At the time of writing, one euro is worth 2,14 ytl. I am never too interested in matters of finance, but a friend pointed out to me that the value of the euro is rising quickly. True: not so long ago it was, I guess, something like 1,70 ytl. So when I get 70 ytl from the ATM , now only about 33 euros are debited from my Dutch account, whereas before it was something like 39 euros – just one example from this week. To be honest, I was moaning to this friend about my earnings this year, which just didn’t reach the goal I set at the beginning of the year. He laughed at me: stop complaining, you spoiled woman. You earn in euros and spend in ytl, that’s a windfall. After which I was very ashamed of myself, both for whingeing about money and for my total lack of knowledge about international exchange rates and their effect on my life. And today, I am a bit ashamed of something else. I bought a ticket for Turkey’s Great National End-of-Year Lottery. As if I’m not yet rich enough, compared to many others in this country. But, well, the man in the white hat with Milli Piyango (National Lottery) written on it was just standing there in the rain, you know, with all his tickets fluttering in the wind. I walked past him and felt it at once: this man will sell me the winning ticket. Number 6785824. The first prize will be paid in Turkish lira’s, not in euros. But I promise I will not complain about that.
ISTANBUL – For the second time in four years the Turks have to get used to new money: on the first of January, the ‘yeni Türk lirasi’ (new Turkish lira), which was introduced at 1 January 2005, will be a thing of the past. The word ‘yeni’ will be removed and the notes will have a new look.
The new Turkish lira was introduced four years ago as part of economic reforms in which the currency was also revalued: 1 million Turkish lira became 1 new Turkish lira. The evaluation period of the new currency is now over and the currency gets back its original name.
What is different this time is that the banknotes show not only modern Turkey’s founding father Atatürk (smiling this time), but also six other historically important Turks. One of them is a woman, which has aroused some debate: strong secularists criticised the choice of a Muslim-feminist writer and would have preferred a woman of Atatürk’s time to appear on the fifty lira note.
The bright light bulbs lighting the fish market make the little hamsi fish shiny as if they were made of pure silver. The levreks are placed in neat rows, their bright red gills turned inside out to show their freshness. The fishmonger praises the quality of his produce, shouting out Kalite Kalite Kalite Kalite Kaliteeee! Somebody orders a kilo of hamsi, and after the fishmonger has shovelled it into a bag, he patiently starts to rearrange the tiny fish: he places them all with their heads in the same direction. After that, he splashes water over all the fish, to keep them cold and fresh. One fish flounders a bit as soon as the water touches it: that’s how fresh the fish is here. I ordered a levrek for tonight’s dinner and one of the guys is cleaning it. But I should have ordered hamsi too. Then I could have asked them to gut them – which takes quite a while for dozens of small fish, and then I could have had more time to just stand there and enjoy Üsküdar’s fish market. Lucky me: I pass this wonderful place practically every day. Tomorrow, I’ll go again and get hamsi!
ISTANBUL – A cloth around his head, trousers to his calfs, a summer coat with sash, a rather short beard, rather big feet in sandals, a boy on his shoulder and a girl standing next to him both with a present in their hand: the typical Saint Nicholas. At least, according to the statue a Turkish sculpturer made by order of the south-Turkish town of Demre, where Nicholas’ roots lay. The stature of ‘Saint’ will be revlealed/unveiled at Christmas Dat.
Demre has a turbulent Saint-statue-history. The first statue came in 1981: a bronze Nicholas with children around him. It was replaced in 2000, by a bronze gift from Russia, where Saint Nicholas is one of the most important saints. Suddenly in 2005 this statue was replaced by a plastic Santa Claus that, so explained Demre’s mayor, would appeal to more people world wide. The decision was critizised a lot, and so there had to come a news statue that would reflect the honour of Saint Nicholas much better. But it had to be a historically righter statue then the previous two, that showed ‘Saint’ as a typical saint with a cape and a holy look in his face.
The new Saint is a saint like he could have really existed in those days and in that climate, so says the sculpturer. No warm clothes, no long thick neard, but airy clothes and a beard that was apparently more current at the time. And with Anatolian features, to which the artist gave extra attention, so writes daily newspaper Milliyet today.
By the way, plastic Santa Claus will not make way for the new Saint. Santa will stay on his pedestal right in front of Saint Nicholas Church. The new statue will be placed in the harbour.
‘We are all Turks! We are all Muslims!’. I still see it scrawled on a wall somewhere in Istanbul. Yeah, sure, I thought, Armenians, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, never heard of them, in this country we are all just Turks and all Muslims… But then again, how can you really criticise such graffiti in a country where this week even the highest figure in the land announced that his family has really been Turkish and Muslim for generations. He is probably right and of course it’s all okay, but President Gül had such a good opportunity to say something beautiful, something bonding about the Turkish identity, and he didn’t take it.
What happened? A group of Turkish intellectuals put a petition online in which they apologize for the tragedy (genocide, FG) endured by the Armenians in 1915, in the latter days of the Ottoman Empire, and through the petition they share the grief of the Armenians. This caused a lot of discussion of course, and naturally journalists in Turkey wanted to know the President’s opinion on the initiative. Gül didn’t really speak out but said that freedom of speech was functioning properly in Turkey.
After which a member of parliament from the opposition party CHP, ms. Aritman, suggested that Gül must have some Armenian blood running through his veins, otherwise he would have condemned the petition immediately. And what did Gül say in his defence? That it is not a shame to have Armenian blood, that we are all brothers and all inhabitants of Turkey? Or something like that?
No, he made it clear that the Gül family has been both Turkish and Muslim for generations. It’s probably true – or maybe not, I mean, there are quite a few Turkish families that have not known for decades about the real identity of their ancestors or even of their living grandparents (read a story I previously wrote on that subject). But really, what a missed opportunity!
I’m in the middle of writing an article about Turkish women who grew up in the Netherlands but who decided as adults to move to Turkey. Well, decided…, that’s not the right word in some cases. A few women moved to Turkey for a year and planned to return to the Netherlands after that year. ‘That’s three years ago now’, one of the women said. At first she hesitated to leave Holland, partly because of a wrong picture of her parents’ home country. She knew it only from holidays, which the family spent in some small dusty village with too much social control. She thought Turkey didn’t have too much to offer, apart from a job for one year. But after living in Istanbul she got to know the country better and found a modern life that suited her nicely. So when she was offered an extension of her job contract she immediately said ‘yes’. Then she met a man and got married, and plans to raise her baby boy in Turkey.
I remember packing my bags to go to Turkey. I wanted to broaden my experience in foreign journalism and Turkey seemed a good place to do it. I was not mistaken: Turkey is exciting, alive, and, from a journalist’s point of view, objectively speaking, just the most interesting country in the world. From the first month on, work went well. And slowly I settled in more and more, sometimes without even realising it. Building a website after just a few months – you don’t make the effort if you plan to leave again six months later, do you? Getting a resident’s permit instead of leaving the country for a new tourist visa every three months. Deciding to become a taxpayer in Turkey because it would save me so much money. And, very importantly: seeing so many stories that I want to write. The subjects that I am especially interested in, like women’s lives, human rights, politics and minorities, just never fail to inspire me. Besides, how could I leave with local elections coming up in March 2009 and Istanbul being Cultural Capital of Europe for 2010? Turkey has gotten a firm hold of me. When I packed my bags, I intended to come for one year. This month, that will be exactly two years ago. How much longer will I stay? As the Turks say: Allah bilir – Allah knows.
You can ridicule it as an election gimmick, but that would be too easy. Opposition party CHP has published a report on the Kurdish question, which makes far-reaching proposals, like recognising the Kurdish identity, giving people the right to an education in their mother tongue and even to give some sort of amnesty to PKK fighters. Of course, it is only three months to go before the local elections in March, but it is a long time since the CHP actually made a positive contribution to one Turkey’s most enduring problems. The CHP has been criticised so much for leading the opposition in a non-constructive way that this report should be welcomed. Of course, in the end it comes down to realizing plans and that will meet some stiff resistance, but every change starts with a plan, doesn’t it? And also a change in people’s attitude has to start with somebody being brave enough to say things that are not easily said, and in the CHP that is definitely the case when it comes to the Kurdish issue. They are strongly rooted in the ‘one flag, one state’ ideology, which in their mind is so important for Turkey’s unity and even for its very existence. Stating in an official report that ‘ethnic identity is a source of pride’ is just such a brave act of the kind needed to work towards another kind of unity, one based on ‘unity in diversity’.
It snowed. Most of it has melted away again, but in the fields around the village of Ortahisar, the snow still sparkles. Even in the middle of the night. I look up and see the moon is full. I turn around on the back seat of the car I’m in to take a better look. Then we turn a corner and Erciyes comes into sight, one of Turkey’s highest mountains. It rises above the plateau of central Anatolia. I’ve seen Erciyes in so many beautiful ways. In summer with the sun going down, in fall with clouds hanging around it, on hot August days still holding on to the last bits of snow. But Erciyes in the middle of a bright cold winter night covered in a fresh layer of snow, lighting up under the full moon… Sorry, I was speechless, go and see it yourself one day.
WHAT’S YOUR WISH FOR 2009?
Name: Aylin Atalay
Profession: English teacher
A strong opposition party, that’s Aylin’s wish for 2009. A party that defends the secular republic but hopefully also thinks constructively about Turkey’s future rather than just polarize. “This spring there are local elections and I have no idea who to vote for”, says Aylin.“ I don’t want to vote again for the biggest opposition party CHP just because there is no alternative. Turkey needs a better opposition party. There are many people like me, who are fed up with the polarization and wish there was a party that could provide checks and balances to the governing AKP in a constructive way.’
The polarization in politics reflects the polarization in Turkish society. The governing party AKP consists of devout Muslims, and secularists believe the AKP wants to Islamize the country. These secularists basically have no other voice than the CHP, the biggest opposition party, which made it its policy to automatically oppose everything proposed by the AKP. Aylin sees that in her family too. She is from the west of Turkey, Thrace, from a strongly secular family. Voting CHP is traditional, as is routinely demonising the AKP. Aylin doubts these unbreakable truths. ‘And many Turks agree with me’, she says. ‘But there is no party that represents me and that can also make a difference in the parliament. I feel bad about that, because this is how Turkey got stuck in the rift between Islam and secularism.’
Time is running out: the elections are scheduled for March. Aylin imagines herself in the voting booth and is horrified by the thought of putting her trust in either the AKP or the CHP. ‘A good opposition party would put an end to my election doubts and would help Turkey on the way to becoming more stable, both socially and politically. It might even lead to a little less black and white thinking in my family.’
ISTANBUL – A commercial Turkish TV channel will soon start a series about Ergenekon, the shadowy gang that orchestrated a plot to overthrow the government. The makers, who remain anonymous for now, promise a romanticised series based on fact. This was reported in daily newspaper Milliyet today.
The Ergenekon gang was broken up earlier this year. Dozens of ex-military personnel, journalists and politicians were arrested and are accused of planning and committing murder. Their aim was to destabilize Turkey and prepare it for a coup. The court cases against the suspects are being held at the moment, and apparently the files provide enough material for a long-running TV show. Several well known actors and actresses in Turkey have already committed themselves to the series.
It is not the first time in Turkey that a TV series has been made based on current affairs. Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves) has been a famous series for years now and deals with connections between the state and the mafia. Kurtlar Vadisi draws criticism because of the amount of violence and the right wing ideology that some people claim is being promoted.