February 18, 2016
Love Letter to a Troubled Turkey
Reflections on the occasion of the car bomb in Ankara.
My romance with Turkey began 14 years ago, in September 2002. I had traveled to Istanbul to chronicle the life stories of migrants and refugees on their journey to Europe.
What began as a short visit became a lasting relationship. I fell in love with the city, its people, its narrow alleyways and splendid, but often chaotic architecture.
Who would not rave about the unforgettable taste of pomegranate juice in October, the soothing taste of lentil soup, and the heavenly flatbread pide, white cheese and tea in in cold winter mornings?
I cherished my walks through the bustling open market carving through the twisting narrow streets of Tarlabaşı. I marveled at the small fishing boats gently breaking the water on the Bosphorus.
And I loved the music of my Kurdish friends, refugees from the Southeast of Turkey, who played songs of love and sorrow on famous Istiklal Street.
I returned to Turkey year after year. During my visits, I inevitably met men and women escaping war and violence in their places of birth. I reunited with members of my own family from Iran where I was born.
I still treasure my walks through the streets of Istanbul with my aging mother, sipping sweetened tea in back alley teahouses, and filling my lungs with the smoke at nargile cafes at the foot of Galata Bridge.
The Turkey I fell in love with was a safe haven not only for the refugees from troubled areas of the world, but also for Iranian tourists. They breathed freely away from the watchful eyes of their government at home.
Visitors from across the world professed their fascination with Istanbul. And ordinary Turks felt blessed as well, enjoying the sweet taste of freedom for a short period in their life.
My heart is filled with pain to see the disappearance of that Turkey. Where is the gentleness, the openness now?
I get teary eyes reading about car bombs killing innocent passersby, police attacking peaceful rallies and public gatherings, journalists rotting in jail, and people vanishing in the deadly war in the country’s southeast.
Is this the end of the Turkey I have been keeping so close to my heart? I pray that it is not.
May peace and safety return to the streets of Turkey!