The Return: Part IV, Istanbul

Thursday, June 30, 2022

It had been three years since I'd been in Istanbul, and even that had been a short, week-long trip back in 2019. After living in Turkey between 1992 and 1999, I'd returned to the US to begin graduate school. But, given the fact that I work on Turkey professionally, I return frequently. From 1999 until 2020 there had been only one calendar year, 2002, when I hadn't gone to Turkey. And now, three years had passed. 

I was supposed to be in Kazan, Russia this summer. That obviously didn't work out, but I was able to switch to researching in Amsterdam and Istanbul instead. 

It was good to be back in the land of my youth. I call it that because I'd first arrived in Istanbul in 1992 as a callous terbiyesiz 23 year-old, then left to pursue a graduate education as a considerably more polished, but no less terbiyesiz 30 year-old. For anyone, that can be a pretty important period of one's life. The first apartment I rented on my own was there, my first serious post-college girlfriends, travels to lots of countries, a whole bunch of foreign-language instruction, and this: I left in 1999 with something that was wholly lacking when I'd arrived: an idea of what I wanted to do professionally. 

So, that's what I associate mainly with Istanbul: growing up somewhat, figuring things out about myself, learning how to behave. Not that I'm perfect now, or that I will ever be, but I learned something in this city. A lot, actually.  

Coming back as a graduate student was different, of course. In 2004-2005 I'd been an ARIT fellow, and had shared an apartment with a Turkish girl in Maçka, but otherwise I typically stayed at the ARIT guest how in Arnavutköy during those years. With the exception of a couple of stretches when I stayed of 7 months, most of my research trips to Turkey over the past 23 years have ranged between a few weeks and a few months. Such was the case this time as well.  

Being in the archive again was nice. When I first started working in the Ottoman archives, they were located in Sultanahmet. ARIT, where I often used to stay as a graduate student, was in Arnavutköy, and it was possible to travel between the two locations by boat. I remember finishing up at the archives, heading down the hill to Eminönü, then drinking tea on the boat as I watched thousands of cars locked in traffic to my left. 

The new archive is not in anywhere nearly as charming a location, and yeah, concerns have been raised about the building and its construction. But still, it's a nice place to work. It's big, and as always the staff was extremely helpful this somewhere. Out of the 20 or so archives where I've done research over the course of my career, this is easily one of the best. 

Good Times 

It was nice to ride the ferries again. Traveling by boat is one of the nicest things about living in Istanbul. 

Prior to moving to Montana, I'd always been a water person--I grew up spending my summers on Lake Michigan, and afterward had lived in Montreal, Istanbul, New Jersey, Providence, and NYC. But only in Istanbul did I regularly travel over water. During my second year in Istanbul, 1992-93 (even then I thought of the year in academic terms--I was a teacher, after all), I lived on the European side and worked on the Asian part of the city, and therefore traveled between continents eight times a week for work.  

This time I did so to meet friends and to buy a kilim. The first kilim I'd ever bought was shortly after moving into my old apartment in Muradiye. Later I moved this into my apartment in Bozeman. After buying a few more kilims, however, I moved this one to my office at MSU. Then, after buying a house last year, I reclaimed the old kilim and brought it home. I still have plenty of bare floorspace in Belgrade, so picking up a new rug was high on my list of priorities. But it's not easy finding a good place anymore. I wasn't particularly eager to head to the Grand Bazaar, but the old shop I used to go to in Beşiktaş had disappeared. Everything is turning into cafes and restaurants. Anyway, I found a place that I liked in Kadıköy--Şirvan. The next time I'm looking for a kilim (I almost bought two this time--thank goodness I didn't, given the absolute lack of room in my backpack), I'll most likely head there first. 

Something else that was fun was walking into a bookstore and finding the Turkish translation of Turks Across Empires on sale. The English-language version, as far as I know, is only available online, so this was something of a novelty for me. I wasn't even going to buy it--it's not like I'm going to read it or anything--I just wanted to see if it was on the shelf. But then I opened it up and saw that it had its own "İmparatorluklar Arası Türkler" bookmark, and I couldn't leave without that. So I shelled out 31 TL for the book (bookmark free of charge with purchase). This worked out to slightly less than $2.  

Most of all, it's been nice being back on the road again. I started off this trip feeling a lot of trepidation. I'm not sure how much of this was necessarily due to Covid. Rather, I'd just gotten out of the habit of leaving my little castle in the Grade of Bel. By the end of my stay, I had already begun dreaming up new places to go next year. 

But I still had one stop to make before heading back to the US. 


Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.  

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.   

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