You are bound to walk through a loud, crowded, chanting group of demonstrators if you ever find yourself on Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoglu District of Istanbul. I haven’t seen many protests in Chicago. In fact, I think I have only seen one. So my first Turkish protest was an exciting and somewhat overwhelming experience. I didn’t know how to react, until I realized that these protests are peaceful. The police are always nearby, ready to intervene. But from all the protests I’ve seen on Istiklal Avenue, I haven’t seen any police-civilian confrontation.
Here is the story behind the very first march I witnessed on Istiklal.
This short montage features various demonstrations on Istiklal. The first clip is a march against the massacre in Houla that’s been making recent headlines. The second is a political demonstration. The third short clip is raising awareness about the government wanting to downgrade May 19th, the Turkish Day of Independence, to an informal holiday. And the last was a private demonstration for an 18-year old who was about to begin his term in the Turkish military.
This is the line that reportedly began it all: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” We’re told fourteen schoolchildren were arrested and reportedly tortured after writing this phrase on the walls of their school in a southern city of Syria last March. Locals reportedly gathered to demand the children’s release, which apparently turned into a demonstration after Friday prayers on March 18th, 2011, when four civilians were killed by Syrian security forces. The conflict has spiraled from a call for freedom into a call for the resignation of President Assad’s regime following skirmishes between the so-called Free Syrian Army and government troops that have resulted in violent acts against civilians, including children, that are making headlines.
The same way that these Syrian schoolchildren adapted this well-known phrase from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian children in these refugee camps have adopted the chants and demeanor of Syrian protestors and demonstrators.
Clink, boil, clank, pour, done. The coffee-maker at Pierre Loti Cafe moved seamlessly through the process of making a cup of Turkish coffee. After attempting to capture the process on camera, I realized that it isn’t just a routine: it is an art. The speed with which he stirred or the amount of time he let the cezve sit on the hot coals are coordinated acts in creating a perfect cup of coffee.
Döner is a Turkish dish made with lamb, beef, or chicken topped with tomatoes and fries. The ingredients are wrapped in a flatbread or stuffed into a sub. The sandwich is served hot from a grill. Meat lovers can find these stands all over Istiklal Avenue by looking for a Döner, or rotating roast. Meat is stacked and seasoned into an inverted cone. The stacks of meat rotate slowly, rotisserie-style, in front of a cast iron or electric burner. Once the outer layer of the meat is cooked, it is shaved off into thin, crisp pieces with a long knife, by which it falls into a tray below the spit.
This dish is common fast food in Europe and the Middle East.
Turkish ice cream vendors are known for teasing customers before they can finally have their dondurma.
Turkish ice cream is made with milk, sugar, salep, and mastic. The salep is a flour made from the tubers of an orchid plant. It gives the ice cream its thickness. Mastic is a resin from a tree within the Pistachio genus that makes the ice cream chewy. The mastic allows vendors to throw and stretch the sweet treat to catch people’s attention. I found several of these vendors clad in their embellished, gold vests and fez’s all over Istiklal Avenue (a main street in the Beyoglu District).
Whenever I mention the Gülen movement, I get reactions like, “That’s controversial,” or “That’s a touchy subject.” So I want to explore it: I will be exploring the reason behind its controversy, its role in the democratization of Turkey, and its connection with the educational system of more than 140 countries.
I got a chance to learn about the basic ideals of the Gülen movement at the Niagara Foundation in Chicago. The Niagara Foundation is a Midwest organization that openly supports and embodies the values of the Gülen movement, by promoting fellowship and dialogue between cultures and nations. For example, the Niagara Foundation funds trips for Americans to visit Turkey to develop of more informed sense of Turkish culture. I sat down with the Niagara Foundation’s Assistant Director in Chicago, Hakan Berberoglu to get a brief overview of this movement.
My curiosity for this movement continues. I interviewed Professor Ihsan Yilmaz at Fatih University this afternoon. Professor Yilmaz currently serves as the Chair of the PhD Programme in Political Science and International Relations at Fatih University, Editor-in-Chief at European Journal of Economic and Political Studies (EJEPS), advisor at Journalists and Writers Foundation, and writes as a columnist at Today’s Zaman. He gave me more insight into the role that the Gülen movement plays in Turkish politics and democratization–video coming soon.
Being a backpack journalist requires you to be able to report, shoot, edit, and produce all of your stories as a one-man band. It’s essential to travel light while out in the field because you are on your own. Here is all the equipment I will be using to report in Turkey.