My Istanbul, Then and Now

by Raisa Bruner

Four years ago is nothing more than a blink of an eye in the life of a city. But for me, it’s been a long four years — and as far as I can tell, Istanbul has changed.

I first arrived in Istanbul exactly four years ago with my family, ready to test out Asia for the first time. We stayed in Sultanahmet, just a few blocks from where the Globalist stayed this summer. We visited the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia — and left each sight more impressed than the last. We tasted our fair share of savory kebap, baklava, and çay. Enamored with Istanbul’s glittering Ottoman past, we strolled awestruck through the Grand Bazaar and haggled for brightly colored pashminas. The Bosphorus was consistently a clear blue. The sun was always out in force. My family remembers our week in Istanbul fondly.

Istanbul is nothing if not a picturesque city, brimming with unusual skylines and waterways. (Bruner/TYG)

Istanbul enchanted me then, and returning to it last month I found it brimming with all its charms, still as seductive as ever. The smell of apple nargileh smoke; the way the mosques shine in buttery-gold light in the early evening; the odd jumble of Ottoman strangeness and European familiarity; the Grand Bazaar’s overindulgence of merchandise. These are experiences that I will associate with Istanbul always. They haven’t changed. Like any city who has been through it all, Istanbul will hold tightly to the things that characterize her.

It's easy to get lost in the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar, overwhelmed by the sheer number of stalls and options. (Bruner/TYG)

But my time in the city this summer was different. It is hard to extricate my own perceptions, altered from the simple fact of aging, from the truth of actual change. After all, I was a fresh 16 back then and traveling with the comfortable cohort of a family and a tour guide. Everything was taken care of. This time, as a co-trip planner, I was responsible for 22 students; I was 20 years old; and I was much more traveled. Istanbul was going to have to show me her beauty was more than skin-deep, more than just about decorated mosques and the shine of gold leaf paint.

The evening light in Istanbul is golden, just like the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia. Above, the New Mosque shines at night. (Bruner/TYG)

And it certainly is. The Topkapi Palace is great, but mobbed with throngs of over-eager tourists I was no longer enthralled by the intricate mosaics and impressive gems. Instead I fell back in love with the city when we stumbled into the New Mosque one afternoon just as the call to prayer began. We watched the choreography as hundreds rose and knelt in unison, a body together: Beautiful. Another day, hungry and tired after traipsing around the city, we came upon the Galata Bridge and the stalls of fishermen who sell Istanbul’s famous fresh fish sandwiches. Sitting on the edge of the concrete over the water, biting into the baguette, watching the fishing poles dangling over the bridge: Beautiful. And then another night, attending a concert by the Turkish pop band Multitap (see a report of the day we interviewed them: http://globalistturkey.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/belated-musings-from-istanbul-an-afternoon-with-multitap/), dancing around with hip Turkish twenty-somethings in a loud nightclub: Maybe not beautiful, but definitely wonderful. This other side of the city, the one devoid of tour guides and American families like my own, was far more interesting to me now.

On the north side of the Galata Bridge, men run stands preparing fresh fish sandwiches. The ingredients: a baguette, lettuce, tomato, spices, fish, lemon juice. (Bruner/TYG)

I think that Istanbul is more conservative now, but she is also more overtly political. More women wear headscarves, judging from my (very un-scientific) memory comparison of my two visits to the city; but more women also seem to wear fashionable Western clothes. The last four years in the city have seen an increasing political shift towards — how to describe it? — pride, maybe, as Turkey (in the reigns of Erdogan) charts a very independent path. Tourism seems to have picked up, too, and like in so many of the destinations of cruise ships around the world, culture has been converted into commodity. Here it comes in the form of copious stacks of pashminas made in China, evil eye bracelets for a single Turkish lira, “authentic” copper tea sets, and plentiful boxes of packaged Turkish delight. I don’t remember experiencing souvenir fatigue four years ago in the same way I did this time, but maybe it all seemed so much shinier and more exotic then. I do remember feeling that this was a city to which I could come back countless times, discovering something new on each occasion.

The view back across the Galata Bridge at Sultanahmet is filled with fishing lines, the vague outlines of mosques, and usually a ferry or two. (Bruner/TYG)

I make it a point to travel to new places. But if this trip to Istanbul was any indication, perhaps I should be going back more often to places of my past, places where my memories and their modern realities coincide. I am learning that one of the most meaningful parts of travel for me is figuring out how my relationships with people and places changes as I grow and how the places have, in turn, evolved. But of course, none of these discoveries would be possible without the Globalist: conducting interviews and doing reporting with the magazine is one of the main things that has brought meaning and depth to my travel experiences.

Four years from now I hope to return to Istanbul again. The layers of history, culture, and, now, memory run deep here.

Channel Istanbul: The Next Panama Canal?

by Mariana de Lanzas Goded

A new wave of pride and optimism is spreading through Turkey: it’s called 2023. It’s a plan endorsed by Prime Minister Erdogan and his ruling party, the AKP, consisting of a variety of projects to be completed by the advertized date, when the Republic of Turkey will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. The most striking of these projects was announced this past April after years of excitement and intrigue since Erdogan claimed, back in 2008, to have a crazy project in mind. As he recently unveiled, a huge water passage of approximately 45 km will be built on the European side of Istanbul connecting the sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, with the aim of minimizing the risks and dangers associated with the traffic through the Bosphorus. The construction of Channel Istanbul, as it has been named, will prevent natural disasters such as the oil spill that occurred in 1979 after two vessels collided at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus. Moving all marine traffic out of the Bosphorus will surely prevent Istanbul from suffering the consequences of such accidents, but Erdogan sees in this project much more than an environmental security measure.

Ferries cruise down the Bosphorus Strait, the strip of water that connects the Black Sea to the Marmara. (Bruner/TYG)

Ever since ownership of the Bosphorus was deferred to an international committee Turkey has wanted it back. Today, Turkey has little control over the strait and thus lacks the right to charge significant fees to the hundreds of ships that make their way through the Bosphorus every day. Only when Turkey owns the passage from one sea to the other will she be able to enrich herself from the daily traffic.

But Channel Istanbul means more than money for Turkey. Erdogan has relentlessly used the 2023 idea to drive his electoral campaign forward, intensifying the nationalism that’s gradually spreading through the country. The mere idea of Channel Istanbul has already become a symbol of this new surge of Turkish patriotism—a sentiment that any foreigner can feel when talking to locals and walking through the streets of Istanbul. The project itself is, however, crazy. Some argue that opening such a water passage could disrupt the water patterns and chemical compositions of both seas, causing great marine damage. Others point out that the construction of Channel Istanbul would shift the population and activity of the city to the West, ruining many fertile lands and reshaping the whole concept of the city of Istanbul as we know it. Meanwhile, others wonder about the dangers of breaking Istanbul apart from the rest of Europe with a physical separation of such proportions. But as many speculate, Channel Istanbul—and in fact the whole 2023 scheme—seems to be more about what the idea can achieve today than about whether the project will actually be carried out tomorrow.

Many bridges traverse the span of water while shipping boats pass underneath, connecting continental Europe with Asia. (Bruner/TYG)

It is of course no coincidence that these grand plans happen to commemorate the centenary of the Turkish republic as founded by the widely revered Ataturk. Channel Istanbul looks both to the glory of past days and to the future, signaling Turkey’s increasing relevance in the international sphere. It is an opportunity to remind the Turkish population of who they are, at a time when Erdogan needs them the most.

A large ship passes through the Strait. Channel Istanbul would take advantage of the high volume of shipping traffic in the Bosphorus. (Bruner/TYG)

A Reporter’s Reflections: the Huriyet Daily News

by Eli Markham

During our second to last morning in Istanbul, a number of Globalist reporters met with David Judson, a columnist for Hurriyet, Turkey’s largest English-language daily.

A self-described “heretic among the Christians,” Judson spoke about the differences between the state of journalism in America and Turkey. Judson, who was the Editor-in-Chief of Hurriyet until two months ago, was explicit that Turkey is not a friendly country for journalists, but said that America might not be much better.

Turkey is notorious for imprisoning journalists, and Judson said that several of his friends are in prison. Prosecution of journalists routinely earns Turkey poor scores from Reporter’s without Borders.

However, Turkey does have a wealth of different political viewpoints. Istanbul, a city about the size of New York, has thirty different major daily newspapers, while New York has only five. Other large American cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, only have one daily newspaper each. This creates what Judson termed a “diversity of perspective,” even in a place which is lacking “freedom of the press.”

America rarely imprisons its reporters, but there is no diversity in their coverage. When multiple news outlets cover the same event, they all produce similar stories, which Judson attributed to the “cricket effect.” Under this logic, all reporters conform to the same angle, which is generally that of the Associated Press or The New York Times.

“If you send two journalists to cover something you’ll get two stories, but if you send ten journalists you’ll only get one,” Judson said.

He gave numerous examples from his career in which he had tried to write a true story, but was drowned out by the louder voices of hysteria. For example, in his coverage of the L.A. earthquake he made the point that it hadn’t actually been catastrophic, something no one else wanted to hear.

Judson, sadly, suggested no remedies for the problem of media synchronization, only an exhortation to be willing to go against the tide.

Beyond the beaches: landmines in Cyprus

by Sophie Broach

Known for its beautiful beaches and extravagant shopping opportunities, Cyprus is also home to some 15,000 unexploded landmines. I have to assume the majority of tourists that flock to the beaches of Famagusta Bay have no idea that a few miles inland lies one of the island’s four remaining minefields.

Over the last six years, a UN program has removed 27,000 landmines laid in the buffer zone after the inter-ethnic violence of 1974. The project has opened large areas to resettlement and farming, removing a physical barrier to Cyprus’s reunification and helping to eliminate an enduring legacy of violence.

When three of us visited The UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus (UNMACC) last week, we found the office crowded with cardboard boxes and the leader of the program absent in Libya. UNMACC is wrapping up operations of its roughly €400 million project, citing “lack of access to remaining minefields.” This problem of access is purely political. Both the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the southern Republic of Cyprus have refused to allow UNMACC to clear mines in contested areas where Cypriot governments assert UN jurisdiction does not apply. Erik Nikiforous of UNMACC explained that both sides have used the existence of mines as “a political chip…in give and take negotiations.” One will not remove its mines until the other agrees to do so, though Nikiforous estimated Cypriot removal efforts without UN assistance will take ten times longer. The two governments seem more inclined to yield to the undesirable status quo rather than work together to improve the island’s physical environment and help put to rest persistent tensions.

Meanwhile, landmines continue to affect civilians though the most intense North-South violence ended almost four decades ago. Farmers sometimes jeopardize their lives by plowing dangerously close to mines in an effort to maximize crop yields. Nikiforous showed us a picture of an anti-tank mine nestled in the weeds beside a furrow. The plow had missed it by 7.5 cm.

Nikiforous estimated there have been 22 mine-related casualties since UNMACC began in 2006, including a man who followed his dog into a field and a suicidal driver who zigzagged across the ground until his car hit an anti-tank mine. But these are only the reported incidents. Human traffickers sometimes choose deserted mine-ridden areas to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border from the TRNC leading to unreported injuries and deaths.

The UNMACC itself contributed to Cyprus’s diverse immigrant community by attracting workers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Professional de-miners often travel to regions of conflict across the world after gaining expertise in their own mine-plagued countries. I assumed the salary in this dangerous line of work would be high and made an uninformed comment indicating so. Nikiforous replied, “I can tell you [the salary], but you’ll hate yourself for being American, and I’ll hate myself for being British.” He didn’t tell us, but I did feel a flare of hatred for the gruesome unfairness of the whole situation. Mines are already expensive to remove, generally costing upwards of $1,000 each while costing merely $1 to implant. Without cheap labor, surely more mines would persist, causing more deaths and environmental degradation. But do things have to operate this way? Especially in ritzy Cyprus?

Searching for the missing

by Emily Ullmann

A belated reflection from Cyprus…

In the aftermath of the 1974 Cypriot conflict, 1,464 Greek Cypriots and 494 Turkish Cypriots were reported missing. Over the years that followed, both mass graves and individual sites were uncovered, revealing bones and other artifacts. Thirty-seven years later, the political issues remain unresolved, and the UN-occupied buffer zone holds together the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Without a consensus on which to build a joint group to identify the human remains, the UN created a Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) to help dig up and identify the bodies.

Hearing about this program, Sophie and I went to visit the UNFICYP headquarters at Ledra Palace to speak to Oleg Egorov, CMP Political Affairs officer, about the impact of the CMP so far.

UN anthropologists analyze the remains that the CMP has unearthed. (Ullmann/TYG)

Ledra Palace lies deep in the buffer zone, a large, beautiful hotel surrounded by fences and barbed wire. Sophie and I entered through a gate, escorted by armed security. Instead of a concierge, a UN blue beret sat at the front desk and phoned Egorov to inform him of our arrival. Egorov approached us, introducing himself and leading us to his office. As we passed through the hallways, he explained that Ledra Palace had been Nicosia’s most luxurious hotel before it became the site of some of the heaviest fighting. Now, as the UNFICYP building, it seems eerie and desolate, with shells and bullet holes still in the walls.

Egorov explained to us the tough political situation surrounding the CMP, which consists of Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, and UN members. “The UN is a go-between on CMP to navigate the committee through a sensitive and tangled web of political interests, agendas, desires, and dangers,” he explained, adding that the two sides use remains and threats to impede cooperation efforts as bargaining chips.

At the heart of the project remain the families, Egorov emphasized. Due to this goal, the investigators at CMP are exempt from having to provide the names of the witnesses who come forward with possible locations of bodies. Although this continues the trend of leaving the issue unresolved, it enables people to feel safe approaching the committee with information, and thus the identification of bodies comes before blaming people or solving the political issues. In this way, CMP seems to hope to unearth the past in order to put it to rest. However, the program has caused some tempers to flare. We later found out that most of the families want to know who killed their loved ones and how they died. Some Cypriots and organizations such as Amnesty International have argued the program is inadequate because it fails to bring any murderers to justice.

Later that day, Egorov drove Sophie, Cathy, and I deep into the buffer zone to see the anthropological lab where scientists analyze and identify bones. The way with which Egorov explained the place was sobering.

“This lab is the cage. It is the pain and spirit of Cyprus. The ghost of the terrible past.”

In the lab, an anthropologist named Popi Chrysostomou gave us a tour and explained the procedure of comparing the identification given by the bones to the information provided by the families who originally reported a friend or loved one missing. Once the scientists match the bones to a missing person, they notify the families and give them the opportunity to see the remains. The family can ask how their loved one died, but if they do not ask, Chrysostomou and her staff will not offer the facts.

Anthropologist Popi Chrysostomou shows us the process for identifications. (Ullmann/TYG)

For our last stop, Egorov brought us to the room where the families get to see the remains and any accompanying artifacts. The room was strikingly bare, almost sterile. When a family comes to see remains, only a religious leader (an imam for a Muslim Turkish Cypriot or a priest for an Orthodox Greek Cypriot) and a scientist stay with them in the room. The process, though relatively short, still gives the utmost importance to the comfort of the families.

After identifying a set of remains, the UNCMP brings families to this room to show the remains and provide closure. (Ullmann/TYG)

Although the UN CMP treats the families with respect and values their well being, the program requires a vast amount of time and money ($3 million per year since 2006) without getting any closer to a solution for the political and ethnic conflicts. This program created change in a place that seems stuck in time; nonetheless, it has not necessarily gone far enough. The importance of the CMP cannot be underestimated. If the bicommunal workers do not use it as a means of cooperation and peacekeeping, the staff will have missed an incredible opportunity to not only give the families peace of mind, but also a more concrete peace and safety that would come with a solution to the problems.

Wrapping up…

Dear Readers,

Tonight was our last night as a group in Turkey. We spent it well: at dinner in the Istanbul Modern, looking out at the Bosphorous and soaking in the city we’ve all fallen in love with. This was my first time traveling with the Globalist, and tonight as both new and old Glo-trippers alike reflected on what the last two weeks have meant, I think we all felt something similar. This is, as Mariana pondered after dinner, a new kind of travel — and even for those of us who think we’re experts at the art of globetrotting, our minds and eyes have been opened. Globalista traveling means coming to a new place and asking questions of it until we began to understand, and, as Raffi so eloquently reflected for us at dinner, it means peeling layer after layer off of a place to slowly get a closer look, and in the process, learning as much about each other and ourselves as we do about this new place.

More posts will be coming in the next few days, as people continue to write up some final reflections, so be on the lookout for those. But for now, we will sleep one more night in beautiful Istanbul, our heads still filled with thoughts on carpets and singers and new and old friends. Thank you for your readership: it means the world to have friends, family, and supporters following our pursuits as we do what we love best.

Many thanks,

Sanjena Sathian
Editor in Chief

Glo meeting presidents count: 3

by Emily Ullmann

“Glo is about to meet another president… of an unrecognized country!”

Sanjena could barely contain her disbelief and excitement as she followed three men and the paparazzi into a remodeled Byzantine church. On a walking tour led by two of our friends, one a Turkish Cypriot and one a Greek Cypriot, we had just entered the northern side of Nicosia, which is a part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Our two guides brought us to these vast, gothic Byzantine churches to explain the complicated history and transformation of the churches into mosques. As we approached the buildings, we saw a crowd of people and cameramen swarming around two men. Our Turkish Cypriot guide pointed to a short, bald man explaining that he was Cemal Metin Bulutoğluları, the mayor of Northern Nicosia. We had our cameras posed on him even before our guide explained that the taller man with white hair was Derviş Eroğlu, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

From left to right: the current President of the TRNC, the current mayor of northern Nicosia and the first president of the TRNC. (Ullmann/TYG)

Before we could totally understand the situation, a large man dressed in all black pushed through the crowd with a small, older man in tow. As it turned out, this man, Rauf Raif Denktaş, was one of the founding members and the first president of TRNC. We found out later that Denktaş ruled as president for over twenty years and our Greek Cypriot guide described him as, “the impersonation of evil” in the eyes of Greek Cypriots.

The founding President of the TRNC made only a brief appearance at the art gallery opening. (Ullmann/TYG)

Eager journalists as always, Sanjena and I charged to the front of the pack with cameras and notepads ready. We stood with the other reporters, snapping shots trying to get close enough to ask a question. In the end, the leaders had to go their separate ways only ten minutes after arriving for an appearance. We did, however, succeed in taking pictures both of and with the most important politicians in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

We didn't get an interview, but we did get this shot...(Ullmann/TYG)

Even though those in the south would have had us call them two “pseudo Presidents.”