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One could see as a sim­ple mat­ter of basic com­pas­sion a doc­u­men­tary on the home­less of the Bospho­rus, on the mis­ery devel­op­ing in Turkey where the home­less fight over spaces with the stray cats in Istan­bul. One could  then file the sequence under “ fine thoughts at Christmas.”

I wished to go beyond the sen­sa­tion of com­pas­sion, even know­ing that sum­maris­ing in a few lines the rea­sons and caus­es for the mis­ery in Turkey, as else­where, is an impos­si­ble task.

It is well-known that Turk­ish cur­ren­cy is expe­ri­enc­ing a see­saw of ups and downs on finan­cial mar­kets, main­ly on Turk­ish ones. The regime claims this is due to exter­nal attacks, spec­u­la­tions, the shad­ow of a George Soros or oth­er occult pow­ers “who wish ill on Turkey”. Erdo­gan him­self takes cen­ter stage in re-estab­lish­ing a par­i­ty between the Turk­ish lira and the dol­lar; as a corol­lary: a huge infla­tion affect­ing all basic goods.  All that counts in this exer­cise is hid­ing this mis­ery no one must see. Who­ev­er men­tions it becomes a trai­tor to the Nation.

But the Turk­ish econ­o­my is ill. It is ill because of its huge depen­den­cy on imports, as a result of its mas­sive entry into the cap­i­tal­ist tur­moil, also known as globalisation.

As a telling exam­ple: hazel­nuts, an agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion where Turkey large­ly dom­i­nates the world mar­ket. With the col­lapse of the Turk­ish lira,  pro­duc­tion has fall­en because of the increased cost of import­ed pes­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers for a pro­duc­tion total­ly cen­tred on max­i­mum prof­it and the wild com­pe­ti­tion that ensues on the whole­sale mar­ket. With these short­ages, Nutel­la, the sig­na­ture prod­uct sold world-wide, will show price increas­es, while in Turkey an agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion on which many peo­ple  depend for their sur­vival finds itself dis­or­gan­ised —  a total rever­sal of the aims pur­sued by this form of  inten­sive agriculture.

On large indus­tri­al sec­tors, Turkey’s eco­nom­ic choice of fur­nish­ing cheap labor to delo­calised cap­i­tal­ists from West­ern coun­tries has left it depen­dent on glob­al­i­sa­tion, and most­ly, on cap­i­tal­is­tic choic­es in expend­ing the low­est pos­si­ble out­put on salaries.  But — and this is one of the major caus­es for the cri­sis — not only do prof­its not re-enter dis­tri­b­u­tion cir­cuits in Turkey, but the income gen­er­at­ed by glob­al­i­sa­tion is divert­ed through cor­rup­tion. In cer­tain sec­tors, from con­struc­tion to weapons, con­cen­tra­tions and con­fis­ca­tions reach such lev­els in the hands of the regime’s oli­garchy that the Cap­i­tal escapes Turkey’s true econ­o­my altogether.

The regime’s “expan­sion­ist” pol­i­cy — a the­o­ret­i­cal con­struct based on a nos­tal­gic inter­pre­ta­tion of the  Ottoman era, does not bring in finan­cial div­i­dends either, and fluc­tu­ates depend­ing on alliances and agree­ments on a back­ground of com­pro­mis­es unfavourable to Turkey. Erdoğan’s rela­tion­ships become hard to fol­low, with the Euro­peans, the Emi­rates, Rus­sia and main­ly the Unit­ed States. Mil­i­tary claims on the bor­ders con­sti­tute as many rever­sals, while caus­ing their lot of dai­ly vic­tims. In this con­text, the depend­abil­i­ty of Turk­ish cur­ren­cy is not guar­an­teed and is also sub­ject­ed to spec­u­la­tions, of course.

So that, basi­cal­ly, the caus­es of the cur­rent pover­ty in Turkey are linked to the polit­i­cal sys­tem, to the huge social inequal­i­ties it gen­er­ates, to the absence of any equi­table social sys­tem, lead­ing this pover­ty to become endem­ic. Far from being only the result of an exo­dus from poor coun­try­sides to the cities, as was the case at the end of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, this mis­ery is born with­in the big metrop­o­lis­es them­selves, sub­ject­ed to the dou­ble law of sav­age cap­i­tal­ism and regime cor­rup­tion. In this, Turkey is no dif­fer­ent from a num­ber of cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries. But, in this reportage, the film mak­ers draw our atten­tion to specificities.

By choos­ing to fol­low two peo­ple whose only con­cern is attempt­ing to help those in need, we are brought to the lev­el of ques­tions this pover­ty rais­es in a Turkey where the State is con­stant­ly say­ing that it is “all pow­er­ful, atten­tive to the good for its peo­ple”. A third char­ac­ter, home­less, sum­maris­es all these ques­tions him­self by say­ing “Had I known what it would become, I would not have done my mil­i­tary ser­vice or paid my tax­es for this Country.”

Anoth­er ques­tion runs through the doc­u­men­tary: Islam. One of the pro­tag­o­nists is a prac­tic­ing Mus­lim. He calls him­self a “soci­ol­o­gist” and criss-cross­es Istanbul’s poor neigh­bour­hoods in order to help the most des­ti­tute, with­out dis­tinc­tion, includ­ing migrants. This, for him, is the basis of his belief sys­tem and of his cul­ture The TRT, Turkey’s offi­cial chain, even drew his por­trait as “the Mus­lim who comes to the aid of oth­ers”. And yet, in this doc­u­men­tary, he tells us about the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy with its invert­ed prac­tice of a State tak­ing hold of Islam only to ignore inequal­i­ties, thus increas­ing them. And there is no nation­al­is­tic sub­text in his words, at a time when the power’s big­ot­ed ultra-nation­al­ist allies main­tain a steady bar­rage of same. No turci­ty, noth­ing by the words and prac­tice of a humanist.

The oth­er pro­tag­o­nist is a woman. She has emerged from the street her­self. Point­ed out as a for­mer pros­ti­tute, her strength has led her out of mis­ery. Since then, she has pur­sued the strug­gle , in her own way, and is proud of this life of sol­i­dar­i­ty. In pass­ing, the hand­ful of stu­dents giv­ing her a hand on occa­sion also men­tion their own pre­car­i­ous­ness in a State that push­es away a part of its youth unfavourable to the regime. But it is also through this woman that we dis­cov­er a “good neigh­bour­hood “ where she must go in search of a “spon­sor”, quite against her will. Savor this moment, and remem­ber how shared com­pas­sion is one of the eas­i­est things to imi­tate when one has both the pow­er of mon­ey and of belong­ing to a cer­tain cast/social class.

The film is replete with details and its mak­ers did not fall for the false pos­tur­ing of oppo­nents to the regime. No doubt they avoid­ed some of Istanbul’s ter­races where the offi­cial oppo­si­tion plays at oppo­si­tion, while await­ing the upcom­ing election.

I don’t want to reveal any­thing more about this doc­u­men­tary and wish you a good viewing.

* For Eng­lish read­ers: the doc­u­men­tary is on Arte, the French-Ger­man plat­form and thus avail­able in French and in Ger­man. Even if you do not under­stand either lan­guage, the images are worth the view­ing to get a sense of the extreme con­trasts one can find in Istan­bul — as in oth­er “great and famous” cities across the world. 

Adapted in English from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…