Turkey is one of the most strategically important of nations – poised geographically, and symbolically, between Europe and Asia. But the tensions at the heart of Turkey are becoming increasingly severe. A fierce struggle is taking place between modernity and tradition, Islamism and secularism, democracy and repression, often in unlikely and contradictory combinations. Usually these tensions are represented in a reductive way, almost exclusively focusing either on Istanbul, the Kurdish issue or religion and ignoring the far deeper complexities of a large country searching for a modern identity.
Having spent the last 4 years living in Turkey, I was surprised at how quickly change was taking place, landscapes, towns and cities were being reshaped, an extensive road network was being built, town centre were being “beautified” and large apartment blocks were springing up at a rapid rate around every town and city throughout Turkey. Almost always, the architecture and infrastructure were from the same blueprint. Cities are beginning to become carbon copies of each other.
This modernization is designed to house the mass migration from the village to the city that is taking place throughout Turkey. This trend is now affecting all of Turkeys cities and with it comes a host of new issues and tensions.
One of the most immediate is the rapid disintegration of community that is so familiar in Turkish villages and towns. Although it is still too early to tell the true effects of these low cost housing projects in Turkey, this model has generally failed in Europe.
Another issue is that the cosmopolitan urban centres, particularly Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa and the coastal towns of the South and West has traditionally been the home of Ataturks children, the upholders of secular Turkey. With the influx of a more provincial, traditional, conservative and religious population into the cities a new tension is beginning to rear its head. This is in part seen in the clash between the mildly religious Government of the AKP, whose support comes from the countryside and the new urban population and the old secular parties of both left and right, who oppose all reforms instigated by the Government on secular and nationalist grounds. Added to all this, is a highly politicized and powerful military, the self-declared guardians of the republic and the all imposing image and philosophy of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Ataturk.
Turkey is often seen as the country that will bridge the gap between the West and the Middle East. At the moment Turkey is at a political crossroads, a crossroads that will define the very nature of the country. With a large, dynamic and young population there is always hope that a truly democratic and liberal country will emerge, and Turkey will be able to truly fulfill the role of a bridge between Culture and religions.
It is the very process of this modernization, urbanization and national identity, happening at breakneck speed, against a backdrop of raising nationalism and religion, which my work seeks to address and question. I have chosen to represent this in an un-dramatic way, focusing on the very quiet very day life that most people in Turkey experience.