Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently married, middle-aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. The country in question is not Iran (we had no desire to be lynched from the nearest olive tree by the Revolutionary Guard) but neighbouring Turkey, a secular nation practising a moderate and state-supervised form of Islam. Even so, Turkey provides a challenge to the free-spirited wishing to live unconventionally. Openly gay Turks in visible same-sex relationships are as rare as ginger imams.
There are more parallels between Britain and Turkey than many realise. Both are historic nations once united under Ancient Rome, fiercely independent and suspicious of a new pan-European empire formed by a Treaty in modern Rome. Both are anchored to the edge of Europe but chained to it economically. Both have a political and cultural heritage so immense that they transformed the world. Both have emerged from the long shadow of an empire destroyed by world wars and both are trying to forge a modern role in a rapidly changing world.
Türkiye means ‘land of the strong’, an old Turkic/Arabic compound. Anatolia translates as ‘sunrise’ from ancient Greek. Both poetic epitaphs are fitting depictions of a vast land blessed with striking physical beauty, wrought by the brutal force of Mother Nature, and fought over, won and lost by invaders across all of recorded time. Turkey is a nation familiar to many Brits: the beer-swigging tattooed tourist seeking cheap fun in the sun with chips on the side, and those of a more scholarly hue who wonder at the unparalleled scale and depth of Anatolian culture and history. Traditional Turkey is the true crossroad of civilisations, the evidence of which lies casually underfoot, and a land where kinship and community reign supreme. New Turkey is a reinvigorated, rising, regional power, the ephemeral playground of pallid-skinned, sun-starved Northern Europeans gorging themselves on expensive imported bacon, cheap local plonk and one-upmanship. Islamic majesty sits uncomfortably alongside bargain bucket tourism. It was precisely this compelling contradiction of the captivating and the comical that lured two culture-curious gay boys out from under the cosy duvet of laissez-faire London life.
This book began life as a monthly email commentary of our experiences in our foster land and the extraordinary people – the sad, the mad, the bad and the glad – we encountered along the way. I called my dispatches ‘witterings’ and shared them with my wish-you-were-heres. As the witterings grew, high and low drama unfolded around us. So began a rollercoaster ride that amused, moved, surprised and ultimately changed us forever.
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