Archive for June 2010

Democracy comes after eight thousand year journey

June 30, 2010

Istanbul in seven days led me to thinking how democracy make people live better as citizens. Walking around the streets of Beyoglu, a modern district of Istanbul where independence was fought,taught me that pluralism is possible in this age. People of various races,ethnicity
religious,political and sexual persuasions live in Istanbul and it seems ethnic violence, except those of the Kurds, is at a manageable level.Ed and I saw all kinds of tolerance – from women wearing modern skimpy tops to women who wear chadors or burkas walking in public.We also saw how many merchants from other provinces of Turkey and even from Arabic countries are able to sell their wares in the markets. It is interesting to learn that the oldest mall is the Grand Bazaar and that it shouldered the cost of building the Blue Mosque and other mosques during the Ottoman empire in the mid15th century.But we also noticed that people with physical and mental disabilities still had to beg or sell token items like tissue paper and lighters to survive.We saw young  boys and old men work in the streets, selling water and carrying heavy loads . We talked to Filipina workers and they said that they had to get documented because Turkey is very strict with migrant workers . The marginalized ethnic group are the gypsies,young and old women with children begging in the streets. I asked Ed, ” how come there are so many of them begging?” Are they not citizens in this country? In Italy, the gypsies are also ostracized. I think in this age,there are still zones of exclusion,especially in large cities where the government cannot provide enough resources to meet the needs of all the citizenry. But the most important insight is that Turkey, which used to be the ancient Constantinople, took a very long journey to become a modern nation. The exhibit in Sakip Sabanci Museum gave us a snapshot of this 8000 journey. It involved the Greeks, Romans, Genoesans, Turks and they all built their empires that spanned many cultures and  eight thousand years. Hagia Sophia is the oldest symbol of the changes in perspective and culture. As we walked around its chambers, the Byzantine and Ottoman icons  and murals competed for glory. Ed and I were awed by its grandeur and when you see  its domes from the sea, land and air, the Hagia Sophia captures your imagination. I understood what it symbolized – the  power  of living dangerously and overcoming perils for 1397 years.  That is a long journey indeed!


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