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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 22 April 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 22 APRIL 2017 23 GREECE tries or most Muslim-majority countries. There is little in common between different segments of the population besides language. The prime schism is not social class or material comforts or even ethnicity, but rather religiosity or the lack of it. The most diverse lifestyles are to be found in major cities, each living in their bubble with little contact with other segments of society. This compartmentalisation often gives rise to tensions and even violence. Rural areas are not a monolithic bastion of Islamic conservatism either. Lifestyles vary immensely according to region and religious affiliation. Many rural Alevi residents of Anatolia's 'deep hinterland' hold very liberal ideas, while affluent urban residents closer to the shore campaign for a re-introduction of Sharia law. mounting polarisation thereof, as well as a possible crisis in their relations with Greece, will certainly affect the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is very conceivable that the authorities will resort to administrative measures to harass the institution, especially now that the regime seems to be totally disinterested of its image to the West. As for the settlement of several hundred Greeks from Greece, which had taken form in Istanbul since 2002, and of which I was a member, most have already left. The few remaining are looking for a way out. Istanbul no longer feels a safe, creative, and happy place to be. The deterioration of public life in Turkey in recent years has had a huge influence in the genesis of a very different group – a fast growing community of young expats in Athens. As educated young professionals are leaving Turkey in droves, in the largest brain drain of its history, several thousands have chosen to move to Athens, where there has been no community of resident Turks since the Greek Revolution. Young Turkish expats are fiercely secular, even anti-religious, sophisticated urban people, alien to the nationalism and the conservatism sweeping their home society. They are very happy to contribute to the Athenian scene and are rather at odds with the Muslim communities of Western Thrace, whose religious conservatism they regard as a source of major embarrassment. What is it that you find most people in the West don't know about modern Turkey? Besides being very nationalistic and often shockingly violent, Turkish society is also very diverse, much more so than those of European coun- What made you want to live in Istanbul in the first place? I fell in love with the city immediately when I set foot there in 2001, mesmerised by its natural beauty and the architecture and memories of its old quarters. I moved there in 2003 with a plan to write about the city and its cosmopolitan heritage. By 2013, when the Gezi protests began, I had already published two books focusing on the past, present, and contribution of Istanbul's Christian and Jewish communities. It must have been around 2011 when I realised that the city I was living in was no longer the one I had fallen for. It had become a grey, tense place, my favourite parts now resembling a Disneyland for the new rich and having lost their bohemian, gracefully rundown character. I decided to leave after the Gezi protests were crushed – I couldn't deal with the public discourse and the intimidation in everyday life anymore. It took me two years to act on my decision and move back to Athens after 13 years in Istanbul. Those were doubtlessly the best and most formative years of my life. I miss the Istanbul of 2001-2006, a city in my memory, not the actual place. Whenever I return there to catch up with friends, I am left with a bitter taste. It's not my city anymore. OLGA ALEXOPOULOU: ‘PLURALISM HAS NEVER BEEN ALLOWED TO GROW ROOTS IN THIS PLACE’ An acclaimed artist, Olga Alexopoulou studied in the UK and has seen her work featured in art galleries and street art projects around the world. For the past few years, she's been living in Istanbul, raising a family, working on her art and initiating work- shops for refugee children. After the referendum, she wrote down her thoughts for Neos Kosmos. The most shocking thing about the referendum result was that the 'yes' camp got only 51.4 per cent. I never doubted that the outcome would be 'yes', I just thought it would have been with a greater difference than just 1.5 million votes. Given all the factors involved, like that the ‘yes’ campaign had 77 per cent of the airtime on TV, the hate speech and intimidation that was launched against the 'no' voters, the 2.5 million votes that are being contested, the list goes on... Turkey's ‘window of opportunity’ To understand Turkey's future the discussion has to start with why Ataturk's one-party political system is still considered the pinnacle of democracy. That is the root of the intolerance with pluralism. To this day, Turks can only have borek (a type of pastry) with either cheese or meat, never combined. Pluralism has never been allowed to grow roots in this place. After Ataturk's crushing modernity, came several decades plagued with coups (until recently the majority of the Turkish population saw coups as a positive thing) and weak coalition governments. Then Erdogan came along and for the first years, he used the excuse of trying to join the EU to bring about many much needed reforms. I believe that he knew from the beginning, what anyone who has ever spoken to EU policymakers knows, that Turkey never stood a chance. You see, if Turkey was to join, then that would mean that (because the system is proportional) there would be more Turkish EU MPs than German ones (Germany being the biggest country in terms of population in the EU parliament). Can you imagine a European Union parliament with a majority Muslim MPs? I don't think even Erdogan could imagine it. Regardless, he played the game and for about a decade a fantastic window opened for Turkey. A window of hope, actual democratisation, peace with the Kurds, a complete revolution of the health system, constant water and electricity for Istanbul (before Erdogan it was just certain days of a week) and many other infrastructure works for the country as a whole. Just to give you an example, I was one week late for my son's vaccination and two young people from the health department rang my doorbell with the vaccination in hand for free. I don't need to expand on the effect of these policies in the rural areas. However, that window of op- portunity was only open for about a decade. Rumours of Erdogan being ill started to circulate, and I don't know if it was that or what it was exactly, but the atmosphere took a turn for the dark. Gezi park protests erupted and even though there is a documented meeting of Erdogan with the protestors, in the early days, he descended into the meeting as a raging bull. The crack-down started soon after. Then, at the repeated elections he needed an extra three to five per cent of the nationalist vote, so he went against the peace that he had built with the Kurds and started a war with them. It's not just the Erdogan voters, the majority of the population holds very prejudiced views of Kurdish people, so he won that election. Then came the crackdown of the press, the coup, and the purge. A divided society The referendum has brought the spotlight once again on the differences between the big cities of Turkey; especially the ones on the Aegean coast and the rural areas. Because of commerce, these big cities have always enjoyed economic development. Rural areas were very much left behind until Erdogan, when a new middle class arose that was based on the emerging construction sector. You often hear people say that because of Erdogan they can now afford a washing machine. For someone living in a remote village, the choice between a new road or freedom of speech is clear. The road. And the truth is that politicians come and go (some slower than others) but what remains is a divided society. Cargo trousers and headscarves As I was waiting in line yesterday morning to pass a security check to enter a government building (security has been fortified since all the terrorist attacks) I spotted two young women dressed like they had just come out of a Lara Croft movie, guns on their belts, tight cargo trousers, heavy boots and headscarves on. "Is this an image of future Turkey?" I thought to myself. Head-scarfed women can go to university because of Erdogan and slowly but surely they are taking up more of the workforce. It used to be that you would only see them in jobs such as cashiers or cleaning ladies, whereas now they confidently occupy many more posts. Does this excuse the climate of fear, or the complete destruction of the rule of law? During the junta in Greece, the majority of the roads system was built. However, it makes you wonder what is the price to build a road? Luxury camping site to open in northern Greece The first five-star camping site is set to open in northern Greece within the next couple of months. The €30 million (A$42m) investment is located in Skotina, a seaside area in Pieria, on a property where an old camping site, operated by the Greek Tourism Organisation, has been abandoned for years. 'Skotina Resort' (a company of Greek American businessmen) leased the property for 60 years from the Greek Public Property Company in 2013. The existing 31 bungalows are undergoing thorough renova- tions, as are the edifices to be used for dining, entertainment, and shopping. The completely renovated 'luxury camping' operation will be ready to operate this tourist season, with a second phase of development (including an environmentally friendly 250-room capacity hotel, a convention centre, and a marina) is planned to be completed by 2019. Investors are aiming to attract visitors with high incomes who are interested in being in touch with nature, hiking, cultural tourism and ecotourism. ISIS gunmen open fire at the St Catherine monastery in Egypt Only monks and clergy were inside the compound at the monastery, one of Christianity’s holiest sites One of Christianity's holiest sites came under attack during a fire exchange between Egyptian police and ISIS gunmen at Mount Sinai earlier this week. The incident took place at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine, a site of pilgrimage for christianity. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which started when gunmen opened fire on an Egyptian police checkpoint near the monastery, killing one policeman and wounding four others. According to the officials, the gunmen were shooting from an elevated hilltop overlooking the police checkpoint just outside the monastery, which is located in a remote desert and mountainous area in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, where, according to scripture, God spoke to the prophet Moses from a burning bush. Only monks and clergy were inside the monastery at the time, since the site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was once a popular destination for pilgrims, has been closed to the public since 2015 for security reasons. There are no reports of damage to the compound, which is heavily fortified (the walls were built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 527) and guarded by security forces. After the initial fire exchange, the gunmen retreated. The attack on the monastery comes just over a week after suicide bombers attacked two Coptic Christian churches in the Nile Delta city of Tanta and the coastal city of Alexandria, killing 45 people on Palm Sunday.
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