Ramazan 2013

They pulled it off!  Yesterday afternoon our Turkish tutor told us that çapulcular (bums, looters) planned to create an Iftar (feast at end of daily fast at sundown) table for the first dinner of Ramazan.  She said it was planned to span from Galatasaray Lisesi (high school) to Taksim Meydan (square). The feast was organized by Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a religious group that was part of the Gezi Park protests. There is a tradition of public Iftar feasts in Istanbul.

The planned site of the Iftar.  Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

The planned site of the Iftar. Google has pinned a mall unpopular with the protesters, ironic given the purpose of this map.

I would love to have been there and am glad it was allowed to occur.  We stay away from the protest events, because being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting our resident visas revoked would be highly inconvenient.

The Iftar on the street.

The Iftar on the street.

Instead, we were at a lecture at American Research Institute Turkey (ARIT) http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/ARIT/IstanbulCenter.html .  Prof. Jenny White, anthropologist at Boston University, was discussing the findings in her latest book, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks.  She put the Gezi protests, and government response into context.

I'm sure the police were invited to join...at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

I’m sure the police were invited to join…at least the TOMA- water cannon was dry.

Knowledge comforts.  Watching the recent events, I was aghast at the government response.  Ongoing brutal violent police action against peacefully protesting citizens, naming the protesters marauders “çapulcular”, seeming to incite civil war…all would have been career killers in the US.  But, basically, the response to challenge and protest by this party, in power since 2002, is the same as the preceding Kemalists’.  Turks understand it differently than I do.


Tables for the municipal dinner in Taksim Square. These people are there early. In the past Hurriyet News reported that big Iftar tents were set up in Gezi Park.

According to White, current tension comes from a revision of what it means to be Turkish.  Kemalist ideology and language reflect a fear of loss of racial and national unity.  Enemies outside, and within, are a threat.  Outsiders include countries that broke the Ottoman Empire; threatening insiders include non-Muslims, liberals, foreigners, Jews, homosexuals, Alevis, atheists, etc. – all those who are not linked by blood or race.


This helps explain the “us vs. them” language that we heard from the government.  One academic opinion piece said the prime minister had become a Kemalist (not literally).  White’s position is he’s reverted to “type”, based on what he learned growing up.

As we have also seen with Egypt, unfortunately, both systems lack checks and balances on power.   The ruling party consolidates its power and is majoritarian and intolerant of non conformance.  If they get ½ the vote, their half is the only one that matters.

White’s research showed Turkish society as patriarchal and the government response echoes traditional Turkish family structure, where the father is all powerful and protecting. Now, however more than ½ the Turkish population is under 30, and the state is having a hard time controlling the definition of Turkishness.  Gezi youth are the product of changes in society — they are global, playful and consumerist.  They represent themselves…but the current power structure is still playing by 20th century rules.

Jim and I have been trying to understand the unrest in the region around us.  He had uncovered research that was more fully explained by White’s lecture.  (http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html)

See bottom of post for explanation.  Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US.

PDI=Power Distance, IDV=Individualism,  MAS=Masculinity/Femininity, UAI=Uncertainty Avoidance, LTO=Long Term Orientation.                             Egypt and Turkey are similar, and very different from US. (see study, http://geert-hofstede.com/turkey.html for more information.)

Briefly, this chart shows Turkish society as dependent and hierarchical. (PDI) Power is centralized, communication indirect, information flow selective, within both society and family structure.  (IDV) Not individualistic, people belong to in-groups who help each other in reward for loyalty. Open conflict is avoided, nepotism is common. (MAS) A society with somewhat “feminine” values, means leveling with others, consensus, and sympathy for the underdog are valued.  Leisure time is important for Turks, status is shown, but as a result of the high power score. (UAI) a desire to avoid uncertainty promotes the need for laws and rules. Social rituals help minimize anxiety and tension.  (The interactive site of the Hofstede Centre is interesting to explore.  Check out the similarities of countries you are curious about. http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html )

So, we have a ringside seat during interesting times.  I admit to buying the PR of the new modern Turkey, the rising power of the Middle East.  It sounded good. On the surface it looks like its reputation.  Some of our visiting friends expressed surprise at Istanbul, saying…”it is modern, clean”.  “Everyone is at work, it is prosperous”.  Moda is a diverse and affluent bubble.  Walking around within in our neighborhood it is easy to miss the larger picture of Istanbul.  Yet, even here çapulcular bang pots every evening at 9 pm.

She Captures It

I awoke Sunday morning to news I expected but hoped wouldn’t occur.  With a heavy heart I read various accounts of yet another Saturday night of police action against Turks assembling…in this case to lay carnations in memory of those who lost their lives in the protests of the prior weeks.

I also read one of my favorite blogs.  If you follow the link at the bottom of this post you will be rewarded with an intimate, poignant review of years of life in Istanbul and of steadfast, indefatigable ink drawings of the streets, people  — and in this case, trees — by artist Trici Venola.  Her post Gezi Park: Trees of Istanbul is her loving tribute to a place during challenging and painful times.

Benediction, 2006.  I "borrowed" this from Trici's blog to entice you to link to it at the end of this post!

Benediction, 2006. I “borrowed” this photo from Trici’s blog to entice you to link to it at the end of this post!

I saw it coming. Late Saturday afternoon, a visiting American friend and I were walking on Istiklal Caddesi  towards Taksim Square. We enjoyed the city’s central promenade and hunted for her close friend’s childhood landmarks…two Greek Orthodox churches and a high school. One church and the school are essentially in Taksim Square.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church on edge of Taksim Square.  There is a plan to tear down the food stands in the foreground, so the church can face a prospective new mosque in the square.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church on edge of Taksim Square. There is a plan to tear down the food stands in the foreground, so the church can face a prospective new mosque in the square.

The red trolley ran down the center of the boulevard,  this time pulling a flatbed with a singing Turkish pop band.  The magnificent Turkish tourism marketing machine was in high gear. After almost a month of abnormality… lower Istiklal felt normal for a Saturday afternoon.

Tourists in the crowd  I love the shadow on the blue shirt!

Tourists in the crowd. I love the shadow on the blue shirt!

As we approached Taksim, the energy abruptly changed. Clapping, chanting and shrill whistles of protest accompanied a suddenly dense crowd, many carrying large white “Taksim Solidarity” flags. The “Taksim Solidarity Platform” is a group of architects, academics, and environmentalists.  Formed to save Gezi Park from development, it presented demands to end the original protest.  I found the  streamers interesting…other than the rainbow banners of LGBT groups,  I saw no established opposition party flags, rather, all marched under Taksim Solidarity.

The weather was warm and shimmering.

The weather was warm and shimmering.

Julia asked what I thought would happen. My worry was not the crowd, but what the police would do when (not if) they began to act. Before the events of the last three weeks, I would have assumed that the tourists in the crowd would be protected. Now I sadly marvel at the force being exerted against what I understand are constitutionally legal rights of democratic assembly.


Julia and I diverted to a small street parallel to Istiklal and found the buildings we were looking for. Turning again toward Taksim Square we met an American couple who said the TOMA (water cannons) and police were there, out of our view.


I took these photos on the edge of the crowd, not willing to move deeper in. It gives a sense of the crowd’s composition.

It was thrilling and I wanted to see what was going on, but I also knew it was time to get out while we could. If the crowd turned, it would funnel into narrow streets. Living in Cihangir in December, I knew the back way to the Bosphorus ferry, so we discarded our plan to reach the metro by wading into the crowd in the square.

For many years, Trici has been documenting what disappears during the massive changes Istanbul has undergone.  In this post she presents drawings of varying vintages to share her story:

Gezi Park, Drawing Trees in Istanbul,  Trici Venola:       http://tricivenola.wordpress.com



The first protest weekend I viewed the events catapulting Istanbul into international news mostly through my computer screen. I have borrowed most of the photos here  from friends’ Facebook posts.

A creepy but beautiful shot by  Noémie Deveaux, Photographer.  31 May, on Istiklal Caddesi

An unsettling but beautiful shot by Noémie Deveaux, Photographer. 31 May.

Facebook and Twitter posts from friends in the thick of it have been my window, along with Turkish and global news sources all over the world.  We live in a quiet neighborhood with no massive gatherings, but with obvious protest I’ll describe later.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope's window.

Istiklal Caddesi, 01 June, from Hugh Pope’s window.

A caveat: I don’t know the lay of the land, lack adequate context, am not Turkish, haven’t been here long, don’t speak the language (not for lack of trying), and don’t understand the nuances or the politics of the culture.  My American lens is likely inaccurate.  This isn’t my fight.  Also, I am a guest in the country and unclear on my rights of expression. I have no role in influencing politics and am free to leave.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm.  The police had left.

Taksim Square Sunday 01 June, 8pm. The police were called off. Gezi Park is at the center left edge.

It is an interesting time here, and I’ll try to offer a considered look at the situation.  I find these events give me perspective on my own country and its system. For me, it gives insight into plights of the other fledgling democracies in the region too.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Koprusu (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Early hours of Sunday 01 June, 40,000+ people walked over the Boğazıcı Köprüsü (Bosphorus Bridge), which does not have a pedestrian walk.

Taksim Square is one commercial center of the city, and THE political center of the city.  It is where protests traditionally are held.  It is a main touristic area as well as a destination for Istanbullular after work and on weekends.  It is also a neighborhood where many people live.

Two photos of private sailboats motoring to join the protest, 01 June.

Two photos of private boats motoring up the Marmara Sea to the Bosphorus Strait to join the protest, 01 June.

You’ve seen my earlier photos of Istiklal Caddesi, an iconic outdoor pedestrian mall, along the lines of La Rambla in Barcelona and Calle Florida in Buenos Aires.  Istanbullar flock to the meyhanes (taverns) and night life in the streets and alleyways off of it. Political rallies and parades often weave their way through weekend crowds on Istiklal Caddesi. The highest point of Istiklal connects at Taksim Square, a huge plaza and transit hub where the Metro stations, bus and dolmuş (shared taxis) lines convene.

gas antidotes.

gas antidotes.

On November 5, sections of Taksim Square were blocked off with corrugated aluminum fencing and a big development project was begun.  We arrived one month later, and immediately heard complaints about how it had destroyed local businesses, and the public had no involvement in its conception or approval.  Less than a week after we arrived, I picked my cold rainy way through the muddy chunky mess to go to a life drawing session nearby.  I got lost in Gezi Parkı that first night, which was dark but not dangerous.

Taksim Square and Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Taksim Square/Gezi Park in winter, before development project.

Gezi Park was Lucy’s best exercise place.  She needs to run, and we had three choices. Narrow Fıstıklı Parki on the Bosphorus, a close-by church parking lot obstructed by a cranky priest, and Gezi Park. The month we lived there, we found much of Beyoğlu and Cihangir just down the hill from Taksim Square pretty unlivable because of the huge muddy construction projects gentrifying the area. If we still lived in Cihangir, we would have closed our windows to tear gas, and worried about our pets..

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website.  Offending mall is upper right.

New Taksim Square plans from AKP website. Offending mall is center right.

The small group of young activists began protesting in the park Monday two weeks ago.  By that Friday, riot police trying to disperse the reportedly peaceful group used harsh measures of tear and pepper gas, and water cannon.  For the first few days there was very little coverage of the skirmish on local mainstream news, evoking cries of media suppression by the party.  The prime minister, at a ceremony announcing a (controversial) third bridge project across the Bosphorus had dismissed the 3-day old protest by stating the park decision was made and final. Period.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair.  The mall was to replicate this structure.

The original Ottoman-era military barracks that fell into disuse and disrepair. The mall was to replicate this structure, on the site of Gezi Park.

The general complaint against the current government is of authoritarian behavior, and headlong, unrestrained, crony-enriching development (sound familiar?).    I have Islamist friends who share that complaint. Secular Turks who experience the ruling party as Islamist autocrats imposing religiously motivated lifestyle restraints are really unhappy.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other's scarves.  Unprecedented...these guys hate each other.

Rival futbol (soccer) teams showed solidarity to the protesters by wearing each other’s scarves. Unprecedented…these guys hate each other.

The PM is very popular and powerful, and as he is timed out of office after 2015, he is working to change the constitution to a presidential system, so to run again – a la Michael Bloomberg in New York.  The protest began over trees, but has evolved to become directly critical of the prime minister, due to how he has reacted.  The president, and deputy prime minister have met with representatives of the protesters and acknowledged the need for democratic dialogue.

Old Türks expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Citizens expressing their disagreement with the status quo.

Most of my expat friends, while riveted to the subject, skirt the protest areas, however, many people live in the Taksim area or need to travel through its hub in their daily life, and are thereby impacted.

Our neighbor got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening...

Our neighbor, picking up his daughter, got caught in the crowd on 31 May, not knowing the protest was happening…

We had a life drawing day planned on the violent Saturday in the Harbiye flat mentioned above.  Friday night, with protesters and tear gas on her street and trapped in her apartment, my friend cancelled the event and spent her time offering lemon juice to wash out the eyes of those gassed.  I’ve learned that antidotes are vinegar, milk and lemon juice.  Ayran works well too. 🙂

Manning the gas management supplies station...vountarily.

Manning the gas management supplies station…voluntarily.

Clashes moved to Beşiktaş, because the PM’s Istanbul office is close by.   A  different friend trying to skirt a blockage on the main shore road between Kabataş and Beşiktaş, took ferries to and from Kadıköy zigzagging across the Bosphorus, where she then sought tearful refuge in the smoke of fires set by protesters also as (interestingly) tear gas antidotes.  She reported that people on top outside decks of the boat moved inside with eyes streaming…gas from a helicopter they said…!!??

Sunday morning, 01 June, protestors were back, cleaning up the place...all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed  them.

Sunday morning, 01 June, protesters were back, cleaning up the place…all of the food, and gas antidotes were placed here for those who needed them.

The government has characterized the protesters as hooligans, extremists, and marginals, although they look like students and citizens of all ages who care about their life in Istanbul and Turkey. I suspect there are criminals mixed in — those who seek a situation to prey on.  I’ve also seen some reports that plain-clothed police officers have roughed up protesters and caused damage.


Antidote. Noémie Deveaux Photographer, 31May.

All over Istanbul, including on our street, in our building, citizens have protested from their homes by hanging the Turkish flag, and banging pots and pans.  Called cacerolazo in the Latin world, this form of protest gathers steam because it is easy to participate. The practice began in Salvador Allende’s Chile in 1971.  Listening to a neighborhood chant, whistle, clap hands, ring bells and bang on cook pots is an amazing sound.  It sounds like entering an airport gate full of Hare Krishna. I found it charming, for a short while.  It erupted here the first Saturday and Sunday nights at the dusk call to prayer. Its acoustic nature is compelling. The first Sunday evening it took on its own life, and like a car alarm that someone is ignoring, it got tedious and sent Rita running to her most scary hidey-hole.  Over the last 10 days It has settled into a ten-fifteen minute 9 PM ritual.  One evening it was preceded by a recording of the Turkish anthem.

01 June, a hammam towel pressed into protest...Diren means "resist".

01 June, a hamam towel pressed into protest…Diren means “resist”.

An American friend who has lived in Turkey for many years said this protest reminded her of the 60’s in the US, rather than the Occupy movement.  Our Turkish friends agree that this is a watershed, but can’t tell us how.  The protest songs I learned in college are playing in my head…”pave paradise, put up a parking lot…”

Turkey in the News…Again

You may be seeing stories about the protests in Gezi Park, near Taksim Square.  For four days now, an increasing number of protesters have tried to save the park from being destroyed by the massive development project in Taksim.  Turkish police are no stranger to big confrontations…the country has a long history of various, at times violent, unrest.  A typical response is to use water cannon and tear gas.

In the six months we’ve been here, I’ve frequently heard complaints about the “mall-ization” of Istanbul.  The current government undertakes huge development projects, some of which reportedly involve privatization of public spaces.  My research of complaints includes a lack of transparency and public notification and involvement, destruction of archaeologically significant sites, and enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.

The ruling party is largely composed of conservative bourgeoisie Muslims.  It looks a lot like the US Republican Party to me.  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic in 1920, decisively separated the new republic from its Ottoman, thereby Muslim, past by deeming the country definitively secular. He made radical changes,one being the alphabet, thereby immediately rendering the entire population temporarily illiterate!

Saving the trees in Gezi Park has become a symbolic protest and criticism of heavy-handed, autocratic actions and policies, including a speedy parliamentary ruling limiting hours for sale of alcohol, the harassment of journalists and political opposition,  and even a PR tiff naming ayran – a yogurt drink I happen to love — as the national drink over rakı, the Turkish equivalent of Greek ouzo,  One blogger portrayed the national drink as çay (tea), which feels more true to me, so this particular political tit for tat will likely disappear.

We all know the varied outcomes of these sorts of political uprisings, from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to Sidi Bouzid in Tunis, Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, Oakland City Hall in California, and so on.

Personally, I am surprised at the unchanging response of the Turkish police in Gezi Park.  Tourism is a key industry – who else are all of the shopping malls for?  Turkey is continuing along the path towards EU membership (although, I suspect if they ever get there, they may choose not to join), and they are in contention for the 2020 Olympics, to be awarded this fall.

International media is speculating on the emergence of a “Turkish Spring”.   I just hope the ruling party pays honest and meaningful attention to those citizens of this fair country who differ with them.

You  don’t have to worry about us.  We live on a different continent from Gezi Park where the Occupy protest is occurring.  Jim and I understand the first rule of avoiding the wrong place at the wrong time…don’t go there.  We did not go to City Hall in Oakland either, and the distance and situations are pretty similar.

In fact, generally what we observe in Turkey, reminds us of corollaries we’ve seen in US politics.  I love Turkey, and I hope for the health of her peoples and their governments.  This may be an emergency for the current party…and I hope they show some leadership out of the problem.

Istanbul is a big city.  The warm stiff breeze this Friday evening has turned the normally placid Marmara Sea across the street from our apartment into a raging beach.  Young peoples’ singing in the park along the water is wafting through our open windows.  Taking Lucy for a walk, we collected dondurma (ice cream) cones from famous Ali Usta – a warm weather Istanbullular pilgrimage destination each weekend.  Jim had iki top (2 scoops) of çikolata parça (chocolate chip) with çikolata sosu (hot dipped chocolate sauce), I had iki top, çikolata and şamfıstığı (pistachio) dondurma with çikolata sosu and kıyılmış cevizi (chopped walnuts). Life is good.

Entry in the Diary

I’ve set myself up here, because you’ve told me I must include photos.  My daily life has gotten too busy to be out with my camera much, heck to even BE out.  Mondays, like today, are filled with Turkish homework and then preparation and delivery as a facilitator in a 2-hour online Soliya session (www.soliya.net).

It is now 7:30pm, and I have more homework but decided to scroll Facebook while I ate dinner.  A fellow blogger is saying it for me today!  http://lovelifeistanbul.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/a-lesson-in-abundance-from-turkey/

Here, a yabancı whose name and gender I don’t know is recounting a street story – they are so often available to all of us, when we are out and walking slowly –walking slowly in itself is the subject of a post as yet unwritten.

Slowly enough, that is, to follow the music.

Although I live here, I am yearning to visit Istanbul…A friend and I have our first hammam (public bath) date on Thursday.  You’ll hear all about it, eventually. I am mindfully documenting eating establishments and experiences…our first visitors arrive soon.

As you know, I watch ferries traveling from my window, and late last week, I’d had it!  No time to go anywhere, I hadn’t been on a ferry for over a week!  If I hadn’t found a friend to travel with me to Istiklal Caddesi just for çay, I would have simply taken a round trip ferry ride by myself!

It isn’t exactly all work and no play, we’ve entertained at home.  We hosted a birthday party for a French friend, organized by a German friend, both from Turkish class, and their Turkish girlfriend, and wife and baby, respectively.  I got up early Saturday morning and added a bakkal (small grocery, although this one’s on steroids) and a couple of bakery stops to Lucy’s walk. We fired up the çay samovar, I cooked Turkish scrambled eggs, called menemen, and ate pastırma (Turkish “bacon” made of dried, cured beef) for the first time.

The birthday boy brought börek from a good bakery.  This version of börek resembled lasagna stuffed with cheese and herbs and wrapped in a phyllo crust, without the sauce, but laden with butter. Börek is ubiquitous and comes in many variations.  It is also sort of like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead…when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.  Jim first encountered such a horrid börek, he thinks he doesn’t like it, even after eating a good one. Arne and his wife baked a succulent chocolate birthday cake, so after our rich Turkish breakfast, we sang Happy Birthday in English and served it.

Enjoy the post I have linked to.  There is a Syrian angle to the story.  Not surprisingly, there are many Syrians in Turkey, each with a heartrending report.

If it is the last day of the world, at least it…SNOWED!

We are here with three big rollers and one small rolling suitcase each.  Turkish Airlines offers more options, but is as inflexible as other airlines on baggage weight.  As I packed, I weighed each on a bathroom scale trying to balance it all, but in the flurry to get away, we stuffed things in pockets, disturbing my careful distribution, and incurred excess charges.

We left Rita’s toys, which is too bad, because animal toys are uninspired and limited here.  When our visiting friends ask what they can bring, we’ll probably tell them cat toys…unless by that time there is something we miss much more.  Jim and Lucy would already probably say it was peanut butter.  Something called that, made in Holland, is sold here, but it is gritty and dry and 20% hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Say “bacon” and Western expats crack up.

Thinking that the real cold weather would come after January, and our shipment of 45 pieces of stuff would have arrived by then, we both packed our heavier and bulkier clothing to go by sea.  Our load is delayed due to required signatures and inefficient communications, which feels like a run-around and means that we have no idea when our warmer clothes and general household goods will arrive.

Sticking more.

Sticking more.

Friends and others have predicted snow for over a week, but AccuWeather missed it. Yesterday it forecast 11°C for today, and obviously snow comes closer to zero.  We woke up to flurries this morning, and it has snowed all day.  Public buses have stopped, many shops closed, the city is sort of halted, as has running water in our flat.  After about four hours the water flowed again…we are grateful for the gift of getting it back!  The old city of Istanbul delights in many ways!

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)

şemsiye mezarlık (umbrella graveyard)



Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Istiklal Caddesi is quiet.

Reverse Dalmation.

Reverse Dalmatian.

Here in Cihangir, where we climb everywhere we go, just walking around is treacherous.  Adding two or four wheels and a lot of weight to the mix is a recipe for disaster.  We watched a truck stuck in a “valley” between two steep streets, unable to crest either of them. Since this district is also an ongoing construction zone – gentrification, which will totally change the character of the neighborhood in a few years – the slush quickly turns to mire.  Locals say it does not freeze here, so we’ll probably have a mud season until spring.

Snow Dog

A new route.

I remember a board game I played as a kid called Chutes and Ladders.  Walking in Cihangir is like playing an interactive version, especially in the snow.  Landing on a ladder moves you forward, hitting a chute sends you back.  We keep discovering new “ladders”, new stair steps that shorten our trip, or keep us off narrow and crowded roads.  My morning walks with Lucy uncover these treasures.  Each new one excites her – she races to discover new smells, and add her commentary.  Depending on how one enters it, the stair is a ladder or a chute.  On the descents, I need to keep reminding Lucy “no pulling”.

Chutes and Ladders

Chutes and Ladders

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.

It would be fun to have a toboggan here.