Turkey 2014

Exploring Turkey’s Geopolitics and Economy: A Personal Journey

“Turkey is a European country, an Asian country, a Middle Eastern country, Balkan country, Caucasian country, neighbor to Africa, Black Sea country, Caspian Sea, all these.” – Ahmet Davutoglu

I traveled to Turkey in the winter of 2014 to see Tomer, who was spending the semester at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University. Growing up in Israel, where remnants of the Ottoman Empire, which governed the Middle East for centuries, could be found everywhere, I found it fascinating to travel to the majestic location where it all began.

I sensed a “whiff” of angry energy in the air in Istanbul. Now that I think about it, the feeling I had makes sense in light of the relevant historical backdrop. Many enthusiastic devotees of Islam from all over the world joined ISIS in 2014, and many traveled via Istanbul on their way into ISIS-controlled territory.

The most memorable part of the trip was staying a few days in Konya, where Rumi wrote, taught, and lived. Watching the Dervish dancers spin during the Mevlana Festival was enchanting; Konya is still the hub of the mystic Sufi Muslims today.

Turkey: Geopolitics and Economy

Turkey is a country that spans across Western Asia and Southeastern Europe. It boasts an extensive coastline along the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. With its intricate geopolitical situation, Turkey holds a prominent position in the region. It shares borders with eight countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Turkey is an active participant in global affairs and holds memberships in various international organizations, including NATO, the Council of Europe, and the G20. Its population exceeds 84 million people, making it the 18th most populous country worldwide. The official language spoken is Turkish, and the currency used is the Turkish lira.

The country follows a presidential representative democratic republic system of governance. Turkey boasts a diverse economy, with a strong emphasis on manufacturing and a significant agricultural sector. Moreover, it serves as a crucial transit point for oil and natural gas transportation from the Middle East and the Caspian Sea region.

The Debate Over Turkey’s EU Membership

Since Turkey joined the European Community as an associate member in 1963, raising the possibility of a later full membership, the issue of Turkey’s European credentials has gotten more and more attention. Turkey has lobbied for membership in the EU since 1987 and has been a member of NATO since 1952. Despite being acknowledged as a candidate nation, opinions on its future are still sharply divided and unanswered.

There are arguments in favor and against Turkey’s EU membership, and in the last ten years, the likelihood of Turkey joining has decreased. One reason is that less than 5% of Turkey’s area is in Europe; the remainder, which includes everything east and southeast of the Bosporus straits, is in the Middle East. Another aspect is how it has handled human rights, particularly concerning the Kurds. Another is economics, where there is concern that a widening gap in living standards may lead to a massive influx of workers. And the fact that Turkey is a majority Muslim nation (98 percent) may also play a role.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: The Man Who Changed Turkey

For Mustafa Kemal, there was no alternative in the 1920s. As the lone Turkish general to emerge from World War I with an enhanced reputation, he ascended to the presidency on a platform of opposition to the terms imposed by the victorious Allied powers when they partitioned Turkey. Concurrently, Atatürk championed the modernization and integration of Turkey with Europe.

Atatürk implemented various reforms aimed at Westernizing Turkey. He introduced the Gregorian calendar and Western legal systems, while Islamic public institutions were outlawed. He banned the wearing of fezzes, transitioned from the Arabic script to the Latin alphabet, and granted women the right to vote (two years ahead of Spain and fifteen years ahead of France). In 1934, when Turkish citizens were required to adopt surnames, Kemal was bestowed with the honorific title Atatürk, meaning “Father of the Turks.” Although he passed away in 1938, subsequent Turkish leaders have strived to carry forward Atatürk’s vision and steer Turkey closer to Western Europe, determined to fulfill his enduring legacy.

Turkey’s Plan B: Embracing its Strategic Location

“Many analysts compare Turkey with countries in the Middle East, but I think we need to compare it with Russia. Both countries come from a tradition of empire, and also from a tradition of the strong state.” – Elif Shafak

By the late 1980s, a generation of leaders started to consider the improbable: that perhaps Turkey needed a backup plan because of Europe’s ongoing rejection and the stubborn refusal of many Turks to become less religious. When President Turgut Ozal, a devout man, took office in 1989, he began the transformation. He urged Turks to view their country as a major land route connecting Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, a nation that has the potential to, once again, dominate all three continents. Similar, and possibly even more ambitious, goals exist for the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

15 Fascinating Facts About Istanbul and Its History

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

  • Istanbul is the only transcontinental metropolis in the world with locations in both Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Strait, which passes through Istanbul, connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and separates the two hemispheres.
  • When the great Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed the city the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330 AD, he constructed it on seven hills, precisely like Rome. The city was formerly known as Constantinople (City of Constantine), but in 1930 it changed its name to Istanbul. Although many still refer to it as Constantinople, the Turkish post office stopped delivering mail addressed to Constantinople to promote the new name’s use.
  • It has been the capital of three large empires throughout its 4,000-year history: the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Nowadays, with a population of nearly 18 million, it is Turkey’s largest metropolis. However, Ankara has served as the nation’s capital ever since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared Turkey a republic in 1923.
  • The Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and biggest covered markets with 60 alleys and 5,000 stores, drawing more than 300,000 tourists daily, has been operating since 1461.
  • Istanbul is regarded as the city of mosques since there is one on every corner. The famous Sultanahmet Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque are two of Istanbul’s 3,113 mosques.
  • The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets—the maximum number permitted for a mosque.
  • The Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537 CE as an Orthodox Cathedral and changed into a mosque under Ottoman authority in 1453. Up until the Seville Cathedral of Spain was completed in 1520, it held the record for the largest church in the world for 900 years.
  • The remains of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, are kept at the Topkapi Palace. It is held in the area known as the Holy Mantle Chamber. The Ottoman Sultan Selim initially obtained them in 1512. They were brought to the Topkapi Palace by Mehmed the Third in 1595.
  • The city was known for having more than 1,400 public restrooms dispersed throughout the city during the Ottoman Empire, while the rest of Europe had none.
  • One of the few Jewish communities in the diaspora that can claim continuous existence from Byzantine times to the present while preserving its communal identity for so long is in Istanbul. Jews can find the gravestones of their ancestors from 400 years ago in Istanbul cemeteries.
  • Many people believe that the Netherlands is where tulips first appeared. However, this is untrue! The Ottoman Empire in Istanbul shipped the first tulip bulbs to Vienna in 1554, and they were then distributed to the Netherlands.
  • Three suspension bridges span the Bosphorus, and two cars and one rail tunnel run beneath it. After those in London and New York, Istanbul’s subway was established in 1875, making it the third-oldest in the world. There are also two international airports in Istanbul, one on the Asian and one on the European sides.
  • Istanbul is encircled by water, and the Bosphorus passes directly through it. Despite this, the city can expect snow, an average of 18 inches yearly.
  • Murder on the Orient Express, a well-known book by Agatha Christie, was penned at Istanbul’s illustrious Pera Palas Hotel. Hercule Poirot, a fictional character in the book, investigates a crime while traveling on a historic train route from Istanbul to Paris. From 1883 to 1977, The Orient Express was in operation.
  • In Istanbul, there are 237 hamams, although only 60 of them are still in operation. The Tahtakale Hamami, which dates to the second half of the 15th century, is the oldest and largest Hamam in Istanbul, even though it is no longer in use.

The Meeting of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz: A Tale of Love and Wisdom

Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and a homeless vagabond who lived at the end of the 12th century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and it is often said that Rumi was a professor whom Shams transformed into a mystic, lover, and poet. Many legends describe their meeting in Konya. One such story goes:

One day, Rumi found himself engrossed in reading, surrounded by a towering pile of books. As he immersed himself in knowledge, Shams of Tabriz happened to pass by and inquired about his activity. With a touch of disdain, Rumi responded, implying that it was beyond Shams’ comprehension, reserved for those with deep wisdom and understanding.

In a spontaneous act, Shams took the entire stack of books and flung them into a nearby pool of water. Startled, Rumi quickly rescued the books, but to his amazement, they remained completely dry. Puzzled, Rumi turned to Shams and asked for an explanation. Shams enigmatically replied, suggesting that what had just transpired was something Rumi himself could not fathom, an aspect of knowledge that eludes even the most learned.

Following this encounter, Shams secluded himself with Rumi for a period of 40 days, during which he imparted mystical teachings. This period marked a significant shift in Rumi’s spiritual journey, leading to his profound mysticism. It was during this time that Sufis began to engage in ecstatic practices such as dancing, music, and even partaking in wine. The emergence of the “whirling dervishes” as a symbol of spiritual devotion can be traced back to this transformative period of Rumi’s life.

There is a saying that love happens to us while we’re living, but the truth is life happens to us while we’re loving. Unfortunately, we are often so preoccupied with the mundane aspects of life that we forget to choose love every single day. We forget that love is the most genuine and purest essence of life and our time in this world and that we will leave nothing behind except the love we leave behind as a memory.

That is what Shams of Tabriz taught Rumi before he became known as the poet of love. To live a religion of love, Tabriz swore by the Forty Rules of Love, and so should we. They can be found in Elif Shafak’s book of the same title, although the Forty Rules of Love pre-date even Rumi’s lifetime.

Shams’ forty observations about the nature of love and God can be read together, which could be viewed as a bit left-brain and learned, as Shams might say. Alternatively, they can be read separately, each serving as a starting point for reflection, which is more right-brain and encourages the mind to wander laterally and make connections. Like life and love, learning is not a race to the finish line but a voyage to the start.

The Forty Rules of Love

Rule 1: Our perception of God is a mirror of our self-perception. If we view God as fearful and judging, it indicates that we harbor a great deal of fear and judgment within ourselves. On the other hand, if we see God as loving and compassionate, it means that these qualities are also present within us.

Rule 2: Instead of relying on the mind, let the wisdom of the heart guide you on your journey to the truth. Use your heart to confront your nafs (false ego) and battle it, ultimately triumphing over it. By becoming aware of your ego, you can tap into the knowledge of God.

Rule 3: God can be found in all things and all people, as God is not limited to a mosque, a synagogue, or a church. However, if you still need to know where he is precisely residing, the only place to look for him is in the heart of a sincere lover.

Rule 4: Intelligence and love are distinct forces. While intelligence analyzes and takes caution, love takes risks and dissolves conflicts. Intellect is always cautious and advises, “Beware of too much ecstasy,”  whereas love says, “Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!” Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.

Rule 5: Language can often lead to misunderstandings and problems in the world. But in the realm of love, words are no longer necessary. Only through silence can we truly understand and comprehend the depths of love.

Rule 6: Solitude and loneliness are distinct. When you are lonely, it is simple to trick yourself into thinking you are on the right track. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But ultimately, finding someone who will serve as your mirror is essential. Keep in mind that the only place you can fully see yourself and the presence of God within you is in another person’s heart.

Rule 7: Avoid the neighborhood of despair no matter what occurs in your life or how unsettling things may appear. God will provide a brand-new way just for you, even when all other doors stay closed. Give thanks! When everything is going smoothly, gratitude is simple. A Sufi is grateful for the things they have been denied and the things they have been granted.

Rule 8: Being patient does not imply just suffering. It means to consider a process’ conclusion. What is meant by patience? It means seeing the rose in the thorn and the dawn in the night. Being impatient entails having poor vision and an inability to anticipate the result. The people who love God never lose their patience because they understand that it takes time for the crescent moon to become fully formed.

Rule 9: It doesn’t matter if you’re facing east, west, south, or north. No matter where you are going, just remember to make every journey an internal one. Traveling within will take you over the entire globe and beyond.

Rule 10: The midwife knows that without pain, the birth canal cannot open, and the mother cannot give birth. Similarly, challenges and difficulties must be faced for a new self to emerge. Just as clay must be subjected to intense heat to become strong, love can only be refined and strengthened through suffering.

Rule 11: The quest for love is a transformative journey. Those who actively seek love will inevitably undergo personal growth along the way. It is not just the attainment of love that shapes us, but the pursuit of it as well. It is a process that hones and matures the seeker and, in the end, makes them a better version of themselves.

Rule 12: Be cautious in the spiritual world, as many false teachers exist. Distinguish them by their focus on power, control, and self-aggrandizement rather than true guidance and self-discovery. A true spiritual mentor will help you develop your understanding and appreciation of yourself rather than directing attention to themselves. They are like transparent glass, allowing the light of truth and wisdom to shine. A true mentor will not demand obedience or admiration but guide you to find and admire your inner self. Choose a mentor with qualities that align with your values and inner wisdom.

Rule 13: Don’t fight the changes that come your way. Let life live through you instead. And don’t worry that everything in your life is going to hell. How do you know the side you are accustomed to is superior to the one that will follow?

Rule 14: Every human being is a work in progress, steadily moving toward perfection. We are all unfinished pieces of art, both waiting and striving to be completed. God works on each person separately because humanity is a work of art, where every single person and their unique qualities are equally important for the overall picture.

Rule 15: It’s natural for us to love a God who is flawless, faultless, and infallible. However, it is a greater challenge to truly love and accept our fellow humans with all their imperfections and flaws. We must remember that our ability to love is limited, and we can only understand the depth of love we are capable of. Love is a prerequisite for wisdom, and to fully understand and appreciate God, we must learn to love and accept all of his creation.

Rule 16: Inside is where true trust resides. The stain of hatred and bigotry polluting the soul is the only dirt that cannot be removed by pure water. Abstinence and fasting can help you purify your physical body, but only love can purify your emotional body.

Rule 17: The entire universe can be found within a single person – yourself. This includes everything you see around you, including things you may dislike and people you may dislike or hate. Therefore, do not look for the devil outside yourself. The devil is not an external force attacking you but rather an internal voice. Face it with honesty and determination if you choose to understand yourself fully.

Rule 18: To change how others treat you, start by fully and sincerely changing how you treat yourself. Only when you truly love yourself will you be able to be loved. But once you get there, you should be grateful for every thorn you encounter from others. It’s a hint that you’ll get lots of roses soon.

Rule 19: Don’t obsess about where the journey will lead you. Focus instead on the initial action. You are in command, and it’s your responsibility. After you take that action, everything else will proceed as it naturally does. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.

Rule 20: We were all created in the image of God, yet we are all unique and different. No two people are alike, and no two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, he would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting people’s individuality and imposing your beliefs on others is a form of disrespecting God’s plan.

Rule 21: When a devout follower of God enters a bar, it transforms into a sacred space for him, while for a wine lover, it remains just a place to drink. Our inner selves, not our external appearances, truly define us in all our actions. Sufis do not judge others based on their appearance or identity. They use spiritual insight to see the inner qualities of a person by closing their physical eyes and opening their “third eye” of spiritual perception.

Rule 22: Life is a fleeting opportunity, and the world we live in is a pale imitation of the true reality. Those who are still learning may mistake a toy for the genuine article. However, people often become entrenched in the illusions of this world or discard them without consideration. To maintain inner peace, it is essential to avoid all varieties of extremes. Sufis are renowned for avoiding extremism and pursuing balance, always staying moderate and level-headed.

Rule 23: Humans are unique among God’s creations, and it is said that God breathed His Spirit into us. Each and every one of us is created to serve as God’s representative on earth. The percentage of time that one acts as a representative of God varies from person to person and can change over time. It is up to each individual to discover the divine spirit within themselves and follow it. It’s a personal journey, and the level of success varies from person to person.

Rule 24: Both heaven and hell exist in the present moment. Worrying about hell or dreaming of heaven is unnecessary, as they are both available to us at this current moment. Each time we experience love, we are in heaven. Conversely, we are in hell whenever we hate, envy, or fight. It’s important to recognize that our actions and emotions have the power to shape our experience in the present moment.

Rule 25: The Holy Quran is a text that is open to interpretation and understanding, and each reader comprehends it at a different level. There are four levels of insight that one can gain from reading the Quran. The first level is the outer meaning, which most people are content with. This level is the most straightforward and literal understanding of the text. The next level is the Batin, or the internal or hidden meaning of the Quran. This level is more profound and requires a deeper understanding of the text.

The third level is the inner of the inner meaning, which is even more profound and requires an even deeper understanding of the text. The fourth level is so deep that it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable. This level is the most profound and requires a true understanding of the text and its meaning.

Rule 26: The universe is interconnected, and everything and everyone is connected through an unseen network of stories. Even if we don’t realize it, we are always communicating with each other. To live in harmony with this interconnectedness, it is important not to harm others, practice compassion, and avoid speaking negatively about anyone, even in seemingly harmless ways. The words we speak are not forgotten and will have an impact on the world, so it’s important to be mindful of what we say. It’s important to remember that one person’s pain affects us all, and the joy of one person brings happiness to everyone.

Rule 27: Good or bad, whatever you say will eventually find its way back to you. Therefore, stating negative things about someone who has negative feelings toward you would simply exacerbate the situation. You’ll become trapped in a negative energy spiral. Instead, be positive towards that person for the next forty days and nights. At the end of the 40 days, everything will have changed because you have changed internally.

Rule 28: The past is a starting point, and the future is a mirage. The world does not progress linearly from the past to the future but rather spirals endlessly within us. The concept of eternity is the absence of time. To experience eternal light, put the past and the future out of your mind and focus solely on the present.

Rule 29: Destiny does not imply that everything in your life has been decided beforehand. Living according to fate while doing nothing to actively participate in the symphony of the world is, therefore, foolish. There are forty different levels to the music that fills the universe. The pitch at which you play your song influences your future. Although you may not change your instrument, the quality of your playing is completely in your hands.

Rule 30: The true Sufi is one who patiently accepts unfair accusations, assaults, and condemnation without ever speaking negatively about any of their detractors. Sufis never place blame on others, understanding that when there is no “self” to begin with, there can be no competitors, rivals, or even “others.” When there is only One, how can anyone be at fault?

Rule 31: Your heart must be as delicate as a feather if you want your faith to be rock solid. We are all confronted with events that teach us to become less self-centered and judgemental and more compassionate and kind, whether it be via illness, an accident, loss, or fright. However, not everyone reacts the same way to these experiences; some people become more gentle, while others become harsher.

Rule 32: Let God be your guide, and avoid idolizing religious leaders, spiritual masters, or beliefs. Having personal values and principles is essential, but these should not be imposed on others. Remember that religious practices hold little value if your actions cause harm. Seek the truth, but be careful not to become overly fixated on your truths.

Rule 33: Many people in this world strive to achieve things and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, but the ultimate goal should be to strive for nothingness. It’s important to live this life with a light and empty mind, similar to the concept of zero. We are like a pot, it is not the decorations outside, but the emptiness inside that keeps us upright. In the same way, the awareness of emptiness rather than the goals we set for ourselves is what sustains us.

Rule 34: Submission does not mean being helpless, weak, or passive – just the opposite. True power, which comes from within, is found in submission. Even when the entire world experiences one upheaval after another, those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unshaken tranquillity and peace.

Rule 35: In this world, harsh opposites rather than commonalities or regularities move us ahead. Every opposing force in the universe exists within each of us. Thus, the believer must confront the unbeliever within themselves, and the non-believer must come to understand the faithful within themselves. Only by doing this can one reach the stage of the perfect human being. Faith is a gradual process that requires its opposite, disbelief, to progress.

Rule 36: The foundation of this world is the idea of reciprocity. Each act of goodness or evil will be returned in equal measure. Remember that even if others try to deceive you, the ultimate plotter is God. Trust that God is aware of everything and that everything He does is for the best.

Rule 37: God is a very precise and careful creator. He has arranged everything in the world to happen at exactly the right time. This is true for everyone, without exception. For example, there is a specific time for people to fall in love and a specific time for them to die. Everything happens according to His plan and timing.

Rule 38: It is always a good time to reflect on your life and ask yourself if you are ready for change. It is a waste of time if your life feels the same every day. Every moment and every breath is an opportunity for renewal and growth. To truly start a new life, you must be willing to let go of your old ways and embrace change before it’s too late.

Rule 39: While individual parts of the world may change, the overall state of things remains the same. For example, as one criminal dies, another is born to take their place. Similarly, when a virtuous person dies, another takes their place. This means that, in a sense, nothing ever truly changes. This applies to all aspects of life, including spiritual figures such as Sufis, as new ones will always be born to take the place of those who have passed away.

Rule 40: A life without love is not worth living. It doesn’t matter if the love is spiritual or physical, divine or earthly, Eastern or Western. These distinctions only create more separation. Labels do not define love; it is simply what it is: pure and simple. Love is essential to life, just as water is essential to sustain life. And those who are in love are like a burning fire, full of passion and energy. When two people in love come together, it changes the world around them.

My reading recommendation

Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres

Snow, A Novel, by Orhan Pamuk

My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk

Istanbul, Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk

The Forty Rules of Love, A Novel of Rumi, By Elif Shafak

The Bastard of Istanbul, By Elif Shafak

Istanbul Passage, A Novel, by Joseph Kanon

Midnight at the Pera Palace, The Birth of Modern Istanbul, by Charles King

Erdogan Rising, The Battle for the Soul of Turkey, by Hannah Lucinda Smith

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, by Eugene Rogan

What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, by John L. Esposito

Rumi: Voice of Longing, by Coleman Barks

Pure Water: Poetry of Rumi, by Coleman Barks and Jalaluddin Rumi