The eyes and ears of the Netherlands in Turkey

Some time ago I wrote here and here about the journalist/writer Bernard Bouwman his book 'Mijn Istanbul' (My Istanbul) which will be translated into Turkish and available in Turkey early 2009.
Below an interview with Bernard by ALİ ÇİMEN.
The eyes and ears of the Netherlands in Turkey, Bouwman: I became more humanistic in Turkey.
Bernard Bouwman, a Western correspondent living and reporting in İstanbul, is the eyes and ears of the Netherlands in Turkey. Indeed, his is a name synonymous with Turkey.
He has been reporting for the Netherlands’ NRC Handelsblad daily and for Radio 1 from İstanbul for eight years.
I recently spoke with Bouwman about his personal adventure and observations about Turkey and the Netherlands.

How did your İstanbul adventure begin?
Let me start by saying that I did not have a journalistic education. I studied something different, finished my doctorate at Oxford and returned to Holland. While looking for jobs, I ended up in journalism. I was at the European Integration Desk at NRC, for whom I still work. But almost everyone in the media was dealing with bureaucracy, which eventually started to bother me. I told my superiors: “Look! I do not want to do be a correspondent anymore. I will look for something else.” Just then, in 2000, a post in İstanbul became available and, of course, I jumped on it. Why? Because Turkey was quite an interesting country; a journalistic heaven with its dynamic agenda, including Turkey-EU relations; the democratization process; the place of religion in society and the question of where it should be; the ethnic groups and how these groups should be integrated into the mainstream; natural disasters; and Turkey’s relations with its turbulent neighbors, like Iran, Iraq and Syria. Simply, whatever a journalist wants!

But you had been to Turkey before you had been stationed here, right?
Sure, I had been as a tourist, a few times. But living permanently was something different. But, you know what? My boss sent me to İstanbul for one week, saying, “You are free to do anything you want, don’t bother with the expenses and just see if you could live there.” It was really an excellent week. But newspapers can’t do such things anymore, as circulations in the Netherlands have decreased. Well, at the end of that week, I made up my mind. İstanbul was the place where I wanted to live.
When you look back, do you see any changes on the issues that you said brought you here?
Well, there is one thing that never changes: Turkey’s rapid change on economic and social issues. This is taking place at an amazing speed. And just at this point I would like to share one of my observations. Look, I do not share the concerns of some ultra-secular circles about Turkey becoming an Islamic state day by day. On the contrary, I believe that religious people have started to lead a more liberal and relaxed life and that in 10-15 years time they will become like Europeans!
Continue reading here.
Note: I met both Ali and Bernard. When I met Bernard for the first time we started talking and talking for 4 hrs. Ali is a fine and interesting journalist! Writing for Zaman doesn't mean that you are a political Islamist. On the contrary!


Sincerae said…
A very good article. I agree a lot with Mr. Bouwman from my own obeservations.

I think the only way Turkey will become like Iran is if the secularists keep backing the traditional Turks into a corner. Miniskirts were once worn in not just Iran but Afghanistan. I have some photos of Afghanistan in the 1970s.

Nationalist Turks are a problem. I was talking to a Greek friend whose family lived in Turkey until 1917. He is very pro-Turkey and wants to see Turkey accepted into the EU. I told him that I have encountered Turks who complain that Greeks hate Turks, but that the hatred is not mutual. He said that those who say that are nationalists. His only worry is that Turkey will not be accepted into the EU because it is Muslim. Also he thinks Turkish over reaction to unpleasant issues concerning their political history only hurts them in the long run. Turks, he feels, are their own worst enemy.

An Iranian friend once told me that the way Turkey is evolving it will be like the US in about 15 to 20 years. He also said that Turkey is culturally "like Iran, but without Iran's soul."

On a layover in Chicago during my last trip to Turkey, I met some Ethiopian Muslims at the hotel where I was staying. They were highly educated women who wore headscarves. They and the one man and the group thought it was highly unfortunate that Turkey, a majority Muslim country, would oppress women who wear headscarves. They felt that people should be allowed to make choices. I agree even though I am a devout Christian. Let people wear what they want to. My religion teaches freewill. I know there are some men there who want to force their wives and daughters into headscarves and hijabs, but there must be some women and girl's there who decide on their own initative that they want to cover themselves out of modesty and what I was told by those Ethiopian women the Quran says about the matter.

I both agree and disgree with Mr. Bouwman that when people become more educated they distance themselves from religion. There is a tendency to. But here also is a gray area. I have a masters degree, but in 2000 I became a Christian. There are other highly educated people who do in my country who are in business, medicine, and many other professions. The ignorant, bigoted, racist, xenophobic "followers of Christ" and the Republicans tend to get the world's attention here. People forget that Dr. King was a Christian and spoke of the equality of all humanity, not just my people, black people. ALL people. Some of us with open and colorful minds do come to a point where we know we need a spiritual anchor to get though this life.

Thanks for presenting this article, Hans.
Anonymous said…
Bernard is a well respected journalist here in the Netherlands. The journalist, who interviewed him, forgot to mention that Bernard is also to seen on the Dutch indepedent NOS journal, most watched here in Der Niederlanden. At least, I know him from his live reports from Turkey.
Interesting article, and interesting points of view.
Anonymous said…
Indeed, a very good article.
As an outsider, still he is, he can see the Turkish society sometimes more neutral than we Turks. But we Turks can see the mistakes the Dutch and German governments are making towards Turkish people living there.
Anonymous said…
Dear Sincerae,
As a Greek, we don't hate or dislike Turks, we left that behind us. Of course there are some Greeks who expose their hatred towards Turks. But in general you can see that on which forum where Turks and Greeks are talking, Turks are screaming, yelling etc. that we as Greek are traitors. Traitors of what? That our land was occupied for hunderds of years?
Turks are their own enemies, you're right. I hope only that on this blog the writers participate more as I understand that this is a co blog. With all respect to Hans. But again, Turks don't participate here as well..((
Good interview with this Dutch writer. He makes sense.
Sincerae said…
Hi Dimitris,

When I visited Greece before I went on to Turkey, the eyes of our Greek tour guide who was very young got big when we said our group would be going to Turkey next. She said that Greeks worry about Turkey because the Turkish people have more children than Greeks do. With so many children, Turkey can always have a bigger army, she said. But she did tell us to tell her Turkish counterpart hello when we got to Turkey. Because of her comments I thought Turkish people have at least 6 children! I learned that they don't. I have heard some Turkish people say the Kurds are the ones who have many children.

Later I told a German friend what the guide said and she said that to her a lot of Greek people were like some white people she had met in America who started complaining about how terrible black people are as soon as you meet them. She said she did not know what Greeks were being taught in school.

I have not looked at any Greek and Turkish forums, but the Armenian ones I have seen sometimes have such terrible things written, that it would scare a lot of people from setting foot in Turkey.

My point here is that I find it find it highly fascinating as an African-American to see how most groups in the world have some other group they "love" to be at odds with. We black people in America have been so isolated for so long that often we think we are the only group that someone is after or against.

Very interesting.
Anonymous said…
Dear Sincerae,
Yes, there is a wide spread fear among Greeks, and some of them, the nationalistic Greeks, which are are a real minority, are scared by a big Turkish army.
But both Greece and Turkey are in the Nato. That Turks are still showing their musscles is their problem. Since they have to be like that. I have many REAL Turkish friends who agree with me on one thing: demilitarizy Cyprus and Thrace. Turkey is still spreading fear among their citizens to have an excuse to act aggresively.
But its Turkey's turn now, get your act together or leave the world scene. Turkey can not get on like this. Trying to dictate the EU what has to be done to make them a member.
Gule gule
Anonymous said…
ok Dimitris, what's the problem?
Turkish people can not be responsable for what their ancestors did.
As long we deny our past, we dig our own holes!
Ardent said…
Hans, this is a very positive write up about Turkey and Turkish politics.
I almost thought that I had strayed onto a wrong blogsite.
Unknown said…
Dear Ardent, I'm the bad cop here..))

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