Turkey diary: Looking beyond the stereotypes
By Jasmeet Sidhu
Having worked at the Toronto Star, I was very interested to learn about the inner-workings of a newspaper in Turkey. The offices are fairly modest, located in a several-story building outside downtown Istanbul, with a few tables and computers lined up in a ceiling-to-floor tiled room. Much to my surprise, the editor-in-chief of one of the Hürriyet's sub-papers, the Daily News & Economic Review, was actually an American ex-pat by the name of David Judson, who, having now lived in Turkey for several years, was fluent in Turkish.
In a conversation over Turkish tea and coffee (which is constantly offered to us everywhere we go, in line with the famous hospitality that the Turkish are known for), Judson greeted our questions with the knowledge of someone who has been both an outsider and arguably an insider, identifying the way that we, and many other outsiders, tend to look at Turkey.
He described Turkey, particularly in the international news media, being trapped into "five narratives" - Honour killings, the Armenian genocide, the Kurdish issue, Secular Islam, and EU membership. It was certainly enlightening to hear this framing and pigeonholing of the country into these five issues, because they were indeed, the five issues that my classmates and I in the Peace and Conflict studies program had approached and around which designed our research trip here in Turkey.
It made me think about how we in the media may tend to pigeonhole or frame certain issues, a city, an event in Toronto along the same narratives that don't necessarily provide originality, creativity and a fresh angle to a story. Existing narratives are easy to fall back on, are easy for audiences to absorb and make sense in everyone's current framing of the world - yet we all do ourselves a disservice by not pushing the button to see the hundreds of other stories that could be told.
Photo: Meeting with a LGBTQ organization in Istanbul.
For example, in our meetings, both with the LGBTQ organization that we met in Istanbul, and with the Canadian embassy in Ankara, gay and lesbian rights issues were brought up, and the seriousness of abuse cases that may be occurring amongst Turkish citizens, especially with regards to the mandatory service in Turkey's military. There is also the story of Turkey's rising economic force, and from what we heard from academics and others, of Turkey's strong desire to be included in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as a rising economic power, rather than simply a strategic regional power that dominates many American news stories about the country. As well, often overlooked in discussions but that permeated every discussion we had in Turkey, was the idea that everyone is a minority - there is a deep sense amongst many in the country that they are not necessarily represented, tied to certain long historical memories of who has power and ownership over this storied land.
There were many, many other stories that emanated during our meetings and during our interactions with the Turkish people that I hope to be able to communicate to my fellow Canadians one way or the other, through this blog or through other means. But perhaps one of the biggest lessons that I will take away from this trip: to be consciously aware of how a certain country, person, event, issue is framed, and to be always aware that there is always another story to be told.
Jasmeet Sidhu is a graduate of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. She worked for the Star in the radio room last summer, and writes a blog for the Star on climate change, where she covered the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. In mid-June she will join the Star's summer intern program. Follow Jasmeet on Twitter.