Friday, December 25, 2015

Some Facts and Thoughts on Turkey


Note to self: Write a separate post for Istanbul.

I am not a patriotic guy nor someone who tries to intentionally belittle his own country and nation in order to present himself as a premium citizen. Patriotism is blind nationalism and serves no purpose at all; while belittling one's nation with a specific aim in mind is sheer stupidity.

By the same token, I am also not proud (also not ashamed) of being a Turkish citizen. I consider any citizenship as a mere title. The only reason I am writing this post is to help non-Turks understand Turkey better by eliminating their prejudices and wiping out wrong ideas.

  • Like in any other nation there is no single Turk stereotype. Turkey has all sorts of people. Smart, stupid, religious, rich, atheist, obese, slim, successful, driven, slacker etc. You name it, Turkey has it. Statistically speaking the distribution is close to Gaussian with significant amount of outliers. Even though with this post I somehow stereotyped them, it was only for obvious didactic reasons and to make things easier.
  • Turkey is not a strictly Muslim country. Most of us have "Islam" written on our IDs, but this is given at birth by default. Some people try to get rid of this label via legal actions, but most don't even bother and keep eating their Prosciutto. 
  • Turks are not uneducated. I personally experienced Swiss, German, US and Turkish education systems min. 3 years each and in terms of curriculum Turkish system is not bad all. At least it wasn't bad at that time. I also must add and admit that some crème de la crème people I met are usually from Turkish elite high-schools. These schools are highly competitive and arm youngsters with essential core values.
  • Speaking of education, Turkey currently has 100+ universities and the current government shows this as an evidence of educational reform. Quantity and quality are entirely distinct. Most Turkish universities at the moment simply suck in quality. Courses are not hard enough and students have therefore too much free time. Some spend this free time productively but the majority uses it either to develop hand-eye coordination (aka Playstation) or aggressive networking via Tinder or Facebook. Card games are still considered in.
  • Turkey is not in the EU. I am not interested in chronological details and the current status, but in case you are then read this.
  • Turkish people are in general extremely hospitable. As far as I can remember they used to be more hospitable before, but they still are compared to the US or Europe. However this hospitality level would not be considered extraordinary by Southern Italy or Greece standards. Their sincerity is also top notch. 
  • Two guys hugging and kissing each other on both cheeks is considered normal in Turkey. Don't weird out if your male friend attempts this.
  • Kissing the hand of elderly is a traditional sign of respect in Turkey.
  • It's said that the national sport of Turkey is wrestling. Not that true. Generally speaking Turkish men love soccer so much. Much more than any other sport. On weekends they watch games. Football discussion programs run throughout the week. Every single possibility, chance and occasion is analyzed in these programs. That being said, Turkish football quality can't be considered top. Galatasaray won the UEFA cup in 2000. Turkish national football team took 3rd place in World Cup 2002. Those were the 2 big moments which brought millions of people together.
    • In 2005, after Pamuk made a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide and mass killing of Kurds in the Ottoman Empire, a criminal case was brought against him based on a complaint filed by an ultra-nationalist lawyer. Some still argue that the award has been given owing to his openness on this touchy subject rather than his literature.
    • Probably because he was born in the southeastern part of Turkey, Sancar's ethnicity was questioned in social media for days: Is he Kurdish; is he an Arab; is he 100% Turkish? Is he an assimilated Kurd?
    • Most foreigners –especially theMillennials– know Tarkan. Some know Fatih Terim due to Galatasaray's performance in European soccer arena. I personally think that the most successful, living and internationally known though still underrated Turkish persona is the pianist and composer Fazil Say. Not just his musical superiority –YouTube him–, but also his attempts of introducing arts to the rural parts of Turkey by giving free concerts in the middle of nowhere with his own piano as well as his ultra-strong, dedicated stance toward democratic values are admirable. 
    Fazil Say
      • In 2013, an Istanbul court found Say guilty over a series of posts on his Tweets and handed down a suspended 10-month jail term for him. Hundreds of Say’s fans and supporters have attended the three hearings in six months to protest against his prosecution. He has continued to perform nationally and internationally, and, when the sentence was handed down, Say said he was concerned about the implications of the court’s judgment for freedom of expression in Turkey.
      • Currently more journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than any other country.
      • Turks are proud of their cuisine. As a gourmand, here I really have to go against the grain for two reasons. First, the thing that is marketed as Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine which is also adopted from ancient Greek cuisine and rest of which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Greek, Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines. I see no point in pretending as if we have invented it all. Secondly and more importantly, things have changed dramatically since our grandmothers' time. With exception of some rare people and districts, no one appreciates good food any more and has very little understanding of ingredients and cooking techniques. People often overcook things. Moderns don't have time for cooking; they are busy deriving equations. Fast food has gained popularity and like in any other 'civilized' country people are in desperate search for Instagram-friendly dishes and ambiance instead of taste. If you're looking for real taste, go east.
      • Turks love to be put on a pedestal. Thanks to that, service quality is deluxe in most sectors (barbers, restaurants, shops etc.). 
      • The first ever Christian church was built in Antakya, Turkey.
      • Turks easily get out of their (dis)comfort zone. Most people are ready and willing to relocate for their job. They are not locally tied and will go that extra mile if well rewarded of course.
      • Current CEO of Coca-Cola company is Turkish: Muhtar Kent.
      • Turkey was among the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote: 1930 (for local elections), 1934 (for national elections)
      • Turks love showing off with material. It is common to use bank credit in order to possess the latest iPhone or upgrade the car.
      • Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world with approximately 80% of worldwide production.
      • Turkey is packed with cultural heritage. In fact, there are 13 spots in Turkey inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, and a whopping 62 on the tentative list. Two of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world were in Turkey: Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
      • Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) was born in Patara and became the bishop of Demre, on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!!