Inspiration and Horror: Berkin Elvan’s Funeral

The concrete buildings flanking the wide boulevard of Halaskargazi form a sort of canyon.  Sounds traveling through it are amplified, which usually makes it an unbearable place to be due to the heavy traffic passing between Taksim and Şişli, two of Istanbul’s most densly-packed neighborhoods.  On Wednesday, however, no vehicle could pass as the street was brimming with demonstrators come to march in the funeral procession for Berkin Elvan, the boy killed by a police teargas canister as he went out to buy bread.  The slogans of the protestors ‘Down with the government!’  ‘Murderer Erdoğan!’  echoes through the canyon up to the fifth-floor office from which I watch the demonstrations.


Berkin’s coffin traveling down Halaskargazi Boulevard

Later my boyfriend and I went down to the street to join the march.  We didn’t go more than one hundred meters as the street was too crowded.  It is estimated that around two million people were in the protest, so the streets were completely backed up from Taksim back to Şişli and Mecidiyeköy.  For about an hour we wandered about watching people tear down AK Party banners, spray paint anti-government slogans and playfully climb on TOMAs (crowd control tanks used spray water on protestors) .  We were surprised that the government was being so tolerant.  We supposed that because this event was a funeral, the government wanted to avoid creating a negative image, so there would be no crackdown.  We went to a cafe nearby and ordered a beer.  Just as the beers arrived, we were startled as loud cracks of grenade launchers hurtled through the concrete canyon.  High-pressure water, colored yellow from the teargas mixed into it, parted the massive crowd like the Red Sea.  We rushed inside to avoid the water.  The police had fired tear gas nearby and it seeped into the cramped space.

We squeezed out the back door of the cafe but tear gas had filled the side streets.  There was no escape from it.  Our eyes burned.  We rang apartment doorbells, hoping someone would let us in.  Someone did and gave us some water to wash out our eyes.  When we had recovered, we decided to get out of there.  We went back to Halaskargazi, which was totally empty except for tear gas canisters littered everywhere.  We ran across the street, fearing there might be a TOMA or some police.  In side the metro, people had written all over the tiled walls with markers and pens ‘Murderer’ ‘Thief’  ‘Tayyip Killer’  ‘The murderer government will pay.’

Our car was parked in the garage of the Cevahir shopping center, so we sat in a cafe there.  After a bit we heard whistling noises.  At first, I thought that someone was watching a video of the protests on their smartphone, but then we realized that they were coming from inside the mall.  When we went to the balcony overlooking the entrance, we saw a clouds of teargas through the large, glass front window.  A TOMA was parked with its water cannon pointed at people  fleeing inside.  People crowded to the balcony and shouted boos and slogans.  The mall, with its vaulted ceiling, also made a great acoustic space for slogans.

That evening we watched an interview with Berkin’s father on CNN Türk.  His face was pale and drawn as he answered the questions.  Imagine doing a news interview at the end of the most horrible day of your life.  It was one of those TV moments that reflects the mood of the nation.  The interviewer could barely contain his tears nor his fury.  Earlier that day, the former minister to the EU, Egemen Bağış, had posted a tweet calling the demonstrators ‘necrophiliacs’.  The interviewer read the tweet aloud twice and pointing to the camera, demanded that Bağış apologize for his comment.

All videos in this post were taken from YouTube.

An End of Hope

Today is yet another milestone in the Gezi Park  saga:  Berkin Elven, a young boy who was hit with a gas canister finally passed away after 269 days in a coma.  He was 14 years old when he was struck and fifteen when he died.  His weight had dropped to 16 kilos.  I have the figures memorized as they have been posted again and again by countless connections on social media.  My heart sinks as one after another people change their profile pictures to black ribbons.  The weather, like the mood of the nation, is deeply overcast and cold.  I feel none of the thrill and excitement that I did during the Gezi Park protests last summer.  Instead, I feel dread over what will happen as riots explode across the country in the next two hours.  Friends, colleagues and acquaintances will no doubt be risking their lives simply exercising their right to peaceful protest.  I’m upset that I have to worry about people being killed, maimed or arrested.  I feel guilty that my fear of being deported keeps me from attending.  I feel outraged that certain politicians do not even acknowledge Berkin or the six other protestors who were killed by the police.


Berkin Elven, struck by a tear gas canister as he went to buy bread, died on 11 March after 269 days in a coma.


Gezi Park Diary

Below are some diary entries related to the Gezi Park protests.  Things have finally calmed down a bit, so I can post them.

June 6, 2013

Tonight is the Muslim holiday of Miraç Kandil.  It’s the celebration of Muhammad’s visit from the Angel Gabriel.  As I write, I am much more well-rested and well-fed than I have been in days.  The same goes for many in Istanbul, as tensions have eased between protestors and police.  Tonight the Gezi Park Platform has announced that protestors won’t drink alcohol (that’s what they say, at least).  Back at the Bezm-i Alem Mosque, which served as an emergency room, protestors hand out special ‘Kandil cookies’ for the occasion.
But all isn’t so pleasant in the rest of the country.  Peaceful protestors in Ankara suffered a severe crackdown by police, including tear gas and plastic bullets.  Reporters from the Ulusal TV channel, one of the only networks to cover protests live, were taken into custody by the police as they were filming.
Protestors in the eastern town of Rize were attacked by other citizens, and had to be defended by the police (ironically).  I hope that this event isn’t a prelude to what everyone is most afraid of: clashed between civilians.  So far the combat has been between protestors and police, but there have been a few instances of protestors being attacked by other civilians.  In Balıkesir a few days ago protestors were attacked with knives and in Izmir the leader of the AKP Genç Kollar, a group that supports Erdoğan, was caught on video with a club in a crowd of protestors.
Erdoğan has made veiled threats that his supporters are just waiting for the signal to attack the protestors.  He said early on that he would bring such and such number of supporters to the square.  Before boarding the plane to North Africa, he said he was having a hard time just keeping his supporters at home.
Many laugh this off as childish behaviour, but for many the memories of the 1970s in Turkey when right wing and left wing activists killed each other is not to far in the past.
What will happen next?  Prime Minister Erdoğan is in North Africa on a goodwill tour (which had been arranged long before the protests began).  In the meantime, his assistant, Bülent Arınç has been in negotiations with the protestors, who are demanding the resignation of the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, the protection of the park and an end to the use of tear gas by the police.  Many are asking whether Erdoğan will make more inflammatory remarks, throwing the negotiations off course, or if he will behave more respectfully to the protestors to allow Mr. Arınç’s work to move forward.
As for me, I expect to be back in the square tomorrow evening.  It has been incredibly exhausting trying to sort out the information and misinformation.  I have been planning my days around protests, taking a mask with me in case of tear gas and changing my routes for travelling through the city

June 7, 2013

Taksim Square is an unintentional social experiment at the moment:  A gathering point in a city of millions with absolutely no police. It’s anarchy, basically.  And….it’s great!  Actually, it’s a bit too crowded for my taste, but still totally fascinating.  All leftist organisations possible are demonstrating.  There is music.  People are using the remains of the burn-out buses, police cars and stones from the sidewalk to make art.  It is a giant party.
Unfortunately, protestors in Ankara have taken a beating.  A lawyer had his jaw broken by the police.  There are attempts by many protestors to attract attention to the events in Ankara. As I write there are massive demonstrations throughout Ankara and the police haven’t tried to stop them yet. From what I understand tensions are rising in Adana as well.
Erdoğan is supposed to return from North Africa tonight, although there are mixed messages about where and when he’s arriving.  I imagine he’ll take a page from Saddam Hussein’s book and get a body double, so no one will be sure if they’re protesting the real Erdoğan or not.
Below are photos of flags hung from the Atatürk statue, the opera house and a protestor-built barricade on Gümüşuyu street leading up to Taksim.
Taksim Barricade Taksim AKM
June 12, 2013
Today should have been one of high spirits for the Gezi Park movement, as representatives of the Gezi Park platform will be meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan.  The atmosphere of hope surrounding the meeting was trampled yesterday when police entered the square and clashed with protestors.  Battles raged all day yesterday and all last night.  Istanbul woke up to a quiet, rainy morning today.  While some protestors remain in the park, police have control of the square.  All signs and other protestor-erected items such as burnt-out cars, barricades and statues have been removed. The effect of this is that the protestors enter negotiations from a demoralized position.
The circumstances behind the police’s entrance to the square at 7:30 yesterday morning are highly suspicious.  ‘Removing devisive signs from the opera house and the Atatürk statue’ was their supposed purpose.  While the operation was underway, a handful of men in gas masks began throwing molotov coctails at the police.  They hid behind signs saying ‘SDP’ (Social Democrat Party), that is, a major group taking part in the protests.  The throwing of molotovs, of course, sparked a violent reaction from the police.  On came the water cannons and tear gas, and protestors began throwing rocks.
There is no solid proof that these provocateurs were, in fact, police officers, but this is widely believed by people in the Gezi Park movement–including myself.  So much of this protest depends on the demonstrators being defined as ‘peaceful’.  Why would SDP members endanger that perception?  It’s also suspicious that these men just happened to have high-quality gas masks, which must be expensive as very few protestors have them.  There are also photos of them with walkie-talkies and one with a bulge in his back pocket like a gun.
I felt really guilty about not going to the square last night, but it would have been really dangerous since I didn’t have anyone to go with me.  I took a stroll along the path leading to the square just to see if there was any activity in my neighborhood.  The disturbing thing to me was the silence.  Areas that had erupted in anger last week had the air of complete normalcy.  That is, apart from the groups of police stationed at every corner.  They mayhem had been largely contained to Taksim Square and Gezi Park.  The success of this operation seems to be the result of good timing:  a Tuesday, most people were at work and those who get off of work are too tired to protest.  People also seem to be scared.  People aren’t afraid of tear gas anymore, but my roommates seem scared to go when they heard that rubber bullets were being used.  The governor of Istanbul made announcement yesterday evening saying that all non-extremists and children should leave the area, implying that anyone remaining there was fair game.
This is a struggle over perception just as much as physical space.  Erdoğan and his people are putting a lot of effort into reducing the image of the movement to hooligans and extremists.  He has lied, saying that protestors are drinking alcohol in mosques and harassing women in headscarves.  He claims that this whole thing is an international conspiracy to block Turkey’s development.  The government is working hard to censor outlets that provide information about what is happening.  They have arrested people for using Twitter, they have fined TV stations that broadcasted live and Digiturk, the satellite TV provider has stopped showing CNN International because of their live coverage of the events.
Finally and very importantly, Erdoğan seems willing to pit civilians against civilians.  He made threats early on saying ‘I’ll bring two million supporters to match your one million.’  ‘I’m having trouble keeping my people at home’.  More recently he threatened that if the protestors continued, he would ‘speak to them in a language they’ll understand.’  One member of his own party was so shocked by these comments that he called him out saying, ‘Do you want a civil war?!  Is people killing each other what you want?!’
This weekend Erdoğan will hold two large rallies for his supportors in Ankara and Istanbul.  More updates to follow…

 June 13, 2013

Here is a translation of a recent announcement taken from the newspaper Milliyet:
‘(Up to now) we haven’t countered punches with punches.  But from now on the security forces will act much differently.  We don’t need any advice from abroad.  Those who looked down on us are very amused by these turn of events.  Businessmen be on the alert:  the interest lobby is on the prowl.  I have given instructions to the Ministry of the Interior:  this thing will be finished in 24 hours.
…although we might not have expected it to come about in exactly this fashion, we have been expecting this kind of unrest for three months.  We received certain intelligence documents.’
According to him, this is not about the protestors’ demands or his behavior.  It’s about a bunch of shadowy financiers stirring up unrest so they can make the dollar higher than the lira.
June 24, 2013
I was out in Taksim this evening.  Not to protest.  I was there to attend a weekly Tango practice at a dance school on İmam Adnan street, a side street of the very busy İstiklal Street that leads to Taksim Square.  The practice had been cancelled for two weeks because of the riots and demonstrations.  Tonight seemed like a good night to go, since things had been extremely calm since Wednesday. There were no police attacks and Erdoğan seemed have backpeddled a bit on destroying the park.  In fact, we seemed to be on a downward slide to de-escalation.  Protestors had started leaving the park and heading home.
I met a young man at the Tango practice, in fact, who had been sleeping in the park after work for fourteen days and just recently returned home.  He looked incredibly exhausted and I wondered why he was even there.
Just as a lovely evening of dance and conversation was wrapping up, they cut the music and turned on the television.  Everyone huddled around the TV to see images of the square–only a five minute walk away–covered in tear gas.  The police were clearing Gezi Park.  Everyone sat and watched in a shocked-but-not-surprised silence.  We really didn’t think Erdoğan would give in so easily, did we?
A friend and I decided to find a cab to go home.  Neither of us were prepared to join the demonstration–she in a dress and neither of us with a face mask or vinegar (to counteract the teargas).  We walked down Tarlabaşı Boulevard and could smell the gas.  ‘Don’t go to the square’ one guy said, ‘It’s bad up there.’  People were walking toward the square and away, all in face masks.  The taxis were all full, since there was no other way to leave the area.  We walked back toward Galatasaray High School.  He took us all around the city and through a tunnel, since the roads to our neighborhood, Beşiktaş, were also plagued by rioting.
At about midnight I went to see the state of my neighborhood.  Near the market area a few hundred people had gathered, waving Turkish flags, whistling and shouting slogans.  As I write this, more and more people continue to flow into that crowd.  I can hear them whistling and chanting slogans ‘Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!’  ‘Government resign!’  and ‘Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere is Resistance!’  as they march down Barbaros Boulevard, being saluted by the honks of passing vehicles.
Protestors walk through the side streets with whistles and pots and pans, clanging them to encourage those in their homes to make noise as well.
I am engulfed in the news.  Imam Adnan street, where I was three hours ago, is engulfed in tear gas now, according to the newspaper Radikal.  The police have fired tear gas directly into the Divan Hotel, where hundred of protestors have taken refuge.  There are reports that children within the hotel are being severely affected by the gas.  I listened to the speech that Erdoğan made at his massive rally today in Ankara.  He told lies, saying that the protesters drank alcohol inside of mosques, that they attacked women with headscarves.  He claimed that he will never allow any malevolent forces to destroy the unity of the Turkish people.  Again, he’s hinting at a foreign plot.
Everything I mentioned above is exactly the same as when the protests started two weeks ago.  Just when things had started to get back to normal, this needless police operation has set everything back nearly to the beginning if not all the way there.  As, I said before, people were beginning to leave the park anyway.  Those who remained were performing a peaceful sit-in.  Isn’t that allowed in a democracy?
Tomorrow is Erdoğan’s Istanbul rally.  I’ve been seeing advertisements for it all over the city, including within public buses.  The slogan for the rally is ‘Spoil the big game’, that is, the ‘big plot’ against Turkey.  The government is providing extra public buses to transport people to the rally.

 July 7, 2013

‘The nation has overcome the wall of fear’.
As I read the editorial with this title, I thought of my Turkish gay friend who has slowly begun to come out to his family–first to his sister and then to his mom and dad.  For the most part, gay people in Turkey are not out to their families.  This is often to protect their families from social embarassment or because of the threat of violence.  When I asked him what made him decide to do it, he said that the Gezi Park protests and the huge turnout for Gay Pride week gave him a feeling that he wasn’t alone, that there is the possibility that gays could be accepted in society at large.  Gay Pride week inIstanbul was joined by thousands of Gezi Park protestors.  Some 40,000 supporters gathered for the march on June 30th.
The editorial by Cüneyt Özdemir talks of the ‘Gezi Spirit’, that is, the newfound courage of people to stand behind their beliefs and to live authentically.  There is a lot of hope at the moment that this spirit will become contagious–that news outlets will stop succumbing to fear of the prime minister, that dissenters within the ruling party will speak out and that people will start standing up against injustices in society in general.
While the Gezi Park movement might be leading to some attitude changes within society, we have yet to see it produce many results in terms of politics.  I think Özdemir is right when he calls it ‘A stretched bow without an arrow.’   People are mobilized without any organization.  None of the groups who might be called ‘in charge’ can command all of the protestors. As a result, while some people use peaceful tactics like sit-ins or stand-ins, others violently clash with the police, creating an image problem for the movement in general.
Take the ‘Carnation Crackdown’–the nickname for the police intervention on Saturday, June 22nd.  It started out as stand-in in Taksim Square.  People stood silently and motionless, gazing at a large banner of the nation’s founder, Atatürk, that hung from the opera house.  Many were draped with Turkish flags and hung placards around their necks.  At 6 pm more people gathered to leave carnations in the square in memory of those who died in the protests–an activity that had been planned in advance by Gezi Platform.  At around 8 pm, the crowd began to disperse, but those who remained began chanting slogans.  The police made a (ridiculous) announcement:  ‘Evacuate the public area.’  When people refused to leave, on came the tear gas an water cannons.  This brought more people to the square and clashes ensued.
I was just leaving tango practice when all this was beginning.  The bars on the side streets were packed, people smoking, drinking and having a good time.  When I got to the main street, I noticed that there were lots of people gathering wearing hardhats and face masks–two things that no protestor should leave home without.  I realized that there would be clashes soon, and I got the distinct impression that the protestors were having fun with it, too.  At that moment I felt annoyed that this seemed to be some people’s version of Saturday night fun.  Just then someone shouted ‘It’s startiiiiiing!’, and hundreds of people started running away from the direction of the square.  I went back to the tango place.  Other people that had tried to leave also had to come back.  Gas bombs started to surround the building and the streets that had previously been packed with people were completely emptied.  A TOMA, the kind of crowd-control tank used by the police rolled by.  A single guy ran up behind it and hurled a stone at it.  We all ended up waiting for about two hours, with gas leaking  into the building, until we slipped out the back door and found cabs to go home.
Throughout that evening protestors and police clashed.  Many protestors built flaming barricades along major roads.  My roommate says that she saw an unusually large amount of high-school age protestors making large collections of glass bottles–presumably to hurl at police.
So, what happened to civil disobedience?!  On June 17th, the Monday after Gezi Park was cleared, a performance artist named Erdem Gündüz went to Taksim Square and stood motionless, staring at the banner of Atatürk.  He stood for about five hours, confusing bystanders and the police.  Then it caught on and crowds of people took up the act of standing motionless.  At first police tried taking people into custody.  They gave up, however, because they looked ridiculous arresting people for standing still.  The standing continued up until the Saturday of the Carnation Crackdown.  What happened?  Did the protestors just get bored with civil disobedience?
To conclude:  I whole-heartedly support the ‘spirit’ of Gezi Park that Özdemir talks about, but not all of the tactics.  I want to see real political results, not just clashing with the police.

7 Popular Misconceptions about Traffic in Istanbul

7 Popular Misconceptions about Traffic in Istanbul

‘Slowly but surely, the automobile is killing the city.  Now in the 21st century, we must choose between the car and the city, because we cannot have both.’ 

-European Urban Planning Code (taken from the İETT Website)

It's estimated that 400 new vehicles join Istanbul's roads everyday.

It’s estimated that 400 new vehicles join Istanbul’s roads everyday.

Below are a summary of my opinions about things that people often say about traffic in Istanbul along with my responses to them.  I wrote it, by the way, while being stuck in traffic.

1.  Istanbul has traffic because the city is old.


Paris is old, too.  In fact, it has crazy zig-zag streets that don’t meet at right angles.  Sound like Istanbul?  However, visitors will tell you that Paris is quite traffic-free.  Why?  Because of a lower population and a fantastic metro.


2. Metro construction in Istanbul is behind because of the threat of earthquakes.


Yes, naturally this will make the planning and construction process slower.  Japan, however, has a high incidence of earthquakes as well as expansive metros in its large cities. Let’s not kid ourselves: metro construction is behind because of poor planning and a lack of political will.


3.  Bicycles are not a viable alternative in Istanbul because of hills.


Again, Japan is an extremely hilly country.  Yet 60% of Japanese bike overall and 15% of work commutes are made by bike. There is such a thing as hill gear.


Bicycles are, in fact, not a viable alternative because of the lack of bike lanes and the unsafe habits of drivers. There are no statistics available on daily bicycle use in Turkey, perhaps because it barely exists.


4.  ‘I need a car because I have kids.’ 


I’m sorry, but you don’t need to whisk your family away to an Ağaoğlu high-rise that can only be entered by car.  You can live in a regular apartment near a bus stop like the rest of us.


Oh, but you mean you have a lot of shopping to do?  You’re going to take the kids skiing, you say?  That’s when you take a taxi or rent a car with all the money you saved from not making a car payment, not buying gasoline, not buying a pass to cross the bridge, not paying car insurance and not paying for parking.


I usually take the ‘I have kids’ explanation as code language for ‘my family and I don’t mix with regular people.’  I personally think that people use their children as a justification to live in gated communities that by virtue of being accessible only by car are impregnable by riff-raff or people who don’t have enough money for a car.  This way, they have a ready pretext for driving to work, so they don’t have to mingle with smelly, regular people on the metrobus.


5.  Istanbul has traffic because there are more new buildings than new roads.


There are too many of the wrong kinds of new buildings.  Take Büyükdere Caddesi, the wide boulevard connecting Zincirlikuyu and Levent.  The two gigantic shopping centers, Metro City and Kanyon, clog up this road with drivers trying to get in and out of their underground parking structures.  It seems that when giving construction projects the go-ahead, little thought is given  to how they will impact the roads.  Do we really need two gigantic shopping centers on Büyükdere Caddesi–especially when Trump Towers, Astoria and Cevahir are just around the corner in Mecidiyeköy?  Did the planners take into consideration the fact that this road had already been suffering from traffic because of its position between the first and second bridges?


Another example is Kavacık, where numerous office building projects have rapidly gone up.  It’s clear from the narrow streets, family-owned business and squat adobe houses that it was once a village somewhat removed from the city.  The onslaught of new office buildings with their huge underground parking lots have brought a flood of cars to its narrow streets, making the two-lane road that was once a small-town main street into a dangerous and noisy obstacle. In the absence of any traffic lights, pedestrians must cross at their own risk.  It’s impossible to enjoy a quiet cup of tea  in during rush hour, as the commuters engage in a battle royale–honking, maneuvering, and driving into one another.  When I mention the fate of Kavacık to friends, they confirm that it was indeed once a quiet, peaceful place.  They say that Beykoz is still like Kavacık once was, but that it won’t be long before the land developers get their hands on it, as well.

6. Building New Roads Will Relieve Traffic

Building new roads and tunnels will, in fact create more traffic.  In Istanbul it has been very popular for the city to make flyovers, viaducts and to take traffic underground–as in the new ‘pedestrianization’ project in Taksim.  I say that this approach is a way for people to try to have cars as well as not have traffic.  Unfortunately, these newly built roads eventually get clogged up as well.  As a result, all of the trees and historic buildings destroyed to create them end up being sacrificed in vain.


7. Cars make Turkey modern.

In the 1980s Turkey’s former Prime Minister, Turgut Özal, famously proclaimed ‘tren komünist işidir’ or ‘trains are for communists.’  Thus, does Turkey plunge head-first into the cycle of automobile dependency–building freeways instead of intercity trains, wide boulevards and tunnels instead of metro lines.


Having grown up in the Detroit area, I am a first-hand witness of the detrimental effects of this infrastructure model on urban life.  The city that was once a lively hub of commerce and culture has become spread out over vast distances thanks to hundreds of miles of interconnected asphalt freeways.  Most people spend hours commuting between suburbs for work on crowded freeways without ever venturing into the center of the city.  As a result, economic life in the city itself is nearly dead.  Dependency on the car has crippled any political will to develop mass transit, so those who don’t have a car for whatever reason have no alternative transportation.

Because of this, I support the efforts of many American cities to move away from this model by developing public transit, expanding bike lanes and in some cases dismantling freeways that run through cities.

In Turkey people are deeply in love with cars, judging by consumers’ willingness to pay exorbitant taxes on vehicles and gasoline in order to possess one.  Car advertisements are everywhere, as well, even in publications meant to promote environmental awareness.  In the December 2012 issue of National Geographic Türkiye, five automobile advertisements shared space with an article about the dangers of greenhouse gases.  I had always believed in National Geographic as a magazine that promoted sensitivity to nature and history. When I saw that they were willing to perpetuate the glorification of car ownership, I was shocked at their hypocrasy.  National Geographic Türkiye:  You’re on notice.




I truly pity people who drive cars day in and day out.  Roads made for cars are ugly, while small streets built for pedestrians are lively and intimate.  I would rather breath the fresh air, even if it is rather polluted with car exhaust, than the artificial smells of the inside of a car.  I enjoy being a pedestrian, even if the overpasses of Istanbul can often be brutal.  I notice more things–smalls shops, street animals, flowers, etc.  I also have more freedom to stop and enjoy them than I would if I had a giant machine attached to me.  I hope that more people in Istanbul will embrace the joys of pedestrianism.






No Place to Live: A Review of Eli Shaul’s ‘From Balat to Bat Yam’

“In your letter you seem a bit upset, and you are certainly right. Really, my dear, this is no place to live anymore.”

Albert Razon, a Jewish friend of Eli Shaul, wrote this line in a letter in April 1943. It captures the central message of Shaul’s book, “From Balat to Bat Yam: Memoirs of a Turkish Jew.” The message, of course, being that Turkey became an inhospitable country for non-Muslims during that decade. Shaul’s work is a rich collection of his own journal entries, letters and polemical articles written for the newspaper Şalom. His artifacts and reflections give the reader a vivid and emotional picture of life for non-Muslim minorities at that time when, as Shaul writes in frustration, “nationalism veers toward bigotry in Turkey, and this nationalism is absolutely indistinguishable from racism.” The book exposes the problems of the country as it tried to define itself as a republic based on ethnicity, while also trying to make good on the promises of development left by the legacy of the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The largest portion of Shaul’s work is devoted to the effects of the infamous “Varlık Vergisi” (wealth tax) of the 1940s…

For the full article, click here.


Translation: Is America moving to Africa?

The official seal of AFRICOM

The official seal of AFRICOM

A quote from Is America moving to Africa by Sadrettin Karaduman of Milli Gazete, which I translated for

It is very interesting that immediately following the creation of this cruel plan a black man should be elected to the White House. The imperialists’ strategy of “getting people to shoot themselves with their own guns” continues in all its savagery…It is now even clearer that the election of a black president is another tactic of the imperialists.

Read the full article here.

Translation: An American Disease

Below is an excerpt of ‘An American Disease’ an editorial by Milliyet columnist Sami Kohen.

A rifle from the company Bushmaster, one of the most popular brands of semiautomatic rifles in the U.S.

A rifle from the company Bushmaster, one of the most popular brands of semiautomatic rifles in the U.S.

Shortly after every mass shooting in the U.S., the country becomes embroiled in discussions about gun control. Scientists, politicians and opinion leaders claim that precautions absolutely must be taken against firearms.

These things have been discussed for years, but there haven’t yet been any results. 
Now, in the wake of Adam Lanza’s killing spree in a Connecticut school last Friday – in which he murdered 26 people, 20 of whom were small children – the same voices can be heard once again: “Gun control now!”

At the head of those demanding gun control is President Obama. In a speech meant to show his conviction, the American leader pledged to take action in order to bring an end to these tragedies.

This time around, it seems as if the gravity of what happened at Newtown has struck Americans deeply. But will these emotions succeed in changing the status quo of weapons in the U.S.?

Read full translation here.

Read the original Turkish article here.

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