It wasn't until I saw Istanbul from the air through the plane window that I truly realized the milestone that Turks has undergone through since WWI.
Later, seeing the positive change in the city made me realize how Ottoman Lebanon still was, and how numerous are the missed opportunities that led it far from where Istanbul currently stands.
The greatest turkish delight, in addition to pistachio pomegranate, was the city itself.
Many aspects swept me off, not in a particular order:
The abundance of monuments and exquisite architectural detailing,
The road infrastructure which channels some 15 million people without major traffic*,
The city's harmonious relationship with the sea through its public waterfronts,
The livable urban fabric and the natural topography which allows unexpected vistas of the Bosphorus,
The Istanbul Modern,
In addition to guilty pleasures: Tulips, Turkish delights,Whirling Derviches, Bazaars and Hammams...
Debating the historical development and nation building of Turkey with friends while having kebab, we reflected on the benefits of secularization and its impact on Turkey's foreign & interior affairs, economy, urban development, modern and solid institutional structure... This led us to compare Turkey's path to other nations which took divergent (mostly religious) constitutional partis, like Lebanon and Pakistan.
I was intrigued to find out how Ataturk managed to do it, at the backdrop of WW1. When I asked if he imposed the reforms autocratically, an Istanbuli replied that it was not the case, that the people longed to move on. The veneration for Ataturk is certainly obvious throughout the city. So i returned to Lebanon with reads and started my own research on the subject.
Apparently, Ataturk's reform process was not that democratic, given the way he dealt with minorities and resisting religious authorities with firm implementation methods. In a vague allusion to him, Antoine de St Exupery mentioned in Le Petit Prince how a turkish astrologist won the recognition of a scientific convention because of his attire; after his ruler, a dictator, had them dress the European way.
Looking at them from the present, one argues whether these were the only successful methods to deal with the prevalent culture at the time and plant the seeds of Enlightenment. Later, the new turkish constitution has been guarded by the military against any potential change, leading to 1960, 1970 and 1980s army uprisings against diverging rules. The results of this political legacy are certainly obvious today: progressive education, secularized civic and social life, liberalization of women, thriving economy, flourishing arts, culture and design scene.
Fact which got me thinking whether "enlightened autocracy" is better than "participatory democracy" in Lebanon, given the slow and unbalanced growth of the country since independence, its status quo due to multiple power struggles since the Cedar revolution in 2005, and the absence of civic culture and enlightened citizenship...
However, the problem remains with popular indoctrination and the cult of the reforming leader (real plague of the Arab world, China, Cuba, and so on..) rather than the rise of informed masses and a bottom up process. Also, I do not believe in determinism and the fact that a nation has to cross the same path of others to modernization... It's too naive of a thought.
It wasn't until last year that Lebanese were exempted from visas to travel to Turkey ( which is also the only country in the world to do so). I always wondered why Turkey remained relatively distant from Lebanon all this time. The disputed genocides and forced migrations between 1915 and 1923 leading to major Armenian and Greek Orthodox communities in Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the rise of Islamophobia in Europe certainly account to this fact.
In all cases, with no visa required, low airfares and being 1.30 hours away, Istanbul has placed itself among top destinations for the Lebanese public's weekend getaways.
*I later found out that lack of traffic directly relates to the fact that 45% istanbulis take (good!) public transport, 45% walk and only 15% have private cars. Following data courtesy of Urban Age.