“Turkiye Cumhurriyet!” He Said. “Turkey Is A Secular Republic!”

Having a Beer on The Marmara Shore: IstanbulAs is plainly obvious by now I am back in Istanbul for a brief stop-over before I head for points south west, maybe Konya, maybe Seljuk, Priene and Ephesus. We’ll see what happens. The lease in my flat was up on the first of May, so I have been holing up down here in Sultanhamet, instead of the Taksim area. So, unless I fall in with a group of twenty-something futbol fans in town for the UEFA Cup (Donetsk-Shakhtar beat Weder Bremen, by the way) my social opportunities are a bit limited right now. I did have a wonderful conversation about art and architecture the other night with two lovely Norwegian septuagenerians, on their once a year European ‘art vacation’ as the ladies called it. They were really charming. But that’s about it.

And then, serendipity always seems to intervene.

Yesterday I was strolling along the sea-walls on the Marmara shore taking some photos of an area of Istanbul I’ve neglected when I stumbled upon these two gentlemen. The saw me taking photos of them and called me over in English.

“Did you get good photos of us,” the young one asked.

“Sure did,” I said, showing him the shot in the view finder.

“Seet down,” said the older one, “seet down, please.”

Never one to turn down Turkish hospitality, I obliged. We made our introductions (the young one was Emre and the older one Ishan). Ishan was vocal and expressive. His hands flailed around. As our conversation soon turned to politics–as it inevitably does in Turkey–Ishan made obscene gestures every time Erdogan’s name was mentioned. He was on the coarse side, but he was also generous and warm, offering beer at every chance and practically gave me his entire pack of smokes. It was Emre, soft-spoken, with warm almond colored eyes, who translated, as Ishan’s English was about as strong as my Turkish.

Ishan loaths Erdogan, his party and the religious fundamentalism that has changed Turkey, “for the worst,” as he said, in the last ten years. “If it is the last thing I do, Erdogan will leave office before I die,” he said.

“Turkiye Cumhurriyet!” he kept repeating, like an imprecation, an incantation, a ward against the evils of fundamentalism I’d just witnessed in hither Anatolia. “Turkey is a secular republic.”

“There were times,” I told Emre and Ishan, “that I felt like I was in Iran. All the women were covered. Not just most, but all!”

They nodded there heads while Ishan rattled off a barrage of Turkish. Emre had to slow him down twice.

“We are not crazy desert people like the Arabs,” he said. “We are Turks. We love life. What have they ever done for the world? It was Turkish culture that made Islam great! Before we arrived they were riding camels and eating dates. We gave them wine, raki and music,” he continued. “And what did they give us? Nothing,” he exclaimed, mashing his fist into an outstretched palm. He spit in the wind at Erdogan’s name once more for good effect.

“Please, excuse him,” Emre said. “We’ve had too many beers.” But his smiling eyes betrayed the lie.

Behind us a young couple was macking down, tongues intertwined in an urgent dance. The girl was wearing hejab, but she was also dolled-up in a way that certainly violates the spirit of hejab, if not the letter.

“You see that,” Ishan said, pointing an accusatory finger at the couple. “This is what Erdogan has done. Yes, we accept that our economy has done well under him–at least until this year. But what about life? We are Turks,” he went on, “we want what Ataturk gave us–to be free and modern. Why do we look backwards, like Erdogan, that mule! I want to see beautiful women! I want to see legs, and arms and hair! I don’t want to see yumurta-heads.”

I laughed at that. Yumurta is Turkish for egg, and the women who are covered in the politically correct hejab fashion of the day do look like they have eggheads.

The couple behind us was getting hot and heavy now. Hell, we could feel the heat thirty meters away even though there was a nice breeze. They were semi-blocked by the retaining wall and yet, everyone knew what was happening.

“Ustu Fatih, alti Şişhane,” I said, trying out a bit of Turkish slang a friend had taught me.

Ishan and Emre roared with laughter. The couple stopped their caresses long enough to look up and then dove back in, ignoring the three men on the rocks.

“You know what this means,” asked Emre?

“Yes, it means the top half of the girl is from Fatih, a very conservative neighborhood, but the bottom half is from Şişhane, which is not!”

We all laughed again, but Ishan blurted out, “fanatik,” at the couple. “Take off your headscarf,” he yelled at the girl. “Be a woman, not a Muslim! Be young! Live your life. To hell with what your father says!”

Emre’s laughter collapsed into an embarrassed silence. Ishan dropped his beer bottle down in the rocks, cursing his bad luck.

Ships passed through the Bosporus and the sun fell behind a bank of clouds.

Ishan popped open a new bottle and spoke.

“You see, all Turks want the same thing, but these religious fanatiks make like difficult for humans to be natural. What is more natural than sitting on the sea shore, holding hands and kissing,” he asked?

“Nothing at all,” I told him.

“And what about your daughters,” I asked Ishan. It is to a man’s daughters, the world over, where his true attitudes about woman are.

“My daughters are wonderful. They both go to university. They are beautiful. They have kind boyfriends and they do not wear those damned headscarves. My family is modern!” He slammed his fist down into his palm once again.

“We are grateful that Ataturk gave us this life. Why should we not live it?”

3 Responses to ““Turkiye Cumhurriyet!” He Said. “Turkey Is A Secular Republic!””

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