ISTANBUL AFTER THIRTY YEARS
By SIR EVELYN WRENCH
EVEN in a world in flux there can be few contrasts so great as that between the Turkey of today and the Turkey of yesterday. Thirty-six years ago I had found myself in the middle ages and in a world with the glamour of the Arabian nights: The old Galata 'Bridge was a microcosm of the Turkish Empire of Abdul Hamid that stretched from the Adriatic to the Persian Gulf. On its uneven wooden planking I watched entranced an unending stream of Turks in fez and native costume, Bosnians, Berbers, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Dervishes, Mon- tenegrins, Greeks, and other Europeans, Jews, Armenians and veiled women from the Harems. It was the meeting- place of continents.
When I emerged from the Istanbul Express two months ago, although prepared for change, the globe-trotter in me received the greatest shock ever experienced in a life, much of which has been spent wandering around the continents. The Istanbul I remembered was gone. I wished I had never come back. Could this decaying Europeanised city be Istanbul ? For thirty-six years I had looked longingly at the word Constantinople or Stambul on the destination labels of the Orient Express. And here I was surrounded, by a drab populace in dirty and patched clothes that might belong to Limehouse or War- saw.
In an American taxi-cab we rattled over the cobbles, hooting our way through the crowds ; cats and humans got out of the way as best they could. A feeling of gloom descended on me. Pera seemed like a, second-rate Euro- pean city. Immediately off the main thoroughfares were dirt and decay. Garbage and melon-rinds were littered in the streets, holes gaped menacingly in the pavements, and drab human beings and mangy and miserable cats emerged out of dark thoroughfares.
At the Seraglio—the Versailles of the Sultans up to 1850—I recaptured my youthful glamour. My camera and stick were taken by an attendant and I entered a courtyard with marble colonnades, a fountain plashing softly, exotic plants and the latticed 'windows of the Harem. I had stepped back through the centuries. As I wandered from Palace to Palace with glimpses of the Bos- phorus, the colour of sapphire, and walked through the apartments—now a museum—I forgot the drab modern Istanbul. In the Harem was the huge divan of the Sultan where he sat with his favourites; in adjoining rooms were the jewels and treasures of the rulers of the great Turkish Empire. A throne was covered with brocaded pink silk on which was a pattern worked in pearls. Through courtyards adorned with green and blue Turkish tiles I walked to the Eunuch's quarters—to western eyes they seemed like prison cells, to the mosque for the courtiers, to the' apartments and baths of the Sultan's mother—the Valide•-'—and finally to the Sultan's audience chamber. Here the Monarch sat in a latticed gallery eight feet from the floor. Ambassadors and suppliants made their requests from below. It must have been a curious sensa- tion addressing an invisible figure behind wooden lattice- work.
I only once caught a glimpse of the picturesque old Turkey. A friend had taken me to Eyoub on the Golden Horn. There in the Mosque, built in 1458 by Mehmet II, the conqueror of Stambul, I found the Turkey of yore. We walked down a cobbled street of wooden houses to the Mosque, where a footprint of the Prophet is venerated. In the marble-paved courtyard was the largest plane tree I have ever seen. Women still wearing black yashmaks flitted about, underfed cats looked longingly and wearily at pigeons being given grain by kindly visitors, Turkish soldiers carrying their shoes in their hands were going into the carpeted Mosque to pray, an old bearded Moslem was cutting with a pen-knife chunks of tripe, which were greedily gobbled up by the tame storks that surrounded him.
The eats of Constantinople should have an article to themselves. On that first drive from the station to the, hotel in Pera their gaunt forms haunted me. The Turk is not unkind according to his lights. He thinks it cruet to drown litters of kittens, he therefore puts them on the dust-heap I In every side street you meet the cats, 014: and emaciated cats, cats with one eye blind, kitteriS,, toddling with unsteady step, cats with skin diseases, cats eternally scratching themselves, dying cats run over by cars on the roadside. When I asked. residents in Istanbul';, what could be done about the cats, they shrugged their:. shoulders. ". Istanbul was menaced in its old wood0. houses by a plague of rats ; cats were necessary." " The Turks were kind at heart and did not intentionally cause suffering." If I could have seen Mustapha Kemal—nog' called Ataturk, the Father of Turks—the President and Dictator of Turkey, I was convinced that I could bore , persuaded him to take the matter up.
To Ataturk nothing is impossible. Since •1925 he has achieved the miraculous. He has changed the habits Of one of the most conservative peoples in the world. Ile has .taken Turkey from the Middle Ages to the twentieth Century in ten breathless years. He has abolished the Fez ; he has given his people the outward appearance of Europeans ; the women no longer go veiled. Turkish script is, no longer used, newspapers and signboards are printed in Latin characters, Turkish numerals are 110 longer employed ; he has given the Turks a Merchant Marine for their coastal and foreign trade, he has turkified the railway systems, foreign capital has been paid off, he has started Turkish-owned factories to make Turkey self-sufficient, he has built roads, he has stimulated archaeology and has sponsored the excavation and 0" covering of the mosaics of.Byzaatium's storied past ; he has given Turkey a national conscience.
The Turkey of the close of the nineteenth century, paradise for European concession-hunters and busine0 men, is no .more. • " Turkey for the Turks and Turkish" is the "slogan" of the day. .Even a supporter 01 Lord Beaverbrook's " splendid isolation " policy could not be more thorough-going than the present-day Turk. An active propaganda, in its way as effective as that of the "Ministries of enlightenment " of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, inculcates extreme patriotism. Every Means is used to persuade the present generation of its duty to its own country.
Every method known to the propagandist to give the country a' national conscience is employed. A :life-long resident, When 'informing me that the word • adarn in Turkish meant man, laughingly said that the propa- gandists of modern Turkey inform the ignorant that Adam was a Turk ! In this respect Turkey is but emu- lating her neighbours. In the, French daily Beytig/u,. in an article on tourisme in Turkey, I read : , "La meilleure prouvo quo co pays est incontest blement lo plus uoau du monde, c eyst quell n'a co8s6 d'otre appre,cio of convoitO par tolls los peUPleg do l'Univors."
I have no desire to minimise the natural beauties of Turkey, the unique site of its former capital, the vast unexplored treasures of Byzantium's glorious past, as yet but scratched by the excavator's pick-axe, the specimens of Islamic art, but there is no 'need for exaggeration. Professor Whittemore, of the Byzantium Exploration Fund, is showing at Santa Sofia at this moment what We may expect. Once the motor highway is constructed from Europe 'through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to Istanbul • a great development in the tourist traffic will take place, and the Government and the. Touring and Automobile Clubs are taking steps to prepare for it. No'doubt in the course of time the Turkish Government will turn its attention to town-planning and pulling down the slums of Istanbul. During recent years much energy has been devoted to the embellishment of Ankara on the uplands of Asia-Minor ; but whatever the claims of the new capital, Turkey is trustee on behalf of humanity for Byzantium. No country can be indifferent to its welfare. If modern Istanbul is disappointing at close quarters, seen from the water it remains one of the most beautiful sights in the world. I said farewell to it on a perfect September evening as we steamed into the Sea of Marniora; the sky-line of Stambul with its chain of mosques stood out against a lemon pink sky across which planed some seagulls. Surely the heaven-pointing minarets sym- bolised what God meant Istanbul to be.
• Modern Turkey is drawing closer to her neighbours as the Balkan Pact testifies, and during my stay the Balkan Festival, a sort of Balkan Olympic games, was in. progress at . which representatives of Yugoslavia,. Roumania, Greece and Bulgaria were competing in friendly rivalry. Perhaps one of the chief impressions gathered on my visit is that the Balkans are no longer the danger-point of Europe. The storm centre has moved westwards.. In Eastern Europe there appears to be a genuine desire to forget the past and to establish friendly relations among neighbouring calvaries. , [Next week Sir Evelyn Wrench will conclude his Turkish impressions in an article entitled "A Country Without God."]