Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Farewelll to Istanbul: Part 11

“Orhan Pamuk is not Turkish because he is from Mecidiyeköy”
The first time I heard this from a friend, I was amused and intellectually fascinated by this logic. If you explain the logic to an ex-pat, who has lived in Turkey for more than one year, the “ah-ha” factor clicks in. For Turks living in Istanbul, no explanation is necessary. Either they agree with it or they discuss the problems with the problems of ultra-nationalism in Turkey and freedom of speech. For those who have never lived in Turkey, it is meaningless. Even with an explanation, it is still not clearly understandable. The readers should understand that this article is not pushing an agenda, but is discussed here to give them some insight and understanding on issues in Istanbul as they relate to Turkish politics. This is sensitive issue and is only discussed here in an objective manner and for intellectual pondering.

I liked this topic because I am a geographer and further an urban geographer. For those not familiar with Istanbul, Mecidiyeköy is one of the first places where the nouveau riche settled at the beginning of the last century. After the Turkish Republic was established it gained the reputation of having a bourgeois secular and Western oriented population. Orhan Pamuk, one of the better know Turkish author with an international reputation, grew up in this neighborhood and subsequently has written about it in his novel, Istanbul: Memories and the City. In 2006, Mr. Pamuk received a Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Previously, Pamuk issued a statement about the inability of the Turkish government to accept the facts on the alleged Armenian Genocide. Many Turks think that the two are related and that the vote for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature was given to Pamuk for political reasons and not on Mr. Pamuk's merits as a writer. The statement on Pamuk not being Turkish because he grew up in Mecidiyeköy further damns him in the eyes of his detractors. It is slightly akin to saying that Woody Allen is not American because he is from New York and Jewish.

Personally, I think that Orhan Pamuk's statement on the alleged Armenian Genocide, being one of the most controversial issues in Turkey, was 'grand standing' and self promotional. Although I think that Pamuk is an extraordinary writer, there is a strong suspicion that his inflammatory statement was catering to Western European and gave him the nudge to gain the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. He should have used better discretion, but writers are not always known for discretion, as being controversial is what sells books. The linkage of certain personal characteristics to an area, city or neighborhod of people is also typical of Turkey. For example, it is often stated that “People from Kaiseri are good business men." Geographic sterotypes are inherenlty ludicrous, but still persist in all cultures. Nevertheless, it is another vehicle to discredit Pamuk as being a representative of Turkey. Regardless, it is interesting and gives one some insight on Turkish politics and an indication of the 'scars' that the Turks still bear.

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