Istanbul, Sunday morning. Church bells wake me up. A familiar sound as I grew up in a large town with well over twenty churches. But hold on, aren’t we in a moslim country?
Istanbul is pretty much well-known for its diversity; it always has. It is a very cosmopolitan city with people from all different identities from all over the world, while at the same time there are currently still over thirty different original ethnicities within Turkey.
Still, politicians in this country see it as their life-goal to make everyone believe there is just one Turkish identity. Nationalism is an important asset of power and to challenge this is still uncommon. You are free to believe in whatever religion but you must not emphasize other parts of your identity, such as speaking in another language than Turkish (Kurdish for example).
In this sense Turkey is not very far from other countries that have led a top-down approach of enforcing one national identity, in particular France. Over the course of more than two hundred years France has almost successfully gotten rid of many different identities and traditions that find their roots in the many French regions.
And for me personally this is a sensitive issue. One of the main reasons why I originally left the Netherlands was the rise of nationalism and subsequently the growing disrespect for people that are considered to be different. I felt very powerless against this stream. It left me frustrated. Among other elements it was this feeling of frustration that made me leave 3,5 years ago.
But thankfully there are still people who challenge this ideology of one national identity. Also in Turkey. People that challenge this idea keep on emphasizing what Turkey still is between the lines; that the country is actually made up of more than thirty different etnicities.
And they emphasise that all people should have the right to express themselves in their own chosen wayÂ such as language, clothes, sexuality, religion, dance, food or any other cultural-political element, as long as they permit others to do the same.
For the past two weeks I worked as a photographer and followed a political candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections (22nd of JulyÂ 2007) who is of this line. The candidate supports the idea that there is not one Turkish identity but many. He even turned this into his main issue. He is therefore also supported by different Armenian communities and many other minority communities in Istanbul.
These weeks have been quite fulfilling as such. Not only have I learned how political campaigns work in this country – also have I learned more about photo-journalism.
And wow, that can be quite a tough job, as you have to be on the spot and focused most of the time however boring it sometimes can be (even more since you don’t understand what they are talking about). All in all, these past weeks have revealed to me a new or rather different scope of politics, campaigning and photography.