Which is something Çelebi has been loudly decrying. "I've been pretty direct at conferences, to the point where, when we moved into the technopark, the general management asked me to stop criticizing them," he says, grinning. Because this government is eager to hear from business, Çelebi meets frequently with high-level government officials. "This government is actually doing things, and out of 10 things, they do seven right things and three wrong things. So in the aggregate, it's good," Çelebi says.
Because a successful R&D company is so rare in Turkey, Çelebi is becoming rather usefully prominent. The high-profile transport and telecom minister has visited AirTies' office, and an official recently waved around an AirTies router in parliament. "They know us on a first-name basis and are always supporting us. I could never imagine pulling that type of clout together in the U.S.," Çelebi says. He was also selected as a fellow by Endeavor, an American nonprofit that aids entrepreneurs in emerging countries. Endeavor has connected him with influential board members and $5 million in funding from Turkish businessmen.
As for his future in Turkey, Çelebi's betting the political climate and economy will remain stable. Atatürk enforced a strict secularism in government upon his ascension in 1923, and the country has adhered to it since. Nevertheless, the current government has been advocating a more Islamist stance. Çelebi notes that when a political party pushes religion, the majority of the country pushes back. "Every once in a while, the Islamist government tries to do this little thing or that little thing, there's a big uproar, and it shuts down," he says. "I think Turkey's way beyond that type of a situation." Nevertheless, he's conscious of Turkey's volatility, and has tried to protect himself by diversifying into other markets and by saving money.
"There's a lot of stuff here that still drives me up the wall," Çelebi says. "People don't follow rules; laws are just frivolously broken. But it's all the other stuff. The geographic advantages, the cost advantages, it's a booming market, I have unbelievable access to people. So, yeah, there are negatives. No doubt about it, there are negatives. But the positives far outweigh them." Whatever happens politically, he believes broadband use will continue to grow.
On a warm winter night, the Çelebis leave the kids with instructions to heat up some chicken, and they drive the 20 minutes to the Taksim district, the center of hip Istanbul life. They snag a prime street parking spot off Istiklal Caddesi, the crowded pedestrian thoroughfare, and duck into a dilapidated apartment lobby, crowd into an elevator with slim-hipped twentysomethings speaking Turkish and English and French, and emerge at the top of the building. They have reservations at Istanbul 360, one of the city's chicest restaurants, paneled with floor-to-ceiling glass that offers views of the St. Antoine's belfry just a few feet away. Farther out, across the night-black waters of the Golden Horn, the Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque stand floodlit and glowing over the city. The menu, too, reflects Istanbul's mix of sophistication and tradition; it offers pastirma, an air-cured Turkish beef, but it's wrapped in a mod-looking wonton. This is one of their favorite spots, and now that Aydin's old enough to babysit, they have weekly dinners à deux at restaurants like this.
Life wasn't always so glamorous. Given the easy adjustment they had to Hong Kong, Maria and Bülent assumed the move to Turkey would be smooth. But in Hong Kong they'd been expats with an American company. Here they were on their own, with the future of Bülent's business shaky. "Sometimes it's better not to know in advance," Maria says. "That first year aged us so much--just not really knowing if it was going to work and saying, did we just make the biggest mistake of our lives?"
Almost three years later, they move fluidly in Istanbul. At their corner table, they order in Turkish--a veal stew for Bülent, duck for Maria, a bottle of Cabernet, and they'll try those pastirma wontons too--and talk. They discuss Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist who was assassinated a week earlier; they're eager to know if the 50,000-strong mourners reacting to his shooting were covered in the American media. That leads to a discussion of how they try to explain freedom of speech to their friends, arguing that it strengthens a nation rather than threatens its security. (Turkey's Article 301, under which Dink had been convicted, prohibits denigrating Turkey, Turkishness, or the government.) They talk about Turkey's European Union candidacy; whether it joins the EU doesn't matter, they say, but the reforms it must adopt to be considered will bring needed modernization. And they talk about women at work. At her law firm, Maria says, men celebrate the difference between the genders, opening doors and complimenting her and her female colleagues on their dresses. Because the Çelebis are from America, they bring a broad, questioning perspective to Turkey's idiosyncrasies. That same perspective is what lets Bülent see the business opportunities in Turkey, and it's also why he gets so frustrated with the inefficiencies in his new country. He doesn't want Turkey to become America; he moved here for the different culture. He just wants the country to move forward a little faster, to adopt American business practices a little quicker, to strain at its reins a little harder.
Stephanie Clifford is the magazine's senior writer.
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