Jill and I had the opportunity to spend ten days on a boat in the Marmara Sea in November – traveling through the Bosporus channel in Istanbul, Türkiye. We were with a number of leaders and writers from the medical freedom and global resistance movement. Being on a boat like this is one of the best ways for a small group of people to really hash out issues, discuss strategy, world politics and learn from each other. I think Jill and I both came away from the experience seeing the world through a slightly shifted lens. The donor of this trip is a dear friend, who I don’t want to dox. But needless to say, I am so grateful for having had this amazing experience!
Türkiye, with a population of 87.5 million, is a presidential representative democracy and a constitutional republic within a multi-party system. It has a thriving economy, but inflation and cost of living increases are significant issues. Although Turkiye has long been considered a secular republic, under President Tayyip Erdoğan, the government has formalized links with Islam. They have also removed secularists from governance. There are many who believe that the replacement of secularist policies in Türkiye, is due to the rise of socialism, which historically has played a large part of the Turkish government. Socialism and secularism are tightly intertwined in Türkiye, going back almost a hundred years.
Thus, business interests, who support President Erdoğan, were increasingly threatened by “socialist tendencies creeping into the government.” They believe that Islamic values are “best suited to neutralize any challenges from the left” to gain supremacy. (Wiki) Of course, here in the USA – there is also an increasing threat of socialism – decoupled from democracy and our republic. As secularism and it’s kissing cousin socialism creep into our political system, the tools to stop this virus are limited. This is the basis for the argument that promotion of traditional (orthodox) religions may advance the cause of of individual sovereignty and capitalism and serve as a counter to creeping secularist socialism.
In Türkiye, President Erdoğan’s party is the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the secular, socialist party in Türkiye, and has the votes of the young. The Turkish June 2023 election looks like it will certainly be an interesting one.
All that said, Istanbul is a modern city. Most women do not wear scarves or traditional dress. Istanbul is also an ancient city – the Mosques, buildings, ancient walls and Roman ruins are steeped in history, which make it one of the great cities of the world to visit. Many are choosing to migrate there, including many Americans as well as Russians (particularly young men), who moving to Türkiye to avoid wartime conscription.
Is this a good time to write of the people that inhabit Istanbul? Ah, the people of Türkiye. How to describe? First, they are not one homogeneous group or peoples. Istanbul is ethnically diverse. Istanbul has a Northern European side, a Southern European side and an “Asian” or Anatolian section (on the other side of the Bosphorus channel).
An anecdote to illustrate the point about diversity. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was built in 1455 AD and houses about 4000 shops. It is a massive building- with too many indoor streets to keep track of, and it is full of delights in every corner. In 2014, it was listed as number one of the world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.
It is the place to buy items actually “made in Türkiye.” There are rugs, jewelry, gold, tea, clothing, inlaid wood items, scarves, lambskin leather goods textiles, clothing and so much more (including lots of stuff from China). It is truly a shopping paradise, as well as the place to speak to, learn from, interact with and be amazed at how diverse and sophisticated the people of Türkiye are. The Grand Bazaar is an endless massive maze of humanity. By noon most days, the swarms of people in the Bazaar are almost overwhelming.
So there we are, in Istanbul… shopping. Now, personally -shopping is never high on my list of “to do” things in a city. But this time was different. It turns out that the old traditions still reign in many of the shops, and many of the shopkeepers follow traditional ways. After one has negotiated a purchase, the vendor might offer the opportunity to sit and drink Turkish tea (black), served in little cups. So, one sits in the shop at a little table, sips tea and talks and talks. This is not a “fast-food, eat and run” kind of relationship. The Turkish want to talk! This tradition is beautiful in its simplicity, and speaks to the very nature of the Turkish people and their love of people, relationships and good conversation.
Now those who know Jill, know that she is a bit of an introvert. But get her drinking tea and talking – and that all changes. She was able to draw out many interesting stories, history and also – what the Turkish people think of Turkiye’s governance. What came out in these conversations is a feeling of pride in country, traditions and culture, the kind of pride we used to have in the USA.
So, when buying scarves, Jill and the shop owner began talking politics in a round about way. The clerk in question was originally from Rhodes (Rhodos), Greece. From him we learned that China has invested heavily in Turkish infrastructure. They have sunk capital into huge suspension bridges – such as those that cross the Bosporus sea, roads, probably the new airport (said to be the biggest in the world) and the Istanbul canal. The what? “What is the Istanbul canal?” we ask. That is when we got a lesson in geopolitics regarding the Bosporus channel and Russian oil tankers.
One of the most interesting things about Istanbul and Türkiye is the local geography, which places the Marmara and Mediterranean seas on one side of the city and the Black sea on the other. The completely natural Bosporus channel connects the two, and the Black sea drains to the Mediterranean via the strategically placed Bosphorus. This channel is about ten miles long, very deep, and about 1000 foot wide -give or take. That means it connects Europe with Russia and Ukraine, and oil from Russia (currently) must pass through the Bosphorus. Which brings us to the Istanbul canal.