I left Istanbul afraid and knowing hardly anything about it. Looking back, everything I felt for the city was inspired by fear – a fear nourished by the reality that I had been living in Istanbul married to an abusive man.
When I tell others about my story and I mention that my ex was Turkish – it all suddenly starts to make sense.
“Of course he was abusive. He’s Turkish. They have a different culture towards women. You should have expected it. What were you thinking?”
No, I didn’t expect it. He, himself has proven that he has no culture and he is nothing if not desperate to get rid of his Turkishness. But yes, perhaps I should have thought about it more. Nevertheless, I am quick to defend the fact that his being Turkish and his abusive aggressive behaviour are two very different things.
He is the first person I ever met that hated his nationality. He hated being Turkish and anything associated with it. He wanted to be seen as secular and “western” even, whatever that meant. Making something out of his life meant getting out of Istanbul and losing this Turkish identity altogether.
He was too close to his hate to appreciate or value the beauty that was all around him. He only saw ignorance, and beggars, and hypocrites and what he called “religious people.” He spoke of them as if they were beneath him.
Sometimes I would explore the old town with friends and I would come back inspired by what I had seen – the splendid interiors of mosques, views from the rooftops of the bazaar, museums and hidden gardens, tea houses and side streets. I would naturally want to share what I had discovered and what inspired me but he wasn’t interested. It would even irritate him that I would go to what he called “those places”.
His mind was elsewhere. He was too busy thinking of how others were trying to cheat him than to think anything good about them. He also despised his own family (except his father) and liked them only when it was convenient. He would call his mother and sister ignorant unless they were in the same room when he would then pinch their cheeks and call them “cute” and shower them with empty gestures of appreciation.
He was confused. Paranoid. Slowly disintegrating into his own narcissism and the best example was yet to come.
On July 15th, 2016 we are out in a restaurant in Nişantaşı having dinner when the restaurant suddenly started to close. From the Twitter feed on his phone we knew that something political was happening. The army was getting involved and we were urged to go home.
On the way, we stopped at the cash machine and the corner shop where he bought some beer, water and a packet of cigarettes. No one knew what was going on, least of all me.
We got home, turned on the news and he began muttering something against the government. He detested everything about the government and most of all its religious views. He was secular after all. Not like them.
He lite a cigarette and with a look of disdain, he proceeded to confront me.
“And you – you’re a mosque lover. You are constantly going to see those places in the old town and talking about how lovely they are. You are just like them.” He puffed up his chest and towered over me, shoving me and trying to provoke a reaction.
Lost in his own thoughts, he was looking for a fight and I wasn’t interested in defending myself against his blatant ignorance. I told him to calm down and reassured him that what he was saying was nonsense.
Smoking one cigarette after another, he left the house. I was alone at home and outside there were explosions, car horns blaring, people waving flags, shouting and chanting. I wasn’t sure what I was more afraid of – him or what was happening outside.
He returned a few hours later boasting that he had joined the crowds of demonstrators shouting “Takbir—Allahu Akbar,” or God is the Greatest, God is Great in support of the Government and their Islamist political sympathies.
I was in shock. He had lost his mind. I realized that nothing he said meant anything to him. He just talked and what he said depended on how he felt at the moment. He wasn’t secular, or religious, or even Turkish – he was an abusive lying hypocrite first and foremost and we find types like him in every culture.
I hadn’t misunderstood him. Language was no barrier between us. He had been educated in England and is a CFA Charter Holder. He was very aware of what he was doing and saying. He just couldn’t help himself. He was what he was and his actions and words proved it.
If he tries very hard maybe he can change his identity but he can’t escape his abusive hypocrisy because he can’t escape himself.
I had always been taught to value and respect the culture of others. It came naturally in my family where my mother empathized kindness and understanding over being judgemental. She continues to do so and it is a source of strength for me to see her kindness towards others.
My grandfather, a professor of Arabic, taught himself to speak Turkish at the age of 85 and continued to read Turkish classics until he passed away. Both my mother and brother have visited twice and love Istanbul and exploring all that it has to offer.
I continue to explore Turkish culture through Turkish literature and movies. It is a source of joy for me. I look forward to returning to all those places that inspired me in Istanbul – but this time without fear and with a completely open heart.
As for being “a mosque lover” – I see beauty where ever it chooses to present itself to me.