“Izmir is not Turkey” is a sentence I heard numerous times already. What does it mean? It means that the city of Izmir does not represent the whole country regarding traditions, values, religion and viewpoints. It is the most ‘Western’, most European city of Turkey, they say. “You are so lucky to be here.”
Before I moved to Izmir, I only visited Istanbul a couple of times, and Istanbul being a metropolis, I didn’t feel that Turkey is a religion-driven country. Then I came to Izmir and I felt it even less. I started to believe Turkey is modern, liberal and (kind of) foreigner-friendly.
Then, I started to travel. As I was going deeper and deeper into the central area of the country towards Kayseri, the portraits of Ataturk so generously hung over all the possible walls in houses, restaurants and public institutions in Izmir, started to disappear, and the ones of Erdogan started to appear, along with rural landscapes and women’s headscarfs.
People started to stare more, and the overall atmosphere took a different turn that I didn’t fancy as much. All in all, I felt the difference.
Turkey is somewhat like a bridge between Arab culture and European one. The ‘center of the world’ in the old times, and now a peculiar land with really specific and special customs, ways of behavior and stunning landscapes. It is no wonder that two big cultures that clash on its each side caused it to embrace both identities, sometimes divided geographically, sometimes divided between people, and sometimes in the people themselves.
Izmir is the city that embraced the European culture. Not totally, of course, because you can still feel the spirit and heartfulness typical only for Turks, the way of thinking and kindness that I have seen only here.
For me, Izmir is the capital. The reason is very simple. It feels like home, but not quite. It feels like I’m in Europe, but it’s not cold (neither streets nor hearts). Somehow everything is a little bit broken, but it works. The values of its citizens are close to my own. And while I am staying in Izmir, I am only somewhat in Turkey, and I realize that every time I leave it – and then I am thrilled to go back.