Imagine two historic nations once united under Rome, fiercely independent and suspicious of a new pan-European empire formed by a Treaty in Rome. Imagine two historic nations anchored to the edge of Europe but chained to it economically. Imagine two historic nations with a political and cultural heritage so immense that they have transformed the world. Imagine two historic nations finally emerging from the long shadow of empire destroyed by world war and trying to forge a modern role. There are more similarities between Britain and Turkey than many realise.
Of course there are major differences too. The liberal traditions that define a mature nation have only shallow roots in Turkey. Nevertheless, my foster home is changing and changing fast. Solid economic growth is establishing a burgeoning bourgeoisie who will alter Turkey forever. Socially and geographically mobile, well-educated consumers who want the best opportunities for themselves and their children always affect change. There is a demographic difference too. Britain is a country with an ageing population that needs a steady stream on young immigrants to function. Conversely, fifty per-cent of Turkey’s population is under thirty with too few jobs to go around. I hear unconfirmed rumours along the corridors of power in Brussels that the EU may be forced to relax its stringent visa restrictions for Turks. Interesting. Lonely ladies of London be afraid, be very afraid.
Given the obvious connections between our pasts and our futures, we Brits really ought to do more to celebrate our ties with Turkey. Sure, bargain bucket resorts are all very well and vital to the Turkish economy. Double egg and chips with a side order of lascivious expat gossip can be a delicious (if emotionally calorific) tit-bit. There is, however, so much more to discover than is found on the pages of a Thomas Cook brochure. Let’s start an On the Ege campaign to persuade more of our compatriots to step off the sun-kissed beaches and out of the homogeneous Brit-bars. Let’s sober up and go exploring like the wandering Brits of our glorious past.
I happen to live in Bodrum on the same street as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (a happy co-incidence). The magnificent Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Bodrum that was) was constructed to inter the remains of King Mausolus in 350 BC (hence the origin of the word mausoleum). Apparently, the building survived virtually intact for seventeen centuries before it was felled by an earthquake in the middle ages. What remained was plundered by the Knights of St John to build the imposing crusader castle that now dominates the town. That’s the medieval Christians for you. No respect for ancient history. It seems those naughty knights weren’t the only pilferers of antiquities judging by the age-old dressed stones and fragments of an Ionian capital that litter our garden. This is just a tiny example of the wonders around us, a place where history lies casually underfoot. Now you don’t get that in Bognor.