Is Turkey Becoming Westernised? A Student Investigates

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I spent most of my summer teaching English in a language school in the South West city of Adana, just an hour’s bus ride away from the Mediterranean coastline.

The heat and high humidity were certainly amongst the factors giving Adana that ‘foreign’ feel to the sun-starved Brit; nevertheless the panorama of skyscrapers could be in any city in the Western world. Yet, if you stay until dusk the mosque begins to call believers to prayer, and the visitor comes to realise that the religious aspect of the country is one that is actually quite foreign to the average Brit, and definitely not something to be ignored.

Nearly 99% of all Turkish citizens are Muslim.

This makes Islam extremely important in Turkish culture, even to the outsider. Trips on the bus earn the foreigner glances and mutters of ‘yabancı’; the Turkish word for foreigner. The translation seems to give a somewhat hostile impression, but if the foreigner is dressed appropriately for the Muslim religion, the average Adana resident is friendly and accepting of westerners in their midst.

The level of acceptance for western dress grows where tourists are becoming more and more common – Istanbul, for example, or the holiday friendly beaches of Antalya.

In such places a short summer dress would hardly get a second glance, exhibiting the increasingly open attitude of the Turks to their European neighbours.

A Turkish teenager explained to me that Turkey was very much split down the middle – east and west. The western part of the country is much more integrated into Western Europe – English is widely spoken in cities such as Istanbul and the capital, Ankara; and western dress is common amongst both sexes. The eastern areas remain very much connected with their Arabic neighbours, both in dress and traditional gender roles.

No political situation can make this division more apparent than Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Many people are anxious of the reaction of their neighbouring Arabic countries if Turkey was to join the EU – they feel it would jeopardise their habitually good relationship with their neighbours.

In such places a short summer dress would hardly get a second glance, exhibiting the increasingly open attitude of the Turks to their European neighbours.

The political leader Ataturk, who was Originally a soldier in the Turkish army, he went on to become the first president of Turkey, providing the Turks with a Roman Alphabet, forward thinking economic policies and rights for women.

Ataturk’s memorial site in Ankara atracts visitors form all over Turkey.

Amongst the wide range of people I encountered in Turkey none had a bad word to say about this leader that moved their nation away from the traditions of the Ottoman Empire.

It seems from an outsider’s point of view that Ataturk westernised Turkey. Does this mean the Turkish people welcome the Western influence? No doubt some do, but the admiration of Ataturk does not lead to admiration of the Western culture. The country remains diverse and it is impossible to bring them to a consensus.

It is impossible to classify Turkey, and counterproductive to see it as ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them.’ It is a truly wonderful placet to sit back and observe. With so many varying cultures under one roof, Turkey really is a country I reccommend anyone to visit.

Libby was an exchange participant, sent to work in Adana from AIESEC Southampton. Find the AIESEC committee at the bunfight; on Facebook ‘AIESEC Southampton Work Abroad Programme’; or email
vpogxsouthampton@gmail.co

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