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Istanbul at the crossroad (3)

(People's Daily Online)

13:55, March 21, 2012

Old cemetery at night (Andre Vltchek/ People's Daily Online)

While many Turkish intellectuals are thoroughly appalled by the Western arrogance and political dictate, Turkey as a country remains the staunch member of the NATO, and together with Israel the outpost of Western geopolitical interests in the region.

Talk to the educated classes in Istanbul and it soon becomes clear that they are much more antagonistic to political Islam which is growing importance all over the country, than to the Turkish armed forces that are training the ‘opposition’ from Syria, destabilizing the region and are basically doing number of the ‘dirty jobs’ for the West.

Elites of Istanbul are clearly in love with their uniqueness; with their city and the newly gained chic lifestyle, with their overpriced cafes, boutiques and Western chain 5-star hotels, with their luxury cars. To be considered fashionable here, everything has to be either Western or traditional Turkish, it could never come from the Middle East, which paradoxically and literally surrounds great part of the Turkish Republic.

Ridiculously overpriced barges with luxury bars and swimming pools are floating on Bosporus, Ferraris and Lamborghinis are driving through Bebek and other posh neighborhoods. Chic lifestyle may be the barometer of progress and secularism for some, but with the average incomes of under US$1,000 a month and the prices higher than in most of other world cities, Istanbul is hardly a place for the majority of the people. The arrogance of the elites and their disconnectedness from the masses may be one of the main reasons why religious movements and parties are lately gaining influence.

Turkish writer Buket Sahin often calls Istanbul “a city of dreams”. But those who could afford to dream and especially to fulfill their dreams are still in the great minority.

Istanbul is not rich and not poor. It is not really in Europe and it is not fully in Asia, not entirely the ‘West’ and not categorically the ‘East’. It is kind off secular but also increasingly religious. It appears to be extremely capitalist, while so many of its people are dreaming about and fighting for social justice.

Serkan Koc, one of the most prolific Turkish filmmakers has approximately 50 documentaries behind his belt. Like many inhabitants of Istanbul he feels whole range of things towards Istanbul:

“Istanbul is a center of post-modernism and also a center of imperialist culture”, he explains in the café of Pera Museum, itself a magnificent private art collection. “Geography and atmosphere of the city are wonderful. But I often try to see more than just a beauty – I want to understand what is behind it. When I go to Anatolian side – to Asia – I feel how my trust in humanity rises. But in Istanbul I feel alone.”

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