RAYS OF HOPE

Today's Zaman, Turkey
April 4 2014

4 April 2014, Friday /ELLE LOFTIS, İSTANBUL I am tired of all the bad
news. My social media feeds and everyday conversations with people
have been filled with more doom and gloom this year than any other
I can remember.

It's exhausting but also extremely easy to be negative. Looking back
on the depression I went through postpartum, I can finally see that it
was a necessary part of my emotional transformation. Only when you are
low do you actually have real clarity on several important issues. It
also forces you to make that choice to stand up and be well again,
or stay sitting down and let life roll over you. This year might be
Turkey's postpartum year, in a way.

Fourteen years ago, I visited Turkey for the first time. A fresh-faced
university student that had never even visited a major US city, I was
the eager, naive tourist asking every taboo question on the books. I
had just started my degree in Middle Eastern studies and arrived in
İstanbul with a sophomoric attitude fed by the many books read before
my trip. On a three-week excursion, I planned to research all the hot
topics; the Armenian genocide, the Kurdish conflict and the Islamic
revival in Turkish politics. My poor Turkish hosts and friends had
no idea what they had gotten themselves into when they invited me
for a visit. At a crowded cafe, I brought up all these topics. One
person got offended. The rest kept looking left and right to see if we
were being overheard. Another immediately reprimanded me. The others
seemed uncomfortable and eager to change the topic. Thus scolded,
I saved my research on Armenians, Kurds and Islamists in Turkey for
my university library back in the US. I met a similar dead end with
all the other topics I wanted to research. What kind of a place was
this, where asking questions was forbidden? I was flabbergasted,
but learned to stay silent to keep the peace.

That was in 2000. Fast-forward to now, 2014. Conversations about these
issues are now the norm among Turks, as demonstrated by the massive
protests and outcry after the Hrant Dink assassination in 2006. I
hear Kurdish freely spoken on the streets now, without shame. These
conversations, while still uncomfortable, are now happening, something
I never thought I would see back in 2000. While I am sure lots of
people will disagree with me here and say not much has changed, I
beg to differ. The fact that we can have conversations about these
topics now in Turkey is huge. Back in 2000, most people claimed and I
actually believe did not know all that had happened surrounding these
touchy issues. The Internet has allowed people to have easier access
to information and to formulate their own opinions. This is a huge,
positive step forward for Turkey.

On that first visit and up through just a few years ago, I still heard
an oft-used phrase that would send me through the roof with anger.

When I would ask my Turkish friends about democracy in Turkey, they
would claim "Turks are not ready for democracy." My response would
be to ask when they thought that magic day would come. Tomorrow? A
hundred years from now? So much has changed in Turkey over the past
20 years to make that phrase moot. The Gezi protests further killed
that point. It seems the people are ready now.

Generations from the village have given birth to university-educated
world travelers. I consider that a huge positive step in Turkey, and
well worth noting. For example, my husband bought lures and fishing
tackle from a shop near the Bosporus, and the proprietor begged us to
offer his wife a job cooking and cleaning for us. The reason? Their
daughter had just passed the university entrance exams and made it
into Bogazici University. They needed extra cash, and we took her on.

Elmas, the mother, could not read or write. They had moved to İstanbul
from their Black Sea village so that their only daughter could attend a
better school. In a country where the rest of the world still knocks
them for women's rights, this family risked everything for their
daughter's education and she landed in one of the best universities
in Turkey. Scratch the surface of this society and you will find
other like stories and beacons of hope.

Better representation, better opposition

To all those who are depressed about the election and think Turkey is
going to the dogs, are you going to stand up and address it, or stay
sitting and let it roll over you? Things have not gone the way a lot
of people wanted it to. However, the old ways were not necessarily
good, either. Maybe this stall should be viewed as an opportunity
to take a hard look around and create something new, something that
embraces all of society rather than picking and choosing. The Gezi
protests and the unity that was exhibited last summer have not been
embraced by any political party. I believe all political parties have
let the Turkish people down. They, and those of us residing here,
deserve better representation and better opposition. A lot happened
last year that cannot be taken back, and no matter how many obstacles
are placed in the way to try to stem change, the momentum has already
begun. Strangely enough, I feel hopeful even though everyone else
feels gloomy. Maybe the historian in me can recall the past more
easily than others, and I can see how far Turkey has come over the
years. Social media has provided a great opportunity to exchange
views, but it can also be a way for people to barricade themselves
with only other like-minded people. We have to push ourselves outside
of our comfort zones and interact with others who offer differing
perspectives than our own, a challenge I put out there for anyone
upset about the elections. Start the conversation. Create dialogue.

Together spur change. That is what Gezi was about and I do not
believe that spirit died. It is very much alive. As an American
liberal, I struggle with this personally when dealing with friends
and acquaintances from the Tea Party. Their rhetoric can make me so
angry sometimes. However, I still continue dialogue with them, and
we actually have been able to learn from each other. I can place a
face to those who think differently than me, and it is helpful. It's
part of freedom of speech. Part of speaking is listening.

As I struggle with this within the politics of my own troubled
country, I encourage my Turkish friends and family to do the same. I
love my adopted country and have seen many positive changes over
the years. Change starts from the bottom and works it's way up, in
my opinion. A change in your daily conversation can and will make
a difference. Hiding behind walls of ideals leads nowhere. Open
your mind, open yourself to listen to other perspectives and share
your views as well. These months after the Gezi birth are Turkey's
postpartum. Let's see what transpires now, and whether people stand
or sit. It's your choice.

*Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer and mother living in İzmit.

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