• what’s next, turkey?

    June 3rd, 2013

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    Yesterday people of all sorts gathered to continue the celebration of a victory in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Left-wing, right-wing, liberal, conservative, nationalist, socialist … you name them. There was a constant flow of Turkish citizens of every age, ethnicity and subculture. There are banners with socialist slogans, nationalist slogans flying next to the rainbow GLBT flags everywhere. People pose to have their pictures taken on burned-out police cars and buses, while some diligent protestors sweep up the rubble and debris nearby. Some of it is theirs, some of it the police’s. However, this feels like a major victory for peaceful protestors who were violently abused by their police force and government (see previous post). It’s a strange victory, though, because it’s not being acknowledged as a defeat by the man and he government they took on. What started as a minor protest for a small park has rolled across the city and now the Republic. The defeated, however, aren’t acknowledging their first major blow in years. Why? Is it a case of denial? Or a strange case of not needing to? Perhaps it’s both.

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    Despite popular uprisings and protests all across Turkey, you could be forgiven if you thought it was business as usual if you were limited to watching Turkish language, local television. On CNN International, the lead stories include the protests all across Turkey. Turn to CNN Türk, for a more local perspective, and you can watch a documentary on penguins. To some extent this media silence is understandable, if unforgivable. Not only are most of the major media outlets owned by big business, who may or may not have their hands in the government’s pockets, but right now Turkey also has the distinction of having jailed more journalists in recent years than just about any other so-called “democratic” country in the region, if not the world. In fact, even more than China and Iran. Although many newspaper columnists lambasted the ruling AKP and its leader, Mr Erdogan, yesterday, broadcast TV has been mostly silent, except to air the Prime Minister’s statements of condemnation. Those have been some pretty incredible statements too.

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    In addition to referring to peaceful protestors as marauders, The Prime Minister — in what has to be one of the strangest interpretations of democracy I’ve heard in years — has stated that the dissent is anti-democratic because he was elected. Apparently a peaceful protest about the total lack of public consultation regarding a public space is unacceptable to Mr Erdogan. What people are protesting is not just the destruction of the last green spaces in the city, but a bizarre project involving an Ottoman Barracks/shopping mall, which would likely be built by a contractor friendly to the government. The Guardian/Observer ran a piece on this issue yesterday.

    What’s been more frightening, though, are statements like this, published in the online edition of the WSJ: ‘“Don’t compete with us…. If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million…. This event has been escalated beyond the park and become ideological,” Mr. Erdogan said of the protests, which intensified dramatically on Friday. “The police were there yesterday, they are there today, and will be there tomorrow…because Taksim cannot be a square where extremists run wild.”‘

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    I can tell you, firsthand, that there wasn’t a policeman in sight in Gezi Park or Taksim Square yesterday. It’s hard for me to remain dispassionate or clear-eyed even now that I’ve fully flushed the tear gas from my eyes with milk provided to me by a protestor on Saturday morning. This country is the birthplace of my wife, and the city of Istanbul the birthplace of my daughter. I’ve always admired the great physical courage of Turks, male or female, but what I admire most right now is the fact for the first time in eight years I’ve actually seen people from all different persuasions and ideologies, people who would not normally talk to one another, stand up to a man who appears to think democracy is a popularity contest he only has to win every five years while he divvies up public property in whatever manner he sees fit. He’s now claiming that there was no clear plan for a shopping mall, and that a mosque and possible opera house are in the works, and that he will do what he likes. You can read this in Hurriyet Daily.

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    This might be a canny move. Opposing a mosque, needed or not, will be far more divisive than opposing a shopping mall. The struggle is far from over. The question is: Can Mr Erdogan be stopped? He seems pretty confident that his opposition doesn’t have the votes to issue a real challenge. For now, he might be right. For an extremely well written, dispassionate analysis of the situation as it stands, I’d recommend Alexander Christie-Miller’s piece posted in the Bulent Journal. Last night protest continued to rage in Beşiktaş and across the nation. While Turkish TV, with the exception of Halk TV, remained largely quiet on the troubles. Meanwhile people honked their horns, banged on pots and shouted out their dissatisfaction. Tonight will likely be no different.

  • workshop wonderland

    May 9th, 2013

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    Yesterday I had an all too brief glimpse into the mind of one of the most fascinating creatives in Istanbul — someone who successfully blurs the line between art, architecture, design and craft — in what might well be the most distinctive style I’ve seen anywhere in years. At some point I will have to do a full exploration and profile of Sema Topaloglu’s Cibali workshop and showroom. Her work environment is a veritable wonderland of organic shapes and materials, prototypes and projects. You’d almost think you were standing in a special effects workshop for a motion picture, except that the materials are not made of foam and cardboard, and she’s not creating illusions, so much as fabricating a new physical reality in media such as Black Sea hardwood, raw iron, glass and marble. There are huge mushroom lamp models, wood blocks representing a neighbourhood planning project she’s working on, multi-level tables … glass and iron objects all coated in a layer of sawdust fresh from her usta‘s saw table. There are so many compelling things to look at that it’s hard to isolate your focus to one spot. Furniture swings open to reveal elaborate tool bits that look like a chest of ninja throwing stars. Although I’ve written about Sema before, she hasn’t been standing still for more than a nanosecond since I last saw her. She’s too busy blurring the lines between what creativity and professionalism, art and architecture, design and craft can be. Take a look at some of Sema’s projects here.

  • beyoglu anonymous

    March 28th, 2013

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    The most talented people in any profession don’t need to advertise. In fact, advertising or drawing undue attention often does more harm than good. If you not only know your trade, but have mastered it, your reputation will be more than enough. Last night I checked out a bar in Beyoglu that doesn’t even have a name. It doesn’t need one. Most people will probably end up calling it Alex’s Bar, as its proprietor, and his personality, are the driving force behind the experience. Not only is Alex a man who knows his drinks, he’s a man unafraid to refuse an order if he feels he can’t prepare it to his professional satisfaction. He’s not about to make a mojito out of season, especially if he doesn’t have the proper mint to create it. He will also mix single malt whisky as he puts it to, “Simultaneously defy ridiculous convention as well as perfect a fine drink.”

    I won’t use euphemisms like cozy or intimate to describe the bar. It’s small. It’s tucked away in a little alley down at the Tünel end of Istiklal Caddesi. That, it seems to me, is part of the recipe. A good drink isn’t something to be quaffed in a corner with booming music and a vast crowd, but something to be enjoyed and shared. And part of the enjoyment is conversing with the no-bullshit artisan behind it. In fact, that’s key to the alchemy. If you’re in Beyoglu and you want a proper after work cocktail or aperitif, look for the place with the covered windows and dapperly dressed, likely bearded gentlemen behind the bar at number 7b Gonül Sokak from Tuesday to Saturday sometime after 5pm.

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  • What a year

    December 19th, 2012

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    At first it’s hard for me to believe. It’s been only 1 year! So much has happened since I first launched this site December 19, 2011. I’ve been introduced to so many incredible people, I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have these experiences and share them. I’ve learned so much about so many different people thanks to starting this site. It’s helped me find a vehicle for my natural curiosity, and voice my constant state of wonder. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life —  launching  this site isn’t one of them. It’s allowed me to record my small keyhole view of local history and share it with people all around the world. Being an immigrant, you never lose your roots, but it makes the dislocation a little easier when you  can simultaneously share your new home as you explore it with people you miss and the people you’re just getting to know. It’s also allowed me to make as much sense as I might out of this crazy yet wonderful city — which I’m not sure if I chose or if it chose me. There is no way I can sufficiently thank all the people who have helped this site. I owe a lot to people like Paul Cavanaugh who designed and directed many of the details, as well as Erol Işık, who programmed it. I also owe every one of you who follows it. Thank you for sticking with me and listening to my stories. I only hope you’re seeing a continual improvement in what’s written and in the photography presented, and that you’ll feel free to express your ideas to me, and comment about how it all makes you feel, as well as suggest what you’d like to see in the future. I’d also like to thank my daughter who continues to remind of the importance of experiencing something new every day. Nothing slows time like adopting a child-like curiosity. I urge everyone to try it.

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  • Istanbullu IV

    December 5th, 2012

    Good, bad, lovely, mad … it takes attitude to last in this city. All these people (in one case I use the term loosely) provided plenty of personality and made the last week more interesting. Thanks for keeping it—mostly—real, everyone.


  • Sultanahmet Style

    October 6th, 2012

    I don’t know about you, but I think people with genuine style often don’t even know they have it. They’re effortless with it, rather like this gentleman I saw using a public telephone in Fatih. How many people still use a public phone? Better yet, how many people forego the so-called convenience of a mobile these days? There he was having a conversation on the phone smoking his cigarette and he just transported me to a different time and place. I was about to wander on, but then I decided I had to go back and ask him for his photo. Thanks, Ağabey.