Where is Turkey?

– Remember the verse that our uncle always repeated “I am the god of the East and the West.”

– Yes, but East is East and West is West.

This dialogue is taken from the novel “My name is Red” of the novel prize of literature Ohran Pamuk. In it, some Ottoman illustrators struggle to follow the tradition of drawing in the manner of the ancient Persian masters or to fall under the influence of the European styles of the Renaissance.

Starting from a murder as an excuse to develop the plot, the novel presents characters full of contradictions. From modernity and relaxation of forms, to the most fundamentalist view of religious morality. Definitely a nice portrait of what Istanbul was like during the Ottoman dominion.

Two portraits of Sultan Mehmet II by Venetian artist Gentile Bellini (late 15th century). To the right we can see a style closer to the oriental-influenced Ottoman painting. The portrait of the left is of Renaissance style typical of the West.

Pamuk is a controversial author in Turkey where in many sectors it is not very pleasant. Perhaps it is much more popular in Europe because it shows an unknown and exotic world for the western reader. But the literature of Pamuk is very personal and we should not confuse their stories with Turkish reality one hundred percent.

But surely one of the themes reflected in his books is also something that I personally have seen in my stay in Bursa: Where is Turkey? In the East or in the West?

Yes, on the map is between Europe and Asia geographically but my question is at the level of society. Some people tell me they are European, some Anatolian, and some say they are Asian.

This is complex and very difficult to answer. Many will think that religion is the main difference with Europe. But in Europe many Muslims live and in some countries, as is the case in the Balkans, Islam is one of the ancestral religions.

In my opinion, its complexity is given by the geographical situation. Turkey from the Ancient Age is one of the geopolitical epicenters. Halfway between two culturally different worlds, the peninsula of Anatolia served as a custom among merchants, philosophers, painters, warriors …

To this day, in a complex world after the end of the Cold War. Identities are becoming more and more confusing. The European Union no longer seems to be the example for the Turks. Many feel defrauded by racism in many countries.

Another factor is the rise in power of increasingly less democratic leaders in many countries that hinder dialogue. These reduce the population of foreign countries and the citizens themselves between good and bad. Reduce society in stereotypes. They argue principles derived from a supposedly immutable tradition and a radical nationalism.

In this sense Turkey and its neighbors have complicated relations especially since the beginning of the War of Syria. Both Turkey and the states involved have many interests in the region.

In the illustration we see a scene from the movie “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) following the traditional Ottoman style of illustration. Work of the Turkish artist Murat Palta.

Although in day to day I do not see anything strange. The people go quiet to their jobs, the waiters serve çay and kahve, the couples fall in love and the elders spend their last years playing dominoes. Everything as normal as in my native Lugo. But when I ask where is Turkey ….

Perhaps in the novel of Pamuk the answer is clear: “East is East and West is West.”

See you next week.

                       Alejandro Pardo.

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