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.

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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.

A Reporter’s Reflections: Cyprus

by Emily Ullmann

Sophomore Associate Editor Emily Ullmann thought she encountered a confusing world of media and journalism in Turkey: but it’s nothing like the complexity of Cyprus.

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Staying in the Republic of Cyprus side of the divided city of Nicosia, I only had to walk for five minutes to cross the border into the north. Armed guards checked my passport and stamped my visa on my way to speak to Perihan Aziz, director of the Turkish News Agency (Turkish acronym TAK), in what is really just the northern half of the city. TAK is a news agency that gives news in return for money to the fourteen government-subsidized papers in northern Cyprus (thirteen of which are in northern Nicosia).

The border crossing between north and south (Ullmann/TYG)

Aziz explained that TAK is an independent, objective agency that can and will write about everything, a situation that is in contrast to that in Turkey. TAK does its best to inform the northern Cypriot population of news in the south, publishing a news summary based on southern papers. Aziz described the press in northern Cyprus as a reflection of the political situation there. “Newspapers are supported by political parties, but this is not a problem because each party has their own paper,” she said.

Aziz also pointed out the contrast between this objectivity and journalism in southern Cyprus, which she deemed far too influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church. “Northern Cyprus does a better job separating politics, religion, and press than the south,” Aziz explained.

However, back in southern Nicosia, we heard a strikingly different story. Stefanos Evripidou, the Cyprus news editor at the Cyprus Mail criticized journalism on both sides of the island, but noted that the north, dominated by the government, is far worse. Most papers in the south, where people view the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an illegal occupation of the island, refer to the organizations and institutions as “pseudo” or “so-called.”

The spectre of Hellenism and the Greek Orthodox Church hangs over the Republic of Cyprus, while Ankara hangs heavily over the TRNC. (Ullmann/TYG)

Similarly, Orestis Tringides and Dogukan Muezzinler, both of whom we got in contact through the organization The Cypriots’ Voices, described the Cypriot press as involving self-imposed censorship that is largely influenced by political links. Tringides and Muezzinler criticized Cyprus’s status as one of only four EU nations that has not signed onto Freedom of Information laws, which means that successful journalists must rely on well-established contacts. Tringides also explained that there is a relatively new tradition of journalism on the island, and even that tradition focuses more on advocacy journalism than any sort of investigative journalism. “Newspapers and news channels operate as mouthpieces for political parties and corporations,” Tringides said.

By the end of these meetings, my head was spinning in a whirl of he-said, she-said. Every story seemed slightly different and everyone seemed ready to point fingers, accusing the other side of faults and flaws. Yet these four passionate people, all so critical, failed to offer any real suggestions or solutions to the problems. With the exception of the opening of the north-south border in 2003, the Cypriot conflict has been stale since 1974 and people here do not seem to believe that significant change will happen in the near future.

From an outsider’s perspective, I cannot help but wonder how change can happen in a society where journalism and people’s concepts of reality are so skewed. How can the people demand accountability from their government if they have a press that does not inform them of what their government is doing? And why do the Cypriots not seem to desire a press that does this?

Journalism in Cyprus has become a source of misinformation and propaganda, but as with the case of the political conflict, the people seem content with the status quo. Before arriving here, my question regarding the Cyprus situation was, is it sustainable? I have come to realize that the issues in journalism are just another symptom of the greater problem of apathy among Cypriots. Until Cypriots decide they want to actually find a solution, it will not happen.