Turkey — No Longer East and West?

View over the Blue Mosque and Istanbul, Turkey
View over the Blue Mosque and Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey may have applied for European Union membership 26 years ago, but today it it’s still without full EU membership status. This may be partly due to its location, straddling as it does both Europe and Asia. Geographically it’s on the Asian peninsula, yet far Western Turkey lies in Europe. As a result, it has been subject to the influence of many different cultures, religions and political ideologies stretching way back. Not least this was because of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Of late this interesting country is enjoying great attention from Western tourists, so why not place Turkey holidays on your 2014 bucket list and see what all the fuss is about?

View over the Blue Mosque and Istanbul, Turkey
View over the Blue Mosque and Istanbul, Turkey

Turkish Culture

A lot of people understand that Turkey is an Islamic country and, admittedly, 99.8% of Turkey’s population may identify themselves as Muslim, but by no means is it a fundamentalist Islamic country. In places such as Istanbul you’ll find the skyline adorned with mosques and minarets and hear the familiar calls to prayer – but much like other Muslim countries, it is widely regarded that it remains a democratic, moderate and comfortable Muslim country to live in. It’s more a case of Muslim by culture than Muslim by religion. Islam is practised, but Muslims living in Turkey aren’t subject to living by fundamentalist Muslim doctrine. Whether women wear a veil, go to a bar or the mosque is their choice. They can wear bikinis on the beach or a headscarf in the street. People are not forced to pray or to fast during Ramadan.

This could well be a product of Western influence: Turkey has traded peacefully with the West for many years. Many Western companies operate part of their business in Turkey, particularly in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Consequently, Turkey has ‘imported’ many of the cultures, customs and practices as you would expect to find elsewhere. Turkish music is a cultural melting pot, now heavily influenced by hip hop in addition to its traditional folk music slowly changing into what is now regarded as “arabesque.” The most popular sport in Turkey is football, with basketball and motorsports following closely behind.

Turkish Cuisine

Finally, there’s the Turkish cuisine. Turkish food is a refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines. It has had an impact on the West and on the rest of the world— just think of the predominance of yoghurt, olive oil and kebabs, for example. As Turks travelled from East to West, the ingredients and recipes blended with their distant cousins and nearest neighbours: what came first, for instance, the Greek chicken or the Turkish egg? (Think baklava, moussaka and tzatziki here.) One thing’s for sure though, whether you’re enjoying yoghurt for breakfast or shoving a kebab down your throat at three am, you’ve got Turkey to thank!

East Meets West in Turkey

Spread across Asia and Western Europe, Turkey enjoys a blend of cultural influences, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire opening the country up to Western ways. While Turkey does things its own way and awaits EU membership, it embraces the Western world more and more. In return, the West is warming to Turkey, with tourists from all over the world coming to experience the country’s culture, rather than just the warm weather. It could just be the start of something special.

This post was written in collaboration with Holiday Hypermarket.

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