Tag Archives: Istanbul

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)

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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.

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)

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.

On feeling at home in Istanbul

by Sanjena Sathian 

Last night, as part of our final evening in Istanbul for a while, a group of us went to a local family’s home for dinner. After a two and a half hour trek out to the suburbs in intense traffic – with a stop in the middle of the traffic to quench our growling stomachs with some street food AND a ferry ride, where we parked our enormous bus on the lower deck and wandered up to the top – we finally arrived in a suburb crowded with tall apartment complexes and the occasional mall. I felt a sudden wave of comfort as soon as we stepped into the apartment building and I saw piles of shoes outside each doorway – a practice common in my Indian family’s household, and a sight I’m used to seeing in my grandparents’ apartment complexes when I go to visit.

Istanbul traffic is one of the only things we don't like about the city. Luckily, this shot is from the ferry that saved us another hour or two of traffic crossing over the bridge to the Asian side of the city/credit: Sanjena Sathian

The family greeted us warmly; we left our shoes outside, entered, and shook the hands of a line of men and a single woman, completely covered in black except for her playful, colored headscarf. We were ushered upstairs to an enormous, decorated table with piles of delicious looking food on top of it: rice, stuffed peppers and grape leaves, chickpeas and green beans with gravies, lentil soup… I was ready to dive in. I sat down across from Daria, the mother-queen of it all, who was the only woman at the table from the family for most of the meal – and also the only person in the entire family who spoke English. She was over the moon, she told us, when we piled into their apartment and she saw five girls and only one boy. “I have too many boys,” she laughed, smiling at her nine and five year old, and then at her husband.

As I chatted with Daria in her careful English, my assumptions about headscarves came back to slap me across the face for the umpteenth time this trip: so many of our assumptions about social conservatism simply don’t translate here. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Daria command the table, rather than her non-English speaking husband, sons, nephews, and cousins, and I definitely shouldn’t have been surprised when she told us, in response to our copious compliments on what we assumed was her cooking, “Thank you, but I do not cook, because I am so busy at work.” Daria is a chemical engineer, working in the same company as her husband.

The apartment felt warm and lived-in, and as a bunch of college students who spend too much time away from home in favor of going on trips like this, nothing could have felt better. But for me, especially, so much of Turkey has started to feel closer and closer to comfortable. It’s strange to say you feel “at home” in a country you’ve barely known for a week, but as we’ve explored Istanbul from early wanderings through the Blue Mosque at seven AM to later night expeditions, we’ve all become enchanted by this city – and we keep saying to each other, “I don’t feel like this very often about a city…” like we’re reassuring each other that we’re not fickle about entering into love affairs with cities.

We asked Daria and her husband about their favorite parts of the city and found we agreed on Üsküdar, the area in the Asian side of the city near the water; we quizzed one another on our favorite Turkish foods and asked all about each other’s families. Daria and I traced all the words I’ve found that are the same in Turkish as in Hindi, the language I’ve been studying at Yale, and Turkish (Charlotte and I found they’re the same in Farsi, and Ali and I tracked them to Arabic as well): dunya for “world,” sehir for “city,” badam for “almond,” sebzi for “vegetable,” kitap for “book” – and probably many more I haven’t figured out yet. As I mimicked her pronunciation, she made my night when she said, “You must learn Turkish! You’re saying it all well.”

us with Daria's family/credit: Nebi Demirsoy

Istanbul wrapped us up in its deliciously enchanting arms already, but it’s Daria and her family who cemented it for me personally. This is, as we’ve been observing again and again in many forms, a land where the new and old are colliding, where the vocabulary of the West is challenged by a society heavy with the East. But each challenge has made me feel strangely “at home” in this country in a way that is hard to come by when you travel to a brand new place.

Like Uzra pointed out, it would be silly to pretend I’ve come to Turkey and “gotten it” in a week. But one of the great pleasures of traveling as a journalist is that we keep asking questions and pushing a place to tell us more and more about it. And if anything, we’ll always be left unsatisfied, wanting more. So I don’t know about the other Globalistas, but I’m coming back – in a year, or two, or more, but I’m coming with a whetted appetite. Get ready, Istanbul.

A Reporter’s Reflections: Istanbul

by Emily Ullmann

Sophomore Associate Editor Emily Ullmann is tracking the experience of reporting in a country without a free press as we make our way through Turkey. Halfway through the trip, she reflects on what this meant in Istanbul. Keep a lookout for her further reflections on making her way through Cyprus.

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“The Turkish people are not used to journalism. There is a division between society and journalism.”

As we sat on a rooftop terrace overlooking the strait of Bosphorus in Istanbul, Mahmut Çinar, professor of journalism at Bahçesehir University in Istanbul, explained to a small group of us the challenges journalists face in Turkey. Çinar described that as one of the most hated professions in Turkey today, journalists struggle to report because they face little popular support and lack any basic respect.

Mahmut Çinar, a professor of Journalism at B.U./credit: courtesy of European Journalism Centre

This perspective came as a surprise to me, despite following the evolving story of detained journalists and press freedom in Turkey. Although considered freer than most other nations in the Middle East, Turkey ranks as one of the worst nations of the world in terms of freedom of the press. All of the information I had read led me to believe that, much to the dismay the Turkish people, the government continues to censor its papers and tighten its grip on reporters.

Yet, when we spoke with Çinar, the picture became far more nuanced. Çinar’s students at Bahçesehir had experienced governmental constraints on their journalistic voices, with some even being detained and interrogated for several hours after attempting to report; however, Çinar also mentioned that he did not believe that the government really censored, he simply considered Turkey less free than the U.S.

“I don’t say there’s no censorship in Turkey. There is censorship, but not like you see from the outside. We don’t have chains restricting us.”

During our conversation, it occurred to me that perhaps my views of press freedom were so shaped by the U.S. that I could not totally grasp the implications of Çinar’s students’ experiences.

“I teach a class on Media Ethics for journalists. When my students have internships, they come back and tell me, ‘I’m sorry, but this [class] is useless.’”

From Çinar’s point of view, the lack of a tradition of free media in Turkey means that many journalists here self-censor and do not report on so-called “taboos,” like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, or the Armenian genocide. In contrast to the investigative journalism in the United States that often uncovers problems in the government and society, Turkish tradition holds that journalists report on some topics while totally avoiding some of the most hard-hitting questions.

As a journalist for the Globalist, I arrived in Istanbul with the intention of finding issues and controversies in Turkey, so this concept of self-censorship of taboos seems so foreign. In fact, in a nation where journalists avoid the toughest questions, those posed by my fellow Globalist reporters, whether about the Kurdish language or Muslim neighborhood pressures, seem even more crucial to answer.