A local man fishing on the Bosphorus at sunset.

A local man fishes on the Bosphorus at sunset.

Wrapped up in spangly headscarf and funky eastern attire, I get off the plane and step into the city of Istanbul. 

The 40-minute shuttle into the town of Kadikoy on the east side of the city throws me into the midst of mayhem. Torrential rain almost blinds me chronic. Traffic flies by on the busy main street and all I can see is a blur of yellow headlights and a fast, furious avalanche of commuters that shoot like atoms in every direction. It’s peak time in the city of Istanbul: I’m in Asia and Europe is a 20 minute boat ride away.

Street vendor selling roasted chestnuts during the winter climate

Street vendor selling roasted chestnuts during the winter climate

Calm yet fascinated, I follow my nose, drag my luggage and spot Cafe Mado on the other side of the street. Traffic is crashing through the flood and drenching me to the knees. It’s time for action so I leap into ninja mode and tag onto some kid: together we dodge the chaos and I cross my first Turkish street. I see the warm, bright, lights of the cafe with its busy waiters and dive straight in.

Wow. Welcome to Istanbul! I take my seat by the window and watch the people pass by. I’m an alien in a strange land. My friends, Ozgun and Mert live here though – they’re the only people that I know so far. We worked together during the Boom Festival back in 2010. They’re also known as the Techno Shamans; particularly Mert, who has spent an intense few seasons creating visuals, mapping and design work for events across Europe. I’ve also interviewed local Turkish artist, Hakan Hasim, who was painting between protests during the infamous riots. So on some level at least, I’m lucky to feel connected to some inspiring souls that originate from this mystical place.

Watching worlds go by, it’s getting dark outside. The reflection of street-lights bounce off the rain-splattered pavements where girls in headscarves and clattering high-heels stride confidently through the city in mini skirts, niqabs and figure-hugging burkhas. The dichotomy of cultures is being played right before my very eyes in a city where solemn-faced, middle-aged men make their way to Mosque for Friday prayers. Meanwhile, the party people of Istanbul make plans for the weekend or stumble home as the call to prayer rings out from countless city mosques. 

From what I’ve heard, funky young Turks are organising good, solid parties in the city. There are also several music festivals in the making – and a flourishing underground scene that’s gradually unraveling in a city that’s apparently culturally schizophrenic. Maybe it’s because Istanbul is a place where the younger generation appear to have taken the best of both worlds – of both oriental and occidental cultures? This is the result of the day Attaturk declared the country a republic in 1923 and when Turkey saw the last of the Ottomans.

Traders arranging their goods in a market street, Istanbul

Traders arranging their goods in a market street, Istanbul

But does Mr Erdogen have another agenda to transform the country back into an Islamic state – as demonstrated (say some) by his referential statements to the Ottoman rulers that lived by religious rule? And if he does have ulterior motives – what are his chances of successfully implementing them? They may well be slim because he’d have to change the constitution in order to achieve that goal and he’s already served two terms as president so should be out by 2014… But it might be a bit more complicated than that… More research required…

All I know right now though, is that there are probably very few places in the world where you see the words ‘secular’ and ‘Islamic’ in the same sentence. I might be wrong, but I have heard from natives that countries such a Egypt aspire to be like Turkey for this very reason.

The gas mask - a symbol of the Turkish riots on display at an Istanbul club

The gas mask – a symbol of the Turkish riots on display at an Istanbul club

But for how long will Turkey provide a clear window through which to see the east and west without getting shattered or smeared with blood or mud? And for how long will it remain a bridge of unity between two different cultural worlds? Turkish friends tell me this is why last summer’s riots were not just about a bunch of trees. Again, it’s not easy to find the answers because there is so much going on with Turkey that it has divided opinions amongst the population. While there are plenty that oppose Erdogen and fear the threat of religious rule, there are also plenty that support him. Is situation critical or are fear tactics being used as a tool of control over the population due to the challenge of changing the constitution?

According to news reports in the alternative media, while Turkey itself has blocked Syrian immigrants from entering, it has allowed ‘terrorists from 83 countries enter Syria to topple the government.’ (Source: Global Research). This devout support for the western political agenda indicates a sense of schizophrenia. It demonstrates that while the young generation of Istanbul has taken the best of both worlds to culturally evolve, the government appears to absorb not the best, but perhaps the worst of them: a controlling Islamic state with sharia laws on the one hand – while on the other, diplomatic relations with western governments on the geopolitical stage.

The extent to which this is true will require much more research and investigation; but even if it is half true – it seems then that Turkey is following in the steps of dictatorial regimes in countries such as Saudi Arabia whose leaders work diligently with western (mainly American) governments in order to grow economically while imposing on its citizens a non-secular, non-liberal, Islamic state of rule.

Turkey is as confusing as it is fascinating – and Istanbul is a world unto itself. It’s a privilege to be here to experience it. More ramblings on Turkish shenanigans to come… 

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