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Minarets and Mobile Phones

by Ryan Bahry

    When I imagined visiting Istanbul, I had pictured a city full of various Arabian imagery, a stereotypical notion of a land still frozen in the traditions of the caliphs, the sultans, the enigmatic veiled women.  As soon as I walked through the port terminal out into the city, I experienced a landscape that could have passed as scenery from any U.S. city—green space, parks along the water, a modern train whirring by every few seconds, streets lined with men and women in coats and jackets instead of donning a fez.  It immediately became clear that the city of Istanbul has become extremely modernized, and the European feel to the city was undeniable. 

    In Caglar Keyder’s “The Housing Market from Informal to Global,” he discusses the utilization of space in Istanbul and the development of housing throughout different time periods in the city’s history.  He discusses the transnational flow of capital and ideas into Turkey and the resulting impact on development that resulted during the 1980’s.  Although I wasn’t able to visit any of the gated communities that Keyder mentions, I was able to visit some islands just outside of the city that serve as resort islands during the summer months.  As it was winter, the islands were much quieter, and the people that I encountered there were local to the islands.  Passing through the small, self-contained island, I noticed beautiful homes, nice schools where the children played in uniforms, and upon talking with some high school students, I realized that they were listening to Pink Floyd on an iPod nano.  The residents of this island were clearly much more affluent that many Istanbul residents, and the imagery was stunning to see these Turkish children on this reclusive island utilizing American electronics and listening to American music.

    Perhaps the most stunning comparison of transnational and vernacular that I have witnessed on this voyage came from examining the Istanbul skyline.  The developing, modernizing city of Istanbul has efficient public transportation, shopping centers and malls, yet above all of this transnational evidence of global influence in consumerism, development, and lifestyle is the reminder of the Istanbul of the past.  Huge mosques loom above all of Istanbul, and the skyline is dotted with these beautiful, vernacular reminders of the fact that despite the modernization of Istanbul, ninety-nine percent of Turks are Muslim and still practice the faith.  In no other city have I been so taken aback by the modernization of the city (Istanbul felt much more like a European city than a Middle Eastern urban center) contrasted with the imagery of the vernacular (the mosques were a reminder of Turkey’s history and culture).  For me, Istanbul was the most powerful display of the effects of transnational forces upon a city and culture and how a city so rich in heritage and history can truly become a global space.

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