2002) Expats in Turkey

Hana from Istanbul
Thanks to Hana Jalel for sharing her experience in Turkey with us.

Tell us about yourself
I am a Tunisian, 34 years old female, living in Turkey for more than 15 years. I came to Ankara for my university studies later I decided to stay here and I am now working for a private company in Istanbul.

What made you come to Turkey?
University studies

What do you do in your daily life?
Working for a private company, Finance.

All my family is in Tunisia

Can you compare your first days here with today?
My first days were very exciting because I knew no Turkish and I was only 18 and by myself in Ankara.. Now I feel like a Turkish :)) Still I find it very nice to be a foreigner in Turkey.

Has living in Turkey influenced your approach to life?
My living in Turkey has influenced mainly my approach to nature, because I think that Turkey is very rich in nature.

Turkish language?
I know Turkish very well, still people do understand that I am not Turkish from my accent :)

Let's talk about the region you are living in?
I am living in Istanbul, in the Anatolian side

Have you traveled in Turkey? Tell us your discoveries
I have traveled a lot in Turkey, and in all directions: north, east, south and west..:) I have been fascinated by the black see region and also by the coast during my boat trips I do nearly every summer.

What is your preferred characteristic trait of Turks?
The best characteristic of Turks is their being very helpful and very generous.

What was the annoying one?
The annoying characteristic is that they are sometimes very nationalist and nervous.

Turkish Cuisine?
I love the Turkish cuisine.

Any suggestion to new comers to Turkey?
My suggestion for new comers is to take the benefit of being in Turkey suburbs and don't get stuck to big cities only.
Aida from Nisantasi
Thanks to Aida for sharing her experiences in Turkey with us.

Tell us about yourself?
I am a risk taker and it is hard for people to predict what my next endeavor will be. I wish I wasn't like this... But, since I am take really wild and random journeys. i have met so many fascinating people and witness so many interesting phenominems. The Turks think living in celebrity driven Lon Angeles is a wild fantasy. The idea you can be at the market and Britney Spears in buying Cheetos behind you is really a crazy thought. This was routine for me, and I wanted more. To see more.

What made you come to Turkey?
I was bored one day with my best friend in Los Angeles. She is Turkish and said come to Istanbul. Lets go and do something there. I said, 'No Way!', but my imagination went wild. I decided not to take on the full risk, but I came to Turkey. The Summer of 2005 for 2 months. I decided to test out the waters with her. I was so amazed and the city got my heart. I was living off Badgat Street, went to Turkbuku for 3 weeks, chilling in fancy homes in Yenikoy, hanging in Bebek and Nisantasi for fun. When the weather was unbearable, I was chilling in Akmerkez. This was the disilluision thought I had of Istanbul. So decadent, so posh, so surreal. It was Los Angeles with a middleastern flavor.

What do you do in your daily life?
I was working for an Economics Publishing Company here. That ended recently and I am not sure on my longevity here. I want to stay and be successful here, but most of my day I spend dreaming of my mom and family. I am living in La La Land.

I do not have any family here. I am Jewish and got connected with the community here. I have met some Persian Jewish families here. They have adopted me. Without them I will be really lost.

Can you compare your first days here with today?
I don't know which way I like more. Feeling lost or knowing this city's roads. Outside of the direction problem the one thing that hurt me the most is sitting in silence. I didn't know any Turkish at all, I could not even order water, a taxi. Going to a kuafor and not being able to dictate what I want. Just giving my life into others' hands was refreshing but definitely not the way I was accustomed to. I was always accusing the taxi of taking the long way.

Has living in Turkey influenced your approach to life?
Definitely. Turkish Men do not know how to control themselves when it comes to anything especially women. Los Angeles is full of insane looking people and clothes. Anything goes, but coming here I had to tone down my appearance, the length of my skirt and increase the lights of a tanning bed. It is a real comedy to watch Turkish people ruin their gorgeous skin by living in tanning beds.

Turkish language?
I understand the jist of the language. I just want to wake up one day and speak. I am lucky because so many people help me out with translation. I wish I didn't have helping hand, because I would be in survivor mode. I would be Turkish by now, if it weren't for my great group of friends.

Let's talk about the region you are living in?
I live below Nisantasi near Polat Towers. It is good and centrally located. There are a lot of foreigners around, but a different kind. I love living in near Nisantasi and passively looking to reside there Cihangir. Living on the European Side is definitely more happening The Asian side is soothing and a place to chill. I like both, but it is better to live on the European side for me.

Have you traveled in Turkey? Tell us your discoveries.
Yes, I have discovered Turkburku for 3 weeks. The haven for Turkish Society. I was in shock how a Turkish girl can make fun of a girl wearing a mini in Istanbul, but strut in a g-string bikini in Turkbuku. It is not a fun place, but a place where Turks can sort of be free in open air.

What is your preferred characteristic trait of Turks?
They can go all night. They never complain about time.

What was the annoying one?
They cannot control themselves with anything. Love, passion, women, money, raki, word usage. They are always ready to exploit at anything.

Turkish Cuisine?
It is good, but Persian is so much better.

Any suggestion to new comers to Turkey?
It is an addicting place. I chose to be with Turks here, and not the foreigners. I wish I did the opposite. I wish I chose to live in Cihangir and create my base amongst other's like me. People who feel lost and lonely at times. Where communication is easier, because it is the only place in Istanbul you might hear Turkish the least. Turkey is a very family oriented place, and it is hard at times. I wish I created my family with other's that also needed a family.

Any suggestion to people planning to visit your region?
Don't wear short skirts or expose yourself too much. Do not trust Turkish men at all. I am not a heartbroken soul, because some Turkish man told me something. I just know from my own eyes. They are sorry men who will do and say anything to get a woman. They are poor uncivilized men who make maybe 600$ per month. I am lucky I have never dealt with this, but so many friends whom I let loose in Taxim (I usually will not go) come back telling me stories that they are getting married to a Turkish man who thinks they are so special.

Pat from Yaniklar
Thanks to Pat for sharing her experiences in Turkey with us.

Tell us about yourself.
I'm 58 years old, used to live in the north of England where I worked in further/higher education as a teacher and manager mainly working with adults. In 2003 I bought a small, neglected orange grove with an old mud-brick house in it, in a village outside Fethiye and the following year moved out, refurbished and extended the old house and am now working on the garden.

What made you come to Turkey?
I first came to Istanbul in 1969, aged 21, to teach maths at the English High School for Girls in Beyoglu. I lived in Cihangir which was far from fashionable in those days. In 1972 I moved to Bodrum, then a small village with no English speakers, so living there for eighteen months worked wonders for my Turkish. I moved here permanently in 2004 to live in a better climate amongst friendly people.

What do you do in daily life?
In winter I read, write, help with a website www.fethiyetimes.com a 'mini mymerhaba' for people living in and around Fethiye. I teach free English classes in my village on Tuesday evenings and am also involved with various local projects. In between all of this I garden. In summer I welcome friends from around the world and it sometimes feels like I run a small pension. I am also trying to establish myself as a written translator of Turkish into English.

One daughter currently on world travels (last heard of in Laos) following graduation from university in 2005.

Can you compare your first days here with today?
When I first arrived Turkey was still classed as a 'developing country' and had little or no industry and no television apart from a small experimental station in Ankara. During the time I lived here 1969 - 73 the first cars were made in Turkey and factories started producing white goods. Now the cities and much of the Aegean coastal region of Turkey are totally developed - but inland you can still find towns and villages that have the flavour of old Turkey.

Has living in Turkey influenced your approach to life?
Absolutely. The four years I spent here as a young woman, learning the language and experiencing a different culture, broadened my outlook on life immensely. The past three years that I have lived here have given me the chance to slow down after a hectic twenty years of work in Britain.

Turkish language?
I speak fluent vernacular Turkish but can't yet write 'formal' Turkish. I am so glad I learned the basics of the language when I was young, as it is no joke trying to learn a new language in late middle age - I see other British residents struggling and know they will never attain my level of usage. Even worse are the people who seem to refuse to even try with the language and continue to speak English, loudly and slowly. It's so embarrassing.

Let's talk about the region you are living in?
It is glorious. Green, lush, mountainous, amazing flora and my village, Yaniklar, is fighting development, which has already overtaken whole swathes of Fethiye and its environs. The village is now into organic growing and has two eco holiday centres: Yonca Lodge and Pastoral Valley. Loggerhead turtles nest on the beach and there is a small lake which is major point on bird migration routes.

Have you travelled in Turkey? Tell us your discoveries.
I am very proud of a journey to the east of Turkey in a small British car with three other female teachers in 1971 - Van was amazing. Since my return I have visited Istanbul, Ankara, Konya, east to Urfa, driven along the Mediterranean coast as far as Mersin twice and often make the journey to and from Bodrum. However, there are still whole swathes of the country that I haven't seen and I intend to visit them over the years ahead.

What is your preferred characteristic of Turks?
They are friendly, helpful, generous and amazingly trusting.

What is the annoying one?
I want two: dreadful driving habits - no signals, talking on mobile phones, no seat belts, etc. Secondly their dreadful litter habits.

Turkish cuisine?

Any suggestions for newcomers to Turkey?
Don't just lie on a beach or by a pool; look, listen and learn about this incredible country with its incomparable history and mix of cultures.

Any suggestions for people planning to visit your region?
Come in May or October and bring your walking boots. We are on the start of the Lycian Way, Turkey's first long distance walking path, and there are countless glorious one-day walks you can do around Fethiye. Come to stay in one of the eco holiday centres in my village and they'll organise guided walks for you, feed you delicious organic food and give you a taste of the region as it used to be.

Patricia from Kartal
Thanks to Patricia Çevik for sharing her experiences in Turkey with us.

Tell us about yourself
My name is Patricia Çevik. I am an American woman. I came to Turkey with my Turkish husband about 12 years ago. We have been married for 17 years. I am 44 years old. I came from New York .

What made you come to Turkey?
My husband wanted to return to Turkey because he wanted to do the work that he was educated to do which was to work as a Mechanical Engineer. There was a job offered in Adana so we came to Adana about 12 years ago. We stayed there until my husband had to go to the army. So I stayed in Adana for 8 months alone. It was the loneliest 8 months of my life. He got out on his birthday and went directly to Istanbul to apply for a manager position with Koc group, which he got. He stayed in Istanbul for 3 days before he finally came back to Adana to get me and we moved to Izmir where the Koctas market was. We stayed in Izmir for 8 wonderful years as I love Izmir. It's a very nice city. 2 years ago my husband was transferred to Istanbul and here we are.I dont' like crowded place and Istanbul is very crowded but I do like where we live

What do you do in your daily life?
I worked in various dershanies, as Im an English Teacher. I've worked in preschools and private schools also.

My dad and brother are in the states and I haven't been back to the states for about 9 years. I'm happy here. My dad is healthy and nothing has really changed in New York. I call my family every month but if I wanted to go and visit I could.

Can you compare your first days here with today?
I was very afraid and scared because I didn't know the language or the culture but being here as many years as I have I'm used to the culture and I can speak the language.

Has living in Turkey influenced your approach to life?
My husband says I'm more dependent on him but I'm only dependent on him when I have to go some place because I don't know the areas as I get lost easily even in America I'd get lost. When I need to speak to someone important on the phone I depend on my husband for that too.

Turkish language?
I don't think I'll ever learn Turkish correctly as I learned if from my students and I dont beat around the bush when I need to say something. I'm very direct and that can cause problems sometimes.

Let's talk about the region you are living in?
I'm living in Kartal istanbul. It's very quiet and neighbors keep to themselves.

Have you traveled in Turkey? Tell us your discoveries.
When we first came to Turkey after we were married we went tent camping from Istanbul to Antalya. We'd stop in a play for a day or so and move on to the next place. I love all the historical places in Turkey it's just too bad that people steal and ruin all the historical beauty in Turkey. Generations to come will only have pictures to look at and not the real thing because there won't be much left for them to see.

What is your preferred characteristic trait of Turks?
Most Turkish people are really friendly and helpful.

What was the annoying one?
When you go to big pazars and the Turkish people know you are a tourist they raise the price of something and tourist being niave don't realize what's being done to them. It happened to me in the American pazar

Turkish Cuisine?
I like most Turkish foods but 6 years ago I stopped eating lamb because it's too oily for me.

Any suggestion to new comers to Turkey?
Get all the information about the place you are going and try to get a trustable tour guide that won't rip you off of your money.

Any suggestion to people planning to visit your region?
I don't suggest coming to Istanbul but if they must they should see the Topkapı palace and the big covered pazar there are so many souvenirs that can be bought.

Susanne from Fethiye
Thanks to Susanne McCulloch for sharing her experiences in Turkey with us.

Tell us about yourself
My name is Suzanne, I'm 36 years old and having worked in Local Government for 18 years, have decided along with my husband, Iain, to take a bit of time out to live life.

What made you come to Turkey?
Honestly..initially - the price of housing. A few years back we decided we'd like a retirement/holiday home abroad and started looking - not very actively, in Spain, but found it very expensive and overrun with Brits. I saw Turkey on a TV show about buying abroad and realised we'd never even considered it. We started looking via the internet and booked a week's holiday in 2003 staying in Alanya and Oludeniz. By the Friday we'd fallen in love with the people and scenery and bought a duplex apartment in Fethiye.

What do you do in your daily life?
One day is hardly ever like the next. I keep a detailed blog for friends and family back home, so if you really want to know, see http://blueskynotie.blogspot.com/. Main activities revolve around walking, socialising, painting, reading, staring into middle distance, cooking, swimming in the summer and doing the artwork on www.fethiyetimes.com.

Just me and Iain, married for nearly 14 years. All the rest are back in the UK.

Can you compare your first days here with today?
The language makes more sense to me now, but the sheer beauty of a sunny day, and the spectacular scenery never palls. In the last 4 years Fethiye has definitely developed - massive investment in infrastructure and municipal works by the Belediye, along with so much private building.

Has living in Turkey influenced your approach to life?
Of course. Sometimes the generosity and inclusiveness of our Turkish neighbours and friends is humbling. I think living here has helped us be nicer and more social people. By comparison, back in the UK I feel isolated, albeit by choice, sometimes hardly even saying hello to a neighbour!

Turkish language?
Slowly making more sense. Practice is the key, and it gets better every day. Having a fluent speaking English friend really helps.

Let's talk about the region you are living in?
Fethiye is a large town with a sheltered bay and marina, surrounded by mountains. The climate is great, the views astonishing, the walking varied and interesting. You can have sunny days down here with oranges and lemons on the trees, while gazing up through a cobalt sky at the snow topped Taurus Mountains.

The locals are friendly, but fairly unsophisticated compared to Turks we know from Izmir, Bodrum and Istanbul. We have a great group of friends, both English and Turkish. Development is relentless, although little seems to be selling.

Have you traveled in Turkey? Tell us your discoveries
A little, and not nearly as much as we want. We've seen Cappadocia from a hot air balloon, the Mevlana museum in Konya, Manavgat, Alanya (flat - not keen), Aspendos (wow!), Antalya, Patara (wow, again), Oludeniz while paragliding, Denizli - staying at the 'Polis Evi', Pammukale (how disappointing L ), Bodrum, Turgutreis and the Bosburun penisula - with friends, from both the car and from the sea. In 2006 we took part (as paying and pampered guests) in the Bodrum cup, a gulet sailing regatta - a fantastic experience.

Ashamed to say NOT Istanbul, NOT Ephesus, NOT Troy, NOT Mount Nemrut, NOT Sanli Ufa, oh, the list goes on, but hey there's still time!

What is your preferred characteristic trait of Turks?
Open friendliness. The greetings are so warm and they always have room for a new friend in their lives.

What was the annoying one?
Just a minor one really - the shopping culture. I know everyone has to make a living, but the minute you walk in you're trailed around, there are no prices on goods, you have to really check stuff over as they open boxes and take stuff out so parts are often broken or missing. And there are stories of 'dual' pricing which makes you unsure if you're getting ripped off.

Turkish Cuisine?
I like it. Fruit and Veg is so fresh and plentiful, flavours are good.

Any suggestion to new comers to Turkey?
Open your mind and come. For some reason people have a particular perception of Turkey, maybe because the people are mainly Muslim and we get mixed-to-bad messages about that back in the UK. The people are just like you and me - worried about their children, the state of the world and how to be a good neighbour. Try not to demand 'England Abroad', and come and see a different country. Eager to please (and make money), the Turks pander to our every whim, replacing traditional Turkishness with Full English Breakfasts and fish and chip shops. It'd be so sad if this country squandered its USP, the rich culture and heritage.

Any suggestion to people planning to visit your region?
Come in Spring or Autumn. Winter weather can be nice in the day, but cold at night. July and August are just too hot to function. Go self catering so you can buy fruit and veg from the markets, and eat out in the local birliks and lokanta's and have a lazy Sunday brunch on the sand, by the sea at Yonca Lodge - heaven. Don't forget to bring good walking shoes so you can get out and see some of the area on foot. Have a good look at websites like www.mymerhaba.com and www.fethiyetimes.com for hints, tips, things to do, featured walks and loads of other top intel.

The eyes and ears of the Netherlands in Turkey, Bouwman: I became more humanistic in Turkey
Dutch journalist Bernard Bouwman

Bernard Bouwman, a Western correspondent living and reporting in İstanbul, is the eyes and ears of the Netherlands in Turkey. Indeed, his is a name synonymous with Turkey.

He has been reporting for the Netherlands’ NRC Handelsblad daily and for Radio 1 from İstanbul for eight years. I recently spoke with Bouwman about his personal adventure and observations about Turkey and the Netherlands.

How did your İstanbul adventure begin?

Let me start by saying that I did not have a journalistic education. I studied something different, finished my doctorate at Oxford and returned to Holland. While looking for jobs, I ended up in journalism. I was at the European Integration Desk at NRC, for whom I still work. But almost everyone in the media was dealing with bureaucracy, which eventually started to bother me. I told my superiors: “Look! I do not want to do be a correspondent anymore. I will look for something else.” Just then, in 2000, a post in İstanbul became available and, of course, I jumped on it. Why? Because Turkey was quite an interesting country; a journalistic heaven with its dynamic agenda, including Turkey-EU relations; the democratization process; the place of religion in society and the question of where it should be; the ethnic groups and how these groups should be integrated into the mainstream; natural disasters; and Turkey’s relations with its turbulent neighbors, like Iran, Iraq and Syria. Simply, whatever a journalist wants!

But you had been to Turkey before you had been stationed here, right?

Sure, I had been as a tourist, a few times. But living permanently was something different. But, you know what? My boss sent me to İstanbul for one week, saying, “You are free to do anything you want, don’t bother with the expenses and just see if you could live there.” It was really an excellent week. But newspapers can’t do such things anymore, as circulations in the Netherlands have decreased. Well, at the end of that week, I made up my mind. İstanbul was the place where I wanted to live.

When you look back, do you see any changes on the issues that you said brought you here?

Well, there is one thing that never changes: Turkey’s rapid change on economic and social issues. This is taking place at an amazing speed. And just at this point I would like to share one of my observations. Look, I do not share the concerns of some ultra-secular circles about Turkey becoming an Islamic state day by day. On the contrary, I believe that religious people have started to lead a more liberal and relaxed life and that in 10-15 years time they will become like Europeans!

How did you come to this conclusion?

Well, there are two things that lead societies to secularism. Of course, I mean secularism in the way we are used to in Europe. Anyway, one of these things is wealth. Look at European societies. The richer they get, the less religious they become. The number of Turks getting richer, going abroad and discovering different lifestyles is increasing. And the second point is education. Thirty percent of all Europeans have a university degree. And you see where religion stands in daily lives of these people. Anyway, Turkey is not becoming “Islamic” in the way some people are concerned about. But people, the religious ones, tend to show this more openly, which is actually not something new, if you know Turkey well. These people are mainly from Anatolia. But their children live in a very different world, with Internet, mass media, pornography and so on. These kids who were born in big cities grow up in a rich environment and go to universities naturally will not be as religious as their parents. There is an amazing transformation in this society.

But I think you are just talking about your observations regarding İstanbul. What about Anatolia?

I would like to remind you that Turkey is one of the most urbanized countries in Europe, with 60-70 percent of its population living in big cities. On the other hand, even people living in villages watch the world via satellite, follow popular series like “Sex and the City.” I am not someone religious, but I believe in the thesis that the richer and more educated people get, the less religious they become. But I must add that people becoming more religious or wearing the headscarf in Turkey neither interests nor distresses me. I don’t see any problem with it. Nevertheless, I also see that religion in Turkey is considered like a political party, which is of course not good. …

The secular elite in Turkey once said: “We are the elite, we believe in democracy and in this system being religious is something bad.” And you, as an average citizen, see that things are not going well in the country and hold this elite responsible for that. And you say, “These people are elite and not religious, then I must be religious!” This is a normal reaction.

And that is the reason the elite wanted to keep religion under control?

Yes. To them, religion should not have been in the public eye so much in Turkey, where they wanted to be a part of Europe. As you know, religion’s role in daily life in Europe has become quite limited after the phases of reform, renaissance and enlightenment that lasted for centuries. [Modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk wanted to cover this distance overnight. But, surprisingly, it worked! I also cover Syria and I can see the huge difference between the two countries. Atatürk’s way somehow worked. But you are right in asking this question: “Today, do we need the type of secularism of the Atatürk era?” You can say: “The Turkish way of secularism has been so successful that there is no more need to keep religion under control. Let people wear whatever they want.”

I would be inclined to say that the republican project in Turkey has been a success. I think there is no need to suppress society anymore, and I even tell my secular friends that they are not aware of the success they have had in Turkey. Secularism has become successful in Turkey. Now it is time to modernize it.

As far as I understand, the secularism you are talking about is the repressive one fortified by the regulations of the post-Atatürk era and therefore often criticized by Europeans. I mean we are talking about a kind of French secularism rather than the American type.

We can define secularism in two ways. The first one is that the state is neutral in regard to all religions and does not interfere in any way. People are free to practice their beliefs, which is actually what we understand from the way of Western European secularism. For example, in my country, the Netherlands, the government supports all religious schools financially.

And the second way of defining it is to say: “We do not like religion. But people may be religious. Then we keep religion under control...” That is how Atatürk interpreted secularism. But I think now it is time for Turkey to move from the latter to the former.

What charmed you most when you started living in İstanbul as a reporter?

Taksim! Yes, Taksim really made me dizzy. I saw no difference between Taksim and Amsterdam. Well, of course, I know Turkey is not only Taksim, but before coming to İstanbul, unlike an average European, I had no images of “fez-wearing, camel-riding Turks” in my mind. And I really do not understand these European tourists who come to spend a few weeks in Antalya, but who, upon their return, keep talking about Turkey with the same clichés. One thinks that they do not know that Antalya is in Turkey! But, on the other hand, you Turks do not give a good image of your country. I recall that I was covering the pro-republic demonstrations in Çağlayan last year, and I was not the only foreign reporter there. They were interviewing the secularist Turks over there. One of these people said to the reporters: “Turkey must not become Iran!” Ok, well, but who in Turkey wants that to happen, anyway? Foreign reporters do not know much about Turkey. Without offering different viewpoints, they present exaggerated fears to their audience in Europe. When an average European sits at home in the evening to watch the news, he sees “a Turkey on the brink of Iranization.” Bullshit! Because this is not true. One may say, “I am against Abdullah Gül’s candidacy for presidency,” but if you make comparisons between Turkey and Iran, this is just crude propaganda. Unfortunately, most Western reporters are not informed enough about Turkey and swim in shallow waters.

After you came to Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power. As a Western reporter, you have witnessed its governing period. How do you think they are doing -- Especially on EU affairs?

They started well, but slowed down. I think they are a bit worried about the military and the nationalists. They must be braver. Europe and Turkey are important to each other.

What is this importance? Will you use the classic ‘bridge’ metaphor, too?

Well, if Turkey joins the EU, it will be a part of the Eurozone. The euro will be the official currency. It will help at least 10 percent more tourists come to Turkey. On the other hand, cars are produced in your country and sold to Europe. But Turks do not have any liberty to say anything about the production standards, which are only decided by those in Brussels. But once Turkey is in the EU, Turkish industrialists will have a seat at the table, too. This is not only something [purely] economic but also [involves] politics for sure.

If we look at my own county again, the Netherlands, there are some political groups demanding a total ban on Muslims and immigrants entering the country. But they will never be able to cross a certain point, as the EU will not let it happen. So, in this regard, the EU functions like a regulator that activates by itself when one of the member states goes crazy. So, even if the parliament in the Netherlands passes legislation against the freedom of immigrants, the EU blocks it. You see, the EU does a good job in many ways.

But politicians in Turkey and in Europe do not have enough courage. Those in Europe have to support Turkish accession with an open heart and … take a stance on TV. And the case in Turkey is not as good as it should be. Will the country be lead to nationalism or go toward Europe? This is the question. That infamous Article 301 [of the Turkish Penal Coke (TCK)] should already have been abolished. That is something slaughtering Turkey’s image. The real danger for this country in the long run is not Islamists, but nationalists. [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s government should put it this way: “No matter whether we are Turks or not, what is important is that we are a part of humankind.” Time has changed and the world has, too. Turkey should get rid of the discourse that says, “Being a Turk is a privilege.” So, sorry to say, but this sounds a bit ridiculous at this time.

But the real problem, both here and in the Netherlands, is extremists. They are afraid of everything: change, globalization and so on. Despite this fear, things are going well in the Netherlands. The economy is progressing and the unemployment rate is decreasing. Globalization plays a positive role in that, contrary to what some say. There are no migrant ghettos in the Netherlands as there are in France. The government doesn’t discriminate against anyone. No bombs explode here and there. Yes, there are a few crazy radicals, but where aren’t there? I don’t get the reason for such fear.

I recently interviewed Dutch Turkophile Erich Jan Zürcher, who said: ‘Turkey needs a real leftist and liberal party. The lack of opposition is no good for Turkey.’ Do you agree?

Yes, I do. Turkey needs such a party. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is never something like that. [CHP leader] Deniz Baykal acts just like a dictator. If I were a Turkish leftist, I would set about starting a new party.

Has Turkey changed you?

Yes, I think I became more humanistic. I lived in Western Europe, England and America for some time. And after all this time, when I got into the daily lives of ordinary folks, I can easily say that I cannot see any difference between Turks and the Dutch. And when I look at my homeland from here, I realize that all those discussions on integration are just funny. People here and there must come together to talk on their real issues. Only then they can they see that there is actually no big gap in between. Putting all this fear of Islam and immigrants aside, people across the world just strive for a better future for themselves and their kids. There lies the only concern. 29.04.2008, ALİ ÇİMEN İSTANBUL


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All the best