Saturday, November 17, 2007

ask me about istanbul, oh how i hate it!

i hate istanbul. i never loved nor liked it. istanbul always was, to me, a plethora of villages heaped on top and beside each other. its layout, its structure, its organization but most importantly, its soul, only add up to a dirty, messy, noisy, disorderly, uncouth travesty of urbanity, stomping on reason and civilization.

and please do not refer to the classic lie of istanbul's imported role as some sort of a carrier of a quasi-urban "high culture", emanating toward the provinces: colonial or semi colonial (ex)capitals love to delude themselves, pretending that affecting an order of add-on, thoughtless mannerisms, borrowed from colonizers, can pass for civility. the only "real" (1) civilization this land enjoyed and savored until the istanbul-ankara uni-central axis tromped on it, was in the aegean, the quintessence of the mediterranean.

semi-colonial economies are wont to colonize their own territories. likewise, greedy istanbul, hand in hand with ankara, the obsessive seat of political power and control, colonized the aegean, too. in an inevitable process of integrating with the world markets (2), as an agency of globalization, it subjugated the lifelines, exploited the vitality and sucked the fortunes of the entire country, only to channel the booty abroad... after taking its (however meager) commission, of course.

during the process of colonialization by the istanbul-ankara axis that devastated the aegean, too, izmir, the only city that really deserved the epithet since the ottomans was the first casualty. traditionally, the first source of both original and adapted novelty in turkish civil and social life, izmir's prominence in a resourceful region allowed a self subsistence and sufficiency that was the legacy and the earmark of the ancient "polis". its historic aloofness and freedom from the "center", afforded izmir an almost natural autonomy from the central authority of the axis. that autonomy was quite pronounced until the mid 1950s but began to come under the spell of a nationalizing central economy steered by the axis from then on.

the jacobin, despotic, centralist axis could not easily brook any form of autonomy that might threaten to get out from under its comprehensive political control. therefore it also preferred its business to stay under its thumb, rather than let a fairly independent local bourgeoisie flourish. the empire suffered and tolerated izmir because the aegean meant revenue from agricultural exports - likewise did the republic for a while (3).

slowly, the relative autonomy of first izmir, the beating heart of the region, then of peripheral "paradises" like kuşadası or bodrum were destroyed. their local economies, indigenous, idiosyncratic and particular means of physical and intellectual subsistence were thoroughly dried. from the commandeering of the marketplace to architectural destruction, abusive exploitation and avaricious commodification of nature and history, often in the form of real estate marketing, killed almost every single originality. gradually, standardized styles of existence that plagued the "modernist charade" of istanbul and ankara, pervaded and shrouded all aspects of aegean originality, with its packaged and mediocre commonplace culture.

istanbul's role in this chapter of turkey's history, was to spread throughout the land the disease it itself caught a hundred and fifty years ago. the de-culturization that captivated the populace in a frenzy of getting richer without actually getting rich, simply aggravated when a barely fledgling economy got inevitably dragged into the throes of globalization as of the last quarter of the 20th century - just as it once had in the mid 19th century.

the loss is actually far bigger than can fit few paragraphs: the only hope backward economies as turkey, mexico, india etc., whose cultural accumulation has also proved mostly uneconomic and un-saleable on a universal scale, could only hope to win a proper seat on the bandwagon to globality to the extent they could merchandize the originalities that shape and distinguish their methodologies of life from other societies'. such originalities are mainly cultural goods that may be adopted, adapted or interpreted for the global market in tastes and ideas. döner kabab, though quite pedestrian, is a sample. on the other hand, the paintings of yavuz tanyeli, for instance are (4), an example of universalizing the arcadian of the highest quality.

some call this process "glocalization", i believe glocality is a more appropriate expression.

turkey significantly lost its claims to the international market in glocal goods too. through political manipulation, istanbul's subordinated, externally imposed, second (if not third) hand, foreign designed and foreign dependent, inferior political-economy that evolved from import substitution, turned into the national focus and locus of economic activity. this so called "development", illuminated by the eggregious lack of sight typical of the istanbul-ankara axis (5), subjugated all forces of production and with its control over the markets, usurped the corollary power of piloting consumption, which in underdeveloped political economies, often also serves as a motivator of mentalities.

in the end, while the rest of country, including the historically productive aegean and the mediterranean, became graduallly necrous; istanbul, fatally sucking their infected blood and dead tissue and social effluents, turned into a swirling cesspool. however, through its global links, it succeeded in remaining the main vent by which some oxygen could penetrate the guagmire.

istanbul could create such a colony out of a dead empire and a fairly large nation state by the standardization of uncouth masses that re-conquered it and became the customers of its second hand, second rate merchandize, ruralized physical environment and increasingly lumpen culture. originality in everything but most significantly, in taste, was abandoned to mere availability. curiously, even function was seconded to it. the contagious poor taste that began to define istanbul spread like a plague everywhere, causing havoc with thousand years of historic, archaelogical, cultural and architectural accumulus in aesthetics, as well as social know-how. the most visible effects were in architecture; as a history of imperial aesthesia was demolished, "skyscrapers" that are but dwarf by world criteria, soaring next to criminally ugly cubic housing projects and mudbrick slums, began to compete with ancient istanbul's two millennia old skyline.

istanbul's self defeating and self destructive mental attitude still reeks like a rank odor issuing from a body dosed with deodorant instead of taking a bath. istanbul badly failed in becoming the urbane and mundane "city that civilizes by being civic". it had no authentic urban culture to offer or impose on immigrating hordes except its affected manners, and whatever existed of the urban way of mind was flushed into the growing cesspool, as the invading, or re-conquering (6) peasant masses flooded the city (and all could-be cities) with their rural habits of thinking and living.

then what the hell am i doing here?

first of all, i am a prisoner of war: the aegean having fallen, i was dragged here by circumstance. second, the process i extrapolated above has left bodrum and the aegean as such barren mental landscapes that bore me terribly after a while... third, i have trained myself so in mya captivity, that my hate and disdain of istanbul do not prevent me from enjoying what it still has left to offer (6). in some sort of a revanche, i am exploiting the last remaining joys of istanbul.

i almost never express an affective stance to objects and subjects i know little about and istanbul; well ask me about it... yes, i do hate istanbul but that does not mean i do not appreciate it. i admire its historicity. i explore, experience and cherish what is left that i can access of the heritage of two millennia, trying to place the new occupants of yesteryear's plush capital on a map of time-and-space. i greatly dig getting lost in the old town behind the walls; riding in and out of nondescript alleys that pass as streets, watching women languishing on front porches of now derelict houses of once posh districts, kids kicking balls in the dust as slothful, swarthy, somber, stubbled men uselessly slump in coffee shops.

when i feel like i am in a land invaded by aliens, i simply escape...


(1) whether in the old glorious days of the empire or the post westernization contention between renovators and traditionalists, the manners of the palace were hardly a model for the being and behavior of the masses. basic modes of existence were divorced from the military imperialism of the palace and went about in the vein of the mediterranean urb structured in the millennia of phoenician-greco-roman maritime glory. it was this "civil" and civic nature that central authority stomped on from mid 19th century on and especiallly during the process of building a nation.

(2) "market" should not be viewed as a narrow, economic concept but in an anthropological sense as a meeting place of people and their communicated ideas and messages that establishes the "market" as a nucleus force in society, as well as and above a venue of tradeable goods.

(3) izmir created its own bourgeoisie that threatened to develope into a social force to challenge the authoritarian absolutism of the center. the ankara-istanbul axis eventually pressured izmir into submission in the 1980s, by swallowing its economy into the swirl of globalism. izmir's budding capitalism was hardly given a chance, even the yaşar group was swept under. today, izmir's basic economic worth is reduced (back) to manufactural level. however, the town's insistent rejection of intellectual self-development, embracing of parochialism and provincialism were also quite effective in its downfall. izmir or the entire aegean were never articulate about the existential virtues of being mediterranean, because intellect as a treasure was never appreciated until too late.

(4) some works of yavuz are currently on exhibition at the art fair in istanbul modern. what yavuz tanyeli needs to become an effective global cultural force is to find a savvy, mundane, capable art dealer who can market his art all over the world.

(5) in the way of empirical support, suffice it to recount that not one square inch of metropolitan istanbul is properly planned. another sample that pertains to the cultural: the city's mayor in the 1980s, who tore down maybe more than 500 hundred century old buildings and landfilled half of the bosporus and the marmara coast to build new roads, mr. bedreddin dalan, himself an engineer with no interest in history except banal references to a glorious and islamic flavored past, declared the dolmabahçe palace an unimportant building with little historical significance, made by a mediocre architect. dolmabahçe was designed and built by master balyan, the imperial architect of armenian extraction. not only did it take topkapı's place as the house of sultans, it was the place where atatürk died. even those facts are enough to qualify the invaluability of dolmabahçe as a historic and historical monument. why, then, did dalan make that unfortunately ignorant remark? because -after his mentor turgut özal- he too, wanted to assign the gardens of the palace to build the swiss hôtel. result? the sewers of the hotel still often flood into the basement of the palace.

(6) the reconquest of istanbul is the spiel of prof. necmeddin erbakan, the guru of political islam in turkey, the mentor to president abdullah gül and p.m. tayyib erdoğan (his son is named after him). of course, the allusion is to true muslims deciding the fate of the city again.

1 comment:

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