Nowhere is the contrast between Istanbul’s coexisting communities more apparent to me than on the Beykoz-Yeniköy ferry. Everyday these small, roughly 30-passenger capacity craft putter back and forth across the Bosporus, bringing Anatolia to Europe and vice-versa. Once upon a time there might have been a more upstairs-downstairs style transition as wealthy businessmen crossed one way to their factories and warehouses on the Anatolian shore, while wage-earners and house servants crossed to the other. In Ottoman times, Yeniköy was an affluent mix of Greek and Turk, and later on, Jewish settlers. Now that the Greek and Jewish communities have dwindled but still exist, it’s a mainly Turkish, primarily Republican group, with a strong sprinkling of foreigners. By contrast, Beykoz is a much more religious and conservative area, with no sycamore lined boulevards or fancy cafes. In Beykoz there might be a tekel or two selling Efes beer, but they aren’t readily apparent in the harbor crowded with small fishing boats. From what I understand, the Beykoz shore has become more “conservative” over the last 10-15 years.
But what does “conservative” mean? What’s interesting are the new class of religious Turkish women, that aren’t poor, undereducated, or sequestered. Their brand of conservatism is certainly not the same as a Saudi Arabian woman’s. I’ll never forget the moment my cab to the airport was not so gently nudged out of the fast lane by a blazing white BMW 5-series piloted by an expensively attired 20-something woman with a headscarf, bobbing her head to the pulsing music within, hauling on a cigarette and chatting with her similarly attired friend. It’s with Turkey’s women that the most visible shift is taking place, a very real transition, from one shore to the next. How dramatic that shift will be, and what that really means still remains to be seen.
Meanwhile on the Beykoz ferry, strangers maintain a wary distance. There are furtive looks, not hostile, but perhaps a little judgmental, as a certain amount of categorization and head-counting goes on.