Turkish Referendum Looms on April 16th

Once again, I’m compelled to post a missive from my dear—albeit anonymous— friends in Turkey. They remain anonymous with good reason.

As you may know, Turkey faces a referendum that will strengthen the power of the president, effectively weakening the country’s parliamentary system and the government’s checks and balances. President Erdoğan, now in his fourteenth year in office, could remain in power another 13 years. He has already used the coup attempt as reason to close  down liberal newspapers and television stations and jail hundreds of military and education personnel. He has unabashedly used government funds to promote his move toward dictatorship for Turkey. Frightening.

Here’s the news from my friends on the inside:

No! No! A Thousand Times No!

The cruise missile attack by the Trump administration on a Syrian army base this week, in addition to further delaying an end to the slaughter and destruction in our neighbor Syria, has added another layer of anxiety here in Turkey as we head toward next Sunday’s referendum. The attack has put more wind in the sails of our President, who has been militating for the overthrow of the Syrian government since 2011.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
The Grand Bazaar on a National Holiday demonstrates the patriotism of the Turkish Republic

We suspect that our readers by this time have heard about as much as they can take about the Turkish referendum. The authors of this newsletter have certainly had enough and can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Fortunately for our sanity all campaigning has been banned during the coming week leading up to the vote. We’ve been suffering from a form of political bi-polar disorder – one day hopeful, next day down in the dumps. So we will not belabor the point. Our final appraisal is this: Should ‘Yes’ win, the results can have no legitimacy in the eyes of any impartial observer. Why?

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
A Turk selling flags  the New Mosque

1. The referendum is being conducted while Turkey is being ruled under a State of Emergency, giving authorities limitless powers to intimidate and crack down on free speech, the media and the right to assembly.

2. The third largest party in Parliament, the Kurdish-based HDP is under severe attack, its leadership in jail, and the municipalities it administered seized and placed under receivership. Even their ‘No’ campaign song in Kurdish has been banned. (Probably because it’s cute and catchy, anathema to most Turkish politicians. Plus, you don’t need to know Kurdish to get the message.)

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
One of my favorite photos—a patriotic Turk walks the Istanbul Marathon

3. The President and Prime Minister have unabashedly used the resources of the state, paid for by the taxpayers, to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote.

4. The media, and especially the TV networks, have shamelessly favored the ‘Yes’ campaign in their news coverage, and this in a country that has the highest level of TV viewing in the world.

5. Thug attacks on ‘No’ proponents and their meetings have placed serious restraints on the ability of the naysayers to campaign. No wonder so many people say they are undecided in poll surveys.

6. And finally, the yea-saying government has total control over the entire referendum process, including ballot counting and handling of any challenge to the results that might arise.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
An Ataturk monument to a secular democracy, Arnavutköy, Turkey

In spite of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s apparent total dominance, most opinion polls say it’s still too close to call. Whatever the official results on April 17th, Turkey will remain a deeply divided country with an uncertain future. However, should a ‘No’ vote prevail against all odds, it would mean a humiliating defeat for those who have been curtailing the most basic democratic rights and closing down political space for those struggling for social justice.

We say No! No! A thousand times No! in the referendum and No! to the continuation of the war in Syria.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
This colorful patriot could often be seen on Istiklal, Freedom Street

*  *  *

As a follow up to our ‘Turkish Hairlines’ newsletter posting, we can’t hold ourselves back from reporting that the Turkish President, during a ‘Yes’ campaign rally at the presidential palace entitled “‘Yes’, of course, for a beautiful Turkey”, signed a decree under the State of Emergency (!) authorizing beauticians at beauty salons to do laser hair removal. This is an extremely popular procedure among Turkish women which was formerly restricted, for safety and health reasons, to dermatologists in government-approved hospitals and clinics. Was this an indication of the kind of Presidential decrees we can expect if ‘Yes’ prevails on April 16? Another reason to vote ‘No’.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You Must only to love them
Oh, what lies ahead for the Turkey I’ve grown to love?

A Turkish election about presidential power

I just received this message from friends in Istanbul and wanted to pass it on to Turkophiles like myself. They prefer to remain anonymous.

“On Sunday, April 16th, Turkish voters (including yours truly) will go to the polls to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the package of constitutional amendments that, if passed, will change Turkey’s governing structure from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Supporters of the ‘yes’ vote say that a president with strong executive powers will mean a strong and stable Turkey, be good for the economy and put an end to terrorism. Supporters of a ‘no’ vote claim that the kind of presidential system being proposed would severely weaken parliament, increase political pressure on the judiciary and open up the country to the real possibility of authoritarian one-man rule. (We won’t have any pesky judges, for example, overruling presidential executive orders since the president’s influence over high judiciary bodies will be greatly enhanced.)”

Turkey, elections, Erdogan, presidency, annmariemershon.com
What is the future of the Turkish secular democracy?

And they continue,

“The campaign will most likely be a very intense – and ugly – one. Both the president and prime minister have drawn a virtual equal sign between voting no and supporting terrorism. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been advocating the change for some time now, his ruling AK Party and the nationalist MHP will be going all out for a ‘yes’ vote. The main opposition CHP and the Kurdish-based HDP, the other two parties in parliament, are strongly opposed to the amendments. Current polls predict a tight vote. The fact that the referendum vote is taking place during the State of Emergency and with the main leadership and much of the secondary leadership of the HDP in jail on charges of supporting terrorism means very tough going for the ‘no’ vote campaign.”

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
A president seeking more power: Recep Tayyyip Erdoğan

I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to influence the vote, but it’s important to keep informed. If you have contact with Turks, it might behoove you to do some campaigning to keep the country secular and the courts strong.

 

Let me share my tale…

You must only to love them, Ann Marie Mershon, annmariemershon.com, https://www.amazon.com/You-must-only-love-them-ebook/dp/B01DFUGIEI

I spent some amazing years teaching in Turkey, and I’d be happy to send you copies at a discount. Contact me to share this tale with friends and family. And if you haven’t read it yet, well, prepare to be surprised. Five Stars on Amazon with 53 reviews. Order before December 15th, because I’ll be off on yet another adventure.

Shameless self-promotion, I know.

Sigh…

 

 

An update from Turkey: OHAL

Many people have asked me how things are in Turkey since the coup attempt. In addition to a devastating downturn in tourism, life has changed—a bit for some and incredibly for others. My favorite ex-pat couple wrote a blog about Turkey for years, but because their interests lean toward the political, they’ve shifted it from the web to an e-mail format. Sad, but understandable. They’ve given me permission to share their most recent missive, though they asked that I not use their names. Sad again, especially since Turkey was lauded as a secular democracy. Was.

Turkey, annmariemershon.com,
The domes of the Blue Mosque now attract fewer tourists.

Here’s their update on how things are going:

HAIL TO THE CHIEF

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
The Chief: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

If anything would stimulate a person’s desire to turn on, tune in, drop out and forget about it all, it’s some of the happenings this year in Turkey. What with suicide bombings, seemingly endless internal and external savage war, the July 15th summer surprise coup attempt and the resultant mass exodus of tourists and foreign residents, the temptation to seek comfort in strong liquid refreshment is compelling.

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
The Galata Tower watches over a quieter Istanbul.

However, that outlet is not considered available for observant Muslims. But just to be sure, the governor of the central Anatolian province of Yozgat recently announced that under the authority of Turkey’s State of Emergency imposed after the coup attempt, he was closing all places serving alcohol as, in his opinion, they constitute a threat to the family. Although he subsequently backed off of a blanket shutdown of every single such place, we’re certain that it will be even harder to enjoy a drop in Yozgat than before, and even then it was a pretty dry place.

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Now who will buy the colorful Turkish carpets?

The State of Emergency (OHAL) in Turkey, recently given a 3-month extension, has become a source of major trauma for a huge number of people in Turkey. More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs, many of them teachers and other public employees, all of them alleged to have either links to the Gülen movement, blamed for the coup attempt, or to the PKK. Hundreds of businesses have been confiscated by the government due to supposed links to the Gülen movement. Dozens of media outlets have been closed, including many pro-Kurdish or left-leaning newspapers and TV stations, on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Finally, more than 30,000 people have been jailed, including a number of prominent journalists, intellectuals and authors. To make room for them, an equal number of prisoners were discharged from the prison system. All of these measures have turned the OHAL into a powerful tool for the gradual consolidation of power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka ‘the Chief’), who has declared that even a year of emergency rule may not be sufficient.

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Turkey’s stunning beauty is enjoyed by fewer tourists.

Getting back to our Yozgat governor, an understandable resultant side effect of this massive purge has been the spectacle of Erdoğan loyalists falling all over themselves opportunistically trying to outdo one another to prove their devotion to the Chief. Pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak columnist Aydın Ünal writes of the emergence of individuals and groups who he describes as sycophants and flunkies who declare themselves “the most pro-Chief,” “the genuine pro-Chief,” “the essential pro-Chief people.” These self-promoters do all they can to criticize and taint others by calling into question their devotion to the Chief.

Turkey, Istanbul, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Who will enjoy the culinary treats of the now-deserted Istiklal Caddesi?

Where is this going? Hard to say, but we would guess that one outcome may be that we’re headed for a new constitution which includes a change to a ‘Turkish-style’ Presidential system with, you guessed it, the Chief at the helm. Barkeep, another round, please! … Barkeep! Uh, barkeep?

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Beer drinking may go to the dogs with OHAL.

 

I extend a HUGE thank-you to my dear expat friends. Good information, delivered with a touch of humor. Love those guys! By the way, they make the best martinis on the planet. If they can find the liquor.

(The photos are mine.)

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You must only to love them.

It’s the truth, according to my friend Uygar. To control Turkish students “you must only to love them.” He was right, and his ungrammatical advice is the title of a new memoir about my years in Turkey—finally, finally, finally finished! Complete! Finito! Bitmiş!

Whew!

PINK-Rose-Colored-Glasses-300x193I must admit, I wore rose-colored glasses much of the time, but this book does explore some of the darker sides of my experience, too, like being caught in a big demonstration with riot police:

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And then there was the disastrous soccer match–Oh, my!

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And believe me, it’s honest. You’ll see when you read it. No holds barred on this one.

If you followed my escapades over the years you might find this account a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t, perhaps it will pique your interest in Turkey, a country I grew to love—deeply.

Turkey has a wealth of history, amazing edifices and artifacts, and astounding terrain, but the true beauty of the country is its people. I hope I’ve shown that in my stories.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. In fact, I’d love for you to read it. The e-book is under four dollars, and it’s also available as a paperback. Reviews so far have been excellent, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Click on the book below to transport yourself to Amazon:

Cover 795KB

And if you’d like to try something new, there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for the book through May 16th. Here’s the link for that.

Rafflecopter+logo

 

 

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Istanbul—The Rest of the Story

Our second week in Istanbul was less eventful, mostly because we’d been pummeled by the Turkish cold bug. Poor Lynette had it the whole time we were there. So unfair!

I started feeling punk on the way back from Cappadocia. I knew I had a fever by the time we got to the Kayseri Airport, so we went up to the cafeteria to get some hot water for a cup of Tylolhot, the Turkish cold remedy that we basically mainlined for the rest of our stay. Well, enough of that. The show must go on!

Far more delicious than our Tylolhot was the Turkish Delight:Locum—yum! Also known as Turkish Delight. Ann Marie's Istanbul
I talked Lynette (the Taxi Queen, as I later learned) to forego a taxi and take the shuttle bus to Taksim, 3/4 of the way home. It was a comfortable ride in a beautiful bus. Never mind that it took 1 1/2 hours. When we got to Taksim I suggested the funicular and tram (public transport), but Lynette was feeling crummy so we grabbed a taxi. Our driver seemed nice enough, but as we got closer to Sultanahmet he began complaining more and more. Many of the taxi drivers don’t know the city well, and he tried to drop us off a half-mile from our destination. No way! We finally got him to drop us off a few blocks from the apartment, and I handed him the full 110 lira that was on the meter (about $45). He pulled the same trick our previous driver had pulled, swearing that I’d given him two 5’s instead of 50’s. I said “HAYIR, Çok ayip!” (NO, shame on you!) and we stormed off in spite of his protests. I wouldn’t advise anyone to trust an Istanbul taxi driver. When we told Musa about it, he asked if we’d gotten his taxi number, but we hadn’t. From now on, I’ll take down the taxi number before I ever step into an Istanbul taxi. Oh, FURY!

Each day is punctuated by five (I think six) calls to prayer. Here’ s evidence from a small mosque that these are broadcast live by each mosque’s imam:

The imam's sound studio and stairs to the minaret, Ann Marie's Istanbul
On Friday I felt better, although Lynette felt worse, so she stayed in while I headed off to Arnavütköy and Robert College. It was a sunny day and my heart filled with nostalgic warmth as I climbed the long hill to campus.

Robert College’s main building, Gould Hall (in autumn):

Gould Hall, Robert College, Istanbul, once the American Girls' College. Ann Marie's Istanbul

The campus had hardly changed, although it boasted a new teacher’s lounge (a previous computer lab) and a beautifully renovated library. I got to chat with a number of my teaching cronies, all of whom were almost as happy to see me as they were eager for their spring break, which began that day. I also basked in enthusiastic hugs from former students, both male and female. I’ll never get over how warm the Turks are; I feel true affection both for and from my former students.

I trekked down to Arnavütköy to the bank and was pleased to see my gypsy friend still selling flowers on the main street.

A daily scene on the street in Arnavutköy, a gypsy flower merchant. Ann Marie's Istanbul
After a chatty cocktail hour at Bizimtepe, the Robert College alumni country club attached to the campus, I trekked back down the hill to head home. I expected a packed bus at rush hour, and I got one. It took an hour to crawl along the Bosphorus to Kabataş, where I’d catch the tram home—a quicker ride. When I got there I just missed a tram and had to wait for the next one, usually about 3-5 minutes. Well, it started to drizzle as the crowd increased, but no tram. After 20 minutes an announcement (in Turkish) informed us that the trams were stuck in a traffic jam in Sultanahmet near the train station. Sigh… We stood in that rain for nearly a half hour, and very few of us had umbrellas. Heck, it had been a gorgeous day!
A kind young man gave up a seat for me in the tram, one of the few perks of having white hair. By the time I got to the Sultanahmet stop I’d quit shivering, but another six-block walk in the rain didn’t do my cold any good. By the time I got back I was losing my voice, which was totally gone the next morning.
Lynette and I did manage to get out a few more times, but we had to cancel three social engagements because we just weren’t feeling that great. So—Bahadir, Julide, and Mark and Jolee: I’ll definitely see you on the next visit!

I couldn’t resist including this view over the Golden Horn from the Süleymaniye Mosque:

Overlooking Istanbul from the Süleymaniye Mosque, Ann Marie's Istanbul
We did manage a short trek to the Maiden’s Tower for tea. The Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kilesi) is steeped in myths, my favorite one that it was built by a sultan to protect his daughter from a foretold death at age 18. The sultan visited his daughter regularly, and on her 18th birthday he brought her a basket of food and gifts, unaware that someone had sneaked a viper into the basket. Of course, it struck and killed his precious princess.

The Maiden’s Tower perches in the Bosphorus just across from Sultanahmet near Uskudar:

The Maiden's Tower, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

This princess is having her wedding photos taken in front of the Maiden’s Tower—note the hair-covering headpiece.

Turkish wedding photo on the Bosphorus, Ann Marie's Istanbul
We also found our way on the metro to the Chora Church (Kariye), a stunning Byzantine church near the old city wall that has been cleaned and renovated. Sadly, the naos (main area) of the church was closed for renovation, but there were plenty of beautiful mosaics and frescoes for us to see. It’s supposed to be one of the best preserved Byzantine churches in the world.

This stunning dome is a part of the narthex decorations in the Chora Church:

A dome in the Chora Church, Istanbul, Ann Marie's Istanbul

And this glittering masterpiece decorates a section of the ceiling of the narthex:

Chora Church Narthex dome, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul
After both outings we came home and collapsed on the couch. Energy levels were NOT high.
We’d planned a trip to Emirgan Park on Monday to see the tulip displays, but we just didn’t have the energy. Instead, we headed down to nearby Gülhane Park, just below Topkapı Palace. The tulips there were in full bloom, and people were out enjoying them, snapping photos and basking in the beauty of Istanbul’s Tulip Festival.

This river of tulips and hyacinths (not all blooming yet) flows under the bridge in the background.

Spring tulips in Gülhane Park, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

In spite of a cloudy day, people basked in the luscious displays of Istanbul’s Tulip Festival.

Turkish lovelies bask among the tulip displays, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

This little miss waited her turn to pose with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic:

A junior patriot poses with the esteemed Atatürk : Ann Marie's Istanbul

And this little dolly was pleased to pose for a tulip snapshot:

Every Turk loves tulip season: Ann Marie's Istanbul
We topped off our final evening with a bowl of mercimek (lentil soup) in a small restaurant near our apartment. Pretty quiet, but nice. Istanbul is a good place, even for those a bit under the weather. Bed by nine, and up by 2 AM to catch the airport shuttle. No more taxis for us!

From Istanbul to Cappadocia

Ah, heaven! Back in my beloved Turkey again. I’m actually here to work on the guidebook I wrote with my friend Edda, Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter~Backstreet Walking Tours. If you haven’t bought one yet, you might find it interesting.

4d Hans book cover

I’m updating information, improving the walking directions, and taking care of some contractual issues before we have the book developed into a phone app. My friend Lynette has been an indispensable aide, my guinea pig as she attempts to follow written walk directions with neither maps nor photos to guide her. We’ve improved on nearly all of the 100 sets of directions in the book, and let me tell you, we were greatly relieved to finish the last walk. We celebrated by treating ourselves to a dinner of fasuliye (spiced, stewed beans), pilaf, and eggplant hot dish near the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was fabulous (and quite reasonable).

Lynette on top of the Sair Han overlooking the city and the Golden Horn:

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Speaking of reasonable, I feel bad for the Turks, as the lira is weak right now. It’s a GREAT time for Americans to travel here, though. When I taught here a dollar was about 1.3 to 1.6 lira, and now a dollar is 2.6 lira. It makes for some cheap meals. Sadly, though, hotels and carpet dealers operate on the dollar, so no great deals there.

The ceiling of the Süleymaniye Mosque—cascading domes and arches:

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We spent our first four days in Istanbul in my friend Musa’s third floor apartment with two bedrooms and a stunning view over the Marmara. It even comes complete with a pair of cooing doves on the balcony. All this space is a luxury, especially in the Sultanahmet location. Unfortunately, Lynette caught a nasty cold on the plane and has been lying low much of each day.

My friend Musa Başaran dyes fibers and designs kilims. The design he’s showing on the computer will be fabricated in tulips next week by the Haghia Sophia:

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I’m posing beside the silk threads Musa uses in his own kilims:

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On Saturday I ferried out to join my friend Sandra on Burgazada, one of the Princes Islands. It was a treat to revisit its horse carriages and incredible vistas. No cars allowed sure works for me!

This is the local taxi service as well as an adventure for tourists:

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On our ride back from the island Sunday morning Sandra confronted a young man who was going to light up a cigarette on the ferry (in spite of clear NO SMOKING signs). They ended up in quite a quarrel with him insisting that people should resist unreasonable rules. A Turkish man stepped in to support Sandra, but we all just ended up shaking our heads. Turks can definitely be stubborn. Actually, I’m surprised at how many Turkish people still smoke in spite of all the information about the health risks. The entire cover of Turkish cigarette packages is a warning about smoking.

My friend Sandra on our ferry ride back to the city, cloaked in fog:

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Before we knew it, the time had come to head for Cappadocia. Lynette and I decided to forego the lengthy public transport to the airport (3 hours, 35 lira total) and grab a taxi. It should have cost about 100 lira (now only $40). “Traffic problem,” our driver said, “taxi 200 to 250 lira.”

“Turn on the meter,” I told him, and he did, but  it stopped at 23.5 lira. (Gosh, I wonder how.) When I asked about it he said it was automatic. I was mad. When we arrived at the airport he asked for 260 lira. What???? By that time smoke was pouring from my ears. I told him to wait and walked over to the taxi stand. Another driver said it should cost about 130-140 lira from Sultanahmet. I stormed back to our driver and gave him 140 lira. He called me a crazy woman. Yup! I hate when this happens. I’ve heard that taxi drivers will often bilk tourists out of money, and if I hadn’t known what to do (and known a little Turkish), we’d have spent an extra $50 on that trip.
We thoroughly enjoyed Cappadocia. I’ve fallen hard for Göreme, and the Kelebek Hotel is like a kiss on the cheek. We woke the first morning to a bevy of balloons floating through the sky, recalling memories of our balloon ride the last time we were in Cappadocia.

IMG_9445Most of the stone formations in Cappadocia have been carved out as homes:

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I happily connected with old friends at the hotel (Mehmet and Hasan), and we stopped in to visit with Ali, a carpet dealer who took us dancing a few years ago when we came with a tour. According to Hasan, Göreme is about the size of my home town of Grand Marais, about 2000 residents but it has 143 hotels. Amazing. A good percentage of them are cave hotels, too.

A bevy of back-street signs directing tourists to the many cave hotels:

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And look who I discovered walking along near those signs:

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On our second day in Cappadocia the power went out—not just in our area, but all over Turkey. I can’t begin to imagine what the traffic must have been in Istanbul. It’s a nightmare even when the stoplights are functioning. Fortunately, our hotel had a generator, so we had both lights and internet.

We ate that evening at the Dibek Restaurant, and thankfully they, too, had a generator. They serve regional foods prepared by the family under the direction of Anne-Anne (Grandmother). The decor is traditional with floor cushions and low tables. I went back to thank them for the fabulous meal, and they were tickled that I could speak Turkish. It warms my heart to reach out to them in their own language.

Lynette and I wait patiently for our dinner to arrive at the Dibek. We weren’t the first diners—there were two other tables that early.

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The next day Lynette was a bit under the weather, so I hiked alone: five challenging kilometers through the Pigeon Valley and up to the top of Uçhısarı, which was once a castle overlooking the entire valley. The highest point in Cappadocia, this castle was carved from the soft rock of Cappadocia’s tallest peak over 2000 years ago. It’s pocked with windows and doorways carved into the stone, and I wasn’t sorry that they’ve added stairs around the outside up to the summit. Lots of stairs.

A view of Uçhısarı from about halfway through the Pigeon Valley:

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And then another more up close and personal:

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I later learned that people lived in these carved-out homes until 1950, when they were relocated to hand-built homes for safety. The next year a large section of Uçhisar caved in during an earthquake.

The next day was a tearful goodbye to the magic of Cappadocia, and back to Istanbul. Ah, Istanbul!

Disturbing Protests in Turkey

I’m haunted by news of protests in Istanbul, praying that this upheaval is followed by another of the governing party in the next election. Under the rule of the AKP (an Islamist-leaning party), the country is moving away from the secular democracy established by Ataturk in 1923. In recent years more than 180 military leaders have been jailed by this government, along with more journalists than in any other country in the world (even China). What kind of democracy is this? Now the government is tearing down one of the city’s only parks to build a mall and an Ottoman barracks as a museum. WHAT???

bp1Photo of protester from Boston.com

My former Koç student, Cansu Ozgul, explains the situation succinctly and effectively. Kudos to her efforts—I’m doing my best to pass it on.

Ann Marie

Here’s Cansu’s message:

June 2, 2013

Dear Friends,

We would like to call your attention to the recent turmoils in Turkey, because we believe it pertinent to all those striving to live in peace and with dignity, and because we really need your help.

Right now, in Turkey, innocent people practicing their democratic right to peaceful protest are suffering at the hands of government organized police brutality. This urgent issue, which threatens the very notions of natural and democratic human rights, is one of universal relevance. And it must be affirmed, in front of the whole world, that government oppression will never be tolerated – not in Turkey, not anywhere else; not now, not ever! And this is why we’re reaching out to you, calling you to action.

A peaceful sit-in in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in protest of the attempted demolition of a beautiful public park to instead erect a commercial mall, faced violent police crackdown on May 31st. The brutality began with the police burning protesters’ tents, and continued to escalate with the police making heavy use of water cannons, throwing excessive tear gas at groups, and shooting rubber bullets targeted directly at people. There are even reports that the police have now started using the infamous chemical Agent Orange, once a war weapon, against its own people. Hundreds of serious injuries, as well as fatalities, have resulted by this unprovoked and disproportionate use of police force.

taksim_2579289bPhoto of protest from Boston.com

What began as a peaceful environmental protest has now grown into an outlet for the Turkish people’s grievances against an authoritarian regime. The protesters have remained peaceful, but police brutality has been increasing steadily. We fear for the safety of our families and friends at the hands of such relentlessly excessive police force. We further worry that the government has not only remained silent in the face of this violent injustice, but has even stood behind it.
The local mainstream media has effectively been censored. The potential of trouble if they cover events that shed an unflattering light on the current government seems to have deterred the media from providing informative, objective and comprehensive coverage. Given that thus the Turkish people are left in the dark with very little recourse, we must call on the rest of the world to pay attention to our plight and stand in solidarity with us, with all those fighting for democracy.

Governments all across the world, international media, our fellow humans: We need your support. And it is our ultimate hope that with international encouragement, the Turkish government will finally listen and respond to the peaceful, rightful voice of its own people. It is our hope that those responsible for allowing this massive violence against innocents to perpetuate, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resign their posts. And we need international support to get our voices heard.

bp8Photo of protesters from Boston.com

What you can do: Get informed and spread the word. Some videos and news articles are attached below, which you can start sharing via Twitter and Facebook. We are counting on the intellectual prowess and human sensitivity of our amazing friends. Please stand with us, please speak up with us.

With wishes that peace, freedom and kindness prevail everywhere, always,

Cansu Ozgul

Twitter hashtags: #direngezi #direngeziparki #occupygezi #occupyturkey

Several videos:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151438794482742&set=vb.106421675182&type=2&theater

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136205646707974.html

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151502368263731

Turkey, week four

Our fourth and final week in Turkey began with the arrival of friends from Switzerland, Franziska and Carl. Their glee at every experience buoyed us all as we explored the back streets of Istanbul.

Carl, me, and Jerry on our apartment balcony (photo by Franziska):

While they explored Sultanahmet on their first day, Jerry and I headed up to my publisher’s office near Istiklal, wandered through the sumptuous Pera Palas Hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express), took in the Pera Museum’s exhibit of Manolo Valdez, then indulged in an Efes and French fries at the Tavanarası, a funky rooftop cafe.

The Pera Palas bar and lounge—not too shabby:

An Efes break at the Tavanarası Restaurant:

The next day we explored the Bazaar Quarter with Carl and Franziska, skipping along through workshops and hans, which they loved. We found a few great deals on “scarf street,” of course finishing with adult beverages on the balcony before finding a new spot for dinner.

Roses in bloom at the Çuhacı Han

Morning tea with Carl and Franzisca in the Çuhacı Han:

We stopped into Kaya Demirci’s jewelry shop, where he was setting diamonds into this necklace (on a wax form):

A bouquet of silk scarves flutter in the breeze:

We covered the food bases well, indulging in meals from kebabs to kumpir (baked potatoes with butter and grated cheese mashed in, then piled with numerous toppings).

Jerry’s favorite döner, spiced lamb sliced off a huge skewered roast:

Kumpir, the mashed potato treat!

They also enjoyed our rooftop drama—a family of seagulls across from our apartment. The three remaining fledgelings (we lost one last week) have grown by leaps and bounds in two weeks, and it’s been fascinating to see the devoted parents chase away hungry blackbirds and gulls and take turns bringing food for their famished babies (regurgitating tiny fish for them). As Jerry put it, “I’ve developed a new respect for seagulls after seeing how hard they work.”

Mama and her hungry babes:


Finishing their stay with a Bosphorus cruise and another meal of mezes and lamb, Carl and Franziska assured us they’d come back to Istanbul. Their taste of the city has whetted their palates for new adventures.

Flower sellers near the Kadiköy pier:


After waving them off, we headed over to the Asian side to rent bikes for a trek along the Marmara. Getting there was a comedy of errors (the new Metro delivered us a few miles up from our destination), but we finally found our bike shop and headed off on wheels. Istanbul has little green space, so they’ve reclaimed a wide swath of sea to create parkland all along the Sea of Marmara. We biked an hour (about 10 miles), weaving between pedestrians who ignored the bike path signs. Turks are wonderful, but they’re not big on following rules. Jerry was reluctant to stop, but was snoring shortly after we settled on a park bench. Oh, to fall asleep so effortlessly!

Jerry recovers mid-ride:

The trek back was harder (into the wind), and we were worn out by the time we returned to Bostancı. With a few hours before our scheduled meeting with my friend Söner, we found a seaside restaurant that served beer and French fries, our new favorite snack. Söner arrived to share another beer with us, then drove us to Kadiköy and walked us through Moda, Kadiköy’s charming upscale community of beautiful homes, shaded cobbled streets, and sea views. We had dinner in a bustling Kadiköy street cafe/night club while a Beşiktaş soccer game blasted from screens dotting the street’s many cafes.

Me and my friend Söner in Moda:

On our ferry ride back to the European side I noticed brilliant lights near Beşiktaş—a bustling Bosphorus community. “It must be a home game,” I commented, interested, but not excited, as Beşiktaş isn’t one of the city’s top teams. We stepped off the ferry to fireworks exploding over the Golden Horn. “They must have won.”
Little did I know how that win would affect us. We joined a throng to await the tram for our Sultanahmet apartment, realizing there was little chance for a seat in spite of our tired legs. The first tram was packed solid with white-and-black garbed Beşiktaş fans, singing at the top of their lungs and pounding on the windows and doors. The doors opened, but there was no way another body could possibly squeeze in. Not only were there fans, but many carried seats they’d pulled from the stadium and grass they’d cut from the field. Oh, my!
“Maybe we should get a taxi,” I suggested.
“Let’s try one more,” Jerry responded. Exhausted from a day of exercise, the thought of walking to find a free taxi was far from enticing. Another tram pulled up, just as noisy and crowded as the last. The doors opened and the fans “manning the doors” grabbed us and pulled us in, laughing. I have to admit, it was fun to merge with these soccer maniacs. One had stolen a huge fire extinguisher (on wheels), which stood by the door with a white plastic seat and a square of sod sitting atop. Three times the driver stopped the tram tram and asked the revelers to settle down. After a hearty cheer, the chaos would abate and he’d continue. The noise would gradually rise until he had to stop again.

Wild Beşiktaş fans pause to pose on the tram:

Soccer mania is a mystery to me—mob behavior at best. I later learned that this was the last game to be played in the İnönü stadium tearing it down.
On Mother’s Day we met my friend Alison for a stroll through Balat, an area I’d never explored. Once a hillside Greek community, it was abandoned during the population exchange when all area Christians were deported to Greece (and Greek Muslims moved to Turkey).

St. Stephen’s Bulgarian Church steeple:

Ataturk’s intent was to create a more cohesive Turkey by making it all Muslim, but it was a painful time for those uprooted from their homes. In addition to scores of fascinating houses, we saw many people in traditional dress, as this has become a fundamentalist community of both Muslims and Jews. We saw men with şalvar (loose-fitting pants), turbans and flowing coats, and many women were garbed in head-to-toe black.

Balat residents buy their morning poacı (bread) from a street vendor:

Two young men in turbans and flowing robes:

We were amused at a common practice of letting children sit inside window grates for fresh air—sort of a window/playpen approach to supervised play.

These little dollies were tickled to be photographed:

Sunday morning laundry in Balat:

We happened upon an ancient Christian Church (1292), now the Fetiye Mosque and Christian museum, then later stumbled on an Orthodox Greek Church holding a christening ceremony. Wonders never cease. We finished our tour with lunch at the Zeyrekhane, a fabulous terrace restaurant perched high above the Golden Horn.
Two days left—and we spent one evening with our friends Mark and Jolee, Americans who’ve lived in Istanbul for the past six years. We’d had them for dinner the previous week, and they returned the favor with a walking tour of their Çıhangır neighborhood and a sumptuous dinner. Jolee made a few mezes, the crowning glory of which is a traditional dish of a fresh artichoke heart covered with diced potatoes, carrots, and peas and drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and dill. Oh, yum!

Jolee’s Zeytinyağı Enginar and other mezes:

Of course, the delicate grilled lamb chops were beyond compare. Mark and Jolee are fascinating, interesting ex-pats and great fun to boot! More good times ahead…
We spent our last evening with Dana and Matt, friends who I met through my sojourn in Ethiopia (Matt volunteered with me at the orphanage). They were on their way back from Addis Ababa, where they are adopting a 9-month-old boy.
We’ve hugged our friend Musa goodbye (my kilim designer friend who rented us his apartment) and caught what sleep we could before our taxi arrived at 3 AM. Back to life and adventures in Minnesota, where we hear our seemingly endless winter may have finally abated.

A Turkish Cat House (Kedi evi) provided by the city government for strays:

Bangin’ around Istanbul

 

Ah, leisure! Well, relative leisure anyway. Jerry and I have bid all our tour buddies goodbye and are basking in the quiet of a Sultanahmet apartment. My friend Musa Başaran, kilim designer extraordinaire, owns a six-story building just blocks from the Blue Mosque, and we’ve taken one of his apartments for our last two weeks here. We enjoy a view of the lovely Sokullu Paşa Mosque, the Sea of Marmara, and a family of fledgling seagulls on a roof below our balcony.

Musa’s kilims:

The Sokullu Paşa Mosque from our balcony:

For the first few nights after our tour we checked into the Turkoman Hotel, where we were met by their scruffy dog, Fluffy (I know—hardly an apt Turkish dog name, but what can one do?) and their volunteer cat, Arsız (which means shameless—a fitting moniker). In fact, while we were settling into our room, Arsız wandered in and curled up on our sun-soaked rug. Minutes later she’d settled up on the bed. Shameless. Though I’m allergic to cats, I tolerated it for a whopping ten minutes while Jerry gave her the requisite portion of petting and stroking.

The shameless Arsız makes herself at home:


The terrace breakfast room at the Turkoman overlooks the Blue Mosque, a heart-stopping view that enticed us to linger long over a last cup of coffee—filtered coffee, no less. I hope the days of Nescafe are behind me.

Our breakfast buddy on the Turkoman terrace:


May 1st is Labor Day across the world, a day that has often grown violent in Istanbul. We escaped the city with five of our friends by ferrying across the Marmara to Termal at Yalova, a mountain spa community that I adore. We soaked in the hot tub, scrubbed in the 500-year-old hamam (Turkish bath), sweated in the sauna, then shocked our systems with a plunge into an icy tub beside the sauna. Then we all moved outdoors to the olympic-sized outdoor pool, naturally heated from hot-springs pumped into the water. We swam and basked the afternoon away, finishing with a soft drink and a walk along the river.

Sparkling clean outside the hamam—me, Nancy, Judy, Glen, Bob, and Eddie. (Photo by Jerry)

We all reveled in the park-like atmosphere, the hot-spring eye-cleaning station and the lung-clearing steam breather. If nothing else, it soothes the soul to be in such a pristine, peaceful environment. Ataturk (the Father of Turkey) took the cure at this spa on a regular basis.

An olive stand in the Yalova street Market:


That evening we returned to find the Hippodrome chock full of sticker-covered cars—what??? A little research revealed that it was the Allgau-Orient Rallye, an event of 113 cars trekking back roads from Allgau, Germany, to Aman, Jordan, over the course of three weeks.

Rally cars lined up near the Blue Mosque:

 

Drivers both young and old spent two nights in Istanbul, many sleeping in their vehicles. One couple slept in a tent on their car roof—amazing!

Rooftop accommodations, sleep at your own peril!

Beer played a large part in the event as well. Heck, they’re Germans. Along the way the drivers earned points for a series of specific tasks like taking a photo of someone milking a cow in Germany, of a ferry crossing the Marmara, or of Turks drinking beer in Istanbul. The winner of the competition would win a camel, which they would, of course, have to leave in Jordan. The drivers would fly home, leaving their cars behind to be sold for a charity. What a blast! If you’re curious, check out the videos on http://www.allgaeu-orient.de/
The next day Jerry, Nancy Daley and I hiked to the Süleymaniye Mosque, which has been closed for renovation for the past five years. It was lovely to see this masterpiece in its full glory, all scrubbed and shiny.

Spring Irises bedeck tombs in the Süleymaniye cemetery:

The Stunning Süleymaniye Mosque:

After numerous contortions to take photos in the sanctuary, I emerged to realize I’d lost my prescription sunglasses. I took off my shoes and donned a scarf again to go in and hunt for them, but they were nowhere to be found. I reminded myself that if you lose things in Turkey you get them back and approached a guard outside. “Güneş gözlüğüm kaybettim,” I said (something like ‘I lost my sunglasses’). The guard held up his finger, reached behind a counter, and pulled them out. Thank goodness someone had turned them in. Whew!

The amazing city view from the Süleymaniye courtyard:

On the walk home Nancy treated us to döner, a delicious meat sandwich similar to a Greek gyro. YUM! That afternoon Jerry and I moved into our apartment at Musa’s then collapsed. I’m not a big napper, but I was out for over an hour. Heaven.
The next morning we met Sally and Judy (more friends from the tour) for a trip to the Marpuççular (bead) Han and a tour of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque.

Rüstem Paşa  has some of the finest hand-painted tiles in Turkey:

Sally emerges from the Men’s Room (When ya gotta go…)

That was the last of our time with friends from home—they left the next morning.
Saturday Jerry and I hopped a ferry to Burgazada to visit my friend Sandra. Burgazada is one of the Prince’s Islands, a series of small islands off the coast of Istanbul, a peaceful oasis with no cars. Residents and visitors walk, bike, or hire horse carriages to get around the islands.

The Burgazada taxi stand:

We spent Saturday wandering the island with Sandra and finished with a sumptuous fish dinner at a seaside restaurant.

Jerry and I pose on stone stairs to nowhere down on a seaside pier

Sunday we ferried to the largest island, Büyükada, where we rented bikes and rode around the island. It may sound idyllic, but we began at great peril, sharing the road with scores of wobbly bicyclists and thundering horse carriages. Once we broke away from the hordes, though, we pedaled the coastline, enjoying views of the sea, the other islands, and Istanbul in the distance.

Well worth the bike ride!

We finished with a beer and French fries at a little outdoor restaurant, where we chatted with a delightful young couple, surgeons visiting from Ankara. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly the Turks are once you open to them.
It’s been a lovely week, and last night we welcomed friends from Switzerland to our little abode. Carl and Franziska are excited to be here, and we’re eager to share the many charms of Istanbul. The great dilemma is how to squeeze everything into three days. We’ll do our best.