Saturday, January 16, 2016

On Istanbul, My Home

Istanbul may be the most mischaracterized and misunderstood city on the planet. When I leave Istanbul in the summer, to Toronto or elsewhere, the most consistent response I get from people when I tell them I live in Istanbul is one of utter confusion. It's as if large swaths of people have already written Istanbul off as a city they'll never visit within a country that they only associate with vaguely troubling news reports.

And now, this week, the vaguely troubling news reports of the past have turned into decidedly damning news reports of the present. The event that occured, the bombing in Sultanahmet, was and is desperately troubling, but it is not Istanbul. That has been the problem with the coverage and the conversations from the beginning. In Paris, grim faced newscasters from around the globe shared news with disbelief of the unimaginable horror. Yet, in Istanbul, the event was, explicitly or not, described as an inevitability of a city such as this...such as what?

And, perhaps the folks who live here, like myself, understood that this was a possibility, in the sense that things are possible in cities this size sharing borders with the neighbours that Turkey has...but again...this single event cannot and does not define this city. Those who live in Istanbul don't dart from street to street, avoiding conflict like some 90's Sarajevo redux. Trust me.

Since the bombing, I haven't looked over my shoulder more often, nor will I. The most drastic change has been the outpouring of concern from friends and family, which is entirely understandable. Yet, I'm deeply perturbed by the notion that people may begin to associate Istanbul with one image, that of a "dangerous Muslim city." Istanbul is so, so many things, but not that. I feel downright privileged to live here, and to be some very small part of this city.

What I want to know is how many expats in Paris received a call from their loved ones asking when and if they were moving home? My family in particular, though concerned, trust me wholeheartedly to make these decisions for which I'm lucky, but I know many friends whose phones haven't had a moment to breathe. People have decided that Istanbul is a war-zone. It isn't, not one bit. Life is moving forward here, as the news looks behind for shreds of stories to continue to paint this city with a single brush.

I want to share a story. When I moved to Istanbul, about a year and a half ago, much of the concern that exists now for my well being was still present. My brother was living in Sydney, Australia where, globally, not an ounce of concern was shed, as far as terrorism and the like is concerned. In late September of 2015, a plot was foiled in Sydney from ISIS to behead a random member of the public, with one of the potential locations being a park near my brother's house. Me, sitting in Istanbul, had cause for concern about ISIS for my brother in Sydney. Think about that, about what that symbolizes...what that ultimately means.

Istanbul is lively, diverse, and has its challenges, but to suggest that the city is merely a breeding ground for terror is to drink deeply from the cup of ignorance. What we as human beings need to do is think about the word associations that the news have planted firmly in our minds. When I read and say the word "Istanbul" to people around the globe, thoughts of the Bosphorus should come to mind, filled with sumptuous blues. Thoughts of steaming çay, kind barbers, pleasant ferry rides, and packed, inviting restaurants. Thoughts of mosques that humbly take their place on the skyline, and a nightlife more exciting than most. Thoughts of people who go out of their way to make you understand that Istanbul is something special, and cannot be summed up as just one thing or another.

And, so here I sit, as in love with this city and its people and culture as I ever was. My plan to stay longer, at this time, stands firm because I know what this place is, and what it has. I owe a lot to this city, my home.

Unfortunately, it looks like the world has decided in an instant, in a blast that took a fraction of a section, what Istanbul was, is, and will be. It is as if a minuscule corner of the world's greatest painting has been torn off and held up as an example of the entire piece. I'm not saying we must ignore the corner, which is surely a part of the whole, I'm saying we must remember what it is we're looking at, and why that matters.


  1. Great post! I am a fellow Canadian who just visited Istanbul. I immediately fell in love with the city, with its people, culture and history. Like many, I was worried what this would do to Turkey's tourism. You drive the point home. Just like the last two incidents in Paris did not effect the day2day life of the locals or tourist, this won't effect Istanbul (Inshallah). Though, I do hope Turkey gets more serious about ISIS, and treat it as a threat, not a chess canvas.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Suhail. I think your point is very valid. I too hope that day to day life will continue to move forward, and that people will feel and be safe in this wonderful city. I appreciate you taking a moment to read this, have a great day.

  3. dumbass. those fucking dirty muslims will kill you. the shithole turkey and the rest of the pisslamic world should be nuked.