I love Turkey !

I lived and worked as a teacher for a number of years in the Turkish Republic and I would like to share some of my experiences with you.

If you are thinking of working there or going there on holiday, I ask you to read this site carefully before making your decision.

I do love Turkey and the Turkish people I met, it's the government and the system that is the problem !


History of the Turkish Republic.

The Modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 following the disaster of the first world war, occupation by allied forces (including Greece) and a bloody war of independence to remove them. Finally the treaty of Versailles was revoked and a new treaty enacted.

The man who masterminded the war of independence was Mustafa Kemal (later surnamed Ataturk). He was one of the few competent leaders in WWI, leading the Turks to their only real success as Gallipoli. He was acclaimed the first president of the Republic and ruled until his death in 1938.

During this time, he carried out major reforms. He introduced western dress, banning Islamic headgear outside of religious establishments and the veil for women completely; the western alphabet replaced Arabic letters, as did the western calendar. Women were granted the vote and European style rights without any campaigning.

He did everything he could to pull Turkey into the 20th century making it a modern secular state after years of corruption and inefficiency within the crumbling Ottoman empire; a huge edifice that had lasted for over four centuries.

Ataturk was a great visionary but I often wonder if Turkey was really ready for him and in many ways, his reforms have been forgotten. Women now walk the street with full black Arab style dress and go to special imam hatip schools where they receive religious education of a quite awful standard. The equality he pressed for often forgotten or ignored.


The Ottoman Empire

The Turks managed to control an empire stretching at one time as far as Hungary, including the Balkan states and Greece. They settled people there in Turkish towns. The descendants of these are the people who have recently suffered so much in Kosova.

In general, the empire was no worse than others were; they levied a tax on Christians and also required they to supply children to become Janissaries - soldiers and administrators within the Ottoman Empire.

Perhaps the Turks greatest dream was the capture of Istanbul (then Constantinople), which they achieved in 1453. They had already captured much of the Balkans, but this city remained a glaring blemish on their map. Many of the city's churches were immediately converted to mosques, others in the decades that followed, only one Byzantine church remains in Christian hands. In fact, the west can be blamed for its fall as, for political and religious reasons, little help was sent and then too late. This led to a rift between the Catholic and Orthodox churches that lasted until the Popes visit to Greece and apology in 2001.


Turkey and Greece

Due to the education system, which is rather lacking and subject to political control, many Turks fail to realise they the have only held Istanbul for around 550 years and only settled in Turkey after their conquest in 1071, when they defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert. After that they spread west and pushed into south east Europe.

The important archaeology you will see in Turkey is either Greek or Hittite not Turkish, though one Turk I met was surprised when I told her the Scanta Sophia was once a church not a mosque. It was built before Mohamed was even born.

One of the most fascinating areas is the underground churches and cities in Cappodocia. Here the Christians hid underground or dug into the rocks in an attempt to escape persecution or death.

Since the war of independence, relations between Turkey and Greece have always been strained. Greeks had remained within what is modern Turkey for centuries and there were major centres of population in cities like Trabzon (Trapezus - later Trebizond in Greek) and Izmir (Smyrna) as well as Istanbul where over a quarter of the population was Greek in 1924. After the war of independence Turkey and Greece formed an agreement whereby the Turks within Greece (except Thrace) were expelled and the Greeks in Turkey were similarly displaced (except from Istanbul) this led to the movement of millions of refugees across the border.

The major trading ports of Trabazon and Izmir declined as the people who organised the cities' trade were expelled.

There have been pogroms against the remaining Greeks, on the night of 6th to 7th of September 1955; a Turkish mob in Istanbul organised and by the government attacked the Greek community. Consequently: sixteen Greeks died (the 90-years old Fr. Mantas was burned alive), thirty two were severely injured; at least two hundred Greek women were raped. Hundreds of Greeks were tortured; 1004 houses were looted; 4,348 stores, 110 hotels, 27 pharmacies and 21 factories destroyed; the Patriarch and other Greek cemeteries were desecrated; the dead bodies of Patriarchs were desecrated; relics of Saints were burned or thrown to the dogs.

This was a result of bomb was planted next to Ataturk's house in Thesalonika in Greece, Greece claimed that it was the work of a Turkish agent provocateur. These events were likened to Crystal Nacht in Germany. Later many of the few remaining Greeks were expelled in the 70s following the deteriorating relations as a result of the Cyprus war. Their houses still remain empty and derelict. Below a priest is looking at the remains of his church, which the mob destroyed.

Dreadful problems erupted over Cyprus. Turkey gave Britain the island for aid when the Russians attacked and the Crimean ensued. The Greek majority (apx 2/3) opposed British rule in the island in the 50s, though the Turks remained loyal the Britain and some served in the British armed forces during WWII. The Greeks campaigned for Union with Greece (enosis) but when Britain finally washed here hands of the situation, following years of terrorist attacks by Eoka, Arch Bishop Makarios declared independence.

The Turks complained about infringements of their rights under Greek control, but life continued until one of the main former terrorist leaders, Nikos Samson, decided to stage a coup against the then President Makarios and enact union with Greece. He was supported by the extreme right wing 'Colonels regime' in Greece, which was in turn sponsored by America.

Greek extremists massacred Turks, Britain flew the beleaguered president to safety, despite him having organised terrorism against British rule. Turkey responded and sent their conscript army to the rescue of the Turkish population. Many uneducated soldiers retaliated against the Greek islanders who fled on mass to the southern part of the island, which their forces still held.

Since then the island has been divided, the northern (Turkish) sector having declared UDI, something which only Turkey recognises.

Old Greek place names in the Black Sea were subsequently replaced by Turkish names in the 70. Whilst some Turks in the region still speak Pontic Greek, the region's traditional language, they now seem loathe to advertise the fact.

Total minorities in Istanbul are less than 1% today, once they were over 40% of the population and brought in most of the international trade.


Turkey and Islam

Since the expulsion of the Greek population, Turkey is 99% Moslem with tiny Jewish and Christian minorities.

Religion is a major problem in Turkey for many reasons. Whilst a secular state, many people are still hard line Moslems, especially in central Anatolia. They would prefer a religious state and a religious prime minister (Necmetin Erbikan) was elected in the late 1990s. He became unpopular with the secular establishment (effectively the army) and his party - Refah was closed down and he was given a prison sentence. The elected Mayor of Istanbul was similarly deposed and imprisoned for making an inflammatory speech, spreading religious hatred.

Religious extremists burned over 30 Alevi (an Islamic minority) alive in a Sivas hotel in the 90s, those convicted were condemned to death, however the sentence has never been carried out.

As a result of Turkey being a secular state and Islamic garb being outlawed, ladies may not wear traditional headscarves in government jobs, to school or to university. Men similarly may not have beards. People go to extraordinary lengths to get round these problems, including the wearing of wigs over their headscarves. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, many women are just unable to attend university. In Britain or America, we take this sort of religious freedom for granted.


Turkey and Judaism

Turkey is one of the few contras where Jews have neither been expelled nor massacred. England expelled the entire population in 1296 and Spain proceeded to burn Moslems and Jews under the Spanish inquisition, Turkey sent ships to save many of Spain's beleaguered Jewish community.

While Turkey joined Germany in WWI and remained on friendly terms during WWII, the Jewish community flourished and Turkey offered political asylum to many Jewish professors from Germany, giving them well paid jobs at both Istanbul and Istanbul Teknik universities.

In 1924 7% of Istanbul's population was Jewish. Most of the Jews have subsequently emigrated to Israel though some still remain, with a few synagogues and a museum.


Turkey and the Christian Community

What is now Turkey was once the centre for Christianity with the first church outside of Israel in Antioch (now Hatay) founded by Peter. Other centres were in Ephesus (Efes) Edessa (Urfa), Nicaea (Iznik) and of course Constantinople (Istanbul). The first church council was in Iznik. Constantine declared the state Christian in 325 AD and a variety of churches once flourished.

It is possible to find remains of the following churches:

Armenia Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Bulgarian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox (including the Patriarch still in Istanbul) Georgian, various Protestant groups including the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic.

Once all around the coast were Greek communities with churches as well as Cappodocia in the centre. All these groups were expelled and their churches converted to mosques or left to decay. A few are now museums.

In the south are Syrian Catholics and Orthodox, near Mardin and Diyabakir. They still use Aramaic for their liturgy; the language spoken by Jesus and claim decent from the churches founded by Peter himself. Having visited these tiny communities, they clearly suffer harassment from the local population.

In the north, all along the Black Sea were Greeks and further east Georgian Christians. Again all the Greeks were forced to leave. The Georgians were forced out as the Turks invaded and many magnificent churches, some now 1000 years old, converted to mosques of left to decay. They remain as a sad monument to religious intolerance.

People were forced to convert to Islam or flee. In one village, the population secretly remained Christian. In the 19 century the Russians pressurised the Ottomans government to grant greater religious freedom and the re converted to Christianity. In 1923, they were expelled along with the Greeks.


Turkey and the Armenians

Possibly, one of Turkey's greatest disgraces is their treatment of the Armenian community. The Armenians were once a powerful group, in Roman times controlling most of what is now eastern Turkey and the eastern Black Sea. In medieval times, they controlled much of the region again with the powerful kingdom of Ani.

Armenia interesting was the first state to declare it's self Christian in 301 and has Orthodox (called Gregorian by the Russians) Catholic and a Protestant group.

In the First World War, they were seen as a dangerous fifth column but the Ottoman Turks who conspired to destroy the community. At least 1.5 million, including men, women and children were massacred, many in a horrible manner. I have met Armenians living outside of Turkey who described what happened to their ancestors.

Turkey claims that the Armenians died of disease while being moved to internment camps in Turkey or were attacked by enraged locals, Armenia was after all part of the Russian empire and Armenians were fighting with the Russians against Turkey.

The reality is the army organised the massacres, even their German allies complained about them and there is ample photographic evidence confirming the army's actions. The photo below clearly shows Turkish soldiers displaying their trophies, the heads of their Armenian victims.

Currently Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia, various countries have condemned Turkey's actions, but Turkey continues to simply claim that it was not organised by the now defunct empire (even though there is ample evidence). When Israel decided to include the Armenian genocide into their school curriculum their ambassador to Ankara was called in for a dressing down

Armenia is not claiming compensation or other reparations, just acknowledgement of historic facts.

When Hitler's aids questioned how he though he would be able to carry out his final decision against the Jews he pointed out that Turks had managed to massacre the Armenians unpunished.

Ironically Turkeys greatest (some would say only great) architect was Mimar Sinan. He was an Armenian, seized as a child, forced to convert to Islam and made to be a Janissary.

Armenians once controlled the world's silk trade, bringing it from China to Europe and America. Their distribution centre was Istanbul and they brought great wealth to the region. That wealth was lost with them.


Turkey and Democracy

Ataturk set up a western style of democracy with universal adult suffrage. Unfortunately, the army sees itself as the protector of Ataturk's principles and the secular constitution, so when elected governments have infringed on the constitution they have been replaced by the army and even military rule has been enforced.

When one village in the Black Sea elected a communist mayor. Marshal law was declared and the mayor arrested. Turkey is not a country to be a communist in !

Governments tend to be coalitions and collapse frequently leading to political instability. The military governments have at least been more stable.


Turkey and the Police

There are a bewildering amount and variety of police in Turkey. The most important are the general service with blue uniforms and the Jandarmary with military dress. The police appear to basically be agents of the government, but the Jandarmary are part of the army and generally more professional. The normal police are badly paid and will often accept bribes, especially the traffic police. This can interfere with justice. The Jandarmary and at least more professional in that sense.

If you have seen 'Midnight Express' you may have some idea about the Turkish police. What they lack in efficiency they more than make up for in brutality. If you can't bribe your self out of a sticky spot, you are likely to get beaten badly. People say human rights stop at the entrance to the police station. I know people who have been beaten and tortured with electricity.

A large number of people have died carrying out hunger strikes as protest against the treatment of prisoners in Turkey.


 The Kurdish Problem

In the east of Turkey there are large numbers of ethnic Kurds, many ,but not all of whom would like greater autonomy or independence. Turkey aims to hold the state together and banned Kurdish newspapers and other media, though some publications are now permitted. The Turkish language is mandatory in schools yet many children only use Kurdish at home and simply don't want to learn Turkish. Some have compared the language bans to America banning Spanish or England banning Gaelic or Welsh !

Since the capture of the Kurdish leader, Ocalan, (probably following a deal with America over intelligence regarding his location for the use of an air base to bomb Iraq) violence has more or less stopped and the east is peaceful once more. Out of sight, however, Kurdish nationalism is lurking, much of it organised by dissidents in Germany.


Working in Turkey

Unless you are only interested in experiencing a very different culture for a short time, I cannot recommend Turkey. I worked there for several years and deeply regret it. The Turkish concept of human rights is carried on into the work place and it is just not a good place to work. Anywhere you work, you can expect to be cheated and lied to.

The economy is a disaster. I was notionally paid a dollar rate but in Turkish Lira. The reality was when the currency collapsed in 2001 my salary halved and remained half until it was updated, ages later. This made it almost impossible to survive, subsequently the school went out its way to get rid of teachers rather than pay the revised salary.

The only way to work in Turkey is to be employed by an overseas company and to be paid in hard currency, otherwise forget it !

Please do consider the unfortunate Turks who have to live all the time in this situation. It's hardly surprising there is an immigration problem.

For information on teaching see link


Investing in Turkey

Turkey is subject to both political and economic uncertainty. If you invest in Turkey and the currency devalues to half, again you return halves too. You will have to pay for imports in hard currency. It's just not a practical prospect. I know people who invested and got their fingers burnt badly. In addition, Turkey is the last remaining great bureaucracy in the world. You must bribe you way through an army of petty officials to get anything done. It's a nightmare, you have to know who to bribe and how much or else you are lost.

Investment - forget it !


Turkey and Education

The Turkish 'lise' school system is a hangover from French and German cultural imperialism in the 19 century. The best two schools are still sponsored by those countries and staffed by French and German government teachers.

Due to Turkey's economic problems, little is spent on education and it is very poor quality. The private schools are quite shocking generally lacking any discipline. By and large, they are there purely to make a profit and have no education purpose.

Turkish history is sacrosanct and any criticism or negative aspects of their history are excluded.

The one aspect of the curriculum that is guaranteed is Ataturk, children learn every aspect of his life and reforms.


 Turkey and Europe

 Turkey has wanted to join Europe for several reasons. The first is economic. Second prestige but also to take the pressure off immigration off Istanbul. The dreadful economic conditions in the east, despite heavy investment have led to a mass migration to Istanbul. Should visa restrictions to European countries be lifted, poorly educated and untrained masses would migrate to Europe instead. Germany's Turkish community reflects this population base of the least educated people simply seeking to earn money and return to their village with a Mercedes.

Should Turkey currently be allowed membership it would be a disaster, it's not just human rights that need to improve, or the economy, it's the whole Turkish mindset, their short term attitude to business and their attitude to cheating foreigners.


Discrimination in Turkey

I can speak first hand of this. Many people are happy to meet foreigners and will treat you with respect. Unfortunately, the majority of traders are quite different they see a foreigner as simply someone to cheat to and will do anything towards that aim the extent that I loathed shopping. Regrettably, Turks only see profit now and forget tomorrow. Women are more likely to suffer greater problems with shopping.

Sexual harassment is very common especially for foreign women, who are seen as easy and fair game.

Under Islamic law a Moslem man may take a Christian wife or Jewish wife, but a Moslem woman can only marry another Moslem. Whilst Turkey is secular and nothing of this nature exists in law, it still exists in the Turkish mind and any foreigner married to a Turkish woman will face discrimination, including from officialdom. For example, dual citizenship for a foreign woman married to a Turk is relatively straight forward, but for a man married to a Turk.

Being gay is another source of problems. In fact many Turks and bisexual and there are now many transvestites on the streets of Istanbul, but they so suffer dreadful discrimination at work. Some employers openly exclude gays. The police routinely raid gay bars. There are real double standards as many Turkish singers are gay, one even had a sex change !


How can you help ?

One important thing you can do is complain to you political and government representatives about human rights in Turkey. Ask them to censure Turkey over the Armenian genocide. Demand that action be brought to bear about the continued occupation of Cyprus. Don't buy Turkish goods and complain to the managers of shops that stock them about the continuing human rights abuses. Most importantly of all, lobby your representatives to ensure they cannot join Europe until things completely change.

Please don't support the violent Kurdish groups, they have killed innocent people with terrorist bombing.

For detailed and up to date information on human rights in Turkey see link