Friday, March 16, 2007
Talking Turkey


Me with businessman Ferit Sahenk


I had been to the beautiful city of Istanbul before. So I was looking forward to spending 24 hours in the Turkish capital Ankara to meet some of the country’s up and coming entrepreneurs. The people were great. The city reminded of Albany, New York. Sadly, that's not a good thing. Ankara is a typical capital full of traffic and anonymous government buildings.

After a four-hour flight from London, and a two-hour layover in Istanbul, we then endured a long taxi journey from the Ankara airport to a "conference-type" hotel which meant it was in the middle of nowhere. The hotel staff, however, was great and told us upon arriving that we had been upgraded to suites.

The week only got better from there. We soon flew back to Istanbul.

I learned on my last trip that every interview in Turkey starts with the host offering you tea and a long chat. You have to build that into every shoot. It's not hard to do that when you are shown so much hospitality. My producer, cameraman and I just sat in the office of one of Turkey's rising business stars. You don't want to start setting up the lights and tripod until the ritual is complete. I also think you learn a lot more this way and can spend less time and tape when you have a good idea where your subject stands.

The other reality in Turkey is that the boss is the boss, and there are many people standing around ready to help when you are with him. These people are usually men wearing suits and ties (just like all the taxi drivers.) The only problem is, they are too eager to help. At each location we went during the week, someone was trying to carry the camera or pick up the tripod. It annoyed my cameraman and they kept getting in the shots. They are expected to shadow the boss wherever he goes. That's a problem when you are trying to film him walking with me or on his own.

We were in Turkey to see what the business community can do to convince Europe that this Muslim nation should join the EU. The clear message from everyone is that business is already closely tied to Europe and the politicians will follow. There is so much confidence here that the EU will one day practically beg Turkey to join.

Much of that confidence was shared with us over drinks and dinner at Istanbul's flashy Ulus 29 restaurant. Yes, more food, more good company and more evidence that Turkey is very Western. We talked football, tourism, Italian food. But religion is barely talked about, despite there being mosque nearly on every corner.

One morning we were told to meet one of Turkey’s richest men at a breakfast spot. We arrived, 45 minutes before he did, to find ourselves in the finest restaurant I have ever seen. It was along the banks of the Bosporus and it became clear after a while that the company must have booked the entire place. There were no other patrons. The CEO arrived, complete with security and plenty of people to carry the tripod, and we spent the time eating wonderful eggs, drinking good coffee and talking Turkey.

Then, we were whisked off in his secure VW van to the headquarters. I could not help noticing that wherever we went, people stood when he walked by. In many way Turkey is pushing to be part of Europe, but there are customs that most of Europe has moved beyond.

Turks also like to present gifts to their guests. I can't think of another country where I was given gifts (Turkish Delight of course) after each interview.

I often say you can't have a bad meal in Turkey. You also can’t find rude people. May all of Europe learn from the people who want to be tied closer to Europe but not lose their important links to the East.

Click here to see my report

-- From Jim Boulden, CNN International Producer/Correspondent
It was nice to read this piece which focuses on the positive sides of my country.
I often say you can't have a bad meal in Turkey. You also can’t find rude people.

Well, I think there are good and bad people (and food) everywhere.

May all of Europe learn from the people who want to be tied closer to Europe but not lose their important links to the East.

This is very important notice. I think most of european and not muslim communities forget that there are more ways of interpreting the life and more ways of living the life then one they are used to. And it`s not worse or better but simply different.
From your report one might get the impression that Turkish people were nice to you because you were a fancy journalist, or even simply because they wanted something from you. I'd like to say that from my experience, this is absolutely not the case. A few years ago I spent a week in Istanbul, as the 20-year old backpacking piece of eurotrash that I was. People in the city often spoke to me, and in the beginning I suspected they wanted to sell something or scam me or something like that. No doubt some of them did, but I've had long conversations with some of them and they just were being friendly, hospitable and curious.
This is happning in a country that if you are a kurd and you speak or write kurdish you go to jail, you occupy and ethnicly clensed the northern northern part of Cyprus and militarily threaten any of your neiboring country that does anything you do not agree with. Great place!
I have lived in Turkey for over four years. Though I agree with much of work the writer said about the people here, I also think his time in Turkey was not a true representation of everyday life here. I really do like Turkey but his picture is not the one I see on a daily basis.
Nice to know that you had a great time in Turkey. I wish you well and I hope you will have amny more great visits to the country in the future.

Jack from Cleveland get your facts straight - being a Kurd has NEVER been a crime in Turkey - Turkish citizens of Kurdish heritage were being elected as Presidents and Parliamentarians at a time when African Americans in the American South were being lynched for simply trying to vote. And the use of Kurdish in Turkey is now permitted, and Turkey has NEVER threatened it's neighbours militarily unless the security of Turks was threatened as was the case in 1974 in Cyprus.

Thanks for the great story though !
Mr,. Boulden,

As a Turkish American, I would like to thank you for your objectivity.
Also, I agree with your conclusion. While keeping eastern roots adapting into western culture.Since culture is man made why can`t man modify it accordingly for the good.

Thank You,
I lived in Turkey for approximately 2 years and was engaged to a Turkish man. From my experience, I saw that Turks were just like people from any other country. They wish to strengthen their country and make a better living for their family.
A week in Turkey being hosted by top business people at a top hotel and restaurants gives one a "good" impression of a country? Wow!!! What a great insight!!!! Maybe some day I will hit the lottery and return to Turkey so I too can enjoy the lack of rudeness on the part of the Turkish people...as long as I do not violate article 301 of their constitution.
Hi Jim: as an American and also a part-time resident of Istanbul I read your article with interest. I strongly advocate the entry of Turkey into the EU but in order to get a true picture of the country you must interact with people who are not entrepreneurs. I have made one tv film in Turkey and am about to make another in Istanbul and I always focus on people. The food is great, the sites magnificent but it is the people who make a trip there worthwile. Americans have a lot of misconceptions about what Turkey is really like and the only way to dispel these is to have information out there that tells it like it is. Also for a thorough understanding of Kurds it is necessary to travel to Eastern Turkey. That's where I made my first film. I'd be happy to go along with you anytime.
I don't think you had enough time to see Ankara properly. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is one of the best museums in the world and you should see the Masoleum of Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey. But I think your article is good one since puts the focus on Turkey. Thanks!
As a long time resident of Adana, Izmir and Ankara, Turkey, it is touching to see a positive report on the beautiful country of Turkey and her wonderful people. Yes, Turks are kind, helpful and friendly but they were much more so twenty years ago. But still Turks are much kinder, more helpful and friendlier than most Americans and Europeans who with a polite smile like to censure the Turks for these qualities because they are not being western or contemporary. Turks have been given a promise, regardless of how fragile, at a peek into the EU. And regardless of how fragile, a promise is much more than many have�..so perhaps, yes, perhaps, the EU and the Western world will begin to see the value of this country as a viable partner in the world.
At least the death penalty was abolished. I know americans don't mind about it but for europeans is a sing of a civilized country. Still there is a lot of work to be done regarding Cyprus and the Kurdish population.

However I belive that Turky will do much better being part of EU and could actually be a great asset (if the greeks will ever allow it, that is //hehe)
I have lived in Turkey 25+ years .. from 64-67, 80-84 and in 1988 while in the US Army. From 1988 to present I have been employed by an American company and owned my own Foreign-Invested Turkish Company .. I am an American - raised as a Baptist. The above is to perhaps establish the fact that I do know Turkey. Though most Europeans are not willing to admit it, the EU is a Christian Club. Turkey is a secular country with a Moslem majority population. Turkey is far more secular than is Greece, who has permanent seats in the Parliament for clergy .. and we Americans still print "In God We Trust" on our coins .. and the Europeans have political parties such as "Christian Democrat" and such. All three of these examples would be illegal in Turkey as they would signify a lack of separation between religion and state. Economics .. Turkey would do more for the EU than will be done by some of the ex-Soviet, Eastern European
countries that have now entered the EU. But - I hope Turkey never makes it into the EU because EU entry would change or destroy too many things that are good about Turkey now .. the price they would have to pay and what they would have to give up in order to be a member is too great. It appears (based on local polls) that fewer than 35% of Turks want to join the EU .. wise this is methinks. I believe that Turkey and the West Turkey would benefit more if Turkey stayed out of the EU. They need support by the West and assistance in continuing to be a good example to the East of how a country can be modern, democratic, capitalist, Western, secular and Moslem at the same time.
I spent an year in Turkey not as a guest of people who wanted to impress me. But they did - fantastic, friendly, compassionate, educated, open-minded! Just one fact - at Easter our Muslim friends drove us, the Christian Orthodox, to chirch, waited through the celebration and brought us for a gret feast after. That much about tolerance and hospitality.
Just like Mr. Boulden, I have only good words for the Turkey and the Turks. EU has everything to gain by adding Turkey to the family of nations. And a lot to learn from - like to start with the basic old-fashined courtesy and politeness.
Sure enough, my husband still mentiones cheverme and kokorech whenever a good food is discussed!
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