Page 24 - MIGRATION

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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
their properties and the price of the land fell dramatically. The heart of the matter was perhaps
best captured by the forty-eight-year-oldV., resident of Bayrampaşa. He showedme his family firm
for sausages and shared his contentment with the achievement, then took me for a walk around
the neighbourhood. In response to my observation that the area appeared well-maintained, he
remarked, “Well, it’s fine but it is a village!”
There are other details which are also suggestive of the ambiguous social position the re-
settlers occupy in Istanbul. A number of them have careers in the sphere of tourism – as owners or
employees in tourist agencies, or as translators. The important capital they brought from Bulgaria
in this spherewas the Russian language competence – the re-settlers foundprofessional realization
in services for Russian-speaking tourists and tradesmen. This in fact is one of the most significant
niches in the tourist industry in Turkey at present. The hotels in which these tour-operators work
are situated mostly in the district of Laleli (close to the historical center of the city). This location is
not coincidental. The shops which offer wholesale (of clothes, shoes, and textiles) are concentrated
there and this is where the Russian tradesmen – the major client flow of these firms - conduct their
business. The hotels here are relatively cheaper as compared to those in other parts of Istanbul.
To the locals, Laleli is associated with places of entertainment and prostitution, and the latter with
Russian women (See Hann and Bellér-Hann 2002: 87–91). The bad name which certain dimensions
of this district have inevitably “sticks” onto the people who deal with the Russian tourists.
My field observations showed that the Turkish re-settlers from Bulgaria in 1989 had rather
difficultpathsofadaptationandsocial integrationover theyears.AcceptedbytheTurkishauthorities
as “one of their own” (ethnic relatives), in their everyday interactions they had to overcome the
shock of their difference from the locals and deal with the negative, at times even hostile, attitude
of the context in which they settled. The years spent as immigrants led to achieving a satisfactory
financial and social status – the initial loss of status was overcome, the lost home was replaced by
another or others, the foundations of a promising professional career were laid, the issues with
the access to social funds both in Bulgaria and Turkey were solved. The level of contentment here
is mostly measured by comparisons with the situation in Bulgaria – with that which they used
to possess before migrating, and with that which their relatives who stayed there possess or can
afford. Comparisons in view of the local environment (in Turkey) are more complex. It is a more
sharply stratified context (especially if compared to that which they left in 1989), in which even if
they had the same starting point they find themselves in different places now. The factors which
determine their positioning in the Turkish society are various – policies of the central and local
authorities, social characteristics and personal qualities, place of settlement. After the initial years
in Turkey, having restored the routine flow of life, the re-settlers are faced with the issue of finding
their permanent place in a system of social categorization which is relatively unfamiliar to them
and in relation to which they are outsiders. Getting to know this system on the move, so to say,
on the basis of everyday experience which is often accompanied by conflicts, they learn that the
external indicators of status are not sufficient for finding the desirable place in the social landscape
in Turkey. This place is first and foremost a place to be negotiated and re-negotiated with different
social actors – institutions, local communities, professional contexts. The re-settlers on the whole