Sunday, February 26, 2012

I met with a friend after school a few days ago, and he suggested I watch this video on Turkish tea.  I suggest everyone reading this watch it. The clip has a short intro in Turkish, but the rest is in English.

Overall, I think the clips paints a very good picture of daily life in Turkey.  However, not all of the details apply to me particularly. For one thing, we don't even drink tea very often at my house; I might have a (tulip shaped) glass one or twice a week.  Also, I try to never click my spoon when stirring.  I find it annoying, and no one else really does it anyway.

One thing that caught my eye (ear?) particularly was the ending of the clip, when Turkey's potential for playing a larger role in peacekeeping in the middle east is discussed.  This is actually something I've been considering writing about for a while now, so bare with me.

It is obvious the middle east has had difficulty staying out of the news.  Whether it's discussion of Iran's nuclear capabilities or coverage of the ongoing riots in Afghanistan,  it's clear that many parts of the middle east have a lot of work to do before they can meet the needs of it's population and comply with international human rights laws.

There is a tendency to blame religion for these shortcomings. Many people in Western countries (Not just the USA) believe, consciously or unconsciously that Islam simply can't coexist with true democracy, equal rights etcetera. However, Turkey is one shining example of how this is possible. It is true that Turkey still has work to do in many areas (what countries don't?). Turkey is still developing, but it should be remembered that women gained full suffrage in Turkey before women in Spain, Canada, or France did (just to name a few examples).

How did Turkey manage this? Let's take a quick glance at histroy.

The Ottoman Empire was first described as the "sick man of Europe" in 1853.  After World War One, a number of Brittish attacks in the middle east eventually led to the Ottoman Empire's collapse. What happened next?

Interestingly enough,  I still have my essay from elementary school on "the sick man of Europe", but I was never taught what happened after the Ottoman Empire collapsed until I came to Turkey.  In my opinion, if we believe history repeats itself, it is a grave oversight that the average American doesn't know the name "Mustafa Kemal", the man commonly credited with single handidly founding the Republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

If we studied Kemal's reforms (as Turkish school children do extensively), would we have a guide of how a country can transform itself without losing it's religious identity? Maybe a rough one, but we wouldn't want to follow it too closely.  The birth of Turkey was fraught with delivery pains; many people, minorites especially, suffered through unspeakable horrors to elevate Turkey to the place it is now.  Many would also argue that much of Turkey's religious and culural identity has also been sacrificied (or replaced) to make way for the Turkey of today.

So if we aren't to use Turkey as a blueprint, what is Turkey's role in reforming the middle east? Well, maybe, if Islam isn't the problem, it could be the solution.  I'm not a political analysist (sound familiar?) , but I wonder if Turkey could act as a mentor to some of it's neighbors, using Islam as common ground to fuel brotherhood and good will. Turkey has already proved how the common bond of Islam can be used between countries for great good. Just take a look at this example in Somalia.

Granted, there are many obstacles to be faced before this idea could become reality.  First of all, the rampant prejudice against "Arabs" and more conservative muslims would have to be addressed.  Also, I believe that Turkey would have to take a more critical view of it's own history before it could try and repeat it in other countries.

What can America and other developed nations do to help? First of all, we can address our own prejudices against the middle east. We could start by realising that we are not fighting a holy war, but attempting to raise up mankind as a whole.  Maybe if Turkey could see the west embracing all people, regardless of race and religion, Turks would be inspired to do the same.  Secondly we can closely scrutize Turkey's history, paying special attention to the construction of the republic, noting both it's successes and failures without bias.  Turkey's history could be very important in reconstructign the middle east. Hopefully, if the truth (or the closest we can come to the truth) of Turkish history became common knowledge in the world, Turkey would embrace both it's successes and downfalls, learn from them, and use them (along with Islam) to create a stabler, more peaceful middle east.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I have a bad habit of imagining situations will be worse than they actually end up being.  Some might thing it's a good thing, you know, "plan for the worst, hope for the best" However, for me it just ends up with a lot of needless worrying when I could have been sleeping or studying or something. Such was the case with David's much anticipated visit to my school.

Edirne's exchange students 
David is a pretty chill dude, but he is also one of the best Turkish speakers in the program. As one boy at my school described it today "He's like a machine gun bam bam bam bam bam." Let's just say I didn't need the comparison.  

I dreaded my classmates discovering it really is possible to speak Turkish in five months. I dreaded constantly being compared to David. And both of those things happened. But it really wasn't bad at all.

In fact, I would credit David with my "click" moment. That fabled day spoken in whispers among exchange students. That hour when you decide to open your mouth and talk, and all of a sudden all of that time spent silently studying seems worthwhile.  All of the sudden, I was making sentences! Having conversations! I am well aware I sounded like a four year old, but as one boy put it "I like your pronunciation, it isn't right, but I like it." 

I was still no where near David's level, and yes, I was constantly reminded how amazing David's Turkish is.  I won't say I never got a little bit annoyed with that, but my school life  got a lot better. Not only was communication better, I now had something to talk about with all of my female classmates.  "No, I'm not dating David. No, I'm not interested. Yes, I will tell him hello from you next time I see him." 

Another thing I got from David: his flashcards. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to get them back, but David's back in Istanbul now, and I need them  more than he does.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

While staring in awe at probably the hundredth ionic column of the Western Anatolia tour , I remember the trip I took to Scotland when I was eleven and how my mother had to force me out of the bus (I was reading) to see the standing stones.

  I'm so glad she did. I'm even more glad I no longer need anyone to force me to  get out and walk through the skeletons of past civilizations.

For ten days last week, I was immersed in history.  I was introduced to necropolises, acropolises, and agoras. Better yet, I know what all those words mean now.  I don't think I have ever enjoyed walking through history this much.  Stories seem to come to life as you realize that people completely forgotten to history were born, raised, and buried around the same scenery you are enjoying at that very moment.

Necropolis at Pumukkale

Stadium at Aspendos
Hot Springs at Pamukkale

My first glimpse of the 

My new favorite word is Agora! 

Possibly my favorite place we visited: theater at Aspendos

Bodrum Castle by the Mediterranean 

Appolo's temple

Church of St. Nicholas

Of course the tour was amazing, but my favorite part of my winter break was the five days I spent at my friend Jane's home in Istanbul. I had a good time shopping, seeing movies, and going paintballing! (my computer says that's not a  word) However, it didn't matter what we did. As long as we were together (Me, Jane and her host brother) we were having a good time. those crazy kids even made bus rides fun! 

The highlight of the whole trip for me was the last day. I wanted to see the Grand Bazaar and Jane's host Mom wanted a special type of coffee so we went to one of the more touristy parts of Istanbul. At first it wasn't so much fun. We went to the most crowded square I've ever been to... I won't even try to explain how crowded it was.  Despite all difficulties we got the coffee and walked to Sultan Ahmet square. Jane's host brother bought everyone salep and we watched the sun set. It was suggested we visit Sultan Ahmet Cami (The Blue Mosque). I wasn't that excited. The first time I went there it had been very hot adn crowded and we were rushed through. I also felt strange going in to a working mosque as a tourist.

This time, however was completely different.  The minarets were lighted up for the evening and the atmosphere around the mosque was very calm.  Unlike last time, there was no line to get in and there was no hurry as we took off our shoes and Jane and I put on blue headscarves given away at the entrance. Once inside we looked around and took pictures, but we didn't want to leave.  "Let's sit down" Furkan suggested. so we all sat in silence and admired the beautiful blue tiled ceiling the mosque was named after.  

We ended up talking about religion (you couldn't have chosen a better back drop) and I left the mosque feeling this was an excellent end to an excellent winter break.