Cats of Istanbul: A Fragmented Society’s Last Bit of Hope for Healing

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The movie Kedi is finally on screen in Santa Barbara! I have been looking forward to watching it for the last few months, though I was also worried that it might disappoint me somehow, which is partially my fault. It simply meant more than a movie for me – more like a test for whether I missed home, and if I did, how much. A little? A lot? Not at all? When a think about it though, it seems quite unfair to cast the burden of my internal conflicts on a mere movie rather than facing them myself.

As my friend Emily and I were waiting on line, the poster caught my attention: a cat, having closed it eyes, in peace with everything happening around, or maybe just indifferent, having turned its face right at me… I could not stare back for too long, as the comfort and guilt of being away from my homeland in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty slowly began to cast its shadow on my cheerful mood. We headed inside after buying out tickets.

There were around 20 people inside, which filled me with a strange sense of pride. After a few trailers, the magnificent aerial view of Istanbul filled my eyes with tears, greeting and welcoming me back to the city I have called home for the last 23 years. For the first time in six months, I heard people other than my friends and family speak English. I did not even need to read the subtitles to understand what was going on! I let a few more drops of tears roll down my face, not giving a damn about ruining my black eyeliner. Following this, my emotional roller coaster began the second I heard the song Arkadaşım Eşşek by Barış Manço, accompanying Sari, who was walking on the streets among people’s legs, begging for food to feed her kittens. (I advise you to play the song while reading the rest of the post.)

First, I have to say this movie tells a story beyond seven colorful (both literally and personally) cats with unique personalities, Bengü, Psikopat, Duman, Aslan Parçası, Sarı, Gamsız and Deniz. Even if you don’t like cats but have already been to or want to visit Istanbul some time, I can assure you that this movie will deliver a facet of the city you can never experience as a tourist or a short-term resident. You will not only witness the lives of cats but also realize that our fears, worries, challenges are one – not as humans, but as creatures that roam this world, searching for a purpose to survive. You’ll also come to realize that preserving the identity of a city is not merely about protecting your individual or political identity. It is also about respecting and protecting the urban space of another species – seeing them as equal – that has been around since the Roman Empire. You might also find yourself capturing the commonalities with the cats as you begin to see them as equals with the human residents of Istanbul – parenthood, jealousy, laziness, loyalty, independence, freedom and death. As the woman in the movie put it: “If we can solve their problems, we can solve ours too.”

Yet, the Kedi movie helped me notice something more crucial than the urban problems: We are a fragmented society, the Turks. We are disconnected, broken, divided. We either genuinely do not care about “the other” or intentionally ignore their presence, and I do not know which is worse. For example, I need to confess something: At the beginning of the movie, when the owner of a sweatshop was talking about the cat he has been caring for more than even years, I found myself wondering whether the guy was a supporter of AKP (the current ruling party of Turkey) and felt so embarrassed. I began to wonder since when I cared more about someone’s political affiliation more than their humanity, essence and good deeds. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Many people in Turkey has adopted this attitude and I have been seeing a similar pattern in the United States since Trump got elected. And I am ashamed of letting political identities dominate how I perceive people and the world.

The Kedi movie was very special for helping me with this realization. I spent the first half hour trying to clear my conscience but the rest of the movie gave me so much hope, making me believe that I could heal, we could heal and my country could heal. As the movie was approaching the end, I not only connected with the cats but also with the humans who shared the stories of those cats. I left the “Us. vs them?” question aside and focused on the problems, worries, cat stories, and heart wrenching and happy anecdotes of these people I shared my city with. I watched seven cats with unique characters through the eyes of humans who I have probably never seen before and would have never met otherwise.

The Kedi movie is not only a feast for the eyes or a 70-minute-long video clip of cute cat videos. It is the story of details that define Istanbul. It is the story of people who found meaning, happiness and salvation in the cats of Istanbul. It is the collective story of a bunch of unrelated people with no commonalities other than cats.

The Kedi movie is perhaps the last bit of hope for a fragmented society that it can heal its soul and become one again despite the darkness and desperation it has been stuck in for more than a decade.

You can find the screening details and pre-order a digital copy (release date is November 14, 2017) of the movie for $14.50 on the website of Kedi.

Image credit: Kedi


As a Turkish Citizen, I Have No Sympathy for the Turkish Protesters in the Netherlands

Important: This blog has been moved to a new website, The Justice Journey. Please visit the new address to access the most recent content.

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These two weeks have been a bumpy ride, to say the least, for the Turkish government in terms of foreign policy. First, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacked Germany, calling them Nazis, and now he did the same for the Netherlands following the cancellation of the Foreign Minister’s plane’s landing permit and the deportation of the Minister of Family to Germany. (Yes, we have a ministry that regulates family life)

Normally, I try to conduct more in-depth analysis but this time, my emotions are taking over my logic The problem is, my friends, the Turkish government now claims that Europe has turned into a tyranny, infused in authoritarianism, for doing what it already does to its own citizens on a daily basis. This disgusting hypocrisy made my sympathy completely diminish for Dutch-Turks, who gathered around the Turkish Embassy in Rotterdam and protested the Dutch government’s decision and then were attacked and dispersed by the Dutch police and water cannons.

I am truly sorry, but I have a hard time keeping the moral high ground here. I will not defend the Dutch government’s actions, but it is impossible from my moral standpoint to regard the protesters as anything other than hypocrites. Here is why:

  • Any kind of sympathy for the Turkish government is sympathy for their methods of crushing opposition and jailing politicians, journalists, academics, intellectuals by labeling them “terrorists”.
  • Even if you have no sympathy for the Turkish government but solely defend the ministers’ freedom of speech, you have to understand that they will not only simply exercise their free speech rights. They are campaigning for a referendum that proposes amendments in the constitution, which will give the Turkish president unlimited powers such as dismantling the parliament any time he wants, unlimited executive order authority and the power to appoint judges to or remove them from the Supreme Court. Furthermore, their campaign rhetoric is based on targeting the “No” voters, academics and intellectuals, accusing them of treason to the country and supporting terrorism. Because of this, every time they open their mouths, they jeopardize the safety of my friends and family.
  • The protesters in Rotterdam are dual citizens, who will most probably vote “Yes” in the referendum, validating the unlimited power granted to the president and legitimizing future oppression on Erdoğan’s dissidents. While these people enjoy their most basic rights, high-quality education and welfare systems in countries like Germany, the Netherlands and other Northern European countries, they relentlessly support a tyranny that strips the very same rights and opportunities off the Turkish citizens.
  • It is only funny to hear that most of these people do not want to return and live in Turkey, although they praise the leadership of Erdoğan and power of Turkey on every single occasion and platform. Well, if they like Turkey this much, then what stops these people from coming back?
  • While these protesters praise Erdoğan for cracking down on “traitors” “inner enemies” and “terrorists”, why are they so pissed, yelling about democracy values, when the Dutch government treats them the same way?

All political games and democracy values aside, as someone who has suffered at the hands of the Turkish government, I have no sympathy for their supporters who for the first time taste their own medicine and experience what it feels like to be oppressed just for having a stance on a cause that matters to them. Although this does not justify the Dutch police’s actions, I still have a glimpse of hope that maybe, maybe, this experience will be eye-opening for them, now that they have a first-hand experience with everything we have been already going through since the last decade.

What do you think about this ongoing diplomatic crisis? Can you sympathize for the protesters, unlike me? You can share your opinion in the comments.

Featured image credit: Carlos Latuff

Update (March 13, 2017): I understand the criticism directed to this post that there is a very diverse Turkish community in the Netherlands, which is true and should never be forgotten. Being Turkish/Dutch or Turkish/German or Turkish/X does not equate to being an Erdoğan supporter and this kind of a reductive narrative only empowers the dangerous rhetoric of ultra-nationalists like Geert Wilders. The sole focus of this post, however, is the Euro-Turkish citizens who support and protest in the name of Erdoğan. So, I had to limit my scope and could not mention the rest of the Turkish community. But I welcome the chance to share your experiences and opinions here on my blog. Please do not hesitate to share your opinion or criticism in the comments or by using Contact, so that I can respond to them here or correct myself if I made any errors.

The Price of Freedom

Freedom always has a price.

Marjane Satrapi ends Persepolis 2 with these words. She turns around, looks at her grandmother for one last time before boarding her plane to Europe. At that moment, she says “This was the last time I saw my grandmother. She died six months later.”, adding “Freedom always has a price.”

Continue reading The Price of Freedom