24 April, 2010

24 Nisan: a historic day

After dinner at the excellent little Balkan Lokantasi - a cafeteria style restaurant just off Istiklal Caddesi - we rejoined Elif for tea at her apartment in Cihangir. Our hostess explained that today was significant - not only in history, as the date of the controversial Armenian issue, but in the unfolding of Turkish politics. Tonight at seven a group of Turkish intellectuals and other liberal thinkers would gather in Taksim square for an hourlong vigil to make a global statement: despite the government's official position, some Turks recognize and apologize for the tragic events of April 24, 1915.

vigil in Taksim square

At seven, Mustafa and i made the short walk up Siraselviler Caddesi to Taksim. The square was crowded as always, but this evening it resembled Kızılay on any given Saturday. Scores of polis filtered the current of pedestrians, and formed a blockade limiting access to one corner of the square. Wanting to avoid any potential trouble, and get a birds' eye view as things unfolded, we took seats beside a young French journalist on the rooftop terrace of a nearby Simit Sarayı. 

twenty minutes later, and higher resolution

Things remained, happily, uneventful. When a small group of conservative counter-protesters carrying Turkish and Azeri flags and tossing leaflets into the air began to cross Siraselviler, polis blocked their way, and dozens of TV cameramen dashed in that direction. The ranks of candle-holders stood firm, and passed red roses to each observer. At the hour's end, they threw the roses skyward, and as they began to walk down Istiklal, a chant filled the air: Türk, Kürd, Armeni kardeşler. The Armenians are not alone. 

The significance of this evening, both Mustafa and Laure, our French neighbor, observed after she filed her live report with French 1, is that for the first time, Turkish polis protected the vigil-holders. It marks a turning point for democratic expression in Turkiye, where just three years ago, a nationalist teen killed journalist Hrant Dink over his views on the Armenian issue; songwriter Sezen Aksu composed "Guvercin" in commemoration. Here's a link to the song, one of my favorites.


All i will say for now is that it's lovely. A little over an hour by ferry from Kadiköy lies a different world. There are no taxis. In the Adalar municipality - the Prince's Islands - there are no cars, in fact, save a few trucks owned by the municipality. Instead, the streets are crowded with bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. Hand carts are common, and a bakery delivery man pedals a bicycle with a load of loaves drawn behind it. Another workman, just finished loading a wagon with bottled water, clucks to the horse and sets off. There are thirsty tourists to serve, and here on Büyükada, the supply chain makes use of timeless machinery.

The "big island" pier is crowded, and the stream of people thins as one leave the streets around it. On a rented bicycle (lines for the carriage rides are rather long) you can see a lot more. In back streets, gardens are everywhere, though only wisteria, acacia, and a few roses are blooming yet.

If you go to Büyükada, friends tell me, you should hike to the island's peak and visit Aya Yorghi Church and Monastery, from whence there is a spectacular view. Alas, my traveling companion had sore feet, and a slipping bicycle chain, so we didn't make it far.

Return to İstanbul

lucky shot from the Prınce's Islands ferry

With new friends in Istanbul, i had no reason not to return - and with a long weekend at my disposal, i did just that. In celebration of the national Children's Day, Turkish flags hung everywhere, and Turkiye takes flags seriously. As you can see from the image below. Kız Kulesi, in the foreground, is a popular landmark, though it's dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Levent.  

Kiz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower) and the Levent skyline

One evening on this trip, friend Mustafa and i were invited by a friend to a soldier's "getting out of the army" party. Military service is mandatory in Turkiye, .....more coming....

20 April, 2010

Traveler's wisdom

My friend Mary Yarumian, who's been around her fair share of the world, sent this along.

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” 

– Steinbeck

18 April, 2010

Kurds: an introduction to conflict

This evening i went to dinner with two Kurdish friends. Through them i encountered another face of Turkiye - where a family member held as political prisoner was tortured until he became physically handicapped; where a new, state-run television at last offers Kurdish-language programming, and famous singer in exile refuses to return until his return will represent not political statement but genuine equality. The people of Diyarbakir have a lot to say - and once i catch up on this two week backlog, you'll learn more about them, and the delicious treat that is çevizli sucuk.