Sunday, January 19, 2014

Istanbul the Beautiful City in Flux

Just got back from a trip to the beautiful, complicated, one and only Istanbul.  I can't even believe that this is the same city that we see in the news having violent protests.  Somehow the images I see in the newspapers do not sync up with the magical place I spent time exploring for a week.  But it's true.  This city is a paradox of modernism wrapped in old traditions, a city trying to move forward in modernity and status, and still getting tangled up with old ways of dealing with conflict.

Turkey has a rapidly growing economy and is now considered an industrialized country, which is a fairly new development.  Things are on the up and up in Istanbul, and it's very obvious to someone exploring it.  There are modern museums throughout, various restorations taking place all over, and even a newly opened and popular undersea rail link called the Marmaray. 

These and many other features all display the brightness of Turkey's future.  Somehow Istanbul pulls off the perfect balance of the old world with the new that no other city can with quite such ease.  To know that there is such vast history here that dates back to 8500 years ago is hard to comprehend.  Once you have been here, once you have seen it with your own eyes, you can't help but become a fan of what it stands for historically and what it appears to be striving for in its future.

But beneath this amazingly layered history and these contemporary developments, there is a quiet but noticeable undertone of conflict.  Men with guns stand at the ready while you make your way to Topkapi Palace.  In another section of Istanbul you drive past guards in bulletproof glass boxes with large rifles in hand.  It's a big whiff of reality after losing yourself in the allure of the Hagia Sophia, the heady smells of the Spice Bazaar, and the sounds of the awe-inspiring ocean.  

Some things will need to change if it wants to truly become modern by the global society standards of today.  The protests that keep popping up are not good for the reputation of a city that should be in the news for so many better reasons.  But of course, the protests are what make the news, which is fair.  Hopefully with all the positive growth this city is having, they will make the time to focus on evolving their politics in important ways as well.