“Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.”
— Charles Caleb Colton
Unlike corruption, ethnic bigotry, national chauvinism or dubious coup attempts, snow is growing rarer in Istanbul, but one day in early 2015, it didn’t seem to interrupt the usual activities of the city’s birds, fish or fishermen. A few dogs seemed on edge, and cat sightings were rarer, but otherwise it was business as usual.
I spent about two months in Turkey in the winter of 2014/15, mostly because I wanted to visit while it was still hospitable for U.S. citizens. Numerous people I spoke with in Istanbul mentioned exiled-to-the-U.S. Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and the “parallel state” he was suspected of operating within Turkey. The eerily unvarying invocation of this exact phrase made me wonder then how manufactured or propagandistic a concept it was, and later, in 2016, to what extent Erdogan was exaggerating and scapegoating real and perceived enemies in order to orchestrate a political advantage for himself while whipping up unifying enemies for the country to hate.
Of course, a majority of Turks don’t need much help when it comes to being hypernationalistic and disliking other people and nations… Continue reading →
Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali
Avant-garde painter Fikret Muallâ (1904-1967) was born in Istanbul, but lived most of his life in France. Muallâ was a soul tortured by circumstance and self-abuse, but he understood his pain as a crucible for the perfection of his art, which he testified to in one of the last letters he was to write:
“In my opinion every artist should suffer hardship, anguish and hunger. Only after that should they enjoy life. After the age of fifty, people start to seek comfort and health, and to think. That is my fate. My life has passed in a struggle against poverty. Now in this quiet village I submit to living peacefully by myself waiting for the final period of my life as ordained by God. Apart from this I have no problems! No pretensions. We have seen every kind of circumstance the world has to offer, we have tasted very few of the pleasures of life. Today what is left but for my tongue to recall the past and my brush to paint?”
This portal in the ceiling of one of the dim walkways that connect the first level to the second at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is as a nice metaphor for what religious and political leaders have exploited this structure for since about 537 C.E. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali
The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is spooky, but would be a lot spookier if it weren’t overrun with tour groups, or if it was still full of the corpses they once stored here, before turning it into a tourist attraction with a very repetitive, endless loop of classical music for a soundtrack.
Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali
At the Dandalos Hotel in Karacasu, near the ruins of Aphrodisias in southwest Turkey, I was surprised to come across this 8-foot-high translucent image of a bygone Native American chief.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, since I’ve seen plenty of other images of Native Americana in Istanbul — including a garishly “sexy” Native outfit on a very skinny mannequin in the window of a clothing store in Galatasaray. Why all the Native American stuff? Continue reading →