Southern Hospitality

by Ali Friedman

Where I’m from there’s a well-known custom we like to call ‘Southern hospitality.’ Much to my and my fellow Southerners’ delight (I’m talking about Nathan, Rae, and Raffi), Southern hospitality extends to our current location in the southeast of Turkey.

Upon the group’s arrival to Şanlıurfa, we piled into a mysterious, low-lit cellar with tables elevated just above the ground surrounded by cushions and stacked with a breakfast that included multiple plates of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, pide (flatbread), olives, nuts, pastries, etc. After five days in Urfa, I almost find it unnecessary to mention the endless curved glass cups of çay (tea) that followed our first feast and that would also accompany every single meal and meeting here. At this time however, we were unaccustomed to such practices and our hosts’ laughter at our Western astonishment intermingled with the twang of a sitar-like instrument playing in the background.

A meal with families. (Courtesy Nebi Demirsoy)

We weren’t in Istanbul anymore.

My suspicions of this unusually high level of Turkish-style Southern hospitality were soon confirmed. During our four nights here, we have subsequently been welcomed into the homes of four amazing families.

On our first night the group split in two, separately making our way to the homes of two Urfan families, unaware of the warm welcome to come. Turning the corner into the dining room post-removal of shoes, my heartbeat quickened and my eyes widened as a literal banquet of traditional Urfa kebap, chicken şis, roasted eggplants, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, salad, çorba (lentil soup),ayran (yogurt drink), spices, cilantro, parsley and even more bread radiated deliciousness before my humbled being.

A man grills traditional Turkish kebap meat. (Friedman/TYG)

We sat down to eat Urfa-style, cross-legged on a carpet on the floor, throwing a mix of kebap, spices, peppers, and a variety of other foods into a wrap-style bread and then rolling it all together burrito-style. Unimpressed with our skills, our hosts generously made döner rolls for us and assured us that this lavish welcome exemplified standard Urfa tradition.

We laughed and ate heartily, unaware that our hosts would soon goad us into eating as much as possible. Now a daily occurrence, we found ourselves food-comatose, yet again ignorant to the many cups of çay and plates of şillik (a crepe-like dessert filled with walnuts and drenched in syrup) to follow. At this point a commendation of our courageous translator Mustafa is necessary, who, as one of two Turkish guests, received the brunt of the Urfa force-feeding and managed to translate for 3 hours straight.

Globalistas smile, though in a food coma. (Friedman/TYG)

This behavior continued each time we entered a southeastern household, with variations of baklava, lahmacun (Turkish “pizza”), yogurt salads, rice dishes, and a lamb roasting on a spit making various appearances in a village leader’s home, an imam’s office, and an eye surgeon’s country house, respectively. The conversation matched the food, as Turkish and American politics and culture were discussed with questions from both parties. An invitation to return (and to visit our homes) accompanied every single goodbye.

But Urfa hospitality in no way is contained to the home. Everywhere we go people smile, attempt to exchange a few mutual Turkish and/or English words, and even sometimes give us free goods (like marbled paper)! The tangible friendliness in the Urfan air has not escaped us, so much so that we have now added a çok to our most frequent Turkish saying of teşekkür, changing “thank you” to “thank you very much!”

Another beautiful lunch. (Friedman/TYG)

Çok teşekkür, Urfa! You have outdone even the most hospitable displays of Southern hospitality as we once knew it, and I for one do not know what I will do without the warmth of the people or the endless trays of kebap, baskets of pideand cups of çay.

I am proud to report that just as in the U.S., the South is the place to be in Turkey.

Coloring Turkey, Naturally

by Diana Saverin

If carpet were a language, I think I would dream in it. They are everywhere—lining the floors of mosques and palaces and hanging down on the streets of markets.

As an American, I am used to interior design characterized by beige. Even the vendors here tease me—they coat rugs in acid and put them in the sun for a “sun bath” to create the muted colors so many Americans crave. A lot of what has made Turkish carpets so famous, though, is the richness of the colors, the deep colors that refuse to fade. Turkish carpet traditions around wool, dying, and weaving date back to the 6th century.

Despite this, over the years, methods of creating dyes have shifted. The 19th century meant change for many industries around the world, and one of the most traditional was not immune to such sweeping change. Starting around 1850, chemical dyes became widespread, and soon weavers stopped passing down the methods of natural dyes, until eventually, they were forgotten.
Thirty years ago, though, some sought to reverse this modernizing step. A German science teacher, Dr. Bohmer, was living in Istanbul in the 1970s when he discovered a passion for collecting carpets. He found the colors in the ancient ones much brighter and more resilient. Being a chemist, he decided to find out way. He started to take threads from ancient rugs and distill them, separating the material from the dye before tracing the ingredients in the dye. He soon found the sources, ranging from daisies to cochineal.

Now almost every vendor in the Grand Bazaar yells out at passersby: “Natural dyes! Hand-made! Made in Turkey!” As tourists, we romanticize handicrafts—imagining the traditional methods, craving authenticity. Natural dyes are a part of the formula for an “authentic” rug here. Even though many vendors promise such dyes—along with a “very good price, just for you”—few still make them in Turkey.

Dr. Bohmer started the DOBAG project in 1981 by creating women’s cooperatives in villages and teaching them the methods of their ancestors. Since then, other companies have competed with this natural edge, as well. A killim artisan in Istanbul, Musa Kazim Basaran, assured me, though, that he was one of only 5-6 people who still use this method.

“It is inefficient,” he said, explaining that the same dye that took him several hours took chemical dyers a few minutes. He showed Rae, Charlotte, and me the other day how to make such dyes:

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Days later, Raffi and I visited the production site for Woven Legends, a company that makes and sells naturally dyed carpets on a large scale in Malatya.

Woven Legends' 150 colors (Saverin/TYG)

Materials for wool and dyeing at Woven Legends (Saverin/TYG)

The results are spectacular—and I can testify that the product withstands age. I attended a gallery opening of killims the other day, and some with the most vibrant colors dated back to the 13th century.

They are works of art. As such, it could be argued that they are priceless. In a stalling global economy, the “priceless” argument can only go so far in a whole marketplace of quite heavily priced carpets.

Understanding Cyprus

by Catherine Osborn

Cyprus is an island of 3,571 square miles: it less than two-thirds the size of Connecticut and includes fewer people than live in my hometown of Austin. The population is around 1,088,000, but no one knows for sure because political controversy has prevented an official census for decades.

On an island where news is slow, history is very much alive. In fact, sometimes it seems like the only news is rehashing the history. Any discussion of the current political situation begins with the speaker’s version of a centuries-long saga over the rights to a piece of the island. By 1500 it had been ruled by the Greeks, the Byzantines (Eastern Romans), England, the Knights Templar, the Lusignans, the Republic of Venice. Genetic testing shows native Cypriots today have more in common with Italians than they do with people from Greece or Turkey, two major players in the current division.

In 1570 the Ottoman Turks took over the island, and in 1878 it was leased to the British Empire, who took over full colonial control in 1923. Britain had two military bases on the island, which it maintains to this day–one is also used by the United States–because of their strategic location from the time of the World Wars to now. During the Cold War, Britain sent U2 spy planes from these bases to monitor the southern Soviet Union, and in the past few decades they have become strategic monitoring centers for the Middle East and North Africa. Britain still owns 3% of the land on the island for military purposes.

Local histories of the island include varying amounts of the above information. They all include the following: beginning in the 1950s, a movement among southern Cypriots resentful of British rule called for enosis, or union with Greece. At this point Cypriots of Greek and Turkish origin lived in mixed communities throughout the island, although there were a majority of Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the North. The enosis proponents founded a military group called the EOKA (Greek for National Organization of Cypriot Fighters); in concern of losing its stake in the island Turkey sponsored the formation of the pro-partition TMT, or Turkish Resistance Organization.

A monument to human rights featuring large Greek movable type marks a border crossing in the capital of Cyprus. (Osborn/TYG)

In 1960 fighting led by the EOKA gained independence for the Republic of Cyprus, with Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. signing on as “guarantor powers,” agreeing to protect Cyprus from union “with any other State, or the partition of the Island.” If either of these threatened to happen, they were allowed to intervene to restore the status quo. According to Turkey, this treaty obligated it to act fourteen years later when a pro-enosis military coup overthrew the president of Cyprus. In 1974 Turkey invaded from the north, and the United Nations halted fighting along a “Green Line” that still divides the country–and its capital in the middle of the island–today. North of the Green Line is an area recognized only by Turkey as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) with its half-city capital of Lefkoşa; south of it, the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and its half of the same city, called Nicosia. The Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the European Union in 2003, a year before the failure of a UN-designed plan to unify the island as a federation of two states. Since then there have been four failed rounds of unification talks and no internationally approved census on the area that appears on all Greek maps void of cities and roads, with only the words “Territory Occupied by the Turkish Army.” Passage between the north and south requires getting a visa stamped at the UN Buffer Zone, which is as narrow as an alleyway in the heart of the city and as wide as a village outside.

The Old City of Lefkoşa/Nicosa is surrounded by stone walls built by the Venetians. This gate to the city runs perpendicular to the Green Line, therefore the left of this photo is in the TRNC and the right is in the Republic of Cyprus. Flags from left to right are the TRNC, Turkey, Greece, and the Republic of Cyprus. (Osborn/TYG)

One thing northern and southern Cypriots can agree on is that Britain has a heavy hand in this mess. In the early 1950s the British sensed dissatisfaction with their rule and enlisted Turkish Cypriots to serve as police at EOKA demonstrations, creating previously unexisting tensions. When the EOKA rioted against the British and Turkish police, violent struggles broke out between Turkish and Greek populations on the island.  Amongst this, independence from Britain was negotiated, Turkish Cypriots began to leave their homes in the south, and Greek Cypriots began to leave their homes in the north. Paramilitary attacks and migration–forced or voluntary, depending on who you ask–continued until the 1974 ceasefire. Around sixty thousand Turkish Cypriots fled from the south to the north, where Greek Cypriots went from being 80% of the population to zero.

Northern Cyprus, or "the occupied territories." Painted into the mountainside is the flag of Turkey to the left and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the right. Once home of mixed communities, it now contains Turkish Cypriots, vacated houses, and settlers from Anatolia in Eastern Turkey. (Osborn/TYG)

Southern Cypriots we’ve talked to about this story emphasize the fact that in 1974, Turkey invaded two times to secure the north when one, less deadly invasion would have accomplished the political goal. Northern Cypriots focus on the British taking advantage of them in the early 1950s when they were pitted against their neighbors. Above the Green Line people would have you call them Turkish Cypriots; across the border a preferred name for that population is “northern Cypriots” because calling them Turkish legitimizes their “pseudo-government.”  Northerers and southerners emphasize different events during the 1950s – 1974 period of bombings, relocation, and “missing persons.”

Within our current city, the famously Last Divided Capital, on one side the language is Greek, the currency is the Euro, and the official faith is Orthodox Christianity. On the other side you speak Turkish, pay with Turkish lira, and pass by mosques. We’ve been told that the TRNC is more secular “even” than mainland Turkey, a stark contrast to the powerful and state-supported Greek Orthodox Church in the south.

Nicosians tell us the difference between the south and the north isn't so much Christianity versus Islam as it is religious versus secular. In a plaza in southern Nicosia, the Greek Orthodox Church rules. (Osborn/TYG)

Our research in Cyprus centers around these issues: the role of the Greek Orthodox church in prolonging “the Cyprus problem,” how invested young people are in reconciliation after almost forty years, why Turkey is sending settlers from its rural, conservative Muslim southeast to settle in northern Cyprus, and how all of this affects Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union.

Dinner with a Kurdish Tribal Leader

After dinner with Haci Muhammed Baisal (center), leader of a local Kurdish tribe (Khan/TYG)

by Charlotte Parker

When our guide Nebi told us that we were having dinner with a Kurdish tribal leader, I think all of us expected that we’d be dining on the cushioned floor of an elaborate tent, with goats and the sound of drums somewhere outside the tent flaps. While we did go outside the city limits, we were surprised when we pulled up to a big stone house in the same style of our faux-desert-antique hotel. Haci Muhammed Baisal and two of his sons greeted us and ushered us into the front room, where we did in fact sit on cushions around a low table, but other than that the house was thoroughly modern—think iPhones charging in every outlet.

After a brief moment of uncertainty as to Kurdish tribal table manners, we dug into the food placed in front of us. When in doubt at table in Turkey, we’ve discovered, it’s eat first, talk later….Which was fine by us, as the food was some of the best we’ve had yet: rice with pine nuts and currants, succulently spiced lamb stew, yogurt and cucumber sauce, and a gazpacho-like salad special to the region.

When our hosts reclined from the table to digest, we followed suit. Sipping his çay Haci presided over the table a bit like “Santa Claus, with a Kurdish power broker twist,” as Luke put it: his crinkly blue eyes smiled, and he wore a button-up grandpa sweater over his paunch, but his words were measured and often intense.

His “day job” is farmer and he defines himself as such, but his sons protested that he was too humble and rambled off a list of his accomplishments, including building and supporting a large number of schools. As this is election season, he emphasized that he doesn’t tell his 20,000 constituents who to vote for, although he said that he is most sought-after for advice during election season.Throughout our discussion, history and present politics intertwined. Haci talked somberly about the bad years in the 1980s when the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party, generally considered a terrorist organization) encouraged tribes to go to the mountains and fight for Kurdish independence, and how his tribe suffered killings for their decision to stay aligned with the Turkish government. Later, a cacophony of criticism arose from all corners of the room when we brought up the BDP, the pro-Kurdish government party that, all insisted, is directly tied to the PKK.

Despite the issues, we were struck by the sense of optimism in the room, much of it due to positive social and economic change connected to the Turkish government’s development initiatives (namely the GAP, or Southeast Anatolia Project). His eldest son is a GAP engineer and a coordinator for the region, and we’re meeting with him tomorrow, so stay tuned for more details.

As we gathered to leave, three women—Haci’s granddaughters—emerged from the back of the house, which fleshed out our impressions of family life. We talked and laughed with them through hand signals and cavemen Turkish, and the evening ended with a gift of handfuls of roses from their garden. Overall, it was such a special night—putting faces to a tribal system that sounds exotic but really is just another means of governance, deeply rooted in history and community.

Art school drop-ins

by Emily Ullmann and Jason Toups

A belated reflection from our days in Istanbul last week…

On Monday morning, we found ourselves with a few hours to kill before going to an interview with Forbes Turkey. After having been in Istanbul for seven days, we realized that while we had explored vast swaths of the city, nobody in our group had yet explored a nearby neighborhood.

In our free morning, we ambled off in that direction, taking whatever alleyway seemed most quiet, and we quickly found ourselves away from the countless tour guides shepherding their flocks of tourists.

After wandering for a time, we found ourselves in front of a plain building with a striking sign. The sign read “Istanbul Design Center,” and we immediately declared our desire to investigate.

We walked through the open doorway and discovered a trove of pamphlets and brochures for a variety of artistic pursuits: art exhibitions, film festivals, music classes, and fashion shows.

After introducing ourselves to the secretary, we realized that he spoke very little English, but through rudimentary sign language, he suggested that we explore the building. With this license, we entered the garden and ascended the stairs to the terrace.

Much to our surprise, we interrupted a group of ten women and two men sitting around a large table covered in art supplies. We hesitated and almost returned down the stairs when one of the women waved, beckoning us over.

As we approached, a voice of English rose above the rest, and we soon found ourselves conversing with a young woman. She explained that this was a fashion design class taught by Tanju Babacan, a famous local fashion designer. She didn’t identify which of the men was the fashion designer, but we easily identified him as the one with the fire-engine red beard. We were so captivated by his unique facial hair that it took us a while to notice that all the women wore hijabs.

Our friend and translator told us that the day’s lesson dealt with shoe design, and the students eagerly submitted their creations to us for appraisal. We were especially enchanted by a pair of espadrilles one student had stylishly covered in swirls of peach-colored zippers. In fact, Emily’s immediate reaction was a desire to buy them, but the matching shoe hadn’t yet been made.

Our friend invited us to pick a pair of shoes and begin embellishing, but time was short, so instead we only had a few minutes to speak with her. We asked her where she thought Istanbul got its creative influence from: East or West, to which she responded, “Istanbul is between Asia and Europe. It’s not one or the other. It’s a mosaic of both.”

As we walked away, we couldn’t help but think about how right she was: Although we’ve found bits of Europe and pieces of Asia, the city has brought them together in a unique way to create its very own identity.

Their eyes were watching Glo

by Uzra Khan

Everywhere in Turkey, we are being watched. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job keeping up our conservative-chic. But regardless of appearance, Turkey’s evil eye always watches.

From the bustling streets of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and bazaars of Urfa to roadside ice cream carts, from nice restaurants to a roll of bubble wrap at our hostel, and from taxis to Charlotte’s birthday balloons, this eerie blue eye is everywhere.

On the street (Ullman/TYG)

Every vendor I asked about its significance at the Grand Bazaar responded in broken English: “Everyone like”, “It lucky”, “It protect”. But how, and why? And why do tourists spend up to hundreds of Turkish lira on a giant blue glass ornament?

As we walked through the bazaar and the unfamiliar sounds of Turkish washed over me, I suddenly heard a “Namaste ji”. Hindi! I was in familiar territory. I proceeded to have a conversation with an Afghan vendor who spoke Hindi/Urdu (and claimed to speak four more languages).

In Gazantep (Khan/TYG)

Baby shoes? (Khan/TYG)

“It’s an old tradition, more than 500 years old. I have it in my room and outside my house. I don’t believe in it, but my wife does. Have to keep her happy, you know?” He was a keeper.

Jewelry (Khan/TYG)

More jewelry (Khan/TYG)

The evil eye is said to ward off nazar, or evil spirits, that can stem from envy in innocuous compliments. The eye itself is believed to be the eye of Medusa, and is seen absolutely everywhere we go. If I get over its eeriness (and can fit anything else into my stuffed suitcase) my apartment in New Haven next year will be graced by an evil eye on my wall. Come visit! It’ll be watching.

Wall decor (Khan/TYG)

Lunching with an Urfan Imam

by Uzra Khan

Today was an incredible day. We lunched with an imam at a mosque, went to an AK Parti pre-election rally at which Prime Minister Erdogan spoke, and ate dinner at the home of a Kurdish village leader. Posts about the latter two events will ensue.

Imam Mustafa was not the kind of man I had in mind when we were told we were meeting with an imam. I imagined someone in much more traditional garb than the kind-eyed, elderly, bespectacled gentleman in a button-down shirt who greeted us with a friendly merhaba at the entrance to a mosque ten minutes away from our hotel.

Educated in a madrasa in Urfa, and able to recite the Qur’an from memory after a year and a half of practice, Imam Mustafa gives sermons in Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish. He spoke about the process of appointment of imams, which I hadn’t realized was done by the government. Imams can even be paid their government salary and be sent abroad to serve Turkish communities; imam Mustafa had conducted prayers for such communities in France, Germany, Albania and the Netherlands. He said that the tradition of being appointed by the ruling power ahs existed since the caliphate and through the Ottoman Empire. He was quick to dispel notions about this having a political effect on religion, however. “It is just like being a government doctor, or teacher. I am appointed by a board that knows my qualifications, not the AKP.” This highlighted some of the differences between government and state that have been coming up in many of our conversations in Urfa.

He was inspired to take on this role by his father who he described as very spiritual and a guiding force. Carrying on the tradition, one of his ten children today is an imam too. He said that his other sons either didn’t want to, or didn’t make the cut—since only the most qualified are appointed.

He spoke of his love for Urfa—the way its ancient religiosity and tranquility have been conducive to the spread of tradition and learning more about Islam. He is very much a community leader, visiting hospitals to pray, conducting funerals, and soliciting advice.

He was no exception to the wonderful warmth and hospitality that we have experienced since arriving in Urfa. He told us that regardless of what our religions were, our presence added value to the mosque. He invited us to watch noon prayers, and then presented us each with a copy of the Qur’an with an English translation, followed by a sumptuous lunch of several lahmacun (‘meat with dough’; better understood as Turkish pizza), ayran (yogurt drink) and copious amount of Turkish tea—all eaten in the traditional manner, cross-legged on the floor of the mosque off newspapers.

Traditional lunch seated on the floor/(credit: Nebi Demirsoy)

Belated Musings from Istanbul: An Afternoon with Multitap

by Charlotte Parker

We met Selim Sümer, the lead singer and guitarist for up-and-coming Turkish electro-pop group Multitap, in Tünel square, the heart of Istanbul’s music district. I had never seen him before, but I knew when I saw him from a block away that he was the guy we were supposed to be meeting. His cantelope-colored skinny jeans and vaguely purple plaid shirt stood out from the muted palate favored by most of the Istanbullus I had seen. They seemed befitting of someone with creative vision.

And after our interview, I think that is what Multitap has. Maybe interview is the wrong word, actually, since it took place for the most part on the rooftop terrace of their recording studio, overlooking a jumble of other beautiful terraces, Topkapi Palace, and the Golden Horn. He and keyboarder Sertaç Ozgümüs offered us beer, and what ensued, after cheers in various languages, was more like a though-provoking conversation. I left thinking that maybe I would like to be a reporter for Rolling Stone.

The band—4 members in total, like one of their biggest inspirations, the Beatles–released their first album in 2006 and is at an exciting point in their development. They just won a prize at the big Turkish music awards, Agora, and have been commissioned to write the song for the Turkish national basketball team. According to our Yale ‘07 friend Eset, who translated at points throughout the conversation, this is a huge deal; the last anthem for the team became one of the most-played songs in Turkey because basketball is so popular.

In contrast to Arabesk music (which is what I am researching on this trip), Multitap’s music is all about seeing the glass half full. Their music videos are clever and a bit goofy, and hearing Selim talk I was struck by his sense of whimsy. He and Sertaç talked a lot about how the landscape of the Turkish music industry is a one-dimensional music of suffering, and they want to give people a choice of something other. For them, this is what “alternative” music is—the opportunity to have a choice. They hope that being able to choose a type of music will give their target audience, young Turkish people ages 13-24, the sense that they can choose other things, like whether or not they wear a head scarf or what political party they will back.

The difference between Multitap and any “indie” or “alternative” band in the US, I felt, was their genuine sense that their music could, and should, give people agency in their lives by letting them choose. I was interested to hear them call it “honest music for a dishonest time”—an expression of their hope that Turkish society is ready for a change. Now that we’ve been in the Southeast for a few days, I am less ready to jump at the conclusion that dishonesty is rampant—we have certainly been made aware of our preconceptions of good vs. bad government—but I’ve been more and more convinced of a push for change in society in general.

Below, one of Multitap’s music videos, followed by a study in contrasts, the video for a famous Arabesk song. \”Çıbık\” by Multitap\”Bebegim\” by Ibrahim Tatlises, a famous singer of Arabesk music. Internet is too slow right now to post our own videos, but look out for a clip of our conversation to hear more about how what Eset described as “epic” Turkish emotions figure dramatically in music and everyday life.

A Taste of Turkey: Cypriot Meze

by Cathy Huang

The Greek Cypriots have an apt saying for mealtimes: “Siga, Siga!”, which translates to “Slow, slow!” Even those with the largest appetites need to heed this advice when meze dining in Cyprus. Meze, which translates to “little delicacies”, involves dish after savory dish– rich dips with breads, grilled meats, and the island’s most popular cheeses.

Last night, our group met up with Katerina, a Cypriot Yalie, who brought us to one of her favorite meze dinner restaurants and expertly placed an order for our entire table. In the evenings, the Cyprus air is balmy and ideal for outdoor dining and chatter. Some of us were hungry after a long day of interviews and attacked the first round of breads and dips. What we didn’t know, however, was how much food meze involves. Some of our favorites during the eight-course meal.

Greek dip/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Greek Yogurt is famous worldwide, but add some cucumber and mint to make this refreshing and textured dip called Talattouri. Our waitress brought us bowls of talattouri, eggplant-based tahini, and sour cheese dip to accompany baskets of pita bread (a definite theme for this trip’s cuisine!). Yum!

halloumi slices/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Halloumi are grilled cheese slices that look, upon first glance, like chicken. Halloumi is served all over the island as an appetitzer on its own, as a salad topping, or in sandwiches and wraps. Kristos, one of Katerina’s Cypriot friends who had dinner with us, shared that halloumi is his favorite Cypriot food. Its salty taste and rubbery texture is certainly different but most palatable. We look forward to trying halloumi in other dishes. Feta, another popular type of cheese on the island, topped our Greek salads.

Sheftalia are sausage-shaped meatballs made from a ground mixture of beef, pork, and spices.

Souvlakia are grilled pork kebabs. Many of us remarked on the tenderness of the meat. Turns out that most Cypriots are masters at the grill! Who wouldn’t be in a place with perpetual barbeque weather?

The main meze delicacies involve high-quality meats. When I asked Kristos if there were any vegetarians on the island, he laughed and said, “Maybe one or two.”

traditional Greek halva for dessert/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Halva is a traditional Cypriot dessert made from flour, sesame, and sugar, and oil. Served in small cubes, halva is incredibly, almost overwhelmingly, dense and sweet.

We left the restaurant contentedly stuffed and look forward to more multi-course meze offerings in the coming days. For lunch, we’ve been exploring the ethnic offerings in Nicosia, a city teeming with multiculturalism as many migrant workers joined the community in the last decade.

Celebrating Ataturk Day

by Diego Salvatierra

Sanliurfa clearly looks quite different from Istanbul. One might say it feels more “Middle Eastern,” as if we were already south of the border. But the omnipresent image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, reminds us that we are still within his country. Ataturk, who declared the Turkish Republic in 1923, is honored throughout the nation. His portrait adorns all public buildings and many private ones, from restaurants to homes; it is even said that no town in Turkey lacks a statue of him. He seems like Washington, Lincoln, and JFK wrapped into one – both a founder and a reformer, whose sayings and speeches are still a source of inspiration. More controversially, “insults to his memory” are prohibited by Turkish law.

On May 19th, we witnessed the peak of Ataturk praise. May 19thwas originally designated by Ataturk to commemorate the beginning of his liberation of Turkey from occupation in 1919. After Ataturk’s death in 1938, it was expanded to honor the founder himself, and is know known as the “Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports Day.” The first things I noticed, as we passed through various towns on our way to Gaziantep, were the massive banners with his face in the city plazas. Red and white, the colors of the Republic, were everywhere. When we stopped at the aptly named Ataturk Dam, the largest in the country, I took a brief glance at a newspaper stand. Most, if not all, Turkish newspapers prominently featured his image. When I turned on my hotel TV that night, I found that channel after channel displayed his face on a corner, along with a waving Turkish flag.

Ataturk's image dominated the the newspaper on May 19th, which is known as Ataturk Day. (credit: Diego Salvatierra)

The upcoming election has spurred heated debate between the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), which claims to defend Ataturk’s legacy of strong secularism, among other things, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), sometimes seen as departing from Ataturk’s vision. In light of this, one would expect Ataturk to be a divisive figure. This is true to a certain extent. But if we judge from the displays on May 19th, his role as a symbol of Turkish patriotism looks alive and well. Whether this display comes from genuine veneration or simply out of habit (or legal obligation?) is hard to say.