JIM COLELLA hails from the UK and has lived in İstanbul, Turkey, for the past nine years. In his previous incarnations, he appears to have been everything from an art student, to a graphic designer, to a DJ, to an English teacher. That said, an experience with an indescribably beautiful sunset on a trip to İstanbul in 1999 set him on a different curve: writing.
In 2005, he packed his bags and moved to İstanbul with his Turkish wife, whom he’d met and married in London. His baggage also appeared to contain inherent values of freedom and democracy, which he never noticed before while bouncing around the university of life. In adapting to his new host country, he came to realize that quaint notions such as freedom of expression, equality, and (most recently) the right to freedom of assembly to be, unfortunately, lacking in the political culture.
Since arriving and reading one too many history books on Turkey, doing time as a copy-editor on a major English-language daily, listening to his politically astute wife, talking with many Turkish citizens (some with their heads screwed on, some otherwise) and always addicted to the news, slowly the poems and short stories faded out, and writing on Turkish politics in.
It’s become too necessary, he says (even if it does produce one sentence paragraphs). For sure, he knows this: Turkey has changed a lot over the past decade. Startling leaps and bounds have been achieved in terms of democratic reform. Long gone, it seems, is the 20th century, an era of military coups and persecutions to the point of massacre.
However, while Turkey has been dragged screaming and kicking into the current century under the auspices of the current, democratically elected Justice and Development Party (or AKP, under its Turkish acronym), much with due pressure from an EU membership process, there still remain huge blotches on its democratic score card.
More to the point, a whole new generation have grown up while the AKP have been elected to govern three times over the past decade. In the global village, hot wired to the outside world, their expectations have been raised inasmuch as their standards of living have been.
So now, in mapping a dynamic but often confusing political landscape, he aims to connect the dots for his readers, and hopefully enable them to cross the bridge into a better understanding.
For Western readers, he fears that their own reference points of democratic norms do not always serve well to grasp a republic that is less than a century old, and a tumultuous one at that. For Turkish readers, who know both English and (rightly) just how inadequate Western democracies are, he hopes by virtue of the centuries these countries have spent hauling themselves into shape, they might come to agree that certain rights they did get right, are universal, and which any and every country deserves, no less.
Failing that, let’s put it this way: Winston Churchill was once young and stupid enough to order an invasion of Ottoman Turkey in 1915. As history tells us, this was a big no no, and yet — inadvertently — this epic fail gave rise to the proud republic of which we now speak. A much older and wiser Churchill, however, hit the nail on the head when he declared:
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In closing, Jim realizes writing about himself in third person leads him to digress. Looking back, both his Turkification and Turkey’s democratization are more advanced than what they were when he first came to live here. But the road is long and winding. He can only add that, as a new father to a beautiful little boy, he feels more in tune with his host country than ever before. And so, more invested in its democratic future.