YPFP NY Member Spotlight: Maria Eliades
A monthly opportunity to get to know the diverse and interesting members who are part of YPFP NY. If you’re interested in being featured, email Samantha Flick.
You recently moved to the New York area. Where were you living before?
I grew up in New Jersey and attended Drew University, so the greater New York area has always been home. But I’ve been living abroad for the last seven years. For the majority of that time I was living in Istanbul, Turkey. My family is Greek and my dad was born in Istanbul, so I went there to learn more about my family roots and to conduct research on the lives of Greeks in Istanbul during the 1950s. I left for a couple years to get my Master’s in Modern Greek at the University of Oxford, but returned to Istanbul after I finished my degree. I lived there until the end of 2016.
What has it been like transitioning back to the U.S.?
I am definitely experiencing some reverse culture shock. One of the things I loved most about living in Istanbul was how much people valued life over work. Don’t get me wrong, everyone I knew was invested in what they did for a living, but they never let their friendships or personal lives suffer because of their work.
Now that you’re back in New York, what are you up to?
I’m currently working a variety of freelance positions; everything from copywriting to teaching a weekly Turkish lesson. I’m also a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog on Turkish and Greek culture, literature, and politics. After living abroad for so long, and particularly in Turkey, I would like to ultimately be in a role that would allow me to better inform American policy makers about Turkey and the region. Really knowing a place and speaking its language brings insight that you can’t acquire from reading books or articles. I know how many things work in Turkey, especially on a bureaucratic level after having worked at a state university. I also have a deep respect for how Turks understand that to really work well with someone you first need to spend time getting to know them, even just over a cup of tea.
What are your thoughts on the recent Turkish referendum that passed? Can you explain its significance?
The referendum makes the presidential system in Turkey much more similar to the U.S. model, in which the President has the authority, among other things, to appoint cabinet officials instead of those individuals being elected into their roles. It will also reset current President Erdogan’s term, so that he potentially can stay in power until 2029. Unfortunately, with the restrictions on Turkish civil society–from NGOs to journalists–I do not feel that conditions in Turkey are conducive to this expansion of presidential powers. In light of the narrow win by the vote in favor of the presidential system, we will see further arrests of opposition party members and a narrowing of freedom of speech.
What books do you recommend for those interested in learning more about Turkey?
To get an understanding of Turkish history before Erdogan, I recommend reading Turkey Unveiled. I also recommend reading Twice a Stranger to learn about the making of modern Turkey and the experience of minority groups. Turkey Since 1989 provides insight into contemporary Turkish politics. For a taste of Turkish literature, I highly recommend picking up Nazim Hikmet’s epic poem, Human Landscape from My Country; Sevgi Soysal’s novel set in 1960s Ankara, Noontime in Yenişehir; and the poetry collection, Istanbul: Poetry of Place, which has work by everyone from Orhan Veli and Cemal Süreyya to Süleyman I and Roxelana.
Aside from going back to Turkey, what country is at the top of your travel wishlist for 2017?
I can never get enough of Greece, so I would love to go back there, but I’m also all about experiencing new places. Since I’m back in the Western Hemisphere, I’m eager to explore South America. I would love to visit Brazil for its fado music and diverse landscapes.
When did you join YPFP NY? What is your favorite YPFP NY event that you’ve attended?
I joined earlier in this year after moving back to the NYC area. I wanted to meet other people like me who share my interests in politics, global affairs, and traveling. I’ve really enjoyed the happy hours — drinking and politics do go well together. I also really like that YPFP NY partners with other organizations, and am looking forward to going to the “Nationalism, Populism, and the 2017 Elections” event on April 27.