On the Border

This past weekend our group visited a Southern province of Turkey called Hatay, staying in the historic town of Antakya (Antioch). While famous for it’s archeological excavations and fusion of religions- Christianity, Judaism and Islam- this region is becoming more well-known now for the Syrian refugee camps that it’s housing. During our stay, I was able to visit two of these camps. The first one I visited was a camp in Hatay called Yayladağı. Upon arriving we saw several members of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group fighting government troops, gathered outside packing their things up to head back to Syria to continue the fight against Assad’s regime.

The camp has 1,950 tents and 6,625 refugees staying there. Security at these camps is very tight and while I was unable to go inside this camp, we were able to speak with refugees brought outside the camp.

Children from the camp playing and chanting.

According to UNICEF over 5,000 of the 24, 564 refugees in Turkey are children, and more are being born everyday.

Because Turkish law dictates that Turkey does not have to accept refugees from the East, babies that are born in the camp are still not considered Turkish citizens. The camps each have a basic hospital for minor injuries and illnesses. Refugees are taken to hospitals outside the camp for serious operations, but it can sometimes take over an hour for them to reach a hospital.

Refugees staying at these camps are not legally authorized to work in Turkey, but many still try to find ways to support themselves and their families. Ayman Karnebo is an artist who sells portraits that he creates out of organic materials that he can scrape together at the camp.

The second camp that I visited was Kilis, which is the largest camp housing 10, 493 refugees.

Unlike the other three camps which are tent cities, Kilis has small houses that are 21 square meters for families to stay in.

This camp has a capacity of 12,000 and took just 3 months to construct, while the tent cities take merely 3 days.




It was incredibly humbling to visit and speak with these refugees, many of which have escaped or witnessed horrible atrocities in Syria, forcing them to leave their homeland. They were all very willing to speak with me because they want their stories to be heard. The refugees are living proof of bravery, courage and perseverance. When you have a comfortable lifestyle it’s very easy to take your freedoms for granted, but these people truly know that freedom isn’t free.


Symbols of the Revolution

As our time in Hatay came to an end, the Syrian refugee who had been working with us gave us gifts of handmade scarves to honor the Syrian revolution. Her generous gift prompted me to look into other symbols of the revolution.

The Syrian flag has red, white, and black stripes with 2 green stars in the center. Demonstrators and members of the Free Syrian Army often wear clothing displaying the colors of the flag.

The word al-thawra, an arabic word for revolution is also a symbol of the Syrian revolution and the Free Syrian Army. You can find al-thawra stitched on garments, engraved on jewelry, and in art pieces like this one, presented to us by an artist in one of the refugee camps in Hatay.


After spending a weekend in Hatay and really delving into the Syrian conflict, I heard the word “Alawite” being thrown around a lot. Who are the Alawites? Are they Muslims?

In Hatay I observed people of many different faiths engaging socially as friends and business partners. I even snapped a picture of these three men who are good friends– One is an Alawite (left,) One is Christian (middle,) and one is Sunni Muslim (right.)

While walking around Antakya, I asked casual questions about what it meant to be Alawite. One man I met at a jewelry shop, Mehmood, was a practicing Alawite, or Alawi. He explained that Alawites are a branch of the twelver sect of Shi’a Islam.

In a nutshell, it seems the schism of Sunni and Shi’a Islam is rooted in a disagreement of the succession of the caliphate after the Prophet Muhammed’s death. The name Alawite is reportedly derived from the name Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the last of the “Rightly Guided Caliphs” of Islam. Shi’a Muslims apparently regard Ali as the first Shi’a Imam.

Our translator Mehmet gave us his interpretation. He said Alawites do not attend “normal” mosques, and he understood that many do not believe in the literal meaning of the Qura’an. They supposedly do not pray five times a day as observant Sunnis and Shi’as do. It is hard to strictly define what observant Alawites do and do not do, since their practices vary across nations and even neighborhoods and are highly disputed among other sects of Shiism.

Alawites are most highly concentrated in Syria, mainly in the cities of Hama and Homs. The current President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, is Alawite. While concentrated in Syria, Alawites reportedly make up only about 12% of the Syrian population.

Alawites in other countries are sometimes referred to as Nusairis or Ansaris.There is also a religious population in Turkey known as the Alevis. I find the distinction between Alawites and Alevis to be unclear.

In my quest to define what it means to be Alawite, a few people told me Alawites and Alevis were one and the same, while others told me they are separate faiths within the spectrum of Shiism that should not be confused. Even in my research, some sources claimed they were the same while some firmly refuted the same idea. A few of my questions regarding the Alawite faith are still unanswered, so my quest continues. I’ll keep you updated!

Artisan Antakya: The Art of Roasting

Walking around the market in Antayka this weekend, my nose stumbled upon a shop, selling an assortment of roasted nuts. After tasting a variety of samples, we settled on a bag of roasted cashews. Then the owner, Ismai, came out to greet us and invited us to a back corner for some tea. Bar none, Turkish hospitality is like no other I’ve experienced. Where ever you go, people will eagerly offer you a cup of tea, insisting on continuously refilling it. It takes about three cups to become best friends with someone here! Enjoying our tea and roasted nuts with Ismail, I learned that he has been in the nut industry for quite a while. He first started out by himself, pushing a little cart up and down the streets selling nuts. Now, fifteen years later, he owns his own nut roasting company, and ships to many different cities across Turkey.

His business is in Antayka, the Hatay region, which is close to the border with Syria. Currently there are four Syrian refugee camps located in the Southeast region of Turkey. While some of the shopkeepers have been hit hard during the turmoil in Syria, because it’s harder for people to cross back and forth over the border, Ismail said he hasn’t experienced the same loss of business as others.

Several shopkeepers report  their profits drastically declined because Syrian customers aren’t able to frequent them anymore. But, when talking with these various shop owners, there was one theme in common–empathy. They all expressed in some way that even if their businesses took a hit from the Syrian conflict, the most important issue for them was their Syrian brothers and sisters, as they affectionately referred to them. They displayed such humanity and concern for those across the border who are dealing with violence almost daily.

The Liwan Boutique Hotel

When arriving at our hotel in Antakya, Hatay, we were all stunned by how beautiful it was. With its stone walls and elegant furnishings, The Liwan Hotel is far from modern.

The Liwan Hotel

According to the history provided by the hotel staff, it was built by Sekip Nakip in the 1920s. Information in the hotel brochure indicates the Liwan Hotel was first built as a home for a Syrian official, later became a French Embassy, and once housed a doctor who cared for patients inside his home. The building was abandoned for a long period of time until being remodeled in October of 2008.

The Restaurant

Guests from all over the world come to the Liwan, especially from the United States, Germany, and France, according to hotel staff. Famous Turks such as writer Orhan Pamuk and Singer Hande Yener have also stayed in this hotel. Last year the Turkish film series, Asi, was hosted at The Liwan Hotel.

A Room


Walking along the bustling street of Istiklal-the main thoroughfare between Tunel and Taksim square, one can wander off on many side streets filled with vendors, bazaars and cafés. Many of these cafés have seating outside where one can enjoy tea or coffee, play backgammon and smoke nargile. Also known as hookah or shisha, this waterpipe is used for smoking flavored tobacco. It’s very popular in India, Pakistan and the Middle East, where it originated, though it’s also catching on in other countries as well. The Mayi Nargile Café broke down the process of packing a hookah for me.

On the Front Lines

With all the criticism that occurs around the media it’s easy for people to overlook the fact that many journalists are putting their lives on the line each and every day to report the news. Today our group met with Omer Berberoglu from Reuters News in Istanbul. Working as a producer and camera operator for several years, Berberoglu has experienced what it’s like reporting in a war zone. He showed and explained to us the various protective gear that journalists wear when working in these dangerous conditions.

This equipment is not worn all the time when working in war zones, but mainly when on the front lines under the most dangerous circumstances. It takes courage to be able to report in war zones, and Beberoglu said you have to do a cost-analysis on whether or not risking your life is worth spreading the information. While this equipment is somewhat reassuring, Berberoglu said it’s not a 100% guarantee. “Rarely you get killed by bullets, you actually get killed by bombs, and if you’re bombed then you’re done. These (items) are protector vitals, it saves you some time until you’re near a proper medical station.” Berberoglu also talked about how these experiences open your eyes to a whole new reality of what it means to feel secure.

Hardened hat: This is used mainly during riots and protests to protect the head from rocks and coins being thrown.

Gas mask: There are two types, the one displayed below is used against smoke grenades. The other kind is mainly used against chemicals.

Composite helmet and flak jacket: These are both used to protect the body from bullets. The helmet protects against rifles and pistols, and the flak jacket has a bullet proof plate that blocks against guns such as AK-47s and N-63s.

Stab vest: It’s good to protect from stabbing, riots and hand guns.

Pierre and Me

As the burial place of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, the village of Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world. The famous Pierre Loti café stands at the top of the hill in Eyüp cemetery. The path up to the café passes by a  picturesque array of tombstones, most of which date from the Ottoman Era. We chose to take a cable car up to the top, from where it commands sweeping views down over the Golden Horn. The café is named after the French novelist and Turkophile Pierre Loti, who frequented a café in Eyüp-claimed to be this one-during his stay In 1876. He was a French naval officer who fell in love with a married Turkish woman and wrote an autobiographical novel, Aziyadé, about their affair (though there is some speculation that this affair was in fact with another man). While enjoying the view and fresh air, I had a refreshing snack of Turkish ice cream (dondurma) and Turkish coffee- great combo!

In Turkish coffee, there is a layer of sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup. Superstition says that one can read a person’s fortune, not from their hand, but from this same sludge that lies on the bottom of their coffee cup; the thick, dark grounds can also be read to determine when and who a person is going to marry.

We decided to test this theory out.

The group gathered around as Susanne Fowler poured out the sludge from my cup onto the saucer. We then looked inside the cup at the remaining residue on the sides to see the shapes left behind that would tell of my fortuitous future. From the shapes of a tree, turkey and rabbit it was discovered that I was on a growing (tree) journey and in my future lay travel, marriage to a farmer (turkey) and strong fertility (rabbit). To determine the first name of my future farmer husband, the sludge was poured from the saucer back into the cup to see if any trace of a letter was left behind–the majority agreed it was a P. This could obviously mean only one thing–I was going to marry a French farmer, Pierre, live in the countryside of Provence and bear multiple children. Not too shabby, only time will tell!


Platform for Global Challenges

Besides hosting prominent journalist professor Ahmet Sik, Istanbul Bilgi Universitesi at Santral is home to “Platform for Global Challenges,” a think-tank that works to tackle global and regional problems. This non-governmental organization informs the public by posting reports and articles in publications and on their website. Platform for Global Challenges also brings a keynote speaker to the campus every year, such as Tony Blair or Bill Clinton.

Platform for Global Challenges, Santral office. Only six months old, it's stationed in the heart of the campus, sharing a bright, one-story building with other academic units.

Idris Kardas, the General Coordinator, notes the benefit of integrating the organization into a higher education climate.”When we work with the University,” said Kardas, “we can work with academics more easily. Because we’re a new platform, we can use the University name, since all people know the University name.”

Cross-Cultural Connection: Kids are Kids

Yesterday morning after our delicious breakfast of Turkish pastries, we were given a crash course in foreign correspondence via Skype by NPR journalist Kelly McEvers. A piece of wisdom she gave us was to look for certain universal signs that we all share in human experience. Across the globe, the birth of a baby is a joyous occasion. A funeral is a day or days of mourning. The universal I have caught on to while in Turkey is that no matter where you are, children are children.

Whether you are taking a stroll through Beverly Hills or roaming the Tarlabasi in Turkey, when you see children, you can expect certain similarities. Even with the supposed overexposure of technology in some populations, when a child sees a piece of unfamiliar technology, their interest is piqued, and so begins their pursuit of their “new toy.”

I noticed this in our evening trip to the Tarlabasi, an impoverished and neglected neighborhood in Istanbul, comparable to an inner-city housing project in Chicago. As soon as my fellow reporter and roommate, Caroline, set up her tripod and camera on the street, she was swarmed with curious children anxious to look in the viewfinder. The less reserved ones insisted Caroline give them the camera, so they could take their own pictures. One boy asked me to take a picture of his soccer jersey then proceeded to show me his soccer skills by kicking a small ball across the street.

As we grow up and become more inhibited, it is a lot easier to spot cultural differences in the way we conduct ourselves, but this is just not the case with kids. All children like to play, and all children visibly display their fascination with new and unfamiliar toys. If you would like to put my observation to the test, next time you see a small child, whip out your cell phone and see what happens.