Thursday, January 20, 2022

How do You Like Your Turkey?

Tarik Ayasun

Tarik Ayasun

It is another wonderful sunny and breezy Marco Island winter morning.

My eight year-old granddaughter just walked in for her regular Saturday morning visit and without even saying hello or giving me her usual big, warm hug and kiss she said, “Grandpa, you and I have a big problem. This week in class (second grade at Tommie Barfield Elementary) we were studying ancestries and when I told my classmates that part of my ancestry was Turkish, since my grandpa is from Turkey, some of the kids started making fun of me and saying things like, “So Thanksgiving must be your favorite holiday”, or “Do
you speak gobble, gobble?”

I told her to sit by my side so I could read her the draft copy of this story which I was working on for the first issue of The Coastal Breeze News, the new publication for Marco Islanders.

“Yes, Thanksgiving happens to be my favorite holiday. Since becoming a US citizen in 1977, I have celebrated every Thanksgiving holiday with ever-increasing intensity, deep passion, and love for my adopted country. There is nothing like waking up on Thanksgiving Day, smelling the wonderful roasting turkey aroma coming from the kitchen, seeing all the kids, grandkids, parents and grandparents milling about the house. We finally sit at the dinner table and actually have a long, enjoyable dinner accompanied by heart-warming conversations, previously told stories, and family updates. I cannot think of a more enjoyable time of the year than Thanksgiving.”

Obviously, it is now January and Thanksgiving is way behind us. (Those of you who may be thinking this is an old story about Thanksgiving, which arrived for publication late or was retrieved from the trash bin because the author didn’t have anything new to write – relax!) This is not a Thanksgiving story: it is actually the story of a country and a bird.

Along with many other friends of mine who are originally from Turkey, I have learned to endure the ever-present “Gobble, Gobble” greetings from those distant friends, neighbors, and others who seem to think being from Turkey somehow has to be associated with the wonderfully prepared and roasted turkey for the Thanksgiving feast.

It has now been over forty years since I first arrived in New York on Independence Day and nearly thirty-two years since that wonderful day when I chose to be a citizen of the United States of America. Ever since that day, and with every passing year, frequent “Gobble, Gobble” greetings during Thanksgiving started to wear old and bother me somehow. So, for my first article for this young newspaper I thought it would be proper to write a story about the differences between
Turkey and turkey. I could not think of a better way to say, “Hello” to my fellow Marco Islanders.

Everyone should be immediately informed that the country where I was born and raised for the first twenty years of my life is not and was never called Turkey. It has always been called Turkiye which, when correctly translated to English, means “The land of Turks”. Let us establish for once and all that if you are a Turk from Turkiye, you are not related to any two-legged, feathered Thanksgiving turkey.

Turkiye is a fascinating country whether you are a casual tourist, an  adventurer, or an historian. With a population of 72 million of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, Turkiye covers an area equal to that of Texas and Alabama put together. The country is surrounded on three sides by water: the Black Sea to the north, connected via the
Bosporus straits to the Sea of Marmara connected via the Dardanelles straits to the Aegean Sea and surrounded by the Mediterranean in the south. Turkiye is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. It is a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

I was born in the wonderfully mystical city of Istanbul, half of which is located in Asia and the other half in Europe. Now connected with two massive bridges, Istanbul is a bustling city with a population nearing 12.6 million people. I fondly remember the teacher’s reaction to my daughter’s “What did I do last summer” composition for her sixth grade homeroom class at Golden Gate Middle School, when she wrote about crossing from Europe to Asia at least twice a day to visit various relatives during her summer vacation in Istanbul. My wife and I received a note from the teacher, kindly notifying us that our daughter had a “vivid imagination” which should be cultivated as long as it does
not get excessive and get into the dangerous territory of “exaggeration”. I guess the teacher thought crossing from Europe to Asia twice a day to visit relatives was “a gross exaggeration of facts”!

Turkiye is a secular Republic created from the ashes of a 600 year-old Ottoman Empire in 1923, by one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Istanbul was called Constantinople when it was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium as it was known until 1453 when the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed I conquered it and changed the name to Istanbul. The City is full of fascinating architecture, mosques, churches, ancient city walls and too numerous to name historical buildings. When I recall my years of growing up in this city, I realize how much I did not know or understand about the history and the significance of my birthplace.

Going back to where I started my story to my granddaughter: Turkey vs. turkey vs. Turkiye: I really cannot close without mentioning the fact that a turkey in Turkiye is called a “Hindi” which means an Indian. I have not yet figured out when, where, why and how this must have started; however, I would like to leave it for a future story when I complete more research on the subject. It is presently scheduled on my planner as the next project, after I figure out why Egypt is called Misir in Turkish which means “corn”. Who knows, maybe this is all connected: corn, turkey, Thanksgiving, Indians and Turkiye.

Columnist Tarik Ayasun is a familiar face to Marco Islanders, as his civic spirit has been in evidence since his arrival here in 1986. He has served as President of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce (1994), been on the YMCA board of directors (2000), the Marco Island Rotary Club board of directors (2005), the Marco Island Charter Middle School past president (2004), Forum Club of Collier County board of directors (2004/2006), Marco Island Police Foundation board membe (2005/2009), and is currently chairman of the city’s Code Enforcement Board.

Tarik was born in Istanbul, Turkey and has been involved in international trade for 35 years.

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