A Muslim-majority nation, Turkey is nevertheless a nation of contrasts in this, too. Secular by constitution since the time of Ataturk, there is a wide spectrum when it comes to religious devotion; even as numerous new mosques are being built, primarily by the current government in its conservative and religious ideology, many citizens identify with but don’t practice their faith; others are not of Muslim faith at all. These contrasts can easily be seen in the broad custom of drinking alcohol, in the many women who don’t wear headscarves, in the more liberal clothing overall (and piercings and tattoos), and in the women who demand their place in the workforce – and in the government. These young women chatting in the mosque are in ‘deeply conservative’ Bursa, birthplace of Ottoman ideals.
Modern-day Muslims in Turkey break with all manner of convention. Here, in the charming village of Kuzguncuk, Anatolian side of Istanbul, a wedding party travels in very western – and unconventional – style.
One of Turkey’s deepest religious traditions is Sufism, a mystical and meditative form of Islam. Ataturk’s reforms in 1925, toward a modern Turkey, saw the disbanding of the Sufi sect, though the practice merely went underground. Today it is seeing a revival of interest with millions of followers worldwide – and persecution, often severe, by the ultra-conservative sects. There is argument regarding where it originated; Turkey claims Rumi, known as Mevlana, as their own, though his birthplace is disputed; Konya, one of the most conservative cities in the nation, has an especially strong connection to Sufism. This street art, part of a larger work, is in fact found in Izmir.
If streets could talk…. Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu is one of the iconic areas of Istanbul – like a boardwalk, it’s a place to see and be seen. At the north end is Taksim Square, site of many demonstrations and the attempted military coup of 2016, while to the south, the street ends just before Galata Tower. Filled with neo-classical and art nouveau buildings, the street is a macrocosm of the city; in addition to shops and eateries, there are a number of historic landmarks.
Since Turkey’s 2016 failed coup attempt, tanks and soldiers can be seen in Istanbul’s public spaces – though this is also true of many cities throughout Europe. The state of emergency declared at that time was extended several times more due to other incidents, and was only lifted in July 2018. Some, including Human Rights Watch (January 2019), say that nothing much has changed since that time, in terms of military presence and limitations of freedom.
Beyoğlu has long been an area of the city for immigrants; initially, it was outside of the Galata walls constructed by the Venetians and Genoese, physically marginalised just as it was home to those on the margins. The neighbourhood of Tarlabaşı, in Beyoğlu district, serves as a home for immigrants and refugees today – referred to by some as Istanbul’s ‘slum’. Turkey is a very multicultural city and this is well reflected in Beyoğlu; the country has also taken in 3.7 million Syrian refugees, more than any other, and in a special agreement with Europe.
Turkey is keenly aware of its place in the world, today and in history as the Ottoman Empire; however, it is often confused about its place in Europe. One of the first countries to join the founding nations of the Council of Europe in 1949, and in application to the European Economic Community (now European Union) since 1987, it has all but given up hope. The vast majority of the nation is physically in the Asian continent; however, the Caucasus, further east, has long been conceptualised as ‘European’ and there is some movement toward EU admission. Turkey of course is also a Muslim-dominant nation, though secular by constitution; however, several Balkan states are also Muslim. The issue continues – but the people of Turkey have given up their European hopes.
[Be sure to also see Turkey (I).]