‘amca‘ (pronounced ‘armchar’) means older brother not connected by blood. Ismet told me his mother raised him and imparted “character before religion”.
Having a nomadic population for so long, the populace grew to help out their fellows. Ercihan pointed to a village ahead and said – with utter confidence – “If you knock on any door and say you need food, you will get it.” Ali says the subculture has it that guests can do no wrong. When we were in an outdoor section of a hotel in Cannakkale, Emre, Fatih and Hakan invited me to join them in a card game (one I had to learn by body language). During the evening they insisted on paying for drinks for me and would accept no money at the end of the evening. (The pub was set up for game players and accommodated many tables of card players and backgammon players who all ordered drinks and meals and kept their own tabs and paid upon their departure.)
Even retailers standing out the front acting as touts for their own businesses were pleasant and a bit creative in their encouragements. I heard “You look like you need a drink.”, “Are you looking for my shop?” and “I need a lovely couple like you in my garden for dinner.”
service vs price
For these people, service is much more important than price. The impressive national bus network has many companies running routes all over the vast interior. On most buses there are two uniformed conductors (with bow ties on our inter-city bus) along with the driver. They serve snacks and drinks and help travellers reach their destination by stopping at all sorts of unscheduled places.
person before system
Deniz is an ex-patriot Englishman of Turkish descent, now dwelling in Turkiye. He writes for an Istanbul daily. He says, “Western society considers people as productive mechanisms, unlike in Turkiye where they look at the person. That’s why Turks look and evaluate a person first and then the system.”
Turkiye shows all the signs of being a proud nation wanting to exert its independence. Everywhere we went in Europe, the STOP signs are in English. In Turkiye they say DUR. Radio plays exclusively Turkish music, which has a rich history, harking back more than a thousand years. Modern iterations do exhibit some characteristics of western influence typified by repetitive lyrics but it still produces a very pleasant auditory experience. Some of the instrumental music is hauntingly beautiful.
Turkiye is ready for the imminent tourism boom as the world wakes up to its attractions. The infrastructure is in good shape and the people have a naturally receptive disposition to visitors. As they consider entry to the common market, they face a big decision. Ali says summarily: “It won’t happen. 75% of the people don’t want it to happen.” His reason: Turkiye is a traditional society which doesn’t wish to lose the big advantages of that. The economic imperatives are not the strongest factors in such a decision.
We have travelled through 13 different countries now. Each time we moved on, it was with enthusiasm for the next leg of the journey into the unknown. Leaving Turkiye was different.