Monday, September 29, 2008

In the land of Atatürk

This will be a short post from Turkey where my family and I are spending a fortnight's holiday. An internet cafe and a Turkish keyboard are not condusive to a long note.

However I just wanted to record what a wonderful but contradictory country Turkey can seem to the visitor. Aside from the hassling street traders who shout 'yes please!' at anyone looking remotely like a visitor, the people are extremely warm and welcoming. Travelling with a baby boy seems to bring out the best in people and I have lost count of how many warm words and smiles we have received in the last week.

Turkey is 99 % muslim yet the state is strongly secular, a conflict that persists to this day. Despite being in the middle of Ramadam the cafes and restaurants on the Agean coast where we are staying are still thronged with diners, Turk and foreigner alike.

This does not seem a completely free country. The army is very strong with a visible garrison in most towns and rather bizarrely the BBC and Times websites are both censored in this internet cafe (a website with a picture of Atatürk appears when typing those web addresses). However CNN, the Telegraph and many others are freely available. I fail to understand what is going on here.

Another point is this is a much fought over land. What is now Turkey was once Greek or Roman. I will not attempt to summarise the history but historic sites such as Ephesus and the seven churches of the revelation are all to be found close to the Agean coast.

Overlooking all this is Atatürk who founded the modern state of Turkey in 1923. His portrait, often complete with cigarette, can be found in every cafe, shop or establishment you visit.

Superficially at least, this is first and foremost the land of Atatürk and everything else (whether Islam, commerce, terrorism, tourism,nationalism and a range of unstable neighbours) is less apparent in a host of inconsistencies.

Hopefully back with some photos of this interest country next week.

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