Why we need to care about Istanbul (and keep traveling, too)

You may have noticed by now that I’m a rubbish blogger.

I go places, then I hold onto them in my head and my heart for months (and sometimes years), my summation of a place and its effect on me often remain a feeling in my gut rather than an entry on a blog.

I went to Turkey in February and I haven’t written one word on the subject. No must-see lists, no hotel reviews, no day-by-day diary entries of my whirlwind 10 days there. I’m still churning my memories like a ball of dough constantly kneaded.

So it was with sadness that I read about the governmental violence against civilian protesters in Istanbul this week. Almost certainly these tensions between citizen and government were in place in February when I traveled through the city, but awarded the chance to visit a seemingly peaceful, secular society, I marveled rather than scrutinized. And how could I not? I know we are trained to seethe at the word, but I was a tourist. I flew to Turkey on an airline whose extraordinarily low fare was (probably) subsidized by the government, passed through seven layers of security before touching American foot to Turkish soil, and enjoyed history lessons and participated in cultural traditions and ate spicy food. I don’t mean to trivialize this experience. In fact, when I saw the photos of a bloodied Taksim Square, it hit me hard in the gut. I was there. I can identify.

Have you ever stopped to think about what makes you who you are? Many of us define ourselves based on our nationality, but the utter truth of the matter is that where you were born is luck. You didn’t choose your parents; you didn’t choose where to be born. It just…happened to you. Maybe you’ve taken residency in another country by choice, or maybe you’ve been forced to flee your homeland by circumstance. But even in those instances, it always strikes me as funny that even those who leave say “I am from here, but now I live here.”  My fellow Americans may take it for granted that the basic right to freedom of speech is Constitutionally guaranteed to us. All we had to do as 21st century sons and daughters is just be born here. When you travel to a place like Istanbul, come home, and then read about people losing their eyes fighting for this freedom, you are forced to realize that we are not a map of nationalities but we are a world of humans. That we were born with the rights that others want does not make us superior or even different beings. It deserves our compassion and attention. The only thing that separates them from us is luck.

The irony is not lost on me that today is June 4, the 24-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest, where an unknown number of Chinese citizens were gunned down by their government, an event that still goes censored today. The most initial and distressing news from Istanbul this week were the lack of media coverage and censorship of social media.

The New York Times published a overview of events yesterday.

Also, Gawker published this helpful Q&A.

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Keep traveling too.

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3 responses to “Why we need to care about Istanbul (and keep traveling, too)

  1. I love reading your posts. Thank you for writing this and calling attention to the Tiananmen Square protest as well. I just taught a class about the Turkey protests and Tiananmen Square this afternoon, and 2/3 of my students weren’t aware that the 24th anniversary of Tiananmen was yesterday (I’m in China). It’s so important to think about these past events and discuss them. We are so lucky we were born American, and I completely agree with you that we should not take our freedom to speak freely for granted.

    PS: I can’t wait to see you soon!!!

  2. Enjoyed reading it, people in this country do not know how lucky we are to be living in America

  3. One of the usually unmentioned benefits of travel is to help us gain perspective on where we come from.

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