Master electrician Kahraman Yildiz produces from his pocket a folded piece of scrappy paper. Its distressed state disguises the fact that it contains the phrases that are designed to illuminate Istanbul’s mosques during the holy month of Ramadan and inspire the city’s Islamic faithful.
In 1972, Yorgo Güller, a Greek Christian from Istanbul, visited leafy Burgazada, one of the Princes’ Islands just off the city’s coast, looking for love. Almost forty years later, he is still there tending to a neglected, 18th-century Greek monastery.
The June 12 election triumph of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party not only signaled a political change. It also heralded the start of evictions within the central, working-class Istanbul neighborhood of Tarlabaşı to make way for an ambitious municipal government project to beautify the city.
The central Istanbul neighborhood of Tarlabaşı has long been labeled a no-go area, a safe haven for shady business, even a “terrorist’s nest” for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party. An ambitious urban renewal project hopes to scrap that image and introduce five-star hotels, upscale shopping facilities and office lofts.
For half a century, Hasankeyf, a Bronze-Age-era town on the banks of the river Tigris, has faced the threat of being submerged by construction of the proposed Ilisu Dam, part of a controversial 23-dam project in southeast Turkey. If completed, the dam would wipe out a town that has been continuously inhabited for over 6,000 years.
Telephone engineer Yilmaz Hakal remembers as a child catching fish as big as his forearm from the river running through Dilovasi, a town on the Asian coast of the Sea of Marmara. But these days, not much flows under the arches of its fine Ottoman bridge apart from garbage, rafts of white foam and the toxic runoff from factories.
In Turkey these days the culture war raging between secularists and moderate Islamists grabs much of the attention. But in Istanbul, there is a second front to the culture war, one that centers on the issue of gentrification.