Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Report from Turkey

During my travels through Turkey (thus far I have spent four and a half days in Istanbul while on a ten day family vacation) I have found not one but two Turkeys. One is very much Muslim and Asian in character and the other is very much non-Muslim and European in character. The non-Muslim trend pre-dates Ataturk by at least a century and was very evident when I visited the Dolmabache Palace, which was used during the last 100 years of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk was simply the continuation of this trend.

It was very evident in the furnishings of the Palace. The crystal, chandeliars and paintings were either French, British or Russian or Czeck. Only the marble in one bathroom was Eyptian Alabaster. Of course, all the rugs were Turkish but then they were made to be stepped upon. Two Russian bears made for equally impressive floor mats.

The figure of Ataturk is everywhere. My daughters did not even know his name before coming to this country. One of them thought it was the name of a bridge that we crossed across the Golden Horn while coming to our hotel in the New City (it overlooks the Dolmabache Palace and has sweeping views of the Bosphorous and the skyline of the Old city).

Of course, the skyline in Istanbul is almost completely "Muslim" in its architecture. I have not seen so many big mosques and minarest anywhere else (they curiously all look alike). We have been touring them to our heart's content.

Greece is viewed neither as an enemy or a friend. Russia is very much in evidence around here, most visibly through all the Russian ships that travel through the Bosphorous onto the Black Sea.

One of the best sellers is a book called Metal Storm, which describes a hypothetical invasion of Turkey by the US. The book is only available in Turkish so it remains beyond my reach. However, attesting to the popularity of its theme, a sequel called Metal Storm II has been issued.

Bush is very unpopular here. One person called him a zero, another a fascist, and so on. The people I talked to were very upset about the war in Iraq. This seemed to cut across Muslim/non-Muslim lines.

The price of gasoline is about $8.50 a gallon and people were saying, how come it is only $3 a gallon in the US.

The Turks are watching the election in Germany with much interest, because of what it means for Turkey's entry into the EU. They want Schroeder to continue as Chancellor as much as they did not want Bush to be re-elected. One person said that he had lost faith in the American people because they re-elected Bush. Another said that Bush was out to pick a fight with everyone who disagreed with him. Yet another predicted that America will split into four or five countries in the next half century (and cited the example of how the Ottoman empire broke up eventually when it over-stretched itself).



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