ISTANBUL â€" Since Turkey made conciliatory moves towards Russia and Israel last week, critics have pointed to the inconsistencies between what has been said before and what is being said now. But that is not the real issue here: The real issue is about the roots, the true nature and the costs of these changes in foreign policy.
The current state of the deal with Russia is not clear, but if matters unfold as planned, we can start selling tomatoes to Russia again. That part is easy. But dealing with jihadists is nothing like selling tomatoes, and this issue is going to give us a headache. The Istanbul airport attack was a clear sign of the cost: Is it a coincidence that ISIS members who carried out the suicide bombings turned out to be jihadists with Russian citizenship?
Turkey started supporting radical Chechen fighters â€" who are considered enemies by the Russian state â€" long before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power. At the end of the Cold War era, Turkey jumped at the opportunities presented throughout the breakup of the Soviet empire. On the one hand, moves towards the "Turkish world from the Adriatic Sea to the Great Wall of China;" on the other hand, assuming an active role in the conflicts in the Balkans and being close to the Islamist groups who fight in Russia and in areas with Russian populace. All of this was effectively part of Turkeyâ€™s official foreign policies before AKP ever took over the government.
But best to turn our attention to the present: More recent turmoil in Syria turned Turkey into a gateway for the jihadists who were going to Syria to fight against Assadâ€™s regime. At first, Turkey was not alone in this policy, as Western allies supported it, but then things got complicated. We all know that the jihadists who went to fight in Syria didnâ€™t go there to support this countryâ€™s "moderate opposition," but to establish an Islamic State. And we also know that some of these Muslims who "lost their way" were professional fighters who had gained experience in areas such as Afghanistan and Chechnya. That is how ISIS was formed â€" it didnâ€™t suddenly appear out of nowhere.
A jihad hub
In short, during this process, Turkey was a safe hub for the Caucasian and Middle Eastern jihadists. So yesterdayâ€™s "jihadists running to Syria to help" are todayâ€™s terrorists from the al-Nusra Front or ISIS. Mayhem was inevitable.
In fact, Western countries and Turkey started paying for their involvement. Now, the Turkey-Russia rapprochement adds new layers to this problem, and it will continue to do so. If you start chasing those who used to be able to easily come and go to Syria and settle down in Turkey with their families, and start calling them terrorists, chaos breaks out. It will be hard to explain the deal with Russia to the Chechens or to the Dagestani who previously found Turkeyâ€™s support in their war with Russia. Mending the relationship with Russia will require Turkey to further isolate these groups, and the cost of doing so could be high.
The deal with Israel is another story. Clearly, both Israeli and Turkish leaders, as well as Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia, found common ground not for peace or diplomacy, but to strike a balance against Iran in the Middle East. Rather than a new hope for peace in the Middle East, such an alliance promises only deeper sectarian tensions and further threatens the delicate Turkey-Iran relationship.
Finally, what do we make of President Erdoganâ€™s promise of citizenship for the Syrian refugees? For starters, it confirms the Syrian war as one of the biggest threats to Turkeyâ€™s internal political balance. Certainly, the government in power will try to sell this issue on "humanitarian" grounds. But we all know that this issue is not about humanitarianism â€" it is a political tool for increasing the number of Sunni Muslims in Turkey, which will increase the Alawite-Sunni tension. And then there is effect on the Kurdish-Arab balance. The Turkish government doesnâ€™t learn from the past, and insists on continuing to play with fire.
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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