Reflection on Pamuk’s “Istanbul”

When reading Pamuk’s Istanbul (or really any of his books) it becomes apparent that Turks living in Istanbul have a strange sense of the past and almost a hundred years after the conquest of Turkey (or fall of the Ottoman Empire) there is still a deep sense of loss. Even people, such as Pamuk, who grew up well after still can sense the transitioning in the area. It is interesting to note how he talks of the destruction of old pashas’ mansions, the yalis and even the cemeteries where many of them are buried. It seems to be a terrible disregarding of history and a past culture but I am reminded by Pamuk that it is on purpose. The Turkishization of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the early 1900’s is the backdrop of this destruction. It is almost as if by destroying the pashas’ and other bourgeoisies’ things you can destroy their very memory and delete all that they represent from society.
This leads me into another key point in all of Pamuk’s writing, the want of Turks in Istanbul, especially the upper middle class, to be Western. There is also a very specific conception of what being “European” or “Western” looks like. This has always struck me as very odd whenever I encounter it in any of his or other Turkish writer’s books. Being Western is being secular, wearing western clothes, using the latest appliance or having china dog’s on your television set. Because of this ideal there is also a lot of attention paid to Westerners’ comments on their city and culture in general. I do not quite understand why he should deem that important. Why is westernization so important? I find it ironic that the very things Westerners visited Turkey for are the things that were done away with in the pursuit of Western and Turkishization.
Overall my greatest question is if Pamuk realistically describes what it is to be an Istanbullus and, if there really is such thing.

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