Literally the crossroads between the Middle East and the West, Istanbul has always been an ideological and political battleground, and throughout history, each new generation has changed the game for better or for worse in their own ways. All through my schooling, I have had a tendency to read history books with a degree of detachment, forgetting that it all really did happen. As time passes, its relevance fades with each new generation, but in Istanbul you can see history happening right in front of you. It might be slow going, but things are shifting. And the people who are pushing that shift are Turkey's Millennials. Turkish Millennials.
This is a demographic that I really admire. They are living through a turbulent time in history. On October 10th of this year 2 bombs exploded in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, killing 102 and injuring another 400. Even though Turkey sits just on the precipice of the West, so close yet so far from getting the same kind of international attention that Paris does for these sorts of tragedies, this event was nothing more than a blip on the radar of western media. Alas, we watch this sort of bloodshed happen in the Muslim world and complacently think “well… I guess that’s just how it is over there.” I’m guilty of thinking like this as much as any of us. But you know who doesn’t think this way? Young people in Turkey. They are fed up with the violence. They are sick and tired of the corruption.
There is a pretty credible rumor floating around Istanbul that the government was behind these bomb blasts, or at least knowingly allowed them to happen. Why would they do this? It's very complicated. We can only speculate as to the truth, but one possibility is that President Erdogan wanted to scare the public into reelecting his political party (the AKP) to parliament and supporting their security-based platform. These elections happened in November (a month after the attacks) and the AKP was successful in regaining their majority in parliament. Coincidence? I doubt it.
It's sad that we may never even know the reason that these 102 people died, but while we are rolling our eyes over our morning coffee, young people in Istanbul are standing up for what is right. They march off to protests by the thousands, planning on getting maced by the police before the day is out. But to talk to them, it’s no big deal. It’s like America in the 1960s and 1970s (or what I imagine it was like). Do you know the time period I’m talking about? Before Rock & Roll died? For those of you who have forgotten, Rock & Roll was about standing up to the man, even if it meant getting shot with rubber bullets.
On a Friday night, I was walking down a street in Kadıköy with my Turkish friend when, between the bars and coffee shops bustling with people, I saw something spray painted onto a wall in Turkish. I had seen a lot of graffiti like this scrawled on the blanks spaces of Istanbul. The only word I knew was “Ankara”, so I asked him what it said. He said that it was a message blaming the Turkish government for the bomb blasts.
I don’t know about you, but visiting places like this in the Muslim world is very encouraging to me. Not the violence of course, but the people's reaction to that violence. People are getting fed up. The best comparison I can draw to the young people of Turkey might surprise you: Iran. Not many westerners can verify this first hand, but the young people of Iran are (supposedly) on a completely different page in life than their scary government. They are, in fact, mostly secular, and they definitely more tired of hearing bad news come out of the Middle East than you are.
Things are probably going to get worse before they get better, but they will get better. I believe that. Furthermore, I think that there's solid evidence to suggest that my generation (the millennials) will be the one to start to break the cycle of violence in the Middle East. It won't have much to do with me or America though. It will happen from within, and I would venture so far as to say it will happen in spite of us in the West. In the mean time, I think we can all take a lesson or two from this interesting reincarnation Rock & Roll happening in places like Turkey & Iran.
I was genuinely disappointed to be leaving Istanbul. What an exciting place to be! Challenging, and potentially dangerous, but exciting. I don't know when, but I will be back. But for the time being, it was time to go.
Getting to the airport and onto my flight was one of the more stressful travel experiences I've had so far. I had a piece of my camera gear confiscated by security. It was completely ridiculous, but it had taken me so long to get through customs that I no longer had time to argue with the Turkish guards that had been robotically repeating the word "forbidden" to me. Whatever. I had to cut my losses and leave it behind. As I rushed to my gate, I looked around at the flight departures screen. Tehran and Baghdad were the next 2 departures listed. I did a double-take when I saw these cities. That was when it really hit me where I was. I love to talk about places like this, but if I ever make the jump eastward and actually visit these places (which I hope to do one day), I'll probably have a connection back through this same airport.
I had a plane ticket to jump the other way though, so I ran off into the crowd to find my gate.
Next stop: Italia