How did you come to be living in Russia?
I was born in 1992 in Istanbul, and lived there until I was 6 years old, when my father moved to Kirgizstan in 1998, to start business there. I was put into a private Russian school, because I did not like the Turkish one. We lived there until 2002, I was pretty good at school, and after we left, my parents had to face the big question of which school to put me in in Istanbul, because it was impossible for me to study in an ordinary Turkish school for linguistic reasons. My parents found out that there was a Russian school at the Russian General Consulate, but foreigners were not allowed to study there, as it was only for the children of members of the Russian diplomatic corpus. But somehow, thanks to father’s connections and business history, and my knowledge of Russian, it came to be that I studied at that school.
I graduated from there in 2009, and went to Russia to take the Russian State exams. I was 17 then, and my family didn’t want to leave me alone. So they switched my tickets and brought me back to Turkey. We had a big family fight, I refused to go to university in Turkey, so I waited for a year until I was 18, and worked at the Russian consulate in Istanbul, where I was the only person who spoke Russian and Turkish at the same level. I had made some contacts, and my dream was to study at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO). I was told that it was impossible for me to apply to study there especially for free because MGIMO has no scholarships for Turkish citizens. I was however given an interview with the head of the department for foreign students. I told him my story, and I gave him a letter of recommendation from the Russian consulate, and from my uncle, Mr. Ercan Murat, who was a diplomat for over 50 years. They said they would consider my application and let me know. Two days later I got a call, I went back to see them again and they told me that everything was good, I only needed to obtain a letter from the Russian embassy in Turkey that I needed a scholarship. I obtained that, and MGIMO agreed to give me a scholarship.
This was a one in a million chance to end up studying where I really wanted to — and I made it! I studied international law, and graduated in 2014. I went straight on to a Masters course in the same subject and graduated from that last year. I decided to study further, so now I am a Ph.D. student also at MGIMO, but this time I am studying political science.
How do you relate to Turkish culture now, having lived in Russia for so long? Do you see any Turkish culture in Russians?
I was raised in both cultures simultaneously. My mother is descended from a Circassian, and I see a lot of Turkish culture in Russians. I am aware of the thing called the Russian soul; this is an understanding that comes from my early childhood, from a variety of things I did, such as dancing, drawing, from just living here.
What are the main difficulties you have living here in Russia?
I am sometimes struck by the anger of people. I have found a way to handle this, I just smile at Russians, it surprises them, and they think: why is she smiling? Turkish people are very different in this respect. Maybe they are too relaxed! My understanding of Russia and Russians made me come to the decision of becoming a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
How do you relate to Islam in Turkey?
I was very lucky in that I was raised in a family that really believed in a modern, secular Turkey. It is an important family that was one of those that helped the country become a Republic. I understood what an effort they put in to making Turkey a modern stable country. Every single year I fly to Istanbul and I see the changes are massive. I was born into a country where everyone could live together. If somebody’s face wasn’t covered — nobody would say anything. Now they are rewriting all the rules, and I am not sure where I can go. Stereotypes aside, people now are angry with each other.
Do you think that one side will eventually win?
No, I don’t think anybody will win. Turkey is a multicultural country, it’s geographically positioned in a way that makes it the gateway between the East and the West. It was always a home for every religion and every nation. You cannot change Turkey’s history, that’s what makes my heart ache. Russia is a multinational country and somehow they manage to keep it together. Of course there are problems, like the Chechnya region, but somehow it works.
Does Western democracy in Turkey really work? If it hasn’t, is there a bond there between Russians and Turks?
I think the two countries are quite similar. We have two leaders who have been there for quite some time, and who lead using the same methods. At the same time, the two countries are very different. I really do believe that many problems are caused not by the leaders themselves but by the people who surround them. I see that in both countries there is nobody who could replace these two people. If a leader goes, a whole system collapses.
Right now in Turkey we are about to have a referendum, where the country will vote for or against Presidential rule. The country is splitting into two camps, and many people are leaving. Quite the opposite is happening in Russia; people are uniting here. When the sanctions came, people started uniting.
Are there many Turks in Russia?
Yes, there are a lot of people who moved here 15 to 20 years ago and started families here. There are more Russian women, however, who married Turkish men and who moved to Turkey. There is a massive diaspora there, one of the biggest. It’s amazing how quickly Russian women adapt to Turkish culture, which is very different from their own. Turkish men are raised in a completely different way. I went the other way. This is quite hard, because as you know, there are more Russian women than there are men here. So there is always a big fight for the man. People are always very surprised when they hear that a Turkish girl moved to Russia.
How is it for you living with a Russian man?
I think my Russian background helps. Although I am very loud and active – If you step on my toes I will bite – but still I try to be more understanding than Russian women. I feel that men and women are equal but I prefer for him to be the leader.
Do you want to stay here?
I never regret making the choice to come to Russia when I was 18, although it was very hard at the time. Now my family says that it is better for me to stay in Russia. Maybe this year I will open a company with a Russian friend – a consultancy and legal advisory – helping both Russians and Turks. But we shall see how everything goes. The situation is not stable.