Sunday, February 19, 2012


Istanbul is not all about breathtaking Bosphorus views.
Whenever you ask an average Istanbulite which part of the city is the roughest and the most dangerous, most will definitely exclaim: Tarlabaşı!
Writing about this controversial neighbourhood is a bit of a challenge. It’s easy to get stuck in generalisations and pompous, overly sensitive discourse, with an obligatory touch of gloom.
This still stigmatised and no-go-after-dark neighbourhood is populated by different ethnic groups, like Kurds and Roma, as well as illegal immigrants, mostly from Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. If it wasn’t for the chaos and provincial, small town atmosphere, which gives Tarlabaşı its unique character, the district would resemble other central locations of Istanbul.
Still beautiful yet run-down buildings and under age street vendors are the first and therefore a bit superficial impressions of Tarlabaşı. However, you won’t see the infamous transvestites, prostitutes and drug dealers strolling down these streets in the day light. The most striking feature of this jumbled area is poverty and cultural melange.

In only half of the century Istanbul population multiplied several times. In the upcoming decade the city will have to accommodate one and a half million of new citizens. And give them jobs.
1960s witnessed mass migration from the rural, south-east region of the country. Poor, blue-collar workers occupied vacated houses, once owned by Greek, Armenian and Jewish families. This picture has recently been enriched by a growing number of foreigners, with groups of Erasmus students which made the housing prices go through the roof. Could Tarlabaşı become a ‘new Cihangir?’
Controversial governmental Tarlabaşı gentrification project (Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor) is being criticized by many, including some of the local NGOs and the neighbourhood’s inhabitants. Official website presents the project as a vital step to transforming the city into a resident friendly, renovated living space as well as protection of its architecture heritage. The truth is that Tarlabaşı’s 40 thousand population will have to be relocated to the outskirts of the city, which will severely affect people's livelihoods and social ties.
Who are the residents of Tarlabaşı? And do they feel at home here?

I have a workshop here, ‘demir doğrama atölyesi’ (blacksmith workshop) and my flat is just underneath. 

For me the most important thing about Tarlabaşı is friendship and variety: Kurds, Roma people, Arabs- they all live here. Look at that building for example. It’s from Greeks, but there are many different people living here now. In Gaziosmanpaşa for example, there are Yugoslavians, around Kuledibi (Galata) there is a Jewish community. Flats in Kuledibi are their grandparents' heritage. But here, there is everyone. 

 I truly appreciate this mixture of people and cultures. For me the important thing is to be a human; it’s really not important at all if a person is a foreigner , their religion, nationality or what kind of work they do… Whether they are Alevi or Kurdish. My mother for example is half Kurdish half Arabic, so we blended in here.

When I think about Istanbul I think about poetry. We're living in the city that is like a poem.

Kubilay: I live in Çapa and in the evenings I study economy at Bilgi University here.

I have been living in Istanbul for the last 3 years. I arrived here from Mersin to complete my studies.

To me Istanbul means disaster and traffic. You waste so much time commuting from one place to another. 

There's something unique about Tarlabaşı though. Look at this laundry, hung between the houses. I like it, it’s interesting...

I've been warned about Tarlabaşı many times, that I may get robbed or something, but nothing like this has ever happened.

Bilal: I am from Batman and I have lived in Istanbul for 17 years now. I’ve spent 10 of them in Tarlabaşı.

First thing that comes to my mind when I think about Tarlabaşı is colourful life, different people of different backgrounds, density.

This area is somewhat like Texas. Anything can happen anytime here. I  may be asked to show my ID by the police just because I am Kurdish. 

When you say you’re not Kurdish people don’t believe you and when you say you are, you seem suspicious and are immediately accused of something.  

When Hrant Dink was shot dead I was in Tarlabaşı and went to the protest straight away. I go to protests every Saturday.

The police don't like people here. They are going to evict them anyway. Apart from that , I am not happy with recent developments, such as closing down Emek Cinema. I have great memories related to this cinema, but the mayor, the government... they're all after privatization. 

Şükrü: I've been living in Tarlabaşı  for 16 years now. I came here from Mardin. There's so many people from Mardin living here.   

What can I say? I am not happy living here. We had to migrate, because our village was resettled by the security forces, due to civil war between PKK and the army.

The only thing I like here is my workplace.

Şükrü: She's my relative.

Sinan: He says he doesn't like it here!
Woman: Neither do I. It's not our homeland. It's been 30 years and I've never dreamt here. I don't have a peaceful sleep here. I don't feel like I belong here. I feel alienated.

Şükrü: Yes. I also feel that I don't belong here, but the good thing is that I've met so may good friends in Tarlabaşı .

Discrimination? Forget about Tarlabaşı, it exists everywhere. 

Gulçin: I am from Izmir. Living in Istanbul is nice, but it's so crowded here.

The most colourful part of the city is Taksim.

Tarlabaşı is quite cosmopolitan. There are so many people from different regions of Turkey living here.

I think about the crowd and poor people whenever I think about Istanbul.

It's been 8 years since I came here, as a bride from Mardin.

What else could I say? Only sad stories about the city...

Our favourite parts of the city are Fatih and Eminönü.

Unfortunately there's always something to do, so we don't really have much time to see the city.

I arrived here from Isparta and I've been here for over 30 years.

What can I say about Istanbul? I really don't know.

Many many thanks to Sinan and Neco!!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Sofa goes to Cihangir

Smiling faces, blistered hands; we carry a heavy bag with our inflatable sofa down steep, winding streets behind Galata High school, through the land of second hand and antique shops of Çukurcuma and all the way down to the kingdom of Turkish hipsterity – Cihangir.

A very brief history

The neighbourhood, situated in central district of Beyoğlu, between Taksim and Tophane-Kabataş strip, owes its charm to narrow streets with beautiful 19th and early 20th century houses.
The origin of the name takes us back to the Ottoman times. In 16th century the area was forested hunting destination, frequented by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and one of his eights offspring -Cihangir. When the young prince passed away Sultan asked the great architect Sinan to build a mosque commemorating his son and granting the name to the neighbourhood. During 19th century the area witnessed a considerable influx of non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire, whose impact is still apparent in architecture. Greeks and Armenians began to desert the area or were forced to leave when tensions between communities grew in the final phase of the empire and early days of the newly established Turkish republic. Urbanization process and growing significance of Istanbul as a major domestic, labour market resulted in chain, economic migration from rural areas. Cihangir was one of the places where the newcomers from Anatolia settled. From 1970s onwards the district started to resemble a jigsaw made up of poor eastern families, underrated artists and banned intellectuals. Some of my Turkish friends, who used to live there during the early 1990s (their rebellious good old days) claim that Cihangir was populated mainly by students, pickpockets, prostitutes and bohemian outcasts. The gentrification, which started in the late 1990s and continues until present, changed the character of the neighbourhood transforming it into an expensive, hip, a must-hang-out kind of district.

It's trendy, it's organic, it's cosmopolitan!

Nowadays the district is one of the favourite spots of foreigners coming to Istanbul. Here, after weeks of having simit, pogaca or acma for breakfast, you can celebrate all the familiar flavours! You’re round the corner from ‘White Mill’, which serves American style pancakes; you can pop into one of the veggie friendly eateries where nobody tries to argue that chicken is a vegetarian dish. Go to ‘Cuppa Juice’ to rinse it all with one of the super-colourful, organic fruit cocktails, with a touch of Echinacea to boost your immune system. In the afternoon relax at famous ‘Cihangir Yoga’, stop by at ‘Porto Bello’ to shop for an evening apparel and finish it all with a fresh, minty mojito, listening to chill out music at ‘Kiki’. So if you’re searching for ‘authentic’ go to a different part of the city, as Cihangir is all about cosmopolitan, trendy lifestyle.

Show me your garbage and I’ll tell you who you are

What can somebody tell you about the district by digging through its trash? Ali Mendillioğlu, a garbage collector and a head of the ‘Solid Waste Workers Association’ of Istanbul is also a writer for website. He goes from one neighbourhood to another, taking a close look at what people dispose off and provides readers with an interesting social analysis of the neighbourhood through the prism of its garbage.
Judging by discarded lifestyle magazines, perfume bottles and clothes he infers that nowadays Cihangir attracts mostly young, single, middle class women who are after anonymity and personal freedom. Extracting empty pizza boxes, organic food containers, vitamins, diet pills and empty jam jars (brands you’ve never heard of) Mr Mendillioğlu deepens his analysis, claiming that Cihangir is populated mostly by western individualism seekers and capitalist philosophy followers; for whom personal freedom, money, good looks and socializing are the key words. They consume beer and cheap wine at home to get tipsy and spend more on expensive, show-off cocktails at trendy Cihangir bars. Labelling basic products like milk, oil, toilet paper, shampoo and detergent as being of cheapest brands Mr Mendillioğlu completes the archetype of Cihangir inhabitant: young, individualist, self-centred and last but not least a trendy, shallow show-off.

Free thinking avant-garde or Braggarts?

So what is the truth about Cihangir? A beautiful, historical district overlooking the Bosphorus where Istanbul intellectuals hang out? An oasis of cosmopolitan, new ideas, organic food and yoga; or a social hub for trendy wannabees?
I guess all of the above…contrasts, lack of coherence, diversity -that’s Istanbul for you, so take it or leave it my friend.
My advice – just enjoy it! Put your skinny jeans on, wear your top shop shoes (no socks!), mess up your hair, season it all with some vintage accessory, have a sip of tea in a café in front of landmark Firuzağa mosque, reading ‘Radical’ or discussing latest art exhibition in ‘Tobacco Depot’ and breathe in Cihangir air…

Ahu: The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Istanbul is facing difficulties...

Ahu: I guess it’s just quite a challenge to live in the same place you were born in.

Ahu: I am very interested in India and I visit this country every year. I feel free there comparing to Istanbul and I really love Indian culture.

Ahu: All my memories are related to my family because I was born and grew up in Istanbul.

Anna: My first thoughts? Well, I associate Istanbul with richness. I mean, culture-wise…
I also consider the city very romantic.

Anna: My Istanbul memories are all about love. I met my boyfriend here couple of years ago and I visit him quite often since then.

Tuyla: Istanbul? First thing that comes to mind is diversity.

Tuyla: I love to dance and for me the city is dancing. There is a mixture of Arabic, Turkish and western music here. I really love it and I dance as often as I can.

Ece and Enis: We’re studying engineering at the same University.
What comes to our minds first is:
Ece: Entertainment, people

Enis: Culture, crowd

Ece: My most vivid memories are those related to Taksim, but I cannot think of one specific thing…

Selim: First thing that comes to my mind is that Istanbul is disorganized, not pedestrian friendly and crowded.
Selim: A memory... it’s a kind of strange question to ask to someone who is local…
I guess having one favourite place in the city is limiting. I try to find someting interesting in different places.
Selim: I had urges, like everyone who is growing up in a certain place, to leave this city at some point…and I did. I went to California, London and I liked it there…but I guess once you’ve travelled you realize that in the end you’re make a circle and come back to the same place…
Selim: Istanbul has this unique location. It's surrounded by water. At the same time there’s no connection, no reference to water in Turkish culture…so this wonderful abundance of water, the Bosporus is treated as an obstacle rather then a part of the living space…

Jordy and Yasmin: We are here only for couple of days but I have to admit that the most striking thing about the city are its contrasts.
Jordy and Yasmin: You have these really posh restaurants, but then you walk a few minutes further and the surrounding can change extremely…
Jordy and Yasmin: We visited all the touristic sights but also tried to discover less popular places in Istanbul.
We are staying in a quite funny hotel, modern but very kitschy at the same time…

Thanks to Aga and Kasia for helping us with the photos!