Film: Istanbul: Truth, fear and the value of diversity

EUROPEAN STABILITY INITIATIVE – ESI

Istanbul: Truth, fear and the value of diversity

Istanbul, Europe’s biggest city and the former capital of two South East European Empires (Byzantium and the Ottomans) is today once again the best place to grasp the contrasts, contradictions and promises of modern Turkey at the beginning of the 21st century.

This is a city with a rich and fascinating history, which nonetheless struggles to come to terms with its past. This is a story of a massive movement of people, as Istanbul grew in a few decades from 1 to almost 12 million people and the confrontation between new and dynamic elites and the deep mistrust of a statist establishment. It is also a story of strong women, reshaping Turkish society and overthrowing taboos, in a world still shaped by patriarchal values. In short, this is a story both of boundless optimism and of despair, alternating in a city that truly never sleeps.

Our film explores the tensions which lie just underneath the surface of this glittering town: how to deal with a complicated multiethnic past? How to overcome the bitter power struggle between new and old elites, in the city and across Turkey? What place for religion and Islam in a Turkey that seeks to join the European Union?

From Rumeli Hisari – a 500 year old village at risk today to completely loose its former Armenian population – to Kadikoy, a modern district setting trends in promoting the emancipation of women, this journey along the shores of the Bosporus roams widely. Thus we visit horse-riding champions and major industrialists, cleaning ladies from the deepest Anatolia and women fleeing domestic violence and seeking refuge in the first public shelter in the country. Everywhere we meet intrepid thinkers and journalists, some paying a huge price for being outspoken; as well as lawyers, fighting the dark and shadowy forces of the so-called “deep state” of Turkey.

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Approaching Istanbul. © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

Strong women are at the centre of this Istanbul story: people such as Inci Bespinar, the first and only female deputy mayor in an Istanbul district; Yasemin Congar, a key player in the most courageous and effective daily paper Taraf; Perihan Magden, a best-selling writer and political columnist whose novel on a lesbian love affair between teenagers in Istanbul challenged conservative ideas just as effectively as her criticism of the lack of accountability of the military; and Fethiye Cetin, lawyer of the family of the murdered Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, confronting what appears increasingly to be a vast extreme-nationalist conspiracy called Ergenekon.

The film ends with an account of the dramatic political events of the last two years: the murder of Hrant Dink, the anti-nationalist demonstrations in the streets of Istanbul, the arrests of members of a presumed nationalistic terror network, and the increasingly bitter struggle over the headscarf. It shows that the major challenge that modern Turkey has to meet today, and is struggling hard to address, is to come to terms with its inherited and once again increasing diversity; to see diversity as a chance, not as a threat. Whether this can succeed is the central question of this film about Istanbul.

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