There is something fascinating about having an extended stay in a city while traveling. Not just a day or two, but a week, or a month. It’s like staying in your house. You start to become familiar with the shape and size of things, find comfort in every nook and crevice, like it’s a part of who you are.
Standing aloft the Bosphorus Strait, the would-be conqueror Napolean Bonaparte once said that
If there Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”
After spending nights by the Blue Mosque, walking up and down Taksim Square and the Bosphorus Bridge, I would most definitely agree and felt like the city had really become a part of me as well. This is why it was all the more heartbreaking to hear about the recent attempted military coup in Istanbul.
When you hear about fighting in a foreign part of the world, it always seems like it’s outside of your known world. When you don’t know the political or cultural situation, a conflict seems like a statistic. When the stakes aren’t personal, it’s hard to feel like one tragedy after the next really matters, as though they are just a slideshow of reality reels flashing on and off your media devices.
But the stakes of the attempted military coup in Istanbul felt real to me. I knew where the fighting took place, I understood the political situation, I felt immersed in the culture, and having been to Istanbul twice (so far), I still do.
The military throughout Turkey, but in Istanbul especially, keeps a sort of secular check on the Islamic influence of the Turkish prime minister and newly created role of president inhabited by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a divisive leader with fascistic leanings. The military in Turkey, or at least the ones who staged a coup, are like a modern version of the ancient Roman Praetorian Guard. So when a military coup happens, which seems to in Turkey every fifteen years, the military is attempting to restore the ideals of their Augustus, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
A military coup like this is bad both if it’s successful and if it’s not. Better to not have violence at all. But when you know and understand a city, like it’s a part of who you are, then you understand why this happened, better than the motives of any terrorist.
And that’s what makes this jarring as an outsider who has been able to peer in. To know that you walked among the roads of this peaceful city, to know that any person who has a problem with Muslims would change their mind if they just spent a week there.
But now I’m not so sure.
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