Turkey is ‘a place where East and West meet – and sometimes collide.’ This two-part BBC series explores modern Turkey with its contrasts and changing society. I found it a fascinating programme with some beautiful camerawork. Here are some highlights:
- Perhaps surprisingly for a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey has a wine industry. We meet Selim, a vineyard owner who says that times are stressful now that the government has clamped down on alcohol advertising. Harvesting grapes with a group of headscarfed women who don’t drink alcohol, Simon muses that the grapes symbolise the tension between secular and religious powers. He joins in with the harvest celebration, which obviously means trying out the wine.
- In Istanbul, where President Erdogan’s image is everywhere, one of the largest mosques in the world is under construction. This elegant white building is expected to accommodate 60,000 worshippers. It’s one of Erdogan’s projects, a symbol of how he is reinforcing the pious element of Turkish society. The architecture is reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire style.
- The obscenely luxurious Mardan Palace hotel in Antalya is opulent and gold-leafed, with the most expensive suite costing 15,000 euros a night. Simon makes it clear that the BBC is not funding his stay (it’s the hotel manager’s invitation) – ‘So no letters to Points of View, all right? Or the Daily Mail.’
- We’re supposed to be getting a glimpse of a religious state school in conservative Konya, but the visit is suspiciously cancelled at the last moment. On the tram, Simon sees a newspaper headline: ‘BBC English terror agency’. Apparently his employer is plotting against Erdogan’s government. There’s one more remarkable sight in Konya; the whirling dervishes, whose fluttering white robes are captured in slow motion as the men’s faces appear in a trance-like state.
- On the southern border with Syria, the main refugee camp is a well-provisioned town, with schools, healthcare, a supermarket, electricity and even Turkish lessons. This reflects very positively on the government, although a cynic could say that the Syrians who become citizens are then guaranteed to be Erdogan supporters. Chillingly, bombs can be heard in the distance while the children play and people go about their business.
- The Yoruk people are a nomadic minority who are not seen as religious enough by the establishment. Simon stays with Mahmood and Songul, who have a young family and a large herd of goats. They are forced to move on. Songul will be herding the goats through the countryside while her husband drives the children and belongings in a truck.
- A rare view of the devastation caused by the conflict between the PKK (a Kurdish independence group often described as terrorists) and the Turkish government in the city of Diyarbakir. The Sur area is completely flattened.
- In the east, the Sarikamis forest is home to brown bears. Conservationist, Can, is tagging and surveying the bears. Oddly, our first sighting is not in their natural habitat: ‘The town dump is the best place to see bears,’ Simon says with disbelief. It’s easier (but unhealthy) for the bears to sift through the rubbish, instead of migrating along the wildlife corridor for less food. Can tells of the difficulties convincing the authorities to adequately contain the site and his worries that sightseers will be injured while taking selfies with bears (don’t do it, kids).
- A tiny wobbly cable car over a 400 metre drop is the only way to access an isolated B&B. The owner, Metin, built the scary cable car himself. He lives a sustainable lifestyle and doesn’t think new roads are necessarily a good thing.
- Simon has a cameo role as a servant in a period drama. He has to say a line in Turkish while dressed in red robes and a tall hat. Apparently he does very well but I’m sure to a Turkish speaker there must be a trace of British accent?
If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for a few more months.