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Murat Belge

Murat is the editor of Iletisim Publishing House and Head of the Department of Comparative Literature at Istanbul Bilgi University.

Caitlin Morrissey

What is the DNA of Istanbul?


Murat Belge

Well, it's often said Istanbul was the capital of three empires, which is quite correct, except that the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire are really the same thing. The nomination Byzantine was invented around the 18th century by generally German historians. So the people living in so-called Byzantium did not realise that they were Byzantines. They thought they were Romans. And then comes, of course, the Ottoman Empire.


Why is it the case that this this position as the centre of an empire continues for, what, 2000 years, something like that? Well, we know that Constantine the Great was looking for a place to have a new city, which would be the capital of East Roman Empire. And at first, he was trying to find the ruins of Troy because Troy had this great renown, thanks to mainly Homer, but also other figures of the classical ages. But then he gave up the search for Troy and decided to have this new city in Istanbul. Now, what could have changed his mind? Because these are two straits that link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, which is important enough that here, Istanbul had the Golden Horn, the like of which did not exist on the Dardanelles. And the Golden Horn was a perfectly safe haven at all weathers, at all seasons.


So I think that made the change in his mind. Now, of course, these are important economically and consequently politically, militarily, etc. But they also have the aesthetic aspect and this kind of connection, being connected with water, which is a beautifier of cities in general, takes on really incredible shapes in the city of Istanbul. I mean, you have the straits, you have the Black Sea in the North Sea of Marmara in the south, and there is this inlet called the Golden Horn. There are certain streams such as water and the symbol of a very significant Connection. And so it's understandable why this geographical importance and at the same time, this aesthetic superiority should give this sort of long life to this city.


What I find also significant is that, I mean, we're talking about capital of empire, and capital of empire implies pomp and splendour. No, but Istanbul is not like that. It's not pompous at all. It's a very modest and friendly city. So, I mean, the advantages of its DNA do not really create problems of a different kind. And these are the ones I can think of as somebody in it.


Caitlin Morrissey

OK, yes, that was a fantastic answer. Thank you. And why do you think Istanbul is modest, given its role as the capital of the Empire for so long?


Murat Belge

Well, one reason – I always thought of this or played with this idea. Now, when you go around to the great cities in the world, especially in the Western world, you'll see that such a lot was done during the 19th century and this is directly connected to the industrial revolution. And think of Paris. There's not much in Paris that remains from pre-19th century. There's Cluny and a few other things, St-Denis, a few places like that. But Paris would not be like the Paris that we know without Napoleon III, without his Mayor Haussmann. There's all these avenues, the Garnier, the opera house. And you can sort of see similar things in Vienna, the old city walls that were erased, and then the Ringstrasse is founded by Franz Joseph, again, mid-19th century, because the industrial revolution gives a new and fantastic impetus for urbanisation. And so many cities in the West, as a rule, have the sort of monumental, picturesque side, you know, the Eiffel Tower, the city and the bridge in Budapest, all these things remaining from the 19th century.


And when we come to Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, the 19th century is a disastrous time, because the Ottoman Empire is totally out of this movement of the industrial revolution and is getting poorer and poorer and getting weaker and weaker militarily at the same time. So there is nothing that's the kind of new splendour that you can find in many European cities. You don't find them. Or the States, the skyscrapers in central Chicago or New York. Nothing, nothing like that in in Istanbul. And I think that is a total basis for what I call the modesty of the city. So in a way, the poverty I've been talking about has also been beneficial for Istanbul, because I like it that way. It's not boastful like so many other cities we see that have enjoyed the advantages of the Industrial Revolution.


Greg Clark

Murat, it's Greg here. May I just ask you to say a little bit more about this idea of modesty? Because some people talk about Istanbul as having a sadness to it. Others talk about the idea of Istanbul having a kind of honesty to it. When you say modesty, how does this reflect itself in the society and in the culture of the city?


Murat Belge

Well, actually, when you talk about present-day Turkey, you cannot help seeing something which is not modest in the sense that I'm talking about. There is inevitably the remembrance of a mighty empire at one time, including Turks. People all over the world sort of resemble each other in some ways, do not resemble each other in other ways, but I find something similar between the Turkish attitude and mentality with that of the British. In this respect, people of an empire know there is something, a kind of self-confidence and also a lack of curiosity to get to know other people. I find this in in Britain and I find this in Turkey as well.


So now I've started by saying the opposite of what I've been saying earlier. There is this kind of lack of modesty, but at the same time, from Empire, Turkey developed into a rather poor country. And that was the sort of the reality of the present time. And I suppose that creates a kind of duality of attitude. I mean, you feel that you are the descendant of powerful people, but at the same time, you look around and say "Alas, where has all that gone?" And this sort of – shall I call it a paradox or a contradiction? – I think contributes to a human attitude.


And it's not just, you know, it's not just A, it's not just B, it's A and B together. There's some complexity and some tension between these different attitudes. Yet it is, at the same time, and eastern Mediterranean city of. Great importance, whether it is poor or not. What we used to call the Iron Curtain countries, end of the 80s and the 90s, that the regime was gone, et cetera, and all of a sudden people from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, etc, started coming to Istanbul to trade for this and that. The Bulgarians used to call Istanbul Tsarigrad, the city of the Tsar. And after all that communist period, you saw Bulgarians coming to Tsarigrad once more. But it was not just the Balkans, people from Kazakhstan, whatever started coming here. So the city is a sort of – it goes through the different periods, different customs and this and that. But it has a sort of basic character which is there, and it can be revived, you know, once the conditions are suitable for that kind of thing.


And this eastern Mediterranean city, like many or maybe we can say all Mediterranean cities, has a kind of savoir-vivre, a Mediterranean style of living. So I don't quite agree with people who call Istanbul a sad city. It does have its sort of – in a physical sense, a sort of a triste colour, especially in winter, a sort of lavenderish kind of colour, and it can look sad, but it never is really sad. It's always throbbing, always energetic, always ready to have some fun.


And all these qualities together contribute to what I call the modesty of Istanbul. It's a city of people who socialise, who become friends very soon and they want to enjoy life. In the 60s when I was quite young, and Istanbul was much poorer. I used to go around to the poorer districts-- strange houses, sort of lean-to kind of dwellings without a proper door, without proper windows. But then, say, there will be geraniums. Not in flowerpots, because those also cost money, but in a sort of used oil can or some strange thing like that. And I loved to see this because in spite of all the poverty and this and that, these people had the energy to raise their flowers. This is the kind of thing in general.


Greg Clark

So, Murat, I'm enjoying so much what you're saying. I get the impression of a combination of a wonderful appetite for life coupled with a modesty of resources producing a kind of ingenuity that is pleasant to see because it has humour in it. And it has a surrealism and banality as well as being an expression of urban life.


Murat Belge

Yes. Yes. Very good. Very good.


Greg Clark

Thank you.


Murat Belge

You expressed it much better than I did.


Greg Clark

No, no. I'm listening to you and enjoying what you say, and I really hear you. And your point about the colour of the city and the lilac quality, the grey-blue feeling is very important. Caitlin has a lot of good questions, especially about inventions and myths and misconceptions. But I have one question I want to ask you, which is about the relationship between Istanbul and Turkey because something that you have said in the last ten minutes is about Istanbul as a great cosmopolitan and imperial city but something, also, about Istanbul as part of a kind of poverty or a modesty of Turkey. And I wonder, is Istanbul really a Turkish city? Does the Turkish people really love Istanbul? What is that relationship?


Murat Belge

Yes, good question. I wanted to touch on this topic anyway. Now, I'll start by making a surprising, probably, comparison between New York and Istanbul. There's nothing similar physically speaking, of course, and I think New York is the one city in the world that a child can sort of imitate with building blocks, and you can't say the same thing about Istanbul at all. There is something psychological-- kind of similarity because when you say the United States of America, the image that sort of comes through your mind is largely modelled on New York, and when people say New York, then, of course, immediately you think of the United States of America. And it's very similar in Istanbul. People know about Istanbul who don't know much about Turkey. So when you say Turkey, the kind of image that can arise in one's mind is firstly about Istanbul. Okay, but then the funny thing is that New York is the least American city in America, and Istanbul is the least Turkish city in Turkey; although, they are both sort of symbols of their country. There's, again, something paradoxical here.


Now, in Turkey, if we come to Istanbul again, there is this saying: “the stone and the earth in Istanbul are gold”. Now, this is sort of primarily an economic approach. When you can manage to get yourself into Istanbul, then you will become wealthy and again, similar in New York, I would say. And the result of that, the population in both cities are not really natives with a long tradition of being Istanbulites or something like that; most of them are newcomers and do not really know much about the city. I have experienced this a lot, you know. I ask someone to find a certain place, and they don't know. Then I happen to find it in the next street, you know, but the man who lives on this street doesn't know what there is in the next one. So it is the symbol of your country in Turkey, but at the same time, you are quite alien in it.


And although the best of everything is to be found in Istanbul-- you know, in the town of Kayseri, they make this kind of sausage or salami, but the best you'll find in Istanbul because it's immediately sent here, much better than what you'll find in the city that produces it. So in that sense, it's like a summary of the rest of the country. But at the same time, although it's sort of sought after for the economic reasons - the stones are golden, affectionately speaking - you also encounter a lot of envy and sort of dislike coming from other regions. And as I say, a lot of these people are newcomers to the city, but when you ask them, do you like Istanbul, they say no. So, I mean, these are strange but very interesting.

Greg Clark

It is very interesting, Murat, because I recognize what you say about New York, and you can also, in a certain way, say some things like this about London as well, in a funny way, but it's a very interesting point. Murat, I'm keen to hear what you have to say on so many questions, so let's go back to Caitlin for the next question.


Caitlin Morrissey

Well, Murat, why don't we go on to the question, then, about myths that unite the people in the city followed by misconceptions that people have about the city? Because I think that might link to the point you were making about people disliking it when they arrive. Do they eventually come to like it when they understand it more?


Murat Belge

Well, I'm not sure. I don't think so. And the funny thing is - one of the funny things - people know the city through their professional career because they have to learn it. It's not an easy city to live in, and if you're a newcomer from some Anatolian region, I'm sure you'll find a lot of competition. You'll find it difficult to cope with the urbanistic problems of living in a city like Istanbul with its incredible traffic, which make life difficult, especially when you don't have enough money. So there is this-- I mean, the difficulty of survival-- people learn what is absolutely vital for them to live on, and they don't care about the rest.


In my publishing house, we used to have a sort of young woman working, and she answered the phones. Then one day, she said that her brother had seen the sea for the first time. He was about 14 years old, living in one of the shantytown districts of Istanbul. I was amazed to hear this. She said their grandfather took her brother on a sort of national holiday time and brought him to the real city. And there, at 14-- he had been living 14 years in Istanbul. He was born in what is called Istanbul but seeing the sea for the first time. I mean, this is amazing.


But again, I have this obsession with New York. I remember asking a Chinese waiter in one building about the nearest place where we can have tea. And so he came to the door with us and showed with his finger and said, "That big building. That big building. There you can find tea." And the big building he was talking about was the Rockefeller Centre, but he didn't know the Rockefeller Centre. So the big city is a sort of incredibly complex web of mysteries and quite beyond the reach of a lot of these people who are trying to survive in the city. And, of course, this affects the way they get familiar with the city. It's not what I would call being familiar.


Greg Clark

And, Murat, may I ask you, is it commonly recognised by lots of people in Istanbul that, in a certain way, they are strangers in their own city, that the city is not very legible to them, that, in a sense, people share this experience of not knowing the city they live in? Or is this somehow unconscious and not really stated?


Murat Belge

Well, it is sort of getting more and more of a-- sort of information about life in Istanbul. Now, all the time throughout history, people tried to come to the big city and this created problems of differing size, let's say, in history. But in the second half of the 20th century, Istanbul was receiving something like 500,000 people a year from the countryside.


At that time, say, any small town, half-rural, half-urban in Anatolia, say, town of Kastamonu-- a man comes from Kastamonu and finds a place that nobody seems to care about where he can build his own house. And there's this name, gecekondu, in Turkish, which means landed or lit at night because according to law, once you put a roof on your dwelling, then legally, it becomes very difficult for any authority to come and demolish it. So people built up, you know, some sort of dwelling you could hardly call a house, but they put on the roof as soon as possible.


Okay, this man comes from Kastamonu, he builds his gecekondu, as we call it, and then as he sort of communicates with his own place, two other people from Kastamonu come and build houses near his house. And then in a few years, you get an entire quarter of people from Kastamonu. Now, this means they are in this strange, frightening big city, but they're all from Kastamonu and know each other, and they have their settled customs and this and that, so it's not so traumatic.


But then, of course, life changes, and there's money in this housing field, so other people come in, mafioso people come in, and so you cannot have people from Kastamonu living together in one, say, apartment house. The ground floor is the guy from the Black Sea, the second floor, someone from the Kurdish area. And in this country, in this society, which did not evolve into a nation-state in a sort of normal way-- it's, of course, difficult to define what is normal but there is not this-- local identities are important, still, in Turkey. So if you are from the Black Sea and your neighbour is from a Mediterranean city, which we call the White Sea, then you don't really trust your neighbour. I mean, you wouldn't want your wife to associate with them because they might have bad designs on her. I mean, this kind of thing. So this creates a more traumatic way of life.


Maybe the people all from Kastamonu takes a much longer time for them to urbanise. And maybe the second model forces them to become Istanbulites of a kind in a shorter time but I'm sure in a much more unhappy way, full of traumas and pains of all kinds.


Greg Clark

Yes, Murat, you're saying something very beautiful, actually, but also very challenging about the reluctance of the urbanisation process: people coming to Istanbul because they must, not because they want to, necessarily, and you're talking about the traumas. In a sense, we're talking about the paranoias, the frictions and the tensions of this kind of urbanisation which is compelled but not always chosen. And I think it's very interesting, the question as to whether Istanbul can socialise these people into some kind of common purpose or unified idea or whether you just live with this fragmented psychology of the city. Is Istanbul, in the end, able to create a common identity, a sense of belonging or not?


Murat Belge

Well, of course, we can only generalise on such questions. But, yes, I mean, a lot of people performs this kind of function. They do become Istanbulites of a kind. I mean, you can sort of be in a taxi, and the taxi driver is shouting at someone, who is sort of walking on the streets instead of the pavement, and saying, "Hey, you guy. This is Istanbul; we don't walk that way." But from his accent, you can tell that it's not been 10 years since he came to Istanbul himself. So in these ways, people do get into some sort of unity of feeling, common aspirations, maybe.


Unfortunately, still, I mean, you don't have the sort of necessary or-- I don't want to say necessary, but the desired kind of cultural affinity with the past of the city and, really, the treasures it still has as a result of this long, long history. These people do not have a taste, they don't have an eye for this kind of thing, but they do get more or less socialised in some way. You go to cemeteries - it's funny - and in the tombstones, which are written in the new language, the Latin alphabet, the people born in Istanbul lying in the cemetery are really a very, very small minority. The great majority were born elsewhere.


But the city sort of has its rhythm still. Again, in pre-20th-century times, when moving into the city was controlled and limited, then the city had a much greater pedagogic ability to educate people in some way. But in the 20th century, with all this huge migration, then, of course, the city is quite helpless; they cannot cope with so many people. And so we are somewhere in the middle, yes? After all, the physical conditions, the material conditions tend to create this sort of common identity.


But at the moment, I'd say it's still culturally very deficient. And I mean, like this example, again, the taxi driver yelling at someone, accusing him of not being enough of an Istanbulite, I mean, this is not the best human sentiment, so there is all that kind of selfishness, in the kind of new identity that the city creates, especially with the sort of cultural deficiency I'm talking about at the same time.


Greg Clark

It's very interesting, Murat, what you say, because it's reminding me a lot of Sao Paolo and Mexico City and Shanghai--


Murat Belge

Yes, I am sure.


Greg Clark

Yes, because this is these cities of great migration. Now, I know that Caitlin wants to ask questions about traumas and shocks and inventions and leaders, but I'm afraid I'm going to ask you another question which is about, you know-- one of the theories I'm developing, listening to you and to other people and reading much more about Istanbul, is that Istanbul's, you know, greatest legacy may be that it was the first truly cosmopolitan city in the world. And I suppose what I want to know from you is whether you think this is true or a meaningful phrase, but also, what has happened to Istanbul's cosmopolitan nature? Because what you have described in the last 10 or 15 minutes is not really a cosmopolitan city, but it is a city of migration and migrants. But I wonder if there is also the cosmopolitan city still there as well.


Murat Belge

Yeah. Well, we're talking about the Ottoman Empire. And when you're talking about an empire, by definition, it tends to be cosmopolitan - different ethnicities, different religions, all under the authority of one emperor - and it was like that, of course, in the Ottoman Empire as well. Nowadays, when you go to any big, modern city - city like Frankfurt, say - it sort lives as a hub of so many different types of relationships. I'm sure you can find something like a Rastafarian church in Frankfurt because it's this big hub and this big city. And people from all over the world in this highly internationalised world, they come to the big cities.


Now, in Istanbul, you have many churches and many synagogues, for instance, Jews from Georgia at their synagogue or Jews from Italy at their special synagogue. There's a Bulgarian church, several Protestant churches, one Dutch, the other, German evangelical. And in the millet system - the so-called millet system which, verbally, means nation system, but it's not really nation in the modern sense, but communities - the Ottoman states - itself, piously Muslim - had this sort of agreement and mode of coexistence with the different communities living within the empire. So in that sense, the Gregorian Armenians were one nation, but the Catholic Armenians were another nation, and then came the Protestant Armenians, still another nation. And then the Arabs, the Circassians, the Pomacks, Bosniaks, they were, again, all of them, one nation because they were all Muslim-- this kind of social organisation on sort of a religious basis.


Now, in Istanbul, you'll find all these different churches, as I say, but they are not like my supposed Rastafarian church in Frankfurt, a product of the 20th century. They were there in the 17th century and 16th century because it was always like this here. It's not a modern development; it's a pre-modern situation in itself.


So as you say, it was cosmopolitan because there were also trade and other things going on, and so there was always a non-citizen crowd of people living most of their lives in the city, the Levantines, as they were called. And in Turkish, we have a funny and nice name for them. Franc means-- it comes from French, but it means foreigner, in general. Someone from the West is a Franc. And there were these mixtures of Italian, Greek, Armenian, Spanish living, and they were called the Sweetwater Franc. So they are not marine Francs but sort of lake version of them. So they contributed to this sort of cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. They lived mainly in Pera district, not so much in the historical city.


But then there were, of course, the native minorities like Greeks, Armenians. And Mehmed II, after conquering the Byzantine capital, he invited people because the city was going to pieces. The population had come down to something like maybe 50,000, and he was eager to make it the thriving capital of the empire. But he invited not just Turks - he invited some Turks as well - but he invited Greeks, he invited Armenians. So in this new Istanbul, in the new Turkish Ottoman Muslim Istanbul, the Armenians and the Greeks were part of the founding fathers of the new city. It was founded on this multi-ethnic, multi-religious basis.


And again, the 19th-century age of nationalism, this was eroded as we come to the tragic events of the 20th century. Not the main Armenian massacre, which was directed more, in particular, towards the Armenians living in Anatolia, not so much in Istanbul, probably because that would be too visible and obvious. So the targets are just some intellectuals living in Istanbul. Anyway, then comes the 1965 events that are directed against the Greeks and so all these people had to leave.


In the 1820s, when Greece was this newly independent country with a German king, the first capital was a small town, coming to the Peloponnesus. But then people, like Byron, who was dead by then, Europeans, who were pro-Greek because of the glorious cultural Greek past, all kept on saying, "Why don't you revive Athens as your capital?" including the German king. And so around the 1830s, they decided to have Athens as the capital. And Athens had a population, something like 7,000, maybe, altogether and of the 7,000, a lot of ethnic Albanians brought here by the Ottomans to kill the Greek mutineers. And at this time, more than 150,000 Greeks were living in Izmir, and more than 200,000 Greeks were living in Istanbul. And this is a really very interesting, very strange and also very tragic kind of history. So now, we don't have that contingent of the population living in the city any longer.


A lot of the Jews-- the Jews were not very prosperous people, and a lot of them left when Israel was established; they felt that they could have better luck if they went there. So we had around 100,000 Jews living in Istanbul. Now, it's something like 20,000, 25,000. And the biggest minority population is the Armenians now. The Greeks have become sort of antiques. Out of the 200,000 I mentioned, I'm not sure if there are 2,000 now living here.


But Istanbul is still a centre, in many senses, on many levels. So, again, it invites people from all over the world. And again, the Pera part and then way north following the Bosphorus are the new places for these newcomers. Some of them come for a short visit; some for a longer stay. And the old city was, in a way, a hostel for people from East Europe. And in shops, on the shop window, you started seeing writing in the Cyrillic alphabet to sort of communicate with these new people. So in some ways, it still is a cosmopolitan. Can be called a city where they-- are not too big cosmopolitan side to it, but it's not what it used to be, certainly.


Greg Clark

Murat, thank you so much for taking us through that. I mean, it's a very vivid history, and it has some of this sadness in it as well. I know that Caitlin has three other questions to ask you: one about inventions and discoveries, one about traumas and shocks, and another one about leaders. So I'm going to invite her to continue the questions. And I'm sorry to slow you down, but I'm really enjoying everything you say.


Murat Belge

Thank you. Thank you.


Caitlin Morrissey

And so am I. Thank you, Murat. So one of the final questions we have is about influential leaders in Istanbul from any period in time. And I wonder, who stands out in your mind?


Murat Belge

Well, I started my narration of Istanbul and the fact of the empire and being the capital of an empire has its obvious advantages but also disadvantages. The main disadvantage I can think of is, by definition, empires don't like critical thought. Because if you have a tradition of critical thought, it's bound to turn against you, become a criticism of power. So in that sense, there wasn't much intellectual freedom, let's say, and this doesn't change whether it's the Roman era or the Ottoman era. You don't have sort of realistic kind of literature, let's say. Again, the same thing: if you are realistic in literature, then, I mean, you're bound to be critical.


And among the fine arts, of course, painting and sculpture don't agree with Islam, or vice versa, Islam doesn't agree with them. So there wasn't much of a tradition of the visual arts. Music was all right. It's a kind of music, very foreign, very far from the European or Western musical taste and also technology. But in itself, it was-- it's now, of course, over. Although people are trying to revive it or continue it, it's not the same thing anymore. But the Ottoman classical music was very fine because music, after all, was the most abstract of the fine arts. But now, of course, in the Republican era, although Ankara was chosen as the capital and the politicians were there, parliament was there, the intellectual centre was Istanbul, and it still is.


For some years, Istanbul has become a more eager receiver of culture, let's say. Like the Eczacibasi Cultural Festival: it's an international cultural festival with the best orchestras, very good theatres. Very important films are shown in Istanbul. And so as consumers of culture, Istanbul has developed a lot. But as producers of culture, still, the fertile period is not here, but I'm sure it will come and not very far from today. It is my feeling. So these are the sort of general things I can say about the intellectual atmosphere and the artistic atmosphere.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Murat. That's very, very helpful. The second question we have is about discoveries and inventions that have been made in Istanbul and particularly those with a world-changing impact.


Murat Belge

Well, in the Roman times, inventions like the Roman fire. They were using petrol, I'm sure, in some way; we still don't know. Archaeologists now probably know the ingredients of the so-called Roman fire, which could burn on water, so it was a deadly weapon against ships, but they don't know how they were used, the proportions and also the method of bringing these things together. The same with the cement they used in architecture. We know the elements involved in it, but we don't know-- I mean, we know that eggs were used to make this cement more sticky, but did they cook them, how did they mix it with the rest? We don't know. These are still some secrets from Roman times.


In the Ottoman times, Istanbul soon became a consumer city. Like what I was saying about culture in the modern era: rather than being producers, they were consumers of what was invented or produced outside. Take a story like the Jews coming from Spain after the fall of Granada. The Ottoman sultan made a formal invitation to them. Not so much to the Arabs, who also had to leave Spain, but especially the Jews because the Jews were very good in dyes, in weaving. They were also good with some other - some of them surprising - unexpected fields like naval artillery, or, you know, building guns to be used in ships.


So, I mean, this is also part of the cosmopolitan question: we were inviting people, and this went on, I mean, on very different occasions. Not the same pattern. I mean, the Jews from Spain, this is one story, but then there are Hungarian refugees, Polish refugees who are forced to leave their country, which is the Austrian empire, in general, or the Russian for political reasons. And Istanbul is inviting them and, you know, welcoming them, and this kept up the non-Turkish, not-native Istanbulite population.


But there was one man in the 17th century who wanted to fly but did he invent? Now, these Turkish people talk about him as the inventor of the aeroplane. This is not the case because he was not inventing an engine which would make travel in the air; he just made wings. So I will say maybe he was the inventor of the parachute but not the aeroplane. Not many cases like this. The city was usually devastated by fires, and in the 18th century, there was this new invention for pumping water and then squirting the water on the house on fire. It worked with a special mechanism. The man who invented this was called Davud Gercek Aga. Davud which is the Turkish version of David. And actually, the guy was a French guy called Davud.


So, I mean, we were sort of importing inventors, but not really producing them. I remember an old socialist proletarian friend of mine. We were talking one day, and he said, "We are no good." He said, "See these people, these Western people? They invented the steam engine; we have only invented the hookah pipe." He said this was a very production-friendly Marxist approach, of course. I don't quite agree with that, but, I mean, this is something that summarises what happened on that area in Istanbul.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Murat.


Murat Belge

Pleasure-loving city and not very intellectually keen about new inventions.


Caitlin Morrissey

That's very well understood. Thank you. The very final question we have is about - I think you've already mentioned some of these already - the shocks and traumas in Istanbul's history and most importantly, I guess, the lessons that it has learned over time from these.


Murat Belge

Well, there were constant disturbances like the fires that I mentioned and also earthquakes. Istanbul is built on a fault line, and so an earthquake is not something unusual or unexpected in the city. Every century, there is one major big earthquake, so we are expecting one. Experts, who probably know what they're talking about, they keep on warning us about the coming earthquake. The fires-- well, people built houses out of wood, especially the Turkish citizens of the city, because they were afraid of earthquake but also because it was more economic and also because it accorded well with the climate here which is lukewarm, which is not too cold, so you don't need to-- you don't need stone houses. But, of course, building out of wood, that meant fires. And especially when there was a northerly wind, the fire spread to quite large, wide areas. Sometimes we had very harsh winter. There was one when the water of the Golden Horn was frozen, and people could walk on ice to the other side. I remember, when I was a child in the '50s, small icebergs floating down the Bosporus.


But of course, we're talking about traumas. It's not so much natural catastrophes, but human catastrophes. And had several sieges of Istanbul in Roman and Byzantine times. Only one was successful before the Ottoman conquest, and this was the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The crusaders, instead of going to Palestine, decided to conquer Constantinople instead. And so this was the time that the Latin kingdom was established, and it really created deep hostility between the East and the Western Christianity at that time. In modern times, with the invention of nationalism, there were the sort of massacres that I mentioned and sort of ugly riots, sort of looting in 1965. Yeah. Well, these are the traumas that I can remember now.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Murat, for recounting that history for us. I don't want to take up much more of your time because I know that we've been speaking for over an hour. But for me, the question is, how have they impacted Istanbul's character, and what lessons has it taken away from these in terms of how it may prepare for future experiences of adversity that may come its way?


Greg Clark

And I suppose, Murat, the question is, does this constant fear of earthquakes and this occasional memory of fires and the sieges and conquests and everything-- does this contribute to this modesty that you spoke about at the beginning, or how does it manifest in the psychology of the city?


Murat Belge

Well, the fires are largely forgotten now; we didn't have major fires in recent history. The purging of the non-Muslim minorities doesn't quite contribute to the modesty I have on my mind; it's quite the opposite actually. But it was not the people who was-- I’m talking about the 1965 looting-- This was one of the results of tension with Greece over Cyprus. And the main shopping grounds were looted by people who were not really citizens of Istanbul, and so people who were not brought up with the Istanbul culture, this level of cosmopolitanism. I think these are in the sort of-- well, the kind of history or tradition or whatever that we prefer to forget about. Although, there is a sizeable right-wing portion of the population who are quite proud, unfortunately, for such happenings, and they sort of make a defence of that. And this is false modesty, let me say. To justify such behaviour, you have to victimise yourself; you have to believe that you are victimised by someone. But that is not the kind of modesty that I mean. This is totally false modesty. 


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