Yesterday, we wearily checked out of our four-star hotel in downtown Izmir and caught our Turkish Airlines flight back to Istanbul. However, this time around in Istanbul we are not staying in the historic section, only a minute's walk away from both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Now we're staying in the Koc (pronounced "coach") University campus in Istinye, a nice neighborhood on the European side of the Bosphorus a bit north of downtown Istanbul.
After a little nap in our own single rooms, we went to class in one of the lecture rooms that Koc has provided for us. This was one of the first times that we were in what felt like a formal class setting, as most of our previous learning has been done at the historical sites we've been visiting. It felt a bit strange at first, but we quickly jumped into a highly engaged discussion about the nationalism. First we had to figure out what the word "nation" means in order to understand what nationalism truly entails. A common mistake in our language is to interchangeably use the terms "nation" and "state." However, a state is technically defined as a political entity with recognized boarders and a population. A nation is a bit more difficult to define because the essence of a nation is intangible. Members of a nation share a psychological bond between each other which entails a sense of belonging, generally to a specific location. Nations can exist within and between state boarders. This is important because the term "nationalism" actually means allegiance to one's state, not necessarily to one's nation.
Really, this etymology doesn't make much sense, unless you think about the modern country as a "nation-state," or, a political entity made up of members of a distinct nation. However, states that started off as truly made up of a homogenous nation are few. For many, these feelings of nationalism towards one's state had to be fabricated - and this is where we focused our discussion.
In order to foster a sense of nationalism, governments must invent a sort of tradition for it's people. Most notably, there is a national education in which republican values are stressed. For instance, in history class in the United States, we surely get a more heroic, valorous view of the American Revolution than do the English. Generally, there is a certain national language that is taught in the primary education also. Next, governments must sponsor national holidays in which the nation-state can be celebrated. Respective independence or founding days are certainly popular throughout the world. Furthermore, governments generally construct monuments immortalizing national heroes or victories. Almost every day since I've been in Turkey, I've seen statues of Ataturk, the Father of the Turks. Lastly, there is a symbol which signifies national unity - generally a flag. Remember in your childhood when you pledged allegiance to ours every Monday thru Friday?
It is amazing to think that such an abstract notion can have such a huge impact on a nation - or should I say state? We furthered our discussion with the nature of nationalism. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I think most would point to German nationalism during the Third Reich as a horribly destructive example of the power of nationalism. Also, what does nationalism mean in a place like America, where there exist a variety of ethnicities? Does it take a common enemy to unite a state such as ours? I'm sure stocks in American flag manufacturing companies didn't take a hit after 9/11. Our conversation was really interesting, and we all look forward to more discussion on nationalism for our class tomorrow.
Our second half of class was focused on an entired different topic: Turkish Immigration and Refugees. If you have been following this blog, you might be aware that Danielle mentioned our interest as a class in the Syrian refugee crisis (plans for a fundraising scheme in North Carolina are being constructed and will be put into effect upon our arrival home). Because of this interest, our professors thought that it would be a good idea to get a PhD student from Koc to talk to us about the status of the refugees in Turkey - not just from Syria, but from from around the world. It turns out that Turkey has a - lets call it "unique" - policy when dealing with refugees. First of all, before a refugee is technically a refugee, they are labeled asylum seekers. They only become refugees once they are determined one by the UNHCR and allowed residence in a nation. Turkey is known as a transit point for asylum seekers. To clarify, Turkey only accepts refugees from Europe; people coming from anywhere in Asia or Africa must use Turkey as a waiting room before going to a third country, gerenally in Europe or North America. Understandably, essentially all refugees come from Asia or Africa (generally because of tribal discrimination)and seek refugee status in Turkey, only to discover that it is only a waiting point until another country grants it to them. Unfortunately, the waiting times for the asylum seekers in Turkey can be very long and these people often have limited liberty. For instance, the temporary refugees who are waiting in Turkey have no work permit and no help for housing. Thus, they are forced to work in the informal sector for less and must live in apartements with many others in belittling living conditions. There are currently 20,000 asylum seekers
The Koc student also showed us a short documentary about three real families who were waiting in Istanbul. It was quite heart wrenching, yet eyeopening. The characters certainly gave a grave face to the numbers and figures that the soon-to-be PhD showed us. The families lived right off Taksim, a place we had all just gone to lunch days earlier. In all, her presentation enlightened us about a misunderstood, unfortunate group of people and encouraged us to work towards assisting the displaced Syrians who have it just as bad - if not worse.