Car image: Riding in the car, we had just arrived in Istanbul. I wanted to somehow acknowledge that we were in a new country, so I tried to photo-document. The pictures show little but the fact that we are in a car at night, and that I can’t see much of the city around me. I distinctly remember thinking, “If I take a picture, I can justify being here, or justify in my head that I actually am ‘here,’ which is somewhere different than I normally am.” Thus, I used my camera to normalize my numb shock.
HP in the Turkish Bath: This picture shocked me as much as it did because it took two completely unrelated elements, Harry Potter and a Turkish bath, and put them into an uncomfortable picture. Then, that uncomfortable picture was being sold next to jewelry and scarf shops, which just made it stand out as more shocking than ever. In my photo album, this picture comes after a long day’s worth of shooting buildings and neighborhoods, again adding to the shock value. I took the picture because of how much I knew it would surprise people back home.
The Blue Mosque: Going into a building like this, I could hardly take in the entire scene with my eyes, let alone my camera. Therefore I ended up taking many pictures of parts of the ceiling, partially blocked by the intricate chandeliers. In the photograph you can hardly tell it’s part of the chandelier: it looks more like interesting iron grating over pretty tile mosaics. The fact that it’s a mosque at all easily escapes the picture.
Half of a Neighborhood: Admittedly this is not a particularly artistic photograph (few of mine are). This image depicts a section of the neighborhood Orhan took us to where on one side the houses were able to get their private building renewals funded by the government, whereas the buildings on the other side were undergoing forced gentrification. For me this picture represents the neoliberal agenda making life difficult for a certain group of people – not because of their special location in the Orient, or their particular poverty, but as part of a widespread phenomena happening in the West as well as in the East.
Catholic Church: Images of Churches are deeply personal to me because I have recently begun to associate church with feelings of home and family. While I don’t believe that any one space is more holy than any other, I deeply appreciate the history and beauty of old churches in a way that I feel less when I go to a mosque, simply because a church holds a space for a religion with which I am familiar.
Images 6 and 7:
The two pictures I chose reflect my understanding of the modern nation-state’s affect on culture and public perception of immigration. The first is a picture taken from the Sapphire Tower, showing just one side of the densely constructed Istanbul. The second is a picture of the door to one of the synagogues preserved in part with a sense of nostalgia towards a diverse and tolerant pre-modern past. What seems to be a recurring theme in our lectures, however, is that the welfare state, as a modern phenomena, eliminates the possibility of returning to the longed for idyllic diversity of the Ottoman Empire. Instead it facilitates exclusion of certain minorities by those in power’s perceived necessity.
Orhan described pre-modern Turkey’s property laws as such: God had dominion over the land, which went in and out of the stewardship of different generations. A family could use the land as long as it needed it, but the land would never be a sign of that family’s material wealth. In modernity the opposite is true: an individual buys private property with her accumulated wealth, raising her status in society. With this model, a newly migrated or immigrated person would not have the property status of those already living there, and could therefore be seen as worthless, or as less important. Squatters, we learned, could both benefit from and fall victim to this perspective in society. As invisible participants in the labor economy, they provide cheap labor to the industry sector without having to pay for property; all the while the government does not need to provide social services to these migrants. When squatter communities became legalized for this reason, they changed from being purely productive areas to having consumptive economies of their own. Though communities of first and second-generation migrants are often mischaracterized as leeching off of the good that comes from a welfare state, Didam pointed out that this is not the case, as exemplified by these growing, economically viable immigrant communities.
Jen and Orhan both emphasized the fact that the synagogues have been part of a pronounced effort to reassert the multi-religious, multi-cultural tolerance of pre-modern turkey. This partially entails protective efforts against Anti-Semitic acts of violence. Outside one synagogue, Jen said that during bar mitzvahs and other important events, they have guards stationed outside to make sure nobody tries to do anything bad to them. On the other hand, Orhan showed us two synagogues in the working class district that go unused by the residents nearby, and instead are frequented by more affluent Jews from far away districts. He said that the state-sponsored gentrification process in that part of the city is supported not only by the anti-immigration right, but also by much of the intellectual left, who support it as reflective of the diversity of “nations” (Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Turks) of Turkey. However, Turkey as a modern nation-state exists with the assumption that all of its residents are “Turks.” In reality there is tension between “Turks” and members of the different “nations” – a tension not easily reconciled by attempts to preserve spaces which once fostered diversity.
I came on this trip wanting to learn more about immigration in general, but especially interested in organizing in immigrant communities outside of the US. I have so far learned about some of the specific struggles of particular communities, such as the Kurds, who have been organizing against their forced relocation by the Turkish government. The meaning of gentrification and how it manifests has been made more concretely apparent and understandable to me than ever before. I have also been learning what it is that immigrant organizations and their allies are working against: the fear some have of losing a national identity, and of what it means to be Turkish or German or American. The most important thing I am realizing is that our own constructed ideas of nation-state and belonging make it difficult to realize when the game is changing and how we can keep playing it in an educated and compassionate way.