Köprü by Julian Sayarer
Köprü is the Turkish word for ‘bridge’.
I am half-Turkish and half-British, with being of two cultures also a sort of bridging of its own. My background comes from the east and west of Europe, and having travelled by bicycle some half dozen times between my two cities of London and Istanbul, the journeys across, and my origins at either side, have given me a relationship to the continent that feels close.
Since those first rides across Europe, I cycled further afield, cycled once around the world and in various parts of it. I always worked to put together granular bits of roadside human experience and the macro frameworks into which lives are supposed to fit, or at least be represented.
When part of your heritage is in Turkey, and when writing about politics is what you do, it is inevitable that the word ‘bridge’ at some point makes an appearance. Turkey has always been famed, at least for the West, as the bridge between east and west; occident and orient. Whether this is accurate is another question; a bridge after all presupposes fundamental differences between one side and another.
Nobody, moreover, wants to be stuck on a bridge; in limbo. It was nice to learn from a friend that the same root word appears in the Egyptian Arabic for a bridge, ‘kubri’; a sign that the language and history of Turkey is shared further south and east, just as it is also found to the north and west. To make any one place a bridge is to overlook the connectedness of everything, the similarities both either side and on the bridge.
It is not only cultures that evoke the metaphor of bridges. We talk of the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy requiring ‘bridge’ technologies. Processes of automation and artificial intelligence all create and destroy both political and job opportunities that leave people in states of flux and transition. Bridges can be precarious, but they can also provide the liminal space from which things can be seen differently.
Physical bridges are useful in that they help us span open space; a river, strait, valley, mountain range. As a metaphor, however, and particularly for humans and politics, they can often be poor, because they can suggest that the space between two ideas is as real and as hard to span as an actual geographical fissure or gulf. This can dissuade us from attempting to span distances that might in reality be only perceived, or smaller than assumed. It leaves the ‘bridge’ as a place condemned to be stuck between others.
My work has appeared in a lot of places I’m proud of (LRB Blog, Aeon Magazine, Guardian, Tribune, openDemocracy, many others), and - this being the nature of journalism - others I’m not. I’ve now written six books, won a major UK writing award for one of them, worked in documentary film, done public speaking, given lectures, taught classes. I always tried to put what I found into the framework of political theory and international relations I studied at university, along with the efforts at observation and what it is to be human; things I always found best of all in writing and literature. Perhaps in keeping with the spirit and title of the blog, my work always moved in and out of disciplines.
I want to make Köprü a free publication but in the hope that some people who over the years encouraged me to write it also feel it is worth paying for. This will allow me to devote time to writing more regularly, on ideas I otherwise don’t have time to develop. These will often be the sort of writing about specific subjects or ideas that I am certain are of value to but have found hard to get commissioned - sometimes because they are too specific, other times because they fit outside of the foreign policy agenda or attention spans of commercial news.
It will also provide a platform where I can write down thoughts in a fashion less disjointed than social media channels, less rigid than articles and commissioning processes. I’m excited to see what takes shape.